Over the past few decades, the question of how to deal with historical injustice and claims for reparations has taken centre stage in both public and academic debates worldwide. The idea that past injustices ought to be redressed is often analysed as an essentially ‘modern’ phenomenon that originated in post-WWII historical contexts, and is usually related to the legacy of the Holocaust, decolonization, and a new international human rights morality.
My paper challenges this short-term historical analysis by examining a remarkable case concerning reparations made by the Dutch VOC to the heirs and descendants of the English victims of a notorious seventeenth-century historical injustice: the 1623 ‘Amboyna Massacre’. The case of the ‘reparations for Amboyna’ serve as a starting point to a broader exploration of the emergence of reparations in early-modern Europe. In short, I argue that a combination of factors explain the emergence of historical reparations: early-modern modes of representing memories of atrocities, practices of peace-treaty making, commercial arbitration in uncertain legal areas, and developments in legal thinking about liability and restitution obligations in case of injury and damage.