Bloomsbury History is proud to have recently published Exploring the Dutch Empire: Agents, Networks and Institutions, 1600-2000 edited by Catia Antunes and Jos Gommans (both Leiden University, the Netherlands), a collection which explores Dutch participation in and contribution to globalisation through a study of the Dutch empire in Asia, Africa and the Americas. By offering a new insight into the macro and micro worlds of the global Dutchman the book fills a gap in the historiography on empire and globalization, which has previously been dominated by British and, to a lesser extent, French and Spanish cases.
The recent book launch at Leiden University featured a speech by Professor Jan Pronk, a former minister in the Netherlands, a high official at the United Nations and a widely acclaimed authority on global development issues, in which he discussed some of the debates raised by the volume’s contributions. Below is a short extract from the speech; to read the full version, please follow this link.
"This is a book about dilemmas in empire building. While in theory the construction of an empire may seem to be a matter of simply applying a surplus of power, dominating weaker nations, exercising force without hesitation, no questions asked, the reality is different. As the authors of this study make clear, building an empire raises questions to be addressed, deals to be closed and dilemmas to be faced.
There is the dilemma of a small country with a large empire. How to handle this in order to get the desired results? How far can the empire be stretched, before withering away, due to forces from within? How far can it be expanded, before being defeated by competing empires? In which directions on the globe would expansion offer the greatest chance for success? Which are those desired results, and what is success? Economic or political, or otherwise? What should be strived for: short term gains, or long term benefits? Who decides about all this: the government back home, or companies which form the backbone of the empire? Or should it be the people and authorities who represent the home country in the field, far away, but who may have developed their own interest, and who may feel a certain bond with indigenous people in the periphery of the empire rather than with the power brokers in the centre?
These are the dilemmas of power, the power of the metropolis. But these are also the dilemmas of the people in the centre and in the periphery: politicians, administrators, merchants, entrepreneurs, investors, tradesmen, the military, missionaries, explorers and researchers, all of them with their own views and their own interests.
No wonder that empires compete and fight, that they expand and crumble, that they rise and fall.
The authors of this book have studied the ways and means in which the Dutch empire - a vast empire of a small country - has operated in order to sustain itself. Their main conclusion is that these operations have been very flexible throughout a period of four centuries, from 1600 to 2000. This flexibility implied a capacity to adapt to local circumstances, to meet competition from outside, and to address resistance from within, either by force - often - or, not seldom, by negotiation, forging alliances, embracing cosmopolitanism, or even creolization.
The flexibility and adaptability of the empire is one of the most intriguing findings of this book. These findings were brought together by a broad range of authors, who studied the Dutch empire in successive phases of its history and in different parts of the world, geographically as well as culturally. While Emmer and other historians had argued that Dutch expansion overseas took place without building an empire, the authors of this book conclude that an empire did exist, not as a homogenous physical construction, but as a heterogeneous network. The Dutch empire did not consist of a vast peripheral territory under complete physical command and control by the centre in the Low Lands at the sea, far away in Europe. On the contrary, Dutch expansion overseas developed into an empire by constructing an intricate, differentiated and flexible combination of agents, networks and institutions."
Exploring the Dutch Empire, published in May this year, is available to purchase online via our website, where you can also read more about the book and see the table of contents.