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Royal decoration for Jan Willem Drijvers

15 September 2023

Today, Jan Willem Drijvers (Amsterdam, 1956), associate professor of Ancient History at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Groningen, has been appointed Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau. He received this decoration from Marcel Thijsen, Mayor of Tynaarlo, during his farewell colloquium in the Doopsgezinde kerk at Oude Boteringestraat in Groningen.

Passionate historian brought the Late Antiquity to life

A leading expert, a trailblazer, and passionate pioneer, one of the most important academics in his field, and an international superstar and valued colleague, according to academics and students in the Netherlands and beyond. Jan Willem Drijvers has more than earned his spurs for his innovative research and teaching in the area of Late Antiquity. Thanks to his work, this period running from the third to the sixth century AD, now receives ample attention. Especially the way in which he managed to bring together the generally separated worlds of classical antiquity and Christianity has led to new academic insights, that are not only of huge academic importance but are also relevant to society.

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Jan Willem Drijvers

Antiquity in our time

Through his academic studies into historiography and legends, Drijvers shows the extent to which the heritage of ancient civilizations and Christianity resonates in our own time. He effectively holds up a mirror to us, which shows just how much the classical era impacts our present time. By looking at the stories from that time, we are able to interpret today’s cultural debate. For example, so-called toga films set in the ancient world, in which the emphasis lies on the juxtaposition between the East and the West, say more about the Western culture making these films than about the East itself.

Influential publications

Drijvers has numerous books and academic publications in renowned international journals and reference works to his name. To illustrate: he has published 26 books and over 90 articles. He has written engaging monographs about, for example, Helena Augusta, the mother of Roman emperor Constantine the Great, and about the almost forgotten bishop Cyril of Jerusalem. In these publications, he demonstrates how, throughout the centuries, historical figures were mythologized and used as instruments to interpret current events. In addition, he was co-author of the 12 volumes of the impressive book series about the work of fourth-century historian Ammianus Marcellinus. The series is an indispensable and revolutionary standard work for anyone studying the history of the Late Antiquity. 

Helpful and approachable by students

As a lecturer, Drijvers brought his research into the classroom. He is known as an effective supervisor and inspiring lecturer, who is always willing to answer questions.  He is helpful and approachable and does not mind staying a little longer, if it benefits his students. Many generations of students have been introduced to the Late Antiquity through his passion, dedication, and warm attitude. Various young academics have followed in his footsteps and have obtained their PhD under his supervision.

In the public interest

Within the University, Drijvers has always committed himself to the public interest. In addition to his research and teaching, he fulfilled a number of administrative and board positions as well as other tasks. For example, when a professor was unavailable as head of the department of the History and Greek and Latin Languages due to illness, Drijvers took over that role for many years. He was also invested in the programme of improvements of the History degree programme and he played an important part in the preparation of visitations. He did all of that without a moment’s hesitation, due to his strong sense of responsibility. Even if those tasks would take extra time out of his day – he would gladly put up with that.

Societally active

Outside of work, he was a member of the board of Groningen youth orchestra JSMO and of fund-raising foundation Stichting De Ploeg. He was also involved with athletics association ATC75 and was an active volunteer at the running event 4Mijl. He was even trained as a traffic controller for this event. As a member of the Parent Council of the pre-university school Praedinius Gymnasium, he campaigned for the preservation of the Praedinius Fund, which is invaluable to the school. He was able to prevent the school from losing their say over this fund after public education in Groningen became privatized.

Jan Willem Drijvers

Making a difference

His motto is: participate well, contribute, and try to make a difference. This motto characterizes the way Drijvers approaches everything he does, both at work and outside of work. In addition to his outstanding academic work, he has always been a great source of inspiration to students and colleagues, and he has enriched society with new and valuable insights. He has done all that with constant extraordinary and selfless dedication and enormous enthusiasm.

Last modified:18 September 2023 12.22 p.m.
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