The rise of rice in a waterside industry: The Zaan region rice mills as nodes in transnational commodity networks, ca. 1850-1950

Miel Groten

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperAcademic


An extensive rice milling industry sprang up from 1850 along the Zaan waterway northwest of Amsterdam, adding to the region’s traditional timber and processed foods industries. Profiting from the emergence of Asian rice as a valuable commodity it developed into one of Europe’s main centres for milling rice. Yet only a small amount of it originated from the ‘own’ empire in the Dutch East Indies while the bulk came from Burma, added to the British empire and integrated in European trade networks over the course of the century. Through actors including Burmese peasants and middlemen, Rangoon millers, British ships (many crewed by Indian sailors), London rice brokers and local transporters, growing shipments of Burmese rice reached the Zaan mills to be exported again worldwide. At the Zaan’s entrance, the provincial port of Zaandam overtook Amsterdam’s and Rotterdam’s much bigger ports in terms of rice imports. To accommodate the increasing shipments of rice, timber and other commodities its accessibility was constantly improved, culminating in 1911 in the construction of its New Sea Port. Given the mills’ close proximity to the port and their location on the water from which they were supplied, the Zaan factories and harbour together formed a watery ‘port area’ where the port-hinterland distinction was blurred.
First, the paper investigates how the mills and port functioned as nodes in global, transnational networks of rice trade, industry and shipping that connected Dutch, British, Burmese and German actors. Second, it is concerned with the ways in which rice as a colonial commodity impacted locally, e.g. in the firms’ corporate identity or the reception of Indian sailors, in the context of a more general imperial culture. It will argue that the Zaan industrialists, workers and publicists understood and represented the waterside factories as meaningful places in a transnational imperial space.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 5 Sept 2019
EventCommodities of Empire workshop ‘Ports & People in Commodity History' - University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Sept 20197 Sept 2019


WorkshopCommodities of Empire workshop ‘Ports & People in Commodity History'
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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