Governance of and by paper: natural history and the Dutch Empire in Southeast Asia, 1800–1850 – Andreas Weber (University of Twente)

March 15, 2021 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Joanne Green

The unruly materiality of ‘paper’ is an intriguing vehicle to examine the relationship between natural history, chemistry and governance in the early 19th-century Dutch Empire. Owing to high costs for imported raw materials, changing patterns of consumption and trade restrictions, civil servants, printers, suppliers of writing equipment, and owners of paper mills were forced to find ways to secure the circulation of paper between Europe and Southeast Asia, as well as between colonial outposts in the far-flung Malay Archipelago. While government officials in The Hague and Batavia tried to streamline paper flows in offices and print shops, engaged citizens, entrepreneurs, naturalists and chemical savants such as Adriaan Rogge, Jan Kool and Petrus Johannes Kasteleyn started to tinker with and reflect upon domestic and colonial surrogates which were supposed to replace costly raw materials (e.g. linen rags) from elsewhere. By conceptualizing governance as the evolving consequence of the circulation of paper-related actors, expertise and materials, this paper works towards a history of paper in which a ‘mentalist’ and a ‘materialist’ (Latour) approach is combined.

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