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Empire at the Periphery: British Colonists, Anglo-Dutch Trade, and the Development of the British Atlantic, 1621-1713
Published by EH.Net (December 2012)
Christian J. Koot, Empire at the Periphery: British Colonists, Anglo-Dutch Trade, and the Development of the British Atlantic, 1621-1713. New York: New York University Press, 2011. xv + 312 pp. $39 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-8147-4883-1.
Reviewed for EH.Net by Claudia Schnurmann, Department of History, University of Hamburg.
Christian Koot’s aim in this study is to enrich our understanding of the interrelations between English-Dutch Atlantic trade, the economic behavior of English settlers in North America, and English politics between 1621 and 1713. He hopes to achieve this by dealing in chronological order with three phases of English-Dutch trade: “Beginnings, 1620-1659” (pp. 17-83), “Achieving Stability, 1660-1689,” (pp. 87-178) and “Maturity, 1689-1713” (pp. 181-213). Unfortunately he neither elaborates on his reasons for focusing on these time periods nor does he establish a context for his key terms.
Thus it does not come as a surprise that despite all the author’s enthusiasm and dedication he misses the high marks he has set himself. He promises to approach the topic from a new angle, arguing that all previously published micro studies have failed to integrate their results “into a larger understanding of the economic development of the British Atlantic” (p. 4). Unfortunately his lack of expertise in Dutch precludes him from expanding his historiographical knowledge beyond research published in English. Thus he does not recognize that for over ten years historians outside the pale of Anglo-American historiography have developed new concepts of Atlantic history at odds with the earlier research tied to the notion of the British Atlantic. In short Koot is unfamiliar with the relevant continental European research on his topic. That forces him to concentrate on American and English research which is primarily based on English sources that reflect the concerns of the British Empire. This focus entangles him in a hermeneutic circle in which he assumes that Anglo-Dutch trade relations are governed by the legal framework usually referred to as Acts of Trade and Navigation in a “British Atlantic.” He is unfamiliar with the research of Hermann Wellenreuther (Jacob Leisler’s Atlantic World in the Later Seventeenth Century, Berlin: Lit, 2009), nor with the seminal study of New Netherlands and other relevant articles by Jaap Jacobs (i.e. Eeen zegenrijk Gewest: Nieuw Nederland in de zeventiende Eeuw, Amsterdam: Prometheus: B. Bakker, 1999). And although he mentions this reviewer’s study on the Atlantic worlds published in 1998 (Claudia Schnurmann, Atlantische Welten: Engländer und Niederländer im amerikanisch-atlantischen Raum 1648-1713, Cologne: Böhlau 1998), which analyzes in detail English and Dutch communication, trade and politics, in the American-Atlantic sphere between 1648-1713, it is quite clear that he has read neither this nor any other study published by European continental historians. Without sufficient knowledge of persons, trading activities, or networks that reflect the various Dutch, English, and colonial merchants’ interests in the world of politics and economics, he arrives at insights and conclusions that clearly demonstrate that he fundamentally misunderstands the concept of Atlantic history. The role and function of important players in the supranational Atlantic networks like Augustin Hermans, Georg Hack, Jacob Leisler, Cornelius Jacobs Moy, or Luis Dias is not understood. Only for the Leeward Islands does the author offer some interesting and new observations.
Instead the monograph offers an unstructured compilation of statements published in Anglo-American scholarly publications (which is not the fault of these monographs) and of quotations largely copied from edited and translated Dutch sources. Citing material from translated and published publications is of course perfectly legitimate. But – and this is a big “but” – how an historian can hope to achieve the aim of writing a new, discerning scholarly study of Dutch-English trade in the Atlantic world of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and of related supranational networks without even looking at the archival material housed in the Gemeentearchief at Amsterdam or in the Nationaal Archief at Den Haag, and without considering the intimate and special relations of settlers, merchants, and plantation owners in Suriname, Barbados, Nieuw Nederland, Virginia, or Maryland with captains of Dutch and English merchantmen is beyond the reviewer’s perception. The many faceted interests of the Dutch West India Company, of the leading Dutch provinces Zeeland and Holland, of the urban centers Amsterdam and Rotterdam, or the governments involved are all ignored. Finally, to locate the seat of the Estates General in Amsterdam (p. 75) reveals an astounding lack of knowledge of the history of the Netherlands.
The author invents the wheel anew, does not really grasp the meaning of the concept of Atlantic history, and dresses his traditional and outmoded concept of imperial history with modish terms like the “British Atlantic,” which despite all myths and preconceived notions existed neither in 1621, nor in 1713, nor in 1776. In sum, this study does not represent a reliable microanalysis of Anglo-Dutch colonial and Atlantic worlds; it only proves the wisdom of the Latin proverb: “Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses.”
Claudia Schnurmann is Chair of North American and Atlantic History at the University of Hamburg. Her publications include Claudia Schnurmann and Hartmut Lehmann (editors), Atlantic Understandings: Essays on European and American History in Honor of Hermann Wellenreuther, Hamburg, 2006; Claudia Schnurmann, “Seventeenth-Century Atlantic Commerce and Nieuw Amsterdam/New York Merchants,” in Hermann Wellenreuther (editor), Jacob Leisler’s Atlantic World in the Later Seventeenth Century: Essays on Religion, Militia, Trade, and Networks, Münster, 2009 ; and Claudia Schnurmann, “Wampum as a Cultural Broker in Northeastern America, 1620-60,” in Sünne Juterczenka and Gesa Mackenthun (editors), The Fuzzy Logic of Encounter: New Perspectives on Cultural Contact, Münster, 2009.
Another version of this review will be published in the German review ejournal Sehepunkte.
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