Medieval manuscripts blog

26 September 2023

PhD Studentship opportunity: Medieval Women's Religious Communities

The British Library is collaborating with the University of Cambridge to offer a fully-funded PhD studentship on the subject of ‘Reading and Writing in Medieval Women's Religious Communities’. The successful applicant will be supervised by Dr Jessica Berenbeim (Cambridge) and Dr Eleanor Jackson (British Library), and start in October 2024. 

Manuscript illustration of nuns attending Mass inside a church. On the right, a priest and deacons are at the altar. Behind them stands an abbess with book and crozier, and other nuns including the sacristan pulling the bell ropes.
Nuns attending Mass inside a church: Yates Thompson MS 11, f. 6v

The student will have the opportunity to investigate the culture of female religious communities in the Middle Ages through a study of their surviving manuscripts. Medieval women living together in monasteries and other kinds of convent communities owned or produced an astonishing number and variety of manuscripts. These include literary works in poetry and prose, archive and record books, music manuscripts, financial and administrative accounts, maps, books for religious services, paintings in the form of manuscript illumination, documents such as charters, and sculpture in the form of seal impressions.

We are inviting applicants to propose a project that explores any aspect of women’s conventual life, with the specific aim of bringing together kinds of sources that have rarely been discussed in combination. The themes and structure of the project are entirely open, provided the proposal is interdisciplinary and combines different types of manuscripts—broadly defined, as above—in novel, creative, and productive ways. At least some element of your research should concern institutions in the British Isles, but the project as a whole may be comparative. In your proposal, you would aim to draw principally on the British Library’s collections (although we understand that some research in other collections will almost certainly be inevitable). Some indication of the BL’s holdings can be found on these sites:

Medieval charter with a wax seal
Foundation charter of Flixton Priory of Augustinian nuns by Margery de Crek: Stowe Ch 291

The British Library has one of the world’s most extensive and diverse collections of manuscripts from medieval women’s communities. In your research for this project, you would work on these collections alongside the BL’s curatorial staff, and undertake specialised training at both the BL and at Cambridge, where you would be part of a large and collegial community of medievalists in a wide range of fields. The British Library is currently developing a major exhibition on Medieval Women, which is due to open in October 2024. Starting your doctoral research just as the exhibition is opening, you will be able to develop a close familiarity with the display, support the programme of private views and visits to the exhibition, and build on its research findings.

The studentship is fully funded via the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Applications are now open on their website, where you can view the full Collaborative Doctoral Award advert and find details of how to apply. The closing date for applications is 4 January 2024. 

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