In today’s post, WMQ author Susanah Shaw Romney (April 2016) answers the following: “WMQ articles are capped at 10,000 words (plus notes). If you had 5,000 more words to play with, how would the article be different?”
by Susanah Shaw Romney
This article started out as a paper I submitted to the WMQ-EMSI Workshop on Women in Early America. The paper I wrote then differs quite a bit from what has ended up appearing in the Quarterly now. There have been both additions and subtractions, but if I had another 5,000 words to play with, I would love to add some of the “missing” material back in.
Since that initial draft, based on the comments and suggestions of seminar participants and peer reviewers, I added a lot more specific material on the lives of actual colonists in New Netherland. I am so glad that I made those insertions; looking at people’s actual lives and choices really grounds the piece in a way that is much more convincing than what I had for the workshop. But when you are facing a hard word limit, every addition has to be paired with a deletion!
What got thrown overboard was a lot more material on thinking about households and villages in other places throughout the Dutch empire, particularly in what is today the nation of Indonesia. The final version still sets the Atlantic colonies in the context of Dutch expansion in the Indian Ocean basin, but I simply had to be more economical.
I think the cuts I made point to a larger challenge with the “global turn” in Early American and Atlantic history. Or, particularly, the difficulty of making that three-point turn within the narrow lane that is a journal article. Early America is a rigorous, demanding field, with a strong tradition of social historical research; you can’t cut corners as an early Americanist, and you have to prove your points with dense textual analysis. It is tough to do that in a short piece while still allowing yourself the space to introduce the far reaches of the globe and explain the importance of far-flung colonies. 10,000 words sounds like a lot, but you quickly find yourself counting every sentence.
The jettisoned sections also analyzed more visual evidence. I particularly wish I could have found a way to retain this image of the city and fort of Batavia and the surrounding area done around 1622.
Held today in the Special Collections of the University of Leiden library, it is one of six plans of Asian forts.[i] It is a lovely image of a disturbing process, showing how the Dutch were thinking about claiming space militarily and domestically on the island of Java. In addition to the fort of Batavia itself, the plan includes the dwelling spaces for VOC employees like the ship builders inside and outside the city walls. There is also a carefully walled compound for the English residents. And most strikingly, down in the lower left-hand quadrant is a rural structure that looks amazingly like the Dutch houses idealized in the fine art at home in that period, such as those shown in Vermeer’s “Little Street.” The artist has added, in case the image wasn’t appealing enough on its own, the words, “Dit is een wtnemende plaisante plaets,” or “This is an extremely pleasant place.” Drawn just a year before the WIC would start organizing the first group of migrants headed to New Netherland, I think the image can tell us a lot about how Dutch participants in overseas expansion already thought about households and process of claiming space.
But, when counting every word, the analysis of this image just didn’t make it!
[i] Batavia stadt en(de) casteel gelegen int coninckrijck van Jacatra int eylant van Java Maior 6 graden by suyden de linia equinoctiael, ca. 1622. The original can be found at: University of Leiden, Bodel Nijenhuis, COLLBN 002-10-034. For a photographic copy, see Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Verzameling Buitenlandse Kaarten Leupe: Eerste Supplement, nummer toegang 4.VELH, inventarisnummer 429, http://proxy.handle.net/10648/08024274-8d92-faaa-56ce-44a340fdc389.