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Maria-Theresia Leuker

Maria-Theresia Leuker is a Professor of Dutch Literature at the University of Cologne. Her research concentrates on Dutch literature of the 17th to the 19th century. She has published books and articles about the relations between literature and history, space in literature and the representation of national as well as religious and gender identities in literature. In 2000, she published Künstler als Helden und Heilige. Nationale und konfessionelle Mythologie im Werk J. A. Alberdingk Thijms und seiner Zeitgenossen. She is co-editor and co-author of the reference work Niederländische Literaturgeschichte (2006). Her current research focuses upon the works of the seventeenth-century naturalist G.E. Rumphius in the context of early modern knowledge production and circulation between Asia and Europe. In 2012, she edited the volume Die sichtbare Welt. Visualität in der niederländischen Literatur und Kunst des 17. Jahrhunderts.

Circulation in Spaces of Knowledge Between Asia and Europe. Rumphius’ Amboinsche Rariteitkamer (1705) and its Poetics of Knowledge

Abstract:

The Amboinsche Rariteitkamer (Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet), written on the Moluccan islands in the last decades of the 17th century and published in Amsterdam in 1705, can be regarded as a ‘third space’ of knowledge in between Asia and Europe. The book contains descriptions of soft and hard shellfish, minerals and stones around and on Ambon and its surroundings and was written by Georg Everhard Rumphius, a civil servant of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The book witnesses his contact and cooperation with secretaries and draughtsmen provided by the VOC, local informants, as well as naturalists and collectors of rarities in Asia and Europe. In our research project, we analyze it as medium of the circulation of knowledge between Asia and Europe.

In my lecture, I want to address the question whether the colonial settings in which the research for the book was carried out, it was written and published, left traces in the book. By a few exemplary cases, mainly from the third book of the Curiosity Cabinet on minerals and stones, I want to show how the poetics of knowledge, i.e. the rhetorical means and metaphors as well as the strategies by which the text presents knowledge, is influenced by its colonial context.

For this purpose, I work with the keywords wonder, trade, power, and incorporation. The framework of the text, produced by the publisher François Halma and the editor Simon Schijnvoet in Amsterdam, establishes a poetics of wonder, a religiously inspired amazement caused by the objects described and depicted in the Curiosity Cabinet. Wonder, the first reaction to the encounter with the unknown and strange, is quickly followed by an appropriation of the admired objects, a taxation of their value as commodities. The hierarchy of power between the VOC and their officials on the one hand and the local population on the other hand is present in the descriptions of the objects, as they are sometimes made available making use of colonial power. The new knowledge acquired by investigating nature and questioning local informants is incorporated into the European body of knowledge about natural history. The “exotic” is made familiar by connecting it to the tradition of humanist scholarship.