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Getting to know Dean Jan Kolen: “I would describe myself as a connector”

Professor Jan Kolen was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Archaeology on September 1, 2018. We sat down with him and interviewed him about his background, the challenges he sees, and the future of our Faculty.

How would you describe yourself?

“I do not really see myself as a manager. Nor as a politician or policy maker. I am driven by content, and the interest in the field of archaeology and heritage. My work is always content driven. It is interest driven. I would describe myself as a connector instead of a true manager in the sense of managing finances or managing an organisation.”

What does that mean for your style as a Dean?

“For my style as a Dean it means that I would like to be visible. I would like to connect people within the faculty, between the departments. I would also like to connect research and education.”

Speaking of research and education, what is your background?

“My background is quite diverse. I studied Archaeology, but also Philosophy. I’m more a generalist than a specialist. As a student here at Leiden University, I developed a strong interest in what is now called Human Origins research. I was one of Wil Roebroeks’ first students, I guess. So I graduated in Archaeology with a thesis on Paleolithic Archaeology. After this I developed a strong interest in landscape research combining insights, approaches and methods from geography (both physical and human geography) and archaeology, gradually moving into the field of heritage and heritage management. As a heritage researcher, my interest is predominantly in the present-day outcomes and heritage of long-term developments in landscapes, including human-nature interactions. Apart from that, I have always been interested in the theory and history of the discipline, in relation to that of other disciplines like geography and anthropology.”

Jan Kolen is an enthusiastic collector of minerals and fossils.

And what will this mean for the Faculty?

“Again, I think that I’m not really a specialist. I’m not someone who is able to dig for 5 or 10 years into one specific sub-discipline or specific research topic. I think –or hope- my strength is that I am able to link different fields of expertise. I consider my broad interest as a strength and a weakness at the same time, but it gives me the opportunity to have discussions, again content-driven, with most of the researchers in this Faculty. I will most likely be interested in their research and feel intrinsically motivated to understand their work.”

What is the biggest challenge you think you will face during your term?

“Community building! People over here are excellent researchers. Some belong to the world top. I want to further improve research in terms of initiating collaboration: making network proposals, consortium proposals, doing things together more intensively in the future between the departments. In education and teaching this will be done anyway. That is part of the new bachelor’s programme and the reorganisation of the master’s programme.

I consider community building the most challenging task for the next five years. We have those small research units and we would like them to be present in the building more frequently. Physically being here, interacting, having discussions, having lunch together, and so on. Encouraging people to act in the benefit of the whole, identifying themselves with the Faculty as a whole and not only with a specific research group or unit. That is the most important task for the next five years.”

How do you picture the Faculty of Archaeology in four years, at the end of your term?

“With somewhat stronger Departments of Heritage and Society and Archaeological Science, and stronger connections between these departments and World Archaeology – which will always be the backbone of our faculty, of course. And maybe even more interdisciplinary, interfaculty collaborations between our Faculty and components of other faculties, such as Biology and the Environmental Sciences (Science Faculty), Cultural Anthropology (Social Sciences), Ancient History and Museum Studies (Humanities) and International Law (with Heritage). A broader Faculty with stronger internal links, as well as connections with other faculties and partners in and around Leiden, such as the National Museum of Antiquities, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Museum of Ethnology and Erfgoed Leiden.”

About Jan Kolen

Professor Jan (J.C.A.) Kolen (1962) studied Archaeology at Leiden University. After graduating, he worked for the RAAP Foundation at the University of Amsterdam and the NWO Pioneer Project 'Changing view of Ice Age foragers' (Leiden University). In 2005, he obtained his PhD (cum laude) with his dissertation on the ‘Biography of the Landscape’, a new approach to landscape history. Since 2000 he has been affiliated to the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, initially as a lecturer, then as Belvedere Professor of Heritage of Town and Country, and since 2009 as Professor of the History and Heritage of European Cultural Landscapes. In addition, Jan Kolen was Director of the CLUE Interfaculty Research Institute (Heritage and History of the Cultural Landscape and Urban Environment). Since 2013 he is Professor in Landscape Archaeology and Cultural Heritage at Leiden University and he is director at the Centre for Global Heritage and Development from Leiden University, the Technical University of Delft and Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Since September 2018 Jan Kolen is the Dean of the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University. 

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