Prof. Dr. Beatrice de Graaf

distinguished Professor in International Relations at Utrecht University

For the third edition of ‘Meet the Team’, Midas Urlings (Student-Assistent at SHN) speaks with Prof. Dr. Beatrice de Graaf, distinguished professor at the History of International Relations section at Utrecht University.

Midas: SHN came from the ERC project, where you worked together with dr. Ozavci and dr. de Lange. What about the ERC project made you want to continue to develop this concept of Security History in the form of a network?

Beatrice: With my ERC Consolidator Grant project, we created an international team of historians, and set out to re-examine the nature of Europe’s security cultures from the early 19th century onwards. We conceptualized the term as the sum of mutually shared visions on ‘enemies of the states’, ‘vital interests’, and corresponding practices between 1815 and 1914. This helped us to compare different security regimes in which Europe engaged globally, stretching across the political and commercial domain, affecting urban and maritime environments, and reaching around the world to the Ottoman Empire and China.
Given the existing literature in 2014, the postulated existence of a shared European security culture in the 19th century then seemed quite counterintuitive. Historians and scholars of international relations generally view the first half of this age through the lenses of ‘balance of power’ and hegemony, and the second half as shaped by bellicose nationalism rather than collective security. European security cooperation and culture is generally situated after 1918, or 1945, as a reaction to the horrors of war and motivated by economic considerations. Yet, we were able to demonstrate with a series of articles and monographs that have been published since 2014 that after 1815 several concrete transnational security regimes were forged, (partly) designed to deal with ‘enemies of the states’, such as the Commissions on the Rhine and the Danube (to fight smugglers), the European Commissions on Syria and China (to fight colonial rebels), the Anti-Piracy and Anti-Anarchism Campaigns, and others. These security regimes were highly dynamic.
Through our publications, and acclaim from colleagues, students, and from larger interested audiences, we felt that we were and are on the right track, introducing new historical sources, pioneering a new multidisciplinary approach to the combined history of international relations and internal policy, aiming to ‘historicise security’. And, importantly, also combines the subdisciplines of colonial, military, police, political, cultural, and international history around the theme of contesting security cultures.
That is why, after 2018, when our project was nominally finished, we decided to push ahead. We were not finished yet and did not want to dissolve our team nor our network. We keep discovering new things, meeting new people, and finding out about new connections between – for example – the 1830 revolutions and the push for expanding the empire in Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. That is why – with the help of my Stevin Prize, and with input from the other team members, we decided to continue.

Midas: For those who are less familiar with the network: what is your current role within SHN?

Beatrice: With Erik de Lange, Ozan Ozavci, I am one of the original convenors, and are part of the core team of SHN. We try to push our joint research efforts (with Erik on 1830, with Ozan on the Mixed Courts of Egypt), but very importantly, also try to reach out to next generation scholars, to PhDs and students. It is so important to motivate students to delve into the archives, to learn languages, to make comparisons and associations across borders, and help to shed new light on the 19th century as one of the foundational epochs for our present-day security logics. A new world order came into existence, and our current and highly uneven power distribution was cemented and consolidated in the 19th century, as were our west-centric outlooks. Security was and is a legitimizing narrative. It is therefore highly relevant to unpack and deconstruct trajectories of securitization, and to reconstruct genealogies of security, fault lines, and ruptures included.

Midas: How has the topic of security history influenced your academic work and career?

Beatrice: It has helped me to focus my interests, which can be quite divergent. On the one hand, I am deeply involved in early 19th-century culture, also the literary, musical, and pictorial cultures. On the other, I see my contribution to science also as public service, some of my work can be categorized as applied history, serving to develop insights on present-day problems of conflict, terrorism, radicalization, and crisis. SHN helps me balance the deep and the short-term research projects, the more foundational and the applied ones. And in today’s situation of increasing transboundary security threats – with pandemics, war, terrorism, and climate crises overwhelming us – it is adamant that we do not stick to outdated divisions between the war/military studies scholars, cultural historians, diplomatic or colonial historians. Phenomena such as security are transboundary, and often also transgressive, normatively and democratically speaking. Therefore, studying security from a broader angle, through history, helps us to understand its force through time.

Midas: What is your current research focused on? 

Beatrice: Currenty, I am working, as always, on two tracks: on a sequel to Fighting Terror after Napoleon, following the development of imperial security cultures around 1830. And I am doing research into the notion of ‘radical redemption’, based on a research project into the religious and ideological narratives of convicted terrorists in the Netherlands and Indonesia. That project already amounted to a publication in Dutch, but I am currently also trying to translate my findings into an international academic volume.

Midas: How do you see the development of SHN in the future?

Beatrice: Well, as we have stated elsewhere, SHN is not just a research project for PhDs and senior scholars, nor is it intended for Utrecht-based researchers only. It is a network that aims to bring together scholars and students from all around the world that consider security through a historical lens. As historians, we bring chronological and source-related rigour to the field. We work with genealogies, and go back deep in time, but also are able to bridge and establish connections across disciplines, from area studies to social psychology, digital humanities, and medicine, for example. And, very important, we want to be an inspirational platform for people to disseminate their research, discuss teaching, do outreach, and enrich each other with seminars, blogs, podcasts, and interviews. There is always room for more participants! The only prerequisite for joining is allowing us to ask you to write a blog or join us at a conference…


Beatrice de Graaf is a historian and a security & terrorism researcher. Her research focuses on how states and societies try to maintain high levels of security and how these attempts relate to core values and institutions (democracy, freedom, rule of law, constitutional and responsible government). She studies the emergence of and threats to such security arrangements from the 19th century until the present, including in times where both the effectiveness and the legitimacy of these arrangements were at risk. As a strong science communicator, Beatrice appears on (international) television and radio stations, and in newspapers.

Recent Publications

de Graaf, B.A. (2022). Crisis! Amsterdam: Prometheus.

de Graaf, B.A (2021). Radicale verlossing. Wat terroristen geloven. Amsterdam: Prometheus.

de Graaf, B.A. (2020), Fighting Terror after Napoleon. How Europe Became Secure after 1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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