Decoding the Dutch
An intrepid historian has dedicated his life to unearthing the real New Amsterdam, one historic translation at a time.
Charles Gehring is clutching a magnifying glass and poring over a piece of yellow parchment. He stares at the angular letters packed onto the sheet so tightly that they look like a series of etchings. Beside him is a cart housing dozens of other such papers, all of them rendered brittle by age, fire and ice. For the last thirty-eight years, Gehring has struck a similar pose—delving into these crumbling documents, and coaxing them into giving up their secrets about a forgotten world.
Four decades ago, however, was a completely different story for Gehring and his endless stacks of old paper. In the summer of 1974, then thirty-four, Gehring found himself unemployed and saw no job prospects on the horizon. He had just been denied tenure at the University at Albany, where he had taught German and linguistics for the previous six years, keeping his wife and young son afloat on his meager earnings.
Thirteen years earlier, Gehring had quit his pursuit of a degree in civ…