- Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company
Kerry Ward’s Networks of Empire is an important contribution to the study of the dynamics of early modern European empires in Asia. For long, scholars have used the flow of power and authority, knowledge and ideas, and the movement of people, institutions, money, and capital between Europe and its colonies as frameworks to study the dynamics of empires. They focused their attention mainly on the nature and forms of relationship between metropolis and imperial nodes of power in the colonies. In this enterprise, the colonizer-colonized and metropolis- colony binaries have dominated the narratives of the empires. [End Page 393] Recently, migration has come to attract a good deal of scholarly attention especially from historians pursuing transnational /regional and global histories. Within this analytical framework, migration of disparate forms of labor including slaves has set the tone of investigation into transnational and global networks. The book under review is a brilliant study of how networks of forced migration, especially penal transportation and political exile, facilitated but also at the same time limited the Dutch East India Company’s exercise of legal and jurisdictional sovereignty within its Indian Ocean empire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The book examines the political, social, and cultural dynamics of the networks of forced migration between the imperial core region, Batavia, and the Cape of Good Hope.
Networks of Empire is a study of the peopling of an early modern colonial empire in Asia. It focuses on the two imperial nodes of power, namely Batavia and the Cape of Good Hope as one of many circuits of forced migration in the VOC’s empire. It examines the founding and peopling of the Cape as a refreshment post for the Dutch transoceanic seafarers and a place for convicts and exiles, and its transformation into a settler colony in the broader framework of the VOC’s imperial networks and nodes of power. In analyzing the networks of forced migration of slaves, convicts, and political exiles, the author engages with the complex issues of (opportunities and limitations of) sovereignty, politics, diplomacy, social status and identity, and cultural implications of forced migration.
The book is divided into seven chapters of somewhat equal lengths. Chapter 1 sets out the context of this inquiry and introduces to the reader major historical and historiographical issues and interpretations that have dominated the study of European empires in Asia. Since the book explores the networks of forced migration along the Batavia-Cape circuit, the author traces in the next two chapters the evolution of the Dutch East India Company empire and the gradual extension of its sovereignty over indigenous rulers, territories, and subjects as well as the emergence of administrative structures and imperial policies toward “peopling of the empire” (pp. 31–32). Chapter 3 focuses on the company’s exercise of legal authority discernible in the punitive measures it took against those charged with social crimes and political disloyalty. The peopling of the empire, especially of the Cape colony, was closely tied with this legal-political domain of the company. It was through penal transportation and political exile that the Cape and some other imperial nodes received labor force. This was so much that the Cape came to be recognized as a “penal colony” (pp. 132, 243).
The focus shifts from empire to the Cape in chapter 4, in which the [End Page 394] author traces the establishment of the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 and subsequent acquisition of territories and consolidation of imperial control. The author argues that these processes of consolidation and extension of control in the Cape were clearly linked with the company’s politics and diplomacy in archipelagic Southeast Asia. The VOC’s choice of the Cape as a refreshment post and the region’s economic role in the commercial circuit of the southwestern Indian Ocean are intelligently analyzed. The author explores the dynamic interaction between the two imperial nodes in the next...