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Rijk aan de rand van de wereld de…
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Rijk aan de rand van de wereld de geschiedenis van Nederland overzee… (edition 2012)

by Piet Emmer, Jos Gommans

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141683,257 (3.3)None
Member:ChrisHeynen
Title:Rijk aan de rand van de wereld de geschiedenis van Nederland overzee 1600-1800
Authors:Piet Emmer
Other authors:Jos Gommans
Info:Amsterdam Bakker 2012
Collections:Wishlist
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Tags:Geschiedenis, Benelux

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Rijk aan de rand van de wereld by Piet Emmer

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"Jesus Christ is good, but trade is better"

The title of this book is a play on the word "rijk", which means both "rich" and "empire". In 1650, the Netherlands and its possessions were situated on the edge of Europe, Asia, America and Africa. It was a maritime phenomenon with few large territories. Even the Dutch Republic itself was small and on the edge of the European continent. Like many other places on the seaboard, the Dutch regents had an almost blind trust in markets and trade, travelling to "where profit leads us". The rise of Dutch commerce found an equivalent in Asian coastal areas. The Dutch were influential in those Asian areas where land powers with large agricultural areas and a strong cavalry could not influence developments (Java, Sri Lanka).

Lacking a ruler by the grace of God, "Reformed theologians and atheist philosophers" found solace in the laws of nature as justification for their behaviour. The East lent itself best for observation, collection, categorisation and study, whereas the New World was a tabula rasa, a laboratory for political experimentation. Following Bernard Mandeville, the Dutch thought that the state exploit should the human character for public benefit.

The East India Company was the world's first limited company with permanent shareholder capital (p.32). Through a large extent it was organised in Batavia. The Company had to earn its working capital itself by means of intra-Asian trade, thus saving the Company the dangerous transportation of silver and gold from Europe. The Company, with at its height 40,000 staff, used its monopoly to generate profits, mainly in luxury products. Still, after 1690 its business ceased being profitable. The lack of silver in Japan was one reason, the other was accounting. A lack of understanding of its profit and loss account would cause the demise of the Company (p.45): the lords in Holland had to follow their instincts. Unlike the British East India Company, the Dutch East Asia Company was not capable of financing its costs out of local taxes.

The foundation of the West India Company was more cumbersome and required government financing. By 1645 it would fall to 5th place after even France. The main cause was the reluctance if the state to finance the colonies permanently (p.39). Lacking monopolies, the West India Company's margins were insufficient to do this itself. None of the European colonies could afford the costs of government themselves. As long as trade was feasible for the Europeans, having a colony had limited benefits. Organisational issues were another cause (p.40). After 1740 the users of the West India Company's remaining assets were supposed to pay the costs, but in practice they were subsidised by the state.

Little impressions remain from non-European visitors to the Dutch Republic. Acehnese, Persian and Siamese embassies made it to the Netherlands, which was also home Armenian and Persian merchants. As a centre of book printing, lots of new knowledge was distributed, leading to ever changing thought patterns: observation and categorisation led to thinking in systems. The horti of Dutch universities collected plants from across the globe, helping the Swede Linnaeus to his classification into families. The East India Company developed a network of botanists and doctors to compile information on local medical knowledge. The network covered Leiden, Ceylon, Japan, Batavia, Ambon and the Cape of Good Hope. The most spectacular garden was in Recife. The gardens also had a pleasure aspect; the authors compare them to modern airports where you could feel like you were overseas (p.80). The elite developed a consumer society that showed off Indian textiles, Persian carpets and Chinaware that trickled down into the middle classes. The most important Constkamers of the regents were open to scientists. In the 18th century these collections were sold to royal courts across Europe. Books were another source of knowledge and were a cause for questions about the Bible and the classics. Descriptions of countries and market research were made public. Many followed the conventions of the ars apodemica, but there were also descriptions of exotic heathens and flora and fauna (p.85). By comparing witchcraft around the world Balthasar Bekker inadvertedly founded comparative theology and contributed to the Enlightenment. The German historian Georg Hornius wrote the first global history Arca Noae. Cartography was another area where the days' globalisation was expressed. The important posts had their own cartographers.

