Hans van Amersfoort studied Social Geography at the University of Amsterdam where he received his master’s degree in 1964. He worked for a short period for the city of Amsterdam on housing, but returned to the Institute for Social Geography as a young teacher and assistant already in 1965 to stay and develop his scholarly career till his retirement.
From the beginning, Van Amersfoort focused his empirical work on a topic that did not fit in the interests of Dutch society, politics and research of that moment: the arrival of newcomers in Dutch society after WorldWar II and how these newcomers found a place in that society. He started empirical fieldwork on these new inhabitants of the Netherlands and published on the situation of Moluccans, Surinamese, Antilleans and Moroccan labour migrants in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Van Amersfoort became the founding father of Dutch migration studies because of his explicit and sophisticated approach to the study of the settlement process of newcomers. In his dissertation in 1974 he developed an analytical model how to study that process. He also developed a crucial concept that relates to a possible outcome of the settlement process: the concept of minority. Van Amersfoort’s dissertation was a trailblazer, in the Dutch research context as well as in the wider Dutch society. His approach to the settlement process of immigrants and their position in the host society became widely accepted in research and policy circles in the late 1970s and early 1980 in the Netherlands.
In the early 1990s, Hans van Amersfoort played an important role in establishing a multi-disciplinary research institute at the University of Amsterdam: the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies (1992). That was also the start of a period of internationalisation of Dutch research: the somewhat inward oriented Dutch research world started to connect with researchers and research institutes in Europe. The contacts that Van Amersfoort had developed helped IMES to build a strong international position.
In this period of his career, Hans van Amersfoort developed a number of special topics within the broad field of migration studies, such as Ethnicity and the Modern State, Diaspora Studies, Migration Processes and Interventions, The European Welfare States and Immigrants. He wrote state-of-the-art essays in which he tried to bring together the accumulated knowledge on these topics. Like he did in his dissertation, he developed analytical, or heuristic models as tools to map knowledge that functioned at the same time as guides for researchers.
Hans van Amersfoort was a scholar in the tradition of the Dutch school of Social Geography in which research should combine – wherever possible – scientific independence with societal usefulness. On the potential tension between these two his position was clear: we scientists have the duty to be engaged in our society and potentially contribute to a better functioning of that society by our research. But that contribution should come from an autonomous, independent scientific practice. In his valedictory lesson of 2001, entitled ‘Verplichtingen ons opgelegd” he looks back on how the Social Geographical Institute and he himself have tried to combine these scientific and societal duties.
We will remember Hans van Amersfoort as an important, critical and wise scholar. As a person, he was good-humoured, talkative, open minded and cooperative. These traits made him not only good company to spend leisure time with (he never missed the annual outings of IMES), but also a stimulating colleague to work with. The latter can be discerned from the many publications he co-authored with colleagues of IMES and of the Geographical Institute of the University of Amsterdam. He passionately shared his critical, distanced observations of people, politics and society, including the academic world and its mores, and not excluding himself as part of that same world. His humane sense of humour often came to light from these distanced observations; often enhanced with a generous touch of self-mockery.
We will remember Hans van Amersfoort as a great scholar and as an amicable person.
- Rinus Penninx, Em. Professor of Ethnic Studies of the University of Amsterdam