Spinoza award winner Hofman: 'Now more research possible into the hidden history of the American Indians'
Corinne Hofman, Leiden professor of Caribbean archaeology, receiving the NWO-Spinoza prize of 2.5 million euros. This was announced by the NWO on 6 June. What is she going to do with this sum? ‘We could use some good archaeozoologists and paleobotanists.’
Under Hofman’s leadership, the international research group Nexus 1492 is reconstructing the consequences of colonisation in the Caribbean. For a long time, discussion of that history has been one-sided. According to Spanish sources, the native societies were eradicated within 25 years after Columbus set foot on Caribbean soil in 1492. Hofman is combatting that one-sided picture and wants to show through research that native cultures did not entirely disappear.
'I am pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know that I had been nominated. When I received the Merian prize this year [the prize for top female researchers in the Netherlands, the editor] I said it was the crowning glory of my career. And so now it’s the Spinoza that is my highest distinction. What is higher than a crown?’
‘There are quite a few research projects going now, but I also know what gaps still need to be filled. With this prize I want to consolidate, expand and valorise the research. I want to invite key figures from the field for a research sabbatical and go scout out young talent from the Caribbean. In addition to that, we could use some good archaeozoologists and paleobotanists who do research on the relationship between man, plant and animal in the natural environment. For example, they could determine what sort of food Europeans exchanged with the native population and how the Caribbean landscape changed after colonisation.’
‘Besides that, this prize also presents possibilities for comparative research: we principally study the Caribbean, but how did the colonisation process play out in other parts of the Americas and in the Pacific, for example? Such a comparison would give the NEXUS research a global perspective.'
‘It’s important that the native population’s forgotten chapter receives the attention that it deserves and that something changes in the one-sided world view. This research concerns many contemporary and social issues like diversity, multiculturalism and social cohesion in society. We would like there to be a travelling exhibition about this research in the Caribbean and in Europe. Filmmaker Itandehui Jansen, a former PhD student in Leiden, is also working on an idea for a documentary about Nexus 1492. Addtionally, there are a lot of other ongoing projects in the area of heritage and education. Local inhabitants should benefit from this research and the results should be shared with as large an audience as possible.'
‘The project started in September 2013 and is in full swing now. Various papers have already been presented and we are expecting the first results from DNA research soon. Then it will be known, for example, what bacteria are found in dental plaque from 14th-century human skeletons, which can tell us more about health conditions in the precolonial period. And soon the results for dozens of sub-studies will be coming in.’
Prof. Corinne Hofman collaborates with Prof. Willem Willems (archaeological heritage, Leiden University), Prof. Gareth Davies (isotope analysis, VU University) and Prof. Ulrik Brandes (network science, Universität Konstanz).
(6 June 2014 - LvP)
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