Is it time for a national history museum?


“There is no such thing as a people without history,” wrote the then SP leader Jan Marijnissen in 2005. Marijnissen argued in the booklet Where history holds home for the creation of a national history museum. The Dutch are “so polluted and nonchalant” about their national past. Marijnissen’s plea was supported by CDA party chairman Maxime Verhagen. The House of Representatives passed a motion a year later, and a cabinet proposal was submitted.

Also read: The ideal canon is a moving one

But the plan ended up in fights and practical hassle in The Hague. The museum never came.

Now, fourteen years later, SP and CDA are reviving their plan for a national history museum. Like her father, SP leader Lilian Marijnissen argues at the time for ‘a renewed appreciation of the importance of knowledge of our becoming history’. Together with CDA party chairman Pieter Heerma, she had it in the Algemeen Dagblad about a central place where the Dutch identity can be experienced. Marijnissen and Heerma do not yet have a detailed proposal. But they want to prevent the project from failing again, they say.

Identity debate

Perhaps the parties now have the spirit of the times a little more than Jan Marijnissen and Maxime Verhagen. History and national identity were hardly politicized themes in 2006. “History is stale and its own identity as a country is scary,” Jan Marijnissen summarized it himself at the time. According to critics, pleas for more attention to history had a hint of nationalism. Femke Halsema, then the leader of GroenLinks, doubted whether something like a national identity could become ‘tangible’, if it could already be defined. Other objections: expensive, old-fashioned and unnecessary.

In recent years, history and identity have increasingly shaped the political debate. The Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP) wrote last year that ‘the national politicization of cultural identity’ is now being fueled by the left and right. “Right through the rejection of multiculturalism; left by the rejection of ethnocentrism. ”

Parties such as the PvdA, GroenLinks and Denk want more attention to be paid to the colonial past, slavery and the position of migrants. But the left also pays more attention to national identity than at the time, when the SP was more or less alone. PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher invented the term “progressive patriotism” in 2017. He wanted to formulate a left-wing pride in the Netherlands as opposed to ‘the frightened, convulsive patriotism of the right’, such as the welfare state and the quality of medical care.

Right-wing parties emphasize their pride in national history. CDA and VVD argued last year for the permanent exhibition of, as they called it, ‘the birth papers of the Netherlands’: the Placard of Verlatinghe, the Union of Utrecht and the Apology of Willem van Oranje. FVD leader Thierry Baudet posted a series of short films about national historical figures on YouTube last year, in order to remove ‘the shame and guilt’ about Dutch history.

The discussion about the Canon of the Netherlands shows that the view of history is changing. A commission led by professor James Kennedy is commissioned by the cabinet to investigate ways to make the Canon, the guideline for history education, more diverse and contemporary, with more attention for the shadow sides of Dutch history.

Last month, influential publicist Paul Scheffer also registered NRC that the time is ripe for a national history museum. “It is a shame that the museum failed at the time,” says Scheffer on the telephone. “Australia, Germany, the United States and Canada all have such a museum. We also need such a place of national reflection. ”

What may not help is that the identity debate is polarized. Who determines what goes into such a museum? It is asking for years of discussions. But, Scheffer says, the advantage is that “the cramp is over.” “Then many parties denied that there was a common story to be made about the Netherlands.” The ideal national museum “shows the highs and lows of history,” says Scheffer. “We must rise above the eternal battle between pride and shame.”

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