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Memoria e Ricerca

Public Educators: Dutch Historians Influence Contemporary Politics

di Hinke Piersma
in Memoria e Ricerca n.s. 37 (2011), p. 71

The accumulation of knowledge by government institutions has never been a judgment-free activity. Ever since its foundation in 1945, the Netherlands Institute for Study and Documentation of the Second World War (presently NIOD) has been trying to find a balance between scholarly pursuits and its social impact. In this article I explore three highly-debated cases, in which two NIOD directors were involved. These cases include: the fall of the Christian Democratic politician Willem Aantjes, the affair surrounding the Dutch war criminal Pieter Menten, and the dramatic events in Srebrenica and the question of Dutch responsibility. These topics are examples of situations in which scholarly research is intertwined with political debate. It raises the question of the role of historians when the past is publicly on trial. How is such a public role on the part historians affecting the profession in general, and, more specifically, is there a danger that historical research could become nothing other than politics by other means? Key words: Second World War; Collaboration; Dutch politics; Historians as hangman; Public History; Education.