The Huizinga Institute is the Dutch National Research School for Cultural History. The role of the national research schools, like the Huizinga Institute, is to provide a countrywide educational programme for PhD candidates and RMA students in a specific sub-area, in our case in cultural history. Furthermore, our task is to serve as a national forum for the discipline. The Huizinga Institute’s mission is therefore:
- To provide high-quality academic education for PhD researchers and Research Master (RMA) students.
- To optimize the research culture and environment in which they operate.
- To provide a platform for national co-operation in cultural history research.
- To act as a sounding board, contact point, agency and international bridgehead for cultural history in the Netherlands.
The Huizinga Institute’s teaching programme is provided by a countrywide body of teaching staff, co-ordinated by the Programme Team. It serves to familiarize PhDs and RMAs with various approaches to and methods used in cultural historical research today. It allows graduate students from across the country to meet and interact with their fellow graduate researchers, and with senior and often internationally renowned scholars from the Netherlands and elsewhere. We see this function of cohort building as especially important. Not only does it enhance the experience of the PhD or RMA trajectory, but often these informal networks continue for years and indeed decades, so that many of our senior cultural historians still have their original Huizinga Institute peers at the core of their personal networks today.
In our teaching mission for the forthcoming years, we address in particular three underlying structural changes. The first is the increasing global dimension of cultural history. This invites us, in terms of course content, to explore where we can strengthen a global perspective in our programme. It also calls for an active approach to stimulate internationalization in our community, for instance by creating new opportunities for PhD researchers to develop their experience abroad. Secondly, the increasing prominence of large-scale research projects, funded through national or European research councils, has transformed working conditions for many PhD researchers, increasing in particular the importance of collaboration in research. As a national, interdisciplinary network, the Huizinga Institute wants to play a role in training competences in research collaboration. Thirdly, the stronger emphasis in science policy on social impact and valorization invites us to consider new opportunities for training to professionalize research skills in this regard.
The Huizinga Institute aims to provide a platform for cultural historians in the Netherlands. First, there is the teaching programme in itself, which brings together cultural-historical scholarship from across the country, and allows colleagues and PhDs to scrutinize new developments and methodologies in the discipline. In addition, our online presence gives visibility to the discipline, its expertise and its events. Furthermore, the Institute facilitates exchange of knowledge and research within the discipline by supporting and encouraging academic meetings and exchanges of our research networks. Moreover, the Huizinga Institute exercises a function of advocacy for the discipline and the profession of cultural history. We are regularly consulted as a national body for matters concerning the cultural-historical profession.
Cultural history is a broad and dynamic discipline, which can flexibly accommodate emerging topics and concerns. It is distinguished from other historical disciplines by its focus on culture as a process of attributing meaning. Taking a lead from Johan Huizinga, we understand culture as a system of ‘life forms’: usages, values, opinions, practices, objects, arts and knowledge, which may exist within a group and to which the group attaches meaning. Cultural history is distinguished by the very diverse range of sources it documents and uses, such as various kinds of text, images, music, smells, performativity, and heritage, both material and immaterial. Cultural history is also distinct from the field of cultural studies because of its focus on historicity and the historical method, emphasizing historical dynamics and processes of change, interaction and appropriation across time and space. Cultural history is above all an interdisciplinary subject: within the Humanities it combines concepts and methods from history, art history, literature, theatre studies, book history, and more, and seeks interaction outside the Humanities with the social sciences (e.g. through cultural anthropology), with the natural and medical sciences (through the history of science and medical humanities), and with computer sciences (digital humanities). Within this disciplinary field, new approaches, focus points and specialisms emerge periodically. Given the importance of culture for processes of identification, the history of identity also occupies an important place in the discipline. Although much of the Institute’s work is on historical events which take place outside the Netherlands, since the time of Johan Huizinga there has been a powerful academic tradition of cultural history focusing on culture in the Netherlands and its connections with Europe and the wider world, together with a significant outreach to the Dutch public.