Published by EH.NET (July 2009)
Lisa Jardine, Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland?s Glory. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. xxiv + 406 pp. $35 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-06-077408-0.
Reviewed for EH.NET by Anne E.C. McCants, Department of History, MIT.
Despite general agreement, among academic historians anyway, that national boundaries are notoriously the products of human construction, we seem to find them as seductive for our scholarship as everyone else. We admire greatly the monumental efforts of someone like Fernand Braudel who captured so capaciously and imaginatively the integrity of the Mediterranean across its various ethnic, linguistic, national and religious boundaries. Yet while we admire, we find it very difficult to replicate. Even having borne witness to the ravages of national identities run rampant in the century just passed, we cannot quite get that unit of analysis out of our collective intellectual imagination.
Economic historians, who we might think would be less prone to this habit than political and cultural historians on account of their preference for theory-testing and their lesser reliance on narrative sources, gravitate towards nationally-bounded analyses just the same. Thus it is that the seventeenth century is home to a Dutch ?golden age? and the eighteenth century to a British Industrial Revolution. Those who would describe the trajectory of modern economic growth or explain its causes must first tackle the question of how economic ?leadership? came to be transferred from the one nation to the other. But maybe this is not actually the right question for us to be asking.
Lisa Jardine, Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies and Director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at Queen Mary, University of London, suggests otherwise in her new book Going Dutch. This book, truly luxurious as it is in its use of artistic, architectural, and other cultural and intellectual evidence, is not an economic history. But like so many of her numerous previous books, it has much to say about processes of exchange, across Europe and indeed throughout the wider world of European trade connections. As such, it offers excellent reading for all historians of modern European economic development, especially for those concerned about the nature of the relationship between early modern economic growth and Dutch-English cooperation and/or conflict.
The specific subject of Jardine?s book is actually more nuanced than the title might suggest. It is not so much a study of the ways that England made off with Dutch ideas and institutions as in some zero-sum game, as it is a study of the ways that the two countries, despite their different languages, formed essentially one large cultural unit in the critical years of their ascendancy to the forefront of European economic development. Her project makes clear, in ways that are broadly unknown (despite being easily enough knowable if we had just thought to pursue it), the many layered connections between these two societies facing each other across the ?narrow sea.? With the (in this case) blinders of hindsight the three Anglo-Dutch wars of the seventeenth century look like mortal combat for the economic supremacy of Europe. But Jardine instructs us to think about them instead as something more akin to sibling rivalry. They are wars of closeness, not of distance and difference, a possibility not so readily imagined after the rhetorical excesses of war in the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries.
Some of Jardine?s evidence is likely to be familiar to many economic historians. She devotes several chapters to the broad scientific (both life and physical) exchange across the sea during the formative years of what would later become national scientific bodies. Data, experimental techniques, and results traveled quite freely between scientists in both communities. Indeed, the prevalence of numerous close partnerships ensures that many important discoveries are not as easily attributable to one place or the other as we have come to believe. Likewise, craft and industrial expertise moved back and forth across the narrow sea with important implications for productive processes in both countries. Less familiar to many of us will be her extensive documentation of ubiquitous cultural exchange. Jardine explores everything from private musical performances, to the resettlement of prominent artists, from the shared expertise of landscapers and their cross-national patrons? mutual devotion to garden design, to the mixed marriages of elite households, not least of which were those between the Houses of Stuart and Orange.
The only area where Jardine admits of serious difference between the two nations is in their respective approaches to international trade and settlement abroad. Here she tells us that while ?English merchants carried their way of life with them? (p. 319) as they worked their way around the world, the Dutch instead focused all of their energy and attention on the trade at hand for the enrichment of the nation at home. That the English were the ultimate colonizers of a number of locations the Dutch had actually reached first (most notably New York, of course) is not surprising in her analysis. Moreover, for someone who appreciates as much as Jardine does the critical importance of cultural markers for the preservation of identity, it should come as no surprise that the failure of the Dutch abroad to sufficiently promote and maintain their ?Dutchness? is the best explanation in the final analysis for the ability of the English to ?plunder? Dutch glory. Remarkably, the Dutch invasion of 1688 by Prince William of Orange, remembered by the English as no invasion at all but as the ?Glorious Revolution,? was not the moment that Dutch culture ultimately swamped that of its close kin and rival. Instead, paradoxically, it was precisely the occasion on which the Dutch began to lose their own identity on the world stage, transferring their economic and political innovations to the very country whose throne they had usurped. This is surely an irony that economic historians would do well to keep in mind as they build their own theories about the transfer of economic leadership from one locale to the next.
Anne McCants is the author of numerous articles on the economic and social history of the Dutch Republic, as well as of Civic Charity in a Golden Age: Orphan Care in Early Modern Amsterdam (University of Illinois Press), email@example.com.