PhD positions in Philosophy and Digital Humanities
University of Groningen, Faculty of Philosophy

PhD positions in Philosophy and Digital Humanities 



Since its foundation in 1614, the University of Groningen has enjoyed an international reputation as a dynamic and innovative centre of higher education offering high-quality teaching and research. Balanced study and career paths in a wide variety of disciplines encourage the 31,000 students and researchers to develop their own individual talents. Belonging to the best research universities in Europe and joining forces with prestigious partner universities and networks, the University of Groningen is truly an international place of knowledge.


The Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Groningen is a vibrant, international community of excellent researchers and teachers. It consistently receives the highest evaluations both for research and for teaching among philosophy departments in The Netherlands. The Faculty has three departments: History of Philosophy, Theoretical Philosophy, and Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy. For more information about the Faculty and the department and its members, see:


In the department History of Philosophy, we are looking for applications for two fully funded PhD positions in Philosophy and Digital Humanities starting 1 May 2019. The successful candidates will work with Dr Andrea Sangiacomo and his team on the ERC-funded project The Normalisation of Natural Philosophy for a period of four years. Further details about this project are available below.


ERC Starting Grant: “The normalisation of natural philosophy: How teaching practices shaped the evolution of early modern science” (NaturalPhilosophy - 801653)


Project outline

Early modern natural philosophy underwent dramatic transformations that completely reshaped its conceptual framework and set of practices. The main contention of this ERC project is that teaching practices had a decisive and ‘normalising’ impact on the progressive dissemination, adaptation and selection of rival conceptions of natural philosophy. Normalisation occurs when historical actors collectively present certain tenets as crucial for the study of a discipline, and thus prescribe them as a necessary subject for teaching and learning.

The overall aim of this ERC project is to determine and explain how the process of normalisation embedded in teaching practices shaped the evolution of early modern natural philosophy. To study normalisation, it is necessary to operate a systematic comparative investigation of hundreds of works through which natural philosophy was taught, learned and reshaped, both within and outside universities. The size of this corpus defies the traditional method of close reading used by historians of philosophy and science.

This project will meet this challenge by organically integrating close reading with digital ‘distant reading’. The project will digitally transcribe a corpus of approximately 500 early modern works on natural philosophy, published in Britain, France and the Dutch Republic. Using digital tools to investigate how the networks of authors and concepts of natural philosophy co-evolved over time will allow the project team to identify textual excerpts that are representative of historical trends. By analysing these excerpts with close reading and assessing them against the digital results, it will be possible to determine and explain how normalisation shaped the evolution of natural philosophy.

This project aims to boost the integration of digital approaches in the history of philosophy and science by producing a newly digitised corpus, tools customized for analysing early modern texts, and methodological reflections on their implementation.


We offer two 4-year PhD positions in the context of the ERC Starting Grant Natural Philosophy. The two PhD candidates will work on two related but independent sub-projects (see description below) and will be an integral part of the project team.


Job description

Sub-project 1: Networks of Authors in Early Modern Natural Philosophy


The process of normalisation is socially embedded. It is thus crucial to answer questions such as: who were the historical actors who engaged in the process of normalisation of natural philosophy? Who were the canonical authorities and sources that they used to support rival views? How did these canons change over time? How was the university milieu influenced by debates going on outside it? How did other competing social infrastructures (e.g. scientific societies and private circles) engage with the process of reform of early modern natural philosophy? How did the gender and social status of historical actors (e.g. immigrants vs. upper-classes) influence the acceptance of new approaches? When, how, and to what extent, has an authority such as Aristotle (for instance) been replaced as one of the main sources and references in the discussion of natural philosophy?
To answer these questions, this first sub-project will study the networks of authors and sources that contributed to the early modern debate on natural philosophy. By combining data about the social profile of different authors (e.g. academic affiliations, personal relationships, gender and social status), and bibliometric parameters (e.g. direct references and co-citations of sources), the sub-project will uncover (a) how the reshaping of the canon of authors and sources determined the structure of social interactions, and (b) how the social infrastructure determined the circulation of knowledge and the reshaping of the canon of authors and sources.


Sub-project 2: Networks of Concepts in Early Modern Natural Philosophy


Conceptual changes in natural philosophy are mirrored by changes in terminology and uses of specific technical notions. It is thus essential to study how historical authors wrote about natural philosophy and reshaped existing notions or introduced new ones. Crucial questions at this juncture are, for instance: how did the conceptual framework of natural philosophy evolve? How was the use of new notions and conceptual vocabulary established and reshaped across time? How did the increasing use of vernacular modern languages (instead of Latin) affect the reshaping of concepts? How did the use of specific technical terminology become dominant over time? What was (for instance) the fate of the notion of ‘substantial form’ (a pillar of Aristotelian natural philosophy) during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? How did the new notion of ‘force’ (the new pillar of Newtonian physics) become accepted? And why was the Newtonian conception of force more successful than other rival views? What role did religious or theological notions (references to God or God’s attributes, for instance) play in shaping the conceptual vocabulary of natural philosophy across the period? And how did this disciplinary interplay change over time?


This second sub-project will address these questions by implementing a digital toolkit for semantic analysis in order to uncover the elements of continuity and discontinuity across different conceptual frameworks and reconstruct the evolution of the conceptual meaning of key notions of natural philosophy (e.g. ‘nature’, ‘cause’, ‘body’, ‘motion’, ‘force’, and ‘law of nature’). This study will reveal (a) how established notions undergo significant transformations in their usage and meaning; (b) how new technical terminology was introduced and disseminated over the period; and (c) the interplay between natural philosophy and other conceptual contexts (religious, moral or political).



• strong background in one or more of the following fields: digital humanities, history of philosophy, history of science, intellectual history
• experience in network analysis is particularly appreciated
• excellent command of English, both in writing and in speaking; all communications within the ERC research team will be held in English
• intellectual drive, enthusiasm and open-mindedness, methodological sensitivity, demonstrable ability to work in a research team.

Not necessary, but (highly) appreciated:
• a working (reading) knowledge of one or more of the following languages: Latin, Dutch, French
• some demonstrable familiarity with coding and programming.


Conditions of employment

The position is temporary for a period of 4 years, under the condition of a positive assessment at the end of the first year. The University of Groningen offers a salary starting from € 2,325 in the first year up to € 2,972 gross a month in the last year for a full-time position.


Starting date: 1 May 2019


We strongly encourage candidates from any underrepresented or minority background to apply.


Candidates can apply for this position until 24 February 11.59 pm / 25 February 2019 CET by means of the application form (click on "Apply" below on the advertisement on the university website).


The application should include the following:

1. A cover letter (of no more than 1500 words) providing concrete and demonstrable evidence that the candidate fulfils the requirements for the position and outlining the candidate’s motivation for joining the project.

Please note that candidates should specify in the cover letter in which one of the two sub-projects (see description above) they would prefer to work. Candidates are expected to explain (in a concrete, factual and clear way) why they think that their profile makes them particularly suitable for the respective sub-project.

2. CV and list of publications (if any).

3. The names and contact details of three referees and an indication whether we can contact them at this stage.

4. A sample of written work (no more than 8,000 words) that is relevant to this position; it may be a published or unpublished sample and may be an extract from a longer piece.

Skype interviews will take place around mid-March 2019. A final decision will be reached soon thereafter.

Unsolicited marketing is not appreciated.



For information you can contact:

  • Dr A. Sangiacomo, Chair of the search committee,


Please do not use the e-mail address(es) above for applications.

Additional information

  • The Normalisation of Natural Philosophy

If you apply for this position please say you saw it on Educaloxy


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