The Island at the Center of the World

by Russell Shorto

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 253

The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto relates the story of Manhattan under Dutch colonial rule, when the island was called New Netherland. This part of Manhattan’s history became buried when the British Empire seized control of New Amsterdam, and Shorto revives it in a narrative story full of intrigue and adventure.

Henry Hudson, who worked for the Dutch East India Company, discovered the island of Manhattan and instantly recognized its potential as the center of trade with Europe. Thus, the Dutch welcomed people of all nationalities and religious persuasions to the island, and Manhattan became an incredibly diverse and colorful place. Under Dutch colonial rule, New Amsterdam was modeled after the European city of Amsterdam, a community of surprising diversity that valued free trade and served as a model of cultural and religious tolerance.

New Amsterdam was a very different place than the British colonies, which were largely based on intolerance. The Dutch were traders, not nation-builders, and thus they welcomed people from all races, religions, and countries and valued the differences they brought to Manhattan. The Dutch also worked side by side with the Native Americans, and they used their knowledge to benefit the colony’s development. In this climate, Manhattan was able to grow into what would became the center of world trade. Manhattan, under Dutch rule, served as a model of individual rights and freedoms, and thus played a significant role in shaping the U.S. Constitution and the values of the new nation.

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