Tracking the 66 Fulbrighters who Studied History in the Netherlands

The Fulbright program preserves a list of all previous recipients of its grant, and this data is searchable on its website here. So, I selected for all Americans who received Fulbright grants to study history in the Netherlands during their doctoral program of study. I did not include persons whose grants were awarded specifically for architectural history, art history, or music history, although some recipients of the general history grants studied those topics or went on to careers in those fields. I also did not include employed professors who received Fulbright grants to teach or research in the Netherlands. As of 2023, there have 66 recipients of general history grants to the Netherlands.

The first Fulbright Grant to study history in the Netherlands was awarded in 1950 to Dirk Jellema, and there were seven total of such awards given in the 1950s. Only 5 were granted in the 1960s, and just 1 in the 1970s, 6 in the 1980s, and 11 in the 1990s, 19 in the 2000s, 13 in the 2010s, and 4 so far in the 2020s.

I wondered how these Fulbrighters had fared. Did a grant to the Netherlands set them on the path of a successful academic career? Now, it is often said that you can’t judge academic success only by academic placement, but that is just what departments say when they cannot place their graduates. The goal of a Ph.d. program is generally to put its graduates into tenure-track jobs. When this happens, the program boasts of its success.

Many of the recipients of could not be located in online searches, which makes it unlikely that they had a lasting academic career. Most tenured professors leave a trace of published materials, archival records, or stories from students they influenced.

Historians like to arrange things chronologically and impose a periodization scheme. I’m no exception. It appears to me in this case that were distinct periods.  In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, Fulbright grants awarded to historians going to the Netherlands mostly went to study art history. Only two history professors  (and not professors of art history), developed out of this cohort. One was Vernon Lidtke, who apparently didn’t study Dutch history at all, but focused instead on the history of labor and socialism in 19th century Germany. The other was George Wilnius, who taught the University of Florida, the University of Leiden, and Brown University. In reading some of Wilnius’s writings, I found this interesting observation. :

“My feeling about that is that the core curriculum of all the Western European universities and all the North American universities and perhaps even beyond, were set sometime between 1890 and 1914,  and that the faculty positions in foreign history were distributed in accordance with the national realities of that time, of the then great European powers, England, France, Germany, and Russia. Those faculty positions have been continued ever since.”  (“On Discovering the Expansion of Europe, Interview with George D. Winius (Cambridge Univ. Press)

The point here is that the Netherlands, as area of study, was never established in the American history curriculum, partly because this curriculum was established when the Netherlands was not a major power. To this day, there are few, if any, positions in American academic for Dutch history specifically, and this certainly has had an effect on American history Fulbright awardees finding employment.

The 1970s was a lull, when the program was no longer sending Americans to the Netherlands to study the history of Art.  There is one notable exception, however, Martha Howell, a 1976 recipient, who ended up as a Professor of History at Columbia University and produced scholarship on capitalism in the medieval low countries.

The most successful era for turning Fulbrighters to the Netherlands into working, professional historians with academic positions, was 1982 to 2000.  In this era, 16 scholars went to the Netherlands to study history. At least 11 of these had careers as history professors. Many of them were quite successful. A few examples include:  James Kennedy, a 1991 recipient has had a impressive academic career in the Netherlands, Benjamin Schmidt (1991), who is a Full Professor at the University of Washington, Charles Parker (1990),  a Full Professor at St. Louis University, Paul Otto (1993)  a Professor at George Fox University, and James La Fleur (1996), an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia)

From 2001 to 2022, the results have been more discouraging. Despite an unprecedented number of recipients, 34 for this period, few have found academic positions. I count only four with tenure-track positions. 2002 recipient Troy Osborne, a historian of the Mennonites, who teaches at the University of Waterloo, Linda Rupert, a 2003 recipient and Atlanticist at UNC Greensboro, and Danny Noorlander (2008), at SUNY Oneonta.

The main source for academic employment for history Fulbrighters to the Netherlands in the period 1982 to 2000 was European history positions in history departments. I am not sure if a history department in the United States has hired a Dutch scholar as a Europeanist in the past two decades. If they have, it has not been from amongst one of the recent Dutch Fulbrighters. It is also my opinion that the people selected period 1982 to 2000 were more promising scholars than those of the past 20 years. Part of this is simply because more Fulbright have been awarded in the past two decades, that the standards for receiving one might not be as high.

I don’t believe there is a casual mechanism here. That is, in the “good old days” of 1982 to 2000, a Fulbright award to the Netherlands did not guarantee employment, even if 11 out of 16 awardees did find jobs. But to fall from that ratio to a ratio of 4 out of 34, indicates that things have gotten more difficult on the job market.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: