The Cultural History group currently runs a variety of externally funded projects:

  • 2 ERC Consolidators grants
  • 1 Aspasia project 
  • 1 Dutch Research Agenda (NWA) project
  • 4 PhD projects 
  • 5 UU-funded projects 
  • 3 book commissions 

Our staff also conduct research as part of their regular appointments. See the peronsal website of our staff members, under the ‘research’ tabs.


ERC Consolidators grants

FORCE (‘Forensic Culture. A Comparative Analysis of Forensic Practices in Europe, 1930-2000’)

The ERC Consolidator project ‘Forensic Culture. A Comparative Analysis of Forensic Practices in Europe, 1930-2000’ investigates the differences between forensic practices in Europe in the period 1930-2000. Science and technology’s impartial and unambiguous results seem to ensure that justice is done equally for everyone. In reality, however, the role and impact of forensic science depend on where the court is located.

Scholars have attributed this regional variance to either the availability of technology or the different legal systems. These explanations have not been backed up by empirical or comparative research and do not sufficiently explain why scientific experts are powerful in some national courtrooms, but dismissed in others. Moreover, they neglect a third, vital factor: culture.

This project will demonstrate the cultural influences that determine how forensic science was accepted in Europe (1930-2000) by focusing on historically and nationally variable political ideology, media representations and norms on gender and sexuality. It studies four European countries: the Netherlands, Russia, Spain and England.

Sharing Knowledge in Learned and Literary Networks (SKILLNET): the Republic of Letters as a pan-European knowledge society, 1400-1800

In SKILLNET, we study the early modern world of learning that was often referred to as the Republic of Letters. Ultimately, we want to know why the idea of a Republic of Letters was such a vital notion for over four hundred years, and what its fate was in the modern period. Therefore, we are finding out to what extent this  ‘Republic’ acted as a community with a collective identity. We study the correspondence networks that scholars and scientists maintained, but also the way they remembered other scholars, the language they employed when writing to another and the institutional settings that shaped the careers of learned people. We use insights from sociology, linguistics and economy, and combine digital network analysis and distant reading with qualitative resesarch. Thus, we are modelling the community of scholars and scientists in a variety of ways, critically engaging with existing literature that all too often takes for granted the collective self-presentation of scholars and scientists as a community devoted to sharing knowledge across political, religious and linguistic border and presents this ‘Republic’ as an unvariable entity.

NWO Aspasia project

The Business of Decolonisation and ‘Development’: European Interventions in Global Industries 1945-1983

Europe’s ‘modernising mission’ and the language of ‘development’ have come under increasing scholarly critique in recent years, and some historians have rightly suggested they be analysed as part of a longer trajectory of post/colonial power relations. Previous scholarship, however, has focused overwhelmingly on the role of governments and international organisations in investigating Europe’s relations with the ‘Third World’ after the Second World War. Less well known is exactly how and why development aid was implemented and the extent to which European private enterprise sought to influence the process from decolonisation to development. 

This project analyses the role of individual businesses and their employees, as well as the institutional networks connecting them to government organisations and to each other. It takes a closer look at the international and intercultural encounters involved in a new era of investment in the Global South. The project contextualises German, British and Dutch policies and practices in Africa, Latin America and Asia against the backdrop of Cold War competition, an emerging Europe and a postcolonial world order.

NWO Dutch Research Agenda (NWA)

Constructing the Limes

The project Constructing the Limes: Employing citizen science to understand borders and border systems from the Roman Period until today is a large participatory heritage project evaluating the function and cultural mobilization of the border of the Empire during and after the Roman period. It is a collaborative project between geographers, archaeologists, geneticists, geologists and cultural historians.

Gertjan Plets and Jaap Verheul of the Cultural History section coordinate the cultural heritage studies component of this project. They will study how the Roman Frontier has been mobilized since the early modern period, was subsequently mobilized by as cultural heritage, and how the cultural construction of the Limes as a hard line between barbarians and civilization continues to influence the way in which Europe understands borders today.

Gertjan Plets also leads a work package using state of the art DNA techniques to map and chart population dynamics in the Lower Rhine region. Innovative is the mobilization of critical theory in interpretation of aDNA (genetic profile) samples to better understand multiculturalism and population movement. The Utrecht group will also develop new environmental DNA methods to extract genetic information from soil samples. Matched with digital bioinformatic analysis eDNA (environmental DNA) research will enable the systematic extraction of information about pathogens, diseases and dietary changes during the Roman period.

PhD Projects

Critical Heritage and the future of Europe: the impact of the digital turn on European heritage institutions

CHEurope is a PhD training programme in cultural heritage that brings together key European academic and non-academic organisations in Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy. CHEurope positions itself at the heart of the emerging field of critical heritage studies to promote a new methodological framework encouraging a stronger integration between theory and heritage practices and applying it for a more efficient training in heritage management and the development of cultural industries in Europe.

