The dutch and their national history

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Ine Megens

Dr. C.M. Megens

Senior Lecturer Contemporary History

Department of History

University of Groningen

P.O. Box 716

9700 AS Groningen

The Netherlands


T. +31 50 363 6011
Table of contents
I. Introduction.

II. A canon for all Dutch people.

III. Political demands for a grand narrative.

IV. The public debate on the canon report.

V. History and collective identity.

VI. History education and the Dutch canon.

English summary

The article analyses the importance of historiography for the construction of cultural identity and hence discusses the Dutch canon. This master narrative offers an overview of Dutch history and culture on the basis of 50 subjects. The list was drawn at the insistence of politicians to counter the disintegrative factors in Dutch society. The publication of the canon in 2006 sparked a debate about the drawbacks of Dutch history that continues to this day. It also inspired the educational sector to develop new teaching materials, although the canon is not compulsory for school curricula. A historical master narrative, however, cannot solve social problems. At best, shared historical knowledge may foster community spirit in the long run.
Keywords: historical canon, national identity, history education, collective identity

Summary in Spanish:

Este artículo analiza la importancia de la historiografía para la construcción de una identidad cultural y habla del canon holandés. Partiendo de cinquenta temas, éste presenta una vista general de la historia y cultura holandesa. La lista resultó de la insistencia política para contrarrestar los factores de desintegración en la sociedad holandesa. La publicación del canon en 2006 repercutió en un debate aún inconcluso que aborda varios aspectos negativos de la historia holandesa. Aunque el canon no es obligatorio para las escuelas, el sector educacional lo ha utilizado para desarrollar nuevos materiales didácticos. Sin embargo, un canon histórico no puede resolver problemáticas sociales. A lo más, el conocimiento histórico compartido podría contribuir a largo plazo al espíritu de la comunidad.
Keywords: canon histórico, identidad nacional, educación de historia, identidad colectiva

Ine Megens

Starting with the megalithic tombs of the farmers circa 3000 BC, and then continuing with the developments in subsequent centuries up to and including 20th century events like Srebrenica, the Canon of the Netherlands is an overview of Dutch history and culture.1 It represents what all Dutch people should know about their national history and culture according to Frits van Oostrom, the chairman of the committee that drafted the canon. The canon came about at the insistence of politicians as a response to social unrest and anxiety in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 21st century. This article discusses the importance of national history for the reassessment of Dutch identity in order to gain a better understanding of the impact of historiography on the process of (re)creating cultural identity.
A canon for all Dutch people

The Dutch canon represents the development of the Netherlands over time, the achievements it has accomplished and what it represents in the world. Some of the names that figure prominently in the list are Charlemagne (742-814), Erasmus (1469-1536), Eise Eisinga (1744-1828) and Anne Frank (1929-1945). Subjects include the printing press, opposition to child labor or the natural gas deposit. In total the canon is comprised of 50 ‘windows’ or topics, supplemented by some main threads which indicate the cross-links between the windows. It was launched in 2006 as a website and published as a booklet. The design of the canon indicates that education was the primary target. Starting from the main text which explains the importance of the item, there are suggestions of how to build further on the matter, including sub-topics and references. The sub-topics suggest related subjects for both primary and secondary schools. There are also ideas on how to link the past and the present, and proposals for items which could be placed in a ‘treasure chest’ in order to make the past more tangible. To give an example, the icon on the first Dutch sentence written in 1100 by a Flemish monk ‘Hebban olla vogela…’, suggests among other things themes such as ‘love songs’ for the primary education sector and ‘monastic orders’ for high school students. Teachers could also discuss the impact of modern media on language or Arab culture as a breeding ground for European culture. In addition to the sub-topics there are references with a list of historical novels for young children, as well as recommended excursions and websites. In the example referred to above a medieval library is mentioned, as well as a museum where pupils can try to write with a goose quill pen.

The 50 icons were also published on a poster displaying them as connected to each other by a line, roughly indicating a timeline. Not all subjects fit nicely into this format because some deal with long term developments, e.g. ‘country mansions’ is a story about the lifestyle of the elite in the 17th and 18th century. From a didactic point of view the poster was criticized because there is no continuous line from left to right; the winding path provides little hold for young children. Leaving aside this comment, it was obvious from the outset that the 50 windows could not be dealt with in isolation. The committee therefore added fourteen main themes to the canon. The geography of the country, sited on a river delta on the periphery of Europe, is one of these main threads. It starts with the Roman limes, showing how the region was once the frontier of the Roman Empire and became part of other empires in later centuries. Another main theme, entitled ‘the welfare state, democratization and secularisation’ connects among others the icons of the great flood of 1953, television, the port of Rotterdam and the natural gas deposit.

