Universiteit Leiden

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€ 18.8 million grant for research into innovation processes in antiquity

Successful innovation requires more than technological progress alone. Every new concept must first be firmly anchored into an existing context. At least this is the hypothesis of Dutch classicists, working together in the National Research School in Classical Studies OIKOS. They intend to test this by studying classical antiquity.

The OIKOS researchers are conducting their research thanks to a grant from the Gravitation programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Funding of €18.8 million will allow researchers from the five universities taking part to spend ten years researching the subject. By studying Greek and Roman antiquity, they aim to generate insight into innovation processes over the ages.

New and familiar

André Lardinois, professor of Greek Language and Literature at Radboud University: ‘We want to know how innovation works and how it gets accepted. Not only in the field of technology, but also in institutions, art and literature. In all these domains we observe combinations of what is new with what is familiar; sometimes things really are new or familiar, sometimes people just imagine they are. To be successful, an innovation must connect with something familiar, that is to say: it must be anchored.’

Electric cars

‘Take the advent of electric cars, for example,’ says Ineke Sluiter, professor of Greek Language and Literature at Leiden University and lead applicant for the funding. ‘Taking fuel in an electric care comes down to recharging the battery. In the first electric cars, the socket for plugging in would be in the same place as where one would insert the nozzle when taking gas in one’s old car. And the design of the charging points is that of a petrol pump.  So the innovation is anchored in the familar world around us. You see the same processes in ancient Greece when they introduced coins and democracy.’

Scientific community

In order to study every domain in society, a diverse group of specialists who can work together closely is needed. Sluiter: ‘Classicists are in the unique position of being able to study this issue because collectively they can examine societies in their entirety: from technology to philosophy, and from art to literature. What´s more, here in the Netherlands, classicists from the six traditional universities have been working together closely since 2000. We form one big research community, which is perfectly equipped to take on major projects like this. I’m convinced that this is the research practice of the future.’

Societal impact

The project wants to focus expressly on demonstrating the societal importance of the humanities. Lardinois: ‘Anchoring Innovation is designed to show that if a society wants to innovate successfully, it must not only take the sciences seriously, but must use all the talent available to it, including the humanities. We want to contribute to processes of innovation, including those of today.’

Involved researchers and universities

‘Anchoring Innovation’ was developed by an extensive team of Dutch classicists, headed by Ineke Sluiter (lead applicant, Leiden University) and André Lardinois (Radboud University). The team comprises researchers from Leiden University, Radboud University, the University of Groningen, Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam.

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