Foreign Eyes on the Republic: European Perspectives on the Republic and the Dutch in the Long Eighteenth Century
Report by Sabine Wolsink
On the 21st and 22nd of February 2019, researchers from both the Netherlands and abroad took part in the conference ‘Foreign Eyes on the Republic: European Perspectives on the Republic and the Dutch in the Long Eighteenth Century’, organised by Alan Moss and Paul Hulsenboom at Radboud University in Nijmegen. The conference aimed to consider various perspectives of foreigners on the Dutch, the importance of the Republic, and the stereotypes that existed of the Dutch in the long eighteenth century.
The conference started with a keynote by Joep Leerssen. Before considering the view of foreign eyes, we first have to question the foreign eyes and ethnotypes themselves. By using an intersectional approach – i.e. taking into account the several aspects that create an ethnotype, such as sex, age and status – Leerssen explained how he sees converging trajectories between characters/identities and state formation: stereotypes are related to the period in which they came into existence. Therefore, the characterisations of the Dutch came into being much earlier than the Dutch nation state.
The first panel focused on ‘Narratives of Decay’, on the image of the Dutch Republic in decline. Przemysław Paluszek examined why the Dutch eighteenth century is highly undervalued or overlooked in Polish literary historiography, although there were still economic and cultural relations between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Dutch Republic. He stated that Polish literary historiography reproduced stereotypes which the Dutch themselves had already created. This explains the unpopularity of the Dutch eighteenth century. However, these stereotypes are now beginning to be questioned. Gijs Rommelse, in his paper on the Dutch and British naval history, argued that the decline of the Dutch navy functioned as a mirror for Great Britain. By using the Dutch as a counter-example, Great Britain formed its own identity by othering the Dutch and positioning naval power as a core element of Britishness. Finally, Rob van de Schoor analysed how P.H.A.J. Strick van Linschoten described his tour in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in the summer of 1817. As a former patriot, Strick van Linschoten reacted negatively to the newly established Kingdom and described how his native country had disappeared. The reception history of the report is remarkable, as a Dutch translation was made in the mid-nineteenth century by a liberal statesman in order to reflect on the contemporary political situation.
The second panel focused on various travellers and their travelogues. Paul Hulsenboom examined why the Republic was interesting for Polish travellers, and what they thought about the Dutch and their country. During the seventeenth century, the Republic was seen as a School of War, giving Polish noblemen the opportunity to acquire valuable military experience. Furthermore, the Republic was popular because of its universities, nature and religious freedom, but there was criticism as well. For example, the troublesome position of Dutch Catholics was not valued positively by Polish Catholics. Koen Scholten examined the travel account of Joannes Kool, a seventeenth-century Dutch scholar. The description of his encounters with other scholars in Italy shows how Kool defined his own identity as a member of the Republic of Letters. Finally, Thomas von der Dunk discussed the travels of Joseph II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, to the Republic during the eighteenth century. He explained how the Emperor used his visit as a source of inspiration for his own projects.
The second day of the conference started off with a keynote by Gerrit Verhoeven. He argued to focus more on brief leisure trips in the eighteenth century, instead of merely on the Grand Tour. These excursions show a new form of travel behaviour with spatial, temporal and social differences: men undertook shorter travels to cities like London, Paris and Berlin. Furthermore, women and young children started to travel as well. Travel was no longer a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, but became a recurrent phenomenon. This new form of travel foreshadows later nineteenth-century developments. Further research could broaden the chronological and geographical scope, for example asking questions about the differences in travel traditions between several European countries. Verhoeven already initiated this research by showing how travel behaviour in the Northern Netherlands differed from that in the Southern Netherlands.
The third panel dealt with auto- versus hetero-images of the Dutch. Enrico Zucchi analysed late-seventeenth-century Italian opinions about the state system of the Dutch Republic, which was often compared to that of the Republic of Genoa. Political thinkers focussed on both the benefits and disadvantages of a Republic, as compared to a monarchy. Next, Ekaterina Tereshko showed how the lion as a symbol of the Dutch was perceived in eighteenth-century Russia, where the lion did not necessarily personify the same ideas. Finally, Fons Meijer considered the development of the nineteenth-century Dutch auto-image as being charitable and benevolent. In addition, he discussed the reactions of king Louis Napoleon and emperor Napoleon to this stereotype in the context of natural disasters.
In the fourth panel, Dariusz Kołodziejczyk analysed the late-eighteenth-century travel account of the Pole Anzelm Dzwonkowski, who enlisted in the Dutch East India Company (VOC). His case forms an excellent example of the experiences of foreigners in the VOC, as he voyaged all the way the Ambon and back. Furthermore, his account contains some interesting insights into eighteenth-century stereotypes about the Dutch, for example concerning their cleanliness. Christin Simon analysed the relationship between the Dutch VOC and the Swedish East India Company (SOIC), which during the eighteenth century were each other’s competitors. She focussed particularly on an incident in the Straits of Sunda, in 1732, when a Dutch governor intercepted a Swedish ship. Simons showed that the Dutch and Swedes established a tense relationship.
In the fifth and last panel, the overall theme was Othering the Dutch, which was illustrated by British theatre plays, British Anti-Dutch propaganda during the Anglo-Dutch Wars, and the Dutch as ‘Butterboxes and cheesemongers’. Peg Katritzky examined the ways in which the Dutch as a nation were othered in John Dryden’s Amboyna and Aphra Behn’s The Dutch Lover. Lars de Bruin explained how the view on the Dutch during the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the seventeenth century became more negative throughout the years. The British distanced the Dutch using several hetero-images, for example regarding their ungrateful attitude and their untrustworthiness. In the last paper, Daniel Horst considered the visual stereotyping of the Dutch. By showing a wide range of mostly satirical prints, he explained how cheese functioned as a symbol for the Dutch, from the seventeenth into the nineteenth century.