On the Spot: Marjoleine Kars

‘As an immigrant, I wanted to understand the roots of my adopted country.’

Map of the Berbice colony, with a story in cartouche about the uprising of 1763. Engraving published by Reinier and Josua Ottens, September 1763. Zeeland Archives.

Why are you a historian of early America?

As an immigrant, I wanted to understand the roots of my adopted country.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?

That nothing ever repeats itself.

Which history book has had greatest influence on you?

The World Turned Upside Down by Christopher Hill. 

What book in your field should everyone read?

The Common Wind by Julius Scott.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

Strangely, I don’t have that desire to time travel.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Peter H. Wood, my PhD adviser.

Which person in history would you most like to have met? 

Kofi, the leader of the 1793 Berbice slave rebellion.

How many languages do you have? 

Dutch, English and German; some French and Spanish. I lack any knowledge of non-European languages.

What is the most common misconception about your field? 

That freedom characterised the American colonies; slavery did.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

The Enlightenment. It is overrated. 

Which genre of history do you like least?

All genres have something to offer, though I like narrative history the best.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?

The history of non-humans: animals and plants.

Is there an important historical text you have not read? 

I have never read the Bible in its entirety and I probably should.

What’s your favourite archive?

The Royal Dutch Archive: they serve coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon!

What’s the best museum?

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. 

What technology has changed the world the most? 

The whip!

The Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean?

The Mediterranean.

Historical drama or documentary?


The Parthenon or Machu Picchu?

I haven’t had the privilege to visit either but given the chance, I’d pick Machu Picchu first.

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?

Our failure to take care of the planet. 



Marjoleine Kars is the author of Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast (The New Press), winner of the 2021 Cundill History Prize.