“Where in the nineteenth century was the era of the nation state, the twenty-first century could well be seen as the era of the city”
Translated by Thomas Ansell
The historian Tymen Peverelli of the University of Amsterdam presented his research on Thursday, which delves into the history of cities throughout the nineteenth Century, exploring how they were used in the process of nation-forming, as reports the Friesch Dagblad.
His research considered three case study cities: Leeuwarden, Maastricht, and Brugge. “I had expected that the historiography in these eras would sit quite closely to the broad prevailing national story, but the importance of city histories is larger than we had thought. One sees that in the Nineteenth century there was also large importance placed on cities’ own local histories”.
Peverelli chose three mid-sized cities: “in large cities, the focus sits squarely on city-histories themselves, and I had wanted to look into cities where importance was attached to national histories. I chose Leeuwarden because of the character of Friesland, which could cause tension in the forming of a nation.”
In the research, Peverelli particularly focused on the way in which scholars and people belonging to the cultural elite recorded the city’s past: for example in Leeuwarden the official archivist Wopke Eekhoff. He called these groups the ‘erudites’. “I left out, for example, Groningen, because the ‘erudites’ in this city were mostly attached to the university: and at the time this was a royal institution, which therefore had a much stronger link to the national character, and less to do with the city itself.”
The city-history in Leeuwarden chimed more with the story of Friesland, rather than the city itself: and this was not borne out in Maastricht and Brugge. “We can attribute this to the strength of the Frisian identity. Limburg, at the time, was a just-created free new province, and so attention was focused on the city itself, Maastricht.”
A feeling of nationalism, then, was stronger in Leeuwarden than in Maastricht. “In Leeuwarden, the city history and methods of dealing with the past stood more in harmony with the nation-state. So, attention was paid to the Frisian royal governors (stadhouders) to emphasise the link with the royal family and the nation, to truly root Friesland in the Netherlands. On the other hand, you also see that the royal family responding to this, and you have Queens Sophie and Wilhelmina wearing Frisian dress when they visited to strengthen the link. You also see this in the UK, where the King or Queen would wear a kilt when they visited Scotland.”
Image: a 1652 map of Leeuwarden
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