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Against the current

The Social Mobility and Integration of the Jewish Dutch Elite (1870-1940)

From the last decades of the nineteenth century until the German invasion, life in the Netherlands changed profoundly. In this period of transition, possibilities for social climbing came within reach of a substantial part of the Dutch population. This also involved members of the Jewish minority, who were provided with unprecedented prosperity and opportunities, and who increasingly integrated into Dutch society. At the same time however, they were confronted with a new, racist form of anti-Semitism that proved to be a serious impediment to their upward social mobility and integration strategies. The question of how Dutch Jews handled the chances and challenges of their time constitutes the subject of this PhD project, which focuses on the Jewish Dutch elite.

Deeper insight into the particular group of Dutch Jews with a higher social status makes a worthwhile contribution to existing historiography. Not only because little systematic, large-scale research has of yet been done to analyse their social mobility and integration patterns, but also because of the special focus on certain important topics within the broader scope of this project, that have often been overlooked: Jewish elite women and elite Jews in the Dutch East Indies. Furthermore, this research includes an Anglo-Dutch comparison which will shed light on Jewish country houses in the Netherlands, in close collaboration with the Jewish Country Houses project.

Huygens ING possesses an online digital database that constitutes the starting point for this research into the Jewish Dutch elite: the Dutch Biography Portal or BioPort. Database tool Nodegoat is used to filter, visualise, and analyse information on several hundred prominent Dutch Jews born between 1850 and 1920 whose personal life histories are recorded in BioPort. Nodegoat, an object-oriented tool for historians, allows data analysis through networks, time, and space. In using a mixed methods approach of mainly qualitative research combined with a digital tool and the quantitative possibilities it offers, this PhD project intends to verify scholarly notions about Jewish social mobility and integration in a fresh way, studying these processes not necessarily as interdependent, but definitely as interconnected, exceedingly interesting mechanisms.

This project, financed by the KNAW Academy Institutes Research Fund, is part of the larger research project Against the current, an initiative of Huygens ING and the International Institute of Social History. At the IISH, PhD candidate Joris Kok studies the social mobility of Jewish diamond workers in pre-war Amsterdam.