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The Mennonite merchant-banker Piet van Eeghen (1816-1889) was a key figure in Amsterdam’s civil society. Laura van Hasselt wrote her dissertation about his role in the metamorphosis of Amsterdam during the 19th century. The public edition of her book is now published by Balans, accompanied by a small exhibition on Van Eeghen at the Amsterdam City Archives.

Van Eeghen is mostly known as the ‘man who gave Amsterdam the Vondelpark’, but he played a leading role in many more civic initiatives. He never held a position in the city council; he operated behind the scenes as much as possible. To truly understand the 19th century, it is of great importance to put a human face not just on the public administrators and vocal activists, but also on the silent innovators  behind the scenes. 

As Van Eeghen played an important role in civic initiatives across various fields, from health care to social housing, from the ‘rescue’ of prostitutes to  the establishment of museums, he brings together research areas that are usually dealt with separately. Van Eeghen’s perspective shows just how much the various private social projects in the city have influenced each other.