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Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age

In Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age, Elizabeth A. Sutton explores the fascinating but previously neglected history of corporate cartography during the Dutch Golden Age, from ca. 1600 to 1650. She examines how maps were used as propaganda tools for the Dutch West India Company in order to encourage the commodification of land and an overall capitalist agenda.

Building her exploration around the central figure of Claes Jansz Vischer, an Amsterdam-based publisher closely tied to the Dutch West India Company, Sutton shows how printed maps of Dutch Atlantic territories helped rationalize the Dutch Republic’s global expansion. Maps of land reclamation projects in the Netherlands, as well as the Dutch territories of New Netherland (now New York) and New Holland (Dutch Brazil), reveal how print media were used both to increase investment and to project a common narrative of national unity. Maps of this era showed those boundaries, commodities, and topographical details that publishers and the Dutch West India Company merchants and governing Dutch elite deemed significant to their agenda. In the process, Sutton argues, they perpetuated and promoted modern state capitalism.

208 pages | 27 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Art: European Art

Geography: Cartography

History: Discoveries and Exploration, European History


"In this volume, Sutton brings an art historical lens to examine how power and visual media combine to underscore the 'rationalization and organization of a particular economic system': capitalism. Overall, the book offers readers a kaleidoscopic view of Dutch cartographic representation of the Atlantic world, with a special focus on how maps served as vessels for a prevailing discourse about civic virtue and national pride, as exercised through commercial expansion."


"Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age teases out the relationship between maps and land in an earlier political culture. The strengths of Sutton's book are first and foremost its treatment of Dutch intellectual and juridical themes and secondarily its focus on the American Dutch maps to complement the better known East Indian maps. The book is a refreshing complement to books which start from the maps, and I enjoyed particularly its new intellectual focus."

Journal of Historical Geography

"Sutton deftly places Visscher’s output in the broader media landscape of the time that also included pamphlets, learned treatises, and writings on political theory. Her analysis of Visscher’s corporate cartography is lucid and convincing. Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age is a useful addition to the expanding library of the Dutch contribution to the early modern Atlantic world."

Imago Mundi

"Sutton's abilities as a scholar and writer are clear from the outset....These historical events and trends are not only relevant, but crucial for understanding our own democratic and capitalist society. This insight and evaluation of present circumstances is the true achievement of the work. We as historians often shy away from commenting on current events, and believe that laying bare the historical foundations of particular subject is enough. Sutton's work serves as a clarion call that perhaps we need to be braver as a discipline. From the outset she is forthright about her biases and direct with argument. The work is still rooted in historical analysis, but the repercussions on the present are evident and explicit. As Sutton is so clear with her argument (to great effect), let me be equally forthright with mine: read this book!"

Robert Tiegs | H-Net

"Sutton expertly summarizes the complicated structures of seventeenth-century Dutch government and the legal history of property, centring her arguments on Visscher’s maps of the Netherlands and Dutch colonial ambitions in the New World. Her work on land, territory and private property in Visscher’s maps in the context of Grotian law offers necessary reading for current scholars and students of the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic."

Art History

"For a short concise piece of work Sutton’s monograph accomplishes the aims it sets out at the start through the use of a focused case study approach."

Historical Geography

"In Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age, Sutton makes a powerful argument for the Dutch West India Company’s coercive use of visual imagery to rationalize capitalism, the commodification of land, and colonization in Africa and the Americas."

CAA Reviews

"There are still people who view the Dutch in their Golden Age as a small, spunky nation that stood up to absolutism, Inquisition, and servile economic relations and succeeded in establishing a society founded on new, more open, tolerant, and economically rational principles. Elizabeth Sutton is not among them. She is not so easily deceived by the self-representations generated by the young Dutch Republic and it is the purpose of this book to reveal through some of its celebrated cartographic output the origins of the capitalist oppression that is the lineal descendant of the miseries of the American late capitalism we now endure."

Renaissance Quarterly

“With Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age, Sutton analyzes the history of the Dutch republic and the maps that supported its capitalist and colonial society through a lens that puts the seventeenth century in chilling conversation with our world today. Her close readings of illustrated maps and early modern texts, ranging in subject from Calvinist theology to property law and political philosophy, create a compelling argument for the role maps played in amplifying the power of Amsterdam elites.”

Dawn Odell, Lewis & Clark College

“Sutton offers a provocative and compelling examination of the ways Dutch capitalists in the seventeenth century deployed maps as tools for their dominance over the land and other people, as well as ways to express their power and wealth. A strong and stimulating work, Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age is an excellent addition to the fields of art history and the history of cartography.” 

Robert Karrow, Newberry Library

Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age offers an incisive, compelling analysis of two Dutch phenomena familiar to most historians and art historians – the rise of early modern capitalism and the dissemination of printed maps. In a series of case studies focusing on Amsterdam, New Amsterdam, and the Dutch in Brazil, she explores the interdependency between Dutch mercantilism and mapping with critical aplomb. This timely, innovative account offers new ways of seeing how the structuring principles of mercantile development informed and were informed by Dutch practices of making maps and profile views. At home and abroad, printed maps, she argues, reinforced the rationalist logic of capitalism. While demonstrating a close connection between modes of picturing the Netherlands and the processes by which they were given political form, Sutton also brings her argument forward to the present day and to the continuing relationships between money, power, and visualization.”

Claudia Swan, Northwestern University

“Sutton argues expertly that cartography is fundamental to the understanding of the capitalist policies of the young Dutch Republic, successfully revealing how maps and the underlying grid systems and Roman-Dutch law played a crucial role in the organization of private ownership, economic expansion, imperial policies, and marketing. Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age skillfully pulls down the barriers between economy and maps; between maps, marketing, and art; and between national histories.” 

Kees Zandvliet, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

"Elizabeth Sutton's title promises that her book will contain an analysis of the relationship between "capitalism" and cartography in 17th century Netherlands. At the same time, readers will find more in it--a critique of capitalism in the USA… This enriching book stimulates further investigation of the cartography-power complex."

Jahrbuch für Kommunikationsgeschichte (translated from German)

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Capitalism, Cartography, and Culture
Early Modern Capitalism and Cartography
Theorizing Capitalist Cartography
Chapter Outlines

Chapter 2. Amsterdam Society and Maps
The Market for Maps
Organization of Government and the WIC
Pictorial and Intellectual Foundations
Social Organization and Hierarchy

Chapter 3. Capitalism and Cartography in Amsterdam
The Virtuous Merchant and the Republic
Visscher and the Amsterdam Map Tradition
The Beemster
The Grid, Private Property, and the Commonwealth

Chapter 4. Profit and Possession in Brazil
Visscher’s WIC-Authorized Map of Pernambuco
Johan Maurits and the Development of Recife and Mauritsstad
Blaeu and Barlaeus’s Representation of Brazil
Possession According to Grotius
Natural Rights, Sugar, and Human Exploitation
Trying Times: 1648

Chapter 5. Marketing New Amsterdam
Picturing New Amsterdam
WIC Colonial Policies 1629-49: Possession, Boundaries, Patroons, and Natives
The 1649 Affair
New Amsterdam Renewed

Chapter 6. Capitalism and Cartography Revisited

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