Willem Th.M. Frijhoff (*Zutphen [NL], May 31, 1942) studied philosophy and theology at the theological seminaries of the archbishopric of Utrecht in the Netherlands 1960-1966, and history and social sciences in Paris 1966-1971 (Sorbonne and École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales [EHESS]). He obtained his MA (history) degree in Paris 1970 (Sorbonne/EHESS), his DEA (historical anthropology) in 1972 (EHESS, Paris), and his PhD (social sciences) in 1981 at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He was awarded with an honorary doctorate (history of education) at the University of Mons-Hainaut (Belgium) in 1998, and was made Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite (France) and Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau (Netherlands). He is the Dutch recipient 2011 of the bi-national Dutch and French Descartes-Huygens Award for Dutch and French Scientific Cooperation.
After research assignments for the French CNRS in 1969-1971, he was in 1971-1981 a research fellow in religious anthropology at the EHESS (chair of Alphonse Dupront) and as from 1977 also at the history of education department of the Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique (INRP), both in Paris. In 1981-1983 he taught social history at Tilburg University. In 1983-1997 he held the newly founded chair of cultural history and history of mentalities of pre-industrial societies at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam (faculty dean 1986-1989), and was from 1997 to his retirement in 2007 professor of early modern history at the Free University (VU-University), Amsterdam (faculty dean 2002-2006). He supervised or co-supervised 52 finished PhD dissertations in the Netherlands, at the EUI (Florence, Italy), in Great Britain (Cambridge) and in France (Paris-I), and is still supervisor or co-supervisor of half a dozen other PhD dissertations. He served on many PhD juries in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the USA. Since 2003, he chairs the thematic research program ‘Cultural Heritage’, now ‘Cultural Dynamics’, of the Dutch National Research Organization (NWO, until 2013, sixteen research projects involving about 50 research positions), for which he drafted the initial program and supervised its elaboration.
He was a visiting professor at the EHESS in Paris (1987, 1999) and at the European University at Florence (1990, 1991), held the UCSIA visiting professorship at Antwerp University in February-June 2009, and throughout 2009 a part-time visiting professorship at the Radboud University Nijmegen, where he acted as a coordinator of the research program ‘Culture, Religion and Memory’. In 2010-11 he holds the Erasmus Chair of the Verhagen Foundation at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam, where his teaching focuses on the theme of Memory and oblivion in history. In 2009 he was appointed member of the jury of the grand prix Claude Lévi-Strauss (Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques) by the French Secretary of State of Scientific research.
In 1990 he was elected a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW, Amsterdam), which he served 1999-2008 as a member of the executive board, and 2005-2008 as chair of its division of Humanities and Social Sciences (and functional vice-president). Among other services within the KNAW, he chaired the committee on the use of Dutch as a language of science (2003), and served from 1995 to 2008 on the board the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Historical Scholarship, first as a member and a secretary, finally as chair. He was elected a foreign member of the Royal Flemish Academy at Brussels in 2006 and a member of the Academia Europea (London) in 2009. Since 2008 he is also a fellow of the New Netherland Institute at Albany (NY). Among his published public lectures are the Goltzius lecture (Venlo 1992), the Willem van Oranje lecture (Delft 2000) and the Johan de Witt lecture (Dordrecht 2008). Two of his academic lectures at the KNAW have been published in a more elaborate version: Volkskunde en cultuurwetenschap: de ups en downs van een dialoog [KNAW, Mededelingen van de afd. Letterkunde, NR 60, 3] (Amsterdam: KNAW, 1997) 60 p., and Meertaligheid in de Gouden eeuw: een verkenning [KNAW, Mededelingen van afd. Letterkunde, NR 73, 2] (Amsterdam: KNAW Press, 2010), 68 p.
He published many learned articles on themes of cultural and religious history, history of education and history of universities in Western Europe (in particular France and the Netherlands) and colonial North America (New Netherland), with a strong accent on cultural practices and representations: on social memory, representation, and identity; on the history of secondary schooling and higher education, and urban history; on the social history of language and intellectual history; on cultural transfer and forms of appropriation, and on popular religion, interconfessional coexistence and toleration, and issues of prophecy, magic and sorcery. His present research is on the transmission of religious experience, on religious survival strategies, toleration, cultural identities and models of coexistence in early modern Europe and colonial America, and on heritage, memory and oblivion, including the so-called lieux de mémoire of the Low Countries and Europe. He pertains to the first group of selected scholars at VU-University whose work has been included in the digital DARE Repository.
His books in French include École et société dans la France d'Ancien Régime, with Dominique Julia (Paris: A. Colin, 1975) [Cahiers des Annales, 35; awarded as Le Choix des Annales], Prophètes et sorciers dans les Pays-Bas aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, with Robert Muchembled and Marie-Sylvie Dupont-Bouchat (Paris: Hachette-Littérature, 1978); his PhD dissertation La Société néerlandaise et ses gradués, 1575-1814. Une recherche sérielle sur le statut des intellectuels à partir des registres universitaires (Amsterdam/Maarssen: APA, 1981) [awarded with the Prins Bernhard Fonds Prize by the Holland Society of Sciences, Haarlem]; Lieux de mémoire et identités nationales, co-ed. with Pim den Boer (Amsterdam: AUP, 1993), the special issue « Autodidaxies, XVIe-XIXe siècles » of Histoire de l'éducation (Paris), n° 70, May 1996, and the teacher textbook « Histoire de la diffusion et de l'enseignement du français dans le monde », co-ed. with André Reboullet, a special issue of Le Français dans le monde (Paris, 1998).
