“The Pilgrim Fathers walked around exactly on this spot,” stated the public administration and port expert, Harry Geerlings, one of the essay competition organisers. He is standing in front of the Pilgrim Fathers’ Church in Historic Delfshaven, where a couple of footprints have been carved into the pavement.

Gratitude for the harvest

The Pilgrim Fathers created new ties between the Netherlands and the United States. Over half of these Pilgrim Fathers died during their first, harsh winter in America, but the traditions they founded still live on today. This year, it’s exactly 400 years since the Pilgrim Fathers celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time; a celebration and act of gratitude for the harvest.

Delfshaven still looks exactly as it did in 1620. The Pilgrim Fathers ended up in Rotterdam after fleeing to Leiden from England, where they were no longer safe as they did not agree with the Anglican church. Their plan was to start a new life in Leiden, but, as they didn’t feel at home there either, they decided to leave for America. The ship on which the Pilgrim Fathers travelled to America, the Mayflower, was berthed in ‘the port of Delft’. There’s a miniature version of this ship in the Pilgrim Fathers’ church, next to the church clock that rang out when the Mayflower left. And if you look around, you can see more references to this group, including the city brewery next to the church, which is also named after them.

Towards globalisation

“It is simply amazing that the Thanksgiving tradition is still celebrated so actively. The Pilgrim Fathers’ Church came up with the idea of commemorating this 400-year anniversary. The ball really started rolling after the university was approached about this,” stated Geerlings on the origin of the essay competition.

“The Pilgrim Fathers took the first steps towards globalisation, making connections between the Netherlands and America. We then thought that we should really involve students in any such celebration as, after all, they are the future. It’s a fantastic idea to have students from all those different disciplines reflect on how their profession will develop, as well as learn from 400 years of Pilgrim Fathers’ America to consider what the future of globalisation holds. Globalisation has its good and bad points, so the essay should focus on the substance of your profession and how globalisation is set to influence your specialist field. All kinds of disciplines play a role in these questions.”

Harry Geerlings in de Pelgrimvaderskerk
Image credit: Sanne van der Most

Four universities

The essay competition is being organised by EUR, in cooperation with the universities of Leiden, Delft and Harvard. These universities were asked to take part, as the Pilgrim Fathers made their way from England to Delfshaven via Leiden and Delft and arrived in Massachusetts in the US after the crossing. “It’s fantastic that Harvard is taking part too, as this university is located very close to the spot where the Pilgrim Fathers arrived. The Pilgrim Fathers are extremely well-known in America, and the painting of their departure from Delfshaven is still on display in the Capitol,” explained Geerlings. “We’re really looking forward to reading all the beautiful essays we’ll receive from their side.”

Students are invited to share their vision of the challenges of the future in a critical, English-language essay of up to 1,000 words. Once all essays have been submitted and assessed, the ten best Dutch essay writers will be invited to the Pilgrim Fathers’ Church for the closing ceremony on 25 November. The Dutch winner will be offered a cultural trip to Harvard, Massachusetts, and the American winner can visit the Netherlands.