TECHNE AHRC Funded Studentship – Partnership Award University of Roehampton and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Kew’s imperial archive:

Cataloguing Economic Botany in the Miscellaneous Reports, 1841-1928

The Studentship

Applications are invited for a TECHNE Partnership PhD studentship, part-time or full-time, co-funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Roehampton, starting in January 2021.  The award offers a stipend for three years (value for 20-21 is £17,285.00) or pro rata for part time students.  Students can apply to extend the stipend to undertake a work placement for a period of 1-6 months.

As a TECHNE student, the successful applicant will have full access to the TECHNE Doctoral Training Partnership development activities and networking opportunities, joining a cohort of about 50 students per year from nine universities across London and the South East. See http://www.techne.ac.uk

Roehampton is the most research-intensive modern university in the country.  The Department of English and Creative Writing has a vibrant and active research culture.  The Department hosts the Popular Literature and Culture Research Group which includes research projects on various aspects of Victorian culture and nineteenth-century popular genres such as travel literature, journalism and botanical writing: https://www.roehampton.ac.uk/research-centres/popular-literature-and-culture-research-group/.  In addition, the Publishing and Book History Research Group includes research projects on archives ranging from the medieval to the born-digital, with particular strengths in 18th and 19th century collections. The Graduate School runs a Research Student Doctoral Training Programme that provides training in research skills, critical thinking, academic writing, project planning and career development.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a leading international institute for plant science, with one of the largest collections documenting plants and fungi.  Kew’s Archives offer an unparalleled resource for studying the nineteenth-century management of the natural world.  Kew hosts a number of arts and humanities research projects, such as the ‘Mobile Museum: Economic Botany in Circulation’ https://www.kew.org/science/projects/mobile-museum-economic-botany-in-circulation and two current TECHNE collaborative PhDs on the history of quinine and paper making.  Kew provides a wide programme of in-house training and lectures. 

Project Description

This studentship offers the opportunity to research and study the history, composition and arrangement of a major collection held in the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  The project focuses on the Miscellaneous Reports: 771 volumes of printed and manuscript material relating to the administration of the British colonial botanic gardens and stations, dating from the 1840s to 1928. The Reports document the economic botany of these regions through correspondence with Kew, printed reports, newspaper articles, and illustrative material such as maps, photographs and sketches.  They are grouped by country and by economically useful product (such as tea, cinchona or rubber).  Although mainly focused on economic botany, the collection also includes material relating to colonial history, geography and anthropology.  As a whole, this collection offers a rich and as yet untold narrative of Kew’s global operations in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  No comparable collection exists in any other institution worldwide.  The significance of the Miscellaneous Reports was recently recognised by the award of a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Grant for their conservation and cataloguing.

The project will take as its focus the creation, composition and arrangement - both past and present - of the Miscellaneous Reports as a collection.  The successful applicant will be able to work in consultation with the archivist responsible for ordering the collection.  The student will be encouraged to adopt an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary approach, depending on the student’s own background and research interests.   These may include - but are not limited to - imperial history, cultural geography, literary studies, environmental studies, ethnobotany and archival studies.  The student’s own interests and archival discoveries should guide the project. 

Project Structure

The project consists of three parts, broadly corresponding to the three years of study:

  1. Establishing the history of the Miscellaneous Reports: its foundation, development, principles of organisation, and usage.  
  2. A detailed case study. After an initial scoping investigation, the student will select a particular group of volumes for examination as a case study.  Through a close reading of the chosen volumes, the student will be able to analyse the representation of one or more particular plant(s), people(s) and/or region(s). The case study will allow the student to examine the process of knowledge production. 
  3. Study and critique of the current process of cataloguing.  By researching the Miscellaneous Reports while the collection is being indexed and catalogued, the student will be able to address the problems of record administration and contemporary issues such as archive decolonisation. 

