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In addition to housing the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Humanities, the City Centre Campus is home to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)’s new Humanities Cluster, creating the largest concentration of humanities scholars in the world.

Henk Wals

‘If we advertise our location in this unique humanities hub, it is sure to draw top-level researchers from all over the world,’ says Henk Wals, chair of the management team of the KNAW Humanities Cluster.

As of 1 October, the Meertens Institute, the Huygens Institute for Netherlands History (Huygens ING) and the International Institute of Social History (IISH) together make up the KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) Humanities Cluster, comprised of around 300 employees in total.  

Henk, who is also Director of the IISH, explains that scientific and social developments require a joint effort. ‘Just like developments in the field of technology and valorisation. For example, our data research is changing radically as a result of new ICT possibilities. As humanities scholars, we can also play a more significant role in societal discussions about migration, identity and so on. We are doing research into these types of issues, and our knowledge provides added value.’

Valuable insights for policymakers

Being able to respond to those developments requires investments. ‘The individual KNAW institutes are too small for that. But if, for example, we combine the ICT departments, it becomes possible for us to do this, and work more efficiently. It’s also more effective to tackle research together, looking at research topics through the lens of different disciplines and making connections. Take research into migration, for example. The moment people arrive in a new country, the identity question comes up: to what extent should migrants assimilate; to what extent do they influence the environment they’re in, for example linguistically? IISH researches labour migration; the Meertens Institute researches language and culture. Working together can generate valuable new insights that may be useful for policymakers.’ 

Coffee machine

‘It’s great to be working together in one place,’ says Henk, who feels that many research ideas come about as a result of talking face to face. ‘At the coffee machine, so to speak. It’s for this reason that large companies like Apple are developing their own campuses, with all sorts of activities for employees.’ That’s why he is very happy that the Humanities Cluster now forms part of the City Centre Campus. ‘We’ve long worked closely with the University of Amsterdam, but our new location enables us to expand that cooperation even further. When you bring people together, the result is cross-fertilisation. And while you can’t control that process, you can facilitate it by organising lots of meetings: receptions, lectures, bootcamps, hackathons and so on. You plant seeds, water them every once in a while, and hope that something will blossom.’

Embrace the dynamism

What the City Centre Campus will look like in five years’ time? ‘I don’t know,’ says Henk. ‘Of course, everyone in the Humanities Cluster hopes that our research will have a greater impact in society. And maybe other institutes will have joined our cluster as well. Whether IISH will be on the campus too by then? For now there isn’t the space here to accommodate fifty kilometres of archive material.’ The fact that he doesn’t know what the future will hold doesn’t bother him – on the contrary: as a socio-economic historian, Henk is fascinated by the fact that everything is in a constant state of flux. ‘My motto is: get used to it and try to embrace that dynamism.’