Rural and Environmental History Group

The rural modernisation project of the gentlemen

The rural modernisation project of the gentlemen in the Netherlands, 1840-1900.

It is our intention to change the matter of fact character of the social organisation of the Dutch countryside in the twentieth century and to demonstrate how it is the result of the reaction of the countryside to processes of state formation, nation building, commercialisation and professionalisation. We start our research therefore with a project that describes and analyses the influence and ideas of the gentlemen and elites. The gentlemen did not form a formal social movement, nor did they follow an official programme. However, through the establishment of organisations like the Agricultural Economy Congress (Landhuishoudkundig congres), and newspapers like the Agricultural Newspaper (Landbouwcourant) and other publications they gave shape to a modernisation project. This project was a real Enlightenment project in which the gentlemen saw themselves as modernists and the farmers were seen as traditional. In this project we will in fact continue and build upon the research of Van der Poel having the advantage of the publication of many regional studies on the actual agricultural development in the nineteenth century.

In this project we will answer the following questions:
  • What were the most important organisations and who were the most important people in the Dutch countryside in the period 1840-1890?
  • What were the most important rural newspapers and journals? When were they founded? What was their readership? What topics did they address?
  • What was the role of exhibitions and public gatherings in the dissemination of the ideas of the gentlemen on the modernisation of the countryside?
  • What was the significance of agriculture and the countryside in the public domain and the public debate?
  • Can we still find remains of this modernisation project of the gentlemen in the built-environment and the Dutch landscape?
The sources we will use are the archives and publications of the organisations themselves (like the agricultural societies and the Agricultural Economy Congress), archives of private individuals, agricultural and rural newspapers, and official almanacs.