‘A special friendship’: traces of the queer in sources about girls’ education in the Netherlands Indies, c. 1900-1940

Friday, 22 March at 3:00 PM – Sala degli Stemmi, Villa Salviati

Speaker: Kirsten Kamphuis (PhD researcher, EUI, HEC)

Abstract: While same-sex desire often functions as a trope in writings about girls’ education, especially in boarding schools, source material produced by adults tends to be silent about this topic. In my own research  project, which focuses on indigenous girls’ schools in the Netherlands Indies – today’s Indonesia – I have found only two sources which could be read as mentioning queerness. One is a visitation report of a Roman Catholic hospital in Northern Sulawesi from 1933, which mentions a ‘special friendship’ between an Indonesian sister and a girl who was studying to be a nurse; the second one is an article from 1936 by a female gynecologist on sexual education for girls in the highest classes in secondary schools. The writer briefly reflects on the ‘tricky’ subject of same-sex desire.
In my presentation, I would like to think through both of these sources, and think about how they could usefully be read and used. In particular, I would like to ask how ‘the colonial’ comes in in both of these sources. What difference, if at all, does the fact that both of them were produced in a colonial setting make? And what place could these sources occupy in a research project which focuses on civilizing missions in all-girls’ schools?

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