Northwestern Events Calendar


Unlocking the Tropics: Nature, Science, and Imperialism in the Netherlands Indies, 1628-1820

When: Tuesday, January 22, 2019
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM Central

Where: 1902 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Graduate Students

Contact: Elizabeth Morrissey  

Group: Equality Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS)

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Luthfi Adam, History

EDGS Graduate Lecture Series

Since the early period of Dutch colonial expansion in Southeast Asia, the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) employed experts on nature investigation among other personnel, such as soldiers, merchants, and administrators. Educated in medicine, natural history, and chemistry, these experts applied their disciplines to accumulate knowledge about the nature of the Indies. Living with the privileges of high rank officials, they enjoyed benefits such as scientific tools and assistants to master their topics and report their analyses about nature in the conquered territories. In the historiography of Southeast Asia, colonial science is still a neglected topic. In some of the existing works, early modern colonial scientists are framed mostly as individuals who contributed to the European scientific revolution and enlightenment movement. This paper takes a different path in discussing why nature investigation was a significant part of how the Dutch governed the Indies. It addresses how this investigation influenced the direction of colonial policy, including conquering more territory land reform, and transforming tropical forests into colonial plantation estates. This paper suggests that we regard the relationship between scientists, their research paradigm, and the project of colonial empire building. Naturalists, this paper argues, played a role not only in educating the imperialists, but also in setting up institutions to govern and improve the nature of the Indies. Furthermore, this paper also explores the impact of the nature of the Indies on government projects to change the economy and society of the people of the Netherlands Indies.

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