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Laura van Hasselt MA

PhD candidate


Amsterdam’s Philanthropist. Biography of Christiaan Pieter van Eeghen (1816-1889)

Universiteit van Amsterdam / Amsterdam Museum
Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen
Promotores: Prof.dr. J.P.B. Jonker, Prof.dr. J.C. Kennedy
Aanstelling: Vanaf maart 2015

Christiaan Pieter van Eeghen (1816-1889) was a key figure in Amsterdam during the second half of the nineteenth century, a crucial period in the modernization of the Dutch capital. As a merchant-banker at the family firm Van Eeghen & Co, as Supervisory Board President at De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), but above all as philanthropist and urban innovator. Van Eeghen initiated and led important civic initiatives which permanently changed the face of Amsterdam. Vondelpark, Stedelijk Museum, the first Dutch housing association: they all came into existence following initiatives of this Mennonite banker. At a time when the municipality was predominantly passive and political parties did not yet exist, such civic initiatives were critical for urban modernization. Recent discussions about the ‘participation society’ and civic virtue highlight Van Eeghen’s importance as a relevant nineteenth century example.
What did Van Eeghen aim for with his social undertakings, and did he really achieve those goals? Taking due account of many factors, the hypothesis of this research is that Van Eeghen’s social undertakings were mainly rooted in his Mennonite religion and in his ‘civicism’: a sense of civic pride and solidarity. The nature and contours of civicism in the Netherlands have as yet been insufficiently explored, both in contrast to British historiography, and to the focus on nationalism in the nineteenth century. Civicism was however of crucial importance to city development in this period.
More than a Dutchman, Van Eeghen was an Amsterdammer. Ever since the ‘Golden’ seventeenth century his family had lived in Amsterdam. The city was his world, a world he felt responsible for, also for future generations. He was not the only one. To which extent was Van Eeghen a representative of a generation of wealthy, socially engaged citizens like Samuel Sarphati (1813-1866) and Jacob van Lennep (1802-1868)? They all took part in civic initiatives,although none as extensively as Van  Eeghen. Which public affairs had their attention and which did not? What was their focus and what were their interests?
This subject is not limited to an Amsterdam or a Dutch context, but is of international relevance in urban studies. The strong sense of civicism in the ninenteenth century has been crucial to the realization of important city improvements. As for Amsterdam: from an impoverished, backward city it was transformed into a modern metropolis within half a century. Van Eeghen not only witnessed this transformation, he was one of the people who made it happen.