‘Funding is often hard to find. But not this time!’
‘It is a fantastic sum of money,’ enthuses classicist Professor Ineke Sluiter. ‘It gives me not just an award, but a task as well. And in all honesty, I prefer it that way.’ She is already brimming with ideas about what she will do with her Spinoza Prize.
Sluiter has just returned for a short visit from Oxford where she is giving a series of lectures. Once every three years a speaker is invited to give the Nellie Wallace lectures. These four lectures – in which she also makes the link with the present day – are on the subject of language and language use, rhetoric and the freedom of expression. Sluiter is a gifted speaker, as is evident from the fact that no less than three of her lectures have appeared in the Home Academy series.
‘It is precisely twenty years ago today that I defended my PhD dissertation,’ Sluiter recalls. ‘And I can remember all too well the constant concern expressed by friends: why classical languages? How on earth will you earn a living with that? It’s a question my students will now be spared!’
The title of the dissertation that Sluiter defended on 7 June 1990 was Ancient grammar in context. Contributions to the study of ancient linguistic thought. It was the stepping stone to the research that has been a driving force for her ever since: ancient ideas about language and literature, ancient norms and values, cultural identity, freedom of expression. ‘Ancient Greek language and culture: a wonderful and complex world, from which we have inherited our culture; an alien society to us.’
What does she mean about the Spinoza Prize being a task?. Sluiter: ‘If I wanted to shut myself away for five years to write another book – and that’s not such a bad idea – it would quite simply not cost so much money. And it would go against the idea of the interwovenness of research and teaching. On the other hand, time is the most important thing you can give a humanities scholar, so I have to really think about how I will organise things so that I make enough time for my own research.’
There’s no doubt about it; that book will certainly be written. Sluiter comments: ‘But this prize also offers a wonderful opportunity to give a significant impetus to my whole field of research, and I have ideas enough about how. I will use part of the prize to apply to a new research theme, but I first want to discuss it with a number of people. I’ll be able to tell you more about that in the autumn when the prize is actually awarded. When I think about it, it’s that impetus for my research that is most important for me.’
Sluiter intends to use at least part of the money for the collaboration between pre-university education (VWO) and the universities. Classicists are working on a new Greek-Dutch dictionary for use at VWO level and in the early bachelor’s years, as well as for anyone who needs ancient Greek, such as theologists and philosophers. ‘To date the project has been held together by financial improvisation,’ Sluiter explains, ‘but it now looks a lot brighter. A good foundation in Greek at pre-university level is essential for the success of our university programmes and consequently also for research. And a good dictionary that is founded on sensible linguistic principles really is a fundamental resource.’
in the coming years Sluiter wants to invite an array of leading international researchers to give workshops, lectures and talks for her department of Greek and Latin language and culture in Leiden, for research master’s students and the national classics research school OIKOS. Sluiter: ‘This will give our young researchers a good picture of the latest developments in my field and it will also give them access to an international network at the very start of their career.’
Finally, she intends to appoint a number of PhD candidates. Some of these will be for research that she herself will initiate, but she also wants to offer opportunities to young researchers with their own innovative ideas. ‘We have an excellent group of classicists in the Netherlands and particularly in Leiden, and I am really looking forward to doing some exciting new research with them. The most dynamic research often takes place at the interface between different disciplines, within Humanities, but also further afield. It is often difficult to find funding for such truly interdisciplinary research. But not now!’
Ineke Sluiter (Amsterdam 1959) studied Classical Languages at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, where she also obtained her PhD, with honours. After a post-doc from the KNAW and research grants at the Center for Hellenic Studies (Harvard; Washington DC, 1994/5) and the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, 1996/7), she became Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). In 1999 she was appointed Professor of Greek Language and Literature in Leiden. Since 2000 she has been Academic Director of OIKOS, the National Research School in Classical Studies, in the Netherlands.
Sluiter has already won prizes both for her research and teaching, and has given a number of prestigious lectures, including the lecture at the 430th Dies Natalis of Leiden University in 2005.
(7 June 2010/SH)