On-line version ISSN 2309-9585
Print version ISSN 0259-0190
WORDEN, Nigel. Cape slaves in the paper empire of the VOC. Kronos [online]. 2014, vol.40, n.1, pp.23-44. ISSN 2309-9585.
This article examines the ways in which the voluminous archive of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) controlled, constructed and delimited the presence of slaves in the paper world of the VOC empire. The extensive paper archive of the VOC recorded slaves in ways which matched the concerns of the administration, such as enumeration in census returns and as objects for inheritance or sale in estate inventories. Nonetheless, historians have been able to uncover considerably more information about their experience and agency. Much detail is provided in criminal and (to a lesser extent) civil judicial records, which explains the emphasis on individual and collective resistance in the slave historiography of the 1980s. More recently Cape historians have adapted techniques of reading across the grain in order to explore the mentalité and cultural worlds of Cape slaves. However, the VOC archive was not only a record of the ruling classes. Slaves also used writing for their own purposes, either in alternative networks of literacy in Asian languages or by turning Dutch papers into documents for their own advantage, some of which has found its way into the official documents. The combination of these records with oral traditions and community memories have enabled Cape historians to transcend the apparent silence of the official archive.