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How to find us dr. E.H. Runia

dr. E.H. Runia

Universitair docent
dr. E.H. Runia



I studied history and psychology at Leiden University, worked for some years as a psychologist at the Faculty of Medicine of the Erasmus University Rotterdam, was a visiting scholar at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies and received a PhD for De pathologie van de veldslag (‘The Pathology of Battle. History and Historiography in Tolstoy’s War and Peace’) - which was nominated for the ‘Gouden Uil’ for the best Dutch-language nonfiction book in 1995.

In a second book, Waterloo Verdun Auschwitz, De liquidatie van het verleden (‘The liquidation of the past’, sold to Knopf/Random House (USA), translation forthcoming), I struggled with the question why, 50/60 year since, the holocaust remains a ‘Vergangenheit die nicht vergehen will.’ Were the French Revolution and the First World War just as difficult to come to terms with? What role did historians and other commemorators (novelists, painters, museummakers, movie-directors) consciously or un-/subconsciously play in overcoming traumatic events? What, by the way, does ‘coming to terms with a traumatic event’ mean? Is it a specific response to a specific tribulation (e.g. guilt, humiliation, loss of unselfconsciousness, sense of discontinuity, experience of contingency) or is it an unchanging kind of Trauerarbeit?

Starting from 1999, I had a private practice as coach/supervisor for medical doctors. In these years I also wrote a novel – Inkomend vuur (‘Incoming Fire’) about thedisastrous Dutch mission to Srebrenica in 1995. This ‘scandalous’ novel, published in May 2003, received a lot of attention in the Dutch press, provoked anger from the establishment as well as acclaim from veterans, and was nominated for the best literary debut of 2003. In a much discussed article in NRC-Handelsblad I initiated a debate about the question of (delayed) aggression by veterans of peacekeeping mission. In 2002, my research project Committing history was awarded with a 5-year VIDI-grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research - and so since the beginning of 2003 I am a research fellow at the Department of History of Groningen University. From Jan till July 2007 I was visiting associate professor at Stanford University (Dept of Comparative Literature).

My Committing history-project explores the counterintuitive thesis that historical landslides (French Revolution, First World War) are not ‘rooted’ in what came before, but the results of‘into cleanness leaping’ - of ‘jumps into history’ to remedy what may be called ‘cultural vertigo’. Motto of the project is Goethe’s ‘Im Anfang war die Tat.’ The Committing history project forms the nucleus of the Centre for Metahistory Groningen (established in 2005). In 2005 the Centre organized two successful conferences, the last of which about ‘Presence’. In 2006 the Centre started an international project in cooperation with Emory University (Atlanta) and the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut in Essen (Germany). First fruit of this collaboration was the colloquium ‘Moved by the past’, held in Groningen in Sept 2007.

My most recent book is the novel Breukvlak ("Fault Line" - or, more correctly: "Fault Plane", published in Oct 2008, one of the five ‘discoveries of the year’ of Recensieweb). This book, that has the form of a weblog, is an ‘archeological’ experiment in which I explore how ‘reality’ hasto be ‘buried’ in a text in order to keep it alive. The thesis of the book is that ''a weblog is a novel in which the blogger gradually creates the persona that writes the blog." The hero of the book acts upon the assumptionthat ‘depiction’ of what is undepictable (un-photogenic, un-think-genic) in his life is a primordial urge – and that his weblog is the modern equivalent of the cave paintings in Lascaux and Altamira.


Interests & projects


I keep believing that with every new book or article I make a fresh start – only to discover, afterwards, that what I’ve written is just one more variation on what clearly is my theme: the scandal of discontinuity. But though apparently I cannot escape from my theme, I can at least break it down in three domains:


1. How is discontinuity absorbed and dealt with? ‘Vergangenheitsbewältigung’, trauma, memory, commemoration, monuments, veterans.


