Funding for 20 new PhDs in the humanities

15 June 2017

From predictions about language use by autistic children and the dissemination of radical philosophies in the Netherlands during the 17th century, to a quest for the typical ‘African historian’: 20 talented emerging researchers will spend the next few years carrying out research, thanks to funding from the PhDs in Humanities programme. The programme is funded by the Humanities Incentives Board and NWO Domain Social Sciences and Humanities. A total of 3.6 million euros was awarded in this funding round.

The PhD projects were selected from the universities involved in the process Sustainable Humanities. The aim of the PhDs in the Humanities Programme is to give a boost to the supply and promotion of young talent in the humanities.

The institution that submitted the application provides a matching contribution of 10% for each project that is awarded funding. The decision-making body, consisting of Professor Frits van Oostrom (chair Humanities Incentives Board) and Professor Wim van den Doel (chair NWO Domain Social Sciences and Humanities), selected the following projects based on recommendations by the selection committee.

Projects are presented alphabetically according to the names of the applicants, the project title is provisional.

Emotion theatre: Spanish plays during the 17th century in the Netherlands
Applicant: Prof. W. van Anrooij, Leiden University
Candidate: T. Vergeer (m)

In the 17th century, Dutch adaptations of Spanish plays were extremely popular. However, this has never been extensively investigated. Unlike Dutch theatre productions, these extremely interesting pieces provided the opportunity to experience emotions considered undesirable outside of the theatre. This research will investigate whether Spanish plays offered an escape from everyday life in which emotions had to be continuously kept under control.

Problems in the vocabulary among children with a language development disorder: does implicit learning play a role?
Applicant: Prof. P.P.G. Boersma, University of Amsterdam
Candidate: I. Broedelet (f)

Children with a developmental language disorder experience severe difficulty acquiring their native language. Recent research indicates that a reduced ability to learn the language implicitly (therefore without explicit instructions) plays a role in the language problems experienced by these children. However, this learning mechanism is mainly correlated with morphosyntactic language problems (sentence and word structure). I would like to investigate whether the vocabulary issues, also experienced by children with developmental language disorders, can be correlated with a disorder in implicit learning as well.

Language use by general practitioners with patients with unexplained symptoms
Applicant: Prof. E.H.H.J. Das, Radboud University
Candidate: I. Stortenbeker (f)

A large number of patients who visit the general practitioner present with somatic physical symptoms that are insufficiently explained. These symptoms cannot be explained by an underlying disease. The communication between general practitioners and patients with these poorly understood symptoms often proceeds with difficulty. Research into doctor-patient communication has until now focussed on what doctors should say but not on how they can do that. This PhD project will provide new insights into doctor-patient communication by investigating whether general practitioners and patients use a different language in the case of unexplained somatic complaints and how this language use affects patients' health.

Radical rumours. Digital reconstruction of the spread of Cartesianism and Spinozism in Dutch textual discourse (1640-1720)
Applicant: Prof. Dr E.M.P. van Gemert, University of Amsterdam
Candidate: L. van der Deijl (m)

This project will use digital text analysis to investigate the spread of radical philosophies in the early modern Dutch textual culture (1640–1720). The research will focus on the texts of Descartes and Spinoza and their translator J.H. Glazemaker. Via a reconstruction of the typical idiom of both thinkers, similarities will be identified with that idiom in other texts. In this manner, the project will describe the scope of the Radical Enlightenment in the Netherlands in the fields of academic as well as popular literature. This study will develop the methodology for using digital text analysis for large-scale research into philosophical influence and shifting concepts within the history of ideas.

Choose your weapon - views about warmongering in early Europe.
Applicant: Prof. A.L. van Gijn, Leiden University
Candidate: V. Gentile (m)

To a large extent, warfare is determined culturally and enshrouded in rituals. This project will investigate how the deposition of 'offers' of weapons in the late Bronze period can teach us something about the ritual handling of weapons and warmongering as a cultural value. Use-wear analysis will be used to determine how the weapons deposited were used and treated. Data collected from Italy and the Low Countries will be compared with each other to determine how commonplace this ritual handling of weapons was.

Predictions about language by children with autism
Applicant: Prof. P. Hendriks, University of Groningen
Candidate: I. Scholten (f)

When we use language, we are always making subconscious predictions about what will come next. Mental functions are important for accurate predictions. Children with autism however, have fewer executive functions, this may make it more difficult for them to predict language. In this project, eye measurements will be used to examine whether children with autism experience more problems generating and processing predictions about the rest of the sentence.

