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UCL Institute of Archaeology & Oxford University Museum of Natural History: AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Studentship

The UCL Institute of Archaeology, and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) are pleased to announce the availability of a fully funded three-year doctoral grant 2018–21, to enable the exploration and reassessment of the history, significance and curatorial future of natural history cast collections.

This studentship is funded through the AHRC's Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme.
See http://www.ahrc-cdp.org/about/.

Collaboration between a Higher Education Institution and a museum, library, archive, or heritage organisation is the essential feature of these studentships. The studentship is a fully funded AHRC research studentship covering three years of tuition fees at the university and maintenance (living costs), with additional funds available to support some research costs. There is also the option to apply for additional ‘student development funding’ which covers up to six months extension of the studentship, or use of the equivalent funding for training, work placements and other development opportunities. See http://www.ahrc-cdp.org/resources/

These studentships are covered by standard AHRC eligibility rules.

This project will be jointly supervised by Dr Alice Stevenson (UCL) and Mark Carnall (OUMNH) and the student will be expected to spend time at both UCL and Oxford University Museum of Natural History, as well as becoming part of the wider cohort of CDP funded students across the UK.

The successful candidate will commence their PhD on 24th September 2018. They will hold their studentship at the Institute of Archaeology at UCL, one of the world’s leading centres for research and scholarship in heritage and museum studies, and will work in partnership with the cast, model and replica collections of Oxford University Museum of Natural History, one of the oldest natural history museums in the world with comprehensive natural history collections dating from the 17th century through to contemporary scientific and teaching collections.

The Project

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, plaster casts, models and replicas were key to sharing unique and rare specimens between museums for scientific scrutiny, museum display and as ‘backups’ to the originals.  In many types of museum the status of such materials in the hierarchy of objects was low and, as studies in classical archaeology have shown, contested. The status of such reproductions in the context of natural history museums has never evaluated, but is likely to have operated differently from examples in the art historical world. This project will address this lacunae in scholarship.

Today these casts may give us an insight into the ideas and objects that were being shared, as well as telling us about the techniques and networks used to produce and disseminate casts, models and replicas. Many are now deserving a status as museum objects in their own right or invaluable in instances where the original objects have been lost or destroyed. In some cases these objects are the only remnants of ideas and interpretations where archives do not exist.

This area is very poorly researched and, due to the comparatively low value perception of these objects, not much is known about the network of technicians, artists, modellers and salespeople who spread these objects to almost every museum. This project would look at the cultures of casting and modelling to explore the different techniques used in manufacture, key individuals who sold them, existing catalogues, invoices and correspondence in museum archives and the networks of museum curators who commissioned, swapped and shared this material. The value of casts, models and replicas in the past and in modern museums will also be examined, looking at questions like should they be accessioned objects? Do they have a role in museum displays? What is the value of such objects? Can this history be informative for developing new curatorial approaches to 3D replicas?

This project links to current research being undertaken by OUMNH in collaboration with Warwick Manufacturing Group (University of Warwick) to explore the use of the next generation of 3D visualisation and prototyping in museum spaces, together with the qualitative and quantitative evaluation of user experience.

Starting with examples from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which holds the ‘Oxford dodo’, one of the most replicated museum objects in the world, alongside other examples of specimens which were and still are displayed and produced as casts and replicas, this project will piece together the history of cast production as way of sharing ideas as well as examining how museums can best record, promote and display these sometimes second class objects today.

Financial Support

Subject to standard AHRC eligibility criteria, the studentship will cover tuition fees at home/EU rate and provide a maintenance award at RCUK rates for a maximum of 3 years of full-time doctoral study from 1st  October 2018 with the option of up to 6 months additional funding for related professional development. See http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/media/news/180118/

UCL and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History will supply appropriate facilities to support the research project and limited additional funds for archive visits and conferences. In addition, Oxford University Museum of Natural History will provide research expenses of up to £2,000 to the student each year, to a maximum of £6,000 over the duration of the studentship, to cover costs associated with undertaking research in Oxford.

Closing date for applications: 18th April 2018

Interview date: 2nd May 2018

For full details, please click here