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Rooted in Fertile Soil: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Gardens, Natural Inquiry and Technology

Period: November 2006 - November 2009
Granting organization: NWO


  • PhD: A.A. Fleischer (Alette)
  • Promotor: Dr L.L. Roberts

Seventeenth-Century Dutch GardensProject description

The research project is called: “Rooted in Fertile Soil: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Gardens, Natural Inquiry and Technology”. The research involves gardens as sites in which the interactions of a broad range of actors and their tools helped to give rise to what crystallized as both modern science and technology. This project will fill part of this void by focusing on developments in natural inquiry and technology that grew out of Dutch gardens during the seventeenth century.

This relation between gardens, natural inquiry, and invention is illustrated by the following topics. The first presents the land reclamation of the Beemster in the early 17schoone grotth century, whereby inventions (wind mills, land surveying instruments), natural inquiry, and commerce led to a representation of God’s Creation. The second focal point relates the fascination into the nature of crystals and light. It ties a garden grotto, filled with crystals and mirrors to Christiaan Huygens’s Treatise on Light, whereby in both cases nature is reshaped by geometry. The project furthermore focuses on the Dutch East India Company’s garden at the Cape of Good Hope. The Company’s garden and subsequently the Cape’s agricultural enterprise tell how Dutch settlers and merchants investigate and transform South African nature. The Company’s garden functioned as a ‘centre of accumulation’ for the VOC and as a site where Dutch and local Khoisan cultures encountered and appropriated unknown knowledges and objects.

Recent publications

“Cultivation, Commerce, Khoikhoi and the Company’s Garden: (ex)changing knowledge and nature at the Cape of Good Hope, circa 1652-1700,” Intersections, vol. 13. The Dutch Trading Companies as Knowledge Networks, forthcoming 2009.

“Into the Light: constructors and examiners of nature and a Dutch 17th century garden grotto,” History of Technology, forthcoming 2009.

“Kunstig landschap,” Natuur aan de basis, vol. 18, no. 2, 2007, pp. 36-39.

“The Beemster Polder: conservative invention and Holland’s great pleasure garden,” Roberts, Lissa L., Simon Schaffer, and Peter Dear, eds., The Mindful Hand: Inquiry and Invention from the Late Renaissance to Early Industrialisation. Distributed for Edita-the Publishing House of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007, pp. 145-166.

“The garden behind the dyke: land reclamation and Dutch culture in the 17th century,” ICON, journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology, vol.11 (2005), p.16-32.

Exhibition-catalogue Gestel in Bergen, “Leo Gestel en de geneugten des buitenlevens”, Museum Kranenburgh Bergen, Waanders Zwolle, 2002.

Exhibition-catalogue De Maaltijd der Vrienden, Kunstenaars in Bergen 1930-1935, Museum Kranenburgh Bergen, 1994, eds. Alette Fleischer and Alexander Valeton.

Exhibition-catalogue Rond het ‘Oude Hof’, schilders en beeldhouwers in Bergen 1910-1940, Museum Kranenburgh Bergen, 1993, eds. Alette Fleischer and Nicoline Koek.