25 million scattered pages reveal the Dutch East India Company

(6 July 2015) Next year will mark the 400th anniversary of exploration of the west coast of Australia by Dirk Hartog and the Dutch.

As part of an ongoing program of activities related to the upcoming anniversary, the National Archives is hosting Professor Charles Jeurgens, Professor of Archival Studies, Leiden University and advisor to the National Archief at The Hague, in Canberra on Wednesday 8 July.

Professor Jeurgens is a renowned international archival expert on the historic impact of the Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC/ Dutch East India Company) and Dutch colonial activities on countries and peoples along the region known as the Indian Ocean Rim.

The Dutch East India Company – founded in 1602 and liquidated in 1795 – was the largest and most impressive of the early modern European trading companies operating in Asia.

‘VOC and colonial archives, from 1602 to 1949, cover the development of the Netherlands East Indies as a colony, as well as life there during World War II and the Indonesian Revolution for Independence from 1945 to 1949,’ said Professor Jeurgens.

‘They include historical data relevant to Asia’s and Africa’s former local political and trade regions and the relations between former colonisers and colonised. These archives make up the most complete and extensive source on early modern world history anywhere.’

About 25 million pages of VOC records have survived in repositories in Jakarta, Colombo, Chennai, Cape Town, Chinsurah, Bengal, The Hague, Malaysia and the British library – Oriental and India Office Collections. UNESCO included the VOC archives on the Memory of the World Register in 2003.

These archives, scattered all over the world, are maintained and made accessible by all these different archival institutions based on the important archival principles of ‘respect de fonds’, original order and provenance. This means that these documents, which once used to be part of large, global networks of information, are nowadays stored in many different repositories and because of that locked up in space and time.

Professor Jeurgens asks: ‘Wouldn’t it be more advantageous to take a network-perspective instead of a static fonds-perspective as a frame for archival activities?’ He will argue that new techniques of digitisation give new opportunities to bring back the velocity and interconnection of these archives.

The public is invited to hear Professor Jeurgens speak at 9am on Wednesday 8 July. Bookings are through Eventbrite.

The press release is here.