Deadline: May 8, 2023
Start date: 1 October 2023
Application Deadline: 5.00 pm on 8 May 2023
Interviews will take place online week beginning 22 May 2023.
Queen Mary University of London and the British Library are pleased to announce the availability of a fully funded Collaborative Doctoral Studentship from 1 October 2023 under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.
This doctoral project seeks to advance postcolonial discourse in East European studies by focusing on the British Library’s unique Belarusian collection, the history of its development during the Cold War, and the collection’s evolution in response to Belarus’ ‘decolonising moment’ as it broke out of the Soviet fold in 1991.
This project will be jointly supervised by Dr Natalya Chernyshova (School of History) and Prof Jeremy Hicks (Department of Modern Languages and Cultures) at Queen Mary University of London and by Dr Katie McElvanney, Dr Katya Rogatchevskaia, and Dr Olga Topol at the British Library. The student will spend time with both QMUL and the British Library and will become part of the wider cohort of AHRC CDP funded PhD students across the UK.
QMUL and the British Library are keen to encourage applications from the widest range of candidates and particularly welcome those currently underrepresented in doctoral student cohorts.
Slavonic and Eastern European collections at the British Library are one of its strengths. However, despite the diversity of the collections, the British Library co-supervisors have identified postcolonial research and its application to curatorial practices as a priority approach to these collections, likely to reveal many meaningful gaps and contested interpretations.
The project will explore the British Library’s Belarusian resources, i.e., resources relating to Belarus and its diasporas, as a case study through which to develop an analytical framework that could be subsequently applied by future scholars and information professionals to the entire Slavonic and East European collection. The project will investigate how the establishment of independent Belarus in 1991 affected the British Library’s policy and approach towards collecting, describing, and interpreting its Belarusian material. The challenges here are many, from navigating the politically charged waters of choosing the right spelling for transcription in the resources’ metadata to finding ways of bringing into dialogue two parallel depositories of Belarusian culture: Soviet-based and diaspora-based, the latter represented by the considerable collection of material at the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library in London. The research will seek to identify what further work needs to be undertaken to lead the decolonisation of discourse on Belarus and will develop recommendations on how such work can be carried out.
Belarusian studies are sorely in need of de-marginalizing. Belarus is often a footnote, an afterthought or even a blind spot in the Western gaze towards Europe’s ‘incomplete self’ (a concept developed in postcolonial studies of the Balkans by Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, 1997). The understanding of its modern history and identity is still patchy or misinformed, and thus it represents a minority voice within regional studies. Partly, this is an outcome of its political entanglement with Russia post-1991, which culminated in Belarus becoming a de-facto colony in 2022. But it is also a result of lingering Cold War preconceptions and Western colonial bias that need a corrective.
The Belarusian case study has a much wider significance and acute relevance for the present. It is a gateway into decolonising our thinking about the entire post-Soviet region of Eurasia where the decolonisation process itself is still incomplete and bitterly contested, as the ongoing war in Ukraine demonstrates. Yet, the proclaimed model for current Russian colonialism – the Soviet Union – does not fit easily into the traditional frameworks for understanding the empire and colonial domination. While highly authoritarian, the USSR was also an ‘affirmative action empire’ (Terry Martin, 2001) that simultaneously encouraged and kept in check its republics’ national development. This limits the utility of existing postcolonial theories as a framework for informing decolonising practices in post-Soviet studies. Therefore, the findings of this project will have relevance and applicability for the entire Slavonic studies collection and will yield an analytical framework for review and policy that is more suitable to the region’s collections than postcolonial theories focusing on other geographical locations and other types of empires.
The British Library is an ideal home institution for a project on advancing postcolonial discourse and developing theoretical frameworks suitable for the East European region. As a major cultural institution with international clout, it plays an enormous role in education of the public, policymakers and scholars and wields agenda-setting power. Its Belarus collection is extensive, diverse, and growing. Its team of curators is knowledgeable and attuned to regional complexities, as well as the need for decolonisation work, which is reflected in the recently launched collection of materials documenting the 2020 protests in Belarus. The project would build on these considerable strengths to help the British Library advance the decolonising of its collections and bring its world-leading Slavonic and East European collection in line with the best postcolonial heritage practice.
Benefits and Opportunities
The successful candidate will be registered with the School of History at Queen Mary University of London. QMUL is one of the top UK universities and a member of the prestigious Russell Group. It has also been recognised by the 2021 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide as the most inclusive in the Russell Group. The School of History has an international reputation for outstanding scholarship. It is one of the largest, friendliest and most distinguished history departments in the country, ranking 7th overall among every higher education institution in the UK in the last Research Excellence Framework, according to Times Higher Education. The School has a large and thriving PGR community and offers a great deal of support and training to its research students. Further details are available on the School of History webpage and QMUL Doctoral College pages.
