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Charlotte Kiessling

Charlotte Kießling studied Dutch Language and Literature at the Universities of Cologne and Leiden and completed her master’s degree with a thesis entitled Structure and rhetoric in Rumphius’ Rariteitkamer. Scientific writing in the 17th century in August 2015. She currently works as Research Assistant in the DFG-funded project Circulation in Spaces of Knowledge Between Asia and Europe: G.E. Rumphius and his Texts, circa 1670–1755. In her doctoral thesis she analyses the poetics of knowledge in Rumphius’ Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet. In addition to poetics of knowledge, her fields of interest include history and literature of the Dutch Golden Age and the study of emblemata.

Locals, Knowledge and Force. Rumphius’ Rariteitkamer and Kruid-boek as Colonial Contact Zones
(joint presentation with Esther Helena Arens)

In the second half of the 17th Century Georg Eberhard Rumpf from Hanau in Germany found himself a permanent migrant on the Moluccan Island of Ambon. First soldier, then merchant, later natural scholar in the service of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Ostindische Companie, VOC), he had married a local woman and chose not to return to Europe.

Once he  had finished writing the history of Ambon that focused on the political ecology of the Moluccas during the colonisation period, the VOC granted him time, books and services to research wildlife in the region. Rumphius’ biological opus was published in the first half of the 18th Century in Holland, the Amboinsche Rariteitkamer (Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet) in 1705 and the Amboinsche Kruid-boek (Ambonese Herbal) from 1740 onwards. Highly influential in contemporary European conchology and botany, both his books also belong to the European literary canon of the Dutch East Indies and are thus connected to colonial contact zones in different times and spaces.

These contact zones have been defined by Mary Louise Pratt as “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery”. By means of two case studies we are going to analyse the specifics of knowledge production on Ambon and the resulting coloniality as it is described in Rumphius’ texts.

The first case study (Arens) focuses on slave work as a foundation of knowledge production in colonial territories, connecting the human body and scientific objects. It analyses how Rumphius referred to slaves, and how they contributed to his research. The second case study (Kießling) focuses on locals as mediators of knowledge and examines exchanges that included asymmetrical trade-offs. It examines how Rumphius gathered information from the local people, and how these exchanges were portrayed in his texts.