Seventeenth-Century Dutch Colonial Expansion and the Australian Frontier (or How to Research Imperial Ideology Before the Age of Empires)

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Date(s) - 15/08/2012
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Japanese Studies Centre Auditorium, Building 54 (next to the bus loop), Monash University, Clayton Campus


Monash Asia Seminars – CSEAS Seminar Series

Dr Arthur Weststeijn (Royal Netherlands Institute, Rome)

Surprisingly little research has been done on the ideological origins of seventeenth-century Dutch imperialism. This is especially remarkable since the Dutch case was the only early-modern example of a republic that successfully expanded overseas, combining a war for liberty at home with a project for empire abroad. In this talk, Dr Weststeijn will address the intellectual background to this ‘republican empire’. His main contention will be that early-modern Dutch political culture was dominated by, on the one hand, a continuous fear for losing internal concord, and, on the other, an untameable drive for outward expansion – a conflated obsession that is nicely summarized in the official motto of the Dutch Republic: concordia res parvae crescunt [in concord small states grow].

After a general introduction to his project, Dr Weststeijn will illustrate some of the problems he faces in his research by focusing on the earliest Dutch encounters with Australia (or New Holland, as the Dutch were keen to call it). In particular, he will discuss the contentious relationship between the VOC as a non-state colonial actor and private colonial agents such as Isaac le Maire, as well as the ideological links between commercial expansion, voyages of discovery and colonial settlement. He thinks these issues show that Dutch expansion in early-modern South-East Asia was fundamentally different from the ‘Age of Empires’ that we often have in mind when we talk about imperialism. So the main question is, what does imperial ideology actually mean in this early-modern context?

Arthur Weststeijn is the Director of Historical Studies at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome. He holds degrees in History and Philosophy from the University of Amsterdam and a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence. His first book, Commercial Republicanism in the Dutch Golden Age. The Political Thought of Johan & Pieter de la Court (Brill, 2012), discusses the relationship between commerce and politics in seventeenth-century Dutch republican culture. His current research concerns the ideological origins of early-modern Dutch colonialism.