Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943

Uncommon Sense

The following is from the Uncommon Sense archives. It first appeared in the Fall 2004 issue, no. 119.

The Atlantic World and the Dutch, 1500–2000

Centuries ago, the Dutch West India Company (1621–1791) initiated contacts between a series of countries in Africa, the Americas, and Europe that, for better or for worse, helped shape a past we share to this day. In the course of these many centuries, archival records were formed, books and pamphlets published, the present material cultural heritage was built, and oral histories were told and transmitted. Together, these multiple sources are of great value to our understanding of the past and present of the various countries involved and their interactions over time. Currently, however, locating and gaining access to these materials, scattered over many collections in various countries, present almost insurmountable challenges for scholars. Many documents have been destroyed, both in The Netherlands and elsewhere, and those that survive are in poor condition. The Atlantic World and the Dutch, 1500–2000, a mutual heritage project recently launched at the KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies with the support of the Dutch government, is designed to address these issues.

Geographically demarcated by the sphere of influence of the former Dutch West India Company and focusing principally on the countries in which the Company established more or less permanent settlements—Angola, Aruba, Brazil, Ghana, Guyana, The Netherlands Antilles, Suriname, and the United States—The Atlantic World and the Dutch will also include countries such as Gorrée, São Tomé, and Tobago, where contacts were more transitory. Although the time period to be considered will generally be confined to the years when the Dutch West India Company was actively present, long before 1800, the chronology will, in some cases, be extended—for Ghana, to the beginning of British rule in 1872; for Suriname, until the achievement of independence in 1975; and for Aruba and The Netherlands Antilles, which are still part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, up to the present.

The project will be carried out in two stages. The identification phase, which began in February 2004 and will conclude by the end of this year, concentrates on identifying and contacting individuals and institutions with a potential interest in this work. The goal is to compile and publish a freely accessible digital guide offering data on:

  • archival and other historical collections in the countries involved in this period, including their accessibility and physical condition;
  • initiatives and possible future action plans concerning record management and preservation;
  • current and planned historical research projects on this episode, including oral history and archeological research;
  • research needs on this period as perceived by relevant actors in the various countries involved.

In addition to charting archival and research needs and initiatives relevant to the Atlantic World and the Dutch, we also hope to formulate plans for the second stage of a long-term preservation and research endeavor of interest to scholars in all of the countries involved.

More information on this initiative can be found on the Web Site of the KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies ( The progress of the project will also be reported in the KITLV Alert Service. A free subscription to this electronic newsletter can be obtained on the KITLV’s Web Site ( For further details, contact the historian working on the project at the KITLV, Han Jordaan (

The interest in and support for this project by scholars of early America is most sincerely appreciated. We plan to organize an expert meeting to discuss the results of the identification phase by the end of 2004 or early in 2005. Although no details are available yet, we would appreciate hearing from our early American colleagues as to whether they might be interested in attending such a gathering.

Gert Oostindie
Director, KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies
Han Jordaan Historian
The Atlantic World and the Dutch, 1500–2000, KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies