The third round of Oxford University Museums Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships began in October 2018, in partnership with University College London and the University of Leeds. The studentships were awarded to Elaine Charwat and Susan Newell, details of their research are provided below.
The Nature of Replication: Re-contextualizing Natural History Models and Casts from 19th to early 20th century Britain and beyond.
Elaine Charwat (University College London) in partnership with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Supervised by Dr Alice Stevenson (UCL) and Mark Carnall (OUMNH)
Elaine’s background is in Special Collections, with emphasis on a natural history context. She was awarded an AHRC scholarship to undertake her MSc in Information Studies at (now) Leeds Beckett University, which she completed with distinction in 2006. Her thesis focussed on cataloguing the visual aspects of medieval manuscripts, and she won the B Oliph Smith prize for best final year student. She worked as Special Collections Librarian at University College Cork (Ireland) for two years, and subsequently gained her chartership as an Information Professional (from CILIP), having joined the Linnean Society of London as Deputy Librarian and Collections Manager - working with some of the most important natural history collections in the history of science. Her contributions to collections management, research, fundraising and outreach were recognised by her election as a Fellow of the Linnean Society (FLS) in 2016.
Elaine’s doctoral project will look at how models and casts in natural history and the natural sciences are highly contextual “knowledge objects” - carriers and catalysts of knowledge. Being often perceived as purely utilitarian objects of mechanical and mass reproduction, they pose important questions about authenticity, objectivity and the objectification of nature. Another key research question of the project is how practices of collecting, display and teaching, as well as the objects themselves, reflect identities, relationships and status on different levels - individual, institutional, national and colonial.
To answer these questions, the main focus will be on rediscovering and recording the models and casts at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and on (re-)establishing their contexts, especially by comparing them with their counterparts in university collections in Germany (where many of the models were produced). The comparison will reveal how knowledge was produced and circulated through these objects in the 19th century to the early 20th century, which is their peak of production.
Combining these approaches will re-contextualize natural history models and casts as “keystone objects” of natural history museums, close a gap in academic and professional discourse, and inform current curatorial practice.
Museum Collections, Academic Teaching, and the Making of Geology in the Nineteenth-Century University
Susan Newell (University of Leeds in partnership with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Ashmolean Museum)
Supervised by Dr Jon Topham (Leeds), Ms. Eliza Howlett (Head of Earth Collections, Oxford University Museum of Natural History) and Dr Jim Harris (Ashmolean Museum)
Susan worked as a curator and decorative arts specialist in museums and auction houses before studying for an MA (History of Design) at the Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum. Her interest in the history of geology during the nineteenth century developed after working as a curator in the Ceramics and Glass Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she became aware of a large and varied group of ceramics simply catalogued with the provenance ‘Jermyn Street Museum’. This was the common name for the Museum of Practical Geology, the London home of the new Geological Survey, and Susan went on to research its ceramics collection (viewed as ‘applied geology’), for her MA dissertation. During her studies Susan maintains broad interests in the arts and science history. She is Chairman of The Glass Society, an organisation dedicated to the research, collecting and enjoyment of glass from all periods.
Susan’s doctoral project focuses on the materials used in the teaching of geology in the early nineteenth century. Her main resource will be the archive relating to charismatic and eccentric figure of the first Reader of Geology at Oxford, William Buckland (1784-1856). Geology was not a subject officially recognised by the University during the first half of the century and Buckland worked hard to transmit his passion for the subject to his students, and to consolidate his position. He did this by assembling a collection which functioned as an essential part of his teaching and at the same time underpinned his research, publications and the theoretical development of the new discipline. Susan will examine how and from whom Buckland amassed the many geological specimens, diagrams and topographical views he used, as well as the casts, prints or models he acquired when original specimens were unavailable or impractical. He enrolled his wife, Mary Buckland (née Morland), a noted collector and illustrator in her own right, in this project and a number of Mary’s geological views, complete with rivets for suspension in the classroom, survive together with her inscriptions and mounts on specimens.
Susan hopes to compare Buckland’s efforts to establish the teaching of geology at Oxford with those at other important centres such as Edinburgh, Cambridge and the Geological Survey in London. A cross-disciplinary approach will characterise her project which straddles the history of science, collecting, museums, as well as the history of teaching, art and social history.