The books produced did not lead to much of a dialogue with the Orient. Through time the categorisation of knowledge led to stricter stereotypes that were exported by means of books. There were few translators of Oriental texts like the Jesuits produced them. The interest in the Orient was often focussed on the roots of European culture and hence on the Arab and Persian world. However, Enlightenment thinkers used their knowledge of the Far East to question European traditions. The Moghul emperors Akbar and Jahangir had an interest in European paintings and their court painters produced numerous miniatures of Christ, Maria and Catholic saints. Some 20 Dutch painters profited from the interest in Western art at the Persian and Moghul courts. Some of these painters acted via the Company. The Dutch interest in Asian miniatures was limited, but existed, particularly in the circle of Nicolaes Witsen. Rembrandt used miniatures for dressing up people in his scenes from the Old Testament. Dutch theatre authors like Vondel found inspiration in the Manchu dynasty's conquest of China for their plays. From the second half of the 18th century the Japanese, especially those from the Samurai class, used the Dutch as a conduit for obtaining Western knowledge, particularly medical and technological knowledge, but also an understanding of the Dutch monetary system. Ideological knowledge was not popular in Confucian sino-centric Japan. Direct contact with Dutchmen was more and more replaced by book knowledge. The Dutch introduced acupuncture in Europe.

The East India Company had limited influence on life in the Netherlands (p.126). The growth of its luxury products grew at only 1% p.a. Despite of that, the value of the products it traded grew to an amount greater than the intra-European trade. The West India Company was less and less important. Much of the sugar for refineries was bought in European harbours. Still, given that Dutch trade in general was stagnating, colonial trade grew in importance. Given that the Company was essentially in the business of trading only it was not very innovative after its start. With competition growing it had to add products with a lower added value to its business. The Company managed to export some cloth, which helped delaying the fall of Dutch economic prominence. The East India Company was important on the Dutch capital market. Seen as bonds, its shares must have increased interest rates, but there were few domestic alternatives. The plantation loans for the West Indies led to a loss of capital in the 18th century. The slave trade diminished in importance. Holland's open market brought lower profits for sugar than England's. Part of the profits from the monopoly in the East Indies were used for transfer payments to the West Indies. Imports led to some change in consumption patterns and to the production of alternative wares, e.g. Delftware and textiles printed with Indian designs.

With their tradition in trading, the Dutch were less inclined to the Atlantic. The local population of the Americas and Africa produced few products worth trading. The Indians died because of susceptibility to European diseases. Business required large scale colonisation projects and emigration. In Africa too many Europeans died within months. The human immune system was decisive for colonisation patterns in the Atlantic. Like their neighbours, the Dutch colonisation pattern was a continuation of fishing that excluded the natives. The family patterns of the Iberians included natives in the Atlantic. The Africans could not be convinced to work for European markets; precious metals did not convince them like the Asians. This lack of interest was a consistent pattern (p.150) and was impossible for Europeans to understand.

Sugar made the Caribbean the most dynamic region in the Western world in the 17th century. The plantation economy was based upon slavery, with slaves making up 90% of the population. This created two separate societies of mostly men. Constant immigration in both groups reduced integration. Once the percentage of women rose, profitability fell (p.173). Averagely, working hours for slaves equalled Europe of the time. Many slaves had their own land to grow food for their own consumption and for trade. Still, this hobby capitalism did not prepare slaves to start successful businesses after abolition (p.189). Seeds were shipped from Africa. The supply of goods to buy was very limited. The plantation hospitals often used medicine supplied by slaves for tropical diseases. The resistance of slaves led to improved conditions over time and large-scale insurrections were rare, despite the large numerical majority of slaves. Only the one in Haiti succeeded. Creating senior positions for some slaves was one method to maintain peace. Slave owners interfered rarely in their cultural and religious lives. Working conditions in the Caribbean were worse than in the southern states of the USA, mainly due to climatic conditions and the products produced. Most plantation owners in the Dutch Caribbean were British, followed by Germans, Frenchmen and Swiss. The Antilles rarely produced for exports and were more transito harbours. Due to this position the Antilles never produced a society typical of slavery (p.201).

Survival changes and food in New Netherland were better than in the Netherlands, let alone in Asia. It is not understood why emigration to North America attracted only some 200 people p.a. The Republic did not send convicts or religious minorities overseas. The costs of maintaining a colony could not be charged locally due to the proximity of other colonies. The Dutch bought beaver skins, the area's only export product, from the Indians and concentrated on agriculture. Both Indians and Europeans profited from the Columbian Exchange, but the tyranny of distance did not make Dutch exports profitable. Migrating and buying a farm required 1,800 guilders and would bring a yearly income of 30 guilders (p.227). "By giving up New Netherland, the West India Company was ahead of its time" (p.235).

The Dutch held out longer in Africa, where even Brandenburg managed to hold forts for some time. The Cape of Good Hope was the only area in Africa where Europeans survived easily. Land and food were plentiful for this post on the way to the East Indies. Many of the European men married Asian women brought there as slaves. The Europeans raised cattle, grew grain and made wine. Land use grew 10-fold in the 18th century. The Dutch traded in slaves mostly in West Africa, where some 30% of the population was held as slaves, but was rarely very productive (p.254). Rising prices meant that women and children became more in demand. The Dutch centre was the fort of Elmina (in Ghana). Trade required a lot of diplomatic skill. Overall the Dutch performance in the Atlantic compares poorly to Portugal, Spain and Britain.