The PhD candidate in Utrecht, Carlotta Capurro, focuses on the theme of Digital Heritage. Her project investigates the impact of the digital turn on European heritage institutions, analysing both the human and the technology agencies on the digitisation process. Her project researches how different actors collaborate in the construction of collections that include digital heritage, exploring their roles, their reciprocal relationships and responsibilities in developing digital content. With her work, she also analyses how digital infrastructures are imposing a new layer of meaning on cultural heritage, and how this is in turn affecting the way digital heritage is generated, used and perceived.

Making up disability? Disability benefit legislation and disability identity formation in cases of traumatic neurosis and amputation in the Netherlands (1901-1967)

Ever since the introduction of the first act regulating the insurance of labourers in cases of accidents in the Netherlands, the Ongevallenwet (1901), politicians, doctors and scholars have been discussing the political and economic effects of social security legislation. The regulations have constantly been tightened to make sure ‘the right people’ receive benefits. While these debates still make the headlines on a daily basis, there is a lack of fundamental research on how processes of in- and exclusion have affected notions of who ‘the right people’ actually are and what disability means in the context of the welfare state.

This project analyses the effect that in- and exclusion procedures of disability benefits had on the way people were identified. Disability benefit legislation necessitates classification. As philosophers of science have shown, classifications ensure that people adopt the way they are being described, but at the same time the classifications are also changed and adapted by people. Interaction with the classification therefore ‘makes up’ the group of people that are being classified.

By targeting the cultural impact and by critically examining its practical and material consequences in contested cases of  ‘traumatic neurosis’ and in less contested cases of amputation in the context of the Ongevallenwet (1901-1967), this project aims to find out how disability benefit legislation brought disability into existence.

Elites in Dutch History: A Conceptual Approach

Recent electoral victories of populist parties across the world reflect a concern among a growing part of the population. An increasing number of people is convinced that a small but disproportionately powerful group of people, often referred to simply as ‘the elite’, is responsible for making all major decisions. Furthermore, they distrust elites for making decisions that only benefit themselves, while the masses remain powerless. Clearly, elites have not always been distrusted by such a large segment of the population. However, existing studies of elites in their historical context frequently have in common that elites are studied as independent entities, separated from society at large. To address why elites are distrusted today, the focus needs to shift to how elites have been conceptualized and perceived over the long term.

This project explores the turbulent history of the elite as a concept, by combining approaches from the historical field of Begriffsgeschichte and the computational linguistic field of Natural Language Processing. Using a corpus of digitized, machine-readable newspapers, journals, and literary sources, the semantic evolution of the concept of elite in the Netherlands will be pursued, analysed, and contextualized.

Qualitative Darwinism: exploring an evolutionary approach in the history of witchcraft

From the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, remarkable concepts of witchcraft took shape in Europe. Many theories about witches, such as the belief in the witches’ sabbat, the diabolical pact, nightly flight, and torture as a means of interrogation, were strikingly well adapted to create increasingly large witch persecutions.

Past historians and social scientists often assumed that these concepts were intelligently designed by witch hunters to pursue particular underlying goals. In contrast, many historians of witchcraft today argue that witch-hunters genuinely believed in the dangers of witchcraft, and that persecutions were a highly erratic phenomenon that did not substantially benefit anyone. However, if these concepts were not the product of an intelligent design, this gives rise to the question of how these concepts became so well adapted over time as to create increasingly large persecutions.

This qualitative historical project will explore a new potential answer: Darwinian cultural evolution. The hypothesis that will be examined is that ideas such as the witches’ Sabbath and nightly flight were only accidentally well adapted to make people hunt for witches, and cumulatively survived together with the persecutions they created.

University-sponsored projects

Once more, with feeling. Replication to improve open knowledge production in the humanities

This project experiments with replication of historical research to achieve a more open and reliable knowledge production in the humanities. Although the data repositories that historians use are often open, the way historians actually select and interpret their data that in turn validate their findings remains opaque. By replicating cornerstone studies from three historical subdisciplines, we attempt to make this process more transparent and publicly accountable and thus in line with the principles of Open Science. The envisioned results are (i) replications, (ii) a methodology for doing replication in history and (iii) recommendations to ensure replicability in the humanities.

Mining Historical Trajectories of Awareness: A machine learning approach to historicized sentiment mining (HistAware)

This project aims to use the sentiment pipeline to trace historical shifts in awareness. Many debates - whether about climate change, genetically modified foodstuffs, or #metoo - hint at a high form of awareness in our current global society. It is, however, far less evident where these sentiments are rooted in and how they have evolved over time. We aim to investigate this for the Dutch case by focusing on a genealogical study of central modifiers of awareness - (un)healthy, (not) harmful, etc. We are particularly interested in the roles of multinationals like Shell and Unilever as agents of change in these debates.

Towards a Digital History of Archaeological Thought – a text mining approach

This project designs test text mining methodologies to study the evolution in archaeological thought. We will make visible how digital research infrastructures (e.g. databases or other information management portals) solicit particular discourses and subjectivities. Using a big data approach, we explore large textual datasets (predominantly bureaucratic reports) developed by researchers whose work is guided by centrally managed information systems.

