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Inaugural lecture Prof H.G. (Rina) Knoeff: Old as Methuselah? Supercentenarians, Narrative Wisdom and the Importance of History for Health

When:Fr 30-06-2023 16:15 - 17:00
Where:Aula Academy Building, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

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Old as Methuselah? Centenarians, narrative wisdom and the importance of history for health

According to the Arnhem Courant of 21 October 1828, there were 1,672 people between 100 and 185 years old in northern Europe in the 18th century. This news report defies the imagination, because who really believes that so many people could live to that age, and centuries ago too? In her inaugural lecture, Rina Knoeff shows that we should indeed take this story - and stories about unusual diseases, miraculous cures and remarkable scientific insights - seriously.

People in the past were not stupid. Historical accounts of centenarians show how knowledge and experience of health were embedded in historically grown cultural patterns in which moral views and political motivations prevailed alongside medical theories.

This is no different today. The historian, like no other, can show that our ideas about health are place-bound. It is precisely by studying historical narratives that seem strange to us that we can recognise what is particular about our own perceptions of health. This skill, which Knoeff characterises as "narrative wisdom", is also crucial for analysing and improving public health care. In her inaugural lecture, Knoeff shows that health is not an exclusively biomedical, but above all a social issue. This also means that in public health care, we should be less guided by a clinical view, and give more space to the humanities, which are much better at explaining the cultural factors that determine our health.

Inaugural lecture: Prof H.G. (Rina) Knoeff

  • Title: Old as Methuselah? Supercentenarians, Narrative Wisdom and the Importance of History for Health
  • Chair: Health and Humanities
  • Faculty: Arts

Registration no later than 23 June via the registration form .

Livestream on 30 June 2023, see:

Full-text open access version of the lecture:

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