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Michiel van Groesen: Leiden expert on Maritime History

Expertise on Maritime History in Leiden

Leiden University is the only university in the Netherlands with its own master’s programme in Maritime History. Scholars in Leiden challenge their students to ask new questions and seek answers for developments in local and global maritime history. LeidenGlobal spoke with Professor of Maritime History Michiel van Groesen on his current research, the importance of Dutch maritime history and how he sees the future of the field.

Michiel van Groesen completed his MA in ‘History and Culture of the Dutch Golden Age’ at University College London. He obtained his PhD at the University of Amsterdam where he was also assistant professor at the Early Modern History department. In 2013 the NWO granted him a VIDI grant for his research project 'Covering the Ocean: Newspapers and Information Management in the Atlantic World, 1620-1770'. Since 2015 Van Groesen is Professor of Maritime History at Leiden University. His interest lies in Atlantic history and colonial history in the Atlantic world (1492-1800).

Van Groesen is currently working on his book ‘An Ocean of Rumors: News and Information in the Atlantic World’ which concerns European media in the 17th century and examines how information comes from the Atlantic Ocean, how it lands in Europe and how that is decisive for policy decisions. He notes that there are a lot of modern aspects to this research: ‘as you cannot control news, there are all kinds of stories circulating which are gaining more and more power in European media, but which are completely wrong.’

Elaborating on the significance of Dutch maritime history, Van Groesen explains that ‘Dutch maritime history can be used for broader development in the field, as Dutch ships were better at shipping goods and knowledge, than for example English or Spanish ships, and they often did it on a large scale and more professionally.’ According to Van Groesen, one of the options to broaden the scope and impact of Dutch maritime history is to conduct research into the shipping of information and knowledge.

Finally, Van Groesen reflects on the field of maritime history and mentions that it is important that historians make more use of other types of source material, like visual culture. ‘Historians should step across the boundaries of disciplines and learn from each other’, he argues. A recent example is an interdisciplinary research project in which researchers from the Leiden Faculties of Archaeology and Humanities collaborate to research a unique shipwreck. Van Groesen concludes that he would like to do just this, ‘train young historians who really want to take off their blinders and study all the material that is available’.

 

Interview by LeidenGlobal project assistant Harkirat Singh

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