Jan de Vries was born in the Netherlands during World War II, emigrated with his parents to the United States at the age of four, and was raised in Minnesota, where he attended the public schools in Deephaven and Hopkins. His higher education took place at Columbia University (A.B., History, 1965) and Yale (Ph.D., History, 1970).  He is married to Jeannie Green de Vries, a high school Latin teacher.  They have two children, Nicholas and Saskia.

At Yale, De Vries followed a joint program in Economic History, studying with William Parker and Harry Miskimin.  After a first appointment at Michigan State University (1970-73), he accepted a position at the University of California at Berkeley, where he remained until his retirement, holding the Sidney Hellman Ehrman Chair in European History as well as an appointment in the Economics Department. He is now Emeritus Professor and Professor of the Graduate School.

His research interests in economic history have ranged from European agrarian history, to historical demography and urbanization, to environmental and climate history, and, most recently, to the history of consumer behavior.  He has written seven books, co-edited four more, and written 90 published articles and book chapters, and over 60 book reviews.

De Vries is a past president of the Economic History Association and served as editor of the Journal of Economic History.  He is the recipient of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship.  He has received grants from the NSF and the NIH, and has held visiting fellowships at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, and All Souls College, Oxford. He has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the British Academy, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, and the Flemish Academy of Sciences of Belgium. He is the 2000 recipient of the A.H. Heineken Prize in History.

In addition to his academic activities, De Vries has served as Chair of the History Department (1987-91), Dean of Social Sciences (1999, 2008-09), and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs (2000-2007), all at UC-Berkeley.