Gepubliceerd op 25-05-2023

PhD position on Air pollution and its socio-economic and health consequences in Dutch cities, 1850-1950 – Utrecht University

Do you want to explore the impact of air pollution on society and health in the past, and working at the cutting edge of history and the environmental sciences?

Job Description

Utrecht University’s economic and social history group has an exciting opportunity for a PhD candidate to work on a project titled “Air pollution and its socio-economic and health consequences in Dutch cities, 1850-1950”.  This PhD position is part of the interdisciplinary UU PhD programme of the Faculty of Humanities, funded by the administrative agreement (‘bestuursakkoord’) between the Ministry of OCW and the universities.

  • Do you want to explore the impact of air pollution on society and health in the past, and working at the cutting edge of history and the environmental sciences?

Clean air is essential for human wellbeing. However, the rapid rate of economic globalization and the corresponding energy transition have led to air pollution across the world, with detrimental effects on life. During industrialization, air pollution was a major challenge as economic growth relied on highly polluting technologies and effective environmental regulations were lacking. The topic of pollution during industrialization is underexplored and existing studies often analyze this at a broad level such as cities, even though many pollution effects are highly localized and may vary by social groups.

The project will analyse the impact of air pollution on health and other well-being outcomes (such as locational choices, occupational change, and schooling) in Dutch cities during a period of rapid technological change and economic growth (c. 1850-1950). Using individual-level data, this relationship will be examined in general but also differentiated by socio-economic status. The case is particularly interesting as the country industrialized late and had access to less polluting technologies. Additionally, during the time period of the proposal, pollution regulations were enforced at the discretion of municipalities. What was the impact of these regulations, and why did some municipalities enforce them, while others did not?

The project will make use of digitised Dutch archives, providing us with a massive dataset of vital records and high-precision data on factory locations. The PhD candidate will have the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art techniques such as record linkage and GIS to integrate existing data sets, and enrich them with additional information from archives where needed. The resulting dataset will be analyzed using regression analysis to uncover the causal effects of air pollution.

As a PhD candidate you will work together with an interdisciplinary supervisory team consisting of Liesbeth van de Grift (Professor of International History and the Environment), Swantje Falcke (Assistant Professor Economic and Social History), Auke Rijpma (Assistant Professor Economic and Social History) and Kees Klein Goldewijk (Assistant Professor Land Use). The supervisory team has strong ties to the UU strategic theme “Pathways to Sustainability” which offers access to a network of interdisciplinary colleagues. You will be based at the Economic and Social History (ESH) group at Utrecht University, a vibrant and friendly community that fosters social and intellectual exchange, including joint lunches, co-teaching and co-publishing.



We are looking for a candidate who has:

  • A (nearly completed) Master’s degree in economic history, or a related field (such as economics or environmental sciences);
  • Strong quantitative and data analysis skills;
  • Experience or interest in GIS and record linkage techniques;
  • Experience or interest in archival research;
  • Affinity with environmental sciences, health, and/or socioeconomic issues;
  • A drive to publish and write a dissertation;
  • Enthusiasm for working interdisciplinary and collaborating with others;
  • Excellent command of English in speech and academic writing skills;
  • Willingness to learn sufficient Dutch language skills to process Dutch primary sources.

Conditions of Employment

You will be offered a temporary position (1.0 FTE), initially for 18 months with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross salary ranges between €2541 in the first year and €3241 in the fourth year of employment (scale P 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, professional development, (partly paid) parental leave, sports and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.

Employment will become effective on 1 September 2023 or, by mutual agreement, shortly thereafter.



Sharing science, shaping tomorrow. A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability. You can watch the Utrecht University Campus Tour to get an impression of our university.

The Faculty of Humanities has around 7,000 students and 1,100 staff members. It comprises four knowledge domains: Philosophy and Religious Studies, History and Art History, Media and Culture Studies, and Languages, Literature and Communication. With its research and education in these fields, the Faculty aims to contribute to a better understanding of the Netherlands and Europe in a rapidly changing social and cultural context. The enthusiastic and committed colleagues and the excellent amenities in the historical city centre of Utrecht, where the faculty is located, contribute to an inspiring working environment.

Additional Information

For more information about this position, please contact Swantje Falcke (Assistant Professor) at s.falcke@uu.nl.

Apply now

Het KNHG is de grootste organisatie van professionele historici in Nederland. Het biedt een platform aan de ruim 1100 leden en aan de historische gemeenschap als geheel. Word lid van het KNHG.
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