Medical theory in ancient Egypt: a lexicographical analysis of magical and medical prescriptions in the context of medical history
Applicant: Prof. O.E. Kaper, Leiden University
Candidate: J. Russel (m)

In contrast to the prevailing medical-historical view, the Ancient Egyptians already had an advanced understanding of the interaction between human anatomy and diseases from 1850 BC onwards. This project will make an analysis of Ancient Egyptian medical texts and will also reproduce remedies according to the instructions these contain to gain an understanding of the underlying medical theory. This will result in an improved estimation of the influence of Ancient Egypt on the development of Western medicine.

A study into the migrations history of Malays based on the genealogy of Malaysian vernacular languages
Applicant: Prof. M.A.F. Klamer, Leiden University
Candidate: J. Wu (m)

Although Malaysian vernacular languages are often considered to be 'dialects' of Malaysian, some are actually only distant relatives of Standard Malaysian. This research will collect new data about two so-called Malaysian 'dialects': Terengganu Malays and Kelantan Malays, two threatened languages of the Malaysian peninsula that have not been described yet. The results of this research will throw a new light on the migratory history of the Malays. In addition, this research can make the speakers of these threatened languages aware of the unique properties of their languages, which could in turn contribute to their conservation.

‘To prevent defacement’. Depopulation and demolition in the town system of Holland in the long 18th century (1680-1830)
Applicant: Prof. K. Kwastek, VU Amsterdam
Candidate: M. Walda (f)

The current population decline and depopulation in areas of the Netherlands is not a recent phenomenon but a recurrent historical theme. There were cycles of growth and decline in the past as well. However, little research has been conducted into population decline and the spatial consequences of this for urban and rural areas within architectural and urban history. The research focuses on the spatial planning practices developed by governments to regulate dilapidation and the 'demolition storm'. A comparative study into seven declining towns in Holland in the long 18th century (1670-1830) will determine the actors and instruments of this scarcely studied practice.

Foundations of Analogical Thinking
Applicant: Prof. M. van Lambalgen, University of Amsterdam
Candidate: L. Hornischer (m)

I seek to better understand the foundations of analogical thinking: understanding a new  situation by finding similarities to known situations. This is the key feature of our intelligence and  the missing ingredient for creative machines. Two open questions remain: (1) How can analogical thinking emerge from our brain or artificial  neural networks? (2) How can analogical thinking account for its problem-solving abilities?  For (1), via the theory of neural-symbolic integration I implement the conceptual work on  analogy in neural 'analogy-machines'. For (2), I use the research on the computational power of  neural networks to understand which problems analogy-machines can solve.

The Earth portrayed – prints as evidence in debates on natural philosophy, 1650-1750
Applicant: Prof. I.B. Leemans, VU Amsterdam
Candidate: W. de Vries (m)

The history of the Earth, from the creation to Noah's flood, were intensely discussed in the 17th century. Natural philosophers increasingly made use of images for this, not only to illustrate their ideas but also to prove them. This project will investigate which role prints played in early modern scientific practices, and which changes they underwent to be able to fill this role.

Challenging masculinities: The institution of marriage for young Senegalese migrant men under conditions of involuntary return to Senegal
Applicant: Prof. V.M. Mazzucato, Maastricht University
Candidate: K. Strijbosch (f)

A man in Senegal is not fully adult unless he is married. The ideal man is financially independent and pays a substantial bride-wealth. This is unattainable for many Senegalese young men due to the limited economic possibilities. They migrate to improve their social position. However, unwanted economic migrants are sent back under European migration policy. How does this involuntary return affect their possibilities to be a man? By means of life stories, popular culture and participating observation, I will analyse how masculinity is expressed and contested in the context of prematurely aborted migration projects. This project will contribute to the scientific debate about changing gender relationships and migration.

The political ideas of Stéphanie-Félicité, comtesse de Genlis (1746 – 1830): a reconciliation between Christian traditions and enlightenment ideals
Applicant: Prof. A.C. Montoya, Radboud University
Candidate: L. Jansen (f)

The political ideas of Mme de Genlis have made a significant contribution to our current picture of political ideas and political debate during the French Enlightenment. Genlis was a well-known political figure and a well-read author in her time who can compete in this aspect with canonical authors such as Rousseau, Diderot and Voltaire – authors who are often cited as the instigators of the political innovations that gave birth to the French Revolution. This research will query Genlis’ thoughts about the (revolutionary) equality ideal and the most important hypothesis of this research is that Genlis tried to reconcile this ‘Enlightenment ideal’ with her Christian faith.

