UCL News


Collaborative doctoral awards

28 March 2007

UCL has received two Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDAs) from the Arts & Humanities Research Council.

The first is shared between the UCL School of Library, Archive & Information Studies (SLAIS) and the National Archives in Kew. Beginning in September this year, a doctoral student will research the changes to archival descriptions that are taking place as a result of changing from paper-based to online media. An archival description is the 'meta-data' that is used to describe what is contained within an archive. The National Archives contain vast amounts of government information, providing ideal raw material for a study of this kind, as well as being home to many professional archivists, enabling the student to work alongside professionals in the field while approaching the discipline from an academic perspective, with the support of SLAIS.

Elizabeth Shepherd, senior lecturer in Archives and Records Management at SLAIS, said: "As the way we search for archives changes, as it has dramatically in the last decade, it will be useful to study the effects this is having on users, and the consequences for professional methodology. Archival descriptions used to be simple, hierarchical, written accounts by the archivist of what is inside the archive, and a researcher would have to go to the archive and search the catalogue. Now, researchers can search many catalogues remotely, so we need to know how they are searching and what information they need."

Dr Shepherd hopes that the SLAIS/National Archives doctorate will open up new career paths for academics in the archives and records management sector. Currently, while there are enough masters programmes in archives and records management to supply the sector with sufficient professionals, there are not enough people engaged in research in the area to develop it fully as an academic discipline. This doctoral programme offers a means for someone, perhaps a young professional with some experience in the field wishing to embark on an academic career, to develop a unique mix of skills.

The second CDA is for a student in UCL English to conduct work in association with the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A). The project will involve artefacts from the National Art Library, a vast collection of books, manuscripts and other material. The collection, donated by Anne and Fernand Renier in 1970, contains some 80,000 books, toys and games spanning four centuries, and has not been much studied by scholars. The successful applicant for this doctoral award is expected to propose a research topic in the field of nineteenth-century writing and publishing for children. 

For Dr Charlotte Mitchell, UCL English, the collaborative doctorate represents a major opportunity to invest in the discipline. She said: "Many PhDs in English literature focus on literary critical approaches to texts, largely ignoring the books as objects. It is important that we don't lose our appreciation of the books as historical objects, and that we have academics with archiving and curatorial skills, as well as knowledge of the texts themselves, which others can draw upon."

Helena Davies is a current recipient of a CDA with UCL English and V&A. Supervised jointly by Rosemary Ashton at UCL English and John Meriton, keeper of books at the V&A, her work looks at John Forster, the Victorian journalist, literary agent and friend of Charles Dickens, who bequeathed to the V&A his priceless collection of manuscripts by Dickens and other authors, scrapbooks, working notes and books. Helena recognises the benefits of a mixed approach to her doctorate: "While my supervisor at UCL provides a fantastic grounding in criticism, I am also looking at the books as historical objects and learning technical skills such as archiving."

The CDA means that Helena has access to the expertise on offer at the V&A, as well as office space, computer facilities and the V&A's training programmes. She added: "You also have far more networking opportunities than you would ordinarily get through conferences." Dr Mitchell points out this aspect of the PhD experience can be particularly difficult in the arts, where so much work is based in the library and is not very interactive. The research council also organises networking between CDA recipients. These opportunities greatly increase employability for students after they complete their doctorates.

Applications are invited for both doctoral posts.

To find out more, follow the links at the bottom of this article.