Rob (Robert) van der Laarse is emeritus professor in the Heritage and Memory of War and Conflict at the humanities faculties of VU Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam (Westerbork Chair). He studied New and Theoretical History, Cultural Anthropology and Political Sciences, and graduated and obtained his PhD at the UvA (both with greatest distinction), where he has been staff member of the History, and the Art and Culture departments. He is also affiliated with VU's Art and Culture, History and Antiquity department, and has been fellow at the ESRI (Salford University), Jean Monnet fellow at the EUI Florence, fellow and theme leader at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS), and theme leader in the UvA priority program Heritage and Identity (ACHI). Since the early 2000s he has been founding program director of Heritage Studies at the UvA, co-research leader at CLUE research school of VU Amsterdam, founding research director of the UvA's Amsterdam School for Heritage, Memory and Material Culture (AHM), and interim chair of the Cultural Sciences capacity group.
Van der Laarse's research focuses roughly on the fields of Power, Culture and Elites, and Heritage, Memory and Conflict. He published around 150 book, article and webpublications and has been invited approximately to some 200 lectures and keynote talks. He also co-organized also a substantial number of international conferences such as The Challenge of Heritage (Amsterdam 2002), The Dynamics of War, Heritage, Memory and Remembrance (Amsterdam 2007), The Archaeology of Terrorscapes (Helsinki 2012), Competing Memories (Amsterdam 2013), and Heritage, Tourism and Hospitality (Amsterdam 2015).
Power, Landscape and Elite Culture
Since his historical-anthropological PhD dissertation on class, religion and power in a local Dutch urban community, Bevoogding en Bevinding,1780-1930 (Paternalism and Piety 1989 an important part of his research is born from a fascination with social and cultural dynamics, and the interpretation and (re)presentation of culture. While exploring the remarkable continuity (and final decline) of aristocracy with the fabrication of the class, political religions and the nation state (e.g. A Nation of Notables. Class, Religion and Politics (1999), Bearing the Stamp of History (2000), Van goeden huize (2001) and Beelden van de buitenplaats (with Yme Kuiper, 2005/ rev.ed. 2014), he became fascinated by topics like the long-term cultural and territorial representation of landed power. For many years he explored with students and colleagues in archives and fieldtrips the remnants of castles and country estates, which resulted in publications on the Habsburg-Burgundian courtiers, the 'forgotten' nobility of the Dutch Republic, the 17th c. territorial politics of the Orange King-Stadholder, gardening, physico-theology, and the 19th Brussels-Hague court culture of William II and Anna Pavlova (Bulletin KNOB 2010, and Une Passion Royale: Guillaume II des Pays Bas et Anna Pavlovna (exhibition catalogue 2013-2014).
Purity, Heritage, Conflict and Memory
Another principal area of research concerns Europe's post-Enlightenment tracing of the cultural roots of 20th c. racism in an obsession with purity, health and order in art, culture and politics, like addressed in De hang naar zuiverheid (co-edited1998) and Masking the Other (1999) on Max Nordau's hidden Jewishness. Challenged by the EU's rising 'identity crisis', his interest shifted from the roots of populist authoritarianism to its afterlife. He edited a (bilingual) critical heritage studies handbook Bezeten van vroeger (2005), and published widely on the complexities of memory and modernity, and heritage, identity and conflict, like addressed in De dynamiek van de herinnering (2009, co-ed with Frank van Vree), his Reinwardt Memorial Lecture De Oorlog als beleving (2010/2011), and his inaugural Nooit meer Auschwitz? (2012). Van der Laarse also critizised the identity narrative and stately heritage practices of UNESCO's Intangible Heritage Convention (Boekman 2011, and recently in Europe's Peat Fire 2019). His 2013 publications Archaeology of Memory and Beyond Auschwitz rethink the issue of European competing memories, Holocaust dissonances and abuses of the past in the present Age of Post-Memory and Identity. He co-edited Traces of Terror, Signs of Trauma (2014) as outcome of his international Terrorscapes in Postwar Europe networking project. In other publications, like Fatal Attraction (2015), he pointed at uneasy relations between Nazi-Germany's Eastern Heimatscaping and postmodern heritagescaping and the strongly tabood attraction of perpetrator heritage. As to understand the geopolitical dimension of Europe's culture battles, he co-edited Religion, State Society and Identity in Transition: Ukraine (2015) and critically commented deep-rooted heritage and Holocaust and postcommunist memory conflicts in the EU's borderlands, like in Who owns the Crimean Past? (2016), Muséographies des violences en Europe Centrale et ex-URRS (Sorbonne 2016), and Bones never lie? (2017). Currently he is working on the complex interaction of left- and rightwing narratives scine 1968.
During his career Rob van der Laarse has been granted more than 5 million euros research funding, and he supervised/s more than 20 PhD projects at different universities, and he was the honorary co-promotor of Charlotte van Rappard at the dies natalis celebration of the University of Amsterdam in January 2015 (awarded for her work on the international heritage treaties and the restitution of WWII's stolen Jewish art). He is honored with a Praemium Erasmianum Research Prize 1990 and with a Euromediterranea Prize 2013. See the Research tab for more information.
