Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Giving in the Golden Age

This project deals with the history of philanthropy in the Dutch Golden Age.  Dutch funding organization NWO had funded the research project Giving in the Golden Age with 500.000 euro during the years 2008-2012. The project was proposed by Marco van Leeuwen and Lex Heerma van Voss.

GIGA project is also present on the 9th European Social Science History Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. An overview of the GIGA session and related sessions.

Dutch philanthropy was legendary in the Golden Age. From all the countries that surrounded the Dutch Republic travelers came to admire the almshouses, orphanages, old people's homes and charitable institutions. Modern scholarship agrees with contemporary opinion. Nowhere in Europe, and quite probably in no nation in the world, was the level of charitable expenses then as high as in the Netherlands. Of course the richness of the Dutch republic was the fountain from which the alms flowed so lavishly. But this wealth alone is not enough to explain the persistent existence of such levels of philanthropy, nor its historical forms.

This research programme describes much more extensively than before the gamut of giving and tests various explanations. To do so, it uses sources on: (semi) anonymous, mostly small scale giving in public collections and church offertories; wills with information on a middle range of donors ranging from modest to big; and information on very big foundation gifts to establish 230 almshouses (hofjes). Taken together, these sources not only cover the gamut of giving on a macro level, they also contain information on characteristics of individual donors, their motivations and the nature of their gifts. They are both quantitative and qualitative in nature, including for example sermons and other exhortations to give as well as laudatory prose and verse in praise of the donor. As a whole, and embedded in the historical literature on the Golden Age, they allow us to answer how and why Dutchmen freely then gave to philanthropy.

Project members

Prof. dr Marco H.D. van Leeuwen, supervisor
Prof. dr Lex Heerma van Voss, supervisor
Dr Henk Looijesteijn, post doc researcher project Giga 1
Dr Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, post doc researcher project Giga 2
Drs Daniëlle Teeuwen, PhD researcher project Giga 3


Giga 1 - Almshouses

St. Anna Aalmoeshuis, LeidenThis sub-project studies large gifts by concentrating on the foundations of Dutch almshouses for the elderly. In the Netherlands many wealthy benefactors devoted (part of) their capital to large-scale foundations, such as orphanages and madhouses, but most of them founded an almshouse. These almshouses, and data concerning their founders and the way these set up their foundations are being gathered and listed in a database. The database includes data on such characteristics of the founders such as their sex, occupation, religion, marital status and wealth, and information regarding the almshouses and their inhabitants, such as their location. The database is based largely on secondary literature, and in order to complement it, case-studies of the almshouse founders in three Dutch cities are undertaken, i.e. Leiden, Utrecht and Zwolle. By studying the archives of these almshouses - especially the papers of the founders - information will be gathered regarding what might have motivated their charitable largesse. The ultimate goal is to arrive at an analysis of what motivated wealthy Dutchmen to siphon so much of their capital into charitable endowments.

Giga 2 - The will to give
This particular sub-project deals with medium-sized gifts, based on a large collection of wills traced in the archives of four Dutch towns: Leiden, Utrecht, Zwolle and 's-Hertogenbosch in 4 benchmark years: 1600-, 1670, 1740 and 1800. The information in the wills allows for an analysis of charitable behaviour of testators in the early modern period. By relating information from the wills about charitable donations to other information, such as their sex, family composition at the moment they stipulated their will, occupation, religion etc. etc., and information from other sources such as financial administrations, family archives, and censuses, several questions about early modern Dutch giving behaviour will be addressed. Who gave to charity by legacy and who did not? How much did people give? How and why did this change over time? To what extent did these characteristics tell us anything about the motives behind their charitable behavior? In the analysis distinctions will be made between sex, religious background, socioeconomic status/occupation, marital status and health/age. The ultimate goal of this research is to analyze and explain trends in charitable behavior over time, within different municipalities in the Dutch Republic.

Giga 3 - The golden age of collections
This research project focuses on collections for the poor in the Dutch Republic. Dutch poor relief was partly funded with (incidental) public subsidies and rents from capital and property income, but in many cities money collected in the churches and in the streets formed the lion's share of the total income of poor relief institutions. Hence, local poor relief agencies depended mainly on the generosity of its citizens for assisting the poor and needy in the cities. Church held collections during service, and frequent public door-to-door collections were made. Small amounts were also donated to alms boxes which were situated at strategic locations frequented by large numbers of potential benefactors, such as inns, post offices, and ferries. A comparative analysis of financial data of charitable institutions and additional source material in four cities (Delft, Utrecht, Zwolle and 's-Hertogenbosch) will be made over a period of two centuries. How was poor relief in the Dutch Republic financed? How were the collections organised? What did the Dutch donate? What influenced their generosity (e.g. economic swings, social pressure, identification with the purpose collected for)? And how were the Dutch exhorted to donate generously? The main goal is to investigate how the Dutch managed to finance such a large part of poor relief through collections.