Most recent article:‘Burying the dead, creating the past’. In: History & Theory 46 (2007), 313-325


In progress: One of the findings of the Commiting History project is that historians engaged in exploring an historical trauma may unwittingly ‘reproduce’ the traumatic events they think they address. In a book length essay ( Afschrikking door aanwezigheid . ‘Deterring by presence’) I will try to show how the ‘NIOD’ historians (who wrote the official Dutch report on the massacre in Srebrenica (1995)) reproduce the events they describe.



2. How is discontinuity created? Central question: how to understand events that are at odds with what the participants regard as their identity even if it were they themselves that brought them about?


Most recent article: ‘Into Cleanness Leaping: The vertiginous urge to commit history’. History & Theory 50 (2010) (in press)


In progress: essay about ‘Lenin’s intuition of the deed’ (in Florian Klinger & Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (eds.), Latency (forthcoming) and a book about the mind set in which, in the second and fourth decade of the 20th century, Europe plunged itself into what were to be the primordial catastrophes of the 20th century: the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the Nazi Revolution of 1933.


3. discontinuity as a philosophical problem. Because both history and the theory of history are wedded to the idea of continuity, I am interested in the question how a theory of history that can accommodate discontinuity without domesticating it might look like. Questions: can we go beyond hermeneutics? Can discontinuity be conceptualized as metonymical ‘presence’? To what extent can discontinuities be compared to ‘mutations’ in an evolutionary process of Selbsthervorbringung? What is the role and significance of ‘inventio’ and ‘kairos’ in how we have become what we are?


Most recent publication: ‘Inventing the new from the old - from White’s ‘tropics’ to Vico’s ‘topics’’. Rethinking History 14 (2010) (in press)


In progress: ‘A vulgar metaphysics’ (History & Theory 50 (2010) (in press)) and an essay about historicism as a Vergegenwärtigungs-strategy.


Representative publications


In English


-‘A vulgar metaphysics.’ History & Theory 50 (2010theme issue, forthcoming)

- ‘Embodying history: Lenin’s intuition of the deed’. In Florian Klinger & Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (eds.), Latency (forthcoming) .

- ‘Inventing the new from the old - from White’s ‘tropics’ to Vico’s ‘topics’’. Rethinking History 14 (2010)(in press)

- ‘Into Cleanness Leaping: The vertiginous urge to commit history’. History & Theory 50 (2010) (in press)

- ‘Burying the dead, creating the past’, History & Theory 46 (2007) 313-325.

- ‘Spots of time,’ History & Theory 45 (2006), 305-316.

- ‘Presence’, History & Theory 45 (2006), 1-29.

- ‘Thirsting for deeds. Schiller and the historical sublime’. In: Hofmann, M, Rüsen, J & Springer, M (Hrsg.), Schiller und die Geschichte (München 2006), 93-103.

- Representation, Reproduction, Replication’. In Hayden White (Eds.), Historical Studies: Disciplines and Discourses (in press), (translated in Hungarian as ‘Megjelenítés, ismétlés, utánzás’. In 2000 17 (2005) 35-43.

- ‘”Forget About it”: Parallel Processing in the Srebrenica-Report’. History & Theory 43 (2004), 295-320 (translated in Italian (‘Storia ufficiale e liquidazione del passato, Il ‘processo parallelo’ nel rapporto sul massacro di Srebrenica (1995)’ In: Storiografia 8 (2004) and in Chinese (by Chen Xi), in a book published by Fudan University Press, pp 180-208)


In Dutch


- ‘De onteigening van het verleden’, Groniek 42 (2009), 63-72.

- Breukvlak (Amsterdam 2008)(novel)

- ‘Geschiedenis plegen’, Krisis 6 (2006), 62-73.

- ‘Stijgende graanprijzen’,Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 119 (2006) 578-583.

- ‘Plekken tijd’, De Gids 170 (2007), 413-431

- ‘Namen noemen.’ Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 119 (2006), 242-248.

- ‘De pissendePulcinella. Het metonymische karakter van de historische sensatie’. In: De Gids 168 (2005), 397-416.

- Inkomend vuur (Amsterdam 2003) (novel)

- ‘Het ‘Historial de la Grande Guerre’. Iconografie van een museum'. In: E.O.G. Haitsma Mulier et al (Eds.), Het beeld in de spiegel. Historiografische verkenningen (Hilversum 2000, 169-180.

