Postdoc position and PhD position, VIDI project “Positively Shocking”, Erasmus University Rotterdam

RHN 18/2019 | Opportunity

Two vacancies on the NWO VIDI project “Positively Shocking! The Redistributive Impact of Mass Mortality through Epidemic Diseases and Violent Conflict in Early Modern Northwest Europe” led by Dr. Daniel R. Curtis, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Closing date for applications: 16 February 2019


Erasmus University Rotterdam
The expertise of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) is concentrated in the fields of Business Administration, Economics, Medicine and Health Sciences, Law, Social Sciences, History, Culture, Communication and Media, and Philosophy. In addition to the initial degree programmes and scientific research, the University offers specific postgraduate study programmes and courses. Erasmus University has around 25,000 students and some 2,500 faculty and staff members.

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.

Project VIDI description
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.

Further information on the more specific details of the project is available on request.

  1. Postdoc position:The great leveler under the microscope: epidemiology and economic redistribution in the early modern Low Countries
    1.0 fte for 3 years (0.8 fte research, 0.2 fte teaching)

In this sub-project, the Postdoc shall examine the link between epidemiologic characteristics of epidemic diseases in pre-modern Northwest Europe and the extent, longevity, and direction of redistribution in economic resources measured predominantly through wealth and property. By doing this, new quantitative empirical foundations are put behind recent scholarly assertions on the equitable impact of destruction and mortality. There are two essential tasks that need to be completed by the Postdoc across the 3 years. First, the Postdoc is expected to contribute significantly to the continuing development of a new epidemiologic database for early modern Northwest Europe. This will require not only helping reconstruct this database by extracting information from the burial records and other sources with demographic information, but being responsible for the management of this large quantitative database – optimally arranging the data for any statistical analyses needed. Second, the Postdoc is expected to find and use source material that allows reconstruction of wealth or property distribution indicators both shortly before and after epidemic shocks. This will explicitly start with the morgenboeken for property distribution in early modern Holland, but should expand into other dimensions over time – looking at other indicators of redistribution such as, for example, epidemics and the movement of people between cities and rural spaces, the rearrangement of households, or the redistribution of rights to collectively-pooled-resources.

This project suits a historian with quantitative skills (economic history, historical demography, etc.), or someone trained in another social science discipline such as economics with a background in history. The Postdoc needs to (a) be accomplished with quantitative approaches to historical data, (b) able to manage large databases effectively, (c) have some experience working with original manuscripts of the early modern period, and have a decent understanding of what kinds of sources are available for the Low Countries (broadly defined), and (d) have an excellent command of written and spoken English, and preferably a second reading language of Dutch, French, German, Latin, or any combination of those.

It is recommended if the Postdoc has educational experience and training.

Conditions of employment
Employment is intended to start in April 2019. The contract run for a term of 3 years, after a probationary period. Potential for extending the contract is dependent on financing and performance. The conditions of employment correspond with the Collective Labour Agreement (CAO) of the Dutch Universities (CAO NU). Salary is subject to training and experience and corresponds to Scale 11 NU, with a minimum of € 2.709 and a maximum of € 4.978 gross per month on a 38 hour per week contract.

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.

  1. PhD position: The kids are alright: epidemics and the prospects of the young in the early modern Low Countries
    1.0 fte for 4 years (0.82 fte research, 0.18 fte teaching)

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.

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 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.


Additional information
The deadline for application is February 16, 2019. Enquiries relating to the project material can be made to Dr. Daniel R. Curtis The application can be send to

Each applicant needs to provide in their application:

  • CV
  • Names and contact details of two potential references
  • An outline of a proposed scheme of work for the relevant sub-project (1 A4 page)
  • For Postdoc: a digital copy of PhD thesis
  • For PhD: a digital copy of MA thesis