Willem Klooster is Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Clark University. This interview is based on his new book, The Dutch Moment: War, Trade, and Settlement in the Seventeenth-Century Atlantic World (Cornell University Press, 2016).
JF: What led you to write The Dutch Moment?
WK: As a Dutchman working on the Atlantic world, it has always been obvious to me that a book focused on the Dutch Atlantic in the seventeenth century – the period in which the Dutch were so active worldwide both militarily and commercially – was missing. Dutch historians dealing with the wider world have traditionally privileged Asia, the domain of the Dutch East India Company, while North Americans have been mostly interested in New Netherland, which was actually fairly marginal to the main developments in the Dutch Atlantic. I felt that it was my task to right this wrong by writing a work that encompassed all aspects of the Dutch Atlantic in that century without making it a textbook.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Dutch Moment?
WK: In 3 sentences, if you don’t mind: The mid-seventeenth century formed a specific stage in Atlantic history that was marked by activities that connected the Dutch to other colonial realms, especially the infant English and French colonies that remained afloat in no small part due to Dutch commercial assistance. On the other hand the Dutch Atlantic had a distinctly violent side, as expressed in the endless battles with their Iberian enemies and Dutch relations with indigenous Americans and enslaved Africans. What helped undo the short-lived Dutch empire was not only Iberian fighting power or nonwhite revolts, but eventually the refusal of unpaid and poorly fed white soldiers and sailors in Dutch service to defend the imperial outposts.
JF: Why do we need to read The Dutch Moment?
WK: By following the Dutch around in the Atlantic basin, we get a new perspective on the Atlantic world at large, and not a peripheral one, since the Dutch were so entangled with other empires, either as warriors or merchants. More particularly, the book reveals the pivotal role of Brazil, where the Dutch elites were willing to wage a seemingly endless war in order to control the production of the world’s foremost sugar colony. This war was the largest conflict between European powers in the seventeenth-century Atlantic, which historians have underappreciated.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
WK: Although my Leiden dissertation dealt with Dutch trade in the Caribbean, it was not a traditional treatment of the flow of goods between colonies and metropole. Both the Dutch and Spanish archives suggested the existence of close, albeit usually illegal, commercial ties between inhabitants of the Dutch colonies and residents of other empires. I had therefore come to see my subject matter through an Atlantic lens by the time I finished my doctorate in 1995. That same year, I came to the United States as a Fulbright student, and soon found myself in the orbit of Bernard Bailyn, precisely when he started to organize his Atlantic History Seminars. I still think of myself primarily as an Atlanticist rather than an American historian.
JF: What is your next project?
WK: The next project is already finished: I just submitted the manuscript of The Second Dutch Atlantic, 1680-1815, a book that I coauthored with Dutch historian Gert Oostindie. It picks up where The Dutch Moment leaves off, taking the story of the Dutch Atlantic through the early nineteenth century. During my sabbatical next semester, I will embark on the following project, a biography of a well-traveled French marquis whose life intersects with the Age of Revolutions in surprising ways.
JF: Thanks, Willem!
New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, NJ is hosting the 39th Annual Conference of the New Netherland Institute. The topic is “From Pavonia to the Garden State: New Jersey”s Dutch Past.” Speakers include Elizabeth Bradley, Willem Klooster, Evan Haefeli, Daniel Richter, Dirk Mouw, Liz Covart, Deborah Hamer, and Jaap Jacobs.
Here is what you can expect:
The conference and its companion events will take place over three days, beginning on Thursday the 22nd of September and concluding on Saturday the 24th. Friday morning’s session will explore the trials and tribulations of the early years of Dutch colonization in the region, with the afternoon session exploring the survival of Dutch heritage in New Jersey following the final transfer to the English. The program will be enriched with two additional sessions on Saturday morning, beginning with a panel discussion with NNI’s Emerging Scholars on their decision to study New Netherland. The morning will conclude with an edifying session on Dutch fortifications in New Netherland. Friday night’s dinner will feature a talk by Elizabeth Bradley, the author of Knickerbocker: The Myth Behind New York, a cultural history of New York’s first mascot.
Learn more here.