Titia van der Maas - Profile Picture
Titia van der Maas

My name is Titia van der Maas. I was born in the early 80’s in the middle of the Netherlands as the third child of five siblings. Many of my family members of both the earlier generations and that of myself have migrated to live, study and work abroad. This has influenced me in the sense that as a family we travelled regularly and my parents provided me the freedom to travel by myself from an early age onward.
During my adolescence, I developed a particular interest in peoples histories. It started with the lived memories of my family members and how their life time experiences showed in their everyday habits, the way they presented themselves and the artifacts in their houses. The father of my mother (we called him pake, which means grandfather in Frisian dialect) was born in Malang, Indonesia. He was born there because his father was a technical engineer on the steam line boat connecting the Netherlands and Indonesia. My grandfather studied in the Netherlands to become a doctor and returned to Indonesia to work as a gynecologist for many years. After that, he and my grandmother returned to live in the Netherlands. I remember their furniture and smell of the house, which was so colorful and pristine and so fascinating because it come from another world. We used to eat family dinners at my grandparents’ house, especially during festive days. It was quite a test in fortitude as the Indonesian food was prepared in a very spicy way which to my grandparents was a matter of principal for us to learn to eat. Next to a sturdy personality, my grandfather was also a humorous man always telling jokes and teaching us grandchildren many things like sailing and surfing and to how find solutions to puzzles.
On my father’s side, my great uncle worked as a tropical doctor and his wife was a nurse. After the Second World War they moved to live and work for 20 years in New Guinee, Suriname, Uganda and Kenya to create laboratories and mobile field hospitals for the treatment and vaccination of Malaria. In these locations they trained medical and lab staff in the field of tropical diseases. In the late 70’s they returned to stay in the Netherlands and when visiting my great aunt and uncle regularly, we used to spend hours talking about their life time experiences in these countries. When I was young I didn’t understand why my uncle told me all his memories in such great detail. It was only when I went to college that I understood the impact of his work and the sense of pride that he took in it.
My first encounter with the concept of world views was that of the liturgy of my childhood congregation. It spoke of manhood to be on earth to endure hardship, to labor and worship god, and not to question governance as it is god’s way to organize the world. I remember as a child to be aware of this being an abstemious and gloomy worldview and I found it inconsistent with human behavior, which in my experience was grounded in the longing for progress and in establishing connections with people and places in your surroundings.
During my BA on language and culture studies and MA programme on international relations and political history (Utrecht University) I was able to connect some of the individual life stories of my family members to what was written and proclaimed by the history of nations and the world histories – from a western perspective that is. These narratives were as explanatory as they were mystifying as they didn’t allow the student to grasp what happened to ordinary people whom were subject to these big (his)stories. I took a minor in Asian Studies, wishful to get some alternative readings to the predominant historical narratives. I remember my professor asked me what he could say on my behalf during graduation. When I answered to wish for more female and non-white professors in the History Department, he was shocked. That was the year of 2009.
My first position was that of research assistant at a foreign office think tank where I enjoyed meeting new people and exploring working life, including the long fixed office hours and practical office jokes. After a while, it turned out that policy development could be quite uninformed and the hierarchic office politics became tedious. The process of publishing my master’s thesis was not exciting and I wanted something else to commit myself to. I had enjoyed my traineeship with the International Institute for Asian Studies during my Bachelors programme. So I returned to Leiden University in 2010 coordinating the Training Indonesia’s Young Leader’s Program, a scholarship platform for Indonesian scholars to be trained in Leiden and return home after obtaining their Master’s or PhD degree, which previously came under IIAS. This program had offered me the opportunity to work closely with many motivated and inspirational individuals and to visit Malang, Indonesia where I organized a conference. I gained some experience in student coaching, project planning and finances and I enjoyed the variety of tasks and the challenges it offered me. In 2011 I got involved with the Islam Research Programme at the Leiden Faculty of Law. The idea of this program was to inform policy makers in various Dutch embassies about social developments in the Muslim societies where their embassies were situated. After this project came to an end, I became affiliated to the International Institute for Asian Studies again in 2012. Starting as an events coordinator, I later became the coordinator of the ‘Rethinking Asian Studies in a Global Context’ programme. The current programme ‘Humanities across Borders, Asia and Africa in the World’ is following on that. Facilitating collaborative research and joint initiatives linking academia and society is very meaningful to me. Also, I like the fact that my daily job is not a purely academic one. In order to further develop my management skills, I am currently studying for a Bachelor of Business Administration. The language of business is fascinating and a parallel universe compared to my previous training.
My greatest joy and pedagogical challenge in life is to help raise my partners daughter of four years old. Her way of learning and communicating with me shows me how to be self-reflexive. On top of that I’ve learned to appreciate aspects of my own upbringing through the values that I want to share with her.

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