Historical story

Spinoza Prize for rewriting Caribbean history

Corinne Hofman (1959) is one of this year's winners of the Spinoza Prize. Hofman is professor of Archeology of the Caribbean at Leiden University. She combines archeology with other disciplines to rewrite Caribbean Indian history.

Alpha, gamma and beta sciences; methods and techniques from all corners of science come together in Corinne Hofman's research. And it works, because this combination now earns her the Spinoza Prize of 2.5 million euros. To be spent on research of your own choice.

Hofman himself thinks it is wonderful:“It is really great that I can now count myself among the many excellent researchers in the world! The prize means a lot to me because it indicates that my line of research is apparently appealing and that my multidisciplinary approach is considered interesting and innovative. And the indigenous perspective and preservation of cultural heritage that I strive for is also important to the NWO.”

Rewrite history

This indigenous perspective is what makes Hofman's research distinctive. Her research focuses on the consequences of European colonization of the Americas and in particular the Caribbean. In 1492, Columbus set foot in the Caribbean islands and the common view is that the indigenous societies were wiped out within 25 years of his arrival. Indians were massacred, enslaved and exploited as anonymous labour.

Hofman:“We still know very little about the effects of this colonization process and the transformations that the Indian cultures have undergone. Our knowledge is based on European reporting, which is incomplete and biased, and laced with Western prejudices. 'Indian stories', laden with those prejudices from late medieval Europe, have shaped Western perceptions of the original inhabitants of the Americas. This has led to a skewed historical picture.”

The aim of Hofman's research is to rewrite the colonization processes from a Caribbean Indian perspective from archeology and to rectify the skewed historical construction. Hofman:"We are currently conducting archaeological research in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Lesser Antilles, three areas that were involved in various ways with the European colonizer between 1492 and about 1800.

Archaeological data are studied, analyzed and interpreted using the latest methods from bioarchaeology, archaeometry, geophysics, geochemistry and genetics. This concerns data on living habits, health and cultural customs, design and use of the landscape, material culture, burial ritual and social networks."

“In addition to the rich archaeological remains, the Native American population lives on in contemporary oral traditions, cultural and religious practices. She has left her mark on the current multi-ethnic and multicultural Caribbean society. This shows that the historical knowledge about the indigenous inhabitants is not in line with current ideas about the disappearance of Native American culture and the emergence of today's multi-ethnic societies in the area. The Indian history of 'our' BES islands is also discussed in my project and will hopefully also find a place in the history books in the Netherlands and overseas.”

Plan with the premium

Hofman wants to spend the Spinoza Prize of 2.5 million euros on new comparative research in other parts of the Americas. “I am now studying the colonial encounter in the Caribbean and would like to study similar situations elsewhere, especially the impact this process has had on the indigenous peoples of those areas.”

She also believes it is important to stimulate the social relevance of research on the islands and elsewhere in the world. “The confrontation between the western world and indigenous cultures has taken place in many parts of the world. The soil archive is threatened by natural factors and human intervention and part of the history of the original inhabitants is disappearing as a result. That is why I want to invest even more in capacity building by training an expert staff locally.”

Hofman has another golden tip for her students, which will lead to the Spinoza Prize:where there is a will, there is a way! Her work is her biggest hobby and the main motivation behind her own research is motivation. Hofman:“I am greatly stimulated by the people around me and I am always full of new ideas. And of course the continuous discovery:digging up an unwritten history is extremely exciting. Motivation, drive and always looking for new challenges is what I pass on to all my students.”

  • Dirk Bouwmeester, Professor of Physics at Leiden University and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
  • Corinne Hofman, Professor of Archeology of the Caribbean at Leiden University.
  • Mark van Loosdrecht, Professor of Environmental Biotechnology at Delft University of Technology.
  • Theunis Piersma, Professor of Migratory Bird Ecology at the University of Groningen.