More so than the icons themselves, these fourteen main themes reveal the basic principles applied in the selection of topics. Economic and political history constitute the basic structure of the canon, even if religion and language are designated as two of the main lines of thought. The Dutch Republic, colonial power, the nation-state and the rise of modern society are mentioned while the diversification of society due to immigration and international cooperation are the most contemporary main themes.

Political demands for a grand narrative

The Dutch government commissioned a report on a national canon due to repeated lamentations about the demise of general knowledge amongst young people, in particular with regards to Dutch history and culture. These defects were attributed to general developments in the Dutch education system where skills were deemed more important than the transfer of knowledge. Moreover, time allocated to teaching history decreased over the last decades, while there were also changes in history teaching methods, whereby chronological order gave way to a thematic approach. For their final examination Dutch high school students take both school exams and a national exam. Every year two different topics are identified for these national exams. ‘Germany and Europe, 1945 – 2000’ was the first theme for the national exam in 2001. The second one was called ‘The Netherlands and Indonesia. Four centuries of contact and influence’. As a consequence people complained that high school students have no general overview of history, but know a great deal about a small number of subjects. In 2005 the Education Council issued a report which endorsed the complaints and urged the development of a cultural and historical canon for primary and secondary education.2

Apart from the concerns about a lack of knowledge among students, the call for a national canon was motivated by political arguments and came as a response to social and political problems. The main problem is one which has remained the same for many years: the integration into Dutch society of the large groups of immigrants, mainly of Turkish and Moroccan origin, and even more so the integration of their children. What did change was the political climate in the Netherlands and the solutions put forward to solve the problem. Until the 1990s ‘tolerance towards newcomers and multiculturalism were considered ideals (…)’.3 However, at the beginning of the new centennial the tone of public debate changed. The article by Paul Scheffer, ‘The multicultural drama’, published in a Dutch weekly in January 2000, is conveniently seen as the beginning of recent public discourse on integration. Scheffer argued that the failure of integration was due to the self-image of the Dutch.

“The culture of tolerance, which now finds it limits, goes hand in hand with a self-image that is untrue. It is necessary to say goodbye to the cosmopolitan illusion in which many believe. The Dutch neglected their national consciousness […]. We lack a ‘we’ because we think we don’t have one. This borderless mentality has a negative influence on integration, for there is a distant and careless society behind it.’4

The essay hit a nerve in Dutch society and elicited a storm of criticism, both assenting and approving. Scheffer had put his finger on the sore spot and this became obvious the moment Pim Fortuyn entered the political arena. Fortuyn was a right-wing populist who founded his own political party in 2002. His ideas, emotional tone and style caught on among the general public and captured a strong undercurrent of society’s discontent with the political establishment. His murder by an animal rights activist, and the assassination of the movie-maker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim fundamentalist two years later, came as a shock to society and evoked a sense of crisis, enhancing the fears of disintegration. For many the Dutch polder model of consultation and consensus was seen to have failed. Many intellectuals, both politicians and officials, had been satisfied with it and even took pride in this culture of consultation. The open, liberal, well-to-do and self-satisfied society which was familiar to them crumbled, undermining the self-confidence of the Dutch elite.

From the outset ,the debate on multiculturalism also touched another sensitive subject: Dutch identity. From the early 21st century national identity became a subject of public concern in the Netherlands.5 Scheffer had advocated that his fellow Dutchmen should take their own language, culture and history more seriously and re-affirm their national identity ‘because we don’t emphasize what keeps us together as a society.’6 A parliamentary committee which issued a report on the integration of minorities also recommended paying more attention to Dutch national history in educating migrants.7 Some critics immediately rejected the plea to take their own Dutch culture more seriously and labeled it as a nationalist stance. They argued that ‘the Netherlands does not exist anymore’. Decision-making had shifted to transnational organizations, while national institutions hardly functioned anymore. As a consequence of global changes a new kind of transnational society was developing. National culture was just no longer relevant.8

