The term Gouden Eeuw, denotes the rise of economic and military might in the Netherlands, and has long been a source of immense national pride, associated with peace, prosperity and innocence.
The museum announced on its website that the term was no longer “representative enough” of the 17th century. According to the museum “the term denies the negative of the period, such as forced labour, poverty, war and the slave trade. It is history told from the perspective of the powerful.”
Curator Tom van der Molen said many stories have not been told and that each generation and each person has to be able to contribute their stories. “The dialogue about this needs space and the term Golden Age is restricting that space,” he said.
From now on everything to do with the Golden Age will be labelled “17th century”, including the museum’s permanent display of portraits which will now be called “group portraits from the 17th century”.
In 1602, the Dutch East India Company [Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC] was founded. It was the first-ever multinational corporation, financed by shares that established the first modern stock exchange. The Company received a Dutch monopoly on Asian trade, which it would keep for two centuries, becoming the world’s largest commercial enterprise of the 17th century.
Economists Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O’Rourke attributed the rise of the Netherlands to its Protestant work ethic based on Calvinism, which promoted thrift and education. This contributed to “the lowest interest rates and the highest literacy rates in Europe”.
The museum’s decision has received largely negative responses so far, with VVD MP Zohair El Yassimi saying the musem “lost the plot completely”.
“First we had to change the street signs, then the statues had to go and now the whole Golden Age is for the scrapheap? It’s a bit cowardly to want to rewrite history,” he told Dutch daily the Telegraaf.
CDA MP Michel Rog said the name change is “a hyper-correct idea by the Amsterdam elite and too ridiculous for words,” adding that “Erasing the past is nonsense”. Rog noted: “Simply explain that the Golden Age also had its negative sides, there’s nothing wrong with that. And there is nothing wrong with a bit of national pride either.”
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam said it will keep using the term. “It refers to a period in history of great prosperity,” director Taco Dibbets told national broadcaster NOS. “But we do recognise there are dark sides. The Rijksmuseum approaches history from different perspectives. Next year we are mounting an exhibition on slavery.”
Meanwhile another controversy about history has erupted involving the Museum of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. It is being criticised for exhibiting Nazi artifacts. But the museaum said the exhibition of the Third Reich has a didactic aim.
Since September 8 and for five months, the design museum of ‘s-Hertogenbosch welcomed “Design of the Third Reich”. This exhibition of Nazi artifacts, from the Volkswagen ladybug to the 1936 Olympic Games, to the swastikas and Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda films, aims to show “the contribution of design to the development of evil ideology”.
In view of the controversy, the design museum has taken precautions. Visitors are not allowed to take pictures. In addition, it is now mandatory to book the time slot of a visit by buying a ticket on the Internet, a way to filter visitors.
In opposition to the controversy, the newspaper De Volkskrant published an article entitled “How to put together an exhibition on Nazi design without glorifying fascism”.