Joep Leerssen, Moral Economies

Ethnotypes are older than national identities. A long premodern tradition can be documented involving commonplaces about the peculiarities of foreign societies. In the early modern period, a crystallization process takes shape in which these commonplaces are schematized into “national characters”. These national characters, in turn, become the moral underpinning of the distinctions between nation-states from c. 1800 onwards. Early modern observations about national peculiarities are, then, a complex corpus.

What I want to explore is their intersectionality. How do ethnotypes correlate with images of class, gender and religion? How are the various characterizations of class (aristocratic panache vs bourgeois honesty), gender (male energy vs female harmony), and religion (Catholic devotionalism vs Protestant responsibility) combined to valorize the image of a given nation in a “moral economy”?

Gerrit Verhoeven, Familiar Foreigners: Touring the “Other” Low Countries (ca. 1670-1815)

During the eighteenth century, a plaijsierreisje [leisure trip] or a somertogje [summer trip] to the Austrian Netherlands became the latest vogue among Dutch upper-crust burghers. At the same time, Flemish travellers explored every nook and cranny of the Dutch Republic. They left an impressive paper trace in local archives and libraries, as these unassuming excursions were reported in literally hundreds of travel journals. Despite the obvious richness of the material, these inconspicuous writings have often been overlooked in the historiography on early modern behaviour, as all hands were on deck to write about the more spectacular Grand Tour.

In this lecture, I will argue that the lack of interest is undeserved for several reasons. First of all, these travel journals of trips in the Northern and Southern Netherlands evidence the birth of a new species of travel behaviour, which was – in its destinations, timing, social profile of travellers, and their incentives – poles apart from a classic Grand Tour.  Secondly – and more importantly – these travel journals reveal interesting details about the hetero– or auto-images of these travellers, and thereby add to the growing expertise on imagology.  How northern travellers gazed upon the south, and vice versa, how southern “tourists” saw the north is extremely revealing for their own sense of (national) identity. The “other” Netherlands held a distant mirror of how Dutch or Flemish burghers saw themselves.

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