While this anti-national point of view had prevailed until 2000, other voices were now being heard as well. Frits Bolkestein, a liberal politician and former member of the European Commission, argued that national identity was part of the solution for urgent political problems. In his opinion national identity was still a possibility and perhaps even a necessity for an open society. It did not have to be an obstacle to international ties.9 Other intellectuals joined the debate. In parliament the leader of the Socialist Party, Jan Marijnissen, stated that globalization, European integration and immigration put the nation-state at risk. In both the political arena as well as in public discourse the interest in national identity grew. ‘By contrast with earlier years, not all talk of the nation was dismissed a priori as unduly nationalist’, as professor of sociology Frank Lechner rightfully concludes.10 There was political agreement on a need to counter the disintegrative factors in Dutch society and here history was called upon for help. Marijnissen claimed that history education was very important and proposed to establish a national history museum. He gained broad support among the parliamentarians and in 2006 the Dutch government decided to establish a museum. This national history museum did not materialize, despite initial enthusiasm among museum directors and a generous start-up grant from the government. The project bogged down in disagreements over the layout of the collection and the location of the museum. The proposals and public statements to promote historical knowledge among the general public, however, paved the way for the Dutch canon. The government appointed a committee of experts under the chairmanship of the well-known literary historian Frits van Oostrom. Other members had expertise in the field of education, musea and public history, both as researchers and managers.

The public debate on the canon report

The presentation of the canon in 2006 was a huge media event. The political demands and personal interests of parliamentarians partly explain why there was a lot of media attention and public debate when the report was published. It also proves there is indeed a lively interest in national culture. In this respect, the multimedia approach was seen as greatly advantageous and got high praise from specialists and teachers. The interested layman would be able to find much to his liking on the website, covering a great variety of subjects, including references to books and websites with more information and links to places of interest. The first reactions in the media showed widespread enthusiasm, and the general public seemed to welcome the information too, but this did not hold true to the same extent amongst academics. Most professional historians were ambivalent at best. They criticized the selection of the icons and the national framing of history, as well as the actual concept of a canon as such. Firstly the choice of topics and criticism thereof will be analyzed. The other themes will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

The commission had presented the canon as ‘[…] a tableau of strictly selected, “gilt edged”, but not necessarily sunny subjects from Dutch cultural history.’11 Most people who commented on the canon in the media agreed on the 50 subjects, but wanted to include more items.12 Many thought the list was too fragmentary and showed inconsistencies. Some experts argued the approach was too much focused on history; as an overview of cultural phenomena it was too limited. Religion and pillarization, the typical Dutch segregation of every organisation in society according to different religions, also deserved more attention. Broader and sustained criticism was heard about the fact that Dutch natural scientists of global fame great were absent. In the updated and revised version of the canon published in 2007, this criticism was addressed by replacing one of the icons with Christiaan Huygens, a prominent 17th century Dutch scientist, and giving more space to the effect of pillarization on Dutch society in the 20th century.13 The authors of the report also welcomed the many initiatives to draw up a regional or local canon. In their opinion, local history offers even more opportunities to help young children to understand the past. They wished to consider these stories as an elaboration or translation of the national canon, and expressed hope that these narratives, such as the Christian canon, would not be seen as an alternative. Many organisations seized the opportunity to rouse interest in their own story, not so much to set the record straight but to complement the information available. As a consequence many groups developed their own lists, and since 2006 we have seen a proliferation of canons. Overviews of the history of the socialist movement, of medicine, art history, skating and maritime history followed each other rapidly. Local communities too started to investigate their own history. Today there are at least forty local and thematic canons, while every province also came up with a regional list. Historians do not look upon this multitude of stories as a problem; on the contrary, ‘history is not just one story to grasp’, as Kees Ribbens said.14

