I am a senior lecturer in modern European history at the Department of European Studies of the University of Amsterdam. My specialisation is the political, cultural and intellectual history of modern Europe in a global context since the eighteenth century, in particular topics on the intersection of history, politics, philosophy and memory. My main interest concerns the role of ideas in political change and 'counter-narratives' of political modernity and globlisation. I have published extensively on regime changes, state and nation formation, conservatism, cosmopolitanism, eurocentrism, (Counter) Enlightenment, ideas of Europe, and monarchy from a transnational and comparative perspective. In 2023 my latest book Europe against Revolution came out with Oxford University Press.
I studied European history at the Universities of Liverpool, Leiden and Yale, followed by a brief career as policy advisor. In 2009 I took my PhD at the History Department of the University of Amsterdam. The dissertation was based on extensive (archival) research in France and the Netherlands. In 2011 I received tenure as an universitair docent (senior lecturer). In the past decade, I conducted research in Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom. I was appointed a senior fellow of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study NIAS (Yeargroup 2019-20) and held visiting positions at the Lichtenberg Kolleg & Moritz Stern Institut Göttingen, Germany (2021-22) and KU Leuven, Belgium (Fall 2022). I live in the city of Groningen in the North of the Netherlands.
Currently, I have the following main research interests:
1) The 'backlash' against liberal modernity from a longer historical and intellectual perspective, including topics such as Counter-Enlightenment, Counter-Revolution, Anti- and Illiberalism, and Conservatism. I consider this backlash, despite its self-professed criticism of internationalism and cosmopolitanism, primarily as the result of the transnational transfer of ideas, institutions and people, and thus essentially as a global and European phenomenon.
2) (De)polarisation, moderation and democracy: Many historians and theorists of democracy point to moderation as a precondition for its success. However, lack of moderation was also used as an important argument to exclude individuals and groups from the political process. I intend to write a new research monograph on this ambivalent relationship between political moderation, (de)polarisation, and the making of modern European democracy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
(3) Historical narratives of European diversity and pluralism from a global comparative perspective. I study diversity as a constructed concept and an ideology rather than as a practice. Other research interests include the uses of the Enlightenment past in contemporary political debates and the rethinking of the role of the state after Covid.
I enjoy teaching BA and MA courses (in English and Dutch) on subjects such as Political Memories, Legacies of the Enlightenment (nominated for the 2019 Faculty Education Award), Modern Intellectual History, European Conservatism & Anti-Liberalism, Liberalism, Cosmopolitanism, Ordering of Europe and 'Turning points in Modern European History' (Folia magazine wrote about this course: "Lok weet zijn toehoorders door zijn enthousiasme te boeien"). I also supervise BA, MA and PhD theses in the field of political and intellectual history. Last but not least, I was a finalist in the 2018 Faculty of Humanities Lecturer of the Year award.
I am a founding director of the Dutch seminar for Global Intellectual History (www.globalintellectualhistory.org/) and a themeleader of the Amsterdam Centre for European Studies (ACES). I currently participate in an university wide research initiative on the 'normative foundations of modern democracy'. Moreover, I have been a member of the board of the De Moderne Tijd (demodernetijd.nl), and of the board of the ARTES Research School (theme leader 'European Identities and ideas': http://artes.uva.nl). I regularly organise and moderate public and academic debates and conferences and occasionally provide comments from a historical perspective on European contemporary affairs.
Matthijs Lok, Europe against Revolution. Conservatism, Enlightenment and the Making of the Past (Oxford University Press 2023) (370p.)
Contents: In the decades around 1800, the era of the French Revolution, counter-revolutionary authors from all over Europe defended European civilisation against the onslaught of nationalist revolutionaries, bent on the destruction of the existing order, or so they believed. These counter-revolutionary publicists proclaimed the concept of a gradually developing European society and political order, founded on a set of historical and - ultimately divine - institutions that had guaranteed Europe's unique freedom, moderation, diversity, and progress since the fall of the Roman Empire. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, these ideas of European history and civilisation were rediscovered and adapted to new political contexts, shaping in manifold ways our contested idea of European history and memory until today.
Matthijs Lok, Windvanen. Napoleontische bestuurders in de Nederlandse en de Franse Restauratie, 1813-1820 (Amsterdam: Prometheus | Bert Bakker, 2009), 420 p.
