Biographical collections

The scientific activities of the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences include the publication of scholarly reference works. One of these is the biographical dictionary of Belgians who played an important role overseas. This reference work is directed by the Belgian Overseas Biography Commission of the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences.

Between 1948 and 1958, the Belgische Koloniale Biografie / Biographie coloniale belge (Belgian Colonial Biography) was published (in 5 parts). After decolonization, the title was changed to Belgische Overzeese Biografie / Biographie belge d’Outre-Mer  (Belgian Overseas Biography) (5 parts in 6 volumes, published between 1968 and 2015). This series has been completely digitized and can be consulted here or purchased here.

In 2009 the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences decided to bring the Overseas Belgian Biography  to an end and to launch a new scientific biographical reference work, the ‘Biographical Dictionary of Overseas Belgians’. This research tool, started in 2011, is still under construction and can be searched via the search engine.

Why did the former series come to an end and what are the basic options of the new reference work? An answer to these questions is to be found here.

Biographical notes of persons in the Belgian Colonial Biography can be found through the search engine or the general alphabetical list in the menu.

The biographical notes published in the Biographie coloniale belge (1948-1958) and in the first volumes of the Biographie belge d’Outre-Mer (1968-2015) reflect not only the scientific knowledge, but also the ideology of the time. Consequently, a number of these notes have positive, even laudatory, connotations since the authors or writers most often neglected the issues regarded as “sensitive”. This is particularly true for the Belgians who worked for Leopold II and the Congo Free State (1876-1908). This study shows that the former biographical notes sometimes deliberately suffered censorship and that the historical reality often had to give way to the aims of colonial propaganda.

The fact that these former notes are available online does not mean in any way that RAOS agrees with their contents. On the contrary, the Academy has clearly backed away from their eulogistic nature and considers that the biography of many personalities from the colonial period call for an in-depth revision. Therefore, it has been decided to put an end to the above-mentioned series and to start a new reference work, the Biographical Dictionary of Belgians Overseas. The digital (re)publication of the former notes has been dictated by the fact that these texts still contain a lot of factual information that may be of interest to researchers.