Historical societies and cultural heritage foundations took profit from this trend. Currently there is as such a huge interest in history in general, not necessarily just Dutch history. Historical novels are often bestsellers, while the re-enactment of battles, television plays and documentaries, exhibitions and historical festivals draw massive crowds. Moreover, the open and public discourse on national history which followed the publication of the Dutch canon is positive. When the commission presented its plan, they rejected ‘cultural dyke watching’; the canon should be open and should not be canonized itself. The list should therefore not only be a subject of discussion; it had to be reviewed periodically as well. In this regard the committee can have no complaints. Some of the criticism of the canon has not yet grown silent. One of the issues which frequently recurs in these debates is the lack of attention given to the drawbacks of Dutch history. From the beginning some historians argued that the canon gave a rosy picture of the past and did not pay attention to the dark sides of Dutch history. As recently as March 2012 the Dutch historian Chris van der Heijden published yet another article in a magazine calling for a black canon, a list of the drawbacks of national history. Among the issues which should be on this list in his opinion were slavery, colonialism, Dutch responsibility for the Jewish minority during World War II and decolonization.15 The subsequent enquiry among academic historians, however, revealed no consensus; neither about the need for such a list, nor about the question of whether it was necessary or morally acceptable to condemn historical events or figures. ‘It is as if history education should be a lesson about right and wrong, an exercise in pride and shame’, as one of them wrote.16 This debate will no doubt continue, and indeed the next opportunity already presents itself. In 2013 the theme of the annual Book week, a week to promote book sales, will be ‘Golden years, black pages’.

Many of the issues that Chris van der Heijden wants to include in the black canon are already mentioned in the national Dutch canon. Colonialism for instance is dealt with adequately in my opinion.17 At least five icons deal with colonial history – East India Company (VOC), Atlantic slavery, Max Havelaar, decolonization of Indonesia and the Dutch Caribbean, whilst other themes have a link with the colonial past, such as the diversification of Dutch society. It is not the content of the canon or the selection of the topics; it is merely the politically motivated use of history and history education that deserves to be critically scrutinized.

History and collective identity

In order to discuss the possibilities to use a historical canon we need to go into the concept of collective identity and analyse the importance of historical narratives when creating a collective identity. Theories on collective identity play a central role in many disciplines, and, partly as a result of this multi-disciplinary relevance, there is no agreement on definitions. Sociologists mainly focus on the self-identification of an individual with a group and study the feelings of belonging on the level of both individuals and groups. Political scientists on the other hand show more interest in the role of instruments and symbols of identification. They also look into the role of agents in the process of identification. What they have in common is a constructivist point of view on how identity is brought into existence and which issues bear relevance. Collective identities are created in an active process in which strategies of inclusion and exclusion are used to define who belongs to ‘us’, and to distinguish this in-group from outsiders. The construction of an identity requires the active participation of both individuals as well as groups, and uses a variety of instruments. To create and stimulate a sense of belonging among groups, primordial features such as gender or race may bear relevance. In most cases, however, cultural symbols such as language or religion are used to distinguish communities.

Nationality is among the most important markers of identity today. In the mould of Benedict Anderson, researchers have demonstrated the discursive mode of establishing common interests and traditions in nation-states. Although a common past is only one element of a collective identity, it can act as a useful instrument to further national identity.18 A community comes into existence through narratives which the society accepts as its own. Stories on national culture are used to contribute to the positive identification of individuals with the nation, and the past is often called upon to help construct these narratives. This understanding of the past, or historical consciousness, then ‘serves as a key orientational element, giving practical life a temporal frame and matrix’ as Jörn Rüsen has argued.19 The historical narrative is the framework that constitutes identity over time. Stories about the past are recollected in order to share experiences which people have in common. Through these narratives the community stands out as an entity, despite all the changes it has experienced. Sometimes collective memories are told and retold from one generation to the other. Collective identity thus becomes anchored in the past. Commemorations, monuments, days of remembrance or public manifestations will keep these memories alive. The performative acts of remembrance are thus crucial for reconfirming the sense of belonging to the community.20

As people have to acquire knowledge about the past and agree upon what is important, they have come to realize that historiography plays a prominent role in the creation and consolidation of collective identities. Collective memory and cultural heritage thus arose to a prominent position in the field of history and cultural studies.21 Simultaneously, people have become more aware of changing approaches and diverging interpretations of the past. These are sensitive matters, as historical narratives are often used in current debates on identity issues, whether politically inspired or culturally motivated. In times of crises, there is often more need to emphasize this ‘we-feeling’. As Chris Lorenz has argued, identity is created ‘by reconstructing the past from the perspective of the present with an aim towards the future.’22 Historical identity thus develops over time in interaction with its environment.

