Colonization, Commerce, and Connections: A Roundtable Taking Stock of the “Dutch Turn” in Atlantic Historiography

AHA Session 160
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Gramercy (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Wim Klooster, Clark University
Catia Antunes, Leiden University
Karwan Fatah-Black, Leiden University
Deborah Hamer, Omohundro Institute
Jared Ross Hardesty, Western Washington University
Andrea Catharina Mosterman, University of New Orleans

Sponsored by the New Netherland Institute

Session Abstract

Until recently, scholarship on the early modern Atlantic world has neglected the role of the Dutch, especially when compared to the British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Now, with increased access to Dutch language training, digitization of sources, and collaboration between scholars in the United States, Canada, and Europe, historians have started to seriously consider the place of the Dutch in the Atlantic world. Works such as Wim Klooster’s The Dutch Moment (2016) demonstrate that the Netherlands played a central role in imperial wars, the colonization and displacement of indigenous people in the Americas, and the rise of plantation agriculture and African slavery. Scholars have also established that Dutch actors were crucial intermediaries in the Atlantic economy, serving as an important source of manufactured goods and had a willingness to engage in interimperial and extra-legal trade, helping to create an integrated and cohesive Atlantic commercial system.

Incorporating the Dutch allows historians to reexamine some of the major themes and moments in Atlantic history. A major critique of the field has been the willingness of scholars to create siloed, nationally-focused “Atlantics,” such as the “British Atlantic.” The Dutch, however, engaged in commerce and settled across the Atlantic, regardless of imperial boundaries. In short, their case helps better illuminate the entanglements that characterize Atlantic history. Moreover, while the Dutch had formal imperial structures, they were also free traders, raising important questions about how to study empire or if territorial empires are even the best way to approach Atlantic history. Finally, by incorporating Dutch perspectives and sources into their scholarship, historians have reinterpreted key moments in early American and early Atlantic history, such as the Dutch trafficking some of the first enslaved Africans that arrived in England’s North American colonies or that the Dutch colony of Curaçao became an important source of slaves and other commodities for Spanish America. All told, incorporating the Dutch and accounting for their role in the early modern Atlantic allows us to tell a more complete history.

This roundtable takes stock of this “Dutch Turn” in Atlantic historiography. It brings together Dutch and American historians to more holistically examine this exciting moment. The panelists will each bring their own expertise to bear on three questions regarding the Dutch in the early modern Atlantic. First, in what ways have the Dutch become part of the historiography of early America and the Atlantic world and why does the Dutch perspective matter? Second, how can the inclusion of Dutch actors and sources enrich the field? How does it affect or change our view of places that have been long studied? Finally, what is next for the “Dutch Turn?” Where should scholars turn their attention and what are some possibilities for future research? In the end, these questions will allow the panel to have a wide-ranging conversation about and encourage audience participation in what is rapidly becoming an important moment in the historiography of the early modern Atlantic world.

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