Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Tolerant migrant cities? The case of Holland 1600-1900

In current migration debates the relation between migrant diversity and social cohesion is a central topic. The Dutch Golden Age is considered a prime example of a tolerant society in which migrants (25-60% of the urban population) integrated smoothly. The 19th-century is portrayed as a ‘liberal migration regime’ in which migrants faced little discrimination. Yet, this image is largely based on migrant’s civic rights and their labor market position and far less on daily interactions within society. So, this raises the question how tolerant Dutch cities really were and how this changed over time?

2020 - 2025
Jeannette Kamp

International Institute for Social History Amsterdam

This pioneering project will answer this question by examining migrants through the eyes of the courts between 1600 and 1900. It aims to reveal patterns of continuity and change in:

  1. Treatment of migrants by criminal courts;
  2. Violence and conflicts between migrants and native born.


By Jeannette Kamp

The nineteenth century truly was an age of transformation. Throughout Europe processes of industrialization and urbanization, nationalization and centralization, changed the structures of society. It was an age in which the number of people living in urban communities grew substantially.

The majority of this urban growth was achieved by in-migration of people from the countryside who moved to the big city (often indirectly) in search of work. At the time, the rapid urbanization was a cause of concern for the (governing) elites. In their view, the influx of primarily poor newcomers led to an increase of crime and all sort of immoral behaviour like drunkenness and prostitution. Late nineteenth- and twentieth-century sociologists reinforced the idea that there was a link between urbanization, migration and crime.

Since then, the presumed link between urbanization, migration and crime remained a matter of scholarly (and public) debate. This project therefore investigates the experiences of migrants within the criminal justice system in Amsterdam 1850-1905.

By Samantha Sint Nicolaas

During the sixteenth and seventeenth century some 600,000 foreigners settled in the cities of the province of Holland in the Dutch Republic. That early modern Amsterdam, in particular, attracted a consistently large migrant population is well known. The religious tolerance, the economic opportunity structures, and the poor relief provisions made Amsterdam a particularly attractive destination for both foreign and inland migrants alike. Even as other cities in the Dutch Republic increasingly regulated who was welcome to settle within the city, Amsterdam maintained a tolerant migration policy, with no system of letters of indemnity.

At the same time there was evidence of increasing tension between migrants and locals in Amsterdam. This was visible in the emerging segregation on the labour market, the marriage market and in residential patterns. In this same period, elsewhere in Europe, poorer migrants became increasingly seen against the backdrop of their demands for access to poverty relief and communal resources, as well as increasingly associated with criminal behaviour and the disruption of public order.

This project looks anew at the reception of different migrant groups in Amsterdam through the increasingly entangled lens of migration and crime. It analyses the interrogations and sentencing of migrants to further elucidate the treatment of migrants by Amsterdam's judicial authorities, as well as the reception of migrants by the settled population

By Karlijn Luk

Due to its economic prosperity, its policy of (relative) religious tolerance, and its large numbers of migrants, the Dutch Republic has long had a reputation of being the prime example of ‘tolerance’, especially during the seventeenth century. Although the great variety of newcomers in the Dutch Republic did launch an era of economic prosperity, they were also the cause of social unrest. Cultural differences, combined with the increased residential density, were instigators for numerous difficulties in everyday urban life. However, little is known about the daily practices of local and migrant co-existence: to what extent were newcomers treated as outsiders and did daily interactions between migrants and the local population of these cities lead to more conflicts? Did certain prejudices against newcomers make them more vulnerable, as targets of conflict and violence or to suspicion by the authorities?

In order to answer the question to what extent immigration in Rotterdam and Leiden between 1680 and 1800 gave rise to discriminatory patterns in criminal prosecution and conflict regulation among natives and immigrants, I will be looking a variety of judicial sources. With the purpose of analyzing both the daily practices of local an migrant co-existence as well as migrant vulnerability before the courts through the use of these sources of social control, this project focusses on how the cities of Leiden and Rotterdam dealt with public order disturbances, violence and cases of sodomy.