- Waterloo, Verdun, Auschwitz. De liquidatie van het verleden. (Amsterdam 1999) (essays)

- De pathologie van de veldslag. Geschiede­nis en geschied­schrijving in Tolstoj's ‘Oorlog en vrede' (Amsterdam 1995) (also Phd thesis)


Representative presentations


- ‘A vulgar metaphysics’ (‘History and Theory: The Next Fifty Years’,

Middletown CT

, Nov 13-14, 2009).

- ‘Presence’ ( Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, Oct 22, 2009)

- ‘Lenins intuïtie van de daad’ (‘Doodsdrang als levensbehoefte’, Groningen, May 22,2009)

- ‘The return of the real’ ( presidential session of the Annual meeting of the American Historical Association, New York, Jan 2/5, 2009)

- (4th Julian Jaynes Conference on Consciousness, Charlottetown PEI, August 7-9, 2008)

- (Contemporary Historical Thinking in the Netherlands, Athens, April 7, 2008)

- ‘Can the past remember us?’ (Colloquium ‘Moved by the Past’, Groningen, September 27-28, 2007)

- ‘Into cleanness leaping’ (Department of Comparative Literature, Stanford, May 31, 2007)

- ‘Presence’ (Interdisziplinäres Kolloquium zu Facetten und Chancen einer Präsenzkultur, Essen, December 7-9, 2006)

- ‘Burying the dead, creating the past’ (II Congreso Internacional de Filosofía de la Historia, Reescrituras de la memoria social, Buenos Aires, October 2006)

- ‘Bewogen door het verleden’ (GRIPH-lezing, Faculty of Philosophy Groningen, May 17, 2006)

- ‘Vico and the metonymical structure of historical knowledge’ (C onference ‘History and Philosophy’, British Society for the History of Philosophy, Cambridge, April 3-5, 2006)

- ‘Spots of time’ (Presence: A viable alternative to representation?, Groningen December 1-2, 2005)

- ‘Rekenschap’ (Commemoration of 10 years Srebrenica, Amsterdam, July 10, 2005)

- ‘Thirsting for Deeds: Schiller and the Historical Sublime’ (Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht. Friedrich Schiller und die Geschichte. Paderborn, June 1-3, 2005)

- ‘Used by the past’ (A Usable Past? Roles of the Historian and the Politics of Memory in Europe, European Science Foundation, Geneva, May 12-13, 2005)

- ‘De pissende Pulcinella’ (De kunst van het verschil, Groningen, March 17-18, 2005)

- ‘Representation, Replication, Reproduction’ (Historical Studies: Disciplines and Discourses, Budapest, October 21-24, 2004)

- ‘Vertigo’ (Symposium on the Psychological Interpretation of War, New York, January 14-17, 2004)



Boards, Committees & Conferences


- Member of the editorial board History & Memory (2008-present)

- Chair Centre for Metahistory Groningen (2005-present)

- Organization Studium Generale ‘In den beginne was de daad’ (‘In the beginning was the deed’), Groningen, November 2006)

- Editor Forum History and Theory October issue 2006 about ‘Presence’.

- Organization ‘De kunst van het verschil. In dialoog met Frank Ankersmit’, Groningen, March 17 & 18, 2005.

- Organization ‘Presence’, Groningen, Dec 1 & 2, 2005.

- Organization ‘Moved by the past’, Groningen, Sept 27 & 28, 2007.

- Organization ‘Doodsdrang als levensbehoefte’, Groningen May 22, 2009.




- Andrew Hadfield, The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory 16 (2008), 235-262 (

- Mark Day, ‘Our relations with the past’, Philosophia 2008, 417-427. (

- Daan Stoffelsen, ‘Bewustzijn in het perifere’,



Additional activities




Last update: Oct 28, 2009


Laatst gewijzigd:20 september 2021 11:07

Contact information

Oude Kijk in 't Jatstraat 26
9712 EK Groningen
The Netherlands