Marja van Tilburg has studied history at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. After an episode of teaching at secondary schools, she returned to her alma mater to teach history and gender studies.
She has been engaged with cultural changes of the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, especially the influence of Enligtenment and early-Romanticist ideas on social practices.
Her PhD-thesis Hoe hoorde het? Seksualiteit en partnerkeuze in de Nederlandse adviesliteratuur 1780-1890 [How to Behave? Sexuality and Choice of Partner in Dutch Advice Literature 1780-1890] (Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis, 1998) offers an example: it analyses the influence of new notions of adolescence, gender and sexuality on Dutch conduct books for young adults. The results are discussed in Peter N. Stearns' Encyclopaedia of European Social History from 1350 to 2000 (Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001), Vol. 4, 371-382. This thesis has recieved an award of the Dutch Marga Klompé Stichting for its contribution to the emancipation of women in the Netherlands.
Following up on this research she has published on changing perceptions of the life cycle in European culture in the early-modern and modern periods. Some publications discuss adolescence: "Pedagogy as the Third Partner in Marriage. Educating Young Adults towards Partnership in the Netherlands, 1780-1890". In: Bruno P.F. Wanrooij ed., La mediazione matrimoniale. Il terzo (in)comodo in Europa fra Otto e Novecento . Bibliotheca di storia sociale 32(Fiesole and Rome: Georgetown University and Edizione di Storia e Letteratura, 2004), 157- 194. Other publications engage with seniority: "Tracing Identities in ‘Old Age’: Gender and Seniority in Advice Literature of the Early-modern and Modern Periods," Journal of Family History , Vol. 34 (2009), 369-386.
Momentarily, her research and her teaching focus on European interpretations of non-western cultures, especially of the Pacific. Her publications address gender in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth texts on Oceania, as in "The Allure of Tahiti," History Australia , Vol. 3 ( 2006), 13.1-13.16.
In this context she has started a research project in collaboration with Dr Michel R. Doormont (IRIO/RUG) on cross-cultural encounters in the long nineteenth century: Race, Gender, Culture: Creating Identities in Cross-cultural, Historical Contexts. The proceedings of two workshops will be published by the University of Hawai'i Press.
She participates in the Centre for Gender Studies of the Faculty of Arts en has participated in research, teaching and administration of the Centre. In this capacity she participates in international exchange programmes for students such as Erasmus: "A Gendered Reading of Conduct Books". In: A.K. Isaaks ed., Political Systems and Definitions of Gender Roles . Clioh’s Workshop II (Pisa: Edizione Plus, 2001), pp. 165-178.