A Companion’s Masquerade What was it like, in the nineteen-fifties, to study history at a Dutch university,to be appointed there (on the sole merit of some years’ experience of grammar school teaching) to a vaguely defined part-time assistant post, and to make one’s way professionally in the fast-growing academic community of post-war Holland? Can the three decades long personal history of a middle-of-the-road historian/ medievalist throw light on an as yet unwritten aspect of the ‘university history’ that is currently attracting growing attention?
The three specialists who have been invited to comment on this last question have answered – if I read them correctly – in the affirmative, and do so with remarkable insight and empathy. Even so, they have their doubts, criticisms, and/or afterthoughts. Professor Boone, the medievalist, focusing on the parts in which I discuss teaching methods, stresses his belief in the continuity of our common basic attitudes, praises the practicality of my playful dialogue on annotation, but misses an index that offers guidance through the diversity of subjects.
Professor Dorsman, specialist on ‘university history’, values the insight he gets into the ‘lived experience’ of an academic worker in the medieval field, but stresses the fact that institutional history, although expressis verbis not the subject of the book, nevertheless played its unseen part – which has conditioned the book’s setting in ways that now render its main content ‘really’ past history. (Which means more interesting, less relevant?)
Another ‘point of absence’ he observes is the author’s apparent (?) lack of personal irritation: and here he touches on the central concern of Professor Mineke Bosch, modernist and gender-specialist. Wording her arguments carefully, she analyses the author’s ambition to offer a history of Dutch academic history from the perspective of an average, non-specific insider, who presents her professional activity in the standard way of ‘making history’: find the subject, get to know the sources, make the story, get it accepted. Step by step she re-sets this ‘history as companion’ as an egodocument whose specific genesis was partly shaped by gender, a fact that long went unacknowledged by the writing ego (f.) of the historian in the case.
This response is part of the discussion forum 'Geschiedenis als metgezel' (Bunna Ebels-Hoving).