AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) studentship

The Department of Science and Art Revisited: The South Kensington Museum (1830-1909)


Applications are now closed for The Warburg Institute and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)'s fully funded collaborative doctoral studentship under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.

This project will investigate the origins and early history of the South Kensington Museum (SKM), the institution that later split into the V&A and the Science Museum. The project will put this pioneering museum project into context, locating it within wider British and European models of educational reform embraced by the commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the government’s Department of Science and Art.

The student will be jointly supervised by Bill Sherman, Director of the Warburg Institute, and James Ryan, Head of Postgraduate Programmes at the V&A. Additional guidance will come from John Tresch (Mellon Professor in the History of Art, Science and Folk Practice at the Warburg), Joanna Norman (Director of the V&A Research Institute), and Tim Boon (Head of Research at the Science Museum). The student will be expected to spend time at both the Warburg and the V&A, as well as becoming part of the wider cohort of CDP-funded students across the UK.


Project Overview 

The story of the South Kensington Museum (SKM)--the parent institution of the V&A and Science Museum--has never been told in detail. Previous accounts have tended to take a teleological approach, reading the SKM in the light of the V&A and Science Museum that grew out of it. Taking up this challenge, this project will, rather, work forward from its origins and explore the rich and colourful congeries of institutions that occupied the SKM, locating them within wider British and European models of educational reform embraced by the Commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the government’s Department of Science and Art.

The sources are unusually rich given that the Museum was created and managed by a department of the national government, the Department of Science and Art, successor to the Department of Practical Art and precursor to the Department of Education. It grew directly out of the first world expo, the Great Exhibition of 1851, and anchored the cluster of collections and educational institutions that came to be known as ‘Albertopolis’ (since the prime mover was Prince Albert himself). This initiative, in turn, delivered the vision for reforming British art and industry outlined in the comprehensive report of the 1835-36 Parliamentary Select Committee on Design and Manufacture, where the UK was found to be lagging far behind its continental rivals (whose museums and teaching institutions were described in detail).

Created one year after the Great Exhibition and opened in 1857 (with the Department of Science and Art’s Superintendent Henry Cole as its first Director), the SKM combined exemplary collections in all fields with national programmes for the teaching of art and science. It was closely associated not just with the Royal College of Art and Normal School of Science but with the museums and schools around the country charged with delivering its programmes. This model would be followed in countries around the world, particularly in current or former British colonies: it was particularly influential in India and America.

The rise and fall of the SKM is essential to understanding the evolution of the V&A, and its origins go some way toward explaining a number of its distinctive features:

  • Its bewildering range, including (in its early incarnations) collections on Animal Products, Educational Apparatus and a working fish farm;
  • Its emphasis on both the arts and the sciences, and special attention to fields that involved both (e.g. Music) as well as new technologies for reproduction (Photographs, Electrotypes and Plaster Casts);
  • Its integration of makers, both artistic and industrial; and
  • Its democratic ethos, described by Henry Cole (following the German architect and critic Gottfried Semper) as the ‘true teacher of a free people’.

The PhD project will examine both the archives and the objects in the two museums to which the SKM gave way after the Department of Science and Art closed in 1899. While the student who undertakes the work will no doubt want to choose their own focus, it is likely that they will cover the following subjects and research questions:

  • The history of the creation of the SKM from 1835 to 1857:
    • Which countries, institutions and ideologies played a part in making the museum necessary?
    • What kind of administrative, curatorial and educational model did it establish?
  • The handling of artistic and scientific collections between 1857 and 1899:
    • How were the different areas run? What differences and/or tensions existed?
    • How did the collections work with the teaching institutions?
    • What was the collections policy and visitor experience in the two areas?
  • The closure of the Science and Art Department and the creation of a separate Science Museum in 1899-1909:
    • Why did the model break down?
  • The afterlife of the SKM:
    • What stories have the two museums told about their parent institution in the century since its closure?
    • To what extent are discussions of this history related to the so-called ‘Two Cultures’ divide?
    • How far have initiatives attempted to bring the two institutions back together, and/or have any exhibitions or educational programmes designed to cut across the art/science divide?
    • How do surviving objects tell these stories and how can historians and curators make their voices heard today? [It is expected that the student will pursue the ‘museum lives’ (Alberti 2005) of selected objects from no-longer extant museums, as a means to understand the fate of their collections.]


