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Spinning the Cotton Famine: external literary perceptions of Lancashire’s years of dearth 1861-1865. Self funded English PhD

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 27, 2020
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

This project offers a unique opportunity to contribute to the growing field of scholarship in nineteenth-century labouring-class literature. As the academic world looks beyond the canon for significant texts, projects such as this are leading the search for literature which changes our understanding of history, and the history of writing. The selected candidate will acquire vital skills in primary research, digital humanities, and the practice of public engagement.

The Lancashire Cotton Famine was caused by the Union blockade of Confederacy cotton exports during the American Civil War, and represents a significant moment in economic and social history. Three-quarters of Lancashire’s cotton imports came from the Southern states of America, and the sudden break in supply led to mass unemployment on an unprecedented scale. Given the very high population density of Manchester and Lancashire at the time, it has been estimated that four million Britons, almost 20% of the total population of the UK, were financially dependent on the cotton industry.

In the search for Lancashire Cotton Famine poetry for the recent AHRC-funded major research project ‘The poetry of the Lancashire Cotton Famine 1861-65’ (2017-2019) based at the University of Exeter, many examples came to light of poetry written outside of the region commenting on the economic disaster and its social and political consequences. Poetry was written and published in newspapers in the rest of Britain, Ireland, Australia and America which referred to the Cotton Famine, highlighting its status as a significant setback to Britain’s economic dominance and its relations with both the Union and Confederate sides of the American Civil War
The purpose of this research will be to determine the extent of contemporary poetic commentary on this significant historical period through original research, and to examine the nature of the data through cataloguing and commentary. This will greatly expand an existing scholarly database established and supported by Digital Humanities at the University of Exeter. The candidate will also undertake digital training in mark-up and database management.

Much of the research for the thesis can be done online – databases such as Nineteenth-Century Newspapers Online list dozens of newspapers from the rest of the country, and magazines including Punch will provide more material. Other non-newspaper sources will include letters, memorabilia, and trade journals. In addition, there are several examples of retrospective Cotton Famine novels which deserve attention.

The candidate might also examine resources not yet digitised such as British Library newspaper archives in London or Selby in Yorkshire. As in the case of Lancashire research into this subject, it is probable that there are local newspapers all around Britain which have only been archived in microfilm format in local libraries. Many of these will contain poetry in regular columns which discuss issues of the day, and the Cotton Famine as the lens through which many Britons viewed the American Civil war, is likely to be one of them.

The candidate should be familiar with the context of mid-nineteenth-century history and poetry, and preferably popular contemporary culture including newspaper production and practice from the 1850s onward. Areas of interest might include political literature, the function of poetry, literature and history, cultural representations of industry, or northern English culture.

Funding Notes

This project is self funded. Information about Exeter's current fees can be found here: View Website.

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