The Dutch Republic and Britain: The Making of a European World Economy

NEH Seminar





June 28, 2015 to July 31, 2015



The purpose of this five-week NEH Summer Seminar for School Teachers at the Historical Institute in London and Leiden, The Netherlands, is to investigate how a region of Northwestern Europe, centered on the North Sea, acquired the characteristics that historians have labeled modern. We will study how the national economy of the Dutch Republic rose to pre-eminence in the new European world-economy of the seventeenth century, how Britain acquired this supremacy in the eighteenth century, and how it transformed itself to become the first industrial nation. Using a comparative method, we will study contemporary accounts, historical documents, seminal historical interpretations and visit some of the key places that experienced this world-historical transformation. We will explore an important topic in European economic and social history, appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of humanistic studies, connect the study of the texts to the subject’s material culture, provide a broader perspective on contemporary issues associated with the term ‘globalization’ and do so in an atmosphere conducive to collegiality, study and reflection. The core texts for the seminar will consist of five important historical works:

  • Jan de Vries, The Economy of Europe in an Age of Crisis, 1600-1750 (1976).
  • Keith Wrightson, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (2000).
  • Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall, 1477-1806 (1995). Mariet Westerman, A Worldy Art: The Dutch Republic 1585-1718 (1996).
  • Robert C. Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (2009).

Throughout the seminar we will use contemporary documents to ground our discussion in historical reality and to listen to the voices of actual historical participants. I have photocopied and digitized a selection of historical documents, as well as some key scholarly articles, and collected these in a volume of ‘additional reading.’ In addition to analyzing our texts and the material culture of the period, we will attempt to ask larger 3 questions. How did contemporary observers interpret the social, commercial and industrial changes of the period? How do disciplinary traditions, ideological orientations and national identity help shape the arguments of our texts? How do our historical site and museum visits help us to understand the texts? How do the visual arts and architecture of the period reflect the building of a modern economy and society? What are the links between the creation of a bourgeois society and an ‘industrious revolution’? What is the relationship between the pursuit of profit and power in the development of a European led world-economy? Did the creation of a global trade network help lay the foundation of an industrial economy in Northwest Europe? Does an economy have to experience an industrial revolution, such as that in Britain, to be labeled ‘modern’? Does our subject provide us with a broader perspective on our society’s efforts to grapple with the issues of globalization, the role of the state in economic change, and our perspective on the dynamic transformation of the world economy during our own time? How might the wider perspective on the origin of modern economic growth suggested by the seminar be translated into teaching the subject in the schools?

Seminar structure

The seminar will meet three mornings per week from 9:00 to noon with a break for refreshments. In addition we will use two whole days during the first two weeks, one day per week during the other weeks, and one weekend for our museum and site visits. Participants are expected to take part in all sessions. I will be widely available for individual meetings with participants. The seminar will be organized into five cooperative learning groups and these groups will serve as the chief organizing principle of the morning meetings. Each group will lead the discussion on a rotating basis. The group will pose questions, provide a context, analyze the readings, and suggest comparisons and present additional perspectives. This is not a lecture course. Thus, I will encourage everyone to participate actively.

I believe that the process of writing is crucial to learning. Each participant will be asked to keep a journal in which to record daily reactions to the reading, discussions and site visits. A few participants will be asked to share these reflections during each 4 meeting. Each participant will do a project on a topic related to the seminar. Projects can take a variety of forms, such as a well-developed teaching lesson with learning resources and an introductory essay on the wider historical context of the lesson; an interpretive and reflective essay (8-10 pages); a research paper, as some have done in previous seminars; a power-point presentation, usable for teaching with notes and explanations; or a professional development presentation for other teachers. Essays or presentations might deal with the participant's reaction to the texts studied or to the wider issues suggested. Drafts of projects will be discussed within each cooperative learning group and participants will present summaries of their projects to the seminar during the last week. I will comment on each project. After returning the projects to participants for revision, if they so wish as long as they return them to me by early September, they will be ‘published’ on the seminar’s web site. Essays from my previous participants are at

