The nation in the city. Urban experience and national agency, Amsterdam 1850-1900 (in Dutch)
My research project focuses on the development of a popular national agency in late nineteenth century Amsterdam and the question how ‘ordinary’ citizens imagined ‘the Netherlands’ through the experience and use of their urban surroundings.
- 2011 - 2016
- Anne Petterson
My research project is about nineteenth century Amsterdam and the development of a popular national agency. It focuses on the question how ‘ordinary’ citizens imagined the Netherlands and shaped a national identity through their experience and use of the urban surroundings.
Starting with Eugen Weber’s classic Peasants into Frenchmen, published in the 1970’s, modern nationalism has long been studied as a top-down project aimed at disciplining the inhabitants of nation states. The development of a national consciousness was considered as an ideological or a cultural process stimulated and maintained by the upper level of society. However, it remains debatable if these elitist nation building agendas were passively adopted by ‘the people’.
In my research project I try to steer away from this top-down perspective and consider the lower social classes as actual actors in the process of democratizing the nation. By introducing a national history from below, the ways in which the nation was negotiated come to a fore. The narrative of nationalism as civilising strategy was tightly interwoven with popular agendas and the socio-political emancipation of the lower classes. Moreover, ordinary citizens negotiated the scope and limits of the national community amongst themselves as well. The definitions of both ‘the nation’ and ‘the people’, so freely invoked by national elites and historians alike, appeared to be constantly questioned, stretched and narrowed down.
More specifically, I will focus on the development of a popular national agency in late nineteenth century Amsterdam and the question how ‘ordinary’ citizens imagined ‘the Netherlands’ through the experience and use of their surroundings. Especially in an urban setting ordinary people were continuously confronted with nationalist ideas and ‘invented traditions’ of the upper classes. At the same time the concrete and physical surroundings offered people an accessible stage on which they could (and did) enact their own interpretations of the nation. Six thematic case studies, ranging from the elitist initiative of erecting nationalist statues and memorials to – for example – the popular enthusiasm for the royal family, the emergence of nationalist shop windows or the spontaneous singing of the national anthem in the streets, will lead to an overarching story on popular nineteenth century (Dutch) nation building. As such, my project joins a recent trend in international research on nationalism that takes the local roots and social negotiation of modern nation states as its core.