Leiden University presents Scaliger medal to Europaeum academic community

The Europaeum academic community was awarded the Scaliger medal on 23 September in recognition of its promotion of academic values. Andrew Graham, the British director and founder of the Europaeum, was presented with the medal by President of the Executive Board Annetje Ottow.

In his word of thanks, Andrew Graham, who is closely affiliated with the University of Oxford, said that very shortly after the Europaeum was founded in 1992 he approached Leiden University about his plan: to bring together excellent students and young researchers from various universities to collaborate on devising solutions for the major European issues of the time.

Scaliger medal in 2021 awarded to Europaeum
Brexit confronted the Europaeum with some difficult issues, according to Andrew Graham

Many different types of collaboration

This collaboration is now in full swing, taking the form of exchanges of students and staff among the eighteen member universities, spring and summer schools, debates and educational programmes where students follow courses at different European universities. The idea behind this, according to Graham, is: ‘to create a potential body of academics who regard European collaboration as essential, and who cherish and have the ability to shape this collaboration. Today, the Europaeum is an independent organisation, embedded within the University of Oxford.

Support at crucial points in time

Graham mentioned former Rector Carel Stolker and former Dean of Humanities Wim van den Doel as Leiden administrators who were there at crucial points in time, including in 2016 when it became apparent that Brexit was to become a reality. ‘Populism and nationalism were on the rise and the dissemination of fake news escalated. These developments struck at the heart of scientific practice.’These two Leiden administrators supported the Europaeum, convinced that, in spite of Brexit, this vital European network should continue to exist. The European organisation found new ways of fostering its aims: the Fellows Programme was one of these new initiatives.

Scaliger medal in 2021 awarded to the Europaeum
Annetje Ottow: ‘Collaboration with the Universities of Oxford and St Andrews is flourishing, in spite of Brexit. Largely thanks to the Europaeum.’

Climate goals only achievable through collaboration

President of Leiden’s Executive Board, Annetje Ottow, emphasised that Europe is needed now more than ever: ‘The UN climate goals can only be achieved through close and international collaboration across all disciplines. But protecting peace and security and the institutions that safeguard these values also calls for European cooperation.’

In spite of Brexit, Ottow has witnessed the flourishing of collaboration with the University of Oxford and St. Andrews University in Scotland. ‘That is due to the Europeaum, and it is something I am very happy about.’

Scaliger medal in 2021 awarded to the Europaeum
The Scaliger medal was designed by Theo van de Vathorst.

Promoting academic values

Leiden University introduced the Scaliger medal in 2017. The medal is awarded to individuals and organisations that make an exceptional contribution to upholding the values for which universities throughout the world stand, with both their teaching and their research. Previous recipients of the medal include Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities, (2017) and Henri Lenferink, Mayor of Leiden (2020).

Scaliger medal in 2021 awarded to the Europaeum
Leiden University experienced two periods of exceptional growth, Kasper van Ommen, coordinator of the Scaliger Institute, explained.

Scaliger as a magnet for students and researchers

There were two further speakers. The first was Kasper van Ommen, curator of the Western printed works of the Leiden University Library (UB) and coordinator of the Scaliger Institute where the special collections of the UB are housed. In his address, Van Ommen explained that, thanks to its professors, Leiden University experienced two significant periods of development. ‘The first started soon after the University’s foundation in 1575 and continued well into the sixteenth century. The University recruited philologist and historian Josephus Scaliger and botanist Carolus Clusius, with the intention that they and their modern research and teaching would act as a magnet for other scholars and students.’ And that is just what happened.

‘The second period of expansion,’ Van Ommen explained, ‘took place in the first quarter of the nineteeth century at the other end of the spectrum: physics.’ This can be seen in the many Nobel prizes for Leiden scientists or for scientists who were educated in Leiden.

Scaliger medal in 2021 awarded to the Europaeum
Scaliger Professor Rick Honings: ‘Scaliger thought Dutch ”hutspot” a rather unrefined dish.’

Scaliger’s legacy is the core of the special collections

Rick Honings, who was appointed last year as Scaliger professor, paid tribute to Scaliger himself, one of the most prominent scholars of his time, in particular in the humanities. The historian, classicist, philologist and founding father of chronology spoke thirteen languages. Honings: ‘It took a lot of effort and delicate negotiations to persuade the French scientist with Italian roots to come to Leiden. And in spite of the fact that Scaliger detested the Dutch climate, Dutch ‘hutspot’ stew and his noisy neighbours, he remained in Leiden until his death and bequeathed his extensive collection of oriental books and manuscripts to the Leiden University Library, a collection that is still a rich asset and one of the core key collections of the UB.’

Text: Corine Hendriks

Images: Marc de Haan

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