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World of the Dutch East India Company

Dutch East India
Written by Roma Publications

The World of the Dutch East India Company

Exhibition in Netherlands to showcase ‘The world of the VOC’ for the first time

The exhibition of ‘The world of the Dutch East India Company’ in the National Archives of the Netherlands, in The Hague, has for the first time showcased a complete collection of the 200 year history of the world’s first multinational company, who began their rise to prominence in 1602 with their involvement in the spice trade.

The world of VOC enables visitors to set sail on a journey through the company’s history, accompanied by the sounds and sights of the sea and the smells of spices, as they uncover how the company moulded its way into the history books.

The exhibition contains maps, documents, objects, sounds, photographs, video clips and a wealth of on-screen presentations, which help to illustrate a vivid image of the impact that the company made in both financial and political proceedings during the time and day-to-day life.

In addition to this, the VOC is further brought to life for the visitors with the personal tales of those involved in the company’s successes and failures, and those who were on board their ships during their domination of the Indian Ocean.

Moreover descendants of key figures from within the company explain to visitors what it means to have the inherited a VOC-past in the family, how they look after it and what it means to them in the exhibition visitors can search for ancestors in the database of people that sailed on VOC-ships.

Premier Hospitality spoke to the project leader, Nancy Hovingh to find out more about the exhibition and its importance:


Hi Nancy, thank you for taking the time to talk to Premier Hospitality. How did you get involved in the project?

“The Nationaal Archief (Dutch National Archives) is the ‘national memory’ of the Netherlands. We hold over 137 kilometres of documents, 15 million photos, 300.000maps and 440 terabytes of digital files both from the central government, as well as from organisations and persons of national importance (past and present).  The collection creates a multi-faceted and unique depiction of Dutch society. One of the archives that we hold is the VOC and it covers about 1.2 kilometres. It is one of our most consulted archives; it is extraordinary rich in content: not only do they shed a light on the economic history of the Dutch Republic; they are also of inestimable value for the political, administrative and military historiography of the Asian countries that lay within the VOC charter territories. In a public survey we did recently, a large number of our visitors said they would like to see an exhibition on the VOC.

“This VOC-archive was digitised last year: soon it will all be available worldwide to everybody online. The exhibition was organised to give extra attention to this event. It will help people to learn more about the archives here at the National archives and be exposed to the history of our country. This also allows for developing a deeper awareness of the roots of our culture and how we are connected to these.”

Dutch East India

What was the sort of brief you were working from?

“The main brief was to make people aware that we hold the archives, but also to inspire people to use the archives whilst surprising the visitors on content design and visitor guidance, so the people will be the ambassador of the archives and will return for the next exhibition, another event or to do research themselves.”


What was the time scale like for this particular project?

“The preparations took about one and a half years, and we started by compiling an inventory because the archive was so big! We then narrowed it down to the highlight of the collection and matched this with specific personal stories because these provide a catchy access to the documents.

“Next, we made collaborations between other museums, as well as famous Dutch writers. We also looked for examples to show that the VOC had meanings to us – even in modern day.”


Tell us about the importance of reaching the final stages of the SBID Awards – in the ‘public space’ category – will it open the archives up to more people?

“It is very important because it will allow us to have a greater audience to engage with and make the archives more visible.

“In 2013 we renovated our building to make it less of an introverted space and more of extroverted space. It welcomes more people to visit the institution and notice our collection in different ways. We really need people to pay attention to the archives because the collection is owned by every citizen in this country. We would like to inform everybody about the possibilities of the collections and this space allows for that.”

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