Eelco Runia studied history and psychology at Leiden University, The Netherlands, worked for some years as a psychologist at the Faculty of Medicine of the Erasmus University Rotterdam and was a visiting scholar at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies. He received a PhD for De pathologie van de veldslag (‘The Pathology of Battle. History and Historiography in Tolstoy’s War and Peace’) – which was nominated for the ‘Gouden Uil’ for the best Dutch-language nonfiction book in 1995.
Starting from 1999, he had a private practice as coach/supervisor for medical doctors. In these years he also wrote his first novel – Inkomend vuur (‘Incoming Fire’) – about the disastrous Dutch mission to Srebrenica in 1995. This ‘scandalous’ novel, published in May 2003, received a lot of attention in the Dutch press, provoked anger from the establishment as well as acclaim from veterans, and was nominated for the best literary debut of 2003. In a much discussed article in NRC-Handelsblad he initiated a debate about the question of (delayed) aggression by veterans of peacekeeping mission.
In 2002, his research project Committing history was awarded with a 5-year grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research – and he became a full time historian at the Department of History of Groningen University and (since 2004) chair of the Centre for Metahistory Groningen. From January till July 2007 he was visiting associate professor at Stanford University. Runia’s Committing history-project explores the counterintuitive thesis that historical landslides (French Revolution, First World War) are not ‘rooted’ in what came before, but are instances of ‘into cleanness leaping’ – of ‘jumps into history’ to remedy what may be called ‘cultural vertigo’.
In his second novel Breukvlak (‘Fault Line’, or, more correctly: ‘Fault Plane’, published in October 2008, one of the five ‘discoveries of the year’ of Recensieweb see: http://recensieweb.nl/recensie/bewustzijn-in-het-perifere/)) Runia used the genre of the novel for exploring some timely philosophical problems. Breukvlak is, in fact, an ‘archeological experiment’ in which the hero acts upon the question how his life has to be buried in the weblog he is writing in order to keep it alive.
His current research explores the question how humans energize their own evolution by habitually creating situations (‘catastrophes’, sublime historical events) that put a premium on mutations. His first American book, Moved by the Past, (New York 2014) addresses the dual question what role discontinuous change plays in human cultural evolution, and how in discontinuous action we act against our own best interest and thus transcend agency.