Dutch Language Blog

The (New) Canon of the Netherlands Posted by on Jul 1, 2020 in Culture

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Dutch canon. The new version of the canon has been made public and in this post, I will review some of the changes and controversy.

Photo taken by Stewart found on Flickr.com with license CC BY 2.0

De Canon van Nederland

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the canon of the Netherlands is the accepted rules or standards for what makes this country and its people who they are. The Rijksoverheid website defines this as:

De Canon van Nederland is een overzicht (overview) van belangrijke gebeurtenissen (important events) uit de geschiedenis van Nederland. Samen vertellen ze hoe Nederland zich in de loop van de eeuwen heeft ontwikkeld (how the Netherlands has evolved during the years). Docenten gebruiken de Canon voor hun lesprogramma’s.

The canon takes 50 topics in history called vensters or windows, that give light to what makes the Dutch so Dutch. This includes Erasmus, Willem van Oranje, the Dutch East India Company, slavery, the first train line, the novel Max Havelaar, and Vincent van Gogh.

The first canon was created in 2006 and the commission in charge advised that the canon be reviewed in 2019. Last year, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Ingrid van Engelshoven, set up a new commission led by the historian Dr. James Kennedy.

De Nieuwe Canon van Nederland

The new canon starts and ends with notable women. Trijntje, the skeleton of the hunter-gatherer discovered in 1997, is the very first venster on the timeline. She is about 7,500 years old and is the eldest human skeleton found in the Netherlands. You can read more about Trijntje in this link.

Another new face in the canon is Anton de Kom, the writer and activist from Surinam who opposed racism and colonialism. He was exiled from Surinam and spent the rest of his days in the Netherlands.  Kom wrote the first book about colonialism in Surinam by someone from Surinam titled Wij slaven van Suriname. Anton de Kom was part of the resistance during the German invasion in the Netherlands and was captured and sent to a camp where he died. You can read more about Anton de Kom in the canon website.

De gastarbeiders or the guest workers are another addition to the canon. The website explains:

De Nederlandse economie maakt in de jaren zestig overuren en de vraag naar arbeiders groeit enorm. Mensen uit Spanje, Portugal, Griekenland, voormalig Joegoslavië, Turkije en Marokko moeten het tekort aanvullen. Ze worden ‘gastarbeiders’ genoemd, want hun aanwezigheid zou tijdelijk zijn.

Like I mentioned above, the canon begins and ends with notable women. Trijntje starts the timeline and het Oranjegevoel concludes it. Sports play a very important role in unifying the country and the feeling of pride of Oranje. While this venster covers all national sports, the success of the women’s soccer team or the Oranje Leeuwinnen is a very important highlight.

The video below explains some of the changes in the canon and why these are important.


Shortly after the new canon was made public, there was already controversy. Some people disapproved of some of the notable figures that were removed from the original canon. These include Floris V, the famous count whose contributions were very important to the region including the building of the Ridderzaal on the Binnenhof. The Dutch politician Willem Drees who was prime minsiter of the Netherlands and who is one of the founders of the welfare state including the Dutch pension scheme that we still use today, was also not included in the new canon.

There have been plenty of reactions to the new canon. Below I will highlight a few that were included in this article by the Volkskrant.

Politician Harm Beertema argues that we should have 60 instead of 50 vensters with the aim of including notable characters like Floris V.

‘In het licht van de geschiedenis vind ik elke tien jaar de canon herzien nogal hijgerig. Waarom moet Floris V eruit? Die is heel belangrijk geweest voor de vroegste tijd van de natiestaat. Je kan toch ook zestig vensters maken in plaats van vijftig? En Drees gaat me echt aan het hart. Toen was de PvdA tenminste nog een volkspartij, en niet de doctorandussen-partij van nu.’

VVD politician Zohair El Yassini is happy with the changes and hopes that this canon will be here to stay.

‘Prima dat de commissie aanpassingen heeft gedaan. Hopelijk gaat deze canon een tijdje mee.’

Our prime minister Mark Rutte is unhappy that the Dutch statesman van Oldenbarnevelt was removed.

‘Voor mij is het de grootste staatsman uit onze geschiedenis.’

The video below shows the timeline of the canon and marks those that are new. You can also read this interview with Dr. James Kennedy, the historian that led the commission for the new canon, to learn more about the process.

What do you think of the new faces of the Dutch canon?

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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!