In Memoriam

Frances Gouda (1950–2019)

Historian of Colonialism

Ellen Fitzpatrick, Laura Frader, and Sonya Michel | Oct 3, 2019

Frances Gouda

Courtesy of Carmen Freudenthal, Freudenthal/Verhagen

Frances Gouda, an imaginative scholar of Dutch, French, and comparative history, whose remarkable facility with languages led her to advance cross-cultural studies that traversed the globe, died on June 8, 2019, in the Netherlands. She was 69.

Gouda, who grew up in the Netherlands near Haarlem, was the youngest of four daughters. Her parents had lived briefly in the Dutch East Indies near the outset of the Second World War, an experience that shaped her interest in the region. She described these influences in Dutch Culture Overseas (1995),noting her desire to bring to “diffuse memories of childhood tales . . . the more disciplined intellectual queries of a historian interested in the particular nature of Dutch history or Dutch culture in diaspora.” This she did in an array of books and articles that ranged across continents as well as fields, including social, intellectual, cultural, gender, political, medical, and diplomatic history. Curious and cosmopolitan, Gouda was fluent in Dutch, English, French, and Indonesian, which allowed her to probe source materials rarely tapped by previous scholars of colonialism and contributed to her unusual skill in comparative history. 

Gouda, who attended local schools in the Netherlands, spent much of her academic career in the United States. Arriving first as a high school exchange student, she later enrolled at the University of Washington, where she received her BA, MA, and PhD. She studied modern French history with David Pinkney, who, she later wrote, encouraged her to consider broad historical questions that cut across national boundaries. After completing a Fulbright scholarship in Paris and attending a Newberry Library research institute on quantitative history, she accepted a position as assistant professor of history at Wellesley College in 1980. 

An immensely popular professor, Gouda earned a prize for teaching excellence at Wellesley and accepted an administrative appointment as class dean. Nonetheless, in 1988, she decided to move to Washington, DC, where she acquired a Victorian townhouse on Capitol Hill, became an administrator for two years at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and taught part time at American University and George Washington University. She continued her research and writing throughout and, in 1990–91, served as a fellow at the Wilson Center. She published two books of comparative history in the 1990s, Poverty and Political Culture (1995) and Dutch Culture Overseas, as well as a volume co-edited with Julia Clancy-Smith, Domesticating the Empire (1998), which reflected her long-standing interest in gender history. She returned to the Netherlands in 1999 as professor of gender and postcolonial history at the University of Amsterdam. A study of US foreign policy and Indonesian nationalism between 1920 and 1942, titled American Visions of the Netherlands East Indies/Indonesia and co-authored with her nephew, military historian Thijs Brocades Zaalberg, appeared in 2002.

At Amsterdam, Gouda made her mark, according to her colleague Liza Mügge, as a US-trained “postcolonial feminist,” willing to challenge “institutionalized masculinity and whiteness” at the university. Teaching courses on gender, ethnicity, and postcolonial history, she “cheered for what she called the new generation of third-wave feminists.” Students admired “her colorful and rich lectures, filled with lively cross-references to her own work and to that of her colleagues and friends across the globe,” remembers Mügge. As she had at Wellesley and in Washington, DC, Gouda graciously opened her home to friends, students, neighbors, and visitors. 

In 2013, Gouda returned to the United States, first as the Erasmus Lecturer on the History and Civilization of the Netherlands and Flanders and visiting scholar at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University. She then served as director of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, before retiring in 2016 to a 17th-century house she had lovingly restored in the northern Netherlands. Wherever she traveled, Gouda made lasting friends, who were drawn to her warmth, intellectual vitality, extraordinary generosity, quick sense of humor, keen interest in others, and dazzling presence. An avid gardener and classical music enthusiast, she shared the things she loved with those she loved in ways that enriched their lives. She leaves her sister, Els Brocades Zaalberg; her brother-in-law, Klaas; and nephews, nieces, and their children, most of whom reside in the Netherlands. 


Ellen Fitzpatrick
University of New Hampshire

Laura Frader
Northeastern University

Sonya Michel
University of Maryland (emerita)


Tags: In Memoriam Global


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