PhD position: The kids are alright: epidemics and the prospects of the young in the early modern Low Countries (1,0 fte)

PhD position: The kids are alright: epidemics and the prospects of the young in the early modern Low Countries (1,0 fte)

Published Deadline Location
18 Jan 16 Feb Rotterdam

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Job description

Project VIDI description “Positively Shocking! The Redistributive Impact of Mass Mortality through Epidemic Diseases and Violent Conflict in Early Modern Northwest Europe”
Catastrophic shocks redistribute economic resources. Recently it has been argued that epidemics and wars alone explain most swings in pre-modern inequality, and the only times socio-economic inequalities leveled themselves out before the Industrial Revolution were during episodes of extreme violence or sudden mass mortality caused by epidemics (e.g. Scheidel 2017; Milanovic 2016). However, while the amount and quality of evidence is convincing for the 19th century onwards, the story for the pre-industrial period is founded on only a handful of empirical examples. Furthermore, many of the ‘equalizing’ mechanisms invoked to explain this tend to only apply to the Black Death of 1347-52 (destruction of labor with untouched capital), or were just very rare (total destruction of all capital goods).The basic objective of this project then is to get that evidence necessary to formally test recent scholarly assertions made on the equitable effect of catastrophic shocks. Rather than accepting an inevitable ‘model’ of redistribution after epidemics or violence throughout history, the goal of this project is to show in what kinds of conditions a particular redistributive effect was more likely to occur – its direction, its intensity and its longevity. The added value of the project consists of first, considering epidemiological characteristics as a potential driver of different distribution outcomes, and second, broadening the analysis of distribution away from simply material economic resources to examine how different epidemic shocks can shape future prospects of children and sub-adults, and affect societal attitudes towards the poor.

In underdeveloped and developing countries today, unexpected deaths in adulthood create significant social problems – creating orphaned children and uncared for elderly parents, and the survivors are left with reduced family or community support, few social networks, and poor access to food and healthcare, where minors assume new roles as ‘head of households’ and care-givers. Curiously, the effects of epidemics on the lives of surviving young in the pre-industrial period has had very little explicit attention.

In this sub-project, the PhD student shall analyze how epidemics shaped the lives of young people in the early modern Low Countries (broadly defined)– with an explicit consideration of how different epidemiologic characteristics could lead to different pressures. In particular, the PhD investigates the position of children in the immediate aftermath of the disease, and their prospects over the ensuing years in the short- and medium term. It is hoped that methods and techniques will be employed that allow for systematic comparison of the fortunes of those surviving children who lost both parents, those children who lost one parent, and those children whose guardians remained unscathed – probably requiring work at the micro-level. Did the costs associated with plague deaths, for example, decimate children’s long-term financial futures? Or did surviving children instead flourish without sibling rivals? For older children, the opposite was a problem – the possibility they were forced into caring for other family members in the interests of household survival, or forced into new forms of employment at a young age. Sources of relevance may be orphanage records, records of guardianship, guild/workhouse archives, household censuses, and poor table accounts, among others. Aside from the micro-level work, the PhD will also have the opportunity to investigate infant and child mortality patterns – using disaggregated data from the burial records.


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)


This is a sub-project where very little has been done and thus represents an almost ‘blank slate’ for a PhD candidate to investigate via the archives. The PhD needs to have a solid background in history at undergraduate and MA Level, and an excellent command of written and spoken English, with preferably a second reading language of Dutch, French, German, Latin, or any combination of those. Demonstration of quantitative skills is advantageous, but not an absolute necessity.

Conditions of employment

Employment starts May or June 2019. The initial contract (0.82 fte research, 0.18 fte teaching) will be running for a term of 1,5 years, which - depending on performance – will be extended with a second term of 2,5 years.

The conditions of employment correspond with the “CAO Nederlandse Universiteiten” (CAO NU). For the job of PhD Candidate (Promovendus) the salary amounts to a maximum of € 2.325,- (grade P) gross per month on a 38 hour per week contract the first year.

The EUR has attractive employment conditions, which include a holiday allowance of 8.0%, an end-of-year bonus of 8.3% and 41 annual vacation days in case of a full workweek. 


Fixed-term contract: 3 years, after a probationary period. Potential for extending the contract is dependent on financing and performance.


Erasmus University Rotterdam

The Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), named after Rotterdam-born humanist and theologian Erasmus, is a research university with a strong international orientation and a pronounced social focus, both in its education and research activities. On the lively, modern campus, more than 28.000 students and scholars of more than 100 nationalities are constantly encouraged to develop their talents and meet their ambition. Our more than 2700 scientists and employees work together with all our students to solve challenges faced by global society, drawing their inspiration from the consistently dynamic and cosmopolitan city of Rotterdam. The academic education offered at our faculties is intensive, engaging and strongly focused on practical application. We increasingly perform our research in multidisciplinary teams, which are closely interwoven with international networks. In terms of research impact and the quality of its degree programmes, EUR can compete with the foremost universities in Europe, which is reflected in its consistent top-100 position in most major universities rankings. Erasmus University Rotterdam’s key values are daring, curiosity, social involvement, breaking new ground and striving for success


Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC)

The Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication at Erasmus University includes the Departments of History, Arts and Culture Studies, and Media and Communication. The Faculty has approximately 1800 students and 140 employees.


  • PhD positions
  • Behaviour and Society; Language and Culture
  • max. 40 hours per week
  • University Graduate
  • ESHCC-18012019-2


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)

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