Universiteit Leiden

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Institute for History


The combination of global questions and a wide range of local sources characterizes the Leiden University Institute for History.

Global questions, local sources

The motto of the Institute for History is: ‘Global questions, local sources.’ Its researchers use local sources to find answers to major historical questions. Without historical analysis, it is impossible to understand and explain the issues in society today. Leiden itself has a rich history, with big names such as Johan Huizinga.

Why do we have more difficulty with migration than people in the Golden Age did, when migrants formed 30 to 60% of the population of Dutch cities? Were the Dutch naval heroes brave adventurers or slave traders? Is the Dutch identity diverse or has it been clearly entrenched since William of Orange? And does a new style of political leadership explain the popularity of populist leaders? These are just some of the present-day issues that require historical knowledge and understanding.

Global history

The Institute’s research places Dutch history in the perspective of globalisation and global change. Since its inception, it has possessed extensive expertise in the field of Northwest, South and East Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. It looks at kings in different parts of the world to try to understand the rise and fall of dynasties. And poses the question of whether Dutch colonial culture was the product of Dutch politics or Asian networks.

Big changes and everyday experiences

The researchers at the Institute therefore focus on important processes such as migration, colonialism, urbanisation and identity formation. They question widely held assumptions: did the population really decline during the fall of the Roman Empire? Are the stories about William of Orange during the 80 Years War really true? And have women always committed fewer crimes than men have?

‘The committee’s overall impression is of an excellent institute in which there is a strong sense of professionalism, impressive commitment and very high levels of performance in terms of publications in clearly identified, leading journals and books appearing with leading academic publishers.’


The Institute’s researchers also want to know how people experienced change. They ask questions about what regular Dutch people knew about the Holocaust during the Second World War. They want to know how the Eighty Years’ War is remembered and to what extent enslaved people in Suriname had freedom of action. They also examine the more recent past. Together with the Netherlands Institute Morocco (NIMAR), they look at the experiences of Moroccan migrants to the Netherlands over the last 50 years.

Societal impact

The Institute works closely with museums and educational and knowledge institutions, and they make use of its results. Ministries request advice on present-day issues relating to migration and the slavery story and colonial past of the Netherlands. With their knowledge and insights, the researchers make an active contribution to debates in society through a range of media such as newspapers, journals, radio, TV, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and websites.


The Institute’s approach is successful. That is apparent from not only the grants that it has secured, but also the popularity of its publications – in journals and popular science books. This demonstrates that the history research in Leiden ties in with topical issues and ongoing debates in society. And this is not only in Leiden but also in The Hague, where many of the Leiden historians teach on the successful Bachelor’s programme in International Studies.

Research programmes

The research of the Institute for History is subdivided into six research programmes:

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