Thesis "Chain of Command"

Introduction to the online version

This website is an online version of my thesis “Chain of Command”, which is about warfare by the Dutch East India Company, notably from 1655-1663. While doing research for this thesis, I often found myself frustrated by the fact that the old campaign histories I made use of gave me no clear impression of how battles were actually fought, what the logistical problems for armies and fleets were, where the battles actually took place etc. I felt that the texts I was reading, with their lack of maps and images, were not the best medium to render these things intelligible, and often found that in order to get an inkling of what was going on during a certain campaign, one almost had to ‘re-research’ the whole thing before one understood the history book that had already been written about it.

While trying to understand these campaigns and the logistical system behind them, I increasingly found myself making use of relatively new digital resources such as Google Earth. If an author, for one, wrote how an army crossed a certain bay on Ceylon, but did not provide a map of the area, one could simply look up the area in Google Earth, and zoom in so far as to be able to assess the situation. If an author wrote that a VOC-fleet was hiding behind the island of Tanakeke, an island so small that one would be hard-pressed to find it in most atlases, it was found soon enough in Google Earth. In addition to good old-fashioned archive cards, I started building up a whole library of Google Earth placemarks. It made me wonder whether readers of the thesis would not also be helped by having access to these placemarks.

This online version makes these placemarks available, among other things. It is an attempt to demonstrate how the presentation of historical research can be enriched by the fruits of the information revolution, such as Google Maps, Google Earth and various online historical databases.

Every important place name in this online version is clickable, and will immediately refer you to a map with explanation. Every ship’s name will link through to a (Dutch-language) online ship’s database,, where one can find practically all the known information about the ship.

Several campaign histories come with a Google Earth animation, which I hope will serve to make these campaigns very much more intelligible in less than ten minutes. (More of these will follow soon.) Google Earth is in my eyes an incredible tool to illuminate certain aspects of (historical) problems, like distances, terrains, the influence of the monsoon on sailing routes and the like. With it, any student can nowadays effortlessly and freely create 3D impressions of these things, in a manner which used to be reserved for expensive war documentaries.

A final advantage of this online version is that it can be searched and that many things are cross-linked. This renders indexes obsolete, and makes fruitlessly leafing through whole books for that one passage a thing of the past.

Whereas I am responsible for the entire content of this site, the site itself was entirely built by my brother James, whom I would like to thank greatly for this.

I sincerely hope you will enjoy this website.

Tristan Mostert, march 2009