Watch New-York Historical's President & CEO Louise Mirrer for an intimate conversation with author and historian Russell Shorto about his acclaimed 2013 work Amsterdam, exploring the history of the famed Dutch capital as a hub for liberalism and Enlightenment ideals. These ideals -- like personal, political, and economic freedom -- had a profound influence on the shaping of the United States.
Read below for a full transcript of the conversation.
Brian Melrose - Good afternoon. My name is Brian Melrose and it's my privilege and pleasure on behalf of First Republic Bank to welcome you here today. We are delighted to partner with the New-York Historical Society for today's program. Our organizations have been working together for many years. First Republic has supported exhibitions as well as programs that have explored African-American history, the founding of our nation, and numerous and fascinating historical topics. Proud to champion the work of New York historical centers for women's history, First Republic's own, Kate Jackson was one of the first members of the center's corporate counsel. We look forward to continuing our work together to bring extraordinary histories to light for years to come. Today, it is a pleasure to welcome Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society and Russell Shorto, renowned author and scholar for discussion about Russell's book, "Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City". I'm delighted to introduce them. Louise joined the New-York Historical Society as president and CEO in June, 2004. Under her guidance, the institution has reinvigorated its commitment to greater public understanding of history and its relevance today, as well as to support and encourage historical scholarship and the education of young people. Louise holds a double PhD from Stanford, a graduate diploma from Cambridge, and a BA magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. She is also an Honorary Fellow of Wilson College, Cambridge. Russell is the author of numerous books of narrative history, including "The Island at the Center of the World", "The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America", and his most recent book is "Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom". He is a senior scholar at the New Netherland Institute since 2013 and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and has been a featured speaker at New-York Historical programs. Before I turn the conversation over to Louise and Russell, know you can submit your questions using the Q&A function throughout the event. And with that, Louise take it away.
Louise Mirrer - Well, thanks. Thanks so very much, Brian. We are grateful indeed for First Republic's friendship now over very many years, and especially in these challenging times. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for your abiding support of our institution. We really are tremendously grateful to First Republic. Now that it's certainly is a great pleasure for me to be together this afternoon with historian and journalist, Russell Shorto, at least virtually, I should say. Russell was one of the first speakers on our stage in our Robert H. Smith Auditorium when I first took office at New York Historical as president and CEO not many years ago and over the years, we've had many pleasurable interactions. I am certain that this afternoon's conversation will be at the top of the list of them. So we are going to focus mainly on Russell's book, "Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City". But I'd like to ask a couple of questions first about the prequel or SQL, I'm not sure which to call it but it is the book that predated Amsterdam and that's "Island at the Center of the World". But even a more basic question than that has been prompted by Russell's newest book, which will be out shortly, small time, in which Russell establishes his, some biographical. He was born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and he is a member of a family that immigrated to the US several generations ago from Italy. So I have to ask you, Russell, what motivated your interest in the Dutch and in these marvelous histories having to do with the Dutch?
Russell Shorto - Thank you, Louise, for the question. Thank you first of all, The First Republic for inviting me to be here virtually and thank you, New-York Historical Society, and I have to say thank you, Louise Mirrer for being such a wonderful custodian of history. I think all of us who are on this session feel in these crazy times that having a ground in history helps us to figure this out and to figure out where we're going. I got interested in the Dutch because I got to New York. And as you say, I came from Western Pennsylvania and people wherever they come from, get to New York, and they're fascinated by New York in whatever way it strikes them. And I have learned over the years and myself as a writer, I tend to gravitate toward origins, or at least I try to figure out what's the, where did this come from? What's the root of this? And in the case of New York, the origins are Dutch, at least European origins. And I was living, this would have been exactly 20 years ago. I was living in the East Village of New York and my daughter who's now 25, I took her to just run around in the churchyard of St. Mark's in the Bowery, which was around the corner from where we lived. And anybody who's familiar with that part of New York knows that a lot of the tombs of the very early families of New York are in that churchyard and they're flat against the ground. But the one tomb is built into the foundation of the church, and that is the tomb of Peter Stuyvesant. And I remember I was reading this plaque about Stuyvesant, which by the way has I think three things wrong on it, but it was giving information about him, and I knew what anybody knows about the founding of New York at the time. I knew it was the Dutch, I knew they called it New Amsterdam, I knew there was a guy called Peter Stuyvesant and I knew he had a wooden leg and that was probably all I knew. So I started to explore, I started to ask historians I knew about the Dutch period and people didn't know much and my initial assumption was that that was because they, for the time the Dutch were there, they didn't leave many records and so you just leave it at that. However, I talked to somebody who said, "You should talk to this man" Charles Gehring in Albany at the State Library, who is still at it since 1974, he's been translating the archive of the Dutch colony of New Netherland with its capital of New Amsterdam. And I talked to him. He, this is 12,000 pages of records. As I say, he is still at it, and over the course of a series of phone calls and then personal visits, I came to realize, this is not just a way of understanding New York's beginnings, it's a way of understanding American beginnings that is completely different from what you get if you go to, if you start in New England with the English and the Puritans. In the Dutch in Lower Manhattan, it's this messy story, which is complicated to tell, which is probably one reason that it didn't, that it has been harder to embrace. But I found out a fascinating story and a few years later, I had written a book about it.
