Tag Archives: First World War

The Schelde river, a disputed boundary

The Low Countries owe their importance not only to political developments. Geographic conditions play a major role, too. The picture of the Netherlands as a country below sea-level in the Rhine and Meuse estuaries has become a cliché. More to the south another river, too, had formed a mighty estuary. The Schelde, in English often spelled Scheldt, and in French known as the Escaut, has formed an estuary in Flanders and in the Dutch province Zeeland. In particular the Westerschelde has played an important role in Dutch and Belgian history. Cities such as Ghent and Antwerp own part of their prosperity to their position on the Schelde river. The Westerschelde is at some points the border river between Belgium and the Netherlands. In this post I will look at a number of the conflicts around this river.

Scheldt River Collection, Peace Palace LibraryTracing the history of these conflicts has become easier thanks to the Peace Palace Library in The Hague which has created a digital Scheldt River Collection with some 300 publications, 35,000 digitized pages in all. These publications are not only in Dutch and French, but also in other languages. The Peace Library devoted in 2015 a Library Special on its website to the Schelde with a link to a report on the current situation of this river and a list of the main conflicts and events since 1585, The Scheldt estuary case: From conflict to cooperation. In this contribution I will look both at the history of conflicts about the Schelde and at the digital collection of the Peace Palace Library.

Centuries of conflicts

The navigation on the Schelde had been already an issue long before the Belgian independence in 1839. During the Dutch Revolt in the sixteenth century the blockade of the Schelde massively damaged the trade to and from Antwerp, and prompted many Flemish merchants to go to the North. Amsterdam’s growth in economic power around 1600 is to a substantial degree due to an influx of merchants from Flanders, their talents and networks. However, this period does not come into view in the digital collection. The Peace Palace Library has digitized books from its own collection. Apparently fifteen works from 1784 and 1785 are the earliest available. Among these works is a treatise by someone more famous for his role in French history. Honoré Gabriel de Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau (1749-1791) published a treatise with the title Doutes sur la liberté de l’Escaut, réclamée par l’empereur; sur les causes & sur les conséquences probables de cette réclamation (London 1785). It was this work that brought Mirabeau to the attention of the general public in France. The Peace Palace Library digitized also a contemporary Dutch translation of this treatise. Some of the digitized publications discuss the role of the Schelde in Dutch and Belgian history starting with the medieval period, for example Charles Terlinden’s study ‘The History of the Scheldt’, History 4 (1920) 185-197, 5 (1921) 1-10, which sparked immediately a reaction from a Dutch historian, F. de Bas, ‘Another version of the Scheldt history’, History 5 (1921) 159-170.

The rivalry between the Dutch North and the Flemish South has not been the only cause for conflicts. The Dutch neutrality during the First World War made matters even more acute. After the First World War the attempts at a new treaty about the Schelde and the proposals to build a canal between the Schelde and the Rhine-Meuse estuary failed in the end in 1927 after heated national debates. More than one hundred publications in the digital collection bear witness to this prolonged affair. Legal historians, too, looked at the Scheldt question. The digital collection contains two publications by Ernest Nys, ‘Les fleuves internationaux traversant plusieurs territoires : l’Escaut en droit des gens’, Revue de droit international et de législation comparée 5 (1903) 517-537 (1903), and L’Escaut en temps de guerre (Brussels 1910). In 1940 Eduard Maurits Meijers published his study ‘Des graven stroom’, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie der Wetenschappen, Afdeling Letterkunde, new series, 3/4, pp. 103-205, in which he traced the medieval claims and jurisdictions on the several branches of the Schelde. Meijers thoughtfully added transcriptions of the main documents he discussed. In 1953 Chris van der Klaauw, between 1977 and 1981 the Dutch minister of foreign affairs, defended his Ph.D. thesis in history about the interwar relations between the Netherlands and Belgium [Politieke betrekkingen tussen Nederland en België, 1919-1939 (Leiden 1953)].

Map of the Schelde estuary, 1784

The search function for this digital collection is rather restricted. There is only a free text search field. A bit more disturbing is the chronological order of presentation. At the very end of the chronological list you will find some publications with the year of publication marked 19XX and also those with the year of publication between parentheses. All digitized publications are only available as PDF’s. It would be very helpful to have a map of the Schelde estuary, or better, a series documenting not only the changing Dutch and Flemish frontiers, but also the changing shapes of the various isles of Zeeland, lands newly reclaimed and added as polders, and the changing river branches. Mirabeau already added a map to the first edition of his treatise in 1784. The second edition mentioned the presence of a map explicitly in the title. As a solace I offer here a screen print of the map in the digitized copy of the first edition. If you want to pursue a search for digitized old maps you might want to look about my contribution of last year about 200 years Dutch cartography and historical-geographic information systems.