The textual corpus will span over a period of four decades, enabling us to test and detect changes over time in relation with changing information management practices. As such we hope to develop a proof of concept that is both able to explore large grey literature datasets (bureaucratic documents, which have received less attention in textual DH research) and quantitatively test key theories from STS about the impact of knowledge infrastructures on research practices.

Our central case study will draw on archaeological reports in Flanders. Because of ongoing governmental reforms, Flemish-Belgian archaeologists’ work has become influenced by changing government-controlled information infrastructures. The requested funding will be used to employ research students for digitization of paper sources and text mining tasks.

CarbonCultures: Developing a critical gas and oil historical culture in the Netherlands: challenges, opportunities and solutions

During the 20th century the Netherlands became a “petrostate”. Meaning, its national economy and political structure has become shaped by the oil and gas sector. First, Indonesian oil extracted through a colonial system established one of the largest energy companies and harbors in the world. Second, discovery of reserves in the Netherlands fastened post-war recovery and the establishment of the welfare state. At the same time, in the province of Groningen earthquakes are causing environmental, social and economic uncertainty. Not to speak of the unknown problems caused in Indonesia.

Developing a critical engagement with the history of Dutch oil and gas is challenging, because the industry has been funding historical museums and official histories. These structure the memory around hydrocarbons. Also in times of globalisation and hardship there is nostalgia for being a net exporter of raw materials.

In this project we study the current historical discourses around oil and gas. How have these developed over time? How do these influence current understandings of resource extraction and climate change?

We also develop solutions to counter this dominant history. A podcast series will present an alternative history and we will assist community members with listing sites for heritage protection.

Decolonisation Group

Through a variety of workshops, activities and even a podcast, the Decolonisation Group at Utrecht University aims to provide a forum for the intensive interdisciplinary study of decolonisation as a historically situated order by bringing together faculty and graduate students from different departments within Utrecht University and beyond.

Decolonisation has become a powerful element in the social transformations that permeate much of the globe today. At the same time decolonisation points towards a distinct historical period that changed global and international relations. The study of its decolonisation therefore attracts scholars from a wide variety of fields; their contributions could powerfully stimulate mutual insight. This is important in light of  a key contradiction in global academia today, namely the embrace of global perspectives in European and American academia and the increased dissatisfaction in Africa and Asia about the incomplete ‘decolonisation’ of academia and society.​

Commissioned books

Teaching European History in the 21st Century (TEH21)

Teaching European History in the 21st Century (TEH21) is an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership in Higher Education, bringing together experts in the fields of European history, innovative didactic methods, and the development of innovative teaching materials from seven countries (Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands). The focus of this transnational project is the collaborative development of English-language teaching material for courses in early modern, modern and contemporary European history that allows Higher Education Institutions to internationalise their curriculum.

  • Project Leader: Dr Jochen Hung
  • Duration: 2019 - 2022
  • Funding: EU (Erasmus+ programme)
150 Jaar Centraal Boekhuis

The year 2021 marks the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Centraal Boekhuis by a joint initiative of Dutch publishers and book sellers. This cooperation is unique in the world wide landscape of book economies. In this project, its history is described against the background of the changing book market in The Netherlands.

Two generations Kessler: a cultural history of a Dutch family of entrepreneurs, 1850-1970

August Kessler (1853-1900) is seen as the founder of the Dutch Royal Oil Company. One of his sons participated in the founding of Dutch Steel, another son was after the Second World War CEO of the Dutch Royal Shell. Yet, this is no simple business history, but a broad cultural panorama of a family trying to earn a fortune in the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. As soon as richness is reached they become involved in science (physics and pedagogics), politics and diplomacy, art, architecture and sports, both national and international. The nineteenth and twentieth century bourgeois culture and the development of bourgeois culture in all its diversity is used as interpretative scheme.

  • Project Leader: Dr Jeroen Koch
  • Duration: 2019 - 2022
  • Funding: Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Amsterdam

Past Projects

In the period 2013-2020, Prof. Jaap Verheul and Prof. Joris van Eijnatten coordinated, participated in and/or supervised a number of completed projects relating to transnational contact and digital humanities:

  • Translantis: The Emergence of the United States in Public Discourse in the Netherlands, 1890-1990 (2013-2017, NWO)
  • AsymEnc: Asymmetrical Encounters: Digital Humanities Approaches to Reference Cultures in Europe, 1815-1992 (2013-2016, HERA)
  • Oceanic Exchanges (OcEx): Tracing Global Information Networks in Historical Newspaper Repositories, 1840-1914 (2016-2019, NWO)
  • Texcavator: Facilitating and supporting large-scale text mining in the field of Digital Humanities (2015-2016, eScience Centre)
  • ShiCo: Mining Shifting Concepts through Time. Word Vector Text Mining Change and Continuity in Conceptual History (2016-2017, eScience Centre)