Unlike Columbus, Vasco da Gama did not discover a new world, but only a new route. It added to the Arid Zone that connected the Great Wall with Morocco. Trading empires were successful in coastal areas and on the edges of this Arid Zone (Delhi, Peking). Empires that combined the Arid Zone with maritime areas (Safavids, Moghuls, Manchu) were especially successful. The Moghuls created a network society that offered the East India Company a niche to participate (p.275) but not to dominate, thanks to its large cavalry. The authors follow K.N. Chaudhuri in his assessment of trading patterns in the Indian Ocean. Cambay and later Surat, Calicut, Goa and Malacca connected the Arabian Sea the Gulf of Bengal and the South China Sea. The Dutch bypassed the Monsoon system by sailing straight from the Cape to the Sunda Strait and making Batavia their central emporium. This created a new trade pattern in Asia, although Armenians and Indians had realised something equivalent. The Company enhanced this with exclusive access to the Spice Islands. In the region’s interior areas focussed increasingly on coastal areas, leading to independent states in Gujarat and Pegu. The Chinese government took appropriate measures to stop this on its territory. Mataram and Kandy failed in this manner due to the Company, changing the integration pattern from the coast to the interior. Outside the tropical zone Asian networks remained dominant until late in the 18th century, when they were eclipsed primarily by private British "country traders".

The Company aimed first at heavily concentrated production centres of spices that were also peripheral to the zones of influence of India and China. Here the Company deliberately acted as an imperialistic and colonial organisation, although these areas had highly developed forms of state formation and economic dynamism. Local courts often used foreigners as intermediaries, because they were easier to control. These intermediaries were Arabs, Indians or Chinese. The trade networks that were developing at the time of the arrival of the Dutch were often Islamic. These Muslims were of Indian and Chinese origin. The coastal trade cities used Islam to emancipate themselves vis-à-vis the agrarian inland states. This area was too dynamic for classic Eastern despotism with a rigid ethnic identity (p.287). Rulers constantly needed to negotiate, intrigue, bribe and spy upon. This "mandala concept" of the state gave Europeans relatively easy access. The Company expanded its role through mediation in regional conflicts, as if it were a Trojan horse (p.288). Whereas the Portuguese had outsourced trade to private persons, the Company tried to maximise profits through monopolies, which matched local potentates in Aceh and Banten. The harbour of Jacarta was in a relative political vacuum and easy to obtain as a regional headquarters. Epidemics in Mataram helped the Dutch survive in their early stage (p.290). Based upon the principles of the ideal city defined by Simon Stevin, Batavia was mostly a city of Asians with just 7% Europeans. It soon became a mestizo society. The white skinned Europeans were leading in the Company town, but this changed slowly through time. The protestant religion was used to discipline society. The structure of a Javanese city with its flexible ethnic neighbourhoods can be applied to Batavia (p.294). The management of ethnic neighbourhoods was left to local kapiteins. Lacking European burghers, the city soon accepted Chinese to develop the city. They also created the junk trade with China, and they were instrumental in the development of the sugar trade. The Company slowly increased its role on Java, supporting or fighting against the local kingdoms. This also reduced the role of Indian and Arab traders. Company expansion created political stability on the island and the population and agricultural production grew spectacularly.

The Moluccan islands had been normal Austronesian islands until shortly before the arrival of the Europeans. The Company created a plantation economy somewhat like those in the Atlantic. Ambon became a military garrison quite like Batavia with lots of immigrants. To ascertain their monopolies, the Company waged war regularly, which may have led to the death of three quarters of the population in the area. To further increase its grip, the Company expanded on Sulawesi and Timor. The orientation on the archipel rather than on the outside world (as is Singapore) is a Company product.

Sri Lanka was treated in the manner of Java. In Sri Lanka the Dutch obtained a monopoly in cinnamon and elephants. The Dutch founded a seminary in Colombo for members of the native elite. This created an intellectual climate unlike elsewhere in Company territory. In business, the Tamil minority performed the same role as the Chinese in Java. On the Malabar Coast the Dutch were also able to influence political outcomes (p.335). The Dutch nobleman Van Reede van Drakenstein crowned Vira Kerala Varma in the European manner after their conquest of Portuguese territories, making himself stadholder. Monopolies were not feasible and the Malabar Coast and the area would generate losses structurally. Most territories were sold to local rulers before the last territory was lost to Britain.

