Shaping Taste, Building Knowledge: Collecting China in Scotland in the Early 20th Century

   National Museum of Scotland

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Prof Nick Pearce, Dr Qin Cao, Dr Minna Törmä, Dr John Giblin  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The presence of Chinese material culture in Scotland has grown significantly over the last 200 years, much of it during Britain’s imperial expansion. However, Scottish collecting of Chinese material culture has never been studied through the lenses of critical collecting practices or decolonisation. The proposed PhD project will address this gap by researching Scottish collecting of Chinese objects in the early 20th century, currently held at NMS and selected Scottish museums.

The first decades of the 20th century witnessed the emergence of an international interest in and a market for Chinese material culture in Europe and North America. The interest was fuelled by artefacts already in circulation on the art market, alongside newly discovered archaeological material from tomb sites, and private and imperial collections, which were dispersed in the wake of the 1911 Revolution. This led to the most intensive period of European collecting of Chinese material culture, including through Christian missionaries and military and natural history expeditions.

Through selected case studies, this project will be the first to explore collecting patterns as they manifest in the collections in Scotland, revealing the diverse and complex intellectual, social and political networks and connections that led to collection formation on the part of individuals and institutions. It will investigate the types of material culture collected, collecting practices, and diachronic changes in the early 20th century after the Opium Wars and other conflicts (1840-1900) through a range of perspectives, including material culture studies, post-colonialism and decolonisation. It will contextualize how China was perceived through these collections, and the role they played in framing Scottish impressions of China at that time and subsequently. The research is particularly relevant to contemporary decolonisation debates in the museum sector through demonstrating how collecting in this era continues to influence perceptions of China and Chinese material culture, as well as informing how these Chinese collections should be presented, interpreted and used in learning programmes.

Provisional research questions are:

  • Are there discernible patterns of collecting in Scotland in comparison to those operating more widely across the UK and Europe? If so, what are the patterns?
  • What were the networks and agents in operation in China and elsewhere and how did they enable the assembling of these collections?
  • Can these objects and collections illuminate how China was perceived in the early 20th century after the Opium Wars and other conflicts? Were there shifts in what was collected and why?
  • Can these collections play a positive role in presenting China in Scotland as well as their relevance to contemporary and future relationships with China and other stakeholders?

This project will take advantage of access to museum collections and archives and draw on Chinese collections and collectors identified in other Scottish museums as part of the 2018-2019 NMS-led East Asian Collections Review across Scotland. NMS holds a collection of about 11,000 Chinese objects, as well as extensive archives, including correspondence, registers and committee minutes. The student will have scope to develop the project by selecting the identified collections and/or identifying other examples to focus on as collectors and networks begin to emerge. Support will be provided to facilitate the student’s access to selected museums in Scotland. The student will examine objects first-hand, checking against existing documentation and building a database of sources and other provenance information. They will visit other museums, such as the V&A where previous research has been done on related material, key archives and libraries, to consult sales catalogues, acquisition records, and correspondence to reveal provenance information and wider connections. Literature on collecting and perceptions of Chinese material culture in the 19th and early 20th century, as well as their current presentations in museums, will feature prominently.

Over the course of the PhD, the student will benefit from the SGSAH DTP Training and Development Framework to develop professionalism in research, leadership skills, inter-disciplinary approaches, and networks with industry partners, as well as career development activities at NMS and UoG. In the student’s third year, they will complete a six-month placement in the Department of World Cultures at NMS, gaining hands-on collections, documentation, and provenance research experience. The student will work with supervisors to develop a symposium at the UoG focusing on historic Chinese collections today, under the auspices of the China Art Research Network (CARN), or the Network of Chinese Collections in Europe (NCCE).

The studentship can be undertaken full-time or part-time.

Applicants should hold at least a 2:1 (or equivalent) undergraduate qualification and a relevant Masters degree in museum/heritage studies, Chinese studies, art history, archaeology, anthropology, or a related field. They will have some experience of relevant research methods (but note that research training is a key part of the studentship). Applicants without a Masters qualification should include with their application a one-page statement outlining the specifically relevant skills, experience and knowledge they have gained beyond undergraduate degree level that could be considered equivalent to Masters study.

How to apply: Applicants should submit the following documents directly via email jointly to [Email Address Removed] and [Email Address Removed] by 5pm on Friday 4th June 2021:

A covering letter (2 pages max) outlining your reasons for your interest in this opportunity, your preparedness for this doctoral project and what you would bring to it, and initial thoughts on how you would approach the research.

A CV (2 pages max) with information on your academic qualifications and any work or other relevant experience. Please include the names and contact details of two referees.

 Scans of academic qualification certificates, transcripts and (if applicable) English language certifications (please see English language requirements by University of Glasgow).

If shortlisted, you will be asked to submit an example of recent academic writing (e.g., MA dissertation chapter or essay, or undergraduate dissertation where the applicant does not have an MA qualification) by 12 noon Friday 11th June 2021. Please also ensure your referee can provide (on request, via email) an academic reference.

Interviews will be held on Tuesday 15th June 2021 via Microsoft Teams.

The selected candidate will then apply to the PhD programme in History of Art.

Anthropology (2) Creative Arts & Design (9) History & Archaeology (19) Languages, Literature & Culture (21)

Funding Notes

From the academic year 2021/22, the AHRC via SGSAH is offering full awards to PhD researchers from the UK and Internationally (including the EU) – both a stipend (£15,609 per annum in 2021-22), and fees at the HEIs’ UK rate, plus a £550 per annum stipend to facilitate the collaboration. The College of Arts at the UoG has agreed to waive the difference between the UK and International fee rate.
Additionally, doctoral researchers are able to apply for up to £2000 in Cohort Development Funding, and the UoG, College of Arts and SGSAH offer various funding opportunities.
Search Suggestions
Search suggestions

Based on your current searches we recommend the following search filters.