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Seminar - The advantage and disadvantage of a comparative history of public finance for life

On Thursday, 21 April 2011 at 11.00, Wantje Fritschy, NIAS Fellow 2010/11, will hold a seminar in NIAS’s Lecture Room about a history of public finance of the Dutch Republic in comparative perspective. Prof. dr. Rens Bod, University of Amsterdam, will offer his comment on the broader question behind the presentation.

This NIAS seminar will discuss if the small union of seven provinces was able to survive until the end of the 18th century due to or despite its seemingly cumbersome federal fiscal system. The 16th century Dutch Revolt against the rich and powerful Spanish Empire did not only require great men like William of Orange, it also required lots of money. Much more money in fact than the hated Spanish governor, the Duke of Alva, had ever asked for. And the maintenance of the independence and wealth of the tiny Dutch Republic in the 17th and 18th centuries, during wars again with much bigger states, required even more money. Pecunia nervus rerum: money is the nerve of a state. 

This seminar intends moreover to offer an opportunity to discuss if the absence of a monograph on the history of public finance of the Dutch Republic is a sufficient justification of the use of Dutch tax payers’ money nowadays to have someone writing it? Or is this kind of research a symptom of the overdose of specialist historiography that so annoyed Nietzsche as he was writing his famous treatise Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie fur das Leben (The Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life)? Is a study like this only useful if it compares the historical situation to, for instance, the federal character of the contemporary European Union? Or is it preferable to compare it to the Ottoman Empire in the early modern period? More generally: is specialised research in the humanities useful for contemporary life and our future and thus deserves to be financed?

About the speakers:

Wantje Fritschy is professor of the history of early modern public finance at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. She is also the initiator,  in cooperation with the Institute of Dutch History in The Hague (www.inghist.nl), of an electronic database on the public finances of the Dutch Republic. In this seminar, she will present some aspects of her planned book on ‘a history of public finance of the Dutch Republic in comparative perspective’.

Prof. dr. Rens Bod of the University of Amsterdam, professor in Artificial Intelligence and VICI-laureate at the University of Amsterdam in 2007, whose famous recent study on The History of the Humanities (2010) contains an implicit plea for the usefulness of the humanities, has expressed his willingness to offer his comment on the broader question behind the presentation.