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Research Biografie Instituut

The Biography of Frederik Christiaan Hendrik Hirschmann

F.C.H. Hirschmann
F.C.H. Hirschmann

The biographer of Frederik Christiaan Hendrik Hirschmann

Jan de Lang (1942) studied mathematics at the Technical University of Delft (Thesis: The solution of dynamic decision-making problems with the help of linear programming) and at the Foundation for Interdisciplinary Education in Organisational Science (SIOO) in Utrecht. He worked at the National Air and Space laboratory (mathematical engineer) and at the municipalities of The Hague (policy coordinator), Assen (municipal secretary) and Heerlen (municipal secretary). 

Motivation for the study
Careers in the public service are often a sequence of contiguous functions. Moreover, these functions are thoroughly described and carry, in general, an unambiguous meaning for both the functionary and his peers. Social relations, family relationships and circles of friends all form part of Dutch conventions. In many respects, the nature of colonial officials’ public careers, as well as their private lives, deviates from this model, often in an intriguing manner. The loneliness of their existence, the motley succession of unrelated tasks and their extensive responsibilities and competencies, is striking. As a result of their ever changing postings, private situations are also far from conventional.
    The life of the KNIL-officer, F.C.H. Hirschman, has been taken as a basis from which all of the above-mentioned aspects can be explored. Among other things, he featured during the time of General Van Heutz, a period in which the expansion of Dutch supremacy in the East Indies was carried out as a feverish task. Thereafter, he was seconded from the Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger (Royal Dutch-Indies Army) (KNIL) as a military commander in Surinam. Some details about his reintegration into Dutch society were also documented. In his life, a number of different aspects were united, which present a frame of reference when creating a portrait of the ‘average’ KNIL-officer during this particular period. 

The project
The project consists of a biography, which focuses on colonial-military and historical aspects. Central to this is the measure to which Frederik Christiaan Hendrik Hirschman was representative of a Dutch military officer, who was trained at the Koninklijke Militaire Academie (Royal Military Academy) at Breda and who worked as an officer through the course of three decades around 1900. Naturally, Hirshman’s person is also investigated, but the crux of the research lies in placing him within a particular context and environment. Special attention is paid to his family, the bureaucratic structures around him, among them the organisation of the KNIL and the Ministry of Colonies, as well as his general working conditions.
    Hirschman did not attain any fame and retired after reaching the rank of lieutenant-colonel. There have been a number of biographies published about famous KNIL officers (e.g. M.H. du Croo, Generaal Swart pacificator van Atjeh, Leiter-Nypels, 1943). However, there are no biographies devoted to an ‘average’ officer of the East-Indies Army. A biography which will paint as complete a picture as possible of Frederik Christiaan Hendrik Hirschman’ life and work, will fill this lacuna.
The conclusion of his military career did not spell the end of Hirschman’s activities. He was an expatriate for 28 years, and one expects that he would have felt ill at ease upon his return to Dutch society. To the contrary, he became a tax collector and a mayor. These were functions that necessitated a broad knowledge and understanding of the nature of society.
    Finally, Hirschman’s meaning and influence, both as a private individual and as a functionary, will be assessed. In this instance, attention will be paid to the probability that he contributed to the Netherlands’ continued hold on Surinam at the beginning of the twentieth century. It could have been different. His successful campaign to liberate the island of Terschelling from its lethargy, which was a result of high levels of unemployment, by facilitating tourism, also comes under the spotlight.

Article Limburgs Dagblad en Dagblad De Limburger 29 januari 2011

Article Trouw 14 mei 2011

Review in Historisch Magazine October 2011

E-mail: jdelang

Last modified:16 October 2012 11.25 a.m.
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