The Dutch In The Americas: 1600-1800, by Wim Klooster
As a fond student of Atlantic history, there is a great deal that I enjoy about a work like this one. This is the sort of book that not only contains useful information about one of the more obscure empires of the early modern and even contemporary world but also looks really good on a coffee table. This sort of book has at least a few different purposes and as a result the reader must ponder for oneself whether or not these purposes work against each other or with each other. On the one hand, there is a clear goal here to provide information and context about an empire whose importance in encouraging certain strains of tolerance for other cultures in the American tradition deserves recognition even if that tolerance is under considerable strain at present. Similarly, though, it must be admitted that this book appears in large part to be an effort by a library with a lot of holdings relating to Dutch history in the Americas to profit off of their large collections by showing them off, providing a means of earning income from those who would be unlikely to be able to visit the library as well as a means of advertising the library’s holdings. If this is okay to you, then you will find much to enjoy here.
This book is less than 100 pages in terms of its core material. It begins, appropriately enough, with a list of illustrations, a list of color plates, a list of maps, a preface, an introduction, and a chronology of Dutch imperial history in the early modern period. After that there is a discussion of the birth of the Dutch Republic and their world war against the Spanish Empire in the early 17th century (1). This leads to a discussion of the West India company and their schemes and successes (2), as well as a look at the brief but interesting Dutch presence in Brazil where the failure of efforts to encourage settlement of Dutch peasants led to the adoption of slavery as the source of labor (3). After that there is a discussion of the images and knowledge of the New World (4), Dutch contributions to North American history (5), and the Dutch presence in the Guianas and the Caribbean islands, which in many respects remains to this day (6). After that the book ends with an epilogue, multiple bibliographies of sources, and an index.
In terms of the size of this book, this is a book that is surprisingly small. Given the huge number of illustrations and photographs that fill this particular work, the actual size of the text included is not nearly as large as one would expect. The subtitle of the book neatly gives away the contents here: “A Narrative History with the Catalogue of an Exhibition of Rare Prints, Maps, and Illustrated Books from the John Carter Brown Library.” This is a book where the narrative history exists but is clearly the handmaiden to the images of the exhibition that the book serves. One can easily imagine this particular book serving as a useful and popular sales item in the bookstore for the John Carter Brown Library in 1997, when the book was published. Dutch history in general is obscure in the English-speaking world, and that is to be regretted, but it is not surprising when there is so much about the Netherlands that is not well understood because of the language barrier involved. At any rate, this book was a plesaure to read and it is likely that many readers will similarly appreciate both the text and images included herein.