Provenance Researchers: Pressing Matter - Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums

Provenance Researchers: Pressing Matter - Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums

Published Deadline Location
15 Apr 6 May Amsterdam

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Would you like to work at the intersection of critical heritage studies, material culture studies and history? Do you have strong affinity for archival work? Then Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam would like to get to know you.

Job description

This provenance research position is based at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s (VU)  Faculty of Humanities, in collaboration with the National Museum of World Cultures (NMVW) and falls within the framework of the NWA project “Pressing Matter - Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums”, a collaborative, interdisciplinary project that responds to the growing contestation over what to do with the colonial heritage held in museums.

This research position will be part of the subproject Potentialities: Living with the Past (WP1) that explores the potentialities of colonial objects in museums for helping societies come to terms with the colonial past in the present. Working across the different work packages of the project, which asks questions around ownership, value and reconciliation, the researcher will conduct in-depth provenance research on selected objects within the collections from the different museum partners in the project.

While employed by the Vrije Universiteit, provenance researchers will work out of the Provenance Research Lab (PRL). The PRL will be located in the NMVW, and coordinated by dr. Henrietta Lidchi (NMVW) in collaboration with Ellen Grabowsky (NIOD). It will function as a commons and will gather the researchers, especially the junior scholars, from the work packages in a collaborative exchange environment. PRL will have structured workshops to share, test and compare data and research methods. Alongside sustained research on objects histories and their eligibility for restitution, the PRL will promote provenance research as a method to generate data and contribute to research agendas around histories of colonialism.

Your duties
  • undertake provenance research on collections in line with priorities and investigative strands in the different work packages and across museum collections
  • use primary resources (archives, documentation, material culture) to construct the histories of collections both inside and outside institutional contexts
  • interpretation and analysis of provenance findings in the context of the larger projects
  • use provenance findings to understanding larger questions
  • import findings into the TMS database (or other similar databases)
  • draft reports on findings in consultation with project leaders and other researchers, sharing findings with a wider community of scholars, community members and artists
  • contribute to the analytical and theoretical debate regarding provenance research inside and outside the project


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)


  • a Bachelor's degree in a relevant Humanities or Social Science disciple (for example, History, Heritage Studies, Anthropology, Art History)
  • demonstrable experience in archival research, within a  museum or academic context
  • affinity with material culture studies and provenance research / Interest in ethical issues with respect to museological dilemma’s and guidelines
  • eagerness to further develop research qualities: accurate approaches in compiling data, researching source material, and analysing findings
  • ability and willingness to work both in a team and independently
  • good proficiency in English is required; as many collection information will be in Dutch, a proficiency in reading Dutch language material  is highly recommended

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 1 year.

A challenging position in a socially involved cross-institutional research program. On a full-time basis the remuneration amounts EUR 2,526 per month during the first year and increases to EUR 2,790 per month during the fourth year. The job profile is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for 2 FTE.

Appointment of selected candidates: June - December 2021 (late appointments due to COVID related delays, especially in relation to travel restrictions, will be considered).
Duration of the appointment and fte’s will depend, starting from a minimum of 1 year and a maximum of 4 years, either part time or full time, to be decided in the recruitment procedure.

Additionally, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:
  • a maximum of 41 days of annual leave based on full-time employment
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • solid pension scheme (ABP)
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package


The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavor – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 26,000 students. We employ over 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

Faculty of Humanities
The Faculty of Humanities links a number of fields of study: Language, Literature and Communication, Art & Culture, History, Antiquities and Philosophy. Our teaching and research focus on current societal and scientific themes: from artificial intelligence to visual culture, from urbanization to the history of slavery, from ‘fake news’ in journalism to communication in organizations. We strive to ensure small group sizes. Innovative education and interdisciplinary research are our hallmarks.

Working at the Faculty of Humanities means making a real contribution to the quality of leading education and research in an inspiring and personal work and study climate. We employ more than 250 staff members, and we are home to around 1,300 students.
About the project Pressing Matter
The four-year research project “Pressing Matter - Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums” is  collaborative across five academic institutions and five Dutch museums, in collaboration with national, and international partners from across the world.  The project  is situated in the  Faculty of Humanities at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, led by Prof. Dr. Susan Legêne (Project Leader) and Prof. Dr. Wayne Modest (Programme Leader), and funded by the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA).

Pressing Matter responds to the growing contestation over what to do with the colonial heritage held in museums. This growing controversy reveals the need to account for the polarised positions of these debates, ranging from scholars, activists and community members championing the return of objects to correct historical wrongs, to those who contend that objects should be retained irrespective of circumstances of acquisition by museums in light of their (universal) cultural and scientific value. In the middle are advocates of more relational heritage practices, comprising dialogue and sharing in how objects are distributed. Pressing Matter has identified various approaches to this problem, and to the different categories of collections in collaborating museums that will be the starting points for research.

Researchers start from this shared research framework, while doing research for their own individual research output, including, for some, a PhD thesis. While developing their own views and insights, they commit themselves to the overall programme through collaborative multidisciplinary approaches, based in shared access to research findings and result based research. Pressing Matter has been developed within the context of the National Science Agenda of the Netherlands. A large team of PhD candidates, postdocs, provenance researchers, museum staff, and senior academics will be organized across 8 work packages, hosted in five different universities and in collaboration with five museums and several societal stakeholders.


  • Research, development, innovation
  • Behaviour and society
  • 16—40 hours per week
  • €2329—€3144 per month
  • Higher professional education
  • 7407


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)

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