2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to America. Of the one hundred English “Pilgrims” undertaking the 1620 voyage, fifty hailed from Leiden, the Netherlands, where they had lived as religious refugees since 1609. The Mayflower voyage and the foundation of Plymouth Colony have become linked with origin narratives of the United States, which ignore not only the Pilgrims’ almost twelve-year sojourn in Leiden and the larger Atlantic networks in which they were operating, but also, more importantly, the continuing impact of colonialism on indigenous societies and cultures. While a century ago, as a recent exhibition at Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Mass., has shown, the tercentenary of the founding of Plymouth in 1920 was, “unabashedly, a celebration of America’s founding,” such a blithely nationalist narrative no longer is acceptable in an age in which we have become increasingly aware of the need to find more inclusive ways to memorialize “difficult” histories in all their historical, ideological, and ethical complexities.
The international Leiden Mayflower 400 conference, held in Leiden, August 26-28, 2020, will challenge the Anglo-American approach which has so often dominated the popular narrative of the early colonization of North America, and prioritize a “four-nations” approach to include Native American and Dutch perspectives.