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TECHNE AHRC funded PhD studentship – Dickens and the Heritage Sector

 TECHNE AHRC funded PhD studentship – Partnership Award offered by Royal Holloway, University of London and the Charles Dickens Museum

Project: Dickens and the Heritage Sector

Supervisors: Royal Holloway supervisors – Professor Juliet John (Department of English) and Dr Jane Hamlett (Department of History)

Charles Dickens Museum supervisors – Dr Cindy Sughrue (Museum Director) and Ms Louisa Price (Museum Curator)

The Studentship

Applications are invited for a TECHNE Partnership PhD studentship, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, starting in October 2017. The studentship includes a stipend of £16,553 (plus fees at home/EU rates) for three years. In addition, the student will receive £550 per annum to support engagement with the Partner from the AHRC. Students can apply for an additional six months stipend to engage in extended development activities such as work placements.

As a TECHNE student, the person selected will have full access to the TECHNE Doctoral Training Partnership development activities and networking opportunities, joining a cohort of about 50 students per year from across seven universities in London and the south-east. See . TECHNE students can apply for additional funding to support individual or group training and development activities.

Project Description

Despite the fact that Dickens and Shakespeare are Britain’s most prominent global literary exports, the role of the heritage sector in facilitating Dickens’s rise to international iconhood has received very little critical attention. Though there is a great deal of work available on the role of the film and television industries in making Dickens the most adapted author for the screen of all time, Juliet John remains one of the few academics to have published work on his relationship to the concept of heritage as it plays out on screen and in other contexts, for example, museums, literary tourism and heritage organisations. The off-screen heritage sector is fast becoming one of the main growth areas in Victorian Studies today, with conferences like ‘Placing the Author: Literary Tourism in the Long Nineteenth Century’ (Elizabeth Gaskell House, Manchester, 2015), bringing academics working on English Literature, public history, geohumanities and cultural memory, together with academics and practitioners from the museum and tourist Industries. There remains, however, no monograph on Dickens’s relation to the heritage sector when there is in fact room for a sub-field, as there is indeed in Shakespeare Studies. Given Dickens’s global cultural status, a significant research project in this area would cast important light on the processes (technological, affective, political, economic, geographical, institutional, and mnemonic) by which literary culture more generally can exert influence or impact on the public sphere.

The PhD proposed here will take as its research base the museum itself (the former Doughty Street home of Dickens in Bloomsbury), examining its history, exhibitions, visitor information, merchandise, educational outreach, and archives. It will also utilise the Dickens bicentenary website hosted by the Museum and funded by the AHRC, which is the most comprehensive record which exists of the global celebrations which took part in 2012. The archives themselves comprise the biggest uncatalogued collection of newspaper clippings relating to Dickens in the world, charting all things Dickensian in the news from Dickens’s death in 1870 to the early twentieth century. The Museum houses all the records of the Dickens Fellowship, a world-wide society of Dickens scholars and amateur enthusiasts which publishes the Dickensian magazine and whose mission is dedicated to preserving Dickens heritage. In addition, the Museum owns an expansive, uncatalogued collection of objects which is housed onsite and an unrivalled collection of books on Dickensian topography and Dickens walks, a side to the Dickens publishing industry which is still thriving.

Although the PhD student in receipt of the studentship may wish to link their core research to some work on other heritage institutions and bodies which have played a part in the Dickens industry (e.g. the Museum of London, the V&A, the smaller Dickens museums in Portsmouth and Broadstairs, the now defunct Dickens World in Chatham, Eastgate House in Rochester, the British Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and relevant tourist boards), there is more than enough material at the Charles Dickens Museum for this to comprise the focus. It holds well in excess of 100,000 items ranging from letters and manuscripts to furniture, personal effects and the only clothing of Dickens known to have survived. The student will have the opportunity to play a full part in the 150-year anniversary conference and celebratory activities.

The project will be archivally and empirically based, yet in dialogue with theoretical frames from all the disciplines already mentioned. Chapters can be formulated by the successful applicant but might be divided as follows:

  1. What is Literary Heritage? A scene-setting chapter reviewing work on literary heritage in the context of theoretical work on heritage, literary tourism, and cultural memory more broadly, pushing towards an analysis of why literary heritage taps into distinct cultural and affective dynamics.
  2. Housing History – This chapter will consider the history and evolution of the museum in the context of other Dickens museums and the fascination with authors’ houses more broadly. It will tap into work in museum studies, Victorian studies and public history on the material culture of the home but will also examine Dickens’s particular fetishisation of the home and the importance of the ‘aura’ of the Dickensian home to the Dickensian ‘brand’ and its longevity.
  3. Dickens in the Press – This chapter will examine the ways in which the press has ‘heritagised’ Dickens in the years since his death, emphasising certain aspects of his work and values above others (his role as a social reform, domesticity, Christmas and convivial company) in order to give the public what it imagines the public wants. Although there has been historical and geographical variation over the years, which the research will highlight, the ‘feedback loop’ created by these narratives underpins the public understanding of the commonly used adjective ‘Dickensian’.
  4. Exhibiting Dickens – This chapter will examine the back catalogue of exhibitions at the Dickens Museum through the ages (most recently ‘Restless Shadow: Dickens the Campaigner’) alongside visitor data to analyse how Dickens has been exhibited and to which audiences. Consideration will also be given to the Museum of London’s Dickens and London Bicentenary Exhibition in 2012, for which Juliet John acted as academic advisor, and the upcoming V&A 2020 exhibition.
  5. Dickens and tourism – This chapter will use the museum’s collection of books on Dickensian topography and walking, alongside the museum’s visitor books and work with tourist and heritage agencies which promote places through their associations with Dickens, to examine the international appeal of Dickens. It will also try to establish the economics underpinning perceptions of Dickens’s cultural value.
  6. Heritage education – The museum’s work with schools will be situated in a broader study of the uses of Dickens on the school curriculum. Sarah Winter’s The Pleasures of Memory (2011) provides some brilliant insights into the role of education in the the Dickens brand, but she examines only local examples from the American education system. The uses of Dickens in the British education system is an untapped field.


The primary PhD supervisor Juliet John is based in The Department of English at Royal Holloway. The Royal Holloway English Department has an international reputation for advanced research. We have an excellent record of PhD completion and a thriving postgraduate community. Currently we have around 50 PhD students researching topics across the full range of literary studies, Creative Writing and Poetic Practice. Royal Holloway has excellent research facilities, including electronic resources and the largest library in the University of London. Our historic Victorian campus has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful campuses in the world.

Royal Holloway’s long-standing Centre for Victorian Studies (, run by the English department, is one of the leading international Centres for Victorian research, many of its events held in the stunning picture gallery (, which houses a world-famous collection of Victorian art. Royal Holloway is an award-winning centre for Victorian postgraduate training, moreover, each year hosting the residential London Victorian Studies Colloquium ( which brings together aspiring Victorian academics from all parts of the UK and beyond as well as masterclasses. We are a centre of excellence for research on Dickens and offer unrivalled opportunities for aspiring Dickensians: we have an official partnership with the Dickens Museum and are a member institution of influential the Californian consortium, the Dickens Project. Among other benefits, this means that each year a postgraduate student is funded to attend the Dickens Universe conference in Santa Cruz, the biggest annual gathering of Dickensians in the world. We are the only member institution in London and one of the few in the UK.

Jane Hamlett will be second supervisor on the project and is based in the Department of History, one of the largest in the country, with over 100 PhD students. The History department is also home to the London Centre for Public History, which will provide a stimulating context for this interdisciplinary PhD project. Dr Cindy Sughrue and Ms Louisa Price, the Director and Curator of the Dickens Museum, both have experience of supervising and training doctoral students, and will guide day-to-day research at the Museum. Skills that will be developed at the Museum are archival research, interviewing, object handling, curating, conference organisation, marketing, social media, and data analysis.


