27 April 2023
PhD Studentship opportunity – The Belarus Collection at the British Library
Queen Mary University of London and the British Library are pleased to announce the availability of a fully funded Collaborative Doctoral Studentship from 1 October 2023 under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.
This doctoral project seeks to advance postcolonial discourse in East European studies by focusing on the British Library’s unique Belarusian collection, the history of its development during the Cold War, and the collection’s evolution in response to Belarus’ ‘decolonising moment’ as it broke out of the Soviet fold in 1991.
The project will be jointly supervised by Dr Natalya Chernyshova (School of History) and Prof Jeremy Hicks (Department of Modern Languages and Cultures) at Queen Mary University of London and by Dr Katie McElvanney, Dr Katya Rogatchevskaia, and Dr Olga Topol at the British Library. The student will spend time with both QMUL and the British Library and will become part of the wider cohort of AHRC CDP funded PhD students across the UK.
The first edition of Belarusian poet Ales Dudar's work published after his posthumous rehabilitation. Vybranyia tvory (Minsk, 1959). X.989/16874.
Slavonic and Eastern European collections at the British Library are one of its strengths. However, despite the diversity of the collections, the British Library co-supervisors have identified postcolonial research and its application to curatorial practices as a priority approach to these collections, likely to reveal many meaningful gaps and contested interpretations.
The project will explore the British Library's Belarusian resources, i.e., resources relating to Belarus and its diasporas, as a case study through which to develop an analytical framework that could be subsequently applied by future scholars and information professionals to the entire Slavonic and East European collection. The project will investigate how the establishment of independent Belarus in 1991 affected the British Library’s policy and approach towards collecting, describing, and interpreting its Belarusian material. The challenges here are many, from navigating the politically charged waters of choosing the right spelling for transcription in the resources’ metadata to finding ways of bringing into dialogue two parallel depositories of Belarusian culture: Soviet-based and diaspora-based, the latter represented by the considerable collection of material at the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library in London. The research will seek to identify what further work needs to be undertaken to lead the decolonisation of discourse on Belarus and will develop recommendations on how such work can be carried out.
Belarusian translation of Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince and Other Tales, published in Germany as part of Displaced Persons (DP) camp publishing activities. Shchasʹlivy Prynts, translated by L. Khvalʹko (Watenstadt, 1947) 12256.dd.8.
Belarusian studies are sorely in need of de-marginalizing. Belarus is often a footnote, an afterthought or even a blind spot in the Western gaze towards Europe's 'incomplete self' (a concept developed in postcolonial studies of the Balkans by Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, 1997). The understanding of its modern history and identity is still patchy or misinformed, and thus it represents a minority voice within regional studies. Partly, this is an outcome of its political entanglement with Russia post-1991, which culminated in Belarus becoming a de-facto colony in 2022. But it is also a result of lingering Cold War preconceptions and Western colonial bias that need a corrective.
The Belarusian case study has a much wider significance and acute relevance for the present. It is a gateway into decolonising our thinking about the entire post-Soviet region of Eurasia where the decolonisation process itself is still incomplete and bitterly contested, as Russia's ongoing war against Ukraine demonstrates. Yet, the proclaimed model for current Russian colonialism – the Soviet Union – does not fit easily into the traditional frameworks for understanding the empire and colonial domination. While highly authoritarian, the USSR was also an ‘affirmative action empire’ (Terry Martin, 2001) that simultaneously encouraged and kept in check its republics’ national development. This limits the utility of existing postcolonial theories as a framework for informing decolonising practices in post-Soviet studies. Therefore, the findings of this project will have relevance and applicability for the entire Slavonic studies collection and will yield an analytical framework for review and policy that is more suitable to the region’s collections than postcolonial theories focusing on other geographical locations and other types of empires.
Items from the British Library collection of materials documenting the 2020 protests in Belarus
The British Library is an ideal home institution for a project on advancing postcolonial discourse and developing theoretical frameworks suitable for the East European region. As a major cultural institution with international clout, it plays an enormous role in education of the public, policymakers and scholars and wields agenda-setting power. Its Belarus collection is extensive, diverse, and growing. Its team of curators is knowledgeable and attuned to regional complexities, as well as the need for decolonisation work, which is reflected in the recently launched collection of materials documenting the 2020 protests in Belarus. The project would build on these considerable strengths to help the British Library advance the decolonising of its collections and bring its world-leading Slavonic and East European collection in line with the best postcolonial heritage practice.
To apply for this studentship, you must submit an online application and supporting materials via the School of History Research Degrees webpage by 5.00 pm on 8 May 2023. Applications received after this date cannot be considered.
For more information, including details of the award and eligibility, please see the studentship advert.