Paradoxes of De-Canonization. New Forms of Cultural Transmission in History

NWO programme 'Cultural innovation and the fundamentals of the humanities'

Project leader

Prof.dr. Maria Grever (also see Center for Historical Culture)

Research Team

prof.dr. Maria Grever, chair Theory of History and Historiography
prof.dr. Siep Stuurman, chair of European History
dr. Kees Ribbens, postdoc


In an age of accelerating globalization, 'porous nations' and a profound transformation of collective identities and memories, the humanities have to rethink their traditional practice of cultural transmission. The traditional canon of the nation-state, a central element in the processes of trans-generational cultural transmission ever since the nineteenth-century expansion of national education, no longer commands unquestioned authority. In the humanities, new theories and new knowledge have eroded the canonized narratives.

Both in national history, including collective memory, and in the history of political thought a vast array of new sources and new interpretations has been produced, questioning the erstwhile monopoly of the male white voice. The revision of national history and the history of political thought along these lines has been one of the most productive and innovative currents in the humanities in the late twentieth century. It is therefore not an exaggeration to speak of a powerful trend of de-canonization. Paradoxically, however, the old canon is still being recycled over and over again in history textbooks and (visual) presentations for a general audience.

This project seeks to analyze processes of de-canonization in national historiography and memory, as well as in the history of political thought. It examines the paradox that, despite pertinent methodological and cultural critiques leveled at them over the past decades, the canons are still being recycled in history textbooks and public presentations. The underlying question is why and how specific narratives have become canonized, while others have not. The project will particularly investigate the potential role of a new, more open and multiform 'canon' in cultural transmission and education in the twenty-first century. It will focus on English and Dutch history, in a broader, European and global context insofar as necessary.

Institutional Setting

Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (FHKW), Erasmus University Rotterdam
Research School: Huizinga Institute

Duration of the project

January 2004 until May 2006. WRR-funded extension of the project till December 2006.