Further north the prosperous years of the Company ran in tandem to those of the Mughal Empire. Mentally, the "licensed pirates" of the Company had the same background as the "gang of semi-nomadic exploiters of a road network", which helped making this relationship successful. The Company provided a reliable supply for the transparent and reliable Mughal market. This was a market without "portfolio capitalists", but suppliers of specialised services. The Mughals abstained from too much market interference. The Mughal had a continuous trade surplus with lands to its west with plenty of cash in gold, silver and copper. The Dutch supplied silver from Japan, South America and later from Persia. Interest rates were almost equal to Amsterdam and the increased inflow of precious metals did not lead to inflation. Half of the Company's sales at the end of the 17th century were generated in Surat and servants studied the Mughal Empire systematically. The Company operated here purely as a trader, in competition with native, regional and European traders.

Continental Southeast Asia was ruled by inland kingdoms concentrating on agriculture that offered no monopoly options. The region was developing itself under Chinese influence, e.g. in the case of mining in Burma, Vietnam and Malaya. The arrival of the Company may have supported the process of reorientation on coastal areas and trade. Strong, charismatic and ideologically eclectic rulers in a patchwork of states were their countries' most important traders. Mostly these states were seen as a possibility to access the Chinese market.

The conquest of Taiwan led to a relaxation of trade restrictions by the Manchu and consequently to an economic boom. Chinese silk was in demand in Japan, which could offer silver in return. It was a major reason to found a colony in Taiwan, just outside Ming jurisdiction. The Company cooperated with the Zheng family, which would later conquer Taiwan from the Dutch. The years of Dutch colonisation were key for the development of Taiwan.

In the 18th century the Company's role diminished. At a time of decreasing amounts of cheap Japanese silver, more silver was needed to get into the now more profitable markets for textiles and tea. The British were stronger here. The London capital market was growing and the British East India Company was organised differently. It relied more on trade with Europe and on taxation, giving space to "country traders" working for their own account and risk. The British were also more attuned to the rise of regional powers in India where the Dutch had associated themselves with the Mughals. Javanese coffee and sugar remained highly profitable in Asia, but less so in Europe (p.442). The Company’s influence in Asia has been limited. The Company certainly contributed to economic growth in China and India. In Indonesia it contributed more to economic development, albeit with few benefits for the local population. It also killed regional native commerce (p.447).

As a lasting influence Europe was most important in in the Americas, that were shaped by Europeans. The Dutch role was soon reduced to a few plantation colonies where a small group of Dutchmen had to maintain segregation to survive. European influence was smallest in Africa. In Asia the Europeans had to shape their own role within existing patterns. Culturally, the Dutch had little influence on the outside world. Civil rights did not apply in the colonies and tolerance was a necessity rather than an idea.

This book is written by two Dutch experts in colonial expansion. They have applied modern concepts like economic history, networks, and the geographical and biological determinism of Jared Diamond to the world in the 17th and 18th century, before Britain became the world's dominant power. These modern concepts make it easier to accept some of the authors' conclusions compared to books of an earlier generation: we "recognise" this book. The book would have been even better if the authors had elaborated more on quite a few subjects. Still it seems a book that is worth reading even for those not specifically interested in Dutch history. It covers much of the globe from Brazil to Persia, paying least attention to Europe. ( )
  mercure | Aug 1, 2012 |
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In een vergeten uithoek van het Euraziatische continent weten de Nederlanden zich in de zeventiende eeuw op te werpen als centrum van de wereldzeeën. Vanuit deze ontluikende metropool verspreiden zich tienduizenden Europeanen naar Azië, Afrika en Amerika. Door de wisselwerking met andere beschavingen ontstaat in Nederland een nieuwe, vroegmoderne samenleving. Als in een microkosmos vergapen de tijdgenoten zich aan de veelheid van goederen en ideeën die uit alle windrichtingen op Nederlandse markten en in bibliotheken, tuinen en collecties wordt verzameld.
In grote delen van Azië blijven de Nederlanders een exotisch randverschijnsel van de grote imperia. Alleen op de tropische eilanden van Ceylon, Java en de Molukken ontwikkelen ze zich van perifere zeenomaden tot koloniale landmagnaten. Daar ontstaan, net als in de Nieuwe Wereld, multiculturele samenlevingen waar religieuze tolerantie en wetenschappelijke nieuwsgierigheid wonderwel samengaan met rigoureuze politieke en economische exploitatie van slavenhandel en slavernij. Deze vroege interculturele wisselwerking biedt een uniek Nederlands venster op het ook nu nog zo actuele verschijnsel van de globalisering. Rijk aan de rand van de wereld schetst op een verrassende wijze hoe de Nederlanders de wereld gestalte hebben gegeven – en de wereld de Nederlanders.
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