Louise - Well, that's great. Yeah, I grew up in New York and I have to say that we always played ball on something we called a stoop, and we also sat out on something we called a stoop. And I remember trying to use that word when I went away to summer camp as a kid and no one knew what on earth I was talking about, and I think you've, you know, you pointed out a number of words that we use certainly in New York, but perhaps across the US and in some cases that are a Dutch origin that we don't, we hardly recognize this Dutch. And I just want to ask, you know, one other question in that regard because I think one of the things that "Island at the Center of the World" achieved was to remind us of New York's Dutch origins. We tend to think of everything as English these days, and you know, a point that you make in your, in that book, which I think is really interesting, it has to do with why the English so coveted New Netherlands and Dutch New York.
Russell - They, New York story has always been about power, and I think that was why the English coveted it. The English and the Dutch were establishing their colonies along the eastern seaboard at basically the same time, the English were in Virginia and in New England, and the Dutch as they traveled the world were very focused on water. They knew that water that was the highways, that's how you got around. And they understood right away that initially they were there for beaver pelts. They were trapping animals or rather they were trading for beaver pelts. But ultimately, they knew that you wanted to get westward and to do that, you needed water. And they knew that this harbor was incredibly valuable and that if you went up the Hudson River, eventually it connected with the Mohawk River Valley, which eventually got you all the way to the great lakes. So if you jump ahead to the 1820s when Erie Canal is completed, that's when this promise that these Dutch settlers foresaw in sort of tapping into the continent, that's when it really was achieved.
Louise - So thing was just good fortune to have gotten something very, very good and very important from the Dutch and our good fortune to have had gotten many things including, and we'll get to liberalism and individualism for better or for worse from the Dutch as well. Let's jump across the Atlantic now and move to the Netherlands. So you wrote this marvelous book, "Island at the Center of the World" about Dutch New York, the Dutch history of New York, it was on the bestseller list for forever. Everyone wanted to read it and I know from my note, role at New York historical that everyone wanted to have dinner with you and you did, you were generous enough to agree to that on some number of occasions. Why did you decide after that that you wanted to write about Amsterdam itself?