Banner EHB

How wide is the coverage of this digital collection? I could not help thinking of visiting the website of i-Hilt, the center for the History of International Law at Tilburg University. In July 2016 the center launched a new version of its online bibliography, a PDF with nearly 400 pages. I had not expected to find just one publication referring directly to the Schelde, Alain Wijffels, ‘Flanders and the Scheldt Question. A Mirror of the Law of International Relations and its Actors’, Sartoniana 15 (2002) 213-280. It might look like a classic example of having a famous case almost at your doorstep – the distance from Tilburg to the Schelde is some fifty kilometers – and somehow almost overlooking it… Randall Lesaffer provides very useful basic reading lists for the history of international law, including historiography and methods. The links section of i-Hilt is also worth checking. I checked the Digitale Bibliografie voor de Nederlandse Geschiedenis, and alas I could find just thirty publications about the Schelde, and even less for studies dealing with the conflicts. One of the articles not to be missed is by Frits Doeleman, ‘Zeggenschap op de Honte’, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 43 (1975) 24-43. Its very title is a warning to look beyond the mere word Schelde! Cardholders of the Dutch Royal Library and users at subscribing institutions can use the bibliographical and iconographical database of the former NCRD, with for the Schelde nearly 70 items, most of them publications, but alas since some ten years not updated. Of course I looked also at the Belgian counterpart of the DBNG, the Bibliographie de l’Histoire de Belgique / Bibliografie van de Geschiedenis van België – BHB-BGB with its trilingual interface and more relevant results than in the DBNG. These bibliographies can be found at the portal European Historical Bibliographies. Returning to the question of this paragraph I think it is safe to conclude that the Peace Palace Library performs a real important service for scholars in presenting this digital collection.

I checked also for the presence of digitized books concerning the Schelde in Delpher, the digital library of the Dutch Royal Library, but I noticed only few of the books now available online thanks to the Peace Palace Library. At Delpher in particular the relevant works published around 1785 are present, and they can be viewed in more ways. The library catalogue of the Zeeuwse Bibliotheek contains only a few books dealing with the Schelde problems, and unfortunately I could not reach the website of this fine library in Middelburg. The Zeeuws Archief has in fact more relevant publications in its holdings. The archival collection concerning pilots on the Schelde is particularly interesting [Rijksloodswezen, 6e District, Monden van de Schelde, (1808) 1835-1950 (1966)].

In Belgium you should look in particular at the websites of the Felixarchief, the municipal archive of Antwerp, the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, and the Museum aan de Stroom, situated on a quay of the Schelde. These websites have multilingual interfaces. The Anet meta-catalogue enables you to search with one action in many libraries at Antwerpen, including the university library. The Flemish digital library Flandrica, too, contains some items documenting Flemish history around the Schelde river. The Short-Title Catalogue Vlaanderen (STCV) helps you tracing books printed in Flanders between 1500 and 1800.

After looking at this new digital collection I am aware much more can be said about the Dutch province Zeeland which indeed is a province of islands and sea. Floods took sometimes a great toll on the areas adjacent to the several branches of the Schelde. Whole polders have thus disappeared. Ironically there is a modern dispute about the last polder reclaimed from the Westerschelde, the Hedwigepolder. The history of international law is one of the many possible approaches to the history of a river which both connected and divided the Low Countries. The Schelde connects and divides even today in some respects.

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Dutch legal history and the First World War

The centenary of the beginning of the First World War has sparkled already an impressive number of digital projects, some of them presenting the centennial events and activities, and even more of them bringing you to digitized materials from many corners. The variety and wealth of these initiatives prompted me in February to start Digital 1418, a blog for the sole purpose of easy guidance to digital projects concerning the First World War. One of my goals at this blog is to bring together the widest possible selection of themes, subjects and countries. Thus my country, too, figures on it with some projects and two portals, one of them a web directory of European war museums. During the First World War the Netherlands remained among the neutral nations, but the Great War certainly had impact on this country, too. Being a legal historian I will not forget to include resources touching on legal aspects of the First World War. So far I have not been very lucky in my research. The digitized records of the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal, a military tribunal dealing with conscription appeals, is one of the few exceptions. Court-martials are one of the obvious subjects yet not present at this new blog.

