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Dutch/Flemish Collections

Our holdings of early printed (pre-1851) material can bear comparison with any of the major libraries in the Netherlands or Belgium.

In fact, the British Library’s participation in the STCN-project (Short Title Catalogue Netherlands) in cooperation with the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, underlines and reinforces the often unique wealth of this collection. The British Library is, for example, particularly strong in its holdings of early Dutch dissertations. The collection of Leyden Medical Dissertations, 1593-1746 is acknowledged to be outstanding.

Over the last century and a half, however, British Library curators have also built a substantial modern (post-1850) collection of imprints from the Dutch speaking areas. All major authors, be it in fiction, drama or poetry, are represented, their work is almost without exception available in complete or near-complete form. The majority of relevant studies in the humanities and social sciences, and all reference books, irrespective of the language in which these works are written (English being the dominant language), have been and are still being acquired by the responsible curator. The aim remains to offer the readers in the British Library a highly representative selection of materials published in the Netherlands and Belgium.


One notable collection is held by British Library Newspapers. It concerns the huge microfiche collection of The Dutch Underground Press, 1940-1945 which supplies an excellent overview of the extent to which the Dutch resisted German occupation during the Second World War. Very much of parallel interest is the excellent collection (as a collection only matched by the one in Amsterdam University Library) of clandestine books at the time of the Nazi occupation. Anna Simoni’s catalogue Publish and be free: a catalogue of clandestine books printed in the Netherlands, 1940-1945, in the British Library was published in 1975 (Nijhoff), to which a supplement of later acquisitions was added in 1995 (AD&L Foundation).

Future developments

As far as the Netherlands are concerned, the years 1940-1950 have been the most traumatic of this century. The German occupation was followed by the conflict with Indonesia. Whilst the British Library, until recently, could present the readers with a wide collection of materials concerning the Low Countries during the war, documents on the Indonesian conflict were barely available (the early history of Dutch colonialism, on the other hand, was/is extremely well represented). Over the past five years, however, a collection of relevant materials in the Western languages has been built up. This Indonesia Merdeka Collection (of which an annotated catalogue was published by the British Library in September 2001) matches the collection of the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde at Leyden University and is not a mere repetition, but very much an extension and a complement.

The examples given concern the Netherlands in this case. A future curator may want to focus in more detail on Flemish affairs. He or she may concentrate on the works of a single author and one can think of Pol de Mont for example. Thanks to a substantial donation by the De Mont family to the library, the British Library holds an excellent collection of works by this particular author. Perhaps, on the other hand, this future curator may wish to look at broader political or cultural developments. Again, the British Library offers a wide range of material. There is, for example, an outstanding collection of books and documents on the Flemish movement, from its very beginnings in the late eighteenth century up to more recent times. It would be a worthwhile undertaking to compile a catalogue of our holdings on this particular subject.


Dutch/Flemish Section
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7764
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7578