History of the Stevin Centre and its predecessors

Research and education in the history of science at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam goes back a long way. Various faculties provided space for the history of their own disciplines, and a chair for the history of science was created within the science faculty as early as 1945. This led to the establishment of a department for History and Social Aspects of Science, which in turn created the Stevin Centre in 2014.


In 1945, the VU was the first university in the Netherlands to establish a professorship in the history of science. The board of the then Faculty of Mathematics and Physics was of the opinion that every student should be made aware of the broader context of their profession. For this purpose, the historian Reijer Hooykaas (1906-1994) was appointed shortly after the Second World War, and remained affiliated with the VU till 1971.

Hooykaas became one of the founders of the history of science in the Netherlands. He published on topics as diverse as the history of geology, the history of chemistry, the relationship between religion and science, and the importance of voyages of discovery for the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. His work received widespread international recognition.


After Hooykaas’ departure, the chair was expanded to include the “history and social studies of the natural sciences”. Hooykaas’ successor was Martin J.S. Rudwick, who would be associated with the VU from 1975 to 1980. In 1974, the Department of History and Social Aspects of Natural Sciences (geschiedenis en maatschappelijke aspecten der natuurwetenschappen) was officially established. This name was changed to “general education” (Algemene Vorming) in 1981, emphasizing the educational goal of “forming” (Bildung) of the students.

In the early 1980s, H.A.M. Snelders succeeded Rudwick as professor of the History of science. During this period E.J. Tuininga received an appointment as professor in “Societal Aspects”, and P.P. Kirschenmann was installed as professor of the Philosophy of the natural sciences. Subsequently, research included the fields of History, Social Aspects and Philosophy. These three sections each possessed various employees during this period and carried out a large amount of postgraduate research. 1995 saw Snelders’ farewell; he was followed in 2001 by Tuininga and Kirschenmann.


In 2002 Frans van Lunteren was appointed professor of the history of natural sciences. Since then, the research of the permanent employees, PhD students and post-docs has focused on various themes from the history of science, particularly the relationship between science and culture in the 19th and 20th century. Research projects in this period included: history of meteorology; the relationship between science and religion in the modern age; history of mathematical education and statistics; history of genetics; the emergence of international networks of researchers in the 19th century; history of astronomy; history of paleontology and natural history museums; history of women in science; and Newtonianism in the Netherlands.

Annual reports (in Dutch) of the department covering the years 2003 to 2017 can be downloaded as PDF files:
Jaarverslag 2015-2017Jaarverslag 2014Jaarverslag 2013Jaarverslag 2012Jaarverslag 2011Jaarverslag 2010Jaarverslag 2009Jaarverslag 2008Jaarverslag 2007Jaarverslag 2006Jaarverslag 2005Jaarverslag 2004Jaarverslag 2003 • Jaarverslag 2002 • Jaarverslag 2001Jaarverslag 2000 • Jaarverslag 1999


The department took the initiative to found the Stevin Centre for the History of Science and Humanities in 2014, to facilitate all initiatives in this discipline across the Vrije Universiteit. Its explicit aim is to transcend disciplinary boundaries between faculties and research groups. The interdisciplinary VU Research Institute CLUE+ is the organizational host of the Centre.

The founding document of het Stevin Centre can be downloaded here:

Founding document Stevin Centre (January 2014)

Lectures held at the founding symposium on March 18, 2014, can be watched here: www.youtube.com