Current research

This program studies labor camps world-wide and over a long period of time. The three themes of war, rehabilitation and ethnicity guide the inquiry into the conditions that, throughout history, give rise to the combination of forced labor and internment. The program challenges the idea that labor camps belong primarily to twentieth-century totalitarian regimes. It broadens the scope to include colonialism and internal repression, going back to the seventeenth century and beyond Europe.

Russian prisoners of Amur Railway Camp, ca. 1908-1913 (an Katorga)

Project leader: prof. dr. Pieter Spierenburg
Researchers: dr. Ralf Futselaar (postdoc NIOD), dr. Francesca di Pasquale (postdoc NIOD), dr. Matthias van Rossum (postdoc IISG), Zhanna Popova (PHD-student IISG)
Supervisors: prof. dr. Peter Romijn (NIOD), dr. Nanci Adler (NIOD), prof. dr. Marcel van der Linden (IISG), dr. Ulbe Bosma (IISG), dr. Christian de Vito (IISG), prof. dr. Klaus Weinhauer (Bielefeld University)
Advisory board: Clare Anderson (University of Leicester), Mary Gibson (John Jay College, New York), Alan Kramer (Centre for War Studies, Dublin), Roberta Pergher (University of Indiana, Bloomington), Henk Schulte Nordholt (KITLV, Leiden), Lynne Viola (University of Toronto), Kerry Ward (Rice University, Houston)
Duration: 2013-2018
Intended publications: Four monographs about the individual projects and a book containing the overall synthesis plus a number of scholarly articles.
Association: The program is a cooperative effort between the NIOD and the IISG. It is also linked to the research program of the Department of Criminology of Erasmus University.

More information:

This program aims to bring about the first integrated, world-wide history of labor camps. It employs diachronic and comparative research in order to trace the socio-political, ideological and economic conditions that led to the emergence of labor camps and remain conducive to their existence. The research team aims to go beyond traditional scholarship as well as the public perception, which associate camps almost exclusively with the Nazi Lagers and Soviet gulags. Instead, the team places labor camps squarely in the context of the global history of oppression and exploitation in the early modern and modern world.

The term labor camp is defined broadly, to include all instances in which internment and forced work come together, whether this is in barracks or stone buildings. The research ranges from workhouses to colonial exile and from disciplining deviants to the exclusion of dissidents. These various manifestations of labor camps over the past four centuries are examined with three background factors in mind: (1) the conditions that precede, accompany and follow military conflicts; (2) the concept and practice of rehabilitation; and (3) the discourse and practices around ethnicity, in both colonial and non-colonial settings. As part of the overall program, four projects address the central questions in detail for specific geographic areas. These projects successively deal with: (1) transportation to and within the Netherlands Indies since the late eighteenth century; (2) early modern prison-workhouses in Hamburg, followed by exclusionary initiatives in this city in the modern period; (3) banishment and internment in liberal and fascist Italy and the camps in its African colonies; (4) Russian camps from the Tsarist Katorga to the Soviet Gulags, in particular in Western Siberia.