Subproject 3

Peace treaties and literary representations of nationhood, 1648-1815 (Lotte Jensen)

Introduction and importance

‘Netherlands, I watch the miracles of your nation and admire this little spot on Earth, which conquered the greatest of nations!’ These patriotic verses are taken from an anthology titled Olyf-krans der vreede (Olive garland of peace, 1649), which was published to celebrate the Peace Treaty of Münster in 1648. Research has shown that literary expression was an essential part of the national peace celebrations; writers went to great lengths to symbolise the political unity of the Dutch Republic by writing occasional peace plays, poems and allegories (Duits 1997, De Gier 1998, Lademacher & Groenveld 1998, Meijer Drees 1997, Smits-Veldt 1997, Spies 1997).

Very little attention, however, has been devoted to other peace treaties from a national-cultural perspective, such as the Treaty of Nijmegen (1679), the Treaty of Rijswijk (1697), the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), the Treaty of Aachen (1747), the Treaty of the Hague (1795), and the Treaty of Paris (1814/1815), which led to the unification of the southern and northern states under king William I.

The inclusion of other peace celebrations will enable us to follow the developmental stages and ruptures in the shaping of unifying national images. Van der Haven (2009) has provided a first study of occasional peace plays from 1679 and 1697, which shows that plays indeed aimed to foster national unity, but also contained elements which were inconsisent with such harmonious intentions. These plays were also used as verbal weapons in political, moral, and religious disputes between, for example, Protestants and Catholics, or Patriots and Orangists. It should therefore be taken into account that conflicting messages of homogeneity and pluriformity could co-exist (e.g. Onnekink 2009).

This subproject’s large time-span (1648-1815) creates the opportunity of bringing together the various lines set out in the other two projects and to extend their scope. Dr Lotte Jensen will map out recurring patterns and ruptures in the representations of Dutch nationhood, and will thus challenge current visions on the development of national thought in the Netherlands.

Working plan

In the first phase, propagandistic texts written at the occasion of peace treaties, specifically those with literary characteristics, will be read and analysed. This subproject will establish who composed these texts, to what (historical) purpose they were written, and how nationhood (unification and diversification) was symbolically defined in propagandistic literature. To do so, the methodological framework described above (text, intertext, historical context and impact) will be applied. Furthermore, relevant historical developments between 1648 and 1815 will be contextualised so that continuities and changes over time can be properly documented.

The second phase will create a synthesis of all three subprojects. The nature of literary contributions (i.e. war, resistance and peace literature) to the growth of national thought and nationalism in the Early Modern period will be clearly defined. This project will try to demonstrate that the formal political birth of a modern nation state in 1798 was preceded by ideological and cultural discourses that were abundantly (and decisively) present in literary war, resistance and peace texts.

In the final phase, the results of this overview will be contrasted with previous international research on national identity formation. The conventional notion that national identities belong exclusively to the Modern period will be discussed critically and challenged by this project’s ground-breaking research.