Throughout the seminar you will have access to electronic resources at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Library. This is particularly useful for electronic access to scholarly journals through JSTOR. You will also have reading access to the library at the Institute for Historical Research in London and to Leiden University library in the Netherlands. Our seminar website will serve as a convenient source of resources on our subject. It will welcome future contributions from participants, such as research contributions, essays, lesson plans, documents, or audio-visual material related to our subject. Our website will thus serve as a means of continuing the learning community that we will build during the seminar. Essays and many resources from some of my previous NEH seminars on the industrial revolution in Britain can be found at

For details of the seminar and the historical context of the site visits, please consult your site visit syllabi that will be provided in England and the Netherlands. The 2013 site visit guides are still available on the seminar’s web site at:


Sunday, June 28, 18:00 Dinner and Welcome Reception at the Queen’s Head and the Artichoke

  • I Week of June 29—Institute for Historical Research, Senate House, University of London, Malet Street.

Monday 6/29, 9:00-12:00

  • Introductions
  • Discussion of major questions and themes to be raised in the seminar
  • Cooperative learning group organization, seminar discussion assignments, and seminar projects

Tuesday 6/30, 9:00-12:00

  • Jan de Vries, The Economy of Europe in an Age of Crisis, 1600-1750(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).
  • What are the chief elements of what de Vries calls “the age of crisis”?
  • What evidence points to a decline or consolidation of the peasant agricultural economy?
  • What is ‘proto-industry’ and did it create a new class?
  • Why are trade and urbanization dynamic economic forces and what is the relationship between European and international trade?
  • What does de Vries mean by “capitalism creating its own demand”?
  • Does he see bourgeois capital as more dynamic than aristocratic or state capital?
  • Does de Vries think that mercantilism played an important role in the success of particular national economies?
  • Why did Britain rather than the Dutch Republic have the first industrial revolution?
  • Based on this book how would you characterize de Vries’ vision of economic history? Does the work display an ideological orientation?

Wednesday 7/1, 9:00-12:00

  • Keith Wrightson, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), Chapters 1-9. Selections from William Harrison, A Description of Elizabethan England (1577); James Harrington, Oceana (1656); and Josiah Child, A New Discourse of Trade (1668)
  • What does Wrightson see as the chief characteristics of the household economy and what were the major economic and social institutions beyond the household in the late fifteenth and first half of the sixteenth centuries?
  • What does Wrightson see as the most important dynamic factors in sixteenth and early seventeenth century economic expansion?
  • What is the effect of economic expansion and restructuring on social groups in society such as the yeoman farmers, the gentry, the merchants, the artisans, and the aristocrats?
  • How do Harrison, Harrington and Child describe England’s social and economic structure and how do these relate to political power?
  • Discussion of tentative individual Seminar Projects in Co-operative Learning Groups

Thursday 7/2, 8:30-18:00

  • Site Visits: The City, London Docks and Greenwich. Travel will be by Tube and the Docklands Railway
  • View London Pool from Tower Bridge and visit St. Catherine’s Dock
  • Docklands Museum, London and international trade
  • Walk to Greenwich through the Thames pedestrian tunnel
  • Greenwich Palace, Painted Hall and Royal Observatory, National Maritime Museum

Friday 7/3, 8:30-1800

  • Site Visits in London, Travel will be by Tube
  • Guided walk through the City’s financial center and visit to the Bank of England Museum
  • London Museum galleries on the History of London, emphasis on the period 1500-1900
  • National Science Museum exhibits on the technology of early modern navigation and the coming of modern industry, or the Victoria & Albert Museum, British Galleries

II Week of July 6—Webster University Living and Learning Center, Leiden, The Netherlands

