Specialized histories (international relations, law), Literary theory, analysis and criticism, Culturele activiteiten, Overig maatschappelijk onderzoek, Culure, City, Countryside, Zeeland, The Netherlands, 18th c., 19th c., rural communities
The province of Zeeland in the Netherlands de-urbanized in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. In 1750 almost half of the population in Zeeland lived in one of the three major cities (Middelburg, Vlissingen and Zierikzee). One century later no more than one third of the population lived in these three cities. This was caused by a strong economic and demographic decline of Middelburg, Vlissingen and Zierikzee and by a population growth in the countryside. Hence, the balance between the city and countryside changed dramatically. This thesis analyses the cultural changes during this process of de-urbanization and in particular the changes in the cultural balance between city and countryside in Zeeland. The general conclusion is that the countryside and its inhabitants gained in importance in Zeeland culture from the second half of the eighteenth century. Although the cities dominated the public sphere that evolved in this period, from the 1780s associational culture spread over the countryside. Most members of rural reading and other societies were gentlemen farmers who in the eighteenth century had achieved such a wealth that they could achieve the necessary cultural capital to participate in the public sphere. An analysis of material culture in Zeeland shows that at the end of the eighteenth century the rural population started to distinguish themselves from townspeople by creating a distinctive rural lifestyle. The countryside, in particular its economy and its folk-culture, became at the same a popular topic in provincial public debate. The debate on agriculture resulted in 1843 in the founding of the Zeeland Society for the promotion of Agriculture and Cattle-breeding. Furthermore, from the 1830s the countryside and its traditional costumes, folk-customs and dialects turned into an essential ingredient of the self-image of Zeeland. However, the de-urbanization of Zeeland did not cause this growing attention for the countryside in Zeeland by itself. Mainly, it was made possible by changes in European thought concerning the balance between city and countryside in human history. New ideas about concepts like equality, citizenship, civilization and progress resulted in Zeeland, as elsewhere in Europe, in the ‘discovery’ of the countryside. It were these international intellectual changes in combination with regional economic developments that resulted in the growing importance of the countryside in Zeeland culture.