Among his publications in English are the collected essays Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Man and the Scholar, co-ed. with J. Sperna Weiland (Leiden: Brill, 1988), Witchcraft in the Netherlands from the fourteenth to the twentieth century, co-ed. with Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra (Rotterdam UP, 1991), and the chapters on “The Golden Age of Holland”, with Marijke Spies and Gary Schwartz, in The Drama of the Low Countries. Twenty centuries of civilization between Seine and Rhine (Antwerp: Fonds Mercator Paribas 1996; also published in French). His broad synthesis on Dutch culture in the Golden Age under the title 1650: Bevochten eendracht, with Marijke Spies, with the collaboration of Wiep van Bunge and Natasja Veldhorst (The Hague: Sdu, 1999), has been translated into English as 1650: Hard-Won Unity (Assen: Royal van Gorcum / Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). He wrote the synthesis on “Popular Religion” in the Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. VII (2006). He coordinated and wrote the introduction to the early modern division of the new handbook Four Centuries of Dutch-American Relations (Amsterdam: Boom / Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2009), and co-edited with Laura Cruz the conference volume Myth in History, History in Myth (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2009).
A collection of his Dutch and French essays on religious history has been translated into English and published under the title Embodied belief: Ten essays on religious culture in Dutch history (Hilversum: Verloren, 2002). He is also the author of chapter 2 ("Patterns") and 9 ("Graduation and careers"), in Hilde Ridder-Symoens (ed.), A History of the University in Europe. Volume II: Universities in Early Modern Europe (1500-1800) (Cambridge UP, 1996), pp. 43-110, 355-415 (transl. into German, Portuguese and Spanish). He was editor and co-author of three urban histories in the Netherlands, that of the cities of Zutphen (1989), Dordrecht (3 volumes, 1996-2000), and Amsterdam (vol. II-1 and II-2, with Maarten Prak, 2004-2005), and prepares at present a Historical Atlas of Zutphen (2011). He edited three major scholarly book collections in the humanities: Sporen (SUN), Memoria (SUN), and IJkpunt 1650 (Sdu). His inaugural lectures Cultuur, mentaliteit: illusies van elites? (Erasmus University Rotterdam, 1984) and Heiligen, idolen, iconen (Free University 1998), his valedictory lecture Dynamisch erfgoed (Free University, 2007), all published by SUN, and the publication of three other academic lectures De mist van de geschiedenis (by Vantilt 2011) are widely used in teaching and research, and found their way in German, French or English translations. With Leo Wessels he edited the Open University course on early modern European history Veelvormige dynamiek: Europa in het ancien régime 1450-1800 (Amsterdam & Heerlen 2006).
Beside many learned articles, his scholarly work on the Dutch Golden Age and colonial America includes the contextual biography Wegen van Evert Willemsz. Een Hollands weeskind op zoek naar zichzelf 1607-1647 [The Quest of Evert Willemsz: a Dutch orphan in search of himself] (Nijmegen: SUN, 1995) [awarded as Le Choix des Annales], widely considered in the scholarly world as his magnum opus. This monograph conceived at the core of his conception of cultural history, provides a cultural analysis of the life story of a poor orphan child, who through a mystical youth experience became a Reformed minister at New Amsterdam (present-day New York); one of the first settlers, Bogardus was a major personality of early New York history, and his memory is still subject to a broad variety of interpretations. The revised version translated by Myra Heerspink Scholz, Fulfilling God’s Mission. The Two Worlds of Dominie Everardus Bogardus 1607-1647 (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2007), has obtained the Hendricks Manuscript Award 2008 of the New Netherland Institute at Albany, NY. The making of this book, that has been at the core of various conferences, key lectures and interpretations, and his inspired several writers and artists, has been analyzed in: “The Improbable Biography: Uncommon Sources, a Moving Identity, a Plural Story?” in: Volker R. Berghahn & Simone Lässig (eds.), Biography between Structure and Agency: Central European Lives in International Historiography [Studies in German History, 9] (Oxford & New York: Berghahn Books, 2008), pp. 215-233.
His work has much benefited from his contacts with the late French historian and psychoanalyst Michel de Certeau, about whom he published several articles, including the biographical assessment “Michel de Certeau (1925-1986)”, in: Philip Daileader & Philip Whalen (eds.), French Historians 1900-2000. The New Historical Writing in Twentieth-Century France (Chichester UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), pp. 77-92.
Throughout his academic career, he has maintained a fruitful cooperation with Professor Dominique Julia (CNRS), at the EHESS (Centre d’Anthropologie Religieuse Européenne); at present, their common research aims at the publication of a cultural and social analysis of the French religious congregation of the Oratory as an educational body during the Ancient Regime, for which much preparatory research has already been achieved and several learned articles published.
Together with a team of specialists, co-directed by Niek Pas (University of Amsterdam), Bertrand Van Ruymbeke (French Embassy and Maison Descartes, Amsterdam) and Thomas Beaufils (Franco-Dutch Academy, Lille) and himself, he is at present preparing a Handbook of Franco-Dutch Relations in History, in a Dutch and a French version.