PhD Scholarship Legal History and Construction History

Position description

The Faculty of Engineering, Department Architectural Engineering, is looking for a PhD-student with a doctoral grant

More concretely your work package, for the preparation of a doctorate, contains: 

Research project:  

This vacancy fits within the framework of the EOS research project “Construction History, Above and Beyond. What History Can Do for Construction History”, directed by professors Michiel Dehaene (UGent), Dave De ruysscher (VUB, Tilburg University), Rika Devos (ULB), Johan Lagae (UGent), Stephanie Van de Voorde (VUB) and Ine Wouters (VUB). In total, 3 PhD positions and 4 postdoc positions are included in this project. An overview of the full project and all mandates involved can be consulted on:

The EOS research project will set up a dialogue (in terms of sources, methodologies, concepts and cognitive interests) between Construction History and three other fields of history, namely Colonial History, Legal History and Planning History. As such, the project sets out to strengthen the historical dimension of Construction History, while simultaneously demonstrating its relevance and potential to other fields and disciplines. The project overall concentrates on selected aspects in 19th and 20th -century building knowledge and building practice in Belgium and its former colony, with particular attention for tacit knowledge, in order to voice crucial yet underrated actors, sources and types of knowledge. 

The individual trajectory of each PhD researcher is embedded in this larger team, operating in the 3 universities (VUB, UGent and ULB). Intensive exchange and shared outcomes among team members are crucial for the success of the project. The PhD positions are each situated in one of the 3 fields of dialogue: (1) colonial history – construction history; (2) legal history – construction history and (3) planning history – construction history. 

This specific vacancy is issued by Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and engages in the dialogue between legal history and construction history. It is co-supervised by profs. Dave De ruysscher (VUB, Tilburg University) and Stephanie Van de Voorde (VUB).  

The proposed dialogue between Legal History and Construction History will focus on the normativity of ‘implicit’ and ‘practical’ knowledge in building in Belgium, during the 19th and 20th centuries. This type of knowledge is often enforced through informal rules, in many segments of society. The field of Construction History holds promising opportunities to further disentangle normativity and informal rules, as they can be enforced in the case of harm or construction faults. The liability of architects, contractors and even workers was tested against ‘rules of the trade’, which were rules of implicit, practical knowledge. The sources that can be used range from instructional literature to case law, in which the liability of constructors is explored. These sources shed light not only on the appraisal of ‘rules of the trade’ but also on how legal practitioners categorized ‘practical knowledge’. 

The PhD project in the dialogue between legal history and construction history will investigate cases of liability of architects, contractors and construction workers. The main research questions relate to the assessment of practical knowledge in cases of liability and negligence, and to the differences between the actors involved (i.e. construction professionals versus legal practitioners). The sources used will be instructional guidebooks, published case law, legislation, and archival sources (courts of appeal of Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels). Also less explored archives of associations dedicated to expertise and arbitration can play a crucial role, like the archives of the private organization Association Belge des Experts (holding reports on court and arbitration cases) or the Chambre d’Arbitrage et de Médiation (archival pieces on reports and sentences, with references to court cases as well, since the 1960s). One part of the research will cover ‘expertise’ in these cases, looking into who qualifies as an expert and why. In relation to this, expert reports are expected to reveal how the rules of the trade interacted with the legal rules, as the experience in drawing up reports for courts requires a minimal degree of acquaintance with legal categories and jargon. 

About the position:  

  • The PhD position is funded by a 4-year EOS research project and is offered as a bursary position, following the standards of VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel). See for further details. The project additionally covers expenses related to research visits, participation in conferences, publications, etc. as well as running costs.
  • The successful PhD researcher will benefit from the open academic environment uniting 3 leading Belgian universities in the intensive collaboration on 1 project, of which the PhD is a constituent part.
  • The successful PhD candidate will benefit from the guidance of the supervisors, the direct interaction with a postdoctoral researcher working also in the dialogue between Legal History and Construction History, the interaction with the full team and the visibility that will result from it. The researcher will also be supervised by a doctoral coaching committee and invited to engage in the doctoral training during the full duration of the project (2022-6).
  • The successful PhD researcher will engage in educational activities at the involved departments at VUB. These activities can cover the guidance of students in exercises, following up MA thesis, etc. following the needs of the departments and the skills of the researcher. The amount of hours will not exceed the limits set by FWO.

For this function, our Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering Campus (Elsene) will serve as your home base. 

3 – Profile

What do we expect from you?

We are looking for candidates with expertise in historical research and affinity for legal and/or institutional history. Affinity for construction history and architecture history is a plus. 

The candidate will hold one of following MA degrees (Master 120): 

  • MA in History
  • MA in Architecture
  • MA in Architectural Engineering
  • MA in Law

or equivalent. 

Also MA students graduating in the academical year 2021-2022 are welcomed. 

Researchers (assistants and other) holding a mandate over a total (cumulated) period of 12 months (365 days) cannot apply. 

The candidate needs to demonstrate an affinity for legal and/or institutional history and: 

  • fluent passive knowledge of both Dutch and French. Attention: this is a binding requirement as it is necessary for archival research
  • a B2 level in English
  • a passion for research in these domains, including archival research
  • good editing skills, to be demonstrated by a sample of writing: a copy of the MA thesis and/or a research paper
  • good competences in teamwork and good social skills
  • an interest in participating in international congresses.
  • You have not performed any works in the execution of a mandate as an assistant, paid from operating resources, over a total (cumulated) period of more than 12 months.

4 – Offer

Are you going to be our new colleague?

You’ll be offered a full-time PhD-scholarship, for 12 months (extendable up to max. 48 months, on condition of the positive evaluation of the PhD activities), with planned starting date 01/10/2022

You’ll receive a grant linked to one of the scales set by the government.

IMPORTANT: The effective result of the doctorate scholarship is subject to the condition precedent of your enrolment as a doctorate student at the university.

At the VUB, you’re guaranteed an open, involved and diverse workplace where you are offered opportunities to (further) build on your career.

As well as this, you’ll enjoy various benefits:

  • Full reimbursement for your home-work commute with public transport according to VUB-policy, or compensation if you come by bike;
  • Cost-free hospitalisation insurance;
  • The space to form your job content and continuously learn via VUB LRN;
  • Excellent facilities for sport and exercise;
  • Ecocheques;
  • Delicious meals at attractive prices in our campus restaurants;
  • An open, family-friendly work environment where attention is paid to work-life balance, and exceptional holiday arrangements with 35 days of leave (based on a fulltime contract).

5 – Interested?

Is this the job you’ve been dreaming of?

Send us ONLINE and at the latest on 04/07/2022 your CV, letter of motivation and the highest degree you’ve attained (not applicable for VUB alumni).

Do you have questions about the job content? Contact Ine Wouters at or on +32-2-6293796.