Imperial Businesses and the Interwar Struggle for Empire: Reflections from the Dutch Maritime World

Kris Alexanderson

During the two decades after World War I, Dutch shipping companies and the colonial government collaborated in global policing and surveillance projects in an attempt to control their transoceanic empire and maintain imperial hegemony beyond the colony’s terrestrial borders.  This paper reveals how shipping businesses were vital not only to the economic and logistic prosperity of Dutch empire, but also for protecting it against both foreign and indigenous socio-cultural threats to Dutch authority.  Interwar Dutch shipping companies have largely escaped critical analyses over the ways colonial culture influenced their business decisions, but this paper shows the same fears and paranoia felt by colonial administrators during the 1920s and 30s were shared by European multinational corporations.  Working from numerous Dutch shipping company archives, this paper supplements our extensive knowledge of the British Empire with a previously unexplored and unique component of twentieth-century imperial business history.