Instruments of Science and Citizenship: Science Education for Dutch Orphans During the Late Eighteenth Century.

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One of the two most extensive instrument collections in the Netherlands during the second half of the eighteenth century—rivaling the much better known collection at the University of Leiden—belonged to an orphanage in The Hague that was specially established to mold hand-picked orphans into productive citizens. (The other was housed at the Mennonite Seminary in Amsterdam, for use in the education of its students.) The educational program at this orphanage, one of three established by the Fundatie van Renswoude, grew out of a marriage between the socially-oriented generosity of the wealthy Baroness van Renswoude and the pedagogical vision of the institute’s director and head teacher—a vision that fit with the larger movement of oeconomic patriotism. Oeconomic patriotism, similar to ‘improvement’ and oeconomic movements in other European countries and their colonies, sought to tie the investigation of nature to an improvement of society’s material and moral well-being. Indeed, it was argued that these two facets of society should be viewed as inseparable from each other, distinguishing the movement from more modern conceptions of economics. While a number of the key figures in this Dutch movement also became prominent Patriots during the revolutionary period at the end of the century, fighting against the House of Orange, they did not have a monopoly on oeconomic ideas of societal improvement. This is demonstrated by the fact that an explicitly pro-Orangist society, Mathesis Scientiarum Genitrix, was organized in 1785 to teach science and mathematics to poor boys and orphans for very similar reasons: to turn them into productive and useful citizens. As was the case with the Fundatie van Renswoude, a collection of instruments was assembled to help make this possible. This story is of interest because it discusses a hitherto under-examined use to which science education was put during this period, by revealing the link between such programs and the highly charged question of citizenry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-177
JournalScience & education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • IR-81689
  • METIS-283889


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