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Reconstructing BSE: Government Policy and Public Health across Humans and Animals (October 2019 or January 2020 start)

Project Description

This is a collaborative doctoral project with The National Archives and explores the intersection of public health policy, science communication, and human-animal interactions.

The BSE crisis was one of the most high-profile public health emergencies in the late twentieth century in Britain, when beef from BSE-infected cattle was linked to the untreatable, fatal disease vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) in humans. Also known as “mad cow disease”, BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis) interfaced with longstanding anxieties about the vulnerability of our food chains.

This project will focus on the BSE inquiry, led by Lord Phillips which gathered huge swathes of evidence, including historical publications, oral testimony, written witness statements, and legislation, with contributions from across government, scientific organisations and others.

The inquiry shone a light into the deepest recesses of government operations, demonstrating the extent to which the government was accused of ’failing the public’. As well as records of the Chief Veterinary Office and other papers related to the Phillips Inquiry and its published evidence - which are now held at The National Archives - the project will draw on press coverage and new oral histories to reconstruct for the first time the key events, decisions, and impacts of the BSE crisis.

Examples of questions that the project may explore include:

• How were the identities of BSE and vCJD constructed by scientists and how did this influence the establishment of the Phillips Inquiry?
• How did livestock farmers interact with scientific knowledge and practice, and were disease control methods contested?
• What interactions between stakeholders can we recover from the activities of the Phillips Inquiry?
• How did the findings of the Phillips Inquiry influence the formulation of policy?
• How did the public perceive and respond to the emergence of a new disease and the human-animal interactions involved?

Entry requirements:

You’ll need a masters degree or equivalent professional experience in a relevant field which could include archival, curatorial or engagement work, or policy experience.

This scholarship opportunity is open to UK students including:

- British nationals who have lived in the UK since birth
- Non-British nationals who have settled status and have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years (before the course start date)

EU nationals who have been ordinarily resident in the UK and Islands for three years immediately before the date of start of the course are eligible.

If you’re an EEA or Swiss national you should refer to the full RCUK guidance to check your eligibility. You may only be eligible for a fees-only award.

Funding Notes

As part of the scholarship funding, you'll receive full funding for your tuition fees at the Home/EU rate. You'll also receive a maintenance grant in line with the UK Research Council's standard stipend(currently £15,009 for 2019/20). In addition, you'll receive a bursary of £550 awarded by the AHRC and you may be able to access other funding from project partners.

Please note you'll need to be able to commence your research studies on either 1st October 2019 or 1st January 2020.


As part of the application process, you'll require two academic or (relevant professional) references.

You'll also be required to submit:

- Curriculum vitae (no more than 2 sides of A4)
- Sample of writing (indicative maximum of 3,000 words) such as a dissertation, extended essay or professional writing piece
- A covering letter outlining your suitability for the scholarship and interest in the topic

The selection process will include an interview for shortlisted applicants.

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