The aim of this project is not only to reconstruct the ways in which certain characteristics and migration-status played into the treatment of different types of people before the early modern courts, but also to consider the conflicts behind certain cases that reached the city courts, such as violent offences. Conflicts and how they were dealt with both by the people involved and by authorities in particular provide a privileged insight for studying everyday interactions and relations between established city dwellers and newcomers in a city or neighbourhood.

Project Leader: Manon van der Heijden
Project Leader: Leo Lucassen
Postdoc: Jeannette Kamp
Phd : Karlijn Luk

Phd: Samantha Sint Nicolaas

To what extent did immigration in cities in Holland between 1600 give rise to discriminatory patterns by the courts and conflicts between locals and immigrants?

This project examines migrants in the judicial system of Holland between 1600 and 1900 from two perspectives:

  1. Top down: the representation and treatment of migrants coming before the courts. Criminal court records offer new insights in the ways courts treated various types of groups of migrants in comparison to native born. This project follows the new strands of research on over-representation and crimmigration (intersection of migration and criminal law) and will be the first to systematically examine the treatment of migrants by the Dutch courts between 1600 and 1900.

    What was the representation of migrants among those accused by the criminal court and to what extent were they treated differently than native born?
  2. Bottom-up: conflicts between migrants and natives before the courts. Judicial practices show how native born discriminated against migrants, and why migrants and native born came into conflict, and to what extent mutual was committed in dense urban settings. This project will be the first to examine tensions and conflict regulation handled by courts and notaries in order to understand under what conditions immigration caused conflicts between newcomers and locals.

    In what ways did migrants and native born come into conflict with each other and how were such cases handled by conflict regulating institutions?

    The case of Holland:
    Holland provides an excellent case to examine the position of migrants within the judicial system. First, the Western part of the Netherlands is often labelled as leader in tolerance and multiculturalism from the 16th century onwards, and the level of migration was exceptionally high. Although immigration declined in the 19th century, cities in Holland remained unique because they displayed ‘metropolitan’ migration patterns; they attracted a larger variety of migrants than other cities in the Netherlands. Second, in the course of time Holland experienced important changes with regard to economy, state formation, and migration laws. How important were these factors on the position of migrants before the criminal court?


Luk K. & Sint Nicolaas S. (2023), Judging Migrants: Towards a new research agenda on social control, local conflict and the judicial position of migrants in the early modern Dutch Republic, Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis = The Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History 20(1).

Pluskota M. & Kamp J. (2023), The Lure of the City: Migration, Crime, and Urbanization in Amsterdam, 1850-1905, Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis = The Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History 20(1).


Heijden M.P.C. van der (2022), Introductie. Criminaliteit en gender 1600-1800, Leidschrift. Historisch Tijdschrift 37(1).

Kamp J.M. (2022), Criminaliteit, gender en das Haus in vroegmodern Frankfurt, Leidschrift. Historisch Tijdschrift 37(1).

Kamp J.M. & Schmidt A. (2022), Eruit! Verbanningen als straf voor crimineel gedrag in Leiden en Frankfurt, 1600-1800, Stadsgeschiedenis 17(1): 1-22.

Lucassen L.A.C.J. (2022), States, borders and security in global history. In: Pešalj J., Steidl A., Lucassen L.A.C.J. & Ehmer J. (red.) Borders and Mobility Control in and between Empires and Nation-States. Studies in Global Migration History nr. 46/14 Leiden: Brill. 12-32.

Lucassen L.A.C.J. (2022), Beyond the migration state: Western Europe since World War II. In: Hollifield J.F. & Foley N. (red.) Understanding Global Migration.: Stanford University Press.

Lucassen L.A.C.J. (2022), Mob violence against free labour migrants in the age of the nation state. How can the Atlantic experience help to find global patterns?, International Review of Social History 67(3): 487-511.


Heijden M.P.C. van der & Kamp J.M. (2021), Diversität vor Gericht. In: Decock W. (Ed.) Konfliktlösung in der Frühen Neuzeit.: Springer. 141-151.

Muurling S.T.D., Kamp J.M. & Schmidt A. (2021), Unwed mothers, urban institutions and female agency in early modern Dutch, German and Italian towns, History of the Family 26(1): 11-28.

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