Session details


Samantha Sint Nicolaas (International Institute of Social History), Elisabeth Heijmans (University of Antwerp) and Tim Hitchcock (University of Sussex)


Migration, Crime, Urbanization


In current debates Dutch early modern cities are portrayed as prime examples of harmonious societies in which migrants and native born lived peacefully together. Discrimination of migrants by criminal courts was non-existent, nor were there any conflicts or violence between native city dwellers and immigrants.

This image is remarkable when one considers that before 1800 migrants made up ca. 25 to 60% of the urban residents. Their culture, language and customs were different from locals and many of them ended up in the poorest layers of society. So, this raises the question how credible the image of the tolerant Dutch cities really is and how this changed over time?

This pioneering project will answer this question by examining migrants through the eyes of the courts in the highly urbanized coastal provinces of the Netherlands (Holland) between 1600 and 1900. It aims to reveal patterns of continuity and change in: 

  1. Treatment of migrants by criminal courts
  2. Violence and conflicts between migrants and native born. Holland is an excellent case study for various reasons: between 1600 and 1830 it was characterized by exceptionally high immigration and in the course of the period the proportion and types of migrants changed considerably.

This panel is made up of 3 papers that each tackle this question from a different angle. The first paper focuses on Amsterdam between 1850-1905, focusing on the social background of criminal offenders in Amsterdam between 1850-1905 to study the relationship between urbanization, migration and crime. The second paper explores the daily reality of migrants in early modern Dutch cities through conflicts and the position of migrants in the early modern Dutch legal system. It hypothesize that there were not only more conflicts between locals and migrants than assumed, but that the outsider-status of migrants was more likely to pose a disadvantage in various forms of conflict regulation. The third paper focuses on the position of migrants before the criminal courts of Amsterdam and Delft between 1600-1790, using the theory of ‘crimmigration’ as a lens onto the convergence of crime and migration regulation.


A Criminal Class? Amsterdam Defendants 1850-1905


Jeannette Kamp (Institute for History, Leiden University)


Urbanization, Crime, Migration


Nineteenth-century urbanization processes were met with fears about social disorder, immorality and crime. Many contemporary observers argued that the uprooted and disoriented rural migrants with backward manners who had recently arrived in search for work were at the core of many of the problems experienced in the vast expanding cities. Over the past decades, migration historians have disqualified the picture of the uprooted rural migrant, showing that patterns of chain migration, temporary migration and short-distance migration were far more important to the urbanization process that the influx of impoverished unskilled workers from the countryside. Yet, these insights have hardly led to new questions about the relationship between migrants and marginal behavior in this period. While studies have shown that evidence of rising crime in new urbanizing centers is mixed at best, only few have scratched beyond the surface of aggregated crime rates and studied the profile of offenders within this period. Questions about overrepresentation of newcomers, uprootedness or integration in the urban fabric, distinct criminal behavioral patterns or cultures, still remain relevant even if criminal cases did not rise. In order to shed light on these questions, this paper analyzes the background of criminal defendants in Amsterdam in the second half of the nineteenth century. It investigates if a shift was visible in the criminal population before, during and after the peak of the urbanization process in terms of types of crime, origin, profession etc. It also compares their social profile to what we know from literature about migrant and local born Amsterdammers during this period. This enables us to get a better understanding about the relationship between urbanization and crime, and the selective nature of migration processes.

Conflicts between Migrants and Locals in Leiden and Rotterdam, 1600-1800


Karlijn Luk (Leiden University)


Conflict Regulation, Migrants, Early Modern Dutch Republic


Due to its economic prosperity, its policy of (relative) religious tolerance, and its large numbers of migrants, the Dutch Republic has long had a reputation of being the prime example of ‘tolerance’, especially during the Golden Age. Although the transformational impact of migration on a society has been widely studied, what this meant for the day to day realities of early modern migrants and natives in these Dutch cities has thus far remained understudied within migration history.

Although the great variety of newcomers to the Dutch cities launched an era of economic prosperity, in Leiden mainly in the textile industry, these newcomers were also the cause of social unrest. Cultural differences, combined with the increased residential density, were instigators for numerous difficulties. My project explores the day to day challenges of migrants in two early modern Dutch cities by looking at conflicts and the position of migrants in the early modern Dutch legal system. Conflicts and how they were dealt with both by the people involved and by authorities in particular provide a privileged insight for studying everyday interactions and relations between established city dwellers and newcomers in a city or neighbourhood.

By using judicial sources and other sources of social control to analyse the daily practices of local and migrant co-existence in the city, I hope to provide an answer to the question to what extent immigration in Rotterdam and Leiden between 1600 and 1800 gave rise to discriminatory patterns in conflict regulation and resolution among natives and immigrants.

My hypothesis is that there were not only more conflicts between locals and migrants than previously assumed, but that the outsider-status of migrants was more likely to pose a disadvantage in both formal and semi-formal conflict regulation and processes of Justiznutzung. My project focuses on the question of judicial accessibility and (in)equality in conflict regulation to paint a clearer picture of the position of migrants in the legal pluralism of early modern Dutch cities, in order to see whether this influenced the emergence and course of conflicts between these migrants and the local population.

Migrants and the Courts in Amsterdam and Delft, 1600-1800


Samantha Sint Nicolaas (International Institute of Social History,Amsterdam)


Crime, Migration, Criminal justice


The early modern Dutch Republic has often been lauded for its ‘tolerance’, referring usually to the ‘open’ policies towards migrants, as well as the harmonious (interreligious) co-existence between migrants and their neighbours (Kaplan 2002, Lucassen & Lucassen 2018). As part of the larger project Tolerant Migrant Cities? The Case of Holland 1600-1900, my PhD project Migrants and the Courts in Amsterdam and Delft, 1600-1800, will look anew at this characterization. It will do so by studying the institutional treatment of migrants by the criminal justice courts in the early modern cities of Amsterdam and Delft, looking specifically for evidence of crimmigration in historical perspective.

Crimmigration is the process of criminalization of migrants, resulting from growing anxieties about security and crime (Stumpf 2006). According to Stumpf, it can be explained by membership theory: decision makers or authorities are provided with the justification necessary for excluding individuals from society, consequently using immigration and criminal law as the means of exclusion. Though not applied specifically to the early modern period, growing research shows that these markers of crimmigration are equally visible in early modern Europe. Historians De Koster and Reinke have claimed that the interplay of migration and crime was a continuous issue of official concern from the sixteenth century onwards, and a crucial impetus behind the expansion and professionalization of the police forces across Europe (De Koster & Reinke 2016). King’s work on Irish migrants through the eyes of the Old Bailey in early modern London demonstrates the role of ethnicity and migrant status in determining the treatment of the accused (King 2013). For the Dutch Republic specifically, previous work on eighteenth-century Rotterdam has suggested that migrants became increasingly overrepresented in criminal cases in times of economic decline, and that changing notions of ‘outsiders’ often led to biased policing and prosecuting (Balvers 2014, Faber 1983). Using the conceptual framework of crimmigration to look at the prosecution patterns of early modern Amsterdam and Delft, this paper will address the question: to what extent did migrants face systematic discrimination before the criminal justice courts?