Texts and sources from the Dutch past – these are the focus of attention at the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands in The Hague. Manuscripts, letters, printed works, local records, poetry collections, diaries, minutes and all other written heritage, from all ages. How can we understand all these? We are faced with barely legible manuscripts, dead languages, fragmentary accounts, and also an excess of information carriers from the recent past. They bewilder us. They are extremely difficult to unravel and tricky to interpret. Nevertheless, that remains our aim: we wish to unveil secrets from our past, grasp the fabrications of our cultures, and pass on the most valuable of these to new generations. This contributes to a well-functioning society.
This type of research demands in-depth knowledge and specialist skills – and a centre where the expertise of researchers and other professionals can converge. That is the Huygens ING. We accommodate historians and people of letters for all periods, including specialists in disciplines such as Medieval Latin and Neo-Latin, palaeography, codicology, Middle Dutch, Early-modern Dutch and the Science of Text Edition. We consciously cherish this traditional humaniora expertise, which is becoming increasingly scarce both nationally and internationally. It distinguishes our Institute and gives it an advantage in the world of research into the humanities. Another aspect that makes the Huygens ING so exceptional is the fact that researchers engaged in the humanities collaborate closely with a completely different type of expert, such as specialists in informatics, authorities in digital humanities, and a large team of software developers, all under one roof on a daily basis.
As such, we regard ourselves as a humanities laboratory in which we develop, test and apply new methods in order to extract more and different information from the sources than has been possible until now. That represents a new approach within the humanities. The Huygens ING wishes to pose new research questions, provide better answers to old ones, and to underpin the answers with much more data. We build and retrieve large bodies of text and datasets with hundreds of thousands of records. We ourselves develop the tools that are required for our research projects.
With this quest for new paths, we are contributing to the innovation of Dutch and international humanities. In terms of content, we are primarily interested in the historical development of institutions, science and culture. Our research programme dovetails with national and international themes that are considered to be of importance, and helps determine the direction of these. Based on our expertise, we make clear choices in order to avoid fragmentation.
We perform advanced research, but not in an ivory tower. We collaborate closely and frequently with universities, research institutes and organizations oriented toward cultural heritage, and we ensure that our knowledge is passed on to students. Accordingly, many of our senior researchers are also part-time professors at Dutch universities. They convey our expertise directly to new generations. Vice versa, contact with students and interns keeps us fresh and alert. But we also wish to address a broad public – everyone who is interested in history or literature. We do so with high-quality products such as the (digital) edition of the correspondence of Vincent van Gogh, or Bioport, a website with currently more than 70,000 biographical portraits of Dutch notables from several centuries. As we see it, modern research in the humanities produces more than the common monographs, collections and scientific articles: we construct websites, (enriched) corpora, databases, source publications, text editions and digital research tools.
Our digital publications are available in open access. They are not only intended for academics but for everyone with historical or cultural interests. The user figures for our various online publications bear witness to this.
With around one hundred members of staff, our institute is the largest institute for research on the humanities in the Netherlands. It is the result of a long-term series of mergers. We ultimately arose from the combination of the Huygens Institute (KNAW) and the Institute for the History of the Netherlands (ING, part of NWO). The logic behind this merging process, which has covered more than a century, is that all the organizations involved actually had one and the same motto: ad fontes, back to the source. That is what we still stand for today, even if we are not only concerned with making the sources available to others. We also pose our own research questions.
The status of this KNAW institute and the largest research organization for humanities in the Netherlands requires vigorous ambition. And this is certainly present: in an international context, too, we wish to be at the forefront of text and source research. Our (digital) editions, source publications and corresponding tools must set the tone: we must be forerunners in technical and methodological terms, as well as being theoretically innovative, leaning toward the audacious. We do not make it easy for ourselves with regard to research geared to content. With our three spearheads – Dutch institutional history, the history of science, and literature – we shall continue to participate in determining the national agenda. Moreover, we shall continue to do justice to our standing as a recognized player in the international field.