Dagomar Degroot (Georgetown), Lessons from the Golden Age: The Dutch Republic and the Future of Conflict in a Warming Climate

As temperatures soar in the coming century, essential resources may grow scarce in temperate latitudes but more abundant in the Arctic. Geographers, political scientists, and journalists have concluded that wars will grow more common as the distribution and quantity of resources shift to favor some nations over others. Yet the history of the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century reveals that these relationships are much more complicated than commonly assumed. Climatic shocks in that century, caused largely by volcanic eruptions, did indeed incite violence across the Dutch trading empire, but only by exacerbating existing sources of discontent. Climate change could also mitigate conflict, however, including in the Arctic where environments were especially sensitive to changes in temperature. By changing environments that served as battlefields, climatic trends also influenced how the long wars of the seventeenth century actually unfolded, a relationship rarely considered in projections of the hotter future. Perhaps above all, wars fought by the Dutch and other polities across the early modern world made many communities and societies more vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change. The experiences of the Dutch in the seventeenth century cannot tell us exactly what we can expect in the very different world to come, but they can help us imagine the future in different, more complex ways. 

Saskia Pieterse (Utrecht), An Empire without Imperialism? Rethinking Dutch literary modernity (1880–1920)

In the canon of Dutch cultural history, the ‘Beweging van Tachtig’ – a literary movement that started in the 1880’s with at its center the journal De Nieuwe Gids – holds a special place. Prominent figures such as Frederik van Eeden, Lodewijk van Deyssel and Albert Verwey are remembered as daring literary iconoclasts, the ones who introduced a truly modern vision of literature into a somewhat backwards literary climate.

Their avant-garde project has thus far never been recontextualized as embedded within the much larger context of Dutch Imperialism.  The Netherlands developed from a protective colonial monopolist into a modern Empire, a transition that created a completely new political, economic and ideological structure.  In my keynote, I will first provide a closer analysis of the ideology that constituted the Dutch imperial project, by focusing on the imperial ideas of the most prominent politician of that day: the Conservative and Protestant Abraham Kuyper. His ideas show the central paradox at work in Dutch imperial ideology. Kuyper diagnosed the conduct of the British during the Boer Wars as a warning sign for the Netherlands: here one could witness what imperial hubris and unbridled capitalism could do to a nation. He strongly believed that colonial politics should and could be combined with a disciplinary project that revived ‘old-fashioned’ protestant virtues. Thus, he rejected the political modernity embedded within the imperial project, whilst at the same time pushing the Dutch imperial project further and further, mostly through military means.

The same paradox structured the imperial ideas of the literary modernists. Most of them were in full support of the Dutch imperial project, and even considered it a necessary condition for the renewal of Dutch culture. Yet, at the same time, they objected to the ‘excesses’ of imperial rule, and believed in the necessity of some sort of spiritual renewal in order to overcome the problems of colonial capitalism.,

Theo Hermans (UCL), Worlding the Low Countries’: Translation and the Multiple Languages of the Early Modern Low Countries

At least eight languages were directly relevant to the Early Modern Low Countries. Dutch, showing much more dialectal variation than today and sometimes requiring rewriting from one area to another, was gradually being standardized, a process that had more impact in the northern than in the southern part of the territory. Latin remained the intellectual and international language throughout the period but towards the middle of the seventeenth century it lost ground to both Dutch and French. Some domains, like engineering and practical medicine, had made room for Dutch several decades earlier. French, too, was a constant presence, first as a commercial vehicle and later as the language of preference for the fashionable elite. Few people in the Low Countries spoke English and yet, surprisingly, it was the third source language for translations into Dutch, on the heels of Latin and French. Spanish, the language of the Habsburg overlords for most of the sixteenth century, retained a limited presence in the seventeenth-century Spanish Netherlands and became popular as a source language for fiction and theatre translations in the Dutch Republic. Germans made up for the Republic’s demographic shortfall, supplying much needed labour. Italian, the lingua franca of much of the Mediterranean, served for Dutch contacts with the Barbary Coast and the Ottoman court. Finally, as East India Company (VOC) and then the West India Company (WIC) struck out overseas, they relied on Portuguese as a means of communication in Brazil, along the African coast and in the Far East. The paper seeks to sketch the distribution of these languages and the occurrence of multilingualism at the level of society, individuals and texts.

Bambi Ceuppens (Africamuseum, Brussels), Diasporic Objects and Persons, Restitution and the Gift

This presentation takes as its starting point the case of Alexandre Delcommune, one of Leopold II’s best known ‘pioneers’ who at one stage returned home from Congo with a well-known power object (which is now considered one of the Royal Museum for Central Africa’s masterpieces) and the daughter he had with a Congolese woman. It does so in order to analyse how objects and persons were uprooted during the colonial era and transported to Belgium without the permission of their owners and mothers/maternal families respectively and the ways in which diasporic persons have tried to right these wrongs in recent years.

Conference Schedule

31 January 2019 – Call for Papers opens

30 March 2019 – Call for Papers closes

30 April – Draft programme published

1 May 2019 – Early bird registration opens

30 June 2019 – Early bird registration closes

30 July 2019 – Conference Schedule published

6 – 8 November 2019 – Worlding the Low Countries Conference

9 November 2019 – UCL Dutch Centenary Celebrations (Conference participants, alumni and friends of the department are heartily invited to join).

Schedule subject to changes.