Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


Postdoctoral Fellow — Deborah Hamer

Deborah Hamer

Deborah Hamer is a historian of the Dutch Atlantic world, and the 2015–2017 NEH Postdoctoral Fellow at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University, and has taught at Boston College and the University of Miami.

Dr. Hamer is currently working on a book manuscript titled “More Water than Wine: Marriage and the Construction of the Dutch Atlantic World.” In an era in which political theory was coming to emphasize the idea that linguistic and religious unity underpinned the successful state, the diversity of cultures, languages, and religions in the Dutch West India Company’s colonies suggested that disorder ineluctably threatened the Dutch colonial project. Committed to a policy of tolerance and dependent upon non-Dutch populations, the directors of the West India Company turned to marriage regulation to maintain order. Transferring jurisdiction over marriage to Dutch institutions and enforcing a Calvinist vision of household government and disciplined sexuality would, according to the directors, transform troublesome people into obedient subjects. Marriage regulation, a subject that historians of the Dutch Atlantic world have ignored, was, thus, central to the West India Company’s activities. But rather than bridging divides, the emphasis on marriage regulation often exacerbated divisions and provoked resistance from those whom it was intended to reconcile to Dutch rule.

While at the OI, Dr. Hamer is undertaking new research in the notarial archives of Amsterdam and the States General’s archives in The Hague in order to understand the West India Company’s marriage and sex regulation for its trading posts in West Africa as well as to gain deeper insight into the motivations that underlay the marriage decisions of ordinary people. What emerges from this new research is the plurality of arrangements that Dutch authorities made for regulating marriage in their territories and the multiple, rich veins of tradition and authority that both Dutch colonial governors and their subjects could draw upon to support their positions and actions.