Call for applications: ESTER Research Design Course 2012, Ghent

ESTER announces its annual Research Design Course for economic and social historians on 17-20 September 2012 at Ghent University (supported by the N.W. Posthumus Institute and the Unger-Van Brero Fund).

The ESTER network, established in 1991, involves more than 60 universities throughout Europe and offers high-level research training for PhD students in an international context. The network is organized by the N.W. Posthumus Institute, which is the national research school for economic and social history in the Netherlands and Flanders. The Unger-Van Brero Fund, founded on the initiative of economic historian W.S. Unger (1889-1963) and his widow E. Unger-Van Brero, supports and promotes the study of social and economic history. ESTER is the European Graduate School for training in Economic and Social Historical Research, a European collection of universities and research institutes.

The Research Design Course (RDC) is a format promoted by ESTER since the late 1990s. The RDC Course assists students in setting up a high quality and well-designed plan for their dissertation under the guidance of a team of leading senior researchers whose task it is to provide comments and lead discussions.
The aim of the course is twofold. First, by writing a paper and receiving comments by experts students will be stimulated to think through issues such as the goals and strategies of social and historical research, the use of concepts and language in historical explanation, the construction of data bases and the use of quantitative methods of analysis, or the construction of the “plot” in a historical inquiry. The aim of this type of reflection on theory and methodology is to investigate the scientific procedures that historians use to reach scientific explanations and to combine all analytical elements into a synthetic and coherent historical account. Secondly, building upon the reflection outlined above, the RDC assists PhD students in constructing their dissertation plan. Students will be invited to apply the theoretical and methodological knowledge they have obtained to their own dissertation project and reflect upon its feasibility.
With the help of guidelines, students will be asked to write a paper in which a detailed work plan for the dissertation should be given. These guidelines serve as a kind of screen through which students examine their own project, and in particular the way in which they intend to put together their dissertation. The paper has a minimum of 25 pages and should provide the structure in which the remaining research for the dissertation will take place. The papers will be scrutinized and examined during the course by junior and senior scholars together.
In this way the RDC course offers students help in sharpening and refining their research questions, in strengthening the focus of their research, in increasing the consistency of their overall dissertation plan, in making explicit the various theoretical and methodological choices that have to be made in the course of the project, and in improving the composition of the dissertation. The RDC course thereby aims at a better awareness of research choices that need to be made.

Further information on the ESTER Research Design Course 2012 can be found on