Russell - I think it was what I said a couple minutes ago, I tend as a writer to want to gravitate toward origin so that the argument that I made in the realization that I had, I guess I would say, working with Charlie Gehring and Janny Venema, the scholars who were translating these records in Albany was that what the Dutch brought to New York was two things in particular. As you say, they brought a lot of words that we use and place names but two important things. They pioneered the concept of tolerance in Europe in the 17th century, religious tolerance, and that was the great age of religious warfare in Europe. So that was no small thing. And they were the pioneers of capitalism. They developed these concepts of shares of stock and a stock market and all these things that go with it, these financial mechanisms like short-selling and naked, short-selling, all those things were there in the early 1600s. And they brought these things with them to Manhattan. So Manhattan from the beginning became kind of the center for American capitalism before the word capitalism even existed. And but then I wanted to know why, I wanted to go to the origins of that. Like, why did the Dutch, what was the deal with that? Why did the Dutch, why were they the ones in Europe to pioneer these things? And I went to Amsterdam initially, thinking I would stay there for a year, and but shortly after I got there, I had this idea that I wanted to explore this further and write something that would fit for me anyway. I always have to, it has to be a personal fascination. You know, you want to excavate, you want to find this thing and then you hope that because you, that's, you have this passion, you have this energy, that a reader is going to pick up on that and have it too. So I wanted to write a book that would get to the roots of that, why the Dutch were unique in this way. And I decided to kind of package that into a nonstandard history of the city of Amsterdam. I say nonstandard because I didn't want to write sort of a textbook with the first chapter being the beginning and I wanted to have a kind of looser take on it. I started for example, my son, who's now 10, I start the book with me starting my day, putting him on the bicycle seat, the little seat in front of me and then I cycled him to his daycare and then while we're doing that, I'm talking about the neighborhood we're cycling through as a way to kind of bring you into the thing. And so writing about Amsterdam was for me a way of trying to understand how these ideas that the Dutch pioneered became part of, I mean, these things, tolerance, what you would call them now, well, this appreciation of and respect for different cultures and open, free trading free market system. These are just part of part of the modern world. Where did they come from? That was my fascination.
Louise - So you know, one of your strategies in writing at least from the reader's point of view is to introduce characters and you've done that in all of your books. Characters who some of whom were well-known, some of whom are definitely not household words and were household names, I should say. And you introduce one very interesting character who sort of straddles both worlds. She, herself is not a household name, I don't believe, but she has some association with someone who is and that's Frieda Minco. And I'd love it If you could talk a little bit about what made you decide to choose her as a protagonist who you know, so to speak, plays like a few throughout Amsterdam and how did you find her? How did you get to know her? And what does her story say about the history of Amsterdam?
Russell - Well, thank you for saying please like a few because that's, you read it the way I hoped someone would read it. I want as you say to use in a good way, one person or a number of people in a book to humanize it. History is a human endeavor and I had been working on this book about the history of Amsterdam for some time and this idea of liberalism, and how that is a theme that goes all through the history of this city. And someone introduced me to a historian friend of mine. His girlfriend introduced me to Frieda Minco. I was at an event in Amsterdam and she came up and introduced me to this little old woman. She was in her 80s then, and said, "Oh, you should meet her." And we met, and I don't know how but I she invited me, I think she invited me over for coffee and so we talked and I slowly came to think that Frieda embodied this, so many of these notions that the city that I was trying to bring out in the history of the city. She was, I'd say, well, yeah, she died two years ago at the age of 93. She was, they were from a Jewish family in the south part of Amsterdam which was then Jewish enclave, and she, her family lived next to when we're friends with, the Frank family and as an Ann Frank and Ann had an older sister, Margo and Frieda was right between them in age. So she would play with one or the other and I remember her telling me that she would go, occasionally go over to their house and she thought it was very strange that the things that kids remember that Anne Frank, they had to be quiet because her mother was sleeping in the middle of the day and Frieda said, "It was strange to me.” My mother would never take a nap in the middle of the day." So they were friends then, the Nazis come in and both families go into hiding and Frank story and hiding, everybody knows. Frieda's is less well-known but the family was in hiding for about two years. Then they were discovered. They were, she was sent to Westerbork and then from there to Auschwitz and there, they met up with Anne Frank and her mother, and Frieda and her mother were there. So they were all together again in Auschwitz and to cut the long, very long story short, they and of course didn't survive and Frieda and her mother did. And so Frieda then had a remarkable life after that in Amsterdam. She worked as a journalist, a radio journalist, if you think it's the 1960s and World War II seemed like such different eras but it was only 15 or 20 years later and so there she is in the '60s in Amsterdam, covering her city as a reporter as it is not only thrown off this cloak of totalitarianism, but she's, it's now the forefront of the European hippie movement and free love and you know, just all, it's like dial has gone all the way, the other direction and she's in the middle of that. And then few more years go by, she becomes recognized as someone who has lived through the horrors of concentration camps. And she, overtime, then becomes a global spokesperson for all of the issues associated with that and traveled all over the world. So you know, her life story. And so in back to my book, I asked her, I told her what I was writing about and I said, would you be interested in being used in this kind of way? And she said she trusted me. So I probably went, I went to her apartment once a week over a period of about two years, I'd say, and recorded it and we talked about everything. We talked about her whole life and the life of the city and I tried to weave those two things together.
