sentence of Patrick Manning's book Navigating World History: Historians create
a global past immediately reveals the importance of this word 'connections' in
understanding globalisation: 'To put it simply', he proclaims, 'world history is
the story of connections within the global human community'.5 In addition,
these connections must have a more or less structural effect. A.G. Hopkins
describes it as a process 'that transforms economic, political, social and cultural
relationships across countries, regions and continents by spreading them more
broadly, making them more intense and increasing their velocity'.6 In his book
Global History: Interactions between the universal and the local William H. McNeill
emphasises that communication is a fundamental prerequisite for globalisation.
He concludes thatif one allows for much slower and far more sporadic
communication among fewer people, themselves hemmed in by formidable and
seldom crossed geographical barriers, it is nonetheless true that human societies
always exchanged messages with strangers and altered behaviour every so often
when something new and attractive came to their attention'.7
From that point of view, understanding the patterns of information exchange
is essential to being able to make any connection to globalisation theories.
The issue I want to discuss here is whether it is possible to read these patterns
of information exchange in the (colonial) archives. Before focusing on this
question it is important to give some attention to the notion of information
and information networks. In addition to globalisation, information and the
growing interdependency of information from all over the world is another
important key feature of our modern world. In the present the concepts of
globalisation and information are closely connected. News from all over the
world spreads in seconds; e-mail, social media and cloud computing connects
people who physically are remote. Because of these developments, historians and
archivists are becoming more and more interested in the historical dimension
of the concept of information.8 According to Daniel Headrick, the information
revolution in which we live now began roughly three centuries ago as the
result of a cultural change. Since the Age of Reason, public officials and private
citizens not only wanted to have more information at their disposal, but they
also wanted to get easier access to information.9 James Gleick puts it aptly in his
book The Information: 'The raw material lay all around, glistening and buzzing in
the landscape of the early twentieth century, letters and messages, sounds and
images, news and instructions, figures and facts, signals and signs: a hodgepodge
of related species. They were on the move, by post or wire or electromagnetic
wave. But no one word denoted all that stuff'.10Today we have a single word
to describe 'all that stuff': information. In the archives we still encounter a
massive amount of 'that raw material', although we must acknowledge that the
information stored in the archives is no longer on the move. We should realise
that what we encounter in the repositories of the archival institutes is only the
part that has survived. The whole, of which these remnants used to be a part, has
COLONIAL LEGACY IN SOUTH EAST ASIA -
THE DUTCH ARCHIVES
5 Manning, Navigating World History, 3.
6 Hopkins, 'Introduction', 16.
7 McNeill, 'Afterword: World History and Globalization', 285.
8 For a good overview of the most important literature on the history of information, see: Weller,
'An information History Decade'.
9 Headrick, When information came of age, 217-218.
10 Gleick, The information, 7.
11 Kipling, 'Deep-Sea Cables,'  in: Rudyard Kipling's Verse, 1885-1932, 173
12 Thompson, 'The global communication' 246 ff.