Science - April 22, 2010

Liemers not economically backward

Joris Tielens

The eastern Gelderland region the Liemers, situated southwest of the Achterhoek, has for a long time been described as lagging behind other regions economically. But historical research reveals that it isn't that bad really.

The behind-the-times image of this region has not been brought about by facts, but emerges as a result of a nostalgic hankering after a romantic past. In the region itself, the picture which prevails is that the Liemers has been old-fashioned and backward for a long time, a region where feudal practices were upheld right up to relatively late in the 19 th century, with the lower aristocracy calling the shots. One reason for this could be because the Catholic elite had stood in the way of modernization in the past, as described in various publications and studies.
Actual developments
Jan Smit, a secondary school teacher in the region, had wondered if this picture expressed the situation correctly. So he spent his leisure hours doing historical research into the actual economic development of the Liemers in the period from 1815 to 1940. Smit examined the criteria for modernization, such as population growth and composition, and the kinds of jobs which people held at that time. He analyzed the way in which the region was linked to the surrounding cities by roads. He also delved into archives to find out if relief work in the Liemers was more or less than that in other regions. He examined income distribution in the past.
Toiling progenies
The conclusion of Smit's extensive study is that the Liemers was not that backward economically. Smit: 'Although the region was not a model of progress, there were sufficient traces of modernity. For example, rails were present in the mid 19 th Century. Small farmers were also exposed to modern developments.' The region did not appear to be poorer or less industrialized than other rural regions. It was true, though, that the Catholic rulers did not take much initiative to stimulate industrialization.
The impression of a region lagging behind has, according to Smit, been kept alive over time because of a nostalgic hankering after the notion of a romantic past. 'If people repeatedly drum up an image of toiling progenies in the fields long enough, then they will believe in it as well. But this image does not match the reality.'
Smit graduated on Wednesday 21 April under Prof. Dr. Pim Kooij of Rural History. His dissertation: Traces of modernity; the social-economic development of the region.