History of the Low Countries

History of the Low Countries

History of the Low Countries

History of the Low Countries

Synopsis

The Low Countries remain politically and culturally fragmented, with a mixture of Dutch, French, Frisian and German speakers. This book offers a comprehensive history of the region, from Roman times to the present day.

Excerpt

This book sketches the history of Europe's Low Countries, present-day Belgium and the Netherlands. There is more than sufficient reason to put the region's history into a single narrative. It is true that "the Low Countries" possessed clearly delineated boundaries only after 1500, and that they constituted a single political unit for but short periods of time. Still, in many respects they demonstrated common traits and underwent similar developments that differentiated them from surrounding countries. The social and economic similarities evident throughout most of the region stem from the High Middle Ages, when the Scheldt, Maas, and Rhine delta area became an important center of trade. Next to Northern Italy, the Low Countries became the most urbanized and prosperous region in Europe. Its political system exhibited, from relatively early on, a degree of representative government that differed from the more feudal arrangements then existent in much of Europe. Internationally, the region served both as a mediator for and a buffer to the surrounding great powers, France, England, and Germany. The Low Countries also fulfilled a similar role in cultural life. Overwhelmingly bourgeois in character, its culture was characterized by a determination to control nature and a commitment to the visual arts, its most striking artistic legacy. A single language, Dutch, linked people across political boundaries, enhancing cultural points of contact across the region. In recent decades, Belgium and the Netherlands have become increasingly involved in the broader process of European integration, in which they often share the same interest and follow parallel policies. A single history of the Low Countries helps reveal these parallels and similarities, even while retaining an eye for the equally important differences.

An extensive historiography of the Low Countries' common past already exists in Dutch, most impressively, perhaps, in two extensive, multi-volumed histories, entitled the Algemene Geschiedenis der Nederlanden. They never found a broad public, however, and, because of the language, they remained closed to most foreigners. This book is designed to correct this inconvenience. The authors, all of them experts in their own fields, have presented the latest historical research in both a comprehensive and abbreviated form, appropriate for university students and a wider, interested, international public.

Each of the book's eight chronologically based chapters, then, has been written by a different author, and the chapters show clear differences in approach, interpretation, and style. Any disadvantage in this approach is outweighed by the advantage of the great expertise each author brings to his subject. Indeed, it made eminent sense to give the authors a high measure of freedom in writing their chapters, so that their expertise could be maximally utilized. At the same time, the edi-

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