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Funding for 'Local government between occupier and citizen in wartime'

Date of news: 1 February 2021

Collaboration between three Regional History Centres and the Research Institute for Culture and History (RICH) intends to shed new light on the way in which local administrators had to navigate between citizen and occupier during the Second World War.

The project application 'Local government between occupier and citizen' was recently approved by the Mondriaan Fund in the context of 75 years of freedom. The three regional centres are Zeeuws Archief, Erfgoed Gelderland and Gelders Archief and the Groninger Archieven. Project coordinator is Wim van Meurs, professor of Political History at Radboud University Nijmegen. The project draws attention to the great challenges that provincial and municipal administrators and their officials faced during the German occupation and in the post-war years.

Governance

The research focuses on the administrations of Zeeland, Gelderland and Groningen and of a number of cities in each province. Political and administrative officials remained responsible for the citizens, businesses and public life in the city or province in a greatly changed field of forces. Even more than the story of the citizens, who often had to endure measures taken by the occupying forces, the story of the administrators, who themselves helped to direct and implement policy, provides insight into the reality and choices of the war years. Regardless of their political beliefs, administrators at the decentralised level had both the authorities on the national level of government and the expectations and needs of citizens to consider. To cooperate with the occupying forces – as the government in exile expected officials to do under occupation - meant navigating between Nazi orders, personal initiative and the expectations/needs of the civilian population.

These decentralised levels of government have so far remained under-researched in historical war studies, with the exception of the proverbial 'mayor in wartime'. In this research project, three subprojects will extensively research the lives of civilians and administrators outside the Randstad. Most academic literature focuses on 'high politics' in the Randstad, while the tension between occupation regime and civilian population is at least as pressing and tangible for local administrators.

Citizen-science

The project relies explicitly on citizen-science. In the archival research for the three subprojects, the researchers are supported by qualified students and alumni of several universities and local volunteers who have experience in local historical research and archival collections (historical societies). The final results of the project will be presented in two ways: a book and a web exhibition. The book will contain stories about the administration of each city studied and reconstructed biographies of selected administrators for each city and province. The web exhibition of the collaborating Regional History Centres is closely related to the book in terms of content, but focuses strongly on visual sources.