27-29 November 2008, Utrecht
The workshop ‘Dutch mobility in a European context’ was held in Utrecht on 27-29 November 2008. The Dutch Ministry of Traffic and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat) sponsored the workshop, held at their headquarters. Dr Bert Toussaint and Dr Ing Gijs Mom organized the workshop. This was original insofar as it gathered experienced scholars from six countries (Switzerland, Germany, France, UK, the Netherlands and the US) as well as policy makers in a debate on the role of history in policy and planning making. The academic discussion focused on railway and tramway history of the 19th century. The invited and host scholars presented papers where they discussed and compared the national experiences of six countries in these fields. The ultimate aim of such a comparison was twofold: firstly, identifying the specificities of Dutch traffic and mobility patterns during the 19th century, and secondly, an emphasis on a transnational approach to the history of transport and mobility.
Concerning the academic part of the workshop, the participants discussed the rich collection of historical papers that were based on individual national experiences. By the end of the workshop the participants identified three crucial themes that would unite the individual papers into a coherent group of scholarly articles to be published as a special journal issue in spring 2010. These themes were: cultures of mobility, governance, and the importance of an international approach to the study of railways. The aim of the projected publication would be to provide an overview of the state of the art concerning the respective modes of transport, as well as to give an insight into a new research agenda for further study.
Next to these academic discussions, the workshop participants engaged in formal and informal discussions on the role of history in current Dutch traffic policy. Besides the invited scholars, a project manager of the Dutch Ministry of Transport and Water Management (Mr Jan Griep), a strategic advisor of the National Dutch Railroads (Mr Tjeu Smeets) and a senior consultant from the consultancy Ecorys (Mr Broos Baanders) participated in these discussions. These revolved around one central question: how does and can historical knowledge help policy making? The main arguments that were put forward during the discussions may be summarized as follows: history can lead to observations on the rise and fall of best practices both in time and in space. In addition, it can provide policy makers with useful observations on the problems/ factors that led to the non-realization of projected works or of patterns that arose around the realization or non-realization of projected work. However, the historians pointed out that only if policy makers show that they are willing to listen could such a collaboration between the two groups of professionals be fruitful. On their side, policy makers requested from historians to take an initiative and pursue such a collaboration, to ‘knock on the door’ of policy makers.
The workshop was the first of a series of three international workshops with similar objectives. The themes of the other two workshops are the emergence of automobility, mass motorization, the coordination crisis and the state (held in February 2009) and post war freight transport (to be held in March 2009).