10 Mar 2017

Fully-funded PhD studentship between STIS and National Museums Scotland in the history of science

Starting October 2017: “Intellectual properties: transferring science from universities to National Museums Scotland”

AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award in the History and Social Study of Science

PhD studentship – “Intellectual properties: transferring science from universities to National Museums Scotland”

The University of Edinburgh’s Science, Technology and Innovation Studies subject group, in collaboration with National Museums Scotland, invites applications for a fully-funded three-year PhD studentship on the history of collecting scientific materials in museums. The studentship award has been made by the Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme. The project, due to begin in October 2017, will be supervised by Dr Niki Vermeulen and Dr Dominic Berry of the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Tacye Phillipson and Dr Sam Alberti of National Museums Scotland.

The project

The project will research and analyse the collecting practices of National Museums Scotland with a focus on materials from the sciences, looking at three key museum acquisitions: the transfer of material by Professor Lyon Playfair in 1858, including 18th-century chemical material such as Joseph Black’s glassware; the Scotland-wide university collecting survey undertaken by NMS in 1985-7, including standardised pieces of lab equipment such as spectrophotometers; and present efforts on collecting for the future (2017-2020). The aim is to reconsider these collections as forms of intellectual property, attending to knowledge and forms of ownership associated with these collections, and understanding how the object’s meaning (intellectual, personal, social) changes or is maintained as it moves from its context of use to being an artefact.

The project is especially suited to candidates with interests in British history, history of modern science, material history, the historical significance of museums and collecting, and the history and analysis of intellectual property. Some of the guiding research questions include:

  • What does it mean for the university or scientist when their work becomes a museum piece?
  • To what extent is their intellectual ownership of the item and its meaning relinquished, retained, changed or duplicated during and after the transfer?
  • How have collecting efforts been constrained, in particular by resistance to a transfer of intellectual control of the artefact and its interpretation?
  • What role have legal forms of intellectual property protection played in collecting the sciences?
  • How have objects been selected in the past, how has their interpretation and documentation been aided or influenced by donors, and how can collecting be improved in the future?

Where you will be based

The PhD studentship will be based at the University of Edinburgh in the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS) subject group and the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. The award will enable the student to gain hands-on museums skills. STIS has a very active graduate programme, and across the University of Edinburgh there is a History of Science research network that the PhD student will be encouraged to make maximal use of.


Candidates should have a good degree and be in possession of (or expect to attain prior to October 2017) an MA in the history of science, history and philosophy of science, science and technology studies, or be able to make a good case for the suitability of another Masters qualification.

There are two application processes that you must complete at the same time. These are the ‘Project application’, which is specific to this project, and the ‘PhD application’, which must be completed by anyone wanting to pursue a PhD at the University of Edinburgh.

1.Project applications are to be sent to Niki Vermeulen. They should include a sample of writing (3,000 words max) and a 2 page covering letter. The covering letter should include a section (500 words) dedicated to explaining why the opportunity to work with museum collections is particularly valuable to you. Please send applications to niki.vermeulen@ed.ac.uk by April 28th 2017. Interviews will be held after short-listing.

2.PhD applications follow the procedures described on the following web pages, and will require a CV, two academic references, and a PhD proposal. For the PhD proposal please explain how you would go about developing the project described above. The deadline for completion is the same, 28th of April 2017.

For further guidance on the PhD application process please write to the STIS Postgraduate Admissions Advisor info-stsres@ed.ac.uk

Please note that the award is subject to the AHRC’s terms, to which applicants should refer before applying (see the Research Funding Guide at the bottom of this page on the AHRC website http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/research/researchfundingguide/ and http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/documents/documents/termsconditionstraininggrants-pdf/). Note that overseas students are not eligible for AHRC awards (except under specific circumstances) and EU students need to assess whether they are eligible for fees and maintenance or fees only. Details of current maintenance and fee rates can be found on the ‘Current Research Awards’ page on the AHRC website (http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/research/). In addition, the Award carries up to £1000/year of additional support from National Museums Scotland towards travel and related research costs.