What concepts (culture, religion) are important for analysis, and how does the author define these concepts?

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Culture is indeed central to The Embarrassment of Riches . Like many historians, Schama grapples with just how to define "culture," which is, he writes, an "elusive quarry." He follows sociologist Emile Durkheim's definition of a "collective or common conscience" that is hard to define but is nevertheless a "distinct...

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Culture is indeed central to The Embarrassment of Riches. Like many historians, Schama grapples with just how to define "culture," which is, he writes, an "elusive quarry." He follows sociologist Emile Durkheim's definition of a "collective or common conscience" that is hard to define but is nevertheless a "distinct reality."

Schama attempts to unpack Dutch culture by using art, architecture, and material culture as well as textual evidence. By doing so, he uses an anthropological approach common to cultural historians, one that seeks to find layers of meaning in Dutch cultural artifacts. He acknowledges that his study is primarily one of the Dutch middle class.

Religion is one crucial aspect of Dutch culture in the "golden age," one that contrasts Calvinism, with its strictures against frippery and materialism, against the extraordinary wealth of Dutch society in the period. It also had a strong element of eschatology, a focus on Doomsday, that fit nicely with Dutch fears that the ocean they kept at bay with the dikes might crash in on them one day or that the Spanish, French, or other powers of Europe might conquer them.

Gender is another major category of analysis in The Embarrassment of Riches, and Schama is especially interested in the portrayal of women as both "housewives and hussies,—a dichotomy that Schama sees elsewhere in Dutch society, a mixture of "dirt, theft, squalor, deceit, drunkenness [and] immoderation" on the one hand and "cleanliness, honesty, comfort, sobriety and moderation" on the other. This bifurcation of Dutch culture is fundamental to the book.

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