Enlightened Ideas in Commemoration Books of the 1825 Zuiderzee Flood in the Netherlands

P.J.E.M. van Dam, H.D. Pieters

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Flood commemoration books developed out of other genres of commemoration during the eighteenth century and contributed to the formation of a Enlightened flood culture in the Netherlands. One can consider the flood culture, and especially the process of memory formation about the floods, as belonging to the cultural coping mechanisms available to flood victims. This chapter examines three major commemoration books of the Zuiderzee Flood of 1825 with respect to the characteristics of their authorship and their narratives. The authors exhibited traits of typical, well-educated, nineteenth-century bourgeois men, adhering to Enlightened norms and values both in their personal lives and in their scholarship. The authors’ narrative choices revealed their Enlightened positions and attitudes. They adhered to the more Enlightened religious view of the merciful God acting only at a distance, as ‘first cause’ of the creation. The authors criticize the most fanciful flood stories and ground their critiques in scientific research. Yet, commemoration books included some stories, in particular tales of heroism and good governance in order to promote virtuous citizenship. The main moral message of the commemoration books was that people must help each other. The religious version of this message indicated that God created a universe that included natural disasters like floods in order to give people the opportunity to help each other. Disaster is, according to the authors, a chance, a most optimistic stance, befitting the bourgeois elite who was in control of the (natural) world.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNavigating History: Economy, Society, Knowledge, and Nature
Subtitle of host publicationEssays in honour of Prof. dr. C.A. Davids
EditorsPepijn Brandon, Go Sabine, Verstegen Wybren
Place of PublicationLeiden
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9789004381568
ISBN (Print)9789004381551
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameLibrary of Economic History
ISSN (Print)1877-3206


  • flood hazard
  • disaster
  • commemoration
  • memory formation
  • Enlightenment


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