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Vermeer, A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal (c.1670-72), courtesy of the National Gallery
Vermeer, A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal (c.1670-72), courtesy of the National Gallery

London as a Centre for Low Countries Studies

Thanks in part to UCL’s Chair in Dutch History and its Department of Dutch, London has emerged as the premiere centre in the English-speaking world for the study of Low Countries history and culture. London’s resources in this field  are truly extraordinary, ranging from manuscripts to paintings, pamphlets to engravings. Museums such as the National Gallery, the Wallace Collection, and the British Museum hold major collections of Dutch and Flemish art, while the Dutch and Flemish book collections in London rival those in The Hague and Brussels.

A Committee for Low Countries Studies in London exists to co-ordinates activity and facilitate the exchange of information. It is composed of leading scholars active in the field plus representatives of the Royal Netherlands Embassy, the Embassy of Belgium in London, and Flanders House, which represents the Flemish Government.

Museums

Libraries

  • The Dutch and Flemish collections in the British Library are the biggest to be found anywhere outside the Low Countries. With some 17,500 seventeenth-century Dutch imprints, the Library’s holdings of early modern materials rival those in the national libraries of Belgium and the Netherlands. The superb history of printing in the Low Countries is reflected in the British Library holdings. Early modern poetry, drama, theology, and politics are very well represented, as are the natural sciences. An enormous collection of pamphlets is supplemented by an online subscription that gives access to the entire Knuttel series in The Hague and Van Alphen series in Groningen. In addition, the Beudeker Collection of prints of the Low Countries is held in the BL’s Map Library. 
  • Among the special collections of the Senate House Library of the University of London is the Elzevier Press Collection, which includes over 700 titles published by the renowned Elzevier publishing house in the seventeenth century. This collection compliments the holdings of the British Library to provide nearly a complete set of Elzeviers in London. 
  • The Library of the Institute for Historical Research (part of the University of London Research Library Services) specializes in research aids, such as inventories and catalogues, and in modern printed editions of primary sources. A complete set of the Rijks Geschiedkundige Publicatiën is among the riches available for perusal on open shelves in the Library’s Low Countries Room. The Institute Library is also the only one in the UK with full sets of various genealogical and antiquarian periodicals from the Low Countries. 
  • UCL’s Main Library houses the largest Low Countries studies collection in a UK university library, its importance acknowledged by the continuing financial support of the Nederlandse Taalunie (Dutch Language Union). The collection consists of approximately 13,800 books of primary and secondary materials and some 100 periodicals. 

Archives

  • The National Archives in Kew contain a vast quantity of materials relating to the history of the Low Countries generally and to relations between Britain and the Low Countries specifically. Most of these materials are contained in two collections: State Papers Foreign and High Court of Admiralty. The latter includes some 6000 boxes of `Prize Papers’ seized from Dutch ships in the 17th and 18th centuries. Only recently inventoried, these papers, still largely unexplored, include a mass of 17th and 18th-century letters written by Dutch merchants and sailors to their families and vice-versa. 
  • As a magnet over the centuries for refugees and immigrants from the Low Countries, a variety of local and church archives (e.g. that of Austin Friars, the Dutch Reformed Church in London) contain records with demographic, family, and other data about the many thousands of Netherlanders who have lived in England.

Institutes

  • in addition to its Library, the Institute for Historical Research (part of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study) hosts the Low Countries Seminar, where scholars from Britain and abroad present the findings of recent research. Meeting approximately ten times each academic year, the Seminar attracts regular participation by scholars and postgraduate students from universities across southern England. Dutch and Belgian scholars, among others, regularly present papers there. 
  • The Warburg Institute (also part of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study) enjoys world fame as a centre for the study of Renaissance culture in all its aspects, visual as well as textual. As one of the key foci of Renaissance culture, the Low Countries are central to the Institute’s library holdings, its photographic collection (a vast assemblage of photographs and photocopies useful for research in iconology), and to the research agendas of its staff, which includes experts in Rubens and in Dutch still life paintings. 

Degrees

  • UCL, King’s College London, and The Courtauld Institute of Art jointly offer an interdisciplinary MA programme in the Dutch Golden Age
  • Students on more general undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes at UCL have the option of specializing in the history or art history of the Low Countries, as do masters’ students in art history at The Courtauld Institute of Art.

Committee

The Committee for Low Countries Studies in London (CLCSL) exists to co-ordinate activity and exchange information between individuals active in Low Countries studies in London. It is composed of scholars active in the field plus representatives of the Royal Netherlands Embassy, the Embassy of Belgium in London, and Flanders House, which represents the Flemish Government. It is overseen by an Advisory Board.

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