At the British Library, the student will become part of a vibrant cohort of collaborative doctoral researchers and benefit from staff-level access to the Library’s collections, resources and in-house training and development opportunities. CDP students also benefit from a dedicated programme of CDP Cohort Development events delivered in tandem with the other museums, galleries and heritage organisations affiliated with the AHRC CDP scheme.
This collaborative PhD studentship offers the opportunity to combine academic training with practice-based experience and research behind the scenes of a major cultural institution. This is a unique opportunity to gain a wide range of transferable professional skills, which may include public engagement, interpretation of collections, etc.
Details of Award
The PhD studentship can be undertaken on a full-time or part-time basis.
AHRC CDP doctoral training grants fund studentships for up to 4 years full time or part-time equivalent (for Home students only). AHRC CDP doctoral trainings grants also make provision of funding for student development activities to help the student extend their wider skills portfolio and improve their career prospects.
The award pays tuition fees up to the value of the full-time Home UKRI rate for PhD degrees. The fee level for Research Council studentships in 2022/23 was £4,596; this will be slightly higher for 2023/24. Should the award be made to an international student, the difference in fees between Home and International rates will be waived by the School of History.
The award also pays full maintenance for all students, both Home and International. The National Minimum Doctoral Stipend for the academic year 2022/23 was £19,668 (inclusive of the £2,000 London allowance), and this will be slightly higher for 2023/24. This is a tax-free training grant which increases slightly each year.
In addition, the successful candidate will receive a CDA maintenance payment of £550/year.
Further details can be found on the UKRI website: https://www.ukri.org/skills/funding-for-research-training/
In addition, the successful student will be eligible for an additional research allowance courtesy of the British Library, up to £1,000 per financial year or part-time equivalent, for the duration of the project.
This studentship is open to both Home and International applicants. Recruitment of a suitable candidate will be based on ability and potential, not their ability to access funding. Should the award be made to an international student, the difference in fees between Home and International rates will be waived by the School of History.
Further guidance on international eligibility can be found here:
Queen Mary University of London and the British Library are keen to encourage the widest range of applicants from different backgrounds and particularly welcome applications from students currently underrepresented in doctoral student cohorts.
Applicants should have or expect to receive a Masters-level qualification in a relevant discipline or equivalent.
Relevant disciplines include, but are not limited to: History, Library and Information Studies, East European and Slavonic Studies, Politics, Modern Languages, Film and Cultural Studies, Literature, Museum and/or Heritage Studies, or another cognate discipline.
Reading knowledge of Belarusian is desirable, but another relevant Slavonic language and willingness to acquire Belarusian can be acceptable.
Applicants must be able to demonstrate an interest in the museums, galleries, archives, library and heritage sector, have enthusiasm for public engagement, and show willingness to develop skills in related areas.
Collaborative doctoral students are expected to spend time at both the University and the British Library.
Applicants must satisfy the standard UKRI eligibility criteria. For further information please see:
How to Apply
To apply for this studentship, you must submit an online application and supporting materials via School of History Research Degreeswebpage by 5.00 pm on 8 May 2023. Applications received after this date cannot be considered.
Instructions for completing the application form:
The link to the PhD application form can be found towards the bottom of the School of History Research Degrees page (see ‘Apply Online’). You will be asked to select an online application button specifically for your mode of study and the start date – please choose either full-time or part-time and select ‘Semester 1 (September start)’.
As part of the standard QMUL PhD application process, you will be asked to submit the following:
- A completed application form
- Proof of English language ability for overseas applicants from non-English speaking countries. For more details, please see here.
- Curriculum Vitae (CV)
- Your research proposal. This should be a project description that sets out how you propose to approach, develop, and carry out the above research project.
- A one-side A4 personal statement. This should set out your previous academic or other experience relevant to the proposed research; why you wish to undertake this collaborative project at QMUL/British Library; your previous research or professional training and what further training you think you will need to complete this PhD; and what ethical issues you will need to consider in undertaking this research.
- Two references. At least one reference must be from an academic referee who is in a position to comment on the standard of your academic work and suitability for postgraduate level study. Where appropriate, a second referee can provide comment on your professional experience.
We will contact your referee(s) by email to supply a reference (please provide a university or company email address, not a personal one). However, a scanned colour copy of a reference provided on paper can also be submitted either at the point of application in the upload document section of the online form or in response to the reference request email your referee will receive. Paper references should be endorsed by an appropriate official stamp or be on institution/company letterhead.
Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an online interview in the week beginning 22 May 2023.
If you are interested in applying, you are welcome to contact the following for an informal discussion about this opportunity: Dr Natalya Chernyshova at email@example.com and Dr Katie McElvanney at firstname.lastname@example.org .