Reading guide to Timothy Brook’s Vermeer’s Hat Each chapter of Timothy Brook’s book Vermeer’s Hat is about something depicted in a painting by the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (or one of his contemporaries) and that were examples of items that were part of global trade in that era. Brook says he chose these items for “the hints of broader historical forces that lurk in their details.” (page 7)
chapter 1: Holland in the 1660s chapter 2: fur trade in Canada in the 1630s chapter 3: porcelain in China in the 1650s chapter 4: geographical knowledge, early anthropology, religions & Christianity chapter 5: tobacco from North America chapter 6: silver from Potosí chapter 7: slave trade, immigration chapter 8: summary of book (especially pages 222–224)
As you read Timothy Brook’s book Vermeer’s Hat, think about the answers to the following questions: chapter 1 What places does Brook say are the “two poles of the magnetic field of interconnection” in his book? What does Brook mean by “paintings are not ‘taken,’ like photographs; they are ‘made’”? What does Brook mean by “objects as signs of the time and place in which the painting was made”? What three mechanical discoveries did Francis Bacon say in 1620 had changed the world? How did Marco Polo cause China to hold a powerful place in the imagination of Europeans? What does Brook say were characteristics of “second contacts”? What does Brook mean when he says, “Their world…would never be the same. No surprise, then, that
artists as homebound as Johannes Vermeer were catching glimpses of the change.”? chapter 2 What happened on July 30, 1609, on the shores of Lake Champlain that the historian Olive Dickason
called the turning point in European–Native American relations? Why did the Japanese allow the Dutch to open their first trading post in Japan in 1609? How does Brook suppose that Algonkians and Hurons thought that Frenchmen conducted their victory
sacrifices? What is the significance of this difference? Why was beaver pelt so popular for hatmaking? Why was Canada a preferred source of beaver pelts, compared to Scandinavia or Siberia? What did a Montagnais trapper mean when he told a French missionary that, “The Beaver does everything
perfectly well. It makes kettles, hatchets, swords, knives, bread; and, in short, it makes everything.”? What were some of the obstacles for Champlain (and others) for finding a passage from Europe to China?
Why did Europeans want to go to China? In the Shakespeare play Much Ado about Nothing, Benedick tells Beatrice he’d rather fetch “a hair of the
Great Cham’s beard” than speak to her. What does this say about how Europeans imagined China? chapter 3 What cargo was loaded on the ship White Lion when it sank in 1613? Why was Chinese porcelain painted blue (instead of gold or silver)? What did Grotius (Huig de Groot) assert about trade in his 1609 book The Freedom of the Seas and what
was the significance of that for Dutch trade? What did Grotius think should be the attitude of Christian European countries toward places in the world
that did not adopt Christianity? Why were antiques valued in China? (see page 81)
chapter 4 Brook claims that the person shown in Vermeer’s painting called The Geographer wasn’t particularly
interested in the profits that Dutch (VOC) traders were making. What did interest geographers about the travels of traders?
Who were the people that the Chinese called Wokou, Dwarf Pirates, Red Hairs, Heigui, and Black Ghosts? Why did Paolo Xu want to learn about such things as ballistics and hydraulics at the same time as learning
about Christianity? By the early 1600s geographers had filled in much of the globe, but a few blank spaces remained.
Where were those blank spaces? Why was complete information about the globe important? chapter 5 Brook compares the world of the 17th century to Indra’s net, along which moved not only people and
goods, but also “a lot of other things.” What were some of those other things moving in the seventeenth-century world?
What uses did Native Americans have for tobacco? What did the Cuban historian/scholar Fernando Ortiz mean by “transculturation”? How did tobacco farmers in North America find enough labor to make tobacco a commercial crop? What advice did Lu Yao have for smokers in his Smoking Manual of 1774? Why did English traders bring opium from India to China? How significant is opium to the relationship of
China to the West (Europe)? (See also pages 159–160 for a description of China as “the tomb of European moneys” for an explanation of the European trade deficit in China that resulted in the Opium Wars.)
chapter 6 What was the mita? What was the meaning of the phrase “as rich as Potosí”? What factors determined how “well or badly”
“one did” at Potosí? Who were Creoles? What city does Brook think was the “nexus” of the European and Chinese economies in the 16th and 17th
centuries? On what did one priest blame the frequent fires in the Parián of Manila? What role did Acapulco play in world commerce of the 17th century? What does Timothy Brook say devastated China in the 1640s? chapter 7 What was the difference between the way Jesuit and Dominican missionaries entered, and operated in,
China? What does Brook say moving (such as immigration, emigration, and migration) or “jumping culture,” as
Brook calls it, forces a person to do? Why did Champlain encourage his fellow Frenchmen to find Huron wives? What is the “middle ground” described by the historian Richard White? What happens when it exists?
What would cause it to end? chapter 8 How does Brook think the poet/theologian John Donne’s statement that “No man is an Island” was true in
1623? What does Brook say is the significance of the Peace of Westphalia of 1648? What does Brook think are reasons the British empire replaced the Dutch as the leading trade power in the
world by the end of the 17th century? How did the Japanese respond to the rise in global trade? What did Vermeer’s wife testify that brought about her husbands’ death in 1675? What two countries’
(revised August 12, 2015)