Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The persistence of civic identities in the Netherlands, 1747-1848

This project studies the development of civic engagement in the Netherlands from the mid-eighteenth until the mid-nineteenth centuries, through a focus on the local and regional levels.

2015 - 2020
Judith Pollmann
NWO Free Competition Programme NWO Free Competition Programme

According to the current scholarly consensus, the decades around 1800 mark a clear break in Dutch history: the Dutch Republic with its local and provincial orientation was replaced by a monarchy where the king and the nation state presented themselves as a prime focus for Dutch citizenship. This project re-examines continuity and change in civic identities at the personal, local and regional level between the crisis of 1747-49 and the liberal revision of the constitution in 1848.

Scholars believe that civic identities in Europe transformed in the century from 1750 to 1850 and that new notions of national identity emerged. The Netherlands were no exception; this century saw ‘the emergence of a modern Dutch national identity’. Yet while it is undeniable that the political structure of the Netherlands was transformed, the central hypothesis of this project is that older civic identities did not wither as new ones emerged. The national state employed a labour force of just over a 1000, and suffered from a permanent lack of resources. Everyday government depended on the initiative and cooperation of people in the provinces, towns and villages, which had a long tradition of doing things their own way. This makes it likely that there was a continued identification with the local and provincial communities. We propose (1) that one of the main preconditions for ‘modern’ political changes was continuity, (2) that the scholarly focus on the national level has obscured crucial continuities at the local and regional level, and (3) that we need to study these continuities in order to understand the development of civic identities in the Netherlands between 1747-1848. Like historians before us we will concentrate on the themes of civic ‘identity’ and ‘politics’, but we will not investigate these at the level of the new nation state. Instead, our three subprojects focus on what had been the loci of civic identity before 1795: (a) urban communities (b) provinces, and (c) the individuals who identified with them, individually or collectively.

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