PhD position: The role of Utrecht University Geosciences in the Dutch colonial and postcolonial order (1.0 FTE)

PhD position: The role of Utrecht University Geosciences in the Dutch colonial and postcolonial order (1.0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
20 Sep 1 Nov Utrecht

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Would you like to participate in archival and documentary research regarding Dutch (post)coloniality? Then you should read more about our PhD position.

Job description

Applicants are invited for a PhD position to chart and evaluate the role of the Utrecht University Geosciences (Human Geography, Earth Sciences and Physical Geography) in sustaining the Dutch colonial order in Indonesia and Surinam. In addition, the project will study how these colonial practices were re-shaped in a postcolonial order after Indonesian independence (1945-1949). The project’s goal is to use these empirical findings as an invitation to debate postcoloniality in the geosciences.


The project is funded by the faculty of Geosceinces and supervised by Dr Michiel van Meeteren, Prof Tine BénekerProf Leen Dorsman

The project 
Recent debates around the inheritance of slavery and coloniality have put the role of colonial academic practice centre stage in debates of colonial accountability. The Utrecht geosciences owe much of their existence to the Dutch colonial order. The geographical institute was formed in 1908 with a clear reference to colonial geography and was staffed with professors from the colonial military and civil elite. Similarly, the earth sciences are built on a long history of funding to search for minerals and fossil fuels by the former colonial enterprises (e.g. Billiton, Shell). After independence, many of these established research linkages were repurposed for the postcolonial order. That is, inherited practices and experience were put at the disposal of the early postcolonial state. Some of these relationships, with a changed character, persist to this day in the form of academic and personnel exchanges. The exact role of (post)coloniality in shaping the institute and its predecessors has never been systematically researched, which is the gap that this PhD project will fill. 

The PhD trajectory’s main work will be archival and documentary research, meaning that an affection for these historical methods is an important prerequisite. In addition, the research will comprise a limited amount of oral history research as well as co-organizing events and an exhibition around the Utrecht Geosciences and (post)coloniality. Research will be conducted in the Netherlands, Indonesia, and Surinam. The position starts in January 2023. 

You will be systematically uncovering, and cataloguing, the colonial and postcolonial research conducted by the institutional predecessors of the Faculty of Geosciences. This will require identifying studies and contextualizing these through archival research in the Netherlands and abroad. You will uncover the academic networks that helped sustain the Dutch colonial order. Additionally, you will trace these colonial traditions to the present, with a specific focus how subsequent generations of scholars reworked these colonial inheritances in new research and economic and social development projects. Lastly, you will help to use these findings to animate debates around postcoloniality within the contemporary Faculty of Geosciences. You will be working on this project in a core team, specialized in disciplinary history hosted at Geography and Education, in the Human Geography and Planning Department. However, there will be active links within the geosciences community to ensure interdisciplinary debate and you will be embedded within the history of science community through Utrecht University’s Descartes Centre as well as the Faculty of Humanities.


Utrecht University


We are looking for candidates who have/are:

  • a Masters (with thesis) in Geography, History, International Development Studies, Anthropology, Sociology, or a related field
    with a clear affinity for historical research;
  • experience and/or a very strong interest in archival research;
  • fluent in Dutch (because of the archival language), and proficient in writing and reading academic English; knowledge of Indonesian is not necessary but would be a plus.
  • experience with or an interest in oral history research;
  • affinity with debates around colonial history, the colonial present, postcolonial theory;
  • interest in engaging and publishing in the geography and wider geosciences community; experience in organizing workshops and events is a plus.

Conditions of employment

You will be offered a temporary position (1.0 FTE), initially for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross salary ranges between €2,541 in the first year and €3,247 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year. 
In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.


A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.
Utrecht University's Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth's core to its surface, including man's spatial and material utilisation of the Earth - always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development.

Through its research, the Geography and Education Section aims to advance geographical literacy in society. Geographical literacy (geo literacy) refers to the ability to build and apply geographical knowledge, understanding and skills. It enables people to make informed choices in their everyday lives, and as responsible citizens (and in their professions) to better understand and resolve current issues of ecological, social and economic sustainable transitions in society. These aspirations align with UN's Sustainable Development Goal 4 ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, where geo literacy can bridge these skills to the global challenges of today and tomorrow. 

The ’why, what and how’ of geography and planning education in the current epoch is central to Geography and Education’s research: from primary and secondary schools to higher education, both as a discipline and in interdisciplinary contexts, but also in education for professionals. The Section explicitly consider the professional fields of geographers and planners and their continuing need to learn, innovate and recombine knowledge as important research fields as well. Geography and Education aspires to work in an international context that includes the global north and south.


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • 36—40 hours per week
  • €2541—€3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • 1197006



Heidelberglaan 8, 3584CS, Utrecht

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