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Find out more about the postgraduate doctoral projects which National Museums Scotland co-supervises supported from a variety of sources.

Doctoral Research

In addition to providing access to collections, National Museums Scotland co-supervises postgraduate doctoral projects supported from a variety of sources. These projects usually last a minimum of 3.5 years (full-time study) and cover a variety of subjects from across the Museum.

Whilst NMS does not fund PhDs directly, doctoral researchers are supported from a variety of funders including the Leverhulme Trust, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). 

Current Doctoral Research Projects

2021 - Imagining ancient Egypt in the age of empire: Identity and power in Scottish museum displays of Egyptian objects, 1860 to 1930, World Cultures

This constitutes the first research project to use methodologies from Museum Studies to investigate how existing ideologies in British society and Britain’s involvement in empire shaped displays about Egypt, and the ‘Orient’ more broadly, and the role museums played in educating the public about ancient Egypt as an exemplar of ‘civilisation’. A focus on Scottish museums will offer insights into the impact of imperial ideologies outside of London and the role of Scottish national interests. Furthermore, it will address key gaps regarding how elite narratives were privileged, how displays were intended to educate visitors about taste, social roles, and class structure, and the ways museum displays served to enhance the status of contributing archaeologists and donors.

 

Doctoral candidate: Recruitment in process – closes 8 June 2021

Funder: AHRC Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities

University of Glasgow Supervisors: Dr Rosie Spooner and Dr Michael Given (School of Humanities)

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Margaret Maitland and Dr John Giblin (Department of World Cultures)

2021 - Shaping Taste, Building Knowledge: Collecting China in Scotland, in the early 20th Century, World Cultures

The presence of Chinese material culture in Scotland has grown significantly over the last 200 years, much of it during Britain’s imperial expansion. Through selected case studies, this project will be the first to explore collecting patterns as they manifest in the collections in Scotland, revealing the diverse and complex intellectual, social and political networks and connections that led to collection formation on the part of individuals and institutions. It will investigate the types of material culture collected, collecting practices, and diachronic changes in the early 20th century after the Opium Wars and other conflicts (1840-1900) through a range of perspectives, including material culture studies, post-colonialism and decolonization. It will contextualize how China was perceived through these collections, and the role they played in framing Scottish impressions of China at that time and subsequently. The research is particularly relevant to contemporary decolonisation debates in the museum sector through demonstrating how collecting in this era continues to influence perceptions of China and Chinese material culture, as well as informing how these Chinese collections should be presented, interpreted and used in learning programmes.


Doctoral candidate: Recruitment in process – closes 4 June 2021

Funder: AHRC Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities

University of Glasgow Supervisors: Professor Nick Pearce and Dr Minna Törmä (School of Culture & Creative Arts)

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Qin Cao and Dr John Giblin (Department of World Cultures)

2021 - The Elect and the Damned: the material culture of belief in post-Reformation Scotland, 1560-1750, Scottish History & Archaeology

This doctoral project examines religious material culture produced and used in the centuries following the Scottish Protestant Reformation. Religious practice and doctrine were central in shaping the everyday lives of early modern society in Scotland as elsewhere in Europe. Using National Museums Scotland's collections of objects associated with the practice and performance of religious belief in Scotland, this project investigates the impact of the seismic changes of the Reformation on the material culture used in public ritual and private devotion, as well as in the official regulation of religion. It considers too such objects held in regional museums, and contained within Treasure Trove data, to evaluate how representative the national collection is of the complexities of religious practice in post-Reformation Scotland.  In doing so, it will review NMS’s interpretation of these collections, to consider their relevance within the religious diversity of today.

The historiography of post-Reformation Scotland has historically been dominated by a Presbyterian narrative - integral to understandings of early modern national identity - of Scotland as the kingdom of the ‘Elect’. Recent research challenges that narrative’s hegemony, and this project will nuance arguably overly-Protestant narratives within the NMS’s collections and displays. It will suggest new curatorial strategies for communicating a more heterogeneous picture of religious practice, in the redevelopment of the Scotland Galleries of the National Museum in Edinburgh. It will consider too how these narratives might encompass non-specialist understandings of Scotland’s religious past, and its current resonances.


Doctoral candidate: Recruitment in process – closes 4 June 2021

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh College of Art Supervisors: Dr Catriona Murray and Professor Carole Richardson (History of Art)

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Anna Groundwater and David Forsyth (Scottish History & Archaeology)

2021 - Ovipositor of sawflies for the design and manufacture of enhanced surgical tools, Natural Sciences

Larvae of sawflies feed on plants; females often lay eggs inside the plant tissue. Ovipositors of many sawflies have characteristic shapes that are seen in saws used for cutting various materials. Some saws in these insects however, look different which might suggest new or modified designs of cutting instruments. The aim of the project is therefore to study morphology and structure of ovipositors of selected species of sawflies, model them, and simulate their mechanical characteristics. Lessons learned from this initial work will be translated into the manufacture of tools at a larger scale especially for medical applications.

Above: Tip of ovipositor of Janus femoratus (Hymenoptera: Symphyta: Cephidae)


Doctoral candidate: Marti Verdaguer

Funder: Heriot-Watt University - James Watt Scholarship

University Supervisors: Prof. Marc Desmulliez and Prof. Julian Vincent (Heriot-Watt University), Prof. Jerome Casas (University of Tours), Andrew Liston (Senckenberg Deutsches Entomologisches Institut)

National Museums Scotland Supervisor: Dr Vladimir Blagoderov (Department of Natural Sciences)

2020 - Imagining the Pacific in Scotland in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries: Collectors and Collections, Museums and Universities, World Cultures

Scotland, within a wider British context, has a long history of collecting Pacific material culture through links with Scottish soldiers, missionaries, traders, explorers and emigrants. This includes some of the earliest museum collections from the Hawaiian Islands collected during Captain James Cook’s third voyage (1776-80), early and rare objects from Hawaii and the Pitcairn Islands compiled by Captain Frederick Beechey’s voyage on HMS Blossom (1825-28), and significant material from the Austral Islands donated through Sir Thomas Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales (1821-5). 

Focusing on National Museums Scotland’s late 18th and early 19th century Pacific collections, this PhD will investigate the intellectual networks and connections between Scotland and the Pacific that led to the formation of these collections, and demonstrate their past and current relevance to a variety of stakeholders. In doing so it will explore the roles that these collections play now in the developing relationships between Scottish museums and museums in countries of origin. 



Doctoral candidate: Melissa Shiress

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of East Anglia Supervisors: Professor Steven Hooper and Dr Karen Jacobs (Sainsbury Research Unit

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Alison Clark and Dr John Giblin (Department of World Cultures)

2019 - Illuminating the ‘dark age’ of pterosaur evolution: an exceptional skeleton from the Middle Jurassic of Skye, Scotland, Natural Sciences

Doctoral candidate: Natalia Jagielska

Funder: NERC Edinburgh Earth, Ecology and Environment (E4) Doctoral Training Partnership

University of Edinburgh Supervisors: Dr Stephen Brusatte and Dr Mark Wilkinson (School of GeoSciences)

National Museums Scotland Supervisor: Dr Nick Fraser (Department of Natural Sciences

2019 - British Collecting in Ethiopia 1769 to 1960: Explorers, Missionaries, Military Expeditions, and Royal Gifting, World Cultures

As part of wider British interest in Ethiopia, Scotland has a long history of collecting Ethiopian material culture: from the first British person to visit Ethiopia, the Scottish explorer and collector, James Bruce of Kinnaird (1730–94), to the British military punitive expedition to Magdala (1867-1868), which included the Cameronian Scottish Rifles and resulted in significant looting of objects, many of which returned with Scottish soldiers and officers.

Focusing on National Museums Scotland’s Ethiopian collection, this PhD will investigate British ‘colonial’ collecting in Ethiopia, and Scotland’s prominent role within this wider context. The project aims to use objects to deepen understanding of Britain’s colonial era relationships with an ostensibly non-colonised country, Ethiopia. In so doing, it will help to reveal the entanglement of gifting, collecting and diplomacy in the modern world.

Box lyre made from wood and animal hide

Above: Box lyre or begena of wood and hide, played in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to accompany psalms and histories: Africa, East Africa, Ethiopia, Addis Alem, c. 1900.


Doctoral candidate: Alexandra Watson Jones

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of St Andrews Supervisors: Dr Kate Cowcher and Dr Karen Brown (School of Art History)

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr John Giblin and Dr Sarah Worden (Department of World Cultures)

2019 - Material Spirits: Objects, Past and Landscape in Contemporary Scottish Whisky, Scottish History & Archaeology

This project will explore how the material culture of whisky is shaped by ideas about place and history.

Whisky made in small distilleries is an iconic luxury good that shapes ideas of Scotland as a place of quality production across the world today. Objects such as whisky bottles, packaging and related craftwork speak of the Scottish past and landscape, and evoke ideas of quality and luxury. In exploring how the material culture of whisky is shaped by ideas about place and history, the student will be encouraged to develop their research with reference to a number of questions:

  • How does Scottish whisky generate a material culture, and shape the look and feel of objects?
  • What can these objects tell us about perceptions of Scotland internationally?
  • How are sensory experiences of whisky – and ideas of past and place –materialised in images and objects?
  • How is whisky and its social or cultural uses linked to other Scottish commodities and materialities?

