January 5, 2016, Joris van den Tol will hold a ‘Noon Day Talk’ at the New York State Library in Albany.
Van den Tol will explain how the colonies of the West India Company (WIC) in North America and Brazil were equally unique in their composition. Yet, they both had to deal with the same issues of internal authority, trade regulation, religious freedoms, outside threats, and their position within the Empire. Through a comparison of the lobbying mechanisms in these two colonies Van den Tol’s paper answers the question how colonial agents were shaping the Atlantic.
Joris van den Tol (1987) completed his Bachelor in History at the University of Amsterdam in 2011 with a thesis on Willem van Oranje and nationalism. The following year he obtained a Masters degree in Early Modern History at the University of Amsterdam with a thesis on Dutch trading with Spain in the beginning of the 17th century, focussing on the effect of the Spanish trade embargoes. In 2012 he started as a PhD candidate at Leiden University within the VIDI-project ‘Challenging Monopolies’ under the supervision of dr. Catia Antunes.
Where did your interest in the topic of your lecture come from?
My research project is part of a larger research project, a NWO funded VIDI project at Leiden University in the Netherlands called “Challenging Monopolies, Building Global Empires in the Early Modern Period.” The project focuses on individuals operating on the fringes of legality in the Dutch colonies. I wrote my MA thesis about Dutch merchants avoiding the Spanish trading embargo during the Eighty Year’s War, so I was familiar with individuals who didn’t stick to the rules. After applying, I was accepted for a position that studies lobbying within the Dutch Expansion and I fell in love with the topic along the way, even though I had always shied away from colonial history before.
Can you tell a us a little bit about ‘lobbying’ in the Dutch colonies?
I’m very interested in the topic of ‘lobbying,’ because it is perhaps a somewhat problematic term. That’s most likely why no one has really written a detailed study about lobbying in pre-modern history (before the French and American revolutions let’s say). So it really feels like I’m discovering unchartered territory, especially because I’m partly basing the history I’m writing on sources that have never been used before. I work primarily with petitions sent to the colonial administration and up to the highest political bodies in the Dutch Republic, and with other sources such as personal correspondence and pamphlets. For lobbying groups it was not only important to convince the political mandataries with arguments, but it was equally important to pressure the decision-makers by influencing the public opinion. They did so by publishing pamphlets which were sometimes even written or printed on one side of the Atlantic and spread on the other. Alternatively, they went canvassing: going door-to-door collecting signatures or opinions to show popular support for their cause.
Do you think there is anything the Dutch did in those days in Brazil/New Netherland that we can still learn from today (with regards to diplomacy and/or trade)?
It is a fallacy that there is a direct connection between the past and the present. New Yorkers and New Englanders like to think that their enlightened ‘tolerance’ is rooted in the (Dutch) colonial period. It is tempting to point to those parallels between people seeking freedoms and requesting authority and rights. If there is anything that we can learn from my research it might be that the world around us (the structure and the institutions) are of paramount importance for our day-to-day life, but that we as individuals and organized interests can have a decisive influence on how those institutions are shaped. Nobody got rich on their own, not then, and not now. And nobody is going to just hand you what you want. If you want someone to grant you something, you are going to have to lobby for it. The people in Brazil went weeks at a time without food, and the soldiers returned to the Republic literally without clothes or any credit to go anywhere to collect their payments. They did not portray themselves as victims. They did not stop there. They lobbied to the States-General and the WIC for payments and credits. And they succeeded.
How did you like your three months in Albany?
Albany is great if you want to get work done; it is a perfect writing retreat. There is not a lot going on in the city itself, but it is cheap, it has a certain charm to it and a historical presence. Also, if you want to go somewhere on the weekend it is very well situated. New York City is a 2.5 hour drive, or train ride, away. And the train ride along the Hudson River is gorgeous. Boston is only a three hours drive away. There is a medium-sized airport that is reasonably well-connected to the entire US, and flights are not expensive from there compared to bigger airports. The Adirondacks Mountains, which is an area larger than the Netherlands, is right around the corner and a great National Park to discover nature all year round.
How was Fulbright?
The Fulbright organization has been very kind to me. They organized an enrichment seminar on minority rights where they flew international Fulbrighters in the US to San Diego. Which was especially nice for me, as Albany does not have an active Fulbright community as opposed to New York, California or Boston. So I got to meet other scholars too, which was an added bonus for me on top of learning how the US deals with LGBT activism, Mexican migrants, or the civil rights movement. When do you otherwise get the opportunity to talk with a Mexican born US Border Patrol Officer?
Due to the focus on English colonization, the Dutch impact on American history was long overlooked. This changed in 1974 when the New Netherland Project was founded. For a quarter of a century this project, with its accompanying New Netherland Institute (NNI), has helped cast light on America’s long-neglected Dutch roots. The NNI has supported the transcription, translation, and publication of the 17th-century Dutch colonial records held by the New York State Library and State Archives. These records constitute the world’s largest collection of original documentation of the Dutch West India Company and its New World Colonies. They represent an irreplaceable resource for researchers exploring this important chapter in American history, its legacy of cultural traditions, and its qualities of tolerance, diversity and entrepreneurship. In 2010, the New Netherland Research Center opened to the public with support from the Dutch Consulate of the Netherlands in New York. The center provides a place where all can study the fascinating story of the Dutch global reach in the 17th century and its lasting impact on today’s world.