Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.4 (2002) 715-722
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Jan Willem Veluwenkamp, Archangel: Nederlandse ondernemers in Rusland 1550-1785[Arkhangel'sk: Dutch Entrepreneurs in Russia, 1550-1785]. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Balans, 2000. 271 pp. (paper). ISBN 90-5018-530-4. €22.46.
Jan Willem Veluwenkamp's history of Dutch entrepreneurship in early modern Russia is in many ways a long-overdue work. The relationship between Muscovite Russia and the Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands was of crucial importance for Russia's development during a period that saw its rise from a peripheral grand duchy to a great European power. By 1600, the Netherlands had established itself as Russia's most important trade partner in the West - or, indeed, anywhere - and it retained that position without a serious challenge for the century that followed. In their efforts to create a basic industrial infrastructure to support, above all else, the armed forces, Russian rulers turned first and foremost to the Dutch. Whether we look at the history of the White Sea port of Arkhangel'sk or the rise of Russian iron manufacturing, we are constantly reminded that the "Golden Age" of the Dutch republic was also the golden era of Dutch-Russian relations. It was also, as Veluwenkamp reminds us at the outset, in a very real sense Russia's first "window on Europe," or at least one of the first. Veluwenkamp's study does valuable work in tracing the evolution of these relations beyond their zenith into the first century of the Russian empire.
In spite of the crucial importance of Dutch-Russian relations, there has been a curious absence - relatively speaking - of serious scholarly work devoted to the subject. The pioneering project on the Dutch side was Jacobus Scheltema's early-19th-century study that tackled all aspects of the relationship. 1 In Russia, Veniamin Aleksandrovich Kordt nearly a century later authored the first serious study devoted to the subject. 2 A Russian émigré, Boris Rapchinskii, in the late 1930s used a combination of Russian and Dutch archival data to produce a [End Page 715] couple of important articles on the subject, 3 while in the Soviet Union, Mikhail Ivanovich Belov completed an important dissertation on the topic immediately after World War II and subsequently published an article drawn from his otherwise unpublished manuscript. 4 After the war, there was little Soviet scholarship devoted to Dutch-Russian relations and the field came to be effectively monopolized by Dutch scholars, most notably the Amsterdam archivist Simon Hart and Leiden historian Piet de Buck. 5 Russian interest in the subject began to revive towards the end of the Soviet period, albeit exclusively in the context of more general studies devoted to Russian foreign economic relations. 6 In the West, the most recent larger contribution is Hans Schade's study of the genesis of Dutch-Russian [End Page 716] relations. 7 Astonishingly enough, however, Veluwenkamp is the first to have produced a book-length overview of this key era of Dutch-Russian relations since Scheltema's work nearly two centuries ago.
Veluwenkamp's work is a refreshing departure in a literature which has tended to be quite heavily dominated by diplomatic history, at least as far as its methodology and source base are concerned. Instead of mining the rich collections of official correspondence between the two states, Veluwenkamp tells the story of those Dutchmen whose activities made the expansion of Russian trade and industry possible: Dutch merchants and industrialists active on the eastern periphery of Europe. These individuals acted, in a very real sense, as "midwives of an empire," especially in the 17th century when Russia's most impressive territorial expansion still lay ahead. The Dutch, more than anyone else, supplied Russia with the foreign specie that permitted the increasingly complete monetization of the pre-Petrine economy. They supplied a large proportion of the weapons and munitions that allowed Russia to fight the numerous wars that characterized the era and supplied Russia with a wider array of imports than any other power. Finally, they...