In my latest post the importance of maps for combining both classical and digital approaches for historical research got some attention. It is not a coincidence that I would like to follow this trail by looking at a number of examples, but I had not expected that an exhibition in Utrecht would become the focus point. The Dutch king opened on October 3, 2016 the exhibition Mapping Australia. Country to Cartography (AAMU, Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht). Old maps and modern visions of maps created by Australian artists with aboriginal ancestors are presented here together. The exhibition is a part of the commemoration of 400 years Dutch discovery of Australia in the so-called Dirk Hartog Year, named after the Dutch schipper who in 1616 involuntarily sailed to the west coast of Australia. It offers a good opportunity to look at the digital presence of relevant maps showing Australia at the portal Old Maps Online and the recently redesigned portal Memory of The Netherlands. In 2010 I looked here briefly at this remarkable museum and its collection of law poles.
On the map
The exhibition at Utrecht shows mainly but not exclusively Dutch maps of Australia. There are also more general maps of the southern hemisphere. The maps have been chosen from the holdings of Utrecht University Library and the Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives in The Hague. Some 2,000 old maps held at Utrecht have been digitized and can be found online at Old Maps Online. The maps held at The Hague come from a special map collection created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Kaartcollectie Buitenland Leupe). The map to the right is one of the items on display at the AAMU and happens to feature prominently in a thematic dossier about Australia at the website of the Nationaal Archief. Among the digitized items of the Nationaal Archief is Abel Tasman’s journal from 1642 (NA, Aanwinsten Eerste Afdeling, no. 121). Tasman, made also drawings of the coastal areas he saw.
Perhaps the most stunning historic object comes from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The very fact it is held in their holdings struck me forcefully. You could argue that the Dirck Hartogh tin dish is not just an object of Dutch maritime history, but also a telling object in Australian history. Dirck Hartogh ordered the carving of his arrival on October 25, 1616 with the Eendraght on the west coast of Australia at the island which still bears his name, Dirk Hartogh Island. Willem de Vlamingh found this dish eighty years after the landing, replaced it with a copy, and brought the original dish back to Amsterdam. Thus the oldest object from Europe that ever touched Australian soil returned to its point of depart in Europe.
Old Maps Online has gained its importance as a quick way to find historical maps precisely because it brings together maps from different angles, countries and perspectives. In the case of Australia it matters enormously to have rapid access to these old Dutch maps because they contain details not presented on other maps, and thus they have influenced cartographers elsewhere very much. Any reader of Simon Garfield’s On the Map. Why the World Looks the Way it Does (London 2012) will be aware how not only the actual shape and contents of a map are important, but also the visions mapmakers create. The combination of rich collections from several countries, each bringing both maps printed nearby and in foreign countries, makes Old Maps Online into the rich and invaluable resource it has become.
The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands contains now 132 collections from 84 institutions. You can search for these collections and institutions, or choose a preset theme. The theme Maps and atlases yields nearly 19,500 results. However, this filter has been programmed to include also topographical drawings. You can adjust the filters to include only maps which brings you to some 1,400 maps. If I choose for marine charts (365 items) you cannot search immediately for a specific location. In its current look it is more practical to look for a location in general and subsequently narrow your search to maps or charts. The portal gives access to an impressive total of nearly 800,000 items. Depending on your search question, either a general question which you want to explore or a more restricted one, you will encounter many interesting items. It is still possible to view the famous topographical collections such as the Atlas Schoemaker directly. This double use of the word atlas should serve as a reminder that even though digital materials might have been digitized with a view to historical research the sources themselves were not made with this intention. For the purpose of this blog post you should perhaps begin with the digitized atlases from the holdings of the Nationaal Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam.
Mapping with a different mind-set
The historical maps of Australia form a major part of the exhibition at Utrecht, yet the modern art works which either mirror old maps or reflect concepts of space and spatial representation attract rightfully your attention. In particular the work of Judy Watson invites you to rethink the role of maps, especially the names of locations. The Dutch and English deliberately gave their own names to Australian locations which of course had and have their own names given by the indigenous people of Australia.
