A Village in the Polder

Anyone familiar with the Dutch Golden Age knows something about senior civic dignitaries: municipal regents, clergymen, stadtholders, army commanders and admirals. But what about the lives of ordinary people not in the top echelons, not in charge of municipal government, not army commanders or authors of important books? The answer to that question has been given by the historian A.Th. van Deursen in 'Een dorp in de polder'. In this fascinating history of a village, he draws on an astonishing quantity of archival material to bring to life the people of Graft, a village in the Dutch countryside some twelve miles north of Amsterdam.

Original title
Een dorp in de polder
A.Th. van Deursen

In the seventeenth century 3,000 people lived in Graft. Een dorp in de poldergives us a picture of their everyday activities, births, schooling, church attendance, courtship, weddings, occupations, deaths and burials. We learn what they ate and drank, how they worked and how much they earned, how they quarrelled, how they spent their leisure time and how they looked after their poor. Van Deursen also examines their inner lives, their beliefs and superstitions, their views of contemporary life, their standards and values, their sense of mutual dependence and their attitude to social differences.

We make the acquaintance of countless inhabitants of Graft, among them Meyndert Salm, who lost eight of his children within fourteen years, Maerten Jaspersz the schoolmaster who earned a little extra by leading the singing in the church, herring fishers and whalers, surgeons and bakers and independent women such as Neeltje Simons, who owned a small shop and was so self-willed that she dared to petition for a divorce.

The people of Graft were a strong community of simple, hard-working fairly self-contained men and women, united by the Reformed religion and inclined to settle arguments by consultation rather than violence. And yet their society was shaken from time to time by lack of harmony, by flooding, fire, epidemics or by people who did not keep to the rules: beggars and burglars, drunkards and knife fighters in the tavern or at the fair.

Een dorp in de polder is an exceptional book which shows a community typical of many other villages in the Netherlands during the famous Golden Age.

A.Th. van Deursen
A.Th. van Deursen (1931 - 2011) was professor emeritus of modern history at the Free University of Amsterdam. He was unrivaled among Dutch historians in his grasp of seventeenth-century Dutch society.
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