Logo Delpher

For the subject of the Netherlands, legal history and First World War a recently reinforced Dutch digitization project at the Royal Library, The Hague, can bring you interesting materials. The Delpher portal combines the earlier separate portals of the Royal Library for digitized books, magazines and newspapers. Books from the period 1700-1800 had been digitized in cooperation with the university libraries at Amsterdam , Groningen, Leiden and Utrecht. Since its launch in November 2013 I have been looking for an opportunity to discuss here Delpher. The news item of April 24, 2014 issued by the Royal Library about the latest additions with digitized books from the early twentieth century alerted me to the inclusion at Delpher of books published during the First World War, and more specifically about commented law editions. In cooperation with two foundations which deal with copyright issues the Royal Library has gained a license to deal with the digitization of books from the period 1872-1940 which sometimes still remain in copyright. In this post I will look at some of the laws put into force by the Dutch government to cope with the consequences of the Great War, and I will look also at some Dutch digital projects concerning the First World War .

Surrounded by war

As in other European countries the First World War led political parties to a temporal truce. Political differences were suspended in a kind of national union. In The Netherlands, too, the government led by Cort van der Linden could reckon on broad parliamentary support. The government encouraged the creation of the Nederlandsche Overzee Trust Maatschappij (NOT), a consortium of major firms led by ship-owners and bankers with the overt aim of importing goods for the Dutch internal market under strict warrant of neutrality. The United Kingdom had imposed a policy to prevent goods to be imported to Germany by neutral countries. The NOT succeeded in getting clearance for Dutch vessels and their cargoes. The history of the NOT between 1914 and 1918 is the subject of the recent Ph.D. thesis of Samuël Kruizinga, Economische politiek: de Nederlandsche Overzee Trustmaatschappij (1914-1919) en de Eerste Wereldoorlog [Economic policy: the Dutch Overseas Trust Company (1914-1919) and the First World War] (dissertation Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2011; online (PDF)).

Cover Wet op de oorlogsiwnstbelastting, 1916

I refer to economic aspects of the First World War because one of the recently digitized laws at Delpher is a law for a tax on war profits, the Wet op de oorlogswinstbelasting of 1916. This edition with a commentary by A.G. Stenfert Kroese appeared in the famous series of commented law editions published by the firm Tjeenk Willink in Zwolle. The hallmark of these editions is the ample information about the parliamentary discussion about legislative projects. The very success of the NOT led to discussions about war profits. With finally nearly 1,000 people in its service the NOT dwarfed the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs which employed a staff of just 45 civil servants. Under its aegis smuggling to Germany became paradoxically a blooming business. The law on war profits taxed profits not directly, but only the growth of income and capital which clearly stemmed from war profits. The Dutch government did not want to interfere too much with the economy. Proposals by parliament for a much more immediate taxation of war profits were rejected.

You can check online for the text of Dutch parliamentary debates at the portal Staten-Generaal Digitaal. This portal offers free access to materials from 1814 to 1995, both the debates themselves as also questions asked by members of the two chambers of the Dutch parliament, and the answers given by Dutch cabinet ministers. A major problem for tracking old Dutch legislation online which was published in the Staatsblad and the Staatscourant is the absence of a website with these resources. At Officiële bekendmakingen [Official announcements] you can find mainly information published in their entirety since 2009; treaties published in the Tractatenblad are included from 1951 onwards.

At Delpher a law concerning statistics published in 1916, the Wet op het statistiekrecht 1916, attracted my curiosity. The title page mentions the functions of the author commenting this law, V.S. Ohmstede, a civil servant at the customs and tax office in Amsterdam. The law was concerned with creating a tax on goods for the creation and financing of economical statistics. The Memorie van Toelichting, the official explication given to the Dutch parliament, referred to the examples of the French droit de statistique and the Statistische Gebühr levied in Bremen and in Switzerland.

Surely it is not sensible to list here all kind of laws issued between 1914 and 1919. Among the laws you will find for instance also a law concerning public archives (Archiefwet 1918) and a law on the emergency use of forests (Nood-Boschwet, 1917). Interesting also is the list of goods declared illegal for export [Lijst van ten uitvoer verboden goederen…, A.C. Luber (ed.) (2nd ed., Zwolle 1915). In the books section of Delpher you can use a simple free text search or enable the advanced search mode where you can limit your searches to a particular period or year, and also to a particular library.

