Rethinking the VOC: Two Cheers for Progress


  • Jos Gommans



This article is part of the forum 'Rethinking the VOC: Between Archival Management and Research Practice'.


In this essay, Jos Gommans provides a short survey of some recent developments in the historiography of the voc. He argues that Asian historians in particular have used the voc archive to acquire new insights into the regional histories of Asia. This progress needs to be consolidated by combining the further exploration of the voc-archive with the in-depth study of the Asian cultures that the voc encountered. Combining archival study and cultural empathy will also shed new light on the historical process of identity formation of both Asians and Dutch.


In dit essay geeft Jos Gommans een kort overzicht van enkele recente ontwikkelingen in de geschiedschrijving van de voc. Hij betoogt dat vooral Aziatische historici het voc-archief hebben gebruikt om nieuwe inzichten te verwerven in de Aziatische regionale geschiedenis. Deze vooruitgang moet worden bestendigd door de verdere exploratie van het voc-archief te combineren met een diepgaande studie van de Aziatische culturen waar de voc mee van doen had. Een dergelijke combinatie van archiefstudie en culturele empathie zal ook meer licht werpen op het historische proces van identiteitsvorming van zowel Aziaten alsook Nederlanders.


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Author Biography

Jos Gommans

Jos Gommans is professor of colonial and global history at Leiden University. He published extensively on the early modern history of South and Central Asia as well as on Dutch colonial history. Most recently he published The Unseen World: The Netherlands and India from 1550 (Amsterdam/Nijmegen 2018), a monograph that represents his current interest in the intellectual and artistic interactions between Europe, the Islamic world and India. Email:




How to Cite

Gommans, J. (2019). Rethinking the VOC: Two Cheers for Progress. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 134(2), 142–152.