Apart from drawings and paintings there are also minor objects to be seen, such as beautifully carved shells, and some larger objects, a number of law poles. Interestingly, the law poles belong to the main collection of the AAMU. They are part of a series of contemporary art works which have helped setting the boundaries of land belonging to indigenous people. This theme was itself the focus point of an exhibition at the AAMU in 2010 about which I reported here briefly. I cannot help thinking now that these law poles are here very much museum objects instead of being elements of the present state of affairs in Australia regarding indigenous people. The past years a number of contemporary Australian art works has been shown around Australia in travelling exhibitions.
Any of my thoughts to be just looking at an art exhibition was dispelled when I spotted among the place names projected in a video installation by Judy Watson on a map of Australia Cape Grim and the Cape Grim Massacre. Watson’s point is not only recording such grim places as Cape Grim and Suicide Bay on Tasmania, but showing the sheer impact of a majority of English and Dutch names for Australian locations. The Dutch might not have occupied physically much Australian territory at any time, but giving locations a Dutch name was definitely done with to commerce and control. Van Diemen Land and Tasmania are not exceptional examples of lasting Dutch influence. I would like to mention here the online Companion to Tasmanian History, edited by Alison Alexander, Centre for Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, where you can pursue this approach and much more.
Reading the sources
At the website of the Dirk Hartog Year you can find in the section Dirk’s Library information about his life and voyages for the Dutch East India Company, and not as you might expect books about him or even his personal library. I could not help inspecting the transcriptions of some of the historical records – including the tin dish from 1616 – and noticing gaps and misunderstandings. Instead of frowning upon this situation it is better to point to a brand new website about Early Modern Dutch palaeography, Wat Staat Daer? [What Is Stated There?]. Three archives in the province Noord-Brabant launched this website earlier this month. Even if it is not a tutorial it does give you not only a number of documents to decipher, but also a digitized version of a handy booklet by Willem Bogtman, Het Nederlandsche schrift in 1600 [Dutch Handwriting in 1600] (Amsterdam 1938; reprint 1973) showing you the variety of forms of letters in Dutch documents. Some users of Wat Staat Daer? point to an online tutorial for Early Modern Dutch palaeography of the University of Amsterdam. One user gives the link to a website for Dutch sixteenth-century palaeography using records of criminal justice at The Hague for a very short period, 1575 to 1579; in particular the reference section is very useful. Hopefully these websites help also all those investigating traces of Dutch history in locations from New York to Brazil and from South Africa to Sri Lanka and Indonesia or the global impact of the Dutch East India Company. The VOC Kenniscentrum and the Atlas of Mutual Heritage are among the virtual harbors where your research into the history of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie can start. The municipal archive in Amsterdam has a special page about Dirk Hartogh, with a discussion also of the various spellings of his name.
For those wondering why I do not mention here the Digital Panopticon, a project combining data from the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1913, the Convict Transport Registers Database and the First Fleet to create a history of English and Australian people over the centuries, I did so here in an earlier post about the Digital Panopticon. This project is not only a showcase for digital humanities, it showcases also legal history in fascinating ways.
Among the many activities of the Dirk Hartog Year some of them are clearly connected to the events of 1616, its immediate impact and historical influence. The Western Australia Museum created a small but interesting online exhibition, 1616 – Dirk Hartogh. At the website of the Duyfken 1606 Replica you can find more information about important Dutch voyages to Australia in the seventeenth century. This autumn the replica of the Duyfken is sailing along Australia’s west coast in remembrance of Dirk Hartog’s journey. The Nationaal Archief gives an overview of other Dutch activities concerning “1616” in 2016 and 2017. The Dutch National Archives have produced a glossy magazine with the flawed title Boemerang. Nederland-Australië 400 jaar, which you can download as a PDF. I feared it was only available in Dutch, but luckily the website of the Dirk Hartog Year contains a link to the English version. The choice of subjects in this colourful magazine is really not narrow-minded. It would be one-sided to leave out here the websites of the National Archives of Australia and the National Library of Australia, but enough is enough. For me writing this contribution has been in some way a voyage of discovery, although I have collected over the years a selection of links to websites touching Australia’s legal history on my legal history website. Hopefully I can seduce you to look out for uncharted territories, to rethink the importance of historical and linguistic borders, and to get inspiration from artists who raise difficult questions about our own time.