Louise - Well, it's, you know, it's a great and fascinating story and it's certainly, I mean, the book is humanizing altogether but it does it does add some human touch which comes across very well. It also potentially undermines your, the subtitle of the book which is the world's most liberal city. So you've chosen a protagonist who sort of shows Amsterdam at its least liberal or most illiberal. So you know, maybe you could sort of transition from the World War II period in Amsterdam back to the question of liberalism and maybe also respond to, you know, to the juxtaposition, which is somewhat jarring.
Russell – Yeah, well, I chose that as a subtitle, the world's most liberal city to be a little bit provocative and it's an open question, whether that is the case. I think what I try to argue in the book is that if you look at it as the originator of a lot that we associate with liberalism, then I think that holds. And I was also playing a little bit on liberal in the, you know, very lower case L sense as in people have these associations of Amsterdam with sex and drugs and all of that. And in a funny way, I think those two things are tied. Liberalism is a philosophy, I mean, coming from the Latin liberal freedom and as a philosophy that puts personal individual freedom above all other things go all the way back and you find instances in which the city and not just that city but that whole corner of Europe stands for that. They, in the 1500s as the reformation has taken hold, people from other parts of Europe flee there and are accepted. And so that is something that is really deeply ingrained in the culture and you have, as soon as I say that, you, it's not like celebration of diversity. I mean, that's a much more modern notion. It was more restrictive but it was a genuine thing and it was part of the culture and it goes all the way back. So that's part of what I mean when I talk about someone, well, you know, World War II, for example with that was the great challenge to this notion of liberalism as you say because the Dutch, some parts of Dutch society opened themselves to the Nazis and that is something that the Netherlands has been having a sort of conversation about ever since. Why did we do this?
Louise - And is there a relationship between liberalism or Dutch liberalism and individualism?
Russell - I think, yeah. I think it, I think really it all, you know, going back to me, always trying to get to the origins of things. I think it goes back to the beginning of Dutch culture, the Netherland, that corner of Europe. It was settled much later than other parts. It's really in the Middle Ages when people first started immigrating there in any significant numbers. And when they did, they discovered why other people hadn't gone there sooner. It's, of course, the Low Countries. It's flat, it's about, 40% of the land today is below sea level, and so the people who settled, they found that come spring, their crops are under water, their houses are under water. So they, rather than leave, I assume probably many of them left but those who remained got together, they banded together in localities and undertook this backbreaking work of building dams and dikes to control the water and to protect themselves. And that act, that coming together to do that, first of all, it caused that, it gave them new land, the polders, which is land reclaimed from the sea. There's about twice as much land there now as there was a 1,000 years ago and it kind of unlocked something because at that time, in the middle ages, while the Dutch are doing that, in other parts of Europe, it's the memorial system, It's feudalism, it's, you know, society is, the structure of society is a nobleman and a castle and that nobleman controls a certain area of land and all the people there are under his protection and wherever you're born into in that system, if you're a peasant, your children are going to be peasants. If you're a wheel, right, your children are going to be at that level. If you're the nobleman, your children are going to be noble. In this corner, in the Netherlands because of this, because people created land and then they divided it up among themselves, they became a businessmen, they became entrepreneurs, and they started to look for opportunities. And so they become, they corner the market on one industry after another in Northern Europe on heron, heron was a very important staple. They cornered the market on heron. And in doing that, it wasn't just one thing. They invented a new kind of boat called a heron bus that could go further out to sea. They invented a process for packaging and preserving the heron and for marketing. They labeled it Holland Heron and so everybody would know, okay, that's the good stuff. So in one way after another, they had this impulse to innovate and look for opportunity and that then translates into a new awareness of yourself as an individual. You were empowering yourself, you're giving your children a better shot at a future and so that really, if you jump ahead into the 1600s of so-called golden age, all of the things that we associate with the golden age, innovations in art and science and grinding lenses for telescopes and looking in microscopes and all of these things, I think in some way or another, spring and go back to that challenge of how do we deal with the water? And out of that comes this strong individualism. And I'll say one more thing on that point, which is I think a really crucial thing. They created this really individualistic culture but it remained tied to an incredibly collectivist notion that is we have to stay together as a community, otherwise we will get wet, you know, you have to keep working on the dams and the dikes even today. And so those what they created in the Middle Ages, every town in the Netherlands created a water board. And the person who was the head of it was called a father of craft or dike craft. Craft is a count like a nobleman. So the dike, the head of the dikes, that official still exists in every municipality in the country. So it's an ongoing thing and that balance between the collective, which is held together because it's so important because we don't want to get wet and collective fostering these strong individuals is I think the essence of Dutch culture.
