- The Dutch in the Americas 1600–1800: A Narrative History with the Catalogue of an Exhibition of Rare Prints, Maps, and Illustrated Books from the John Carter Brown Library, and: Elusive Empires: Constructing Colonialism in the Ohio Valley, 1673–1800, and: Writing and Postcolonialism in the Early Republic
In recent years, postcolonial theory has enabled scholars to reassess the impact of eighteenth-century European colonialism on American ideas of “empire” and vice-versa. In particular, as Tzvetan Todorov, Gayatri Spivak, and others have directed attention towards representation of “the Other,” interdisciplinary inquiry has increasingly focused on narratives of “encounter” as well as issues of acculturation and decolonization in both European and American literature.
Wim Klooster’s The Dutch in the Americas 1600–1800 compiles and comments on Dutch-colonial narratives as they concern Dutch exploration and commerce in Brazil, the Caribbean, and New Netherlands from about 1400 to 1800. As Klooster notes, between 1500 and 1610 alone some “30,000 titles” were published in the Netherlands, most of which contained American references (41). Klooster begins by recounting the commercial origins of Dutch Trade and how exploration and trading posts in the New World led to the development of the West India Company in 1621. Noting that “[m]any housewives and maids” were among the initial subscribers for shares of the company (19), Klooster tells of its early military and privateering activities. Using maps, engravings, and paintings to illustrate attempts to colonize Brazil, he recounts the Dutch position on slave trade and Portuguese resistance to governmental abuses. In addition, he notes how Dutch pamphleteers represented Spanish cruelty and despotism and discusses the impact of reports by Dierick Ruyters and Johannees de Laet, both of whom provided important navigation information and detailed accounts of the West India Company’s operations in Brazil (45). Klooster also remarks on the emergence of the New Netherland Company and how Dutch interests in North [End Page 305] America led to the production of promotional literature, rich with ethnographic detail. Lastly, after recounting the history of New Netherland and the lingering influence of Dutch culture in New York, Klooster reminds us of how the Founding Fathers “pored over the Dutch example of successful national resistance two hundred years earlier,” i.e., in the Plakkaat van Verlatinge (58) and how the study of Dutch republican institutions “inspired the authors of the Declaration of Independence” (79). He concludes by commenting on the Dutch presence in Guinea and the Caribbean Islands and how the Dutch participated in a slave trade economy.
In tracing the rise and fall of the Dutch West India Company, Klooster remarks that “Even in those areas of Brazil where Indians were not enslaved, the Dutch did have access to Indian labor, since many Indian village chiefs entered into contracts with employers” (32). While it would have been useful to identify the source of such material and the history of reciprocal exchange more fully, Klooster nevertheless documents the varied attempts to colonize the New World and the role of the Dutch in the Caribbean. Indeed, what makes Klooster’s study so valuable is the fact that it synthesizes in a single narrative a diverse range of Dutch colonial texts in the John Carter Brown library—nearly 1,790 documents—and their relevance for understanding the Dutch empire and expansion in the Americas.
Elusive Empires: Constructing Colonialism in the Ohio Valley, 1673–1800, by Eric Hinderacker, examines French, British, and American relations with native tribes in the Ohio Valley and the ways intercultural contact redefines existing ideas about the formation of national identity. He argues that rather than seeing “empire” as the effect...