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Diamond smuggling research has Pijning globetrotting

Minot State history professor Ernst Pijning has an affinity for diamonds.

No, not necessarily the glitz and glam one might expect of the precious stone. His interest is and research is in a much more sinister place - diamond smuggling.

"I've studied the relationship between the Netherlands and Portugal and Brazil," he said. "Amsterdam is very much involved in the diamond trade, it was where they polished and sold a lot of the diamonds to Northern Europe. Slaves mined them in Brazil and shipped them to Portugal and then on to Amsterdam."

While his research covers a broad area of the history of the diamond trade, Pijning has focused on smuggling.

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Seteais Palace, in Sintra, Portugal, is the former house Daniel Gildemeester a Dutch diamond contractor.

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Ajuda Palace in Lisbon, Portugal. Dr. Pijning conducted diamond research in this beautiful library, which served as a palace of the Portuguese kings.

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Dr. Pijning used the Public Archives of Minas Gerais [Arquivo Público Mineiro], in Belo Horzonte, Brazil to research diamond mining and slavery.

"Several monopolies were set up to restrict the diamonds," he said. "They didn't want too many diamonds on the market. Just like today, if you have all the diamonds on the market and sold them in jewelry stores, they would be worth like a buck apiece - so they would restrict the selling and they would restrict the mining. This led to a lot of smuggling."

His research into the diamond smuggling has taken him along some of those same shipping lines, including this past summer where he obtained a small grant to do research in both Portugal and Brazil. Along with research projects, he spent time giving guest lectures and presented a paper at a conference.

"I went to Portugal for two weeks, studied in the archives there. One is in a building that looks like a bunker, but another one is in the old royal palace, a really beautiful place," he said. "Then I was able to go to Rio de Janeiro and stayed for a week, working in the foreign affairs building and the national library."

Pijning gave guest lectures throughout Brazil including a class on smuggling - in Portuguese - at the Federal University in Rio and another at Belo Horizonte, presented a paper at a conference in Northeast Brazil, and studied a book on slave funerals in Salvador.

"Brazil has a lot of African influences and in Salvador - they have voodoo there and not the putting needles in the dolls kind. They have a great archive there and I was able to do research on a book of funerals," he said. "That book is in the national archives because it is so close to slavery there."

He has been able to use his travels for everyday use in the classroom.

"I teach general education world history classes and we talk about slavery," he said. "I have been able to use some of the documents in the classroom. This year, I found a document from King George III during the time of U.S. independence. He gave a speech about the difficult financial times and, hey, can America pay some taxes. That's one of the reasons for the American revolution and I found an example to show the class in a Dutch archive."

Pijning plans to eventually turn his research into a book and is in the process of working on a multi-national collaborative book focusing on corruption.

"Most of my projects end up being articles - you give a lecture and it becomes an article - but one of the longer term projects, the Brazilian/Dutch relations, the articles will eventually become a book," he said. "When I was in Brazil, I met some people who are really into corruption and corruption and smuggling are very close so together, we are editing a gold and diamond book on this. I will work on one chapter of that and we will put it all together. It is collaboration of people from the U.S., Brazil and Argentina."