Funded PhD: Scientific Prize Medals in the 18th and 19th Centuries Back

Fully-funded AHRC Collaborative PhD studentship

Merit, Competition, and the Visual/Material Culture of Useful Knowledge: Scientific Prize Medals in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Applications are invited for an AHRC-funded collaborative PhD to research scientific prize medals during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a particular focus on the collection of scientific prize medals at the British Museum. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, scientific prize medals became central features of attempts to promote scientific enquiry. This studentship is one of six fully-funded awards made by the British Museum under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme. The project will be supervised by Dr Anna Maerker (King’s College London) and Philip Attwood (British Museum, London). The studentship, which is funded for three years full-time equivalent, will begin in October 2018. The student would be based both at King’s College London and at the British Museum’s Department of Coins and Medals.

The Studentship
The British Museum’s outstanding collection of British scientific prize medals documents a key transitional period: many forms of knowledge about nature – from agriculture and horticulture to geology and geography, medicine and chemistry, and so on – were encouraged by government and private institutions alike as paths to social and economic improvement, and the natural sciences developed from a pastime of wealthy gentlemen into a prestigious profession and a range of clearly defined disciplines. Thus, the collection offers a unique opportunity to investigate engagement with “useful knowledge” and the birth of modern science from a new perspective, and to contribute to the historiography and iconography of science as well as to new interpretations of the museum’s collection.
These questions can initially be approached through a close iconographical examination of the medals and through research into the archives and published material of the issuing authorities. The messages contained within the medals themselves will be examined, along with the processes of medal design and production and the interactions between artists and scientific institutions, the ways in which the medals were distributed, and the identities of the recipients. We would expect the successful PhD candidate to develop their own take on the subject; this might entail, for instance, a case-study-based focus on a specific discipline or institution, or a comparative approach. Potential themes might include debates about meritocracy and reward structures; cultures of commemoration and their impact on the design of medals; taxonomies of motifs and their development over time, and practices of prize-making and prize-giving. This research will enhance our understanding of the collection, and help generate rich new interpretations that will resonate with contemporary concerns, e.g. about merit, rewards and competition; “citizen science”; how should scientific innovation be rewarded; and the authority of scientific experts.
Methodological approaches will be based on a solid historical understanding of the history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century science, broadly defined, and of the changing functions and forms of medals. The student will have a background in the history of science, art history, museum studies or the history of collections. We would especially expect the student to bring or to develop a sound familiarity with recent work in the history of Science, Technology and Medicine which engages with the role of collections, objects and images.

How to Apply
Applicants should have a good undergraduate and masters level degrees in history, the history of science or another relevant discipline, and will also need to satisfy AHRC residency eligibility criteria. Preference may be given to candidates with prior experience in working with historical objects or images, though others are encouraged to apply.
The full studentship award for students with UK residency* includes fees and a stipend of £14,777 per annum plus £550 p.a. additional stipend payment for Collaborative Doctoral students for 3 years. In addition, the Student Development Fund (equivalent to 0.5 years of stipend payments) is also available to support the cost of training, work placements, and other development opportunities. Students with EU residency are eligible for a fees-only studentship award. International applicants are normally not eligible to apply for this studentship. The British Museum will provide up to £1000 a year to cover travel and other costs the student incurs traveling to carry out research at the Museum and other locations.
(*UK residency means having settled status in the UK that is no restriction on how long you can stay in the UK; and having been “ordinarily resident” in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the studentship that is you must have been normally residing in the UK apart from temporary or occasional absences; and not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purposes of full-time education.)

Applicants should submit a curriculum vitae, a sample of academic writing, and a research proposal of up to 1,000 words, all combined into a single Word file. The names and contact details of two academic referees should also be supplied. Applications should be sent to Anna Maerker ( no later than 30 April 2018.
Interviews are scheduled to be held at King’s College, London, in the week of 14-18 May 2018. (Alternative arrangements for remote interviews can be made if required.)
For further information concerning the project, please contact Anna Maerker (