Training and Placement Opportunities

The student will be part of the cohort development and training programme offered to all Collaborative Doctoral Partnership students through the AHRC CDP consortium. The cohort development and training programme provides introduction and specific training skills and career development needed for collecting and heritage organisations. The student will be

provided with additional training through the V&A Research Institute including: training in handling of works on paper and three dimensional objects, training in the use of CMS (the museum's Collections Management System), expert advice on the analysis and interpretation of images, expert advice on researching digital collections, training in producing text for public audiences, support in developing a professional network. The student will have an opportunity to engage with a number of ongoing research projects and networks at the V&A including the Nineteenth-Century Period Expertise Group.

The student will receive extensive doctoral training from the Warburg and the School of Advanced Study within which it sits, including participation in a full programme of internal seminars at both institutions. The other Institutes in the School of Advanced Study—the UK’s national centre for high-level research in the Humanities—offer seminars on many relevant topics, and there are many opportunities to disseminate research to both academic and general audiences (including the School’s flagship festival, ‘Being Human’).


Details of Award

CDP doctoral training grants fund full-time studentships for 45 months (3.75 years) or part-time equivalent. The studentship has the possibility of being extended for an additional 3 months to provide professional development opportunities, or up to 3 months of funding may be used to pay for the costs the student might incur in taking up professional development opportunities.

The award pays tuition fees up to the value of the full-time home/EU UKRI rate for PhD degrees. Research Councils UK Indicative Fee Level for 2020/21 is £4,407.

The award pays full maintenance for UK citizens and residents only. The National Minimum Doctoral Stipend for 2020/21 is £15,285, plus a CDP maintenance payment of £600/year plus London Weighting of £2,000/year.

Further details can be found on the UKRI website

The student is eligible to apply for additional travel and related expenses during the course of the project courtesy of the V&A worth up to £1000.

The project can be undertaken on a full-time or part-time basis.

The successful candidate will be eligible to participate in CDP Cohort Development events.

All new CDP students will be expected to attend the CDP Student Launch Event, currently scheduled for Monday 21 September 2020 at the British Museum.



  • Applicants should ideally have or expect to receive a relevant Masters-level qualification, or be able to demonstrate equivalent experience in a professional setting, such as work experience on museum collections. Suitable disciplines are flexible, but might include History, Art History, Design History, Museum Studies or Historical Geography.
  • As a collaborative award, students will be expected to spend time at both the Warburg Institute and the V&A.
  • We wish to encourage the widest possible range of potential candidates for a CDP studentship and are committed to welcoming applications from all backgrounds.


How to Apply

All applications are made, via the University of London application portal, to the MPhil/PhD programme.

The application will prompt you to confirm details of any scholarships or grants. Please ensure you respond with: AHRC CDP WI/V&A.


1. We request the following documents from each applicant:

  • Curriculum Vitae.
  • A covering letter including a statement concerning eligibility for this fellowship. If you do not have experience of formal postgraduate study, then you should provide evidence of sustained experience beyond undergraduate degree level that is specifically relevant to the proposed research topic, which could be considered equivalent to Master’s study.
  • A research proposal up to 2,000 words. This should identify how your current academic interests relate to the doctoral project, explaining your reasons for wishing to undertake this research. The research proposal should also indicate critical contexts for the project. It can also outline how you might wish to refine the project so as to meet specific research aims of your own.

The three documents above should be uploaded as one complete document under ‘research proposal.’

  • Transcripts of relevant studies and – where appropriate – a letter from your course coordinator predicting the expected degree result (for those who still have to complete their current Master’s-level programme);
  • A sample of writing such as your MA dissertation, or similar.

Once you have submitted your application through the portal please email us at warburg@sas.ac.uk to confirm.


2. References

You will need to provide contact details of two academic referees who can supply references to support your application. Referees will be automatically prompted to upload their references when you submit your application

We strongly encourage you to contact referees as early as possible to ensure they are prepared to upload their reference following submission of your application.

Only complete and timely applications received, with both references, can be considered.

Closing date for applications:  2pm 26 June 2020

Deadline for references: 1 week after closing date

Interview date: 21 July