On the basis of the subprojects, M.H.D. van Leeuwen will write a synthesis.

Upcoming events

- ESSHC 2012, 11-14 April 2012

- Datini Conference Prato, 22-26 April 2012

- WEHC-session 'Financing social care', 9-13 July 2012

Financing social care. Charitable institutions and redistribution of income in pre-industrial societies around the world (c. 1600-1900)

Organizers: Lex Heerma van Voss, Marco H.D. van Leeuwen and Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk

Income inequality is at the core of most debates in economics and economic history. For pre-industrial societies, new research aims at calculating coefficients for historical income inequality within and between regions. However, in studies of pre-industrial income distribution, the redistribution by means of charity is usually not taken into account.

Nevertheless, in all human societies, income distribution as a primary outcome of economic activities is corrected by transfers of money, goods, care and other services. Those with income support the (very) young, the (very) old, the sick and the weak, at the very least within their own families. In most societies these transfers or redistributions of income reach beyond the family, and extend to the local community, or to a national or even international scale. In preindustrial societies, these transfers could be direct and on a face to face basis, but also through institutions and anonymously, voluntary or obligatory, through churches, special charitable foundations, or mutual assurances; could be paid as alms, insurance premiums or taxes.

In this session we aim at a comparative history of pre-industrial charitable giving. We focus on how institutions influenced the practice of charitable income transfers. In some cases charity was only one of a variety of tasks for institutions, as was the case for churches and guilds. Taking up collections could be part of religious services, but also take part elsewhere, door to door or in public space. Some societies knew special charitable foundations, which enabled donors to set apart a form of capital (land, money) and do good with the income generated from this. This is true for Christian, Muslim and Jewish societies. However, in most other societies it was possible to donate capital to a religious institution with the intention to have its proceeds used for charitable purposes, but not to create a separate self-governing foundation to do so. Other examples of income transfers are (mutual) assistance by neighbours or friends. These could be more or less monetized, regulated or institutionalized, but seem to have been important throughout the world.

How and from whom were charitable gifts collected? How were the funds managed? How did charities create credibility? Who were the intended receivers and how much income was transferred this way? We aim at mapping similarities and differences in institutions and ways of financing charity around the world and come to an explanation of patterns worldwide. Therefore, we prefer paper proposals with a broad temporal and/or geographical scope. Papers from non-western regions are very much desired.

Past conferences

  • Almshouse conference 2011
  • (Organized by Henk Looijesteijn and Marco H.D. van Leeuwen, with support from the Hofjes Codde en Van Beresteyn, KNAW, Koninklijke Haagsche Woningbouwvereniging van 1854, Stichting Landelijk Hofjesberaad, Frans Loenenhofje , Rozenhofje, & Hofje De Armen de Poth)
  • From 7-9 September 2011 the pioneering conference Almshouses in Europe from the late Middle Ages to the Present - Comparisons and Peculiarities was held in Haarlem. This was the first international, comparative conference on the subject: sixteen scholars from Denmark (one), England (seven), Germany (two), the Netherlands (four), Norway (one) and Switzerland (one) convened in Haarlem's Mennonite Church and presented papers on almshouses in Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway for a mixed audience consisting of scholars and trustees of Dutch almshouses. Almshouses of Europe grew out of a session devoted to almshouses at the ESSHC of 2010,) and the Dutch almshouse association. The IISH and the KNAW were among the organizations funding the conference.
  • Almshouses can be found in large parts of Europe, but have rarely been studied from a broad, comparative perspective. In recent years projects inventorying almshouses have been going on in England and in the Netherlands - in the latter case in the context of the Giving in the Golden Age project. A database has been constructed which aims at collecting information about Dutch almshouses, and taking account of the possibility of international comparison.
  • At the conference the participants discussed the differences and similarities between almshouse sin various part of Europe. On the whole, it soon became apparent that there were many similarities. One of the common findings was that the representation of one's memory and charitableness usually was of great importance for an almshouse founder, no matter where he or she was from. Others findings were the recurrent motive of responsibility for one's dependents and surroundings, the emphasis on respectability as criterion for prospective inmates, and the common conclusion that inmates of an almshouse as a rule were better off than their peers outside, which explains, at least partly, why places in an almshouse were sought after. Almshouses moreover offered an amount of privacy quite unlike other institutions of social care. These findings show unequivocally that almshouses across Europe shared common defining traits and that the existence of almshouses is a European rather than a national phenomenon.
  • At the conclusion of the conference many participants expressed the hope that this conference will have a sequel, allowing a further exploration of the perspectives opened up in Haarlem. Overall, Almshouses in Europe may be regarded as a great success, hopefully leading to increased international collaboration, with the ultimate aim of contributing to a deeper understanding of how social care was organized in Europe.
  • ESSHC 2010