nl en

An empire of papers. Colonial networks of information in the early 19th century


Admission requirements

Reading of 19th century handwriting is required. Most lectures will be given in the National Archives in The Hague


1816 marked the beginning of a new period in the relationship between the Netherlands and the East Indies. Compared to the former VOC, the role, focus and interests of the new colonial state was different.
In this research seminar the development of the paperwork bureaucracy between the Dutch government and the Indies is the central issue. It is generally assumed that one of the most important tools of power to govern and control the colonies was the power of writing, or as H.V. Bowen observed: The pen could be “as mighty as the sword in the making of the (…) empire”.
In this research seminar we will examine the function of information and analyze the flow of information within the context of the emerging colonial state. Questions at issue in this seminar are: What role did information play for the early colonial state? How did the colonial authorities organize an effective exchange of information between Den Haag and Batavia? What kind of information was regarded as vital? What different kind of information networks (e.g. governmental, private, missionaries etc) can be identified and how were these networks interconnected?
By analyzing the tangible traces of former fluid information networks (=archives) of the colonial state, students attempt to discover answers on these questions in the early 19th century archives.

Course objectives

The first aim of this research seminar is to gain insight into the role, significance and purposes of information, information gathering, information-exchange, archives creation and knowledge systems of the colonial state. The second aim is to discover how the process of information-management was organized in the early 19th century


See course-schedule

Mode of instruction

Lecture, study of literature and study of archival documents

Assessment method

Paper and presentation



Reading list

  • C. Scott, Seeing like a state. How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed (London an new Haven 1998)

  • Kerry Ward, Networks of Empire. Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company (Cambridge 2009)

  • H.V. Bowen, The business of empire. The East India Company and imperial Britain, 1756-1833 (Cambridge 2006)

  • Zoe Laidlaw, Colonial connections, 1815-1845. Patronage, the information revolution and colonial government (Manchester 2005).


See enrolment-procedure

Contact information

prof. dr. K.J.P.F.M.Jeurgens