Contents: My first book Windvanen ('[Political] Weathervanes') is a comparative study of the political transition of 1813-1815 (from the Napoleonic Empire to the Restoration monarchy) in France and the Low Countries from the understudied perspective of the Napoleonic administrative elites that survived the regime change. It argues that the so-called Restoration monarchies were to a large extent constructed by Napoleonic officials who adapted very well to the new political situation. As well as (quantitatively) studying the institutional and personal continuity after 1814, the contemporary critical discourses and attitudes towards these political survivors (nicknamed 'girouette' in French or 'windvaan' in Dutch) are analysed. According to NRC Handelsblad, Windvanen was one of the best historical books published in 2009.
"Matthijs Lok laat in zijn boek Windvanen uit 2009 zien hoe - op het eerste oog - betrekkelijk kleurloze figuren als Van Maanen hebben bijgedragen aan het consolideren en verstevigen van de uitvoerende macht door die te ontwikkelen tot een sterk en centraal bestuurlijk gezag." Wim Voermans (Leiden), Machiavelli in de Polder (2021)
Carolina Armenteros, Matthijs Lok and Iason Zarikos (editors), The Making of Atlantic Monarchies: conservatism and modernity (19th and 20th centuries), 2 vol. (London: Bloomsbury, December 2023)
Edited volume: Matthijs Lok, Friedemann Pestel & Juliette Reboul (eds.), Cosmopolitan Conservatisms. Countering Revolution in transnational networks, ideas and Movements (c. 1700-1930) (Brill Studies in the History of Political Thought, 2021) (450 p.)
“What a pleasure it has been to read the essays in this volume, a large number of which break new ground. There are numerous thematic surprises and new takes on old material. (... ) This will be an essential resource for anyone interested in the fortunes of conservatism in the modern world.“ Darrin M. McMahon, Dartmouth College (USA)
Edited volume: Ido de Haan & Matthijs Lok (eds.), The Politics of Moderation in Modern European History (Palgrave Studies in Political History: 2019) (ca. 250p.)
“This wide-ranging, intellectually-bracing volume reconstructs a neglected site of thought and action, which it identifies as a tradition of political moderation ever since the start of the age of democratic revolutions. In so doing, it offers a bounty of sustained historical and analytical imagination, reshaping inquiry and understanding.” Ira Katznelson, Columbia University (USA)
Edited volume: M. Brolsma, R. de Bruin & Matthijs Lok (editors), Eurocentrism in European History and Memory (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019).
'This is a very insightful collection of well-written essays, covering a wide range of issues and appealing to a wide public. It is both comprehensive in its outlook, as well as rich in detail. Its refreshing and multifaceted approach provides a welcome contribution to the research on Eurocentrism.' Journal of European Integration History
On my own chapter: 'Lok makes clear that this appraisal of the idea of Europe as ‘unity in diversity’ was maintained in the writings of influential 19th century historians like Leopold von Ranke. And today the exact same notion is deeply embedded in the political narrative of the European Union to legitimize its policies. Lok convincingly argues that the pluralist idea of Europe thus also brings in prescriptive and normative criteria and not necessarily results in tolerance towards the world beyond pluralist Europe.' Journal of European Integration History
Themed issue (Special collection) of the International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity, vol. 6 issue 1 (2019), co-edited with Joris van Eijnatten (Utrecht University), on the global history of Enlightenment criticism (ca. 1750-1960) in Latin America, Russia, Spain, Egypt and Continental Europe.
Book: Nationalisme, naties en staten (Vantilt 2012/2015): Matthijs Lok, deel IV: 'IJzer en bloed. Staatsvorming en nationalisme, 1848-1914' (p. 282-411). ["Iron and Blood": Stateformation and Nationalism, 1848-1914 (p. 282-411]
"In een tijd waarin de Europese Unie een bestaanscrisis doormaakt en adepten en bestrijders van de natiestaat elkaar bedelven met argumenten, is dit een welkom overzichtswerk, zowel toegankelijk als noodzakelijke gedetailleerd." De Volkskrant
"Voor de afzienbare tijd is het Nederlandse publiek op benijdenswaardige wijze bediend door deze voortreffelijke synthese." Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis
Member of the editorial board (kernredactie) (2007-2015) of the Belgian-Dutch scholarly Journal/ Wetenschappelijk tijdschrift 'De Achttiende eeuw' ("The Eighteenth century") (in 2017 continued as The Early Modern Low Countries & Jaarboek De Achttiende Eeuw). Special editor (with Alicia C. Montoya) for issue 2012.2 ('Centre and Periphery in the Enlightenment') and 2014.2 ('The Enlightenment and the Past'): (www.dbnl.org/auteurs/auteur.php?id=_doc003)