The XVIIth International Congress of Celtic Studies – Utrecht 2023

Celtic Studies in Utrecht

Utrecht has a long history of learning and already boasted a school in the eighth century, which belonged to the chapter at the Domtower. After some centuries of proliferation, however, the school retrogressed at the end of the Middle Ages since there was too much competition with other Dutch schools. The chapter then founded the Hieronymus School, unique in the Netherlands as it offered advanced Latin, and a curriculum which furthermore included rhetoric, poetry, and ars dictandi. The city itself showed much interest in the school, partially influenced by the increase in higher education elsewhere in Europe, and the school continued to rise in popularity. In 1578, the Hieronymus School was taken over by the city government, and plans were made to improve the quality of the school’s curriculum; however, these plans were hampered by the 80-year war against Spain.

Nonetheless, the twelve-year armistice as well as local patriotism stimulated the city government’s educational plans. In 1633 the Hieronymus School was reconstructed and extended to suit its new purpose as the first Athenaeum Illustre – a school of higher education without the privilege to grant doctorate degrees – in Utrecht. The former headmaster of the Hieronymus School, Antonius Aemilius, was appointed as headmaster and professor. The opening of the Athenaeum in 1634 was shortly followed by its elevation to a university two years later in 1636. In 1810, the school’s status as university was negated for a time when the French occupying forces relegated the university to a secondary school, but only three years later, after the establishment of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1813, the university regained its original rights.

Celtic Studies were brought to the Utrecht University when Anton Gerard van Hamel, then a private lecturer in Celtic at Leiden University, was offered the Chair of Old Germanic at the university in 1923. He accepted the position, provided that Celtic was included in the briefing as he considered the languages to be closely related. Van Hamel’s fondness of Celtic linguistics and literature resulted in a plethora of publications as well as in an extensive library of books related to Celtic Studies, which was donated to the university after his death. As a prolific lecturer and scholar in the field, he may be considered one of the founders of Celtic Studies in the Netherlands. After his untimely death in 1945, shortly after the liberation of the Netherlands, he was succeeded as chair by his former student Maartje Draak, who liberally added to the library collection and whose archives were only recently donated to Utrecht University. Material from the archives of both Maartje Draak and A.G. van Hamel, as well as other contributions to the field made by Dutch Celticists, will be included in an exhibition on ‘100 years of Celtic Studies in Utrecht’ to celebrate the centenary of Celtic Studies in Utrecht. The exhibition is prepared by the the section of Celtic Studies together with Bart Jaski, keeper of manuscripts of Utrecht University Library.

Van Hamel’s work in Celtic studies is continued by the foundation Stichting A.G. van Hamel, named after him and established in Utrecht in 1991 to stimulate research into Celtic languages and cultures. The foundation organizes an annual Celtic Colloquium in May/June, which consists of (inter)national speakers, excursions, and workshops. The foundation also organizes lectures and courses for interested parties and publishes the magazine Kelten (‘Celts’), both in a physical and in an online format. One of their most significant projects is the website CODECS, where references to articles, books, manuscripts, and other material related to Celtic studies have been collected in an ever-growing online catalogue. Furthermore, the Van Hamel website hosts Tionscadal na Nod, a platform dedicated to scribal features of Irish manuscripts, and e-Resources, which makes available in Open Access various research tools and aids.

After the introduction of the bachelor/master doctorate system in 2002, both a Celtic Studies bachelor and a Celtic Studies Master were created, where before Celtic Studies could only be pursued as a doctoral programme. Currently, Celtic Studies is part of the Research Master of Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Studies. There is a very active student-society called Asterix, which was founded in 1992 and which organizes various activities throughout the year. Additionally, Celtic Studies at Utrecht University has hosted several research projects in the past, among which the project ‘Medieval Irish Bilingualism‘ (PI Peter Schrijver & Mícheál Ó Flaithearta), ‘Defining Europe‘ (PI Natalia Petrovskaia), and ‘Updating and Downdating‘ (PI Nike Stam).



See also Jamin, Hervé, Kennis als Opdracht: De Universiteit Utrecht 1636-2001 (Utrecht: 2001), Schneiders, Marc, and Kees Veelenturf, Celtic Studies in the Netherlands: A Bibliography (Dublin: 1992), and Toorians, Lauran, and Kees Veelenturf (eds.), Dr Rh. M. Th. Chotzen (1901-1945): Een Biografische Schets Met Een Bibliografie (Utrecht: 1993).