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Maritime Imagination: A Cultural Oceanography of The Netherlands

Maritime Imagination: A Cultural Oceanography of The Netherlands


"In 1609, Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius, commissioned by the VOC, published Mare Liberum. The book argued for a juridical distinction between land-based sovereignties and the ""free sea,"" heralding a new maritime imagination and international legal order that still persists today. Grotius is not just an exemplary figure for early deliberations on maritime worlds, his work carries particular resonance for Dutch articulations of empire and colonialism rooted in oceanic spaces that have shaped its historical and contemporary position in a global context. Although historians agree that The Netherlands was more interested in commercial maritime trade than European settlement, accounts of Dutch empire and colonialism remain land-based, simply mentioning the ocean as a route between colony and metropole. Maritime Imagination addresses this oversight by developing a cultural oceanography of the Dutch maritime imagination, generating an innovative multi-era and interdisciplinary approach to the study of maritime worlds. Applying an oceanic perspective, I aim to show how a maritime frame -rather than a land-based frame- engenders new ways of theorizing the formation of Dutch empire and colonialism and its impact on the present. Starting from an oceanic framework that crosses existing analytic divides between culture, society, law, economy, and environment, I aim to contribute to the emerging interdisciplinary field of Oceanic Studies. Maritime Imagination researches four interrelated ocean temporalities (17th cent. - present), in which I position Dutch ship voyages as laboratories of colonialism and empire. Visions of the ocean, deeds performed at sea, how they are imagined and their impact are what I call maritime imagination, which can only be illuminated by foregrounding the ocean as a central locus that engenders, shapes and transforms world views, culture, self/other definitions, laws, economy, and ecologies of extraction and sustainability -i.e. through a cultural oceanography."
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Spui 21
1012wx Amsterdam


Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 239 817,60

Partners (1)

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Project information

Grant agreement ID: 838904


Grant agreement signed

  • Start date

    1 September 2019

  • End date

    31 August 2022

Funded under:


  • Overall budget:

    € 239 817,60

  • EU contribution

    € 239 817,60

Coordinated by: