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Close Encounters with the Dutch

Close Encounters with the Dutch: The North Sea as near-core region for a nascent modern world (1550-1750)

In the seventeenth century Amsterdam became the core metropolis of the world. In this period, in the Dutch Republic came into being what has recently been analysed as the first modern economy. Locally, this brought about a relatively modern civil society, which was the wonder of the surrounding pre-modern world. Neighbouring states, regions and individuals had to come to terms with this vibrant core.
As the world core, Amsterdam created links to markets all over the known world. Goods, travellers and information from all corners of the globe passed through its port. But nearby regions were drawn into its orbit most intensively. Given the means of transportation, the North Sea shores were nearby regions. North Sea shore economies oriented themselves towards the magnet market of Amsterdam. The fishing grounds of the sea itself were put into use for the trade system of the metropolis. Inhabitants of the North Sea shores travelled to Amsterdam to ply their trade or to look for work and riches.

Conversely, Dutch traders and skippers travelled to the North Sea (and Baltic) shores to build up the bulk trade upon which the Dutch trade position rested. The Dutch economy of the seventeenth century was not only dominant in trade and finance, but also innovative in its manufacture and its commercial agriculture, in scholarly work and practical inventions, in warfare, in painting and architecture. Modern practices, ideas, technologies and goods travelled from and through Amsterdam to the North Sea shores. These offered new opportunities to Holland's neighbours, but introduced them at the same time to the risks of a more competitive global economy. Neighbouring regions had to choose between accepting or rejecting this Dutch treat, between surrendering or protecting parts of their traditional way of interpreting the surrounding world and of getting things done.


Aim of the project

The aim of the project is to analyse how the North Sea regions coped with the opportunities and threats posed by the first globalised economy and Amsterdam as the core of it. Over time, Amsterdam's influence over the surrounding regions grew and diminished again. While identifying these developments, the project will also test the reasoning behind the idea that inland seas created common cultures on their shores in the Early Modern Period.

There are unmistakable similarities between this early experience of globalisation, and the current phase of the same process. The position of the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century is not unlike that of the United States today. The leading global economy is playing by the rules it helped create. Its competitors, even if they are on friendly terms with it, are in awe of the dominant power, hesitate between imitation and rejection, but do not trust or love it. The 17th century relations can be demonstrated with the etymology of the Danish word maskapi. It derives from the Dutch word maatschap or maatschappij, which means firm or society. In Danish it came to mean racket or swindle.

The project will result in a database, four dissertations and a monograph that synthesises the results. Four PhD students will collect data on fish caught, migration, trade and regional development in all regions bordering the North Sea. The four bodies of statistical data will be integrated in one database, which will be available for the four PhD students and will form the backbone for the synthesis. After the conclusion of the project the database will be made available on the web sites of CMRS and IISH.

The project was a Danish-Dutch collaboration. The Danish senior researcher was Poul Holm, (Southern Denmark University and Centre for Maritime and Regional History, Esbjerg). The Dutch senior researcher was Lex Heerma van Voss. The Dutch part of the project was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Four dissertations will be written as part of the proposed project.

  1. Fishing. The North Sea formed not only a highway for communication and exchange, but also the fishing grounds that supplied the shores with food, and with a valuable commodity. Fishing techniques and access to fishing grounds were sources of conflict between fishing communities and states bordering on the North Sea. Dutch dominance in fishing techniques, preserving herring and the fish trade were resented by other nations. Author: Bo Poulssen.
  2. Trade. As other regions were brought into Amsterdam's orbit, the composition of their trade changed. The lesser developed shores (e.g. Southern Norway, Jutland) ran the risk of becoming a supplier of raw materials to the core. Economic state policies which supported some regions, usually were detrimental to other regions which formed part of the same trade. The database will show to which extent every coastal region had trade contacts with Holland and with other areas. In some cases, the development of regions was much influenced by trade with another North Sea region. As was noted before, cultural exchange is visible in the exchange of certain goods (cloth, calicoes, prints, books, tea, tobacco, pipes). This dissertation project will be executed at the CHRM.
  3. Migration. Different kinds of migration will be distinguished: religious fugitives, students, labour (sailors, servant girls, mercenaries etc.), artists, specialised artisans and scientists. As flows of migrants have been identified, they will be discussed as having both consequences on the economic performance of different regions and on the exchange of goods and practices. In the case of the migration dissertation it is possible that the PhD student will not focus on a number of regions, but on types of migration (e.g. artists, architects or technical specialists). Author: Jelle van Lottum.
  4. Regional economic performance. As was discussed above, some regions gained from being in the near-core and others lost. Fishing, trade and migration all contributed to this. To measure the overall performance of regional economies, we will collect data on tax revenue and population development. These data will also be necessary as background information to explain the other data sets. The in depth analysis in this case will either focus on the overall development of the coastal system, or, more probably, on the effect of economic state policies on regional development. Author: Christiaan van Bochove.