The Delpher portal offers a great opportunity to look at the public impact of legislation. You might look in digitized Dutch newspapers for opinions about war profits, the role of the NOT and the approach of the Dutch government to all kind of emergencies linked with the war. In fact you can transfer your search seamlessly from one section of Delpher to another section. The newspapers section of Delpher is most useful because you cannot find yet any digitized Dutch newspapers on the First World War at Europeana Newspapers. The Dutch portal brings you to newspapers from the seventeenth to the twentieth century published in the Netherlands, including those from the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean, Suriname and the Dutch East Indies. Among the eighty journals digitized at Delpher is a barristers journal, the Advocatenblad (1918-1935). The presence of the Wetenschappelijke Bladen, a kind of digest from scientific journals, is certainly interesting, too.

The Delpher portal uses a notice Beta in its top right corner as a warning for those who want to express severe criticism about its present scope and working. However, constructive comments are sincerely welcomed and invited. On my list of wishes an English interface would get a high priority. The possibilities for full-text research and the nifty transfer of search requests from one section to another are definitely among the great qualities of the Delpher project. Delpher contains also transcripts of radio news bulletins from 1937 to 1989, something I have not often encountered as objects of a digitization project.

The Netherlands and the First World War

Legislation and public opinion are just a few aspects of Dutch history during the First World War. It is perhaps useful to mention here the websites and projects I assembled at Digital 1418, even though you arrive directly at the information about relevant websites by clicking on the link. The Stichting Studiecentrum Eerste Wereldoorlog (SSEW) was founded in 2011 to bring together Dutch research, scholars and initiatives concerning the First World War. The website of this study center has a links section with a large number of Dutch projects. Huis Doorn, a country house in the province Utrecht, became the last residence of the exiled German emperor Wilhelm II. The museum at Huis Doorn has been designated as the location for the Dutch national center for the history of the First World War. Its website offers in particular some 6,500 digitized images. I did already mention the portal War Museums in Europe and the Dutch parliamentary proceedings at Staten-Generaal Digitaal. The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands contains some 8,000 digitized items from the collections of the former Legermuseum [Army Museum] in Delft; 400 items are related to the First World War. Digitized materials from several Dutch cultural institutions can be found at the portal Europeana 1914-1918. Lately Huis Doorn was the venue of two crowdsourcing days during which Dutch people could bring materials to the attention of the team behind this marvellous portal.

Logo 100 years Netherlands and World War IMuch more can be found online. Among memorials of the First World War the Belgenmonument [Monument for the Belgians] near Amersfoort stands out, erected in commemoration of the countless Belgian refugees who came to the Netherlands in 1914. An exact number of refugees cannot be given yet, but estimations come close to one million people. Some 1,500 men of the British Royal Navy Division were interned at the Engelse Kamp in Groningen. This year the history of First World War refugees receives particular attention at a number of Dutch archives and museums, for example at the Stadsmuseum in Tilburg and at the city archive of Utrecht (In staat van oorlog). The foundation 100 jaar Nederland en de Eerste Wereldoorlog [100 years Netherlands and the First World War] has created a centenary portal which will guide you to further websites and to activities and events around the Dutch commemoration of the First World War. In due time I intend to include the most telling and important Dutch websites on my blog Digital 1418. The Dutch corner of this blog is well worth visiting.

Dutch and Belgian digitized academic theses

Logo Academic Joy

The thesis by Kruizinga on Dutch economic policy leads me to say more about digitized theses defended in Belgium and the Netherlands. For Digital 1418 it seemed most useful to include a web directory to digitized academic theses. At Academic Joy you will find a very rich survey of online repositories worldwide with both Ph.D. and M.A. theses. On the blog I offer a selection of the main European repositories, and in addition I mention more resources for the Netherlands and Belgium. NARCIS is the main Dutch theses repository, Bictel has the same function for Belgium, but only for theses written in French. For Flemish theses one can consult M.A. theses at Ethesis, and B.A. theses in the Vlaamse Scriptiebank; both websites have an interface in Dutch and English. For the Netherlands one should add Scripties van de Nederlandse Universiteiten for M.A. theses, and the Igitur Archive for Ph.D. and M.A. theses defended at Utrecht University. B.A. and M.A. theses written at Dutch Higher Education institutions can be retrieved from the HBO Kennisbank. The Dutch term for the First World War is Eerste Wereldoorlog, in Flemish the term Gro(o)te Oorlog is also used.