This study offers both an account of twentieth-century technology in the Netherlands and a view of Dutch history through the lens of technology. It describes the trajectory of modernization through technology in certain characteristically Dutch contexts—including the omnipresence of water, the pervasiveness of urbanization coupled with a high-tech agricultural sector, and the legacy of colonialism—but at the same time makes it clear that Dutch struggles over technology choices, infrastructure development, mass production, and the role of government are comparable to the experience of any Western industrialized country.
The book, which synthesizes findings originally presented in a series of seven volumes published in the Netherlands, uses the idea of contested modernization as an overarching concept through which to understand Dutch technological history. The modernizers of Dutch society—including engineers, management consultants, architects, and others—did not always agree on how to modernize; moreover, the unruliness of specific practices often derailed or redirected implementation. Tensions between top-down and bottom-up modernization, and between scale-enlargement and more flexible arrangements of mutual coordination and cooperation shaped Dutch history. The chapters examine such topics as attempts to create an industrial nation, materially connected through infrastructure; the conflicts that came with the arrival of mass production and the emergence of a consumer society; and land-use planning in a low-lying country.