Rapenburg na ontploffing kruitschip
Rapenburg na ontploffing kruitschip

Dealing with Disasters

The shaping of local and national identities, 1421-1890

How do communities develop different identities? And what holds these communities together? Recent research has often emphasised that politics, and especially war and conflict, were the decisive factors in community formation processes. In this project, researchers are developing a new approach by studying identity formation processes that are based on disasters.

Strong communities

The idea is that identity formation can only be understood by taking account of the impact that disasters, such as floods, storms, fires and epidemics, have on identity formation. The project will explore how local and national identities have been formed in response to natural disasters in the Netherlands, starting with the St. Elizabeth Flood of 1421 and ending with the severe winter of 1890. The researchers hope that their investigation of the media coverage of these disasters will assist them in gaining a better understanding of how Dutch society dealt with disasters in the past; their hypothesis claims that disasters created strong communities and played a key role in the formation of local and national identity. They are investigating this through the analysis of the reactions that were given in a variety of media (paintings, prints, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, songs, and chronicles).

The researchers have endeavoured to find historical changes and recurring themes, such as the struggle against water, and have combined insights from four interdisciplinary fields of research: media studies, literature studies, nationalisation studies and memory studies. This is the first project to explore the cultural portrayal of disasters in the Netherlands through the ages


Contact information

More information on this research study? Questions from the media may be directed to the science editor. All other questions may be directed to the researcher.