In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dutch Atlantic World

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Trade and Economy
  • New Netherland
  • Brazil
  • Dutch Antilles
  • West Africa
  • Slave Trade and Slavery
  • Ongoing Research Projects

Atlantic History Dutch Atlantic World
Marjoleine Kars
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0106


In the early modern world, long-distance trade and European colonization brought people along the Atlantic Ocean in western Europe, West Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas, into sustained contact. To study these connections beyond the confines of national histories, historians in the 1980s constructed the analytic category of the “Atlantic world” or “the Atlantic.” The “Dutch” Atlantic world refers to such interactions involving Dutch people, the United Provinces, and Dutch settlements in the New World. Until quite recently, the Dutch Atlantic had been little studied. Convinced that the Atlantic ventures of the Dutch did not amount to much, Dutch historians were more interested in the Dutch East Indies. Linguistic barriers kept non-Dutch Atlanticists away, and they concentrated instead on the larger British and Spanish empires. This neglect is rapidly ending, stimulated by public debate in the Netherlands about the country’s role in Atlantic slavery and by an increased international interest in broad comparative studies. Moreover, since the 1990s, scholarship on the Dutch Atlantic is moving away from a myopic focus on the Dutch overseas and toward comprehensive histories of Dutch territories set in larger comparative frameworks. This entry will provide guidance in navigating works about the early modern Dutch Atlantic generally, as well as research focused on individual Dutch colonies and trading posts. Wherever possible, recent work is emphasized.

General Overviews

There is not, as yet, a comprehensive overview of the Dutch Atlantic that brings together all recent scholarship. Boxer 1965 provides an older overview, covering both the activities of the Dutch West India Company (WIC) and the East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC). Klooster 1997 provides a short and highly readable introduction written for an exhibit of early modern books of the Dutch in the Americas, so it does not include West Africa. Schmidt 2001 and Zandvliet 1998 imaginatively cover early Dutch expansion into the Atlantic. Meuwese 2012 provides a comparative perspective on 17th-century Dutch-indigenous relations in the Atlantic world. While scholars have argued that there was no such thing. as a Dutch Atlantic, beginning with Emmer and Klooster 1999, such views are increasingly being reconsidered, especially as scholars emphasize the importance of the Dutch in multinational Atlantic networks. The essays in Oostindie and Roitman 2014 provide a good introduction to this reevaluation, as does Oostindie 2015.

  • Boxer, C. R. The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600–1800. History of Human Society. New York: Knopf, 1965.

    A synthetic work that chronicles the rise and fall of the Dutch East and West India companies. While quite old, and at times outdated, this book remains essential reading for students and nonspecialists.

  • de Vries, Jan. “The Dutch Atlantic Economies.” In The Atlantic Economy during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Organization, Operation, Practice, and Personnel. Edited by Peter A. Coclanis, 1–29. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005.

    While De Vries sees the Dutch Atlantic largely in terms of failure, this essay provides a useful overview for beginning researchers and delineates four successive stages of economic development.

  • Emmer, Pieter, and Willem Klooster. “The Dutch Atlantic, 1600–1800: Expansion without Empire.” Itinerario: European Journal of Overseas History 23.2 (1999): 48–69.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0165115300024761

    Authors argue that, with a few short-lived exceptions, the Dutch Atlantic was insignificant economically, demographically, culturally, and in every other way.

  • Klooster, Willem. The Dutch in the Americas, 1600–1800: A Narrative History with the Catalogue of an Exhibition of Rare Prints, Maps, and Illustrated Books from the John Carter Brown Library. Providence, RI: John Carter Brown Library, 1997.

    This beautifully illustrated book, while written to accompany an exhibit about the Dutch collection of early modern Dutch printed sources at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, provides a useful summary of the history of the Dutch in the Americas along with an annotated bibliography.

  • Meuwese, Mark. Brothers in Arms, Partners in Trade: Dutch-Indigenous Alliances in the Atlantic World, 1595–1764. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

    Rich comparison of intercultural diplomacy and formal alliances in four different contact zones controlled by the first Dutch West India Company: Brazil, New Netherland, the Gold Coast of West Africa, and Angola and Congo in West Central Africa. Based on extensive primary research in multiple languages.

  • Oostindie, Gert. “Modernity and the Demise of the Dutch Atlantic, 1650–1914.” In The Caribbean and the Atlantic World Economy: Circuits of Trade, Money and Knowledge, 1650–1914. Edited by Adrian Leonard and David Pretel, 108–136. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137432728_6

    Argues that the Dutch Atlantic world was “precociously” global and flexible in its capitalism institutions but not terribly successful, even if it was more successful than historians have thought.

  • Oostindie, Gert, and Jessica V. Roitman, eds. Dutch Atlantic Connections, 1680–1800: Linking Empires, Bridging Borders. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014.

    Wide-ranging collection of essays focused on the important role of the Dutch in the Atlantic world and comparisons with other Atlantic powers. Digitally available online.

  • Schmidt, Benjamin. Innocence Abroad: The Dutch Imagination and the New World, 1570–1670. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    Creative monograph that argues that the struggle of the Dutch with Spain shaped their view of the Americas and the role they themselves could play in the New World.

  • Zandvliet, Kees. Mapping for Money: Maps, Plans and Topographic Paintings and Their Role in Dutch Overseas Expansion during the 16th and 17th Centuries. Amsterdam: Batavian Lion International, 1998.

    Lavishly illustrated, this book provides an institutional analysis of the mapmaking activities of the Dutch East and West India companies in the first century of Dutch overseas expansion. Includes case studies on Brazil, New Netherland, and Cape of Good Hope.

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