he VOC sources have a complex legacy. The tanap programme seeks to facilitate an historical approach that blends the use of both VOC and local sources to inform upon a broad range of Asian and African subjects. This approach can only be successful in a new Partnership between historians and universities from all places involved in the VOC encounter.

Local Legacies

very region and place in Asia possesses its own historical sources. These range from carved inscriptions in stone, manuscripts on palm-leaf and bark, and printed court chronicles to trade correspondence, travel reports, and the records of civic administrations. Stretching more than four shelf kilometres, the archives of the VOC contain data relevant to the history of hundreds of Asia's and Africa's former local polities and trade regions. The VOC archives not only richly supplement valuable regional sources, they also contain general information on Monsoon Asia and Southern Africa as a whole, providing us with the data necessary to draw a broad comparative picture from region to region, and from village to village.

Maori's in a proa in "Moordenaarsbaai" in New Zealand; strip cartoon in the logbook of Abel Tasmsn, 1638.
(click image to enlarge)

New Historical Blends

hen analyzed with skill and training, the VOC archives offer a wealth of new and valuable knowledge on Asian and African societies in the 17th and 18th centuries. Several recently published books demonstrate this. Without the consultation of the VOC records, for example, important chapters in the history of Southeast Asian kingdoms such as Ternate (Maluku), Jambi, Palembang (Sumatra), and Mataram (Java) could not have been written. VOC materials have also proven to be useful and reliable in the reconstruction of the silk trade of Iran. Furthermore, without accessing VOC records we would not have understood the significance of Mocha (Yemen) as an international trading port. We also would not have possessed the kind of detailed economic history of India that we do now, for in the 1680s the VOC leased entire villages and extensive plots of land in southern Coromandel and Kerala, providing a font of information about village life and agrarian production in India during that period. Finally, we would lack essential information concerning Japan's copper trade and its self-imposed closure to Western trade after 1636.

VOC sources likewise contain many data and descriptions of various peoples of southern Africa such as the Khoikhoi and San. VOC reports also cover the Arabian seas extensively, including Mauritius and Madagascar as well as the slave trade of Mombassa. Perhaps most importantly, Dutch sources comprise the only major surviving record of early Taiwan, describing in detail both the original Austronesian society and the early Chinese settlements of the 17th century.

The study of VOC archives will lead to a new blend of historical narratives that place both national and regional histories into a new multi-regional or even global setting. From a sea of information comes an ocean of possibilities!

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