CHANGING RELEVANCE OF SPACE IN TIME: COLONISATION, GLOBALISATION AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CONNECTIVITY An examination on the impact of technologically improved means of transportation and communication on the relationship between the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies, 1870-1930
Weijde, E.C. van der
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“Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live."1 – Albert Einstein. One of the basic starting points for performing this research was Albert Einstein‘s theory of relativity where he stated that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared (E = mc²). This theory brought about a major change in man‘s perception of the world. Einstein not only caught the relation between mass and energy but also that between time and space in this formula, since the speed of light is given in meters (distance) per second (time). Due to technological developments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, connectivity improved intensely, making it easier to bridge the cumbersome problems related to time and distance. Since Einstein in fact proved that time and space are related to each other and to the way in which the world is perceived, it can be derived that increased means of connectivity made possible a better handling and management of time and space and thus influenced the relation between nations separated by a vast distance. This paper seeks to analyze how means of connectivity altered time-space perceptions in the context of the relationship between the Netherlands and their colony of the Dutch East Indies (DEI) in the period 1870-1930. In this era, characterized by a plurality of emerging transportation and communication networks, connectivity and interdependency presumably play a prominent role in how the world became to =operate‘ and thus how the relationship between a mother country and its colony was perceived. The hypothesis of this research is that technology enhancing faster and increased connections between the Netherlands and the DEI, changed perceptions of the world and thus also of the Dutch views towards their relationship with the DEI. Changes in the relationship of the Netherlands towards the DEI were primarily defined by governmental policies and commercial interests in this period. For this reason statements and reflections are analysed of those people who were politically and economically involved in developments concerning the DEI, and influential intellectuals who reflected upon these developments. Investigated sources include books containing information about postal roads, telegraph – and telephone lines, and outlines and schedules for shipping companies and the railways. Examined is how new means of connectivity were introduced and implemented between the Netherlands and the DEI as well as within the DEI. In addition to this, a large part of the research consists of an analysis on the content of articles and journals that discussed news and developments in the DEI to see how topics on technological developments were perceived at the time. An important source used is the liberal journal De Gids.2 In the period investigated, the editorial of this magazine consisted continuously of influential =Indian experts‘ who filled the magazine with travel stories, book discussions and political essays.3 Another significant source for the information on technological developments on =traffic and conveyance‘ in and between the DEI is De Koloniale Roeping van Nederland (Holland’s Colonial Call).4 This collection of articles was published by the Dutch government in 1930 in both English and Dutch. The chapters on various technological developments were specifically aimed to show the Dutch achievements in the DEI and to invoke an interest into the developments within the DEI from people in the mother-country.5 Besides the fact that this extensive book offers concise information on the developments of means of transport in and between the DEI and the Netherlands, it is hence also an interesting insight into the Dutch perception of the significance of connectivity.6 The research shows that increasing means of connectivity changed Dutch perceptions of time and space, and in accordance, of the possibilities and their position in the DEI as a colonial power. During the time span examined, a number of changes in Dutch colonial politics, trade and law indeed occurred, in which enhanced connectivity appeared to have played a significant role. Among the most prominent of these changes are the Dutch expansion of their authority into the outer regions of the Indonesian archipelago, the increasingly liberal and humanistic character of colonial policies, and the emergence of the DEI as an international trade network which changed the position of the DEI with regard to the Netherlands and the rest of the world. These developments provide more insight into the underlying objective of this research namely to gain a better understanding of the definition of – and way in which – the process of globalisation unfolds with regard to changing time-space perceptions. However, regarding the (colonial) relationship with the DEI, the impact of connectivity on the relationship between the Netherlands and the DEI that was found in this research was smaller than initially thought. Dutch perceptions on the relationship between the Netherlands and the DEI appeared to show little change despite the technological and political developments. Without neglecting the centrality of connectivity to the process of globalisation, the relative small impact of connectivity in the period examined here indicates a number of insights with regard to the research topic. Firstly, a colonial relationship based on economic and political grounds is not likely to change if little cultural exchange takes place. Secondly, a more profound understanding (and widening) of the time span is presumably needed to =capture‘ the consequence(s) of changing time-space perceptions more fully. And furthermore, the results indicate that the relationship between a nation, or =a people‘ and the geographical territory they belong to is both real and imaginary. Analysing the significance of connectivity for the Dutch relationship with the DEI in order to trace the way in which the world came not only to work, but to be seen as, a =global village‘, is a new topic of research in Dutch history. Despite the variety of sources, the present approach is by no means comprehensive. This research should therefore be seen as a pilot for future research on the importance and impact of connectivity on changing perceptions of geographical space. 1 Aylesa Forsee, Albert Einstein, Theoretical Physicist (New York: Macmillan, 1963), 81.