Louise - Well, you preempted the question that I was about to ask, which was when you started answering my question about individualism and liberalism, you used the word collective and now obviously, you've used it again. So that prompts me to ask whether the kind of, let's say, individualism/capitalism that exists in the Netherlands has a kinship with the way in which capitalism developed in New York and particular in the United States more generally. Are they different? We don't talk about, you know, we don't talk very much about the collective in US.
Russell - Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I think it's, the Netherlands is a fascinating contrast case in point, potentially lesson for the US because of that. Because that balance remains between the individual and society. People have this awareness that your power, your wealth as an individual is connected to society. And the US has this strong, I think of, it's kind of the cowboy myth, you know. We're all individuals, don't mess with me and that, in the US, that, several years ago, I wrote, after Hurricane Sandy, I wrote a piece in the New York Times Magazine about they brought in for this entity called rebuild by design is to create resilience in the city and elsewhere. They brought in to head it, I mean, and Henk Ovink, who was the head of Dutch Water Management. And so I wrote this piece about him trying to bring this Dutch sensibility to bear in particular on New York. And American individualism is not just in us individually, it's in our systems so that municipalities have a great deal, more autonomy as do counties, as do corporations, as do NGOs, as do states, than in a lot of other places. So it's less permeable and it is less allowable for collaboration and the perfect, to me, the perfect metaphor for that, when I was working on this piece, I was in Long Island and I was with the mayor of a town, he was on the shore and we were talking about what the hurricane had done to his town, and he was showing me how they'd put up these big kind of concrete at the end of the beach. They'd put up these like sea breaks. And he was, you know, pleased that this would help stop the waves in the future, but they stopped. I said, well, why does it just stop there? And he said, "That's the town line." And that to me is it in a nutshell, you know. So in the Dutch system, I think these municipalities will be working together, they would be working more naturally with other entities within the society. And I think figuring out how to make our system more permeable so that other parts of the system can interact with it naturally is, I mean, we're talking about here is dealing with climate change and that is to me a key to the future because the ocean doesn't respect town lines or any other lines.
Louise - Yeah, I know, absolutely. I can say though, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we all in New York were thinking, what can we learn from the Dutch. We really should, you know, we really should, should look to what the Dutch have figured out to do because they obviously know how to do, know how to stave off the water much better than we were able to do during that terrible time. Just a couple of questions before we go to the questions from the audience. So please audience, get ready to ask your questions. You know, the Dutch as much as anyone else are responsible for American and American original sin, which is slavery, of course. And Amsterdam today is a rather multicultural city. Thanks to, I think the Dutch welcoming as far as I can tell, of those people who came from its former colonies. You know, you've made distinctions between tolerance and everyone getting together and multiculturalism. Maybe you could speak a little bit too how, you know, you've talked to some extent about how they, the Dutch have confronted their dance with Nazism during World War II. How does slavery figure into to all of these characteristics of Amsterdam and the Dutch?
