Gepubliceerd op 17-08-2016

In memoriam: Pim Kooij (1945-2016) social historian

Professor Pim Kooij died unexpectedly on August 9th, aged 71 years. Pim Kooij was professor at the University of Groningen 1988-2010 and the Wageningen University 1997-2010. He was a social historian with a broad range of interests, mostly the 19th and 20th centuries. Being foremost an urban historian in the first part of his career, he published more widely on rural development and environmental history in later years. A geographical approach served as a common thread in his work, a feature that developed from extensive reading in the French Annales school of history in the 1960s-1970s, which he combined with studying the American urban sociology and urban history traditions. The inspiration he drew from the works of Pierre Goubert and Stephan Thernstrom prepared him well for his professorships in Economic and Social History in Groningen and Rural History in Wageningen.

As a graduate student Pim Kooij started his research on the social development of Dutch cities in the period of industrialisation. Groningen, where he lived and worked, was his first case study. He wrote several articles on social structure, migration, industrialisation, education, demographic change, health and health-care based on a detailed reading in and processing of data from the city archives. Although not being a statistician himself, his work in the 1970s and 1980s was clearly quantitative and with enthusiasm he was among the first to use the computer. The large mainframes of those days were as soon as possible replaced by a personal computer on his desk. The articles on Groningen were accompanied by a number of publications that reflected and theorized on rural-urban relations in the Netherlands and the Dutch urban system around 1900. These insights and results found their way into his thesis that was published in 1986.

Pim Kooij (1945-2016)

Kooij participated in and led several large scale projects. The first was a comparative project on regional development in two Dutch regions, the sandy soil regions of North-Brabant and the clay area in Groningen. The general aim of the project was a comparative ‘integral history’, a ‘total history’ that focused on societal change and the interrelated development of economic, social, demographic and cultural spheres, and how these developments influenced people’s lives. At the centre of the project stood a thorough analysis of the social structure and the birth-cohorts in selected villages and towns. This resulted amongst others in the highly acclaimed book on the village of Hoogkerk (1993). The project was soon followed by comparative research on Dutch and Russian regions, performed by a group of Dutch historians and a group of Russian historical researchers and archivists from Moscow, St-Petersburg, Tambov and Yaroslavl. This resulted in two edited volumes called Where the Twain meet (again) (published in 1998 and in 2004) . Pim Kooij also advised a large number of research projects and/or served as an editor for the resulting volumes. He was deeply committed to these projects.

Kooij was a productive researcher with a long list of books and articles. He published some 30 books and edited volumes, plus over 120 scientific articles in five different languages, but students will remember him foremost as an inspiring teacher. He introduced the French Annales School of History in his teachings in the late 1960s at the university in Groningen. More importantly, as a lecturer he was extremely successful in stimulating students. Kooij was an evocative didactic, who never became  sermonic. A large number of students participated in classes on topics that were often part of his research projects. In this way he infused his teaching with research and students worked enthusiastically on their papers. He supervised an endless row of master theses and 26 PhD-students.

Kooij participated very actively in Dutch and international historical institutes and organisations. He acted as a member of the board of the Royal Netherlands Historical Society (Koninklijk Nederlands Historisch Genootschap, 1988-1994), and  chaired the board of the former Institute of Dutch History, a precursor of the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (1996-2003),. He served for several years as an editor of the Journal for Social History in the Netherlands, and was one of the board members of the Urban History Association, the Commission Internationale pour l’histoire des villes, the N.W. Posthumus Institute and he led the Netherlands Agricultural Historical Institute between 1997 and 2010. In all of these organisations his input was valued highly. 

After his retirement in 2010, he remained active in his international urban history network and continued as a board member of several historical and cultural institutes in his home town. His last publication was a contribution to an edited volume on the 200 years history of his former student fraternity in Groningen.

Pim Kooij was an inspiring historian and an extraordinary person.


Maarten Duijvendak
Hoogleraar Economisch, Sociale & Regionale geschiedenis (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen)

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