23 June 2017 from 16:15 to 17:30

PhD thesis defence Jesper Verhoef on Dutch identity and depictions of America in media debates

Short film on promotion Jesper Verhoef, subtitles in English are provided

On 23 June Jesper Verhoef (Cultural History) will defend his PhD thesis in which he analyses depictions of America and the construction of Dutch identity in Dutch public debates between 1919 and 1989. He focuses on debates on media, for the twentieth century not only was 'the American century', but also a media century, and both were intertwined.

He describes how the Dutch responded to cinema (1919-1939), portable radio (1950-1969), and television quizzes (1950-1989). By looking into public debates on media, Verhoef pinpoints how contemporaries expressed ideas about a supposed Dutch identity and to what degree they used America as an 'Other' in the process. Verhoef applied computational techniques and methods to analyze digitized newspapers and shows how tools from the digital humanities can further historical research.

Jesper Verhoef MA
Jesper Verhoef MA

Uniform opinions

Verhoef's research into the public debates on cinema, portable radio and the television quiz point to three principal conclusions. First, Dutch responses to each medium were exceptionally uniform. The press and other contemporaries constructed images of America, Americans, and of a Dutch identity irrespective of their ideological background; a shared, national discourse existed, which transcended societal differences resulting from pillarization.

Money-driven and moderate

Secondly, even though anti-Americanism was voiced less frequently and intensely after the Second World War, stereotypes of 'the' Americans as a money-driven, superficial, and naive people persisted. These clearly demarcated ideas of America helped the Dutch to construct an image of themselves as modest, moderate, convivial (gezellige) people. Until the 1960s, that is. Around then, these characteristics gave way to 'American' features such as hedonism and uncontrolled materialism. The press presented these changes as evidence of a changing society and Dutch mentality.


Thirdly, the Dutch had difficulty coming to terms with modernization, a process that each medium epitomized as well as spurred. The press fiercely denounced and resisted American influences and facets of modernization. The introduction and growing popularity of each medium caused a rupture: it led to changing values and a new mentality. As such it posed a threat to Dutch national identity. Hence, in all three eras, contemporaries—above all the press—propagated controlled modernization. Verhoef shows that current debates on Dutch national character have a long history, and the same goes for contemporary fears that are voiced when novel media, for example the iPad, are launched.

Start date and time
23 June 2017 16:15
End date and time
23 June 2017 17:30
PhD candidate
Jesper Verhoef
Opzien tegen modernisering. Denkbeelden over Amerika en Nederlandse identiteit in het publieke debat over media, 1919-1989
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. Joris van Eijnatten
Dr Jaap Verheul
Entrance fee