As mentioned above, collective identities are fluid, multidimensional and open to change but national identity is still the most prominent for many people. The idea of nationalism is taken so much for granted that many cultural manifestations and policies use it as their starting point. This is more perceptible still when we talk about a canon. Often the word canon refers to a collection of works which are considered valuable in that field e.g. literature. In a more general sense, it is defined as ‘the valuable aspects of our culture and history which we wish to pass on via education to new generations.’23 It is a shared framework of historical interpretation or a historical grand narrative acknowledged by the members of the community as representing its common past.24 But whether we talk about a literary canon or a historical canon, the framework invariably is a national one. This holds true for the canon for all Dutch people too. Almost automatically the national framework dominates this canon, although the Van Oostrom committee issued a warning to use terms like ‘The Netherlands’, ‘Dutch culture’ and ‘Dutch history’ with caution. After all, the adjective Dutch is problematic in early history, and the Netherlands did not represent a political unity until the 19th century.

Critics have argued that the narrative of the canon is based on an anachronistic and partisan point of view in regard to the nation. Despite the cautious words in the beginning, the

elaboration of the themes supports the myth of a Dutch nation since the Roman Empire. The authors are guilty of reading backwards. As the canon focuses on the historical developments in this region a national framework seems obvious, but history and culture were never national by default. Many cultural developments took place on a larger scale, while the current Netherlands was politically part of larger empires in the past. ‘The series of windows covers more than two thousand years, but for more than half of that period there was no Netherlands.’25 Therefore the national framework needs to be questioned and contextualized as a result of the process of nation-building in the 19th century. The Dutch nation-state was not an inevitable outcome of the historical process, and a linear, teleological interpretation of the process of state-building does not increase historical understanding.

Historians have also raised the objection that the focus on national history does not reflect the current state of affairs in historical research. As a discipline, history developed in the 19th century alongside the nation-state, and well into the 20th century the national framework was a matter of course. Since the 1980s historiography has called into question both the nation as such, and simultaneously drew attention to other forms of collective memory. Nowadays the historical discipline is wide-ranging and studies a great variety of topics, uses multiple theories, and develops new angles, ranging from gender to world history. Historians themselves have also become part of an international community and don’t focus on national history alone any longer. It explains why so many professional historians responded only lukewarmly to this chronologically-ordered master narrative of Dutch history. A national canon was seen as a relic from the past by most professional historians. An international comparative perspective on Dutch history would be more challenging and raise new questions. This debate would also open up the canon to other frames of reference – geographical ones, ranging from regional to European or a global prospect – or expose a variety of themes.

Moreover, other reviewers stated that for the 21st century a global viewpoint – global history – is more suitable, because young children also have to understand global processes. ‘Historical knowledge concerns the past but functions in the present’, as professor of history Siep Stuurman wrote.26 History education should therefore offer students information and ideas which will allow them to familiarize themselves with a global world. Dutch history should be presented as part of, and dependent on, more broadly encompassing developments. A comparative perspective is obviously the best way to achieve this. Some issues lend themselves well to such a comparison, and nation-building is a prime example because it is a well-developed and well-researched subject. Topics such as the Dutch Republic or the Constitution are themes where a comparative approach would have clarified the specific circumstances in the Netherlands. Some of the windows in the canon do give an opening to the outside world or place the Dutch issue into an international context. The World Wars are international phenomena in itself, while economic matters such as slavery or industrialization, and of course a cultural theme like the rise of mass media, refer to global developments. Europe is prominent in subjects like the Hanseatic League, Srebrenica and European integration. We should not therefore label the Dutch canon as narrow-minded.27 Comparing the Dutch canon to the Danish one, Peter Duelund, director of the Nordic Cultural Institute in Copenhagen, concluded the Dutch one ‘presented a structural framework for a public debate on identity and nationality.’ Besides, it pointed out the context of the processes and generalized discourses on both history and current problems.28

