chapter
8 Pages

Introduction

Comparative history has the great virtue of enabling us to see more clearly both the similarities and the singularities of the experiences of different peoples, institutions and times. The British and Dutch empires of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries would seem to provide fruitful grounds for such an approach. By 1750 both these northwestern European powers had acquired territory, trading posts and influence in many parts of the world. In the Caribbean and adjacent coastal areas of Central and South America, and in Africa and in South Asia there was a British and a Dutch presence. Moreover, in the mid-eighteenth century, a significant portion of British and all Dutch imperial activity was controlled and directed, at least at the local level, not by metropolitan governments but by companies - the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa, the East India Company, the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) and the Westindische Compagnie (WIC). By 1850, to carry forward the comparison, it could be added that the primary area of overseas involvement for both the British and the Dutch was South Asia - the Indian subcontinent in the case of the British and the Indonesian archipelago for the Dutch.