The vision and career of Jan Hendrik van Swinden (1746-1823)

By bachelor's dissertation looked at one of the most famous Dutch savants of the late eighteenth century, the professor and statesman Jan Hendrik van Swinden (1746-1823). His career spanned scientific, social, and political spheres in a tumultuous period in Dutch history. He was the archetypal “civil scientist” – to use Ad Maas’ terminology – of the second half of the eighteenth century. Although useful in understanding the character of Dutch science at the time, this term remains an anachronism: how would the ‘civil scientist’ have defined themselves? I suggest that the “scientist” avant-la-lèttre in Holland was defined by the relationship between the wijsgeerigen Geest and the algemeen nut. We see this relationship clearly in the vision and career of Van Swinden. He envisaged a society where scientists were more appropriately described as scientifically-minded citizens, who used their ability to think rationally and their technical expertise to directly and indirectly serve the interests of society, simultaneously justifying the importance of science education. I analyse the different ways the relationship between the wijsgeerigen Geest and the algemeen nut was expressed and embodied in the life and work of Van Swinden, looking both at his public speeches and private notes and correspondence. 

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