Although Dutch historians and commentators alike have welcomed the public discussion on national history, they resent the ‘misguided, politically motivated or otherwise unhistorical use of the canon.’29 Well-known in this respect is a statement made by the former Prime Minister Balkenende, who in calling for more vigor and optimism in parliament made reference to the mentality of the Dutch East India Company. In response a member of an opposition party subtly noted that the company was responsible for raids as well.30 The use of a historical analogy and the political wish for a grand narrative can easily turn against the speaker. Selective reading is not the only pitfall that arises when politicians try to use national history for their own ends. Promoting national identity seems especially difficult in a modern, multicultural European country like the Netherlands where there is no virulent nationalism and public events hardly, if ever, have a nationalist flavor.31 The Dutch seem to know no pride and nurture a sense of modesty. Asked for their national characteristics, they will probably mention soberness, tolerance, egalitarianism or mercantilism. A Dutchman will rather make derogatory comments about his own culture or put this aside. The Dutch language is a good case in point. English has replaced Dutch in several sectors of the economy and in academia. The Dutch shrug and don’t seem to care much. This holds true for other expressions of national character. Orange is the only thing which seems to evoke some national pride, usually if it is associated with national sport teams or the royal family. Such an emotional response is rare, but make no mistake. Behind that façade of detachment lies a high degree of complacency and the Dutch often feel superior to other people. If some politicians had hoped to re-create a new national identity from above and use a historical narrative to that end, this proved to be impossible from the beginning. Meanwhile, the canon was introduced in school curricula. The intricate link between present-day issues, national identity and historiography is nowhere more visible than in school history, where government control through the curriculum and exams is widely accepted.

History education and the Dutch canon

Since 2010 primary schools and the first two years of secondary school in the Netherlands have used the Dutch canon in their teaching, meaning that all children between the age of 7 and 14 should come into contact with it. It is not obligatory, however, to discuss every icon on the list, and the book should not be considered as a textbook. The Dutch government has renounced a kind of state education as regards dictating the canon. Instead, they appear to encourage teachers to use the subjects because the 50 windows ‘serve as a basis to illustrate the ten time periods.’32 The ten eras remain the core of the curriculum. These eras divide history into ten phases such as ‘period of kings and regents’ (17th century) or ‘period of citizens and steam engines’ (19th century). The timeline teaches children the concept of chronology, which is fundamental to the development of historical awareness. This is one of the official learning objectives of school history. Another core aim of history education is to teach such basic knowledge as to enable students to characterize other developments and put this knowledge about the past into perspective: a time-bound – in other words, historical –context.33 Two characteristic aspects are therefore linked to each era. A feature of the age of kings and regents, for instance, is the development of trade capitalism and the beginning of a world economy. The same era also saw the rise of civil government and corresponding culture in the Netherlands.

While thinking in time is crucial for history, it is not always easy to grasp for children. However, it is a prerequisite to understand the meaning of concepts such as development, change or modernization. The Dutch history curriculum therefore has a cyclic character, in order to address the same eras and similar topics repeatedly and to deepen students’ knowledge. History education has other learning objectives too. On a higher level high school students should develop historical thinking as well as historical understanding.34 Historical thinking focuses on developing a conceptual framework (cause and effect; similarities and differences) and discusses the importance of sources.35 Students learn how to describe, compare or explain past events, and become aware of the need to justify historical facts against evidence. To determine the reliability of the source is a skill which requires and promotes critical thinking. Last but not least, an important learning objective of history education is to understand that history is not one-dimensional and there is more than just one narrative.36 It is important for children to begin to comprehend that there is more than one truth, that memories and stories differ, and that events can be interpreted differently. Accepting differences of opinion, recognizing and respecting different experiences and starting to understand where they come from should all be learning outcomes of history education.

Whether the canon satisfies these demands is hard to tell. As previously stated, the canon is not obligatory, it was only introduced two years ago, and there is as yet no organization monitoring the process. As far as I can tell the canon has inspired many professionals in education and history didactics: publishers, unions of history teachers, museums, and many more. Training programmes for history teachers were offered and a wealth of new material has been published. Special exhibitions were organized; television programs and multimedia projects were created. The website was and remains to the present day a place for teachers to look for information and sample lessons. New links were added to include local canons, and the site is also regularly updated.

