Friday, April 24, 2009

The Hudson Year

I attended a lecture last night by Russell Shorto, author of An Island at the Center of the World. A history of Dutch Manhattan. He is an engaging speaker and the setting in historic Irvington, NY (sponsored by the historical society) was fitting.

This is the 400th anniversary of the English explorer who, claimed NY on behalf of the Dutch. Hudson was a twice failed explorer who was obsessed with finding the Northwest Passage shortcut to Asia. He had a reputation as an iconoclast and after contractually agreeing to promptly sail west towards the New World, he took off North and East, with a belief that the North Pole was only a rim of ice, backed by a temperate zone. When that failed, after 6 weeks, he headed West and into the history books.

The experience of the Dutch, and later the English, reminds me of Google's Marissa Meyer's statement; "innovation, not instant perfection, you need to iterate". The Dutch approach to its colonies was far different than the British. The Dutch believed in a capital efficient approach to its colonies, where they chartered trading companies to administer the territories with the objective of building profitable enterprises with a minimum of State investment. The British concentrated on building longer term value through deeper upfront investments in settlement and native subjugation. Both, unfortunately, embraced slavery as a facilitating means for their objectives.

Hudson 'discovered' NY in 1609, the West India Trading Company brought settlers in 1625 and in 1653 New Amsterdam was chartered as a Dutch City. Forty four years to build a recognized community; if only they had Craig Newmark to help!

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