PhD Fellowship

Sustainable Heritage in a Dynamic Environment: Critical Approaches to the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Heritage

PhD Fellowships

Central European University (CEU) invites applications for two new and fully funded interdisciplinary Joint PhD Fellowships starting in the 2020/2021 academic year (2020 September).

The Joint PhD Fellowship Scheme

The CEU Joint PhD Fellowship Scheme entails co-supervision by faculty members from the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy and Cultural Heritage Studies Program of the Department of Medieval Studies. Two Fellowships are available: one for the PhD program in Environmental Sciences and Policy and one for the PhD program in Late Antique, Medieval and Early Modern Studies with a focus on Cultural Heritage Studies.The PhD students will follow a curriculum that includes courses from both departments and the related academic fields being geared towards their acquiring cross-disciplinary training and expertise.

Enrollment and Funding

Selected applicants will receive a fully funded standard CEU PhD Scholarship. In addition to these standard scholarships, the selected PhD students will be eligible for the additional funding CEU routinely provides for PhD students.

Details about the Thematic Area

Sustainable development and with it, human survival, lies at the heart of present-day global transformation processes. While its academic and scholarly study is already well established, it is gaining even more relevance due to new insights by science, growing interests of society and not the least the growing risks associated with unsustainable development. The complex issues surrounding environmental sustainability already appear in environmental studies programs at a doctoral level, but research usually focuses on ecosystem problems and only tangentially deal with heritage-related cultural impacts. At the same time, cultural heritage studies programs have expanded around the world, producing graduates capable of running heritage projects and grappling with practical as well as theoretical projects at an MA level, with sustainable heritage in the focus of conservation and planning as well as heritage management. This joint PhD program in the academic fields of environmental and cultural heritage studies is administered by the doctoral programs in Environmental Sciences and Policy and the Late Antique, Medieval and Early Modern Studies, the latter broadening its temporal horizon up to the modern times in the framework of Cultural Heritage Studies.

The new PhD program offers advanced students the opportunity to critically assess complex interactions and processes where rapid change threatens to damage unique environments and the tangible and intangible heritage of people living in and around them.

Environmental aspects of the program

Conventional science and science-based practice tend to concentrate on 'managing' landscapes and ecosystems. The mindset is deterministic with the goal to both maintain critical ecosystem functions and to ensure ecosystems continue to provide goods and services to society. The crisis of decreasing biodiversity and worrying erosion of ecosystem functions is a clear indication that despite notable efforts, these approaches and the solutions based on them are not sufficient, not working or actually continuing to make the problems worse. There is a more recent but already well-established approach that considers landscapes as integrated socio-ecological systems (SES) focused on understanding the dynamic interaction between biophysical processes and the role of society in adapting to and actively shaping those processes through social learning. The academic maturity of this approach was symbolically recognized through the Nobel prize awarded to Elinor Ostrom in 2009 for her work on managing common pool natural resources and its policy relevance given new momentum by the recently released report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity on Ecosystem Services (IPBES). In this context, traditional and local knowledge systems have emerged as living examples of integrated landscape management. Always closely tied to the use of natural resources, these knowledge systems are manifested in institutions and practices that evolved through trial, error and experience over long periods of time and manifest as intangible heritage inseparable from biophysical and socio-cultural context. Understanding, conserving, restoring and learning from such knowledge systems, including their institutional forms, manifestation in practice and ability to achieve sustainable outcomes is a priority, not only because many of such systems are endangered, but also because they underpin sustainable livelihoods and their loss is a significant contributing factor to social and political instability. As living examples of socio-ecological systems that are time tested and evidently sustainable, they also offer insights for the transformation of unsustainable systems. From the environmental sciences point of view the joint PhD would provide an opportunity for learning from the application of cultural heritage research methods and conceptual approaches to the study of the practices and institutions of selected place-based traditional natural resource-linked knowledge systems, including options for their sustained maintenance and revival.

Heritage aspects of the program

Cultural heritage policy and management traditionally tends to focus on the preservation of sites defined as valuable for the benefit of future generations, with the material conservation of buildings and sites at the center of public interest in particular. This perspective dominates cultural heritage policy documents both at international and national levels. On the other hand, heritage has increasingly been recognized in the past decade as a resource for local and regional social and economic development. The latter process is triggered by funding schemes, notably within the EU. To establish good practices in the implementation of such policies which equally engage the social, economic, and heritage spheres, it is essential to develop a theoretical understanding of heritage that explains these processes and help to shape them in a proper direction. Such a theoretical approach is represented by the recent direction of Critical Heritage Studies. Critical Heritage Studies defines heritage as a process through which the past "becomes alive" in the present. This process includes social negotiations for a range of identities, meanings, and values which can differ or even oppose each other depending on the social context. Due to ever-changing social context this intangible element of practices, activities, discourses, ideas, knowledge and belief systems, etc. embedded within tangible, built, or environmental heritage, is also in continuous flux; thus, dynamic transformation is a natural part of heritage. Such an understanding of heritage allows applied heritage to be conceptualized. In this scheme heritage is a social and economic resource, and heritage processes in the past and present can be studied and influenced for the sake of a better future. Heritage addresses global challenges such as climate change, urbanization, deindustrialization, migration, post-conflict regeneration, and sustainability is key in this respect. The task for the present and for years to come is to further develop a theoretical understanding of this kind of heritage so that it can reach and be understood by policy makers as well as determine the approach of strategic documents at international, national, and sub-national levels. The interface of heritage studies with other disciplines is crucial here, as recognized by some innovative projects such as one on Heritage Futures (2015-2019) theorizing how heritage can contribute to designing the future. This approach directly mirrors the recognition of the value and role of traditional and local ecological knowledge in sustainable development and the maintenance or restoration practices that help maintain or rebuild critical ecosystem functions.

Application Process

Interested candidates are invited to apply to one of the listed PhD programs (Environmental Sciences and Policy or PhD in Late Antique, Medieval and Early Modern Studies), clearly indicating in the application materials that they are applying for the Joint PhD Fellowship (Sustainable Heritage in a Dynamic Environment) funded by the Intellectual Themes Initiative.

Applicants should have a Master's degree in one of the following academic fields or related study areas: environmental science, sustainability science, natural resources management, architecture, archaeology, cultural heritage studies, ethnography, history, landscape studies, sociology, social anthropology, urban planning or any other relevant field in the context of environmental and cultural heritage studies. They should include a research proposal in their application that addresses the project thematic through conceptual and empirical investigation. Chronologically, the proposal does not need to address the Late Antique or Medieval periods but it can have any kind of historical or contemporary focus according to the perspective of the Department of Environmental Sciences and the Cultural Heritage Studies Program. The research proposal should be 3 pages long (1.5 spaced) excluding the list of references.

Application Deadline

March 31, 2020 (23:59, Central European Time)[1]

Important Links and Contacts

General information on CEU application:
FAQ page for those who want to find out more about the move to Vienna:
For the respective doctoral programs and application procedures, see departmental webpages: and
Potential candidates are welcome to contact:
Tünde Veronika Szabolcs (Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy)

Ágnes Drosztmér (Cultural Heritage Studies Program)

[1] *Please note that the Interdisciplinary Joint PhD Fellowship program follows a different admissions calendar and submission of applications is possible after the regular CEU scholarship application deadline, but it is not possible after March 31, 2020.