Welcome to Utrecht!

The Historic Dom Tower

Welcome to Utrecht

The city

Utrecht is the fourth-largest city of the Netherlands, located exactly in the middle of the country. During the late Middle Ages, Utrecht was the largest city of the Netherlands, ruled by a powerful bishop. This explains why the city center, including the characteristic canals, is older than the other historical Dutch cities such as Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden, Delft and Gouda, all of which date mostly from the 17th century.

Today, Utrecht is a fast-growing city, with a relatively young and highly educated populace: about 20% of residents are students. Utrecht hosts a large university, an academic medical center, several other institutes for higher education, as well as several large banks and consultancy firms. For that reason, it is a transportation hub, as reflected in the recently rebuilt Central Station, which most delegates will experience.

The local HPS community

The intellectual hub of HPS in Utrecht is the Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities (DC). The DC is a virtual center, uniting all Utrecht researchers in the field, and it aims to be the university’s think tank for reflection on science and its societal role.

The DC also unites the staff of the Utrecht HPS research master’s program, which admits about 25 students every year. Other important history of science hubs in the Netherlands are the Vossius Center for the History of Humanities and Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, the Stevin Centre for History of Science and Humanities at the Fee University of Amsterdam, the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave in Leiden, and the Teylers Museum in Haarlem.

For the past five years, ending this summer, the Descartes Centre has hosted the History of Science Society’s editorial office, H. Floris Cohen, Editor. He was assisted by book review editors Ad Maas (of the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave) and Huib Zuidervaart (from the Huygens Institute), as well as by students from the HPS master’s program. (Readers are encouraged to visit the HPS graduate students’ blog Shells And Pebbles – Interesting finds on the shores of the history of science.)

Discussing Descartes

Historians of early modern science may remember that teaching Cartesian ideas was banned in Utrecht in 1642, thanks to Descartes’ nemesis Voetius, professor at Utrecht University. Fortunately, however, participants at the HSS Annual Meeting do not need to worry about this ban any more; it was officially lifted during a festive ceremony in 2005.

Conference venue

The HSS conference will take place in the very heart of the city. The venue is not a single building, but rather a row of historic houses along the picturesque Drift Canal, which now all belong to the Faculty of Humanities. A garden at the back connects these houses to each other and to the university library, which is located in a former palace of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor’s brother who was king of the Netherlands from 1806-1810.

There are lots of restaurants, coffee bars and cafés within a few blocks, including the library cafeteria Lodewijk (the Dutch version of Louis). Since a fifth of the population are students, prices tend to be reasonable.

Plenary venues

The opening ceremony will be in the Janskerk (St John’s church), the oldest parts of which date from the 11th century, although several extensions were added later. The Janskerk is just a few minutes walk from the main conference area.

The Prize Ceremony & Distinguished Lecture by Anke te Heesen will be in the Domkerk, the former cathedral—and since 1581, a Protestant church—dates back to the 13th century and about a 5-minute walk from the conference center. Its tower, the 112 meter high Domtoren, is the main landmark of Utrecht. The tower is no longer connected to the church, as the connecting nave collapsed during a storm in 1674.

The Elizabeth Paris Public Engagement Lecture by Jeroen van Dongen will be in the Railway Museum, located in a 19th-century railway station at the edge of the city center, about a 15-minute walk from the Drift buildings.


We have organized several history of science-themed excursions for HSS attendees, with tours by specialists:

  • City walks: a visit to the historic Sonnenborgh Observatory and/or the peaceful Botanical Gardens.
  • Huygens’ house Hofwijck in Voorburg and Rijksmuseum Boerhaave in Leiden. Boerhaave is the national museum for the history of science and medicine, with a rich collection that includes instruments of Huygens and Leeuwenhoek. The museum just won the European Museum of the Year Award 2019.

All excursions will take place on Tuesday, 23 July 2019. Reserve your spot now, as space is limited. See https://hss2019.hssonline.org/en/utrecht#excursions

Traffic & Safety

The center of Utrecht is very safe. There may be pickpockets, like in any busy place, but it is no problem to walk around alone at any time of day or night.

The main safety hazard is also one of Utrecht’s most celebrated features: its bike culture. The conference website can tell you how to get from A to B, but it does not inform you about the laws of the Utrecht traffic jungle. So here they are:

  1. In all of Utrecht, bikes are king of the road.
  2. It takes a large bus or truck to intimidate a bike. Anything & anyone else is expected to give way. This even includes HSS participants.
  3. Bikes don’t follow rules. Mundane things such as traffic lights, one-way streets or pedestrian zones are regarded as optional guidelines.
  4. Bike parking is allowed everywhere, even where it is not (cf. rule 3). The only exception is the Drift canal, where parked bikes will be actively removed by the officials.
  5. Stealing bikes is not allowed, but bike thieves also seem to adhere to rule 3. It is not unusual to have a bike lock that is more expensive than your bike (this also says something about the quality of most bikes).

Incidentally, the largest bike parking garage in the world is being built near the station, with room for 12,500 bikes. Another one, with room for 4,200 bikes, is located on the other side of the station. It is not clear whether or not this will be enough space.

Local Arrangements Committee

The local hosts of the 2019 Annual Meeting are:
Bert Theunissen
David Baneke
Ariane den Daas
Odette Jansen
Annemarijn Douwes

They are supported by a group of HPS students and graduates.