‘It Should Be Possible’: Entertaining Historical Symposium


ZUTPHEN – Historians must delve more deeply into the landscape’s history. More and more is known about what happened in the cities, for example in Zutphen in 1572, but without accurate information from the former landscape, the story remains incomplete.

By Sander Grootendorst

This was argued by Leiden historian Judith Pollman on Wednesday 16 November during the annual symposium of the historical association Zutphen (HVZ) in the Walburgiskerk. HVZ chairman Adriaan van Oosten responded to Pollman’s call with the comment that mapping the landscape is a difficult task due to the lack of written sources. But not an impossible one: he referred to Theo Salemink, amateur historian from Oud-Zevenaar, who published on the history of poor farmers and recently gave a CVZ lecture on the subject.

Pollman made her appeal at the end of an instructive and entertaining symposium in which she herself had outlined the broad context surrounding the Spanish attack of 1572 and addressed the task of historians: how to deal with propaganda, legends and fabrications from long ago. ? Answer: by finding out why these propaganda, fabrications and legends arose in the first place. Who was interested in what and why? This keeps the story exciting.

On the day
November 16: an exciting idea in itself – it was exactly 450 years ago to the day that the Spanish troops entered through Nieuwstadspoort on the north side of the city. The rest is history… But it is being written again and again, based on new research and new insights. Pollman is the supervisor of his student Johan Visser, who – as far as possible – investigated what exactly happened that day. He discovered that the story, which has become part of the canon, about the Spanish massacre of the civilian population was probably not entirely correct. Pastor Baudartius, among others, is said to have grossly exaggerated it (to cast the Catholic enemy in a bad light). Visser makes it plausible in his book, but there is no hundred percent certainty. Lawyer Hugo Smit expressed his doubts about Visser’s findings from the floor: “Don’t touch Baudartius,” he said.

What is one hundred percent certain: History is considerably more nuanced than we were taught in school.

When listening to Pollman, many probably thought: If only I had had a history teacher like that before. Whatever the thought may have been at the first speech, by Prof. Herman Pleij. Both made it clear that historical stories often serve a purpose set after the fact: the emergence of a nation-state, for example, or the ‘birth of the Netherlands’ celebrated this year. “And what doesn’t fit into the story is then pushed aside,” Pleij said. For example: that the soldiers of the states in the Achterhoek have created chaos at least as seriously as the Spaniards.

There are several reasons why the Netherlands has to settle for ‘1572’, while many other countries annually celebrate the starting point of their nation. One of them, according to Pleij, is that the story of William of Orange, with which the history of the Netherlands more or less begins, was a Protestant story. “There was not much to celebrate for Catholics, many of them were murdered by the Geuzen (Orange supporters).” Another, according to Pollman: ‘The Netherlands’ started as a republic and later became a kingdom. How do you rhyme it in a party? Pleij argued that there is still something to be said for 1572 – apart from the question of whether one really needs a year or a date because it can lead to overly fanatical forms of nationalism: “The first state assembly was held in Dordrecht. Still, the beginning of what we now call poldering, one could also say: of the current democracy.” Pollman replied that not all current states/provinces were represented at this assembly. It was mainly a gathering of what we now call the Randstadelijk . Another reason: We already celebrate King’s Day, Pleij said. “Although it’s primarily the celebration of free trade.”

And we sing.. that William, the oldest European folk song. Written by a fierce Protestant Orange fan to the tune of a taunt… Pleij had a fun final chord in store. “That song just has the lyrics that we don’t mind singing it. But the Dutch motto is: Your maintendrai, also in French: ‘I will maintain.’ I advocate replacing it with a more modern pronunciation, something you hear very often now: It should be possible.Not a bad idea, Van Oosten also thought. “It should be possible: it is a little between tolerance and indifference.” But the historians were right does not been indifferent. One visitor says to another as they leave the church: “Learned a lot again this afternoon.”

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