The successful applicant should have a good first degree and a Masters (or be due to complete a Masters) in English Literature, Victorian Studies, Public History, Museum Studies and/or Heritage Studies. S/he should have a committed interest in Dickens.

Applicants must meet the RCUK residency requirements as described in paragraphs 43-46 of the ‘Conditions of Research Council Training Grants’ and comply with conditions set out in the AHRC Training Grant Funding Guide

A formal agreement regarding the Partnership between Royal Holloway and the Dickens Museum will be signed at the commencement of the project and the student will be asked to confirm that they have read and understood this agreement.

Enquiries and Application procedure

Informal enquiries about the project or the application should be directed to The closing date for applications is 5pm Monday 25th July. Interviews will take place in early August (date tba).

You should complete a Postgraduate Research Application form and send the following to by the deadline. Please also ask two referees to write to this address by the closing date:

A covering letter explaining what you would bring to the project in terms of experience, qualifications and knowledge

  • A covering letter explaining what you would bring to the project in terms of experience, qualifications and knowledge
  • An up-to-date CV
  • Two examples of written work completed during either Masters or undergraduate study.

Murder in Victorian Lanarkshire: ‘Annville’ and ‘The Flourish’ – Prof Kirstie Blair

In 1883 Charlotte Spears, a music teacher, and her maid, Katie Cameron, were brutally murdered in Kirkfieldbank, a small village by the Clyde, by Charlotte’s cousin, Willie Brown. Charlotte had been taking care of a house owned by her aunt and uncle (Helen and John Brown), Annville, where their son Willie, a former medical student at Glasgow, came to recuperate from a dangerous fever. In November 1883, Willie killed both Charlotte and Katie with a kitchen knife, and then committed suicide: the case was very widely reported, in Scotland and beyond.

In 2004 Canadian writer Heather Spears published The Flourish, a haunting and very readable novel which richly recreates the provincialism and rigid social structures of late Victorian Lanarkshire. As a relative of Charlotte’s, Heather told me that she ‘felt I knew my characters in my very bones’ and that her account, based on detailed research, ‘almost fits into “true crime” if it fits anywhere’. This year, Scottish playwright Martin Travers has returned to the story of the Kirkfieldbank murders for a new dramatic adaptation. I asked him about the creative process involved.

KB: What drew you to the story of these murders?

MT: I moved to Lanark seven years ago and one of the first things I did was join the local library. I was keen – like I’m sure most people are – to find out more about a place they move to. The librarian pointed me to The Flourish – he had helped Heather when she was over here researching the novel. That’s how I found out about the story.

Sometimes it’s what I don’t know about a true story that draws me in. The facts are there but the tumbling decent towards them and what motivated the people – that’s what I find really intriguing.

KB: What do you find particularly interesting, or challenging, about writing a play set in late nineteenth-century Scotland?

MT: The language! I normally write plays in a bastardised modern Scots – A Glasgow and Lanarkshire tipped brogue – the language I grew up with. This is so different. So specific. So rich and yet almost lost to us. When I stayed with Heather in Copenhagen last year it was one of the things we talked about the most. It’s the main strength I can bring to the adaptation. There’s lots of great (and wonderful) effort going into saving Gaelic. The more I study Scots words the more I care about the language. I think Scots is treated a bit like a grey squirrel compared to Gaelic but it’s poetic and mucky – very onomatopoeic. And there are barrel loads of words that are a joy to read and shout out loud. It’s like being on a beach collecting shells – and every one I pick up is too lovely or funny or gnarly to throw away. Scots make the limited modern English we use in our lives feel like the cooking instructions on the back of a ready meal.

The 19th century research Heather conducted and that went into The Flourish is amazing. So lots of the hard work has been done by her already. Thanks Heather!

KB: How will you convey the culture of Scotland in this period on the stage?

MT: It’s particularly important to find distinct and believable voices for the characters in a play. Otherwise you only hear actors reciting the playwright’s words. When that happens it isn’t a satisfying theatrical experience for the audience. They smell a vain rat. So I’ve been working really hard getting to know the five characters from the novel that are in the play. If I don’t know them inside out then I’m not doing my job.

