Economies of Natural History: Publishing Science in Victorian and Edwardian Britain

   Department of Geography

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  Prof Felix Driver  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This PhD project is fully funded by an Arts & Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Award, co-supervised by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Royal Holloway, University of London. It involves research in the archives of a leading publisher of natural history periodicals and books in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The successful applicant will have the opportunity to work across academic, heritage, and archival contexts.

The project is supervised by Professor Felix Driver (Royal Holloway, University of London), Fiona Ainsworth (Head of Library and Archives, Kew), Professor Innes M. Keighren (Royal Holloway, University of London), and Dr Caroline Cornish (Kew). The student will be expected to spend time at both Royal Holloway and at Kew, as well as becoming part of the wider cohort of Techne-funded students and the PhD cohort at RBG Kew. The student will have the opportunity to undertake placements at Kew or elsewhere. The studentship can be undertaken on either a full- or part-time basis.

We encourage the widest range of applicants for this studentship and are committed to welcoming those from different backgrounds and non-standard pathways. Applicants should have a Master’s degree in a relevant subject or be able to demonstrate equivalent experience in a professional setting.

This project focusses on the role of Lovell Reeve & Co. as the leading natural history publisher of the mid-Victorian era, responsible for a diverse range of publications in the field, including Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. Intellectually, the project draws inspiration from the Plant Humanities, exploring human-plant relations through questions of economy, labour, culture, and technology. The project engages with research in four academic areas: (1) the history of science publishing, moving the focus from canonical authors and singular texts to an investigation of the material conditions and changing readerships for natural history texts; (2) the history of the global trade in natural history specimens and its links to science publishing networks; (3) research on the social and economic significance of serial publication, in multi-part book series as well as periodicals; (4) research on the history of botanical illustrations, especially what can be deduced of the ‘hidden histories’ of working-class designers and women artists and their agency in the making of botanical knowledge.

The core research aims are:

1.        To understand the changing relationship between natural history publishing and the specimens trade in Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

2.        To examine how publishers managed the production and distribution of specialist illustrated works requiring significant capital investment, skilled labour, and knowledge of a changing market.

3.        To explore the role of publishers in the field of natural history and how this evolved in an era of science popularisation, specialisation, and technological innovation.

4.        To consider how natural history publishers combined the production of single works and serials, and how this changed over time in response to shifting scientific and economic priorities.

5.        To explore what can be deduced of the hidden histories of working-class and female agency in the history of botanical publishing, especially how publications such as Curtis’s Botanical Magazine afforded opportunities for social mobility.

The central resource for this project is the archive of Lovell Reeve & Co. The archive’s combination of materials – including accounts, ledgers and stock records, brochures and advertisements, clippings of reviews, author correspondence, and botanical plates and patterns (intermediary stages between drawing and engraving) – is unusual, providing the basis for an innovative investigation of publishing practices. Kew’s extensive library holdings will enable the integration of archival research with the study of published works. The project will also involve research in other publishers’ archives in Reading, London and Edinburgh, and the collections of leading and lesser-known scientists. Digital resources (notably the Biodiversity Heritage Library) will further contextualise the Lovell Reeve business. The strongly visual nature of the archive will require a sustained engagement with visual methodologies.

The student will have the opportunity to be embedded at Kew and will have staff-level access to the archive. They will also be able to conduct wider public engagement, and this may take the form of, for example, an exhibition of visual materials, or an educational or community project, supported by Kew staff.

Information on how to apply can be found here:

Communication & Media Studies (7) Geography (17) History & Archaeology (19)

Funding Notes

This is a full-time AHRC PhD studentship fully funded for at least 3.5 years (42 months), extendable by up to six months for placement/career enhancement activity.
The award includes a full maintenance grant. The PhD Stipend for 2023/24 is £20,622/year, inclusive of London weighting. Figures for 2024/25 will be available in Spring 2024. The award also pays tuition fees up to the value of the full-time home UKRI rate for PhD degrees. Where an international student is successful, RHUL will make an additional tuition fee award, wholly covering the difference between the home and the international tuition fee rate.

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