University Utrecht Two Postdoc positions “Pressing Matter – Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums”

Would you like to work on colonial collections assembled by missionaries at the intersection of material culture studies, critical heritage studies, religious studies and colonial history?

The four-year research project “Pressing Matter – Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums” is collaborative across five academic institutions and five Dutch museums, working together with national, and international partners from across the world. The project is situated at the Faculty of Humanities of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, led by Prof. Susan Legêne (Project Leader) and Prof. Wayne Modest (Programme Leader), and funded by the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA). This project consists of various work packages which will be carried out by Researchers at different institutions in the Netherlands, including the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Utrecht University.

Pressing Matter responds to the growing contestation over what to do with the colonial heritage held in museums. This growing controversy reveals the need to account for the polarised positions of these debates, ranging from scholars, activists and community members championing the return of objects to correct historical wrongs, to those who contend that objects should be retained irrespective of the circumstances of acquisition by museums in light of their (universal) cultural and scientific value. In the middle are advocates of more relational heritage practices, comprising dialogue and sharing in how objects are distributed. Pressing Matter has identified various approaches to this problem, and to the different categories of collections in collaborating museums that will be the starting points for research. Pressing Matter has been developed within the context of the National Science Agenda of the Netherlands. A large team of PhD candidates, Postdocs, provenance Researchers, museum staff, and senior academics will be organized across 8 work packages, hosted at five different universities and in collaboration with five museums and several societal stakeholders.

One work package, titled “Heritage and the Question of Conversion” and chaired by Prof. Birgit Meyer (UU) and Prof. Peter Pels (Leiden University), will explore objects acquired through missionary collecting as a form of voluntary dispossession. The Researcher will conduct comparative research on objects collected by Catholic and Protestant missionaries in Papua (Indonesia) and in Western or Central Africa, focusing on collections from the Nationaal Museum Van Wereldculturen and Wereldmuseum. For a full description of this work package click here.


The successful candidates will have:

  • a PhD degree in anthropology, African Studies or Pacific Studies, heritage studies, history, or religious studies by the time of appointment;
  • a record (appropriate to career stage) of publications that demonstrates the ability to conduct research which is internationally recognized as contributing to the field;
  • the ability to work both independently and collaboratively, with good organizational and communication skills;
  • creativity and is innovative in her/his work;
  • expertise in working with archival (missionary) sources and material objects;
  • the ability to read Dutch (necessary for the archival work);
  • proficiency in spoken and written English.

Conditions of employment

We offer a temporary position (0.8 FTE) for a period of one year. Upon good performance, the contract will be extended for another two years (for a total of three years). The gross salary – depending on previous qualifications and experience  – ranges between € 3,491 and € 3,746 (scale 10 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). More information about working at Utrecht University can be found here.

Apply now!

For more information about this position, please contact: Dr. Annemeik Schlatmann via

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