My current research project, Maritime Imagination: A Cultural Oceanography of the Netherlands is a study of Dutch imperial, racist and colonial legacies and their present-day repercussions and re-narrations. I am particularly interested in the role that the ocean and maritime imagination play in both shaping and undermining Dutch empire and colonialism. This project approaches Dutch empire and colonialism through the prism of mare liberum or the “free sea,” developed by seventeenth century Dutch legal scholar, humanist and East India Company lawyer Hugo Grotius. Through a critical re-reading of his legal writings, it reveals how the myth of the free seas and the Dutch as entrepreneurial merchants, interested in oceanic trade rather than colonization, pervades Dutch historiography and self-perception and presents Dutch (settler-) colonialism and slavery as innocent and inevitable. It aims to reveal how cultural, legal, racial, (settler-)colonial, environmental and economic imaginaries of the ocean continue to inform the ways in which the Dutch both obscure and idealize their own maritime supremacy globally. This project addresses questions related to how discourses of maritime trade, slavery, Indigenous (dis)possession, punishment and colonialism across Dutch empire shape (contemporary) white supremacist logic; the (settler-)colonial liberal humanist imaginary; and global racial-capitalism.
By developing what I call a cultural oceanography, I seek to traverse and undo historiographic, disciplinary, spatial, and epistemic boundaries at work in existing studies of Dutch empire and colonialism and their effects. I endeavor to create alternative ways of theorizing the emergence of Dutch empire and colonialism, which contributes to an analytical framework capable of engaging with the intersections of maritime, racial-sexual, legal, penal, environmental, and socio-economic discourses.
This project has been awarded the Marie Skłodowska Curie grant within the framework of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement No 838904)