So the language and the predicaments and how the characters react to them given their individual upbringings – their different classes – their religious beliefs. All of this goes into creating a believable 19th centaury world.

KB: Related to this, what do you think this murder case tells us about life in small-town Lanarkshire in this period?

MT: Loads – but I think it tells us even more about their society’s limited understanding of mental health and illness than anything else. I don’t think Willie Brown was born capable of murder. He seems a bright, fragile and impressionable boy who wanted to good. A single dose of antibiotics would have cured his Milk Fever. He would have gone on with his studies in Glasgow – probably became a doctor or surgeon and saved lives. Charlotte would probably have married and fulfilled her musical ambitions. Katie the scullery servant would have gone to work for someone else somewhere else. That’s dramatic. That’s tragic. That’s what makes this such a powerful story. It’s the world they lived in that sets the wheels in motion and on the road to darkness.

KB: Spears’ novel gives the reader a very strong impression of the difficulties faced by a woman trying to make an independent life for herself in a close-knit community. Will you be taking a similar line?

MT: Charlotte Spears (the protagonist in the story) was brave. Her mother died in childbirth. She put her life on hold for years – nursing her brother Robert, then her father, until both past away. Her aunt Helen (I think it’s important that Helen was Charlotte’s mother’s sister) brings her to Annville to start a new life. That’s brave. To leave Glasgow’s West End and come to a foreign rural world where people spoke what must have seemed like a foreign language. Then out of the blue she’s back in a vortex of sickness and patient care looking after Willie. And even then she teaches singing, piano and harmonium – she runs two choirs and is a woman precentor at the kirk and plays full classical piano concerts. That takes an unbelievable strength of character and will.

And for me it’s all about the language again. I’ve chosen to write Charlotte’s voice in Christian English – the language of the aspiring classes. It’s this distinction that keeps her separate and detached from the world she finds herself in. Helen and Willie will flit between English and Scots as their emotions get the better of them. Roddy and Katie will speak in Scots. Charlotte is a stranger in this world. That’s got so much dramatic potential for me.

KB: How will your adaptation differ from Spears’ interpretation of the events that led up to these murders?

MT: The main distinction is I have focused in on five characters from the novel and set everything in Annville House. The fifth character (another real person) being the local policeman Sub Inspector Roddy Monro. I’ve expanded his character to take on elements of Charlotte’s other romantic interests in the novel.

A true story is like a join the dots puzzle. When you dramatise it you add some of our own dots. So Annville takes lots of Heather’s dots and she’s very graciously allowed me to add my own dots too.

KB: Your play is titled Annville, which is the name of the house at the centre of the narrative. Why choose this title, and what does the house signify?

MT: For me the house represents everything Helen has worked so hard all her life to achieve. It’s her investment. It’s initially a place of sanctuary for Charlotte – then a place of recuperation for Willie – a place of work for Katie – and ultimately the scene of the horrific events.

The house and what it represents – wealth, security, power of sorts. I think this plays a huge role in Willie’s paranoia near the end. He thinks the house should be his but fears Helen will give it to Charlotte. This is all in his head but in my opinion could have been a major factor in why Willie did what he did.

I also really like the connection with the word anvil. The weight of an anvil. That constant battering it takes.

Heather told me recently she almost called The Flourish Miss Spears of Annville – so it feels epic – feels strong – feels right.

KB: What do you hope audiences will take away from your adaptation?

Initially we only have the funding for rehearsed readings in October. The hope is that this will lead to funding for a full production. But what I hope from the readings is for people to get a chance to be gripped by these fascinating characters like I was when I read the novel and be immersed in their world and language.

I want people to take away a sadness of knowing that Charlotte’s strength and Christian devotion couldn’t save her or Katie. I want them to wish it had been different. I want them to talk about the play and women’s rights then and now – both here and abroad.

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