Dutch resources on slavery and colonialism: an update

Earlier this month the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam finally opened its doors to visitors for a major exhibition which examines the history of Dutch involvement in the international slave trade.  This exhibition, first conceived four years ago, was delayed due to COVID-19 but was officially opened in May by King Willem-Alexander and now runs until 29 August, with a powerful online version for people not able to visit in person. The exhibition tells the stories of slaves and the Dutch people who enslaved them, homing in on ten individual people and using oral history alongside historic objects and documents. There is a Cambridge connection as a plantation bell displayed at the entrance was until 2019 on display at St Catharine’s College. We have a copy of the accompanying exhibition catalogue: Slavernij: het verhaal van João, Wally, Oopjen, Paulus, Van Bengalen, Surapati, Sapali, Tula, Dirk, Lohkay (C216.c.9769)

News of this exhibition reminded me that a year ago I wrote about online Dutch titles on race and decolonisation. Since then we have looked out for relevant new titles to buy; already in October I reported on new Dutch books on race and identity. Here I will highlight some more new titles, mainly on slavery, along with a few older titles in print that we already had, now more accessible than a year ago. Continue reading

Dutch titles on race and decolonisation

Last week’s blog post Black Lives Matter : some ebooks looked at a selection of anti-racism English-language titles.  Today’s post will be the first of a series looking at titles in other languages, with a focus today on Dutch material.

The Netherlands and Belgium share with the UK a history of colonisation and slavery and are addressing uncomfortable issues of ongoing racism.  Dutch ebooks available to Cambridge staff and students are very few, so the suggestions below include translations into English and books published in English by Dutch-language authors. Continue reading

Cambridge and the Low Countries (1) – Competition and Collaboration

Three volunteers, all retired librarians with many years’ expertise, currently assist the work of European Collections on a regular basis. Dr Jaap Harskamp, former Curator of the Dutch and Flemish Collections at the British Library, is engaged in a project to add the substantial early Dutch collections held at the Library to the Dutch Short Title Catalogue (STCN). In the process, he is making numerous amendments, corrections and additions to the library catalogue. At the request of European Collections, he assists in the selection of recently published books from the Netherlands. Being closely involved with the development, updating and extension of Lugt Online, Brill’s database of art sale catalogues up to 1901, he has added the Library’s relevant catalogues to the database. Their publication is imminent. Jaap Harskamp will contribute a number of posts on the theme of ‘Cambridge and the Low Countries’.

Competition and Collaboration


“Ḥamishah ḥumshe Torah”. Amstelodami: Bi-Vet Menasheh … ben Yiśraʼel, 1630. Classmark: 1.47.3

Cambridge University Library’s early Dutch collections comprise some 14,000 books either printed in the Netherlands before 1801 (in any language), or Dutch-language works printed abroad during the same period. These will be reported to the STCN, the Dutch retrospective bibliography for the period 1540-1800, making this important part of the collections more widely known to the international scholarly community. Around 15% of these holdings are estimated to be unique titles for the STCN, so the reporting of these holdings will greatly expand knowledge of book production in the Netherlands in the early modern period. The fact that so many (potentially unique) copies of books survive only outside the country in which they were printed, illustrates the importance of international collaboration in this field of research.

The extent of holdings of Dutch imprints in the Library represents the frenetic printing activity in the Netherlands during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There have been unsubstantiated suggestions that in the seventeenth century more books were printed in the Netherlands than in the rest of Europe put together. Books were printed in a variety of languages dominated by Dutch, Latin and French. The Dutch were masters in early Oriental and Arabic printing. In this area, there was an element of rivalry between the universities of Leiden and Cambridge. In 1696, Cornelius Cornefelt [Crownfield] was appointed manager of the newly established Cambridge University Press. He selected types that probably came from a foundry in Delft run by the widow of Jan Jacobsz Schipper and additional types may have been purchased from Dick Vosken’s widow. Both Presses (Oxford and Cambridge) profited from Low Country specialization in Hebrew, Greek and Oriental types which did so much to enrich scholarship at the universities.

The Library has an impressive collection of French-language material published in the Netherlands. The revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685 had forced many Huguenot scholars, publishers and printers out of France. They settled in Holland and England. The number of English books translated into French increased sharply. Dutch printing presses played an important part in this ‘internationalizing’ process, publishing works in translation by John Locke (1710), John Law, Isaac Newton (both 1720), Richard Cumberland (1744), David Hume (1754), and others, thus contributing to the exchange of ideas, so crucial for the spread of the Enlightenment. An outstanding example is the work of Pierre Bayle who was educated at Geneva and Toulouse but who spent most of his life in Holland as the leading member of an active intellectual community in Rotterdam. He published the first edition of his astonishing Dictionnaire historique et critique (U.1.4-7) with Reinier Leers in Amsterdam in 1697. English translations were issued in 1709 and 1734/41. This work has been called the ‘Arsenal of the Enlightenment’ and had a European wide appeal. In England, Bayle was greatly admired by Hume. Refugee printing and publishing lies at the very heart of European religious and intellectual history.

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