The persona of the African story: UNESCO’s General History of Africa
Applicant: Prof. H.J. Paul, Leiden University
Candidate: L. Schulte Nordholt (f)

Is there a typical ‘African historian’? In a period of decolonisation and criticism of Western intellectual imperialism, African historians hoped to be able to answer this question with 'yes'. Based on UNESCO’s General History of Africa (1964-1999), this project will determine what happened with this hope and why anti-European models of writing history rapidly came up against practical objections and ideological criticism.

Datafication of race and ethnicity in the Netherlands: an investigation into practices and politics in open data of the government
Applicant: Prof. S. Ponzanesi, Utrecht University
Candidate: G. van Schie (m)

Firstly, this research will examine how the Netherlands classifies its residents on the basis of ethnicity and how this is related to its (postcolonial) history. Secondly, it will be investigated how this information is turned into data and made available by Statistics Netherlands. Thirdly, it will be described which data-driven practices based on race and ethnicity take place in Dutch society within three domains: local governments, the police and commercial parties.

Making up disability? Disability benefit legislation and disability identity formation in cases of traumatic neurosis and amputation in the Netherlands (1901-1967)
Applicant: Dr W.G. Ruberg, Utrecht University
Candidate: N. Dijkstra (f)

It is often stated that only the right people are entitled to employment disability benefit. Yet who are the right people? This project will investigate how examination procedures for the first employment disability legislation in the Netherlands, the Accidents Act, exerted an influence on how people identified themselves and others as disabled. By investigating how interaction with inclusion and exclusion procedures and the associated classifications gained shape in cases of traumatic neurosis and amputation, this project will provide insight into the development of disability identities and shed light on the cultural logic behind the employment disability of so many people in the Netherlands.

Narrative educational texts: comprehensible educational texts?
Applicant: Prof. T.J.M. Sanders, Utrecht University
Candidate: N. Sangers (f)

This research project deepens our insight into the effectiveness of stories in educational texts: which text characteristics make educational texts more or less narrative in character? And which combinations of narrative and educational content stimulate the memorability, comprehension and appreciation of education texts? This project has important possibilities for application in everyday practice. The results can be converted into evidence-based writing recommendations for educational publishers. This project will therefore make a contribution to the development of optimal educational materials that are both attractive and educational for pupils.

Logic meets real thinkers: philosophical analysis of bounded rationality
Applicant: Dr S.J.L. Smets, University of Amsterdam
Candidate: A. Solaki (f)

This project constructs a logical framework that simulates actual reasoning in an adequate manner. Logic has already made a contribution to various models. However, there are theoretical inadequacies and interdisciplinary empirical findings which ensure that the standard research into how people think, believe, and what they know, are inadequate. Our goal is to align logic with the findings of moderate rational thinkers. We will collate our findings in a new logical framework that can refute criticism of the standard approach.

People and nature at the boundaries of time, 1760-1860
Applicant: Prof. W.R.E. Velema, University of Amsterdam
Candidate: M. Boom (m)

Do our notions of time and history have their own history? Thinking about time and the past radically changed around 1800. A growing historical knowledge and major discoveries in geology shifted the boundaries of the conceivable past by hundreds of millions of years. Various new ideas were the subject of debate within the academic world of the Netherlands. Did these mix? Did they collide? Or did culture and the natural sciences intermingle effortlessly? This project will investigate how the major transformations and thoughts about the history of people and nature are linked with each other.

Resolving distortions in semantic spaces defined by words by analysing relations between word, sense and reference
Applicant: Prof. P.T.J.M. Vossen, VU Amsterdam
Candidate: P. Sommerauer (f)

Using large quantities of text, this project will investigate the relationship between words, meanings and the things words refer to. Current ‘big-data’ methods yield highly promising representations for words with just a single meaning but fall short in the case of words with several meanings. Furthermore, they do not provide information about the diversity of things in the world that the words refer to. The expected result is a better method for the representation of the meaning of words and word referral based purely on linguistic data. Such a method will enable linguists and cognitive scientists to test fundamental hypotheses about language on the basis of large quantities of data. Furthermore, it will enable software developers to automatically determine the meaning of texts.

Source: NWO