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Ernst Kossmann

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Ernst Kossmann

Ernst Heinrich Kossmann (31 January 1922 – 8 November 2003) was a Dutch historian. He was professor of Modern History at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. His magnum opus is The Low Countries. History of the Southern and Northern Netherlands.

Life and work

Born in Leiden, Kossmann was the son of the erudite librarian F. H. Kossmann. He had two brothers. His twin brother Alfred became a writer; his younger brother Bernhard played the violin professionally. The Kossmann family was partly of Jewish descent and they came from Germany before they settled in Holland. Kossmann attended the Gymnasium Erasmianum in Rotterdam. The Second World War meant an interruption of his education. He was arrested during a razzia, was sent to concentration camp Vught, and had to work for two-and-a-half years in Germany, together with his twin brother Alfred. The latter wrote a novel, De nederlaag (The defeat), that was based on their experiences during the war. After the war he studied History at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He graduated in 1950 and in the same year married his fellow student Johanna Putto.

After their marriage the couple went to Paris. In 1954 Kossmann obtained his Ph.D. from Leiden University, with a doctoral thesis entitled La Fronde. In 1957 he went to London as professor of Dutch History and Institutions. In 1962 he became professor at the University College London. In 1966 he became professor of Modern History at the University of Groningen. In 1981 he delivered his Huizinga Lecture in the Pieterskerk in Leiden. He died in Groningen.

Kossmann was considered a writer with a refined style, and an erudite scholar. His intellectual outlook was sceptical, ironical, detached. He published several books in collaboration with his wife Johanna Kossmann-Putto.

Bibliography (selection)

  • La Fronde (doctoral thesis). Leiden: Universitaire Pers 1954 (In French)
  • In Praise of the Dutch Republic. Some seventeenth-century attitudes (inaugural lecture University College London). Londen: Lewis 1963
  • The Low Countries: 1780-1940 (Oxford History of Modern Europe) (1978) 790pp
  • The Low Countries. History of the Southern and Northern Netherlands. Rekkem: Flemish-Netherlands Foundation Ons Erfdeel 1987 (written by E.H. Kossmannn and J.A. Kosmann-Putto)
  • Political thought in the Dutch Republic. Three Studies. Amsterdam: KNAW 2000
  • Over conservatisme (On Conservatism), Amsterdam: Athenaeum Polak & Van Gennep 1981 (Huizinga Lecture, in Dutch)


  • 'Ernst Heinrich Kossmann, Leiden 31 januari 1922 - Groningen 8 november 2003', Jaarboek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde 2004, p. 106-125 (in Dutch).
  • File Ernst Kossmann in the Digital Library of Dutch Literature (DBNL), including online versions of some of his books.

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