Journal of World History 10.1 (1999) 237-240
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These two books are valuable contributions to the literature on imperialism and colonialism, but in very different ways.
H. L. Wesseling's Imperialism and Colonialism brings together a dozen essays he has published over the past twenty-two years. These essays have two strengths. The first is to emphasize the continuity of the relations between Europe and the tropics, from precolonial encounters to postcolonial political, cultural, and demographic interactions. Thus, in chapter 3 ("Knowledge Is Power: Some Remarks on [End Page 237] Colonial Science") the author identifies what was once known as colonial science or oriental studies as the precursor of postindependence development schemes. Likewise, in chapter 10 ("Post-imperial Holland") he traces the unexpected aftereffects of colonialism on a once great colonial power.
The second and most important contribution of this book is that it brings the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies into the history of imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This may seem surprising, since everyone knows that the Netherlands had an empire and that Indonesia was among the largest, richest, and most populated colonies. Yet it is seldom mentioned in histories of the "new" imperialism, as though the Dutch empire were strictly a seventeenth-century event.
In fact, the Dutch empire had a powerful impact on events outside the Indonesian archipelago. In the first place, it was, as Wesseling shows in chapter 4 ("The Netherlands as a Colonial Model"), an inspiration and a cause for envy throughout Europe. Imperialist adventurers like Leopold II of Belgium viewed the Dutch East Indies as a cornucopia of profits for the metropole, while colonial propagandists offered it as an example of enlightened rule.
Causality worked both ways, however. Dutch expansion into the outer islands (Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea) was itself a defensive reaction to the frenetic imperialism of France, Britain, and Germany in the 1880s (see chapter 6, "The Giant That Was a Dwarf: The Strange Case of Dutch Imperialism"), as was the Netherlands' abandonment of its African enclaves (chapter 8, "The Netherlands and the Partition of Africa").
The book will not appeal to all readers of imperialist history. Consisting as it does of a series of articles, it is somewhat disconnected and, in places, repetitious, though not annoyingly so. More tellingly, it is in some ways old-fashioned history, for it sees the colonial experience from the European point of view, emphasizing the military and diplomatic aspects of imperialism, rather than its economic and social side. This reviewer regretted finding little on the development of export agriculture and on the history of the great trading companies, especially in an empire famous for its commerce and its profits.
In contrast to Wesseling's book of scholarly essays, Scott B. Cook's Colonial Encounters in the Age of High Imperialism is a short text frankly aimed at the undergraduate history market. It attempts to cover in 161 pages the phenomenon of "high" imperialism during a twenty-year period from 1880 to 1900. To do so, it is necessarily selective. The scramble for Africa is there, of course, as are three case studies: King [End Page 238] Leopold's Congo, Hawai'i, and British India. The French, Dutch, and German empires get short shrift. But at least by bringing in Hawai'i and the United States, this book breaks with the old tradition that makes imperialism out to be a purely western European phenomenon. To do justice to the global nature of this phenomenon, future works will somehow have to include not only the Netherlands, but also Russia and Japan.
In these chapters, short as they are, Cook succeeds in...