Russell - I think that it's important when we're talking about the Dutch to realize that any people is a complicated entity. It's, and we all have, as Americans, if you're traveling elsewhere and you hear people refer to, oh, Americans are this, or you Americans are like that and half the time I want to say, well, I'm not like that. So there are different components, in the 17th century for example, there are different components to Dutch society and issues like slavery were debated. Issues like how to deal with in one, in New Netherland, how to deal with and interact with the native peoples, the Indian populations, that was debated, and this whole notion of tolerance was constantly debated too. What does it mean? There was always a strong, orthodox party in the Netherlands that basically said what, they said the same thing that orthodox people everywhere always say, which is, we know what God wants. So, you know, we have to and that's the way it has to be. But and the other side would say, they had just come through a horrific 80 years’ war against Spain in which Spain sent the inquisition in and caused a lot of bloodshed in the provinces, and they would say, well of the Spanish when they came here killing our neighbors, thought they knew what God wanted to. So maybe we should be a little more humble. So you know, this is kind of a high-level answer to the question, but there were always different strains of thought and what I tried to do, what I tried to identify is while there's always a debate and there are always and you know, you're living, things are playing out in history in real time with exceptions to every statement that you make. It's this innovation, this awareness that in this case, this notion of tolerance and finding a way to respect others was a watershed and that's why it's worth holding up, which is not to say that they didn't violate it themselves and don't continue to.
Louise - Well, Amsterdam is a great book. All of your books are great. I believe I've read every single one of them and I've learned a huge amount from reading your books and now I'm looking forward to learning that you because your next book, which I just like to end on is takes a very different approach. It's a personal book and how did you decide to move from the kind of writing that you've done which deals with history of others to this personal story, this personal history?
Russell - Well, thank you first of all for giving me a chance to talk about it and I haven't talked about it much, so it's good practice. It's called "Small Time" and it is, it comes out in February and my, I do narrative history. This is different. I've always, I grew up knowing, I grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, small steel town and I grew up knowing that my grandfather whom I was named after, what he and his brother-in-law ran the mob together in town. And I also grew up with this notion that you don't talk about that. And he, by that time, by the time I was really aware, he was kind of ostracized by the family, he had done a lot of things that, you know, he caused a lot of personal trauma in the family. But then a few years ago, I was back home and my mother's cousin had spent his whole adult life in Las Vegas, he was a jazz musician and he had retired and come back home and it was over Christmas and he was playing at a local club and we all said, oh, well, let's go down and hear him play, and he plays the standup bass, and there's a break between the sets and we're all standing around and he said to me, "Russell, you're a writer. "What are we going to do about the story?" And I said, what story? And he said, "Your grandfather, the mob." And everyone around me, they were kind of like this because like me, they had sort of internalized this. We don't talk about it. But it turns out that Frank, my mother's cousin, had been a numbers runner for him, and then he went off. And so to him, these were just golden memories and he's the one who kind of popped this bubble and got me thinking and then I thought, all right, you know, those guys are dead, I can't go there but he rounded people up. He rounded up all the guys who were young, who looked up to my grandfather and his brother-in-law and so I ended up with something that is part memoir and part history where it's about the small town mob in America, from Schenectady to Scranton to Fresno and how it connects, but then it's also me kind of looking for my namesake.
Louise - Well, that's great. We'll look forward to reading it and I'm absolutely expect a book talk from you at New York Historical when the book is out. So we have a number of questions and let's see how many we can get through. There's a question here about, it's, I'll be the question, and I think it needs a little bit of interpretation. But given the influence of the Dutch liberalism as its spread to the new world, why didn't that influence translate to geographical influence like it did for the English? If that means, why did the Dutch become ubiquitous in America as the English?
Russell - I'm not sure that I understand the question either, but the answer to that question, I think is that the English took over the Dutch colony. And that why the English took over, why the Dutch didn't defend it has to do with things like the Dutch were really focused on the East Indies. That is Asia, where they were getting a lot of income out of and the West India Company in New Netherland never turned a profit. So the powers that would be in the home country never really gave it the proper attention. The English then, just to go back to the beginning, realized there was this missing piece of their puzzle. They had New England and they had Virginia, they needed to put it all together and by this time, they understood that the Dutch controlled this world-class harbor and it was right in the center of what ought to be their territory.
