Seven Utrecht University Humanities scholars have been awarded a grant by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) in the Open Competition SGW programme. With this competition, the NWO Division for Social Sciences and Humanities wants to offer researchers the opportunity to carry out research on a subject of their own choice, without any thematic preconditions.
A new historical reconstruction of Libya
In the context of limited scholarship on Libya’s past - whose main focus being Qadhafi and the oil industry - the role played by the desert has received little attention, despite its importance.
Roberta Biasillo’s project aims to test whether it is possible to decentre political-economy approaches and propose a global history of Modern Libya based on its main ecological feature, Libyan desert which encompasses 95% of the country’s surface area. Did this environmental challenge, halt, or boost colonization, economic development, state formation and state collapse? Can a desert-focussed analysis of Libyan history offer an alternative narrative for the modern era?
The first political history of Belgian colonialism
Frank Gerits’ project will make the innovative and highly speculative claim that Belgian elites and politicians from the independence of the Belgian state in 1830 onwards harboured the ambition to become an imperial superpower.
Instead of King Leopold II’s reign of terror and the actions of missionaries and corporations, this project examines how Belgian politicians and political groups sought to propagate Catholic modernity and how they were undermined by the rise of anticolonial ideologies, such as pan-Africanism. It is the first political history of Belgian colonialism.
Did Dutch intelligence services also keep tabs on authors during the Cold War?
American, Soviet Russian and East German security and intelligence agencies had considerable influence on the literary world during the Cold War. They set up literary cover organizations, recruited writers as informants, and gathered information about them. But did this also happen in the Netherlands?
Laurens Ham’s project is the first to explore this question, by digging through archives for traces of intelligence activities surrounding literary authors and organizations. Specifically, the project centers on the literary relations between the Netherlands and two areas which were particularly interesting for intelligence agencies during the early Cold War: Central and Eastern Europe and Indonesia.
Disputes about the facts of the past
In times of fake news and alternative historical facts, historians are increasingly confronted with disputes about the facts of the past. So far, we lack a good way to deal with such issues.
Pieter Huista’s project therefore proposes the novel conception of networked historical facts, that it will submit to an empirical test. The case study will be the nineteenth-century controversy over the invention of the printing press. The result of this project will be a better understanding of how historical facts come into existence, and a way to break stalemates on historical facts.
The history of the ’desktop’ and the ’recycle bin’
Computers used to be operated by text commands that required specialist knowledge. This changed with the introduction of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) in the 1980s. Graphical icons such as the ’desktop’ or the ’recycle bin’ translated complicated programming codes into easily understandable metaphors. This made computers accessible to common users.
However, GUIs are not neutral carriers of information: just like any cultural artifact, they carry messages of their own and structure the way we see the world. This project investigates the GUI and its history as part of a long tradition of human-machine interfaces to uncover its cultural impact.
Children’s acquisition of sound variation, and its social meaning
In their first years of life, infants acquire language by narrowing down their attention to the characteristics of their own language variety (i.e., the one produced by their caregivers). Only during adolescence, they start mastering language variation like adults.
Anne-France Pinget’s project aims to investigate the period between these developmental phases by measuring the pronunciation of sounds in the speech of 4- to 8 years old and by testing how these children decide which pronunciation fits best in which context. The results will show the evolution in children’s acquisition of sound variation and its social meaning.
Obtaining uncensored data on politically sensitive topics in Iran
Traditional surveying methods like telephone polling can lead to invalid results in authoritarian countries. This research on the politically sensitive topic of declining religiosity in Iran is conducted anonymously, making respondents feel safer to express their opinions. Data is gathered online by making the survey available through a multitude of digital channels and a VPN platform with national reach.
Uncensored data on the Iranian people’s opinions help to better understand secularisation beyond the West and how politically sensitive opinions can be measured in authoritarian countries.