Since the early 2000's he pioneered in heritage studies' research funding, which culminated in several large (inter) national research projects (see the other tab page). Together with Frank van Vree he initiated the NWO research line The Dynamics of Memory (2008-2014) at the UvA, VU and NIOD, funded by NWO and the 'Heritage of War' program of the Ministry of VWS (for which he was also a sworn policy adviser), which succeeded in publishing a large number of dissertations and book volumes by means of co-matching with Holocaust memorial museums and war heritage institutes. As an international offspring of these projects Van der Laarse received an Anglo-Dutch (AHRC-NWO) grant on Landscapes of War and Trauma (with the University of Cambridge), and a NWO grant for his Terrorscapes project on transnational memory of totalitarian terror and genocide in postwar Europe from the Holocaust to the 1990s Yugoslav Wars, and an additional fellowship and theme group grant (with Georgi Verbeeck) at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS). This network was awarded the Premio Euromediterranea of the Italian Ministry of Culture, Confindustria, and the public media association in Rome 2013 in the category of best practice of transnational communication beyond the national cultural boundaries "that will have a fundamental impact on the building of European citizenship".
Drawing from this expertise on conflict sites and competing memories analysis, he received another 1,2 million euros from the European HERA-JRP/ ERA-Horizon 2020 Uses of the Past call of 2016 for the collaborative 4-years project Accessing Campscapes (iC-ACCESS) with a large international team of academic and professional partners and IT companies, working together in around 15 organised research fieldtrips on interdisciplinary experimenting with multivocal, inclusive strategies for digital access to European conflicted heritage sites. Since 2016 he is also the UvA lead in the Horizon 2020 5-years Marie-Curie ITN project Critical Heritage Studies and the Future of Europe (CHEurope) of which the Amsterdam team participates with several PhD students in an international doctoral training programme with European key partners in critical heritage studies.
Editing, Reviewing and Evaluating
Van der Laarse is a book and peer reviewer of several international journals, founding co-editor of the Palgrave Studies in Cultural Heritage and Conflict (Palgrave-Macmillan), of Heritage and Memory Studies (Amsterdam University Press) with Ihab Saloul and Britt Baillie, and previously of Landscape and Heritage Studies (AUP), as well as a member of the editorial advisory boards of KLEOS (Amsterdam Bulletin for Ancient Studies and Archaeology), Virtus. Journal of Nobility Studies (Verloren) with Yme Kuiper and Hanneke Ronnes, Open Anthropological Research (De Gruyter), and from 2016-2019 Accessing Campscapes E-Journal (with Zuzanna Dziuban) and co-founding editor of its successor Heritage, Memory and Conflict Journal (HMS) launched in 2021.
He is a regular research evaluator and panel assessor for NWO, RCN, HERA, JPICH and ERC.
Van der Laarse is trustee of the Paradox Foundation (photography and new media productions), advisor for ministries, museums and heritage institutes, and directeur of Cultural Heritage Consult. He is also academic advisor of Memorial Centre Camp Westerbork and co-initated the Westerbork Archaeological Research Project (2012) together with CLUE-VU and RAAP as part of a European Holocaust archaeology collaboration, and is regularly consulted as a heritage expert by Dutch ministries, city and memorial museums, media programs and cultural initiatives, such as the AVRO radio 1 serial Dadererfgoed (perpetrator's heritage, 2008) and the Flanders urban curating initiative Museumtraject Mechelen (2013). Together with archaeologist Caroline Sturdy Colls and Ivar Schute he took part in the Furneaux and Edgar productions Unearthing Treblinka (Channel 5, 2013) and Treblinkla: Hitler's Killing Machine (Smithsonnian TV, 2014) on the discovery of the Treblinka gas chambers, and he is also regularly asked for expert interviews like on the Zwangsarbeit website of CEDIS FU Berlin (2014), and public lectures, such as the ICOMOS-UK Annual Christmas Lecture 2014 in London, the Utrecht Studium Generale in 2017, the 4th Heritage Forum of Central Europe 2017, and currently on the EU's challenges of Collaboration and Conflict at the Ernst Strüngmann Forum at the Frankfurt Institute of Advanced Studies 2021-2022.
Van der Laarse has teached since the 1980s until 2023 at the UvA and VU University in Amsterdam in cultural history, and cultural, heritage and memory studies, and still supervises PhD research in these fields.
Van der Laarse is (was), in addition to some 25 individual research grants (20-200k EUR), Project Leader of the following granted, collaborative research lines, programs and projects:
Van der Laarse was honorary promotor (together with prof Pim den Boer) of Charlotte van Rappard at the dies natalis celebration of the University of Amsterdam in January 2015, granted for her contribution to international treaties on cultural heritage, illegal trade, and the research and restitution of WW II's stolen Jewsh art.