Conflicting images of the Zuider Zee around 1900: nation-building and the struggle against water
In 1918, the Dutch government decided to enclose and reclaim the Zuider Zee (later called the IJsselmeer). The preceding decades had been marked by broad public debate about the utility and urgency of the project. Around 1900, its proponents constructed images of the region and of the Dutch nation in which the Zuider Zee was no longer a crossroads. They emphasized the backwardness of the area and depicted the sea as a domestic enemy, its violent storms posing a threat to the nation. Cornelis Lely’s Zuider Zee proposal (1891) promised a bright future for both the region and the Netherlands as a whole. The struggle against the water would revitalize the nation (by stimulating nation-building) and modernize its international image (perceived as a picturesque but archaic country). Opponents of the project feared the high costs and developed a counter-image: the Zuider Zee region as heartland of ‘authentic’ Dutch culture, a heritage that would be jeopardized by the project. The article concludes by highlighting the synchronicity of the non-synchronous: the Zuider Zee region was envisioned as a region living in the past, thereby constituting an ‘internal Other’ in a country undergoing rapid modernization around 1900.