Amsterdam's Atlantic: Print Culture and the Making of Dutch Brazil

Amsterdam's Atlantic: Print Culture and the Making of Dutch Brazil

Amsterdam's Atlantic: Print Culture and the Making of Dutch Brazil

Amsterdam's Atlantic: Print Culture and the Making of Dutch Brazil


In 1624 the Dutch West India Company established the colony of Brazil. Only thirty years later, the Dutch Republic handed over the colony to Portugal, never to return to the South Atlantic. Because Dutch Brazil was the first sustained Protestant colony in Iberian America, the events there became major news in early modern Europe and shaped a lively print culture.

In Amsterdam's Atlantic, historian Michiel van Groesen shows how the rise and tumultuous fall of Dutch Brazil marked the emergence of a "public Atlantic" centered around Holland's capital city. Amsterdam served as Europe's main hub for news from the Atlantic world, and breaking reports out of Brazil generated great excitement in the city, which reverberated throughout the continent. Initially, the flow of information was successfully managed by the directors of the West India Company. However, when Portuguese sugar planters revolted against the Dutch regime, and tales of corruption among leading administrators in Brazil emerged, they lost their hold on the media landscape, and reports traveled more freely. Fueled by the powerful local print media, popular discussions about Brazil became so bitter that the Amsterdam authorities ultimately withdrew their support for the colony.

The self-inflicted demise of Dutch Brazil has been regarded as an anomaly during an otherwise remarkably liberal period in Dutch history, and consequently generations of historians have neglected its significance. Amsterdam's Atlantic puts Dutch Brazil back on the front pages and argues that the way the Amsterdam media constructed Atlantic events was a key element in the transformation of public opinion in Europe.


In his popular guidebook The Present State of the United Provinces (1669), the English physician and diplomat William Aglionby made two important observations about the people of Holland. First, “they all love their Liberties, even those that have made but a few years stay in that Province, as if the genius of it had a secret power of mens inclinations.” And, second, “the Hollanders are very constant in their resolutions, and seldome desist till they have obtain’d their end.” Many seventeenth-century English travelers echoed these cultural characteristics and emphasized how privileges and resolve converged in public life. “The people say and print what they please, and call it liberty” observed John Ray, the naturalist who visited Holland in 1663. Most Englishmen viewed the relative freedom of expression with a mixture of envy and contempt. As early as 1617, the trader James Howell with thinly veiled admiration described “this City of Amsterdam” as “a great Staple of News.” Others, however, were quick to point out that the relatively unimpeded circulation of rumors and opinions was not always a blessing. When analyzing the growing popular discontent on the eve of the Civil War in 1641, the pamphleteer John Taylor complained that “too many places of England [are] too much Amsterdamnified by severall opinions,” a choice of words that showed little appreciation for the endless political exchanges that at times disrupted the young republic’s stability.

If there was one political issue in the United Provinces that divided opinions at the time when Taylor coined his term, it was Dutch Brazil. Despite being nearly five thousand miles away, the rise and fall of Dutch Brazil was one of the most heavily covered news stories of the Dutch Golden Age. the stakes in Brazil were high. the attack on America signified the desire of the . . .

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