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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 Béneker, Prof Leen Dorsman.
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.
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