On Thursday October 10, 2014, thanks to The Handel-Krom Lecture in Hudson River Valley History, The Hudson River Valley Institute had the outstanding success of coordinating a talk to promote knowledge of and appreciation for the rich history of this unique and important region. Russell Shorto, the speaker for the evening’s lecture, is a senior scholar at the New Netherland Institute in Albany, N.Y. and a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. Shorto is the author of several works, including his most recent, Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City and the bestselling The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America.
Shorto took his audience through an exploration of the Dutch and their influence within the Hudson River Valley. The lecture began with a brief background on the manorial system which had existed and functioned in the majority of Europe during the medieval ages. By doing so, he set up a perfect contrast to the way society functioned in the Netherlands, where the geography had a great deal to do with the innovation fostered in this region. Shorto depicted how the collaborative pooling together among the Dutch people facilitated a new awareness in addition to a unique community empowered through a collective instinct. The Dutch people’s balance of individualism and communalism was what set them aside from all other countries in Europe.
As their society developed, a commercial sphere emerged as a result of their value in the individual and also in the community. Shorto provided specific examples to depict this development such as the first stock market, the herring industry, the elaborate infrastructure, etc. Through the Dutch people’s innovation and emerging awareness of individuality, the values and ideals of liberalism were born. Shorto then discussed how the Netherlands was evidently regarded as a melting pot based on the conceived notion of tolerance. Unlike the rest of Europe where rulers persecuted people because of their faith, the Dutch did not see foreigners as those of a lesser race or peoples. According to Shorto, the Netherlands existed as population of mixed religious and racial people.
With the growth of liberalism and expansion of the commercial sphere, the Dutch ideals and values were transported across the sea to the New World. As the Dutch expanded their territory, Shorto explained how the spirit of innovation and of business was transported to the Dutch colony New Amsterdam. At this point in the lecture, Shorto began his extensive discussion on the New Netherlands. As a default of the Dutch society, New Amsterdam consequently formed as a melting pot that came to be known as Manhattan; it became so massive that the English desired to take over this new and successful land. Shorto concluded that despite the takeover by the English empire, the ideals and values of the Dutch still live on in the Hudson River Valley as well as in the United States in general. By tracing the ideas of sensibility and individuality which are evidently prevalent within our society, Shorto argued that the Dutch values had been crystallized in Amsterdam and transplanted to New Amsterdam, which has remained in New York.
- Rose Marie Martin