Managing the Crisis

Resilience in times of Crisis: The Role of of Local Networks and Institutions within the Low Countries during the Napoleonic Period


The Napoleonic Period, especially the years 1806-1813, was a time of crisis, featured by large-scale war, strong political turbulence and a deep economic downturn. During these years some communities perished, while others succeeded to survive.  How, and to what extent communities are able to bridge a time of crisis, seems to be highly depended upon the resilience of local institutions and networks. They offer structures and instruments to secure continuity and they have the capacity to counter the most harmful and severe effects of crisis and catastrophes.

The crises in the Napoleonic years were particularly tough for merchants and their networks, not least because of the barriers imposed during Napoleon’s Continental System, which was officially proclaimed by the Decree of Berlin in November 1806. The Continental Blockade, its implementation and its effects, therefore, provide an excellent case study to unravel the meaning, the resilience and the working of the local networks and institutions in times of crisis. Special attention will be paid to the interaction between the State, the local government and the merchants themselves, and to the mechanisms within the local community, which could provide for flexibility, cushioning and protection and which could help the merchant community to survive.

Project description

The project consists of two parallel and comparable research programs, which will be effected in the Netherlands and in Belgium. For both, the Northern and the Southern Netherlands the Napoleonic Period was of crucial importance. Fundamental institutional and political changes took place during this period, which shaped the modern State. Meanwhile economic policy and war restructured the economy.

As part of the research programs a wide variety of less known and still unused source material will be studied in archives on the international, national and local level.

The Northern part focuses on Rotterdam and its hinterland, and is managed and conducted by prof. dr. Marjolein ‘t Hart, project leader and dr. Johan Joor, researcher (both Huygens/Institute of the History of The Netherlands (ING)-Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The Southern part is a PhD-project, directed by dr. Hilde Greefs and executed by Dirk Lueb (both from University of Antwerp). The Southern part concentrates on Antwerp and Ostend. The Dutch part has started on 1 June 2016; the Belgian has started on 1 October 2016.

The Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research (NWO) and the Research Fund Flanders (FWO) subsidize the project.