Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Facing the enemy

How were war heroes and war criminals created, and how do these images relate to the historical context?

Duration
2014  -   2019
Contact
Raymond Fagel

It is time for the Dutch to face their primordial enemy. While the image of a heroic struggle for freedom against an oppressive Spanish army during the Dutch Revolt may be firmly embedded in the story of the birth of the Dutch national state, Dutch historiography has never dared to closely examine these Spanish antagonists. National creation myths demand clear-cut opponents, but prefer to treat them as an anonymous, monolithic collective. Analyzing this classic historical case will provide an example for confronting other national stories worldwide with their most fundamental enemies. As national borders become increasingly permeable, canonical national histories should follow suit. How were war heroes and war criminals created, and how do these images relate to the historical context?

This project concentrates on the commanders of the Spanish army residing in the Low Countries between 1567 and 1577. Drawing on both Dutch and Spanish sources, it literally gives a face to the enemy. We want to know how these historical figures became either war heroes or war criminals in narrative sources from Spain and the Low Countries but also how these images relate to actual war experiences as reflected in the commanders’ letters, a rich source virtually neglected up to the present. By combining modern narrative analysis from cultural studies with in-depth archival research, this project aims to bridge the methodological gap still yawning between the two traditions, creating a dynamic vision of the Spanish army in the Low Countries and placing the subject in a wider context of warfare and military violence.

Connection with other research

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