Distant Neighbors. The role of the German unification between 1864 and 1871 in Dutch nineteenth-century nation-building
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The historiography on Dutch national consciousness depicts the dissemination of that phenomenon between 1815 and 1900 to a broad part of Dutch society as a process initiated and maintained by the upper class of Dutch society, due to a strong focus on societal elites. Despite the lack of a sharp periodization, the focus suggests that national consciousness was entrenched among the Dutch upper class at an early stage during the nineteenth century, which therefore only had to be concerned about the dissemination of that consciousness to the ‘lower’ societal groups. It was only from the 1870s onwards, the historiography indicates, that that process became less stable due to confessional opposition and input of the lower classes. Despite recent research showing that it is imperative to use a bottom-up perspective to study the process, this thesis argues that the role of the elites has not yet sufficiently been understood. As hinted at by an explorative study by Jacco Pekelder, the historiography lacks attention to the Dutch elite’s use of the German unification for the development of national consciousness among Dutch citizens. Hence, this thesis aims to answer the question how Dutch elites in the context of the German unification between 1864 and 1871 stimulated the development of national consciousness among the citizens of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The research shows that in the context of a debate about the question what the Netherlands should do against a potential threat of Germany to the Netherlands, Dutch liberal publicists and newspaper editors used the unification as a means to stimulate the development of national consciousness by means of two rhetorical devices. The debate started during the Austro-Prussian War, but became especially of importance during the war between France and Prussia. Whereas political, military and diplomatic measures were initially the only means proposed to fend off a potential danger, by 1870-1871 the indicated persons envisioned the development of national consciousness as one of the main measures. They stimulated this development through leading, trend-setting media, which indicates that it is plausible that between 1815 and 1900 a larger number of Dutch citizens started to exhibit national consciousness due to the rhetorical devices used during the German unification. The main suggestion of the findings is that national consciousness was not as strongly entrenched among Dutch elites as indicated by the historiography. This implies that the depiction of the upper classes only having to be concerned about the dissemination of national consciousness to the other layers of Dutch society after the early nineteenth century is too simplistic, and that that process should be seen as less stable than currently suggested by the historiography. Additionally, the research shows that the modern Dutch relation towards Germany did not merely have its roots in structural factors, but also incidental circumstances.