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Frank Birkenholz MA

PhD candidate


Area(s) of interest: Asian History, Dutch History, Early Modern History, Material Culture

Cohort/Start PhD: 2016-2017

The Paper Company: the Impact of Paper on the Dutch East India Company in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

University of Groningen
Promotor(es): Prof. dr. Raingard Esser, Dr Megan Williams
Aanstelling: vanaf november 2016

This project investigates how paper, as a material medium, information storage device, and communications technology, facilitated, sustained, and impacted the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC). I consult the VOC’s rich seventeenth- and eighteenth-century archival collections to uncover how the Company obtained, employed, and preserved paper. The project hypothesizes that paper, as a material object, fundamentally influenced the VOC’s operations. Vast amounts of paper were crucial to obtaining, managing, utilizing, and archiving essential information and knowledge, which was the cornerstone of the Company’s politics, trade, diplomacy, and warfare. Simultaneously, the use of paper confronted the VOC with material constraints such as paper shortages and information overload, which impeded the Company’s functioning. It combines historical approaches, notions of material culture, and Media Studies concepts. The exploration of paper offers a new way of studying the VOC and illuminates the material basis of Dutch political and commercial overseas expansion.