Professor of Rural and Environmental History Ewout Frankema has received the Ammodo Science Award, which is intended for outstanding mid-career scholars. He is the first Wageningen academic to be awarded this relatively new prize worth 300,000 euros.
Ewout Frankema studies the reasons for the huge global gap between the rich and the poor.
© Ivar Pel
The Ammodo prize was introduced in 2015 and is awarded every two years. The prize is an initiative of the Ammodo Foundation, which encourages the arts and sciences, but it is awarded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Frankema was given the prize for his research on the historical roots of the global gap between the rich and the poor. He is delighted. ‘I see this mainly as recognition for the type of research I do: broad historical research that is difficult to pigeonhole.’
Frankema says you need a helicopter view if you are to determine why there are such big global differences between the rich and the poor. ‘You can’t do it by examining the issue from a single theoretical perspective. You have to look at how states and farming communities developed, how trading patterns took shape, and so on. You need to make connections and be prepared to think big.’
According to Frankema, the prize shows that the humanities have a place in a technical university. ‘They are not a luxury; they add value. I’m currently working with colleagues in the plant sciences on a research proposal for Wageningen University’s Interdisciplinary Research and Education Fund. The key question here is what the spread of new crops from the New World after 1492 meant for Africa.’
Frankema says the introduction of crops such as maize, cocoa and potatoes had a much bigger impact on agriculture and society in Africa than anywhere else. ‘You can study that as a historian but biologists know all about it too. The combination of these areas of expertise makes this project innovative.’
Ewout Frankema came to Wageningen from Utrecht in 2012. That same year, he was awarded a Vidi grant by the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) of 800,000 euros and an ERC Starting Grant of 1.5 million euros. His group now consists of four PhD candidates and 11 staff.