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About the University

Remieg Aerts

Remieg Aerts

Who? Remieg Aerts (1957)
Studied: History in Groningen. Electives: art history, Dutch, museum studies
First job: Assistant professor in Philosophy of History at the University of Groningen
Favourite spot at the UvA: The Bushuis, on the Kloveniersburgwal

Assumed path to university

‘I grew up in an academic environment. My father was a professor at the University of Groningen and my older brother and sister went to university. It was assumed that I would attend university as well. When the time finally came, though, I did ask myself: why was it so obvious that I should end up here? I had never actively chosen that path for myself. Which was also one of the reasons I later enrolled at an art academy. It was a choice I made for myself, it was something I really wanted.’

Long-term perspective

‘After secondary school, I was having trouble choosing between Chinese and history – in the end, though, I took a considered decision for the latter. Not because I was so in love with the Middle Ages or knights or some such, but because I was looking for a study programme that could give me broad insight into how state, society and culture are arranged. My history teachers in secondary school showed us the value of historical knowledge when it comes to understanding societal processes. That became my guiding principle at university. The long-term perspective of history is the best lens through which to examine today's society.’

Ambition will serve you well throughout your life

Gaining perspective

‘The advantage of this field is that it teaches people to view things in the proper perspective. Everyone always thinks that the period they live in is really special. That today's crisis is the worst one ever. Only by placing recent developments in a historical perspective is it possible to evaluate whether they are truly new and momentous, or just another phase in a transitory process that has been seen countless times before. Another important lesson history can teach us is how to take a step back from your own temporal context. In the past, everything was different: people thought differently and things worked in a different way. This teaches you to have greater understanding, in a multicultural society, for the fact that things can be fundamentally different, and organised based on other values.’

Values and context

‘The Humanities are enormously underrated in terms of their importance. Humanities are about the shared values we create and enforce. The likelihood that new products or technologies will succeed is strongly dependent on cultural contexts which we can learn to understand through the study of humanities. Food technologists can develop fantastic solutions to the world's serious food-related problems: new seeds, modified products that are resistant to fungus, and so forth. These solutions can only be effective if you understand why people in certain cultures are open to eating certain things, or not, and what kind of status and value they assign to the rituals around food.’

Humanities are about the shared values we create and enforce

From Nijmegen to Amsterdam

‘I transferred from Radboud University in Nijmegen to the UvA fairly recently, in 2017. I feel a certain affinity for Amsterdam and the UvA. I'm an Amsterdammer myself, born and raised in Slotervaart. The Faculty of Humanities at the UvA is a large, stimulating faculty that offers a great many possibilities and a great deal of expertise. In Nijmegen, the arts and humanities faculty was smaller and ultimately, I found myself fairly tightly constrained within the political history discipline. I was eager to explore broader societal topics (through research), and I can do that better from here.’

Organised chaos

‘Compared to other universities, the UvA is bigger, freer and more daring. It's also more chaotic and yet, miraculously, still organised in many ways. One advantage, of course, is that the UvA is in Amsterdam along with a myriad of other knowledge and cultural institutions, scientific institutes and businesses, all of whom have one relationship or another with the university. This places the UvA near the heart of societal debates and means the media are always close by. Which makes the university a highly interesting place.’

Today's society is the cumulative result of history and experience.

Bold and brazen

‘In some ways, UvA students are bolder and more brazen than other students. They're less ashamed to be late to lectures and can't be bothered to offer an excuse or apology when it happens. They're also bolder about expressing strong opinions, both in class and on social media. That means that incidents in the classroom are more likely to be made public and therefore become cause for discussion.’

A long history of universities

‘I've come to the realisation that I've now had some fifty years of experience with what goes on at universities. First at home, then as a student and now via my own work. That's a history of universities in its own right. It makes it easier to keep a sense of perspective in my approach to the field. Education and research are constantly being adjusted and reinvented. Governments have been trying to come up with new educational models for decades now, in order to improve their graduation rates. I've seen many of those attempts come and go, and not all of them are equally successful.’

An academic at heart

‘Thanks to my studies and my work, I've become a true academic at heart: I approach and evaluate everything in an academic fashion, across all aspects of life. I want to hear sound arguments, see evidence; I want to hold a reasonable discourse. Attending university has taught me a certain mindset, an attitude that doesn't stop when I leave work. It's not like some parlour trick you pick up: it's a way of thinking about the world. I hope I'm able to pass that type of thought along to my students.’