Images of Dutchness : Popular Visual Media, the Emergence of National Clichés and the Creation of Supposed Common Knowledge about the Netherlands and the Dutch (1800-1914)

by S. Dellmann

Institution: Universiteit Utrecht
Year: 2015
Keywords: visual media; 19th century; semiotics; stereotypes; cliché; intermediality; Dutchness; media history; national identity; Netherlands; Arts and Humanities(all)
Record ID: 1270957
Full text PDF: http://dspace.library.uu.nl:8080/handle/1874/308549


This dissertation investigates the function of images in the production of supposed common knowledge and the emergence of clichéd images about the Netherlands and the Dutch in the long nineteenth century. It explains which images communicated an idea of “Dutchness” and why they were able of doing so. To this end, the author analyzes images of various popular visual media that circulated widely at that time: illustrated magazines, illustrations in guide books, brochures for tourists, cartes de visite, series of etches, catchpenny prints, perspective prints, advertising trade cards, stereoscopic photographs, magic lantern slide sets, picture postcards and films of early cinema. The analysis are accompanied by detailed background information on these historical media as well as on the technical and epistemological preconditions for a realist depiction of people and places in terms of nationality. The analysis focus on three aspects. Firstly, the author presents a visual analysis of the images. Secondly, the meaning that is ascribed to the images is investigated by taking captions and other forms of written comment into account. Thirdly, these image-text-combinations are explained within the broader context of discourses that aim to produce and circulate knowledge about the Netherlands and the Dutch, i.e. popularized anthropological discourse, popularized geographic discourse and tourist discourse. Through the analysis of images in the three discourses, the author can identify recurring motifs in combination with recurring categories and rhetoric strategies of the written comment that, together, enabled the formation of national clichés. She first traces the emergence of categories in terms of the national in descriptions of realist images of people and places. This combination of a history of iconography with a history of its meaning can account not only for the construction of what was said, and imaged, to be “typically Dutch”, but also the premises on which such statements could be uttered at all. This dissertation demonstrates that the meaning of an image largely depends on the line of reasoning of the respective discourse: the same motif can be used for various communicative aims. The meaning of an image is thus the result of performative signifying practices and not inherent to the image itself. This observation underlines the necessity to look with more nuance into the broader discursive context when investigating the meaning of an image. Another remarkable finding is that publications before c. 1880 use a more varied repertoire of images to illustrate the category “The Dutch”; only after that did the repertoire of motifs become more and more limited; an image of Volendammers only became a clichéd image of the Dutch only after c. 1880.