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Jens Krasilnikoff obituary

Jens Krasilnikoff, Associate Professor at the Department of History and Classical Studies, passed away on Wednesday 14th February. His death means the department has lost a valued colleague and core member of staff, who had played a leading role in teaching and researching ancient history over many years, and had worked closely with colleagues in both history and classical studies.

Jens Krasilnikoff was educated at Holte Gymnasium. He began his studies at Odense University in 1985 and graduated from there as cand.mag. (MA) in 1991. In 1992 he spent some time at the Danish Institute in Rome, and he was employed as a teaching assistant, researcher and graduate student at Odense University, where he was awarded his PhD 1997. He was appointed assistant professor in Odense, but left in September 1998 to take up an assistant professorship at Aarhus University. From September 2001 he had a permanent position in Aarhus as associate professor. Jens took on many administrative roles on behalf of his colleagues. He was chair of the Centre for Antiquity 2003-2004, and following a major administrative re-organization at Aarhus University, he took on the role of nurturing inter-disciplinary research exchange through his role as director of the research programme ‘Cultural dynamics’ 2012-2015. In 2019 he was elected as our local union representative and he had just been re-elected to this position at the time of his death.

Jens specialised in the history of ancient Greece and worked constantly to promote the relevance of his field. His 1997 PhD thesis was on landscape, work and boundaries in ancient Attica. Water, agriculture and food production in ancient Greece, along with mercenary armies and their provisioning, remained key fields of interest throughout his research career, continuously evolving in the light of new theoretical developments. His research spanned cities (Alexandria) and rural areas (Attica) – an interest he shared with George Hinge, associate professor in classical philology, and the late Niels Kayser Nielsen, associate professor of history at Aarhus University. His research was concerned with questions about memory, identity, multiculturality, religion and rituals, informed by different theoretical perspectives.

As a newly appointed assistant professor in the early 2000s, Jens worked together with Agnes Arnórsdóttir to establish gender history at Aarhus University. Through the seminars they organised and an edited volume Køn i historien (Gender in History), they helped to lay the foundations of the department’s current strengths in gender history. The most recent example of Jens’ scholarly curiosity and openness to collaboration was his participation in an animal history reading group with departmental colleagues, where his cat came to feature prominently in discussions. Although he was for many years the only ancient historian in the department, Jens had many collaborations and joint publications with colleagues. One of his last publications was the anthology The Greeks in Iberia and their Mediterranean Context, edited with Benedict James Lowe, formerly associate professor in Roman history at AU, which was begun while Lowe was employed in Classical Studies at AU. In recent years Jens worked on representations of ancient Greece in travel writing. At the time of his death he was editing an anthology on Popular Receptions of Classical Antiquity with Vinnie Nørskov and Christian Thrue Djurslev, colleagues from Classical Studies.

Water, land and agriculture came to be central themes in Jens’ research, which became connected to the climate change debate relatively early on. Through his research in irrigation systems and water supply, Jens developed an international inter-disciplinary network involving researchers in agriculture and engineering, which led to numerous joint publications. As questions concerning food and water security become ever more acute, it has been very inspiring to witness the way in which Jens demonstrated the contemporary relevance of the ancient world, as his research on ancient landscapes and irritation systems was brought to bear on contemporary concerns about climate change and related challenges. At the time of his death Jens was working with international colleagues on a publication on sustainable water management and food production in a global perspective. He had just returned to a project on the Oxford Handbook in Greek Agriculture, together with Professor Lin Foxhall from the University of Liverpool. And he was writing a cultural history of figs as crop, food and symbol in ancient Greece.

Research and education were closely linked for Jens. Jens contributed to the development of our graduate programme in Cultural History and played a leading role in developing teaching in the uses of history, together with Niels Kayser Nielsen. Over the years this has become one of the distinctive features of the history programme at Aarhus. Jens’ teaching in this field demonstrated his sense for how antiquity was used and remained relevant in contemporary society. He was innovative in his inclusion of historical films in his teaching, to the delight not only of students but also of co-examiners during long days of oral examinations. Many colleagues can testify to his generosity in sharing his wisdom with those teaching uses of history for the first time, sharing texts (including his own non-published work), experiences and reading lists. Jens’ commitment to interdisciplinarity was also demonstrated in his teaching, where he played a leading role in developing the course Antikken mellem oldtid og nutid, which was taught as a so-called ‘humfag’ from 2012, and from 2020 as an internationalization elective Classical Heritage and European Identities.

History students know Jens from his lectures on the ancient world as part of the World History course, but many also knew him from uses of history and from various special subject courses, not least for first year students.  He was an enthusiastic, committed and attentive teacher, who made space in his teaching for humour and for critical questions alike. He was also a popular supervisor, demonstrated by the number of MA theses in ancient history, and Martin Friis Andersen’s PhD thesis on the Olympic Games as sites of memory. Jens had plans to develop new teaching on climate, water and food based on his research, an ambition which underlined not only the close relationship between research and teaching in his work, but also his theoretical and scholarly curiosity, and his ability to develop new fields while at the same time maintaining his central areas of interest and expertise. We will remember Jens for his warm manner and his sense of humour. As his colleagues, we had full confidence in him as our union representative – Jens understood the machinations of power and responded to them with appropriate scepticism. He will be greatly missed as a colleague, a teacher and researcher.

Away from his professional life, Jens lived on a small farm outside Odense. He shared his interest in ancient Greece with his wife Karen Rørby Kristensen. They published several articles together and were working on a book about ancient Greek history. Jens passed on his interest in history to his son Anders.

Jens Krasilnikoff, 5th April 1962 – 14th February 2024.