Beatrice de Graaf awarded 2.5 million euros by NWO for knowledge transfer

Prof. Beatrice de Graaf (Professor of the History of International Relations) has received the prestigious Stevin Prize from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The prize of 2.5 million euros is an individual award intended to foster knowledge transfer and serve as a token of appreciation in this regard. It is a reward for De Graaf's exceptional performance in terms of academic knowledge transfer and an encouragement to continue taking her work in this direction.

Right from the start of her career, Beatrice de Graaf has endeavoured to translate theoretical notions on terrorism and security into tangible material for governments and for the wider public, also through the media.

‘Beatrice is capable of quickly and clearly conveying the essence of a particular problem to outsiders, without eclipsing the nuances which are characteristic of a specific case. As a result, she is not only good at communicating things to the wider public, but she is also a solid and valued advisor’, says Prof. Keimpe Algra, Dean of Humanities.

Together with my team, I would like to use the prize to pursue two tracks that are both close to my heart. The first concerns “deep history”, which exposes the cart tracks under the asphalt of the present in terms of security, conflict and violence. The second is the fast track of direct application in schools, in talks with children, and in providing policymakers with advice and frameworks for action in the field of terrorism and radicalisation.


De Graaf studied History and German because she was keen to find out the causes of the Second World War and the rise of National Socialism, as well as how they were compatible with the splendours of German language and culture. ‘We had a lot of Germans visiting our home; my grandfather was a Germanist and my father a history teacher who erected a documentation centre for the history of the raids in Putten. That subject has always fascinated me and I wanted to understand it better.’

Knowledge transfer

De Graaf was gripped by the lectures by professors that she attended in Utrecht, Amsterdam and Bonn. ‘They plead for citizenship, a better understanding of the value of a constitution, of anchoring security policy in international law. I wanted to be part of that process; at the start primarily in writing books and articles, but also increasingly in knowledge transfer to students, to children and through the media. Once I started to do more work with scholars of social administration, law, social psychology and education, I also began contributing to specific projects with policy or educational objectives.’

Knowledge offers comfort and support, provided of course that it is embedded in good frameworks and grounded in empathy.

Relevance of the humanities

By putting her research to good use, Beatrice de Graaf is highlighting the social relevance of the humanities: ‘In situations of threat, crisis and violence, people usually start crying out for solutions. Doing nothing is not an option. The eventual solution – new laws, prisons, stricter punitive measures, a wall, and so on – is portrayed as inevitable and immediately necessary. While this fact is sometimes true, taking a look across national borders or to the past will reveal what really works and what won’t work at all. From the perspective of history and political science, you can therefore unravel, scrutinise as well as exhibit the entire arsenal and reservoir of possible solutions to come up with solutions that are potentially much better.’

Interdisciplinary collaboration

The Professor likes looking beyond the boundaries of her own field. ‘Historical study is done on the basis of common sense, using methodologies that entail the nuanced, principled analysis of sources to show how something once was, how it came to be so and how it carries over into the present time. If you then enrich history with some additional conceptual tools, a governance model and a legal framework, you’ll be able to apply that knowledge and those insights from the past to the present as well. We’re taking this approach in Utrecht with the team of Paul ’t Hart, Mirko Noordegraaf, Scott Douglas and Kees van de Bos, as well as with the educationalists Mariëtte de Haan and Micha de Winter. This collaborative effort, supported by Jacco Pekelder, Ralph Sprenkels, Jolle Demmers and myself, has been extremely fruitful and enriching over the past few years. Without these people and their insights, I would not have been able to write my projects and texts.'

Teaching method on terrorism

For example, she developed a teaching method on terrorism, antiterrorism, radicalisation and deradicalisation for education in conjunction with Professors of Pedagogy Micha de Winter and Mariëtte de Haan. Consisting of a special app, the method (which is currently still at the pilot stage but will be made publicly accessible from September 2018 onwards) is intended to address feelings of anger, fear and helplessness among pupils in class which are related to terrorist violence. The Stevin Prize makes it possible to expand this app further.

 Beatrice de Graaf bij DWDD. Bron:
Beatrice de Graaf at DWDD. Source:

Beatrice de Graaf

De Graaf is a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations and the European Expert Network on Terrorism Issues. Along with Alexander Rinnooy Kan, she was chair of the Dutch National Research Agenda. She advises public and private institutions such as the police, local authorities and government ministries. In addition, she is also a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). She is affiliated with Institutions for Open Societies, an interdisciplinary research theme at Utrecht University focusing on the development and expansion of healthy, open societies anywhere in the world. As a speaker, De Graaf is in high demand and she is a welcome guest on current affairs programmes such as De Wereld Draait Door.

Security regimes

With funding from a grant by the European Research Council (ERC), De Graaf has been carrying out research at Utrecht University since 2014 on the way in which a number of different European ‘security regimes’ developed between 1815 and 1914, exerting their influence throughout the world.