Monday, 7/6, 6:00 PM Welcome Reception and Dinner in Leiden

Tuesday 7/7, 9:00-12:00 and 14:00-16:00

  • Wrightson, Chapters 10-14; Photocopies of selections from Dudley North, A Discourse upon Trade; Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees; Daniel Defoe, The Complete English Tradesman; David Hume, Of Refinement in the Arts; and John Millar, On the Origin and Distinction of Ranks in Henry C. Clark, Commerce, Culture & Liberty: Readings on Capitalism Before Adam Smith (2003). Selections from Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). What does Wrightson cite as the chief evidence for his argument that between c. 1650 and1750 specialization and regional integration created a market economy in Britain?
  • What were the main ways in which the state could influence this economy? How important was the international economy to the domestic economy?
  • What were the critical elements of Britain’s efficient capitalist agricultural system and how did its owners and managers remain gentlemen?
  • Does Wrightson see the cultural and social values of the ‘middling sort’ as a cause or as a consequence of the creation of a commercial society in Britain by 1750?
  • Did the laboring people become more dependent or independent in the century before 1750?
  • Does Wrightson’s description of a market society in Britain fit with de Vries’ analysis of social and economic developments in northwestern Europe s a whole?
  • What do North, Mandeville, Defoe, Hume, Millar, and Smith see as the chief principles that encourage economic change and growth? Which social groups, industries and social attitudes do they see as the most important to economic development? 14:00-16:00 Visit and introduction to the Leiden University Library

Wednesday, 7/8, 9:00-17:00

  • Guided city walk in Leiden led by Reno Raaijmakers, including the Lakenhal Museum.
  • Coach to Den Haag. City walk in the Hague’s historic district and visit to the Mauritshuis Museum for paintings from the Dutch Golden Age.

Thursday, 7/9, 9:00-12:00

  • Photocopies of W. P. Blockmans, “The Formation of Political Union, 1300-1600,” J.C.H. Blom and E. Lamberts, History of the Low Countries (New York: Berghan Books, 1999); Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall 1477- 1806 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), Chapters 1-6.
  • How did political late medieval rebellions in the Low Countries encourage the creation of the Flemish city-states?
  • How did the economic re-orienation of the Low Countries contribute to the formation of a bourgeois culture in Flanders and Brabant?
  • In what sense was the Burgundian century (1385-1477) a ‘Golden Age’? Was it also a golden age for the growth of a capitalist economy?
  • What do you see as the chief characteristics of government and society under Burgundian and Habsburg rule?
  • What was the connection between Humanism and Reformation in the Low Countries? How successful was the Reformation in the Low Countries before the Revolt?
  • Why has the Catholic thinker, Erasmus, been seen as one of the greatest influences on the culture of the Protestant Republic?

Friday, 7/10, 8:00 to Sunday, 7/12, 18:00: Weekend trip to Flanders, overnight accommodations in Ghent. Travel will be by coach and train

  • City walk in Antwerp, the Grote Markt and historic center, including a visit to the Cathedral and the Rubens House in Antwerp
  • City Walk in Bruges, including visits to the Hallen (16th c. covered market), Basilica of the Holy Blood, Stadhuis and Groeningsmuseum
  • City Walk in Ghent, including St. Bataafs Cathedral, the Belfort and Lakenhalle (cloth hall), Grasslei (late medieval harbor), and Gravensteen.

III Week of July 13—Leiden, The Netherlands

Monday, 7/13, 9:00-12:00

  • Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall 1477-1806 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), Chapters 7-14; photocopies of documents on the origin of the Republic from Herbert Rowen, ed., The Low Countries in Early Modern Times, sections III, IV.
  • What is Israel’s interpretation of the origin of the revolt of the Netherlands?
  • What is Israel’s explanation of the political division of the Netherlands between the Republic and the Spanish empire?
  • How did the Republic emerge as a great power during the early Republic and why does Israel stress this as a crucial aspect of its history?
  • How does Israel explain the beginning of Dutch primacy in world trade? According to Israel, how did Amsterdam’s entrepôt differ from that of Antwerp? How did Dutch success in the ‘bulk trades’ complement its success in the ‘rich trades’?
  • What do the primary documents tell us about the nature of the Revolt against Spain?

