Doctoral students, History of consumption and material culture (deadline 2 July 2018)

The Faculty of Arts is seeking to fill 2 full-time (100 %) vacancies in the Department of History for a

Doctoral student in the area of the history of consumption and material culture (appointment in the Centre for Urban History)

The position is offered in the framework of the University of Antwerp-funded TOP-project Fashioning ‘old and new’. Secondary markets, commodity value conventions and the dawn of consumer societies in Western Europe (18th-19th centuries)”

Present-day policies to reinvigorate secondary markets and to reinforce the circular economy show a belief in societal progress through technological innovation and supply-side engineering. However, what is crucial in understanding our current ‘throwaway’-attitudes – and any current-day policies shaping these – is a better knowledge of historically and culturally constructed demand-side issues, i.e. the formation of long-running consumer habits around commodities that were handled on secondary markets. The central ambition of this project is to unravel the mental and cultural frameworks that shaped the desire and need for products on secondary markets in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Within this crucial timeframe, Northwestern Europe saw the dawn of present-day-consumer attitudes and habits in dealing with ‘old’ and ‘discarded’ belongings. Hitherto, however, secondary markets have been far too often studied in isolation from the first-hand markets. Surprisingly little is known about the deep cultural and mental frameworks in which consumer preferences and perceived product qualities were embedded, and how these transformed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Drawing on a rich, and largely unexplored corpus of newspaper advertisements for upcoming auctions of second-hand goods, this innovative project seeks to unravel precisely the changing commodity value conventions among the taste-making elites in society and their relationship with the emerging ‘consumer societies’ of the modern era. Through a careful analysis of the kind of persuasive descriptors that were used to describe auctioned goods (with adjectives such as ‘curious’, ‘fine’, ‘elegant’, etc.), it becomes possible to map the changing consumer mindsets and bundles of commodity characteristics through time. The latter will be made possible through a new ‘big-data’ methodology. A thorough comparison of word and cultural embedding in time and place will help to unravel how consumer mentalities were entangled with changing product qualities. The case studies (in England, France, the Low Countries) were carefully chosen to include the major fashion making metropolises of the period, as well as more modest provincial and commercial towns, all with a different social architecture.

The successful candidates will work closely together on two interrelated, yet autonomous PhD-research projects each addressing a different timeframe but working on a collective data-infrastructure and a shared problem analysis:

1) The first project, Neophilia and aesthetics for a polite society; changing commodity value conventions, c.1730-c.1820 (Promotors: Blondé and De Munck) will examine the central hypothesis that the conventions that shaped the second-hand market in the eighteenth century were entangled with the attested eighteenth-century craze for novelty and fashions on the primary market.

2) The second PhD-project, entitled Romanticism and aesthetics for an industrial society; changing commodity value conventions, c. 1820-c. 1914 (Promotors: Blondé and Van Damme) will examine the central hypothesis that the conventions shaping the second-hand market in the nineteenth-century were fundamentally entangled with an industrialising mass product market, which increasingly favoured, among others, ‘cheapness’, ‘standardisation’ and ‘hygiene’.

Job description

  • You prepare a doctoral thesis in the field of HISTORY, focusing on either “Neophilia and aesthetics for a polite society; changing commodity value conventions, c.1730-c.1820”, or “Romanticism and aesthetics for an industrial society; changing commodity value conventions, c. 1820-c. 1914”.
  • You contribute to teaching and research at the Centre for Urban History, at the Department of History, University of Antwerp.
  • You successfully complete the training in the framework of the Antwerp Doctoral School.

Profile and requirements

  • You hold a master degree in history, or a master degree in linguistics with a specialization in computational and historical linguistics.
  • You have both an interest in quantitative and qualitative research methods and are willing to invest in database construction and the use of innovative computational linguistic methodologies.
  • You have the potential to obtain outstanding academic results.
  • You have a high degree of research independence, yet also a strong potential and preference for collaborative work.
  • You are quality-oriented, conscientious, creative and cooperative.
  • You must be able to demonstrate language proficiency in English (active), Dutch (passive or willingness to learn) and French (passive).
  • You have gained experience in finding, reading and working with historical sources.
  • Students in the final year of their degree are strongly recommended to apply.

We offer

  • a doctoral scholarship for a period of two years, with the possibility of renewal for a further two-year period after positive evaluation;
  • the start date of the scholarship will be October 1st 2018;
  • a gross monthly grant ranging from € 2.324,20 – € 2.469,08;
  • the dynamic and stimulating work environment of the Centre for Urban History at the University of Antwerp.

How to apply?

  • Applications are submitted online, until the closing date July 2nd 2018.
  • Applicants should also upload a statement of experience, qualification and interest, and two letters of recommendation.
  • A pre-selection will be made from amongst the submitted applications. The remainder of the selection procedure is specific to the position and will be determined by the selection panel.
  • Shortlisted candidates, selected to take part in interviews, will be notified by 20 July 2018. The interviews will take place in the first weeks of September 2018.
  • More information about the online application form can be obtained through
  • For any questions about the project, the profile and the job description, please contact Bruno Blondé via

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