Navigating through technology: technology and the Dutch East India Company VOC in the eighteenth century

Johan de Jong

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research external, graduation UT

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For almost two centuries, the ships and the crews of the VOC navigated their way between the Dutch Republic and Asia. This could not have been achieved without the technology of ship design and ship building, the technology involved with keeping the crew healthy, and the technology of charting a route. Consequently, the VOC itself had to navigate its way through technology, deciding whether to develop, introduce, use, adapt, improve or discontinue certain technologies. This dissertation shows that the “success” or “failure” of such technologies could never be taken for granted; instead, whatever happened to technologies had to be (re)negotiated over and over again. Taking original archival research as its starting point, this study uses insights and methods developed in Science and Technology Studies to interpret and explain the fate of VOC’s technologies. Three approaches have been fruitful in this respect. First is the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) with its emphasis on how (non)-users matter, the second approach is that of Large-scale Technological Systems (LTS) which helps to explain how the VOC developed into a large (pre)-industrial enterprise during the eighteenth century and – third – the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) makes clear that not only humans took part in the negotiations but also non-humans like contagious diseases, typhoons, profitable trade, and not in the least the ships themselves. During the course of the eighteenth century one sees an increasing drive by the central board of directors of the VOC towards a system of centralized control, also regarding the topic of technology. As a number of suggestions for introducing new or improved technologies originated in one of the six local chambers of the company, came from individual skippers or from personnel serving at outposts of the company, it is not surprising that this led to tensions between those promoting technologies based on local knowledge and the central board of directors in Amsterdam. A more de-central approach might have yielded interesting technological results and it might also have had a profound effect on the chances of survival of the VOC as a company.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Roberts, Lissa, Supervisor
Award date1 Dec 2016
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-4249-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • METIS-318707
  • IR-101988


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