Tuesday, 7/14, 9:00-12:00

  • Israel, Chapters 15-22; photocopies of documents on religion and government in the Republic in Rowen, sections V, VI.
  • What were the chief characteristics of Dutch Society in the early Republic? Would you describe it as a ‘bourgeois’ society?
  • Why did Toleration fail in the early Republic?
  • What is meant by ‘Confessionalization’ in the Republic and what was the nature of Toleration in the later Republic?
  • What does the fall of Oldenbarnevelt suggest about the political culture of the Republic?
  • What are the connections of the debate within Calvinism between the Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants and the development of a culture of toleration in the Republic?
  • How does Israel explain the military triumph of the Republic over the south?

Wednesday, 7/15, 8:30 -19:00

  • Site Visits in Amsterdam
  • Visit to the Rijksmuseum
  • City Walk in the old center of Amsterdam
  • Visit to Amsterdam City Hall (Koninklijke Paleis).
  • Depart from Amsterdam at 18:00

Thursday. 7/16, 9:00-12:00

  • Mariet Westerman, A Wordly Art: The Dutch Republic 1585-1718(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996); Israel, Chapters 22-28.
  • What does the making and marketing of pictures tell us about the Dutch Golden Age?
  • What are the connection between Dutch artistic ‘realism’ and the Republic’s economic and social ideals?
  • What are the connections between the Republic’s art and its science and literature?
  • How does Dutch art of the Golden Age reflect the Republic’s global economy and its emerging national identity?
  • What does the portraiture of the Golden Age tell us about gender, love, status, civic identity, the self and community?
  • How would you describe the political structure of the Republic during the mid-17th century?
  • Why does Israel see Dutch intellectual life as a ‘new culture’? Is it a bourgeois culture?

IV Week of July 20—Leiden, The Netherlands

Monday, 7/20, 9:00-12:00

  • Israel, chapters 29-35. Photocopies of selections on the trade and commerce of the Republic in Rowen: Hugo Grotius, The Freedom Of The Seas, Or The Right Which Belongs To The Dutch To Take Part In The East Indian Trade (1609); and Sir William 10 Temple, Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands (1673). Pieter de la Court, The True Interest and Maxims of the Republic of Holland (1662), in Henry C. Clark, Commerce, Culture & Liberty: Readings on Capitalism Before Adam Smith, 2003. Why did the Dutch economy emerge successfully from the crisis of the European economy in the seventeenth century?
  • What is the ‘True Freedom” and why did it decline?
  • How did William III’s successful invasion of England save the Republic from French invasions while at the same time lead to its decline?
  • Why did the Dutch succeed in the Asian trade system but had much less success in the Atlantic?
  • What is the role of empire in Dutch economic success during this period?
  • What was the relationship of the Republic’s international trade network to its industrial development?
  • What does Israel mean by the Radical Enlightenment and why was it Dutch?
  • What is Hugo Grotius’ argument on the freedom of the seas?
  • To what does Temple attribute the Republic’s economic success?
  • Can we describe Pieter de la Court as an advocate of free trade? How might de la Court’s social and economic background have influenced his views?

Tuesday, 7/21, 9:00-12:00

  • Israel, Chapters 36-44; Chapters (photocopies) from The Oxford History of the British Empire, Vol. I, The Origins of Empire: British Overseas Enterprise to the Close of the Seventeenth Century, Nicholas Canny, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998): Nicholas Canny, “The Origins of Empire: An Introduction”; and Michael J. Braddick, “The English Government, War, Trade, and Settlement, 1625-1688.” From The Oxford History of the British Empire, Vol. II, The Eighteenth Century, P. J. Marshall, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998): David Richardson, “The British Empire and the Atlantic Slave Trade”; and P. J. Marshall, “Britain without America—A Second British Empire”?
  • To what factors does Israel ascribe relative Dutch economic decline? Does he see the political factors or the economic factors as most crucial in the Republic’s relative decline?
  • Does Israel see the Republic’s government as an effective force in the Republic’s economic growth?
  • Which sectors of the Republic’s economy maintained their leadership the longest?
  • What is Israel’s interpretation of the Patriot Revolution and what does it suggest about The Republic’s long-term historical importance as a forerunner of modern representative government?
  • What are the links Canny sees between colonization in Ireland and the Americas?
  • Why, according to Canny, did the connection between empire and economic prosperity did not become commonly accepted until the late seventeenth century in England?
  • According to Braddick, why did the English state assume a much more prominent role in the promotion of foreign trade and empire during the seventeenth century? Was it effective?
  • Why was the Atlantic slave trade, which in itself was not a large percentage of trade, so important to Britain’s overall international trade? What is Richardson’s position on the debate about slavery and industrialization?
  • What, according to Marshall, was the consequence for the role of international trade in Britain’s economy of ‘the swing to the East’ of the British Empire after the American Revolution to the early nineteenth century?