Research Questions

Key research questions include:

  • How do the Miscellaneous Reports represent the relationship between people and plants? What does this reveal about nineteenth-century attitudes to the natural world?
  • How does the miscellaneous form of the collection intersect with other genres such as travel writing, journalism and the botanical magazine?
  • What does the archive reveal about Kew’s institutional position: its links with colonial, governmental and commercial bodies worldwide?
  • What do the Miscellaneous Reports tell us about the appropriation, circulation, application and organisation of knowledge in the nineteenth century?
  • How do the Miscellaneous Reports help to construct the nineteenth-century discipline of economic botany?
  • In what ways is the current cataloguing process informed by contemporary theories and techniques of archive management?

Supervision

University of Roehampton

Lead Supervisor: Dr Kate Teltscher is an Emeritus Fellow at the University of Roehampton and Visiting Researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

She has recently published Palace of Palms: Tropical Dreams and the Making of Kew (Picador), a history of Kew’s Palm House and the cultural and economic significance of palms in the nineteenth century.

Director of Studies: Professor Ian Haywood is Professor of English at the University of Roehampton. He is the author and editor of numerous books on 18th and 19th century literature, politics and visual culture including The Rise of Victorian Caricature (2020), Romanticism and Illustration (2019), Spain in British Romanticism (2018) and Romanticism and Caricature (2013).

Co-Supervisor: Dr Dustin Frazier Wood, Senior Lecturer in English, Librarian and Archivist at the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society (SGS), one of the oldest learned societies in Britain. His research focuses on the history of Enlightenment libraries, archives and museums, and the scholars who developed them. He is currently completing a digital edition of the first SGS Minute Book (1709-29) and related archival holdings, and a collaborative virtual reconstruction of the original SGS Musæum.   

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Supervisor: Kiri Ross Jones, Head of Archives.  She is currently a mentor for Dundee’s Post Graduate Archive programme and founder of the Archive Trainees’ Group. She has a keen interest in opening up the profession and supporting those new to it, as well as engaging new audiences with archive collections. Research interests include the history of Kew.

Co-Supervisor: Professor Mark Nesbitt, Senior Research Leader, Economic Botany, and curator of the Economic Botany Collection.  He has broad research interests in the interactions between humans and plants, past and present.  For further details, please see http://www.marknesbitt.org.uk/research.html

Advisor: Fiona Ainsworth, Head of Library, Art & Archives.

Training and Career Opportunities

The project offers exciting opportunities for students considering careers in the archives, museum or university sectors.  It is envisaged that the successful applicant will be able to access the physical Kew Library, Art & Archives regularly and have a designated workspace near the Archives collections and staff, for those times when they are at Kew. Every effort will be made to provide access for the student but this is subject to Covid-19 restrictions and will need to be arranged by prior agreement.

The student will have access to the same training opportunities and resources as a member of staff.  The student will gain experience of professional archive management and public engagement activities, whether these are delivered in person or remotely. The post holder will be expected to present aspects of their work at seminars at the University of Roehampton, academic conferences and public outreach events organised by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 

Eligibility 

The successful candidate must have a good first degree (at least 2:1) and have obtained, or be working towards a Master’s degree at a minimum of Merit level in a relevant subject.

EU applicants will only be eligible for a fee-waiver award. International applicants are not eligible for this studentship.

Informal Enquires

Please contact Dr Kate Teltscher, k.teltscher@roehampton.ac.uk

Application Process

You should apply via the Online Application Portal on the University of Roehampton Graduate School Research Degree page. Please refer to the Guidance Notes https://www.roehampton.ac.uk/graduate-school/degrees/ 

Please note:

  • In Section 6, the Personal Statement section of the Online Application, you should indicate how your experience, qualifications, knowledge and interests qualify you to undertake this project. Please also explain the particular approach that you would bring to the research project.
  • In Section 7, the Research Proposal section of the Online Application, you should follow the structure given in the Guidance Notes. You should use this structure to set out in greater detail your own approach to the project that we have outlined above. Please indicate the disciplines that your research would draw on.
  • In the final Additional Information section of the Online Application, please upload a sample of your written work. This may take any form. It could, for instance, be a Master’s-level essay, thesis or report.

 

The closing date for applications is 23rd November

Interviews will take place remotely and will involve colleagues from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.