For a career spent furthering Dutch-American studies, Dr. Robert P. Swierenga of the A.C. Van Raalte Institute at Hope College received an early--and unexpected--birthday gift: he was knighted.

Swierenga, who turns 65 on Saturday, June 10, was named a "Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion" in the college's Maas Center on Friday, June 9. The knighthood was conferred on behalf of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands by Gilbert Monod de Froideville, Dutch consul general in Chicago, Ill.

The surprise presentation was part of a day-long conference scheduled in celebration of Swierenga's career accomplishments. A participant in the conference as well as its guest of honor, Swierenga had completed his scheduled address immediately before the consul general spoke.

"Now I truly am speechless," Swierenga said. "Thanks to the ambassador, the consul general and the queen. I can't believe it."

The event, The Dutch American Experience: A Celebration of the Career of Robert P. Swierenga," featured a series of talks by scholars from throughout the United States and the Netherlands. The conference grew out of the planning for a book, "The Dutch-American Experience: Essays in Honor of Robert P. Swierenga," which was presented to Swierenga earlier in the day, also as a surprise.

Swierenga has been at Hope since 1996, serving as a senior research fellow with the college's A.C. Van Raalte Institute and as an adjunct professor of history.

He had previously been a member of the history faculty at Kent State, where he served from 1968 until retiring in 1996. He has written or edited more than a dozen books, and has written numerous journal articles and lectured widely on issues related to the Dutch in America.

He holds his bachelor's degree from Calvin College, where he was an assistant professor from 1965 to 1968, and his master's from Northwestern University and his doctorate from the University of Iowa.