11 May 2022
Collaborative doctoral studentship: The origins and development of the Cotton collection
We are pleased to announce the availability of a fully-funded collaborative doctoral studentship from October 2022, in partnership with the University of East Anglia (UEA), under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.
The library of Robert Cotton (1571–1631) has been described as 'the most important collection of manuscripts ever assembled in Britain by a private individual'. This CDP offers a unique opportunity to produce an original piece of research on the origins and/or 17th-century development of Cotton's extraordinary collection.
A portrait of Sir Robert Cotton, commissioned in 1626 and attributed to Cornelius Johnson, reproduced from the collection of The Rt. Hon. Lord Clinton, D.L.
This project will be supervised by Dr Thomas Roebuck and Dr Katherine Hunt, University of East Anglia, who are experts in early modern scholarship and collecting practices; and Julian Harrison and Dr Andrea Clarke, curators of Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library. The award holder will be based at UEA, and will also be based at the Library for a significant proportion of the studentship. At UEA, they will join a thriving Medieval and Early Modern research community and have access to a host of training opportunities, and at the British Library they will benefit from behind-the-scenes access, learning from other professionals across the Library, and an extensive internal training offer. They will also join the wider cohort of CDP-funded students across the UK, and will be eligible to participate in CDP Cohort Development Events. This studentship can be studied either full- or part-time.
The Cotton library contains more than 1,400 medieval and early modern manuscripts and over 1,500 charters, rolls and seals, among them items of international heritage significance, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and two engrossments of the 1215 Magna Carta. This collection was perhaps the most important single means by which pre-Reformation textual culture was preserved: it became a repository of memory and a site of nation-making. But the origins of the library — how and why it was assembled — remain tantalisingly obscure. Its development and usage over the course of the 17th century also offers huge opportunities for fresh research into the history of antiquarian scholarship and its religio-political ramifications. This CDP offers the successful applicant a unique opportunity to produce a ground-breaking piece of research into the origins or development of the Cotton collection which is rooted in close study of Cotton's manuscripts themselves.
Research questions might include:
- Where, when, and how did Robert Cotton (and his descendants) acquire the manuscripts that make up the Cotton collection?
- How did Robert Cotton shape his collection? How did the coins, stones and printed books he collected complement his manuscripts?
- To what extent is the Cotton library distinctive, compared to other libraries assembled in Europe at the same time, and what characteristics does it share with similar contemporary collections?
- Is there any evidence that women had access to the Cotton library or made donations to it?
- How was the library used in Robert Cotton's lifetime, and how did its usage change and develop over the course of the 17th century? What kinds of scholarly projects did it inspire?
- How was the library used to intervene in contemporary political debates? How was the library itself shaped by the political and religious controversies of the 17th century?
- How did the collection come to be regarded as a national library?
- What role did Cotton's library play in the development of the idea of Britain's 'middle ages' or its national identity?
We encourage the widest range of potential students to study for this CDP studentship and are committed to welcoming students from different backgrounds to apply. We particularly welcome applications from Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds as they are currently underrepresented at this level in this area.
Applicants should ideally have or expect to receive a relevant Masters-level qualification, or be able to demonstrate equivalent experience in a professional setting. Suitable disciplines may include, but are not limited to, English Literature, History, Art History, Classics, Modern Languages, and Library and Information Science. All applicants must meet UKRI terms and conditions for funding.
The deadline for applications is 8 June 2022. More details can be found on the UEA website.