Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

09 April 2024

Re-Evaluating the Status of Prints at the British Library

Birkbeck, University of London, and the British Library are pleased to announce the availability of a fully funded Collaborative Doctoral Studentship from 1 October 2024 under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.

The focus of this project is on identifying and researching the provenance, changing status and visibility of about 500 books of prints.  These were listed in an 1812 finding list written by then British Museum Keeper of Prints, William Alexander.  The list was later marked up by his successor, J. T. Smith, when about 90% of the books were returned to the Library, where they remain.  The recent discovery and sharing of this document has led to a rethinking of the history of the collection, overturning the previous broad assumption that all the prints considered of 'artistic' merit were transferred permanently to the new British Museum Print Room in 1808.

Amphitheatre in the Boboli gardens seen from the Pitti PalaceCosmo III. [de Medici], Grand Duke of Tuscany. Il mondo festeggiante, balletto a cauallo, fatto ... per le reali nozze de' Serenissimi Principi Cosimo terzo di Toscana, e Margherita Luisa d'Orleans. [By Alessandro Carducci. The songs by Giovanni Andrea Moniglia. With Engravings by Stefano della Bella.] Firenze, 1661. British Museum 1877,0811.615

The student will investigate the implications of these works' categorisation, cataloguing and placing at the Museum, the Library and beyond.  While based around a quantitative methodology which will involve a deep dive into the collection, the project will explore larger questions around the role of visual materials in collecting history and scholarship, the emergence of expertise, disciplinary norms and museological frameworks in the nineteenth century, and the relative status of visual and textual knowledge.

This project will be jointly supervised by Kate Retford at Birkbeck (Professor of History of Art, School of Historical Studies) and Felicity Myrone at the British Library (Lead Curator, Western Prints and Drawings).  The student will spend time with both Birkbeck and the British Library and will become part of the wider cohort of AHRC CDP funded PhD students across the UK.

Birkbeck and the British Library are keen to encourage a wide range of potential students to apply for this studentship and are committed to welcoming students from different backgrounds.  We particularly welcome applications from Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, as currently underrepresented at this level in this area.  Applicants should normally have a master's degree, but evidence of equivalent relevant professional experience can also be taken into consideration.

Further information and how to apply (by 5pm on Monday 29 April 2024) 


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