III.6 Transfer of Technology and Science

One of the most enduring influences in the Asian-European encounter was the exchange of knowledge and technology. In the archives one sometimes comes across orders for a pair of spectacles placed by Asian rulers or traders. The ability to read was extremely important in maintaining a productive life. Clocks, globes and maps and printed books were all part of the seventeenth and eighteenth century era of globalisation.

In the seventeenth century science supported a divinely ordained creationist view of the universe. Science did not question God’s Creation but confirmed it. At an early stage, scholars at Leiden University ordered all sorts of plants and rare animals for their collections. The purpose was to expand knowledge of Natural History as a part of God’s Creation. Private collectors, such as the trader Georgius Everhardus Rumphius (1627-1702) in Ambon, assembled remarkable personal collections of plants. During the eighteenth century, science was more and more driven by economic exploitation. Geological research, for instance, helped to locate gold and tin mines and sulphur pits.

More difficult to trace is the exchange of technology at the practical level. Javanese shipbuilding, for instance, influenced the use of flat-bottomed ships of the pencalang type by European merchants and trading companies. Chinese knowledge of sugar-milling and refining made Batavia’s sugar industry highly profitable for many investors. European mathematical knowledge associated with house and fort construction influenced the lifestyle of the Asian elite. Everyday contracts and paper deals in the archives reflect the personal exchange of knowledge and know-how.