Travel & Familiarity – Research Blog Summer 2017

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The Amsterdam Canals seen from the north. (this was actually the first time I’ve flown over the city on a clear enough day for this view).

Flying back to the Netherlands for another summer of research, conferences, and writing, I had expected the transition to occur awkwardly after about a year away. Eleven months is a long time to be gone. You’re in a different place with your work, friends and colleagues move their lives and interests, and the cities you’ve grown familiar with evolve. I find that I have to completely shift into a different head space come summer because so much of my time and energy during the year is spent teaching or working on other projects. The shift to research and writing full time is a welcome change, but one that has to take place quickly and deliberately. I have similar apprehensions every year, but I’m beginning to realize I shouldn’t. As much as people and places change and as much as I become engrossed in other projects after I leave, the underlying familiarity and warmth (well not literal warmth) of the Holland welcomes me back every year.

This was a nice realization and a starting point for my month-long stay in Europe this summer. It’s Tuesday June 27th and I’ve now been in Holland about a week. This is the first post of summer 2017 in a series detailing my research and time spent in Holland and abroad. It will be a busier than average summer, largely because I’m only here for 30 days (a short stay compared to last year), but also because so much of my time will be spent in transit. As in years past, I’m beginning the summer with a conference outside the Netherlands. The European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) is hosting their biennial conference in Zagreb, Croatia this year and I’ll be presenting on an old theme for the first time in years, coastal flooding! (More on this to come) I also have trips planned to Rome, Antwerp, and London. The latter will be short, a two-day stay near the National Archives at Kew. It will be my first time in British collections and a necessary next step in a slowly expanding project on West Feliciana, Louisiana. In later posts, I will detail my objectives and findings, but suffice to say, I will be doing a lot of writing on planes and trains.Logo_ESEH_2017

I also plan to take a weekend to visit Groningen. Groningen is a beautiful northern province, well worth a visit on any occasion. 2017 is perhaps the most ideal year to visit, however. This is the 300th anniversary of the Christmas Flood! In commemoration of this near-forgotten event, the province, the Groninger Archieven, and a number of cultural organizations have put together a summer-long program of lectures, excursions, and exhibits related to its history. They also have a fantastic website that links to primary and secondary sources (including one by yours truly) on the history and significance of the flood. Coincidentally, my conference paper for ESEH also explores the history of the Christmas Flood, so it was a completely natural decision to plan a visit. It also hasn’t escaped my attention that, with the exception of a couple Wadlopen excursions (and none since 2014), I’ve been a really poor visitor to the province (hardly ever leaving the center of Groningen). Time to remedy that.

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You can hike (or Wadloop) to the barrier islands at low tide from Groningen’s mainland. (2014 en route to Schiermonnikoog)

Somewhere amidst this travel, I will also have to find time to research and write. In contrast to last year’s narrow set of research goals, this year will be spent largely writing and wrapping up loose ends for my book manuscript, Floods, Worms, and Cattle Plague: Natural Disaster at the Closing of the Dutch Golden Age. With the exception of a few books and archival documents I need to find in The Hague, Groningen, and Amsterdam, the research is largely complete (or at least as complete as it will be). My time will be largely spent writing and editing the manuscript and my goals for the summer are consequently related to that process.


  1. Complete a draft of chapter one. This chapter frames the core issues of the book. It explores the meaning of disaster in the early modern era and how it tied in to the eighteenth-century decline of the Dutch Republic. In contrast to later chapters that address individual disasters and more defined and limited themes and time periods, this chapter performs a balancing act between narrative explanation of themes and questions (often in the longue durée) and the narrative specificity of my hook, the famous disaster year (rampjaar) of 1672.
  2. Writing the first chapter requires dealing with a theme that has received far less scholarly attention than I would have expected– the decline of the Dutch Republic. Although decline has enjoyed substantial attention from economic historians since the publication of Joh. de Vries Economische achteruitgang der Republiek in de achittiende eeuw (1968), far fewer scholars investigate the subject from its cultural or social perspectives, much less environmental. This peculiar historiographic oversight will be a subject for a later post, but suffice to say for now that I will be able to investigate the topic more effectively in such close proximity to the archives and especially libraries of the Netherlands.
  3. Begin revision of Christmas Flood chapter. It is not the second chapter, but I may as well turn to it next since so much of this summer revolves around the disaster anyway. This is easily one of the more polished chapters already, but there are a few documents I need to find in the Groningen archive.

Next post, from Zagreb!

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