skip to content

Graphic: Willi de Vries


This project contributes to the history of knowledge in the context of the European colonial enterprise in Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The interaction of European officials of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) with the indigenous population in what is Indonesia today will be exemplified by the VOC-merchant G.E. Rumphius, who was stationed on the Moluccas, and the texts he produced there to show that the production of knowledge about nature overseas cannot be located exclusively in Europe. On the contrary, the production and reception of knowledge about natural history is situated in cultural contact between Asian and European actors and framed as a process of circulation with dynamics that constituted new spaces of knowledge between Europe and Asia. Within this productive Third Space a hybridisation of diverse forms of knowledge took place, as will be proven with analyses of the Amboinsche Rariteitkamer (Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet, Amsterdam 1705) and the six volumes of the Amboinsche Kruid-boek (Ambonese Herbal, Amsterdam 1741-1750).

The project aims to describe and analyse the mediality and materiality of those dynamic spaces of knowledge that have been constituted by Rumphius´ texts and their contexts. The project makes accessible the two compendia, which are still in use as botanical and zoological references, from the perspective of cultural studies. The Kruid-boek, produced for an expert audience, is structured by systematic description, while the Rariteitkamer was assembled with collectors in mind and relies heavily on anecdotes. Therefore the project can compare and analyse a broad spectrum of methods and strategies for production and presentation.

The Rariteitkamer will be analysed in phase I. The historical part I.1 analyses the circulation between European and Asian actors around Rumphius on the basis of a network in Latour´s sense, following the exchanged objects and written source materials. The complementary philological part I.2 reconstructs the sources of the knowledge inventories used - empirical observation by the authors, Moluccan local knowledge, and European book knowledge - as well as the hybridisation of traditional subject matter and narrative patterns. The Kruid-boek will be investigated in phase II The historical part II.1 maps the explorative practices that were initiated by plant parts, herbaria, and books. The philological part II.2 analyses the display strategies by comparing selected lemmata as well as the ambivalence of the narrative integration of the habitat Ambon and its fragmentation by systematic-taxonomic ordering. For the first time, this project merges findings from cultural studies as postcolonial history of knowledge in a joint publication and additionally integrates early modern Dutch colonial history and its texts, illustrations and objects in a wider European-Asian context.




Project Related Publications