Louise - Great. So there was an early question actually, which I thought maybe you answered but maybe not as much as the question would like. What's the liberalism of Amsterdam? Well, the question is brought to early America to New York City, which I think you answered but maybe best said is, was it the same liberalism that you found in Amsterdam that was brought to New York and early America?
Russell - Well, one thing that was brought, it was brought in a very practical way. In the 17th century, the Netherlands was kind of a melting pot in Europe as I alluded to before, partly because of geography. It was an easy place to run to but also because of this notion of tolerance. So when they transplanted a colony with its capital in Lower Manhattan that came along. For one thing, it came along in the people. In 1643, there's a record of 18 languages being spoken when there were probably only between 500 and a 1,000 people. So it was, I'd like to say, it was, New York was New York before it was New York. And that is a kind of top-lived tolerance. It's in the populace. And that is, you know, just to go a little further, once you have the quote, 13 English colonies, it throughout and I, you know, I might ask you to expound on this too but throughout New York's history, New York is looked at differently by other of the colonies and then the early country. And I think it's in part because of this, because it's not one thing. Does that resonate with you?
Louise - Yeah, I think that's what, I think that's what the question is about, that's perfect. So someone has heard that fans of the national soccer team of Amsterdam use the Star of David as an unofficial symbol of their team. Do you know anything about this?
Russell - I have heard that and I've heard that they also, like when they're chanting, may say yodan like Jews. Why that is, I can't, you can't associate with that. I don't get it.
Louise - Okay, this is an easy one to answer. Have you lived in the Netherlands in order to do research and write your books?
Russell - Yeah, I guess I skipped over that.
Louise - You said that, right?
Russell - Yeah, when I moved there, I moved initially for a year. I ended up being there for seven years and I wrote the Amsterdam book and I was the director of something called the John Adams Institute, which is an American culture center in Amsterdam. And yeah, and I loved being there and half the time I wish I was back there.
Louise - Well, we're glad. We're glad to have you here on this side. So you mentioned this conflict between the Spanish and the Dutch and someone has a question about whether today, the animosity between Spain and the Netherlands carries on, or whether that's all forgotten history therein.
Russell - If it does, it probably doe in soccer. Certainly, that animosity is not there. No, that's ancient as is. Yeah, I mean, you know, you look at it's remarkable how just a couple of a few decades ago, animosities, ancient animosities, I mean, look at England and France and I'm just reading this mammoth biography of Napoleon now and like the antipathy between England and France would, you would think go on forever and I don't think that's the case.
Louise - Yeah, well, that's good. So another question has to do with any parallels that you might see between Amsterdam and another waterlogged city, so to speak, Venice.
Russell - Amsterdam is sometimes called the Venice of the North. They were both early republics and maybe, I haven't researched, I've never really read much about the history of Venice, so that may carry over my notions about water and how that related to, carried through the culture. And they saw themselves in the 17th century as sort of allied and related because they were both obviously, their focus, I think being on the water, automatically, your focus is out, is outward, it's out there. And you are, and then therefore a culture that's focused on business and focused on global trade.
Louise - So one last question before we close, and that is from someone who says the Dutch settled, the Dutch who settled in New York City and Long Island were my family. Where's the best place to go to investigate them?
Russell - To investigate the Dutch in the new world?
Louise - Family. Family members, who were Dutch, part of the original Dutch.
Russell - Part of the New York Historical Society is one place.
Louise - Great, I agree with that, wholeheartedly.
Russell - Yeah, the New York Public Library, those are two great repositories. Probably the two biggest collections. And then in Albany, the New York State Library, but that's really the documents of the colony. I would say those are the two great places to start an investigation.
Louise - Terrific. Well, look, we've come to the end of this session and I want to thank you again. It's always, as I said at the start, it's always a pleasurable experience to have a conversation with you and to hear you talk about your work and I want to thank First Republic again for hosting this conversation and again, for their support of our work at New York Historical, and I want to thank all of you who have listened to this conversation and post questions this afternoon, and just ask you all to stay healthy and safe and come back to New York Historical. We're reopening next month, September 11, and we'll look forward to seeing you in person and to seeing some of you at least when Russell gives his next big book talk. Thank you.
Russell - Thank you all very much.