Research programs and projects

Objectives, Mission and Organisation

CHC research program 'Historical Culture'

People perceive, explore, and use the past with various media and in different geographical spaces: from visiting heritage sites and playing historic games, from reading and writing autobiographies, from learning, teaching, leisure and trading, from local, national and global encounters. These genres are often shaped by older and sometimes forgotten traditions.

The Center for Historical Culture particularly investigates the impact of global encounters on historical cultures since the emergence of modern society in the late 18th century. Its research program aims to further theoretical reflection and to conduct empirical research in the broad and inclusive theme of historical culture.

Historical culture is closely linked to the mediation of memories and identities, resulting in the exclusion and inclusion of people and groups. Politicians and policy makers often try to influence historical culture. Media increasingly contribute to the canonization and (re)mediation of historical knowledge that articulates the identity of a nation and other regional, transnational and global communities. In this way, 'good' behaviour of the own group is emphasized in the past, mostly against the background of ‘bad’ behaviour of others. Committed genocides must be forgotten rapidly, but the good and unifying elements from the past must be cultivated.

The central question of the research program is: which cross-cultural interactions and constructions of identities have been involved in giving meaning to the past since the late 18th century and what are the (unintended) effects on historical cultures in the globalizing, (post)colonial world? Twelve projects investigate collective memory and historical consciousness; national historiographies and violent legacies; social and political modernization; the travel of concepts; the construction and appropriation of historical knowledge in history text books and heritage education projects.

The Center for Historical Culture cooperates intensively with national and international partner institutions, such as: the Center for the Study of Historical Consciousness (Vancouver, Canada), the Institute of Public History (Ghent, Belgium) and the National Liberation Museum 1944-1945 (Groesbeek, the Netherlands).

Historical culture, a definition

The term historical culture denotes the past-relationships of a community, articulated in a broad array of narratives, media, ideologies and attitudes. It brings together a number of scholarly and intellectual pursuits, such as the study of memory, the (un)making of identities, cultural and historical canons, the genres of history, the wider field of intellectual history, and studies of history education. It is also concerned with public history, such as entertainment, folklore, and other channels through which the general public digests historical information and processes history into everyday life. Accordingly, historians, both in and outside academe, are drawing on a broad range of source materials: texts, oral histories, rituals, traditions, arte-facts, statues, buildings, exhibitions, images, movies, comics and games.

The focus on narratives, memory and identity is central to a cultural transformation in historiography. It is by now acknowledged that the history of historiography comprises several circuits of authors and their readers, giving rise to multiple competing claims and assumptions, and to different discourses and styles it employs. Moreover, the awareness of the public usage of history and its political implications generate the blurring of boundaries between academic historiography and popular historical culture. Hence, although the classical canons have by no means disappeared, they are no longer seen as perennial standards, but rather as contested constructions, ever subject to critique and revision. Finally, the traditional division of the field into 'western' and 'non-western' history can no longer be taken for granted. Global history studies world-wide connections, trans-cultural encounters and conflicts, as well as the world-wide migration of people, arte-facts, and ideas, and the global circulation of notions and practices of status, 'race', ethnicity and gender. Historical culture probably still operates to a great extent within national frameworks, but local, trans-national and global settings are gaining ground. The re-examination of the spatial and temporal grounding of historical culture offers a promising and inspiring field of research.

For more information on international research in the field of historical culture and historiography, see Links and Research projects on our website.

Former financed research projects at CHC

1. NWO: Heritage Education, Plurality of Narratives and Shared Historical Knowledge; Maria Grever and Carla van Boxtel (2009-2014). Read the book Verlangen naar tastbaar verleden.

2. NWO Valorization: Dynamic heritage education in The Netherlands; Maria Grever and Stephan Klein (2013). Visit the website

3. WRR / Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy: National Identity in Context; Maria Grever and Kees Ribbens (2005-2007). Read the book Nationale identiteit en meervoudig verleden.

4. NWO: Paradoxes of De-Canonization. New Forms of Cultural Transmission in History; Maria Grever, Siep Stuurman and Kees Ribbens (2004-2006). Read the book Beyond the canon.

Former visiting scholars

2016: Prof. Christine Gundermann (University of Cologne)

2015: Dr Cesar Lopez (Autonomous University Madrid/European University of Madrid)

2008 and 2010: Fernando Sánchez Costa (Assistant Professor at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain)
Click here to read his testimony.