Universiteit Leiden

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Leo Lucassen admitted as KNAW member

Leo Lucassen was selected by KNAW on the basis of his academic achievements. Lucassen studied socio-economic history in Leiden, where he earned a PhD cum laude. He took up Leiden’s chair in Social History in 2005, and since 2014 he has been serving as Leiden’s professor of Global Labour and Migration History and as academic director of the International Institute for Social History (KNAW-IIHS). He plays a prominent role in the public debate on migration.

Leo Lucassen

Leo Lucassen conducts research on mobility, interactions between migrants and the existing population, and migration politics. Through his work Lucassen is building a bridge between historical research and the social sciences. He participates regularly in public debates, including as a guest on the television programme Buitenhof, as the author of articles in national newspapers, and as an active Twitter user. Together with his brother Jan (also employed by the IISH), he is co-author of the book Vijf eeuwen migratie (‘Five Centuries of Migration’), which appeared in 2018.

What does KNAW membership mean to Lucassen? What he does consider important about his own research? And does he incorporate that into his teaching?

What does KNAW membership mean to you and for your research? Does it give you extra impetus?

‘To start with, this appointment is a tremendous honour and act of appreciation for what I – together with many others – have done over the past thirty years, both in terms of my contribution to the field and in my role as an academic in the public debate. Especially in these times of populism and institutional distrust, it’s crucial that academics know that they are supported by the larger community they are part of, and in that respect, the Academy, alongside universities, is an essential institution. Furthermore, it gives me extra impetus to further flesh out my double role as professor in Leiden and as director at the International Institute for Social History (IISH), a KNAW institution.’

In your opinion, how does research in history contribute to a more flexible society?

‘If you want to understand current developments, knowledge of history is indispensable. Not just because past choices partially determine outcomes today, but also because long-term analyses of issues like social inequality can teach us a lot about what factors play a role in these issues, both then and now. In that sense, you can think of history as a social science that uses systematic comparisons in time and space to offer unique insight into all sorts of mechanisms, whether they have to do with economic growth, the role of how labour is valued, social inclusion and exclusion, the position of women, or identity formation.’

How do you incorporate your research and your expertise in migration into your teaching?

‘Together with Peter Hoppenbrouwers, I give a compulsory second-year lecture course about the history of globalisation. If you want to understand how different parts of the world have become more involved with each other over the last millennia, it’s essential to have insight into migration patterns as they are studied in global migration history. That includes both people who permanently settle in a new place voluntarily and Africans who were enslaved and taken to the Americas against their will. But it also includes migrants employed by organisations, such as soldiers, explorers, merchants, scholars, and missionaries who spread new ideas and established new power structures. I’m particularly interested in the relation between cross-cultural migrations and social and cultural changes, whether positive or negative.’

About KNAW members

KNAW has selected 19 new members. KNAW members are prominent scholars from all disciplines and are chosen on the basis of their scholarly achievements. KNAW has approximately five hundred members. Membership is for life. New Academy members will be inducted on Monday, 16 September.

Moving toward flexible societies

Migration, globalisation, and technology can lead to polarisation, cultural contrasts, and socio-economic inequality. The image of who we are and where we belong changes. New networks and communities are created. It is at this crossroads of social continuity and change that interests and visions are shaped that can compete or even conflict with each other. Our perspective on this rapidly changing society calls for contemplation and reassessment, but at the same time it also calls for action.

This is a National Research Agenda route.


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