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His Specialty? Making Old New York Talk in Dutch

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  • Terry Foreman
    ALBANY — Henry Hudson bobblehead? Check. One-legged Peter Stuyvesant statuette? Yes. A mirror emblazoned with the logo of New Amsterdam beer? Absolutely.
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 29, 2009
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      ALBANY — Henry Hudson bobblehead? Check.

      One-legged Peter Stuyvesant statuette? Yes.

      A mirror emblazoned with the logo of New Amsterdam beer? Absolutely.

      These are office knickknacks that only a true connoisseur of Dutch
      Americana could love. And there surely is no one who loves Dutch Americana
      more than Charles T. Gehring.

      How else to describe a man who has spent the past 35 years painstakingly
      translating 17th-century records that provide groundbreaking insight and
      renewed appreciation for New Netherland, the colony whose embrace of
      tolerance and passion for commerce sowed the seeds for New York’s
      ascendance as one of the world’s great cities.

      Toiling from a cramped office in the New York State Library here, Mr.
      Gehring, as much as anyone, has shed light on New York’s long-neglected
      Dutch roots, which have been celebrated this year, the 400th anniversary of
      Henry Hudson’s exploration of the river that bears his name.

      Mr. Gehring, by the way, only has about 4,800 pages left of the 12,000
      pages of Dutch-era letters, deeds, court rulings, journal entries and other
      items that have been housed at the State Library for decades. They paint a
      rich picture of daily life in the colony, which the Dutch surrendered for
      good in the 1670s.

      “Most historians don’t think much of the Dutch; they minimalize the Dutch
      influence and try to get out of that period as quickly as possible to get
      into English stuff,” Mr. Gehring said, explaining why he has spent half of
      his 70 years mining Dutch colonial history. “What you find out is how
      deeply the Dutch cast roots here and how much of their culture they
      transmitted to this country.”

      Mr. Gehring, whose official title is director of the New Netherland
      Project, looks as if he has not trimmed his sideburns since he started
      translating the records in 1974, and he seems like the kind of mirthful man
      who would make a good Sinterklaas — the Dutch forefather of Santa Claus.

      Mr. Gehring’s translations served as raw material for Russell Shorto’s
      critically acclaimed 2005 book about Manhattan, “The Island at the Center
      of the World.” The Netherlands of the 17th century, Mr. Shorto said in an
      interview, was “the melting pot of Europe.”

      “It was a place that people fled to in the great age of religious warfare;
      it was a refuge,” he added. “At the same time, they were known for free
      trade; they developed a stock market — and those things, free trade and
      tolerance, are key ingredients of New York City.” Mr. Gehring’s translation
      work, Mr. Shorto writes in his book, “changes the picture of American
      beginnings.” ....

      [more @ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/27/nyregion/27dutch.html?_r=1&emc=eta1
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