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Fons Meijer MA

PhD candidate


Area(s) of interest: Dutch History, Identity, War & Conflict

Cohort/Start PhD: 2017-2018

The Nineteenth Century: Nationalist Disaster Discourses (1807-1890)

Radboud University Nijmegen
Project: Dealing with Disasters in the Netherlands. The Shaping of Local and National Identities, 1421-1890
Promotor(es): Prof. dr. Lotte Jensen
Aanstelling: vanaf januari 2018

Current scholarship has the tendency to focus on politics, in particular war and conflict, as the decisive factors in processes of community building. This project develops a new approach by studying processes of identity formation from the perspective of disaster studies. The main hypothesis is that the issue of identity formation can be understood properly only when the impact of disasters (floods, storms, famines, plagues) is taken into account. The project Dealing with Disasters in the Netherlands. The Shaping of Local and National Identities, 1421-1890 investigates the way local (civic / regional) and national identities were shaped in response to natural disasters in the Netherlands, starting with the St Elisabeth’s Flood of 1421 and ending with the Severe Winter of 1890. By studying the media coverage of these disasters, we seek to understand how Dutch society coped with catastrophes in the past.
The nineteenth century marks a new era in two respects: firstly, the Netherlands was transformed into a kingdom with a centralised government; secondly, nationalism became the
dominant paradigm pervading writings throughout the century. These elements play a major role in disaster discourses as well, which both reflected and propagated a growing tendency to perceive disasters from a national, politicised perspective.
This project will investigate what elements were characteristic for Dutch nationalist discourse. At the same time, it must pay attention to the extent to which local and regional identities persisted, as some of the narratives were embedded in a local context, and some regions were more vulnerable than others. Furthermore, it must take into account that new genres were introduced such as the illustrated magazine and that new technological inventions such as the telegraph and the railway system made news travel much faster than before. There was a commercial side to this as well: disasters sold well, then as now. The more shocking the news, the higher the sales figures).