Berkeley first in nation to offer Dutch graduate degree

Henry Ascencio/Staff

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The perfect illustration of both world-class academics and liberal culture, UC Berkeley will be the first university in the country to offer a graduate degree in Dutch studies next year.

The new graduate program, approved by the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate Saturday, will complement any doctorate degree by adding a designated emphasis in Dutch studies to six students who demonstrate particular passion in the field.

The designated emphasis, or a specialization that serves as a “minor” to a doctorate degree, will take an interdisciplinary approach by encompassing several facets of Dutch culture, including literature, linguistics, art history and sociology.

“When I began teaching, I came to the conclusion that Berkeley was basically the only university in the country that had sufficient resources to expand this program to reach a graduate level,” Queen Beatrix professor in Dutch studies Jeroen Dewulf said. “I realized I couldn’t do it by myself, I had to reach out.”

The program, initiated and directed by Dewulf, has been in deliberation since earlier this year and will be offered starting Spring 2013.

According to Dewulf, the Netherlands has a strong colonial legacy, and Dutch influences span the globe. Thus, he sought out colleagues in such departments like African American studies and art history when forming the graduate program.

“Literary and philosophical movements and ideas constantly move across linguistic borders,” said Seth Meyer, a doctoral student in the German department. “An important part of my dissertation could hinge on this Dutch influence and, with more Dutch courses available in the future, I am certain future students will utilize such connections more readily.”

According to Dewulf, a problem many passionate students face is an inability to decipher texts and assimilate themselves with the Dutch language. To overcome this barrier, the department has created a new type of class, “Dutch for Reading Knowledge,” which will cater to graduate students.

German department lecturer Inez Hollander, who will teach the reading course, said the city of Berkeley has several social similarities with the liberal and multicultural city of Amsterdam, making it an appropriate place to deepen the program.

“In the Netherlands, pot is legal, as is gay marriage and prostitution,” Hollander said. “The Netherlands may be small, but its legacy has been quite cosmopolitan, and American students can learn a lot from this.”

The graduate program will be funded solely through Nederlandse Taalunie, translated as the Dutch Language Union, a Dutch-Belgium organization which supports the teaching of Dutch abroad. The organization designated Berkeley as America’s leading Dutch studies program.

Dewulf said his greatest ambition is to grow Dutch studies into its own doctoral program instead of its current status as a designated emphasis. He believes the new graduate courses offered on campus will attract students throughout the nation and facilitate further global research and cooperation with schools across the world.

“Sometimes people think of the Netherlands as a small country with windmills and wooden shoes,” Dewulf said. “But in terms of its potential, it is very important. I’m obviously very pleased about this historic moment in our field.”

Contact Virgie Hoban at [email protected].