Dr Susie Protschky

Susie Protschky is a Senior Lecturer in Modern History. She researches on colonialism, cultural history and visual culture, with a special focus on photography. The Dutch empire in the modern era is her field, particularly the Netherlands East Indies (colonial Indonesia).

Susie obtained her PhD in History from the University of New South Wales in 2007, and recently held an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (ARC APD) (2010-2015).  The project focused on photography, monarchy and empire in the East Indies, with additional ventures into Afrikaner culture in South Africa, and the significance of the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina for colonial adherents to the liberal reform program known as the ‘Ethical Policy’ (c. 1900 – 1942).

Her next project is ‘Developing “Disaster”: Photography, Suffering and Colonial Catastrophe’.  It builds on her expertise in cultural histories of colonialism, photography and environment in Indonesia to examine the human impact of natural and regime-made disasters in a contiguous field, through the camera lenses trained on pain and suffering. This project traces how photography helped develop modern notions of ‘disaster’ in the first century or so after the camera was first employed in the Indonesia (c. 1840s), a period that coincided with the rapid proliferation of photography’s uses and, importantly, the violent expansion of the Dutch colonial state. My project asks the following questions:

  • If, as current disaster scholarship suggests, most ‘natural’ disasters have a socio-political component, how has photography contributed to assimilating or differentiating between ‘environmental’ and ‘regime-made’ disasters? What role has the depiction of suffering played in upholding or dismantling these boundaries?
  • How do photograpic images relay ‘disaster’ and inform relations between observers and victims? How did photographers use the camera as a tool to think through causes of and solutions to disasters, or to frame and elicit domestic and international intervention?
  • What are the politics of memory surrounding photographs of natural and regime-made disasters in the transition to post-colonialism? What have been the historical, institutional, political and museological uses of these images, and how do they inform hierarchies of suffering in public spheres?



images-of-the-tropicsSusie Protschky, Images of the Tropics: Environment and Visual Culture in Colonial Indonesia (Leiden: KITLV Press/Brill, 2011).  

Images of the Tropics critically examines Dutch colonial culture in the Netherlands Indies through the prism of landscape art. The book contends that visual representations of nature and landscape were core elements of how Europeans understood the tropics, justified their territorial claims in the region, and understood their place both in imperial Europe and in colonized Asia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her book thus makes a significant contribution to studies of empire, art and environment, as well as to histories of Indonesia and Europe.

For a sample chapter and supplier information, visit Brill or KITLV Press.

New volume

Cover_Photography, Modernity and the Governed

Susie Protschky (ed.), Photography, Modernity and the Governed in Late-Colonial Indonesia (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015).

The essays in this volume examine, from a historical perspective, how contested notions of modernity, civilization, and being governed were envisioned through photography in early twentieth-century Indonesia, a period when the Dutch colonial regime was implementing a liberal reform program known as the Ethical Policy. The contributors reveal how the camera evoked diverse, often contradictory modes of envisioning an ethically governed colony, one in which the very concepts of modernity and civilization were subject to dispute.

For further information, and to order a copy, visit Amsterdam University Press.

Forthcoming essays

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Susie Protschky, ‘Photography and the making of a popular, colonial monarchy in the Netherlands East Indies during Queen Wilhelmina’s reign (1898–1948)’, BMGN (Low Countries Historical Review), forthcoming December 2015.

ABSTRACT: Public celebrations in the Dutch East Indies (colonial Indonesia) for the House of Orange during Queen Wilhelmina’s reign were of an historically unprecedented scale and frequency, regularly attended by large crowds and reported on in newspapers. Scholars typically emphasise the leading role of colonial elites in orchestrating these festivals, and the symbolic importance of the monarchy as a conservative institution that bound the colony to the metropole. The agency of spectators and non-elite participants, and the extent to which a popular oranjegevoel (‘Orange-sentiment’) can be said to have existed in the colonies, remains to be demonstrated. This article uses a range of popular photographic sources—amateur photographs in personal albums, and published photographs of the Dutch monarchy in private collections as well as commemorative books—to examine the meanings that ordinary people in the Indies derived from engaging with the House of Orange through images. I argue that, for many Indies residents, photographs of royal celebrations and the Dutch monarchy enabled the cultivation of transnational networks and cosmopolitan identities, and integrated international events into colonial and family histories.


Susie Protschky, ‘Orangists in a red empire: Salutations from a Dutch queen’s supporters in a British South Africa’ in Robert Aldrich and Cindy McCreery (eds), Crowns and Colonies: Monarchies and Empires (Manchester University Press, ‘Studies in Imperialism’ Series, 2016).

ABSTRACT: In 1910 the Union of South Africa became a British Dominion. However, rather than proclaim loyalty to the British Crown—the titular head of the British empire—some South Africans, notably those who identified as Afrikaners or Netherlanders, professed loyalty to the monarch of a rival empire, the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. This chapter examines oorkonden (decorative letters) sent to Wilhelmina from her supporters in South Africa across the duration of her reign (1898–1948). The letters provide new evidence of how links with a Dutch colonial past that pre-dated British colonisation were revived by a white community reeling from defeat in the South African War (1899–1902) who continued to contest certain modes of their integration into a British imperium. The letters also suggest the particular appeal of a female king to Afrikaner women in a nascent women’s movement. Finally, the letters reveal the persistence of a notional ‘Dutch world’ that exceeded the bounds of the Netherlands’ formal empire in the early twentieth century.