What is still missing despite these links on where to find information on regional history are deliberate attempts to use the national canon as a starting point to develop another approach, be it an international one, an ethnic one, a religious or a regional one. The national canon should not become a bodice, nor does it have to be in my opinion. After all, a window offers possibilities to look from the outside to the inside as well. What is sorely missed in the list of 50 icons is a view from the outsider looking into the Dutch house. To date the insider view prevails in the teaching material on the website too. There are no stories or comments on peculiarities of Dutch culture. In this respect several people have pointed to the problem for migrants to identify themselves with the current national master narrative. No opening is provided for their memories and diverging interpretations of more recent Dutch history. The position of migrants is only highlighted in the icon on diversification of the Netherlands. Migration, in particular post-colonial migration, offers interesting perspectives to change focus from the Dutch mainland to other parts of the world, such as the former colonies. Both the topics of multicultural society, as well as European integration, offer ample opportunities to show that multiple representations of the past are a matter of fact. As Peter Seixas has shown family experiences and other sources of information have a strong bearing on the way students understand history.37 What is more, a multicultural historical culture in the Netherlands is in the making, mostly outside of academia in the form of projects and manifestations closely linked to the positioning or reclaiming of the identity of migrant groups.38 Their memories are very diverse indeed, and hitherto only few historians have investigated their life stories, let alone tried to integrate these stories into mainstream national history. Historical knowledge cannot solve social problems, but sharing memories could promote mutual understanding, a new historical identity and maybe even foster community spirit in the long run.

1 OOSTROM, F. van, A Key to Dutch History. Report by the Committee for the Development of the Dutch Canon, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2007. The original Dutch version comprising two parts was published in 2006; in 2007 part C was published with small revisions and a reply to the criticism.

2 ONDERWIJSRAAD, De stand van educatief Nederland, Den Haag, 2005.

3 SEEGERS, F., In debat over Nederland. Veranderingen in het discours over de multiculturele samenleving en nationale identiteit, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2007, p. 67.

4 SCHEFFER, P., “Het multiculturele drama” in NRC Handelsblad, 29 januari 2000.

5 See among others the reports from RAAD VOOR MAATSCHAPPELIJKE ONTWIKKELING, Nationale identiteit in Nederland. Internationalisering en nationale identiteit, Den Haag, 1999; WETENSCHAPPELIJKE RAAD VOOR HET REGERINGSBELEID, Identificatie met Nederland, Report nr. 79, Den Haag, 2007.

6 SCHEFFER, P., op. cit., note 4.

7 EINDRAPPORT COMMISSIE BLOK, Bruggen bouwen. Eindrapport Parlementair Onderzoek Integratiebeleid, Sdu Uitgevers, Den Haag, 2004.

8 VEER, P. van der,”Nederland bestaat niet meer” in De Gids, 163, 2000, pp. 742-749.

9 BOLKESTEIN, F., Boren in hard hout, Prometheus, Amsterdam, 1998, p. 52.

10 LECHNER, F.J., The Netherlands. Globlization and nationaliIdentity, Routledge, New York, 2008, p. 89.

11 OOSTROM, F. van, op.cit., note 1, p. 37.

12 For the debate in the media see De Volkskrant, Trouw, NRC, Reformatorisch Dagblad and Nederlands Dagblad, 16-21 October 2006. For a summary of the comments OOSTROM, F. van, en verder. De canon van Nederland. Rapport van de commissie ontwikkeling Nederlandse canon, Deel C, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2007, pp. 19-28.

13 Ibid., p. 33 and p. 68.

14 “Historische ‘lijstjes’ mateloos populair” in Nederlands Dagblad, 10 March 2008. See also RIBBENS, K, “Ruimte voor multiculturaliteit. De vaderlandse canon en de veranderende historische cultuur” in GREVER, M., JONKER, E., RIBBENS, K., STUURMAN, S., Controverses rond de canon, Van Gorcum, Assen, 2006, pp. 80-106.

15 HEIJDEN, Chr. van der, “De zwarte canon: pleidooi voor een eerlijjke geschiedschrijving” in De Groene Amsterdammer, 136, week 10, 7 March 2012.

16 BROUWER, A., “Lessen in goed en kwaad. Zwarte canon: historici over nut en noodzaak” in De Groene Amsterdammer, 136, week 14, 4 April 2012.

17 This is also the opinion of Gert Oostindie, a renowned Dutch historian and director of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. OOSTINDIE, G. “Historical memory and national canons” in OOSTINDIE, G. ed., Dutch colonialism, migration and cultural heritage, KILTV Press, Leiden, 2008, pp. 63-97.

