Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam – Postdoc Coordinator: Pressing Matter – Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums

Would you like to work at the intersection of material culture studies, critical heritage studies, and colonial history? Do you have outstanding coordination skills? Then please apply as Postdoc Coordinator at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU).

Job description

This four-year Postdoc position is based in the Faculty of Humanities at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, within the framework of the NWA project “Pressing Matter – Ownership, Value and the Question of Colonial Heritage in Museums”. This collaborative, interdisciplinary project responds to the growing contestation over what to do with the colonial heritage held in museums.

Situated within the subproject that addresses the potentialities of objects collected in the colonial period to help us live with the past, the project coordinator provides core organisational support for the project leader (Susan Legêne) and programme leader (Wayne Modest), and plays a crucial role in the implementation and development of the overall project. As project coordinator, you interact with the research staff, as well as with the different stakeholders, including participating museums, societal partners and the group of ‘critical friends’ in the Netherlands and abroad.

This position is not limited to project organization; it also requires active academic leadership, especially in developing a research infrastructure that connects museums and universities, and other relevant stakeholders. Deep understanding of the issues related with collections, colonialism and museums is a requirement. We expect active intellectual engagement that may include active participation in and contribution to the project’s outputs such as published or online outputs. You will be expected to develop and research certain themes as well, depending on your expertise.

You know the ins and outs, the planning and deliverables of the programme, and keep close contact with the financial project controllers. You will be employed by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands and be jointly supervised by prof. dr. Susan Legêne and prof. dr. Wayne Modest.

Your duties

As part of the project management team you will:

  • contribute to ensuring the overall cohesion and coherency of the project
  • be the main contact person ensuring proper communication within the project across all consortium members
  • monitor deliverables/outputs
  • plan meetings and seminars to implement and assure knowledge utilisation outputs
  • be the main contact with museums and other heritage institution partners
  • provide support for proper functioning of the different Labs within the project
  • be actively involved intellectually in the project with a specific own research project that contributes to the broader research ambitions and outputs of the project
  • have broad oversight for the project budgets and be the main contact person between the financial contact persons from the partners and the VU


  • PhD in Humanities or Social Sciences, Science and Technology studies, Legal studies; preferably connected to colonial history and colonial legacies, and  familiarity with the museum sector
  • affinity with material culture studies and provenance research will be an advantage
  • experience in project management is required, with a strong affinity for creating structures and organizing processes that stimulate collaboration and support team science and experimental research approaches
  • the ideal candidate should demonstrate an interest in new innovative approaches to research and collaboration, in the ethical issues that now animate current museological discussions, with an ability to set up and stimulate brainstorms, PhD seminars, international workshops with partners abroad
  • hands on mentality, organizational skills, preparedness to further develop budgeting and accounting skills and techniques
  • good command of at least Dutch and English; ready to work in a linguistic and culturally diverse team

Eligibility Criteria
Our recruitment policy considers the individual curriculum vitae of applicants as well as the research team composition as a whole. We seek a diverse team, in terms of disciplinary background, with a solid representation of researchers embedded in / related to countries from where colonial collections originate. In line with this policy, eligible applicants can be of any nationality, but for this position, upon equal qualification, priority will be given to candidates with a strong relationship with communities / countries from where specific collections germane to the specific work package originate.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 1 year.

A challenging position in a socially involved cros-institutional research programme. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts €3,491 (scale 10) per month during the first year and increases to €3,886 (scale 10) per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for 0.6 to 0.7 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a total duration of 4 years.

Additionally, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:

  • a maximum of 41 days of annual leave based on full-time employment
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • solid pension scheme (ABP)
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package

About the project Pressing Matter

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 in the  Faculty of Humanities at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, led by Prof. Dr. Susan Legêne (Project Leader) and Prof. Dr. Wayne Modest (Programme Leader), and funded by the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA).

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 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.
Researchers start from this shared research framework, while doing research for their own individual research output, including a PhD thesis. While developing their own views and insights, they commit themselves to the overall programme through collaborative multidisciplinary approaches, based in shared access to research findings and result based 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 in five different universities and collaboration with five museums and several societal stakeholders.

Additional information

Are you interested in the position of project coordinator? Please apply via the application button until May 6, 2021.

Your application should be a single pdf consisting of the following documents, in the following order:

  • a detailed letter of motivation, describing how you would approach this research project, your motivation and qualifications for applying, and why you make an excellent candidate for the role of project coordinator (no more than 1,000 words)
  • your curriculum vitae, listing at least: full address and contact details; education; professional information and employment (if relevant); language proficiency; grants/honours; conference presentations and publications (if applicable), names and contact details of two referees familiar with your academic record and research skills)
  • a writing sample, such as an essay, project paper, or a chapter of your MA thesis, between 3,000-10,000 words

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions
If you have any questions regarding this vacancy, you may contact:

Name: Prof. dr. Susan Legêne
Position: Professor of Political History
E-mail: s.legene@vu.nl
Name: Prof. dr. Wayne Modest
Position: Professor of Material Culture and Critical Heritage Studies
E-mail: w.a.h.modest@vu.nl

More information and appliciation

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