Writing East India Company History after the Cultural Turn: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Seventeenth-Century East India Company and Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie
- Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 17, Number 3, Summer 2017
- pp. 10-36
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While empire and travel writing have provided fertile terrain for explorations of race, gender, and the colonial archive, analytical approaches associated with the cultural turn have only marginally impacted the writing of seventeenth-century English and Dutch East India Company histories. A more sustained interdisciplinary approach to the early East India Company (1600–1857) and Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (1602–1799) can enrich the field of Company studies and connect it more fully to the latest debates in global history. This article comprises a historiographical survey followed by a discussion of the rich potential that the archives of the East India companies hold for cultural analysis. It asserts that scrutiny of the ethnographic content of English and Dutch Company writing serves both as a means to investigate the mental worlds of Company agents and to comprehend the social worlds they inhabited. Such analysis brings out the discursive borrowings between different colonial formations and helps us understand how texts produced in one location shaped ideas and perceptions in others. The article argues that it is this cultural component, largely overlooked in the existing literature, that should be taken into account when writing the histories of the seventeenth-century East India companies.