Americas and Oceania Collections blog

31 January 2023

PhD Placement Opportunity – The Pacific Islands in print: surveying the British Library collections

Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the Americas and Oceania team. Under the title The Pacific Islands in print: surveying the British Library collections, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or the part-time equivalent) surveying the collection of post-1850 printed books, journals and magazines from the Pacific Islands. The British Library's collection of material documenting the Pacific Islands through the lens of early European exploration and colonisation has been extensively researched and surveyed, culminating in a major exhibition in 2018. However, much less is known about the Library’s holdings in terms of publications featuring voices from the Pacific: those which speak to the diverse histories of the region. The placement will build on preliminary research undertaken by the Curator, Oceania Published Collections (post-1850) to survey the printed collection for works by Pacific and diaspora researchers, authors, poets, playwrights, artists, and publishers, and produce a bibliography. The placement student may choose to identify specific themes as part of the survey, for example:

  • Literary and creative works
  • Climate change and sustainability
  • Politics (e.g. migration or Independence movements)
  • Publications in languages from the Pacific Islands.


Front covers of the Kovave journal and Aia book
Examples of 20th century literary publications from the University of Papua New Guinea. From left to right: Kovave journal (P.901/798.) and Aia Mekeo songs - No.7 in the Papua Pocket Poets series (X.0908/660.(7.))

The project will increase the visibility and accessibility of this material for researchers and the wider public, demonstrating traditions of printed knowledge production in the Pacific region. The survey will also help to identify any gaps which can be addressed by the Oceania curator through future collection development activities. While the project can be shaped by the student's interests and strengths, the placement will involve the following:

  • Researching and building a checklist of likely search terms (e.g. places of publication, publishers, or subject headings)
  • Using this checklist to conduct a comprehensive search of the Library’s holdings via the catalogue, calling up material and making visual checks
  • Identifying collection gaps by cross-referencing Library holdings with available bibliographies and publisher lists
  • Developing a selective bibliography. The focus of which will be dependent on the findings and themes identified by the student
  • Noting visually interesting material for use in future Oceania collection promotional activities.

Expected outcomes:

  • A finding aid for users in the form of a bibliography or collection guide
  • A list of suggested titles for the Oceania curator to acquire
  • To develop a promotional activity. This might be writing a post for the Americas and Oceania blog, a staff talk, or a show and tell for staff in conjunction with the Oceania curator.

As well as developing the skills involved in managing a discrete project, the student will gain skills in searching for materials that are hard to identify within Library collections, and skills in developing a means of making this material more discoverable and accessible to users. The placement also offers the opportunity for the student to develop their knowledge of current and historical publishing in the Pacific Islands and become familiar with the literature, authors and artists from this region.

By working with the Oceania curator within the Americas and Oceania Team, the student will receive a hands-on introduction to the role of a curator at a national library, including the processes involved in acquiring and stewarding of material, promoting the collections and engaging with audiences through finding aids, blogs and talks. The student will also have the opportunity to build their professional networks and develop their research interests through introductions to Library staff from other departments such as the International Office, Endangered Archives Project, and Digital Scholarship, and is encouraged to make the most of access to the Library’s programme of staff talks, events and reading groups during their placement.

This placement project offers an opportunity for a PhD student to put their bibliographic skills and book history and publishing knowledge into practice at a major cultural institution to help make a discrete but fascinating collection more accessible. PhD students in all areas of the humanities and social sciences are invited to apply, and we would especially like to hear from students with an academic or professional interest in publishing and book history, and the histories and cultures of the Pacific Islands.

Further information on eligibility, conditions and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is 5pm on Monday 20 February 2023.

For informal enquiries, please contact [email protected]