18 STRÅTH, B. ed., Myth and memory in the Construction of Community. Historical patterns in Europe and beyond, P.I.E.-Peter Lang, Brussels, 2000; ASSMANN, J,”Collective memory and cultural identity” in New German Critique, 65, 1995, pp. 125-133.

19 RÜSEN, J.,”Historical consciousness: narrative structure, moral function and ontogenetic development” in SEIXAS, P. ed. Theorizing historical consciousness, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2004, pp. 63-86, p. 67.

20 WINTER, J. “Introduction. The performance of the past: memory, history, identity” in TILMANS K. VREE, F. van, WINTER, J. ed., Performing the past. Memory, History and Identity in modern Europe. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2010, p 15.

21 For an overview HARTOG, F.”Time, history and the writing of history” in THORSTENDAHL, R., VEIT-BRAUSE, I. ed., History-making. The intellectual and social formation of a discipline, Kungl. Vittershet Historie och Antikvitets Akademien, Stockholm, 1996, pp. 95-115.

22 LORENZ, Chr. De constructie van het verleden. Een inleiding in de theorie van de geschiedenis, 5th edition, Boom, Amsterdam, p. 280; LORENZ, Chr., “Towards a theoretical framework for comparing historiographies: some preliminary considerations” in SEIXAS, P. ed., Theorizing historical consciousness, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2004, pp. 25-48.

23 A definition of the Dutch Education Committee in their report on the state of affairs in Dutch education. ONDERWIJSRAAD, op. cit., note 2, pp. 119-120.

24 GREVER, M., STUURMAN, S., ed., Beyond the canon. History for the twenty-first century, Palgrave, Houndsmills, 2007, pp. 3-4; p. 40.

25 GREVER, M., “Het behouden huis. Een commentaar op De canon van Nederland” in GREVER, M., op. cit., note 14, pp. 106-121; p. 111.

26 STUURMAN, S., “Van national canon naar wereldgeschiedenis” in GREVER, M., op. cit., note 14, pp. 59-80, p. 64.

27 SIEDHOFF, F. Der Kanon der niederländischen Geschichte. Ein Untersuchung zum Bedürfnis nach Identität. Gemeinschaft und Bürgersinn, Waxmann, Münster, 2011, pp. 145-147.

28 DUELUND, P.,”A sense of belonging. Paradoxes of identity, nationalism and cultural policy in Europe and beyond” in HAMERSVELD, I., SONNEN, A. ed., Identifying with Europe. Reflections on a historical and cultural canon for Europe, Boekmanstudies, Amsterdam, 2009, pp. 161-189, p. 175.

29 BROUWER, A., op. cit., note 16.

30 Handelingen der Staten-Generaal 2006-2007, 6e vergadering, Algemene politieke beschouwingen 28 september 2006. p. 280 and p. 324.

31 On Dutch cultural identity see among others GINKEL, R. van, Op zoek naar eigenheid. Denkbeelden en discussies over cultuur en identiteit in Nederland, Sdu Uitgevers, Den Haag, 1999; SHETTER, W.Z., The Netherlands in perspective. The Dutch way of organizing a society and its setting, 2nd. edition, Nederlands Centrum Buitenlanders, Utrecht, 2002.

32 Wet op het primair onderwijs, Besluit vernieuwde kerndoelen, kerndoel 52.

33 These aims are part of the general learning objectives for primary and secondary education enacted by the Ministery of Education. They were formulated on the basis of a report of a committee of experts ADVIES COMMISSIE MAATSCHAPPELIJKE EN HISTORISCHE VORMING (Commissie De Rooij), Verleden, heden en toekomst, Enschede, 2001.

34 WILDSCHUT, A.,”Een plattegrond van het verleden. Het canondebat in geschiedenisdidactisch perspectief” in Kleio, 47, 2006, no. 2, pp. 24-28.

35 BOXTEL, C. van, Geschiedenis, erfgoed en didactiek, Inaugural lecture University of Rotterdam, 20 february 2009.

36 WILDSCHUT, A., Historisch besef als onderwijsdoel, 2002, (last retrieval 25 September 2012).

37 SEIXAS, P., ”Historical understanding among adolescents in a multicultural setting” in Curriculum Inquiry, 23, 1993, no.3, pp. 301-327.

38 Prime examples are the activities of the Moluccan museum in Utrecht and National Institute for Dutch slavery in Amsterdam.

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