The Dutch Oceanic Empire in the Indian Ocean: the emergence of a “system”

Eric Tagliacozzo
Cornell University

The Dutch as an oceanic empire arrived mid-stream in the history of Europeans sailing the Indian Ocean — after the Portuguese, but before the English and French had taken hold as forces to be reckoned with on a systemic scale. Although the Portuguese presence was earlier, by the middle decades of the seventeenth century the Dutch were becoming more important, and by the end of that same century it is no exaggeration to say that the Republic’s ships were the most vital single web of trade and colonial interest along the elongated ring of the Indian Ocean. More than any other external power in the Early Modern epoch, their extended contacts and mercantile presence from the Cape of Good Hope to Japan — with colonies and trading posts in many places in between — helped define the Indian Ocean as a “system”, one which had its own rhythms and internal logic. This was, therefore, a “system within a system”, one worthy of closer examination.  This presentation will chronicle some of the history of this expansion, florescence, and eventual diminution by the early years of the nineteenth century, an era which might be tenuously termed as the dawn of “Modernity” in this part of the world.