The scholar who chooses to present a narrative of the structuring and peopling of the Dutch Atlantic world in the middle decades of the seventeenth century undertakes a mighty task. Wim Klooster does so with narrative skill and an authority derived from his exhaustive examination of archives and secondary sources. He must deal with an Atlantic presence that, especially in its earliest decades, was notably fractured and mobile—a space of transience dictated by the availability of products suitable for the European or Atlantic rim interimperial trade and negotiated in footholds either agreed to by native Americans or forcefully taken from them. The Atlantic world was an aggregation of installations. Some were established by consortia of independent merchant entrepreneurs. Others (from 1621 to 1672) operated within the orbit of the Dutch West India Company's grand design—that is, within a set of strategies carefully considered but often conflicted and enfeebled by a wider culture of decentralization that marked the United Provinces. Thus, for example, Zeeland promoted a number of private enterprises while maintaining its own navy. Holland did the same. Nonetheless, the company established settlements in Brazil, the Caribbean, New Netherland, Guiana, and on the Gold Coast. At one point its Brazilian military establishment was as high as three thousand. More characteristically, however, its forts and settlements were underdefended, prey to hostile natives and to competing Europeans, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, and even Scandinavians. In chapters 1 through 3, Klooster's control over the process by which the Netherlanders shaped themselves into a relatively small but significant geographical and commercial presence along the periphery of (and occasionally into) the polities bordering the Atlantic is a formidable achievement. His skills are equally evident in four later chapters focusing on those who peopled the Dutch settlements. They were the soldiers and sailors who, if they survived the endemic warfare, hostile climates, and dangerous voyaging, overwhelmingly returned home destitute, often ill, and with little hope of getting back pay from the company. In these chapters, Klooster's work intersects with that of social historians who have recently expanded our knowledge of the role families (and especially women) played in building Dutch overseas settlements. This is important to him, as he consistently argues that the Dutch Atlantic world was much more than a space for commercial adventuring. Tracing peopling, he can turn his narrative to remarkably diverse ethnic and racial communities, men and women who came to the New World and intended to remain. If I had a wish, it would be to have a casual conversation with Klooster about the idea of “empire.” Unlike him, I do not find in the Dutch seventeenth century a platform of political centralization or an intentionality sufficiently substantial to justify the word. I am, however, sure that he would be able to present formidable reasons for accepting the concept of empire. I would delight in hearing his explanations and would be pleased to learn. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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