Wednesday, 7/22, 8:30-19:00

  • Site Visits to North Holland: Industry, Polders, and Zuiderzee Ports
  • Zaanse Schans and Zaan Museum, industrial windmills in North Holland
  • Depart for Hoorn and Enkhuizen at 11:30
  • Hoorn City Walk
  • Enkhuizen City Walk. Enkhuizen Museum in the East India warehouse
  • Depart from Enkhuizen at 18:00

Thursday, 7/23, 9:00-12:00

  • Robert C. Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), chapters 1-5; photocopies of Maxine Berg, “In Pursuit of Luxury: Global History and British Consumer Goods in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present, No. 182 (2004): 85-142.
  • How does Allen demonstrate that pre-industrial Britain had a high-wage economy?
  • How does Allen reinterpret Britain’s agricultural revolution in the pre-industrial period?
  • Why are declining industries crucial to Berg’s view of the revolutionary nature of industrialization?
  • What is Allen’s argument about Britain’s cheap energy economy in the preindustrial period?
  • How does Britain’s pre-industrial economy explain that Britain produced the first industrial revolution?
  • What, according to Berg, are the links between colonial products, women’s desires, consumer demand and industrialization? What is the relationship between Berg’s emphasis on the demand factor of consumption and our own recent experience?
  • Why was the commercial revolution crucial to economic growth on both sides of the North Sea?

V Week of July 27—Leiden, The Netherlands

Monday, 7/27, 9:00-12:00

  • Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, chapters 6-11; photocopies Jan de Vries, “The Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution”, Journal of Economic History 54 (1994): 249-70 Jan de Vries, “Dutch economic growth in comparative historical perspective, 1500-2000,” De Economist, 148 (No. 4, 2000): 443- 467; Patrick O’Brien, “Mercantilism and Imperialism in the Rise and Decline of the Dutch and British Economies 1585-1815,” De Economist, 148 (No. 4, 200): 469-501. According to Allen, why did Britain have the first industrial revolution?
  • What according to Allen were the key technologies of the first industrial revolution and why were they British?
  • What is Allen’s argument about Britain’s industrial revolution and modern economic growth?
  • What is de Vries’ argument on the connection between the ‘industrious revolution’ and modern economic growth?
  • Why, according to de Vries and van der Woude, does the experience of the Dutch Republic call into question much of the historiography of the British industrial revolution?
  • Judging from Allen’s study, what are the chief characteristics of the new economic history?
  • Now that we are at the end of the reading, what to you think of O’Brien’s argument on the connection between economic growth, mercantilism and imperialism?

Tuesday 9:00-12:00

  • Seminar project presentations and discussion

Wednesday, 7/29, 8:30-18:30

  • Site Visits: Amsterdam and Haarlem
  • National Scheepvaart (Maritime) Museum
  • Depart for Haarlem at 12:30
  • Haarlem city walk and visit to the Frans Hals Museum
  • Depart from Haarlem at 18:00

Thursday, 7/30, 9:00-12:00

  • Seminar project presentations and Discussion
  • Farewell Dinner and Party: 18:00

Friday, 7/31, AM, Depart Leiden,