Geography of Empire: Update 2

This week I began to visit various sites in Amsterdam that have a connection with its imperial history. At these sites, I observed and took note of such things as how people moved in and around the spaces, what, if any, information the sites had available about the imperial connection, and how the site was situated in the greater surrounding geography. Sites I have visited so far include the Palace on Dam Square, the East India House, the West India House, Amsterdam Central Station, the Maritime Museum, two museums in historic canal houses, the Rijksmuseum, and the Bijlmermeer neighborhood. I expect to return to many of these sites, as I believe there is more I can learn from many of them by spending some more time there. My initial visits have already been very informative.

Some of my site visits have been to museums or historic sites that the public can visit. These were the Palace on Dam Square, the Maritime Museum, the Canal House Museum, and the Cromhouthuis Museum. At these locations, I did go inside and explore, paying attention to what information was shared and highlighted, how the museums directed visitors through, and how visitors seemed to be experiencing the museums.

On the other hand, some locations I visited have different functions, which I already expect is significant to how people in the city experience them and their history. Two of the buildings that fall into this category are two  that have the biggest connections to the beginning of Dutch colonization: the West India House and the East India House. The West India House formerly housed the headquarters of the Dutch West India Company, which participated in the Atlantic slave trade, as well as the development of Dutch colonies in the America’s. Today, the building contains a variety of private businesses, as well as a restaurant named after Peter Stuyvesant, a leader of New Netherland (which would later become New York). This was not the only tribute to the formation of New Netherland on the building, but notably, there was no visible reference to the Dutch Antilles, Suriname, or the slave trade at the building. The photo below shows a sign the restaurant placed outside the door.

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The East India House was once the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), which is more widely known and seemingly more widely praised in the Netherlands. This building is now used by the University of Amsterdam, and the outside does not make it clear to people walking by what its history is. However, there is a room inside with historical information posted. These are all elements I will be considering as I continue my research. The photo below was taken within the courtyard (accessible to the public) of the East India House. Upon a close look, the VOC logo is visible above the circular window.

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I visited the Bijlmermeer neighborhood because a large percentage of its residents are people of Surinamese or Antillean descent, many of whom or whose parents or grandparents migrated from these parts of the empire to the Netherlands, the colonial metropole. The impact they have on the city, as well as the impact the city’s geography has on them, is also something important for me to investigate as part of my project. I will definitely need to visit again, but on my initial visit, I noted as significant the large distance between the neighborhood and the city center.

Another aspect I realized is important for me to consider is what the city or country promotes in terms of tourism. Where they are directing tourists, either via websites, pamphlets, public maps, or street signs, is informative about what history they would like visitors to leave knowing. My eyes will be more open to this as I continue on.

Comments

  1. Hi! I think it is really fun to do your research in another country. Your research reminds me of a course I have studied before in WM which is called Real and Unreal Cities. In this course, I have also studied some interactions between people and the places around them. I have watched lots of movies about Paris, and the people lived there. I deeply agree that the design of the city has a close connection to its history. Also, the buildings and landscape have a substantial influence on residents’ behaviors. It is exciting to make those observations in person.

  2. ecturbeville says:

    Hello! Thank you for your comment! I’m glad my research reminded you of your course. In fact, a course I took called Insurgent Geographies is what inspired me to do the project. I definitely think the influence of geography on societies and vice versa is something that is too often overlooked, which I hope my paper can play a part in changing.