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Prof. P.H. (Peter) van Dam

Faculty of Humanities



The climate is at the heart of current worries and fears, political negotiations and civic activism. It connects global developments to local activities and fundamentally questions the traditional divide between humans and nature. The urgency of the issue calls for a ‘history of the present’, in which historians contribute to current challenges by developing a historical perspective.

How can we understand the climate crisis from a historical perspective? The research group charts which developments culminate to cause the current crisis. Changes in our environment, manufacturing techniques, lifestyles and patterns of consumption, political decision-making, as well as fundamental views on the relation between humans and nature, actors and objects, the short and the long-term. This creates a rich historical understanding of relevant developments, proposed alternatives, obstacles and opportunities in facing the climate emergency.

The research group focuses on three dimensions: the intellectual history of the environment and the climate, social contestation around environmental issues, and global governance. It serves as a platform to connect ongoing research by several ASH-members and relevant research carried out in other departments. It hosts regular meetings to discuss work in progress and plans for new projects and facilitates lectures by scholars from other institutions. MA-students are welcome to participate in the activities of the research group.

During the 2023-2024 academic year, the group will focus on the following themes:

  • Non-human agency
  • Climate policy and emotions
  • Historical perspectives on gas exploitation
  • Businesses & activists

Achievements and envisaged results

The research group hosts a monthly informal lunch meeting to discuss research, relevant publications, and research proposals. It connects ASH-members with an interest in this field to researchers from other faculties working on similar issues. The cooperation with other departments is crucial in developing multidisciplinary research alliances which will be able to respond to funding opportunities (i.e. Nationale Wetenschapsagenda, NERA, NWO, ERC). The group also contributes to connecting and developing education on the environment and sustainability at the Faculty of Humanities.

Societal Impact

Members of the research group host a BA-level course on ‘The climate emergency: the history of a crisis’ as an elective open to students from all faculties as well as several other BA and MA courses. Active participation of MA-students in the activities of the group is encouraged. It also cooperates with the UvA Green Office and participates in multidisciplinary meetings of the Institute for Advanced Study.