Water's worth: Urban society and subsidiarity in seventeenth-century Holland

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisExternal


Water is omnipresent, unavoidable and needed daily by everyone. Hence, it enables us to study societies at various levels. Taking human encounters with water as a viewpoint reveals that the urban communities of seventeenth-century Holland were highly subsidiary: individual townspeople, men and women alike, knew how to fend for themselves, incidentally having recourse to other inhabitants, businessmen, corporations or magistrates. Together, they constituted a tiered society, wherein nearly each entity bore the responsibilities that fitted its capacities.
This dissertation nuances existing ideas about the organization of urban communities, about the role of civil organizations and occasional groups, and about the early modern notion of privacy. It does so by systematically examining the reports of water-related issues in notarial records and appeals to the urban magistrates, originating from the cities of Alkmaar, Haarlem, The Hague and Rotterdam between 1600 and 1660. Additional archival sources, such as patent applications, tendering documents, and legal records help to put these findings into perspective.
The first chapter establishes the meanings that seventeenth-century city dwellers assigned to water, and thus why water mattered to the urban community. Chapter 2 zooms in at the allocation of tasks and responsibilities, demonstrating that the role of ad hoc associations was at least as important as that of guilds and neighbourhood organizations. The third chapter elaborates further on the notion that the urban administration and the separate community members shared tasks among them, considering if and where the seventeenth-century city dwellers perceived any boundaries between public and private spheres
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Amsterdam
Award date13 Jan 2021
Print ISBNs9789090338415
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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