A Prosopography of Dutch Ministers (1575-1815)

This page is created to show some of the results we (Antske Fokkens and Serge ter Braake) obtained with the dataset of Fred van Lieburg on Dutch ministers (1575-1815). It is a unique set since it contains the biographical data on over 12.000 ministers and is nearly complete. We published a paper on our method to convert the data for further and more modern analyses for Histoinformatics 2014. The data and software used is available on Github.

Basic statistics and prosopography
Table 2 shows how many ministers we have from every period, grouped per periods of 50 years. It shows that we have a quite stable population between 1600 and 1800. Most ministers were born, died and were appointed during this period of 200 years.


Table 3 shows some general statistics on this population for the entire period.

A relevant question which was already answered by Van Lieburg in his dissertation is where the ministers came from. Even though the entire Netherlands were supposed to have ministers available, not every region produced a similar number of ministers. Ministers had to studytheology and therefore it is logical to assume they mostly came from urban regions. Table 4 seems to confirm this, with a special place for what is now the ‘Randstad’, the economic center of the Netherlands. Van Lieburg drew a similar table in his 1996 dissertation (Profeten en hun vaderland. De geografische herkomst van de gereformeerde predikanten in Nederland van 1572 tot 1816 (Zoetermeer 1996) 162). There are slight discrepancies between the two tables, but the general picture is similar. This seems to prove the reliability of our system. Table 5 shows a smaller dominance of urban centers as places of death, which confirrms that the ministers `flocked out’ from urban regions, but did not necessarily return there to die.


In general it is difficcult to say why historical figures quit their jobs, which makes it even more interesting to see if we can trace any pattern for this in our dataset. We do know that in the Early Modern Period people in public offices usually did not retire. Our analysis in table 6 confirms this and shows that the number of resignations increases towards 1800 (and the fall after 1800 is due to
the smaller number of ministers). Similarly, it shows a high level of expellations in the first half of the seventeenth century (and relatively speaking in the second half of the sixteenth), which is most likely related to the religious unrest in the Dutch Republic during that period.


Another classic question in historiography is on at what age men started to `count’ in society. For this purpose we calculated the age of our ministers at the time of their first appointment. Figure 2 shows a stunningly stable graph of ministers starting their career in their late twenties for a period of 300 years. It would be interesting to see if this is the case for only ministers or for other Dutch elites (e.g. aldermen, councillors) as well.


Further research and citations

The dataset we created also makes more enhanced analyses possible. We give an example by linking the set to Geonames to caluclate the ministers’ mobility in our paper for Histoinformatics 2014, but there are plenty of other possibilities as well. We welcome any initiatives to play around with the dataset on Github.

Citation instructions: S. ter Braake, A.S. Fokkens-Zwirello and F. van Lieburg, A Prosopography of Dutch Ministers (1575-1815). Online publication belonging to Braake, S. ter, Fokkens-Zwirello, A.S., and F. van Lieburg, ‘Mining Ministers (1572-1815). Using semi-structured data for historical research’, accepted for HistoInformatics2014 – the 2nd International Workshop on Computational History, Barcelona, 10 November 2014.

Citation instructions for the dataset: Fred van Lieburg, Database Dutch Reformed Clergy 1555-2004. [Integration in Biography Portal of the Netherlands in preparation].

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