Doctoral studentships at National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
The National Maritime, Greenwich, UK, working as a consortium with the National Portrait Gallery and The National Archives, has just received a block grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to support a series of doctoral studentships. The scheme, known as a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership, will fund six doctoral students a year to research collections and subjects determined by the consortium. The students will be registered with British universities but jointly supervised by an academic and a museum curator.
A little bit of background: The AHRC is the body that funds university research in the humanities and in 2006 it extended the opportunity to apply for academic funding to a small number of museums, galleries and archives, the National Maritime Museum being one. In 2010, the Museum received one of the largest AHRC grants ever given when it successfully applied with the University of Cambridge for a project to explore the history of the Board of Longitude – the Board that was set up in 1714 to find a solution to the problem of finding longitude at sea. Cambridge and the Museum have already held a number of seminars and workshops in the UK and, with the generous support of one of the project partners, the Huntington Library in Pasadena, in the USA. A conference and special exhibition are scheduled in Greenwich for the summer of 2014.
Seven years of collaborative bids
Since 2006, the Museum has also been successful in working with universities to bid to the AHRC for Collaborative Doctoral Awards: eighteen doctoral students have embarked on doctoral research at the Museum, with six having already gained their doctorates. The first student was Anyaa Anim Addo, supervised jointly by Nigel Rigby at the Museum, and by David Lambert (then Lecturer in Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, now with Warwick University).
Anyaa was working on the archives of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which was established early in the nineteenth century to carry mail and passengers to and from the post-emancipation Caribbean. The archive is large - in fact the Museum only holds half of it, with the balance being in Senate House Library, University of London - but it had been little used by researchers in the past. Anyaa used the archive to develop what was effectively a post-colonial approach to shipping history, tracing the growth of the shipping line and the beginnings of a tourist trade within the Caribbean.
Two other students, Mary Wills and Lindsay Doulton, supervised by John McAleer, curator of imperial and maritime history at the Museum, and Douglas Hamilton, University of Hull, worked on the Michael Graham-Stewart abolition and slavery collection, which the Museum had acquired in 2001. One looked at the Royal Navy’s anti-slavery patrols in West Africa from 1807, while the other concentrated on the Navy’s role in East Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century. The last books written on the Navy’s anti-slavery patrols were some forty years old, so new approaches, centred very much on material culture, were overdue. Anyaa, Mary and Lindsay have all been awarded their doctorates.
Benefits of scheme clear
This open competition scheme was the forerunner of the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership recently awarded to the Museum. For museums and galleries, the benefits of the studentships were clear: young scholars could work on archival and object collections in great depth, adding considerably to the institutions’ knowledge of their collections. In some cases, and in addition to their theses, the research has led to small exhibition proposals, but in nearly all cases the students have seized the opportunity to improve cataloguing, write blogs, and organise seminars and workshops. The benefits for the AHRC were that the students were getting a generally far more rounded education by spending part of their three years in a heritage environment, working with teams of professionals across the museums and galleries.
So successful was the open scheme and so great the benefits to the heritage sector and universities, that last year the AHRC decided to enlarge it and allocate a set number of studentships to suitable institutions each year. The advantage this brings the National Maritime Museum is that it allows the studentships to be planned much further ahead, ensuring that they help NMM to deliver its long-term, strategic priorities. This is an innovative and potentially significant scheme and one that the Museum has warmly welcomed.
Picture is a Glass lantern slide taken by a missionary in Zanzibar, c.1890
(Photograph © National Maritime Museum; Michael Graham-Stewart Collection)