The project will answer these questions with an interdisciplinary methodology, drawing on social and cultural history and material culture studies. By conducting research into documentary sources, contemporary production and existing collections at National Museums Scotland and elsewhere, the student will make an original contribution to understanding the role of objects, past and landscape in creating ideas of Scotland through luxury goods. Given the wealth of material, we anticipate that a number of innovative connections between collections will emerge from the research.

Whisky label featuring an illustration of a Scottish landscape with river and trees

Above: Whisky label, The Usquebaugh, produced by Ross & Cameron, Lochgorm Bonded Stores, Inverness.


Doctoral candidate: Laura Scobie

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of Edinburgh Supervisor: Professor Stana Nenadic (School of History, Classics and Archaeology)

National Museums Scotland Supervisor: Dr Sarah Laurenson (Department of Scottish History & Archaeology)

2019 - Dress and the individual in medieval Scotland, 1200–1600, Scottish History & Archaeology

This doctoral project will deliver the first national exploration of medieval Scottish dress. The medieval period saw the first moves towards mass production and consumption of dress objects in Scotland. Though museum collections are a rich resource for this newly popular and highly symbolic use of material culture, Scottish research has focussed almost exclusively on high-value jewellery.

This doctoral project addresses this significant gap by exploiting neglected stray-finds evidence to deliver the first national exploration of medieval Scottish dress. By exploring chronological and regional trends in personal adornment, and the role of dress in identities and the life-course, the project will inform future research priorities, enhance academic and public understanding of a key part of Scotland’s medieval past and contribute to museum collections strategies.

 

Gold hoop-ring inscribed CASPAR MELCHIOR BALTAZAR, from Castle Hill, Edinburgh.

Above: Gold hoop-ring inscribed CASPAR MELCHIOR BALTAZAR, from Castle Hill, Edinburgh.


Doctoral candidate: Lydia Prosser

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of Durham Supervisors: Professor Sarah Semple and Dr Pam Graves (Department of Archaeology)

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Alice Blackwell and Lyndsay McGill (Department of Scottish History & Archaeology)  

2018 - Thalattosuchia: neurosensory development during a land-to-water evolutionary transition, Natural Sciences

Doctoral candidate: Julia Schwab

Funder: The Leverhulme Trust

University of Edinburgh Supervisor: Professor Steve Brusatte (School of Geosciences)

National Museums Scotland Supervisor: Dr Stig Walsh (Department of Natural Sciences 

2018 - Coinage, landscape and society in the borderlands: economy, politics and identity in Scotland and northern England, 1136-1603, Scottish History & Archaeology

This project departs from traditional museuological numismatic research by seeking to return coins to their original landscape, material and social contexts. The geographical focus of this project will be the borderlands of Scotland and England from the 12th to 17th centuries.

The project will employ and develop a range of innovative methodologies to help facilitate the examination of inter and intra-regional distinctions according to settlement type, political and economic centres, and communication routes. Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) surveying will be two key technical methodologies which will be employed to answer the research questions already identified for the studentship.   

Taking coinage as a key body of material evidence, the student will take account of the political, economic, and sociocultural relationships that developed in this key period of intense nation-building, which was characterised not only by conflict, but by ongoing cross-border contact and exchange.

The project will be guided by a number of key research questions, including:

  • What are the characteristic medieval and post-medieval coin deposition patterns of the border counties of Scotland and England, and how do they compare to national patterns?
  • What role did rural and urban settlements play in trade and exchange in the borderlands?
  • How did religious institutions in the borders affect the use and exchange of coinage?
  • To what extent was the monetary relationship between Scotland and England influenced by political, economic and cultural trajectories?
  • How can theories of border cultures be used to explain the social dimension of coinage and its role in constructing personal, ethnic, regional and national identities? 

 

Silver Groat of James III

Above: Silver Groat of James III, the first Renaissance-style coin portrait outside of Italy, minted in Edinburgh, c.1485


Doctoral candidate: Carl Savage

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of York Supervisors: Dr Aleksandra McClain and Dr Steve Ashby (Department of Archaeology)

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Alice Blackwell and Dr Martin Goldberg (Department of Scottish History & Archaeology)

2018 - The Cold War in Scotland: Technology, Heritage and the British Warfare State, Science & Technology

The project draws on objects from across National Museums Scotland, including Scottish late modern, military, technology, and, especially, aviation. Assessing material from 1947–1991, the project explores provenance, acquisition, and (where relevant) mode of display of both civilian and military objects (such as civilian and military aeroplanes, typewriters, computers and missiles).  

In doing so the project aims to tackle the fundamental issue of the material legacies and heritage of the Cold War in Scotland: how does a (civilian) object become a Cold War object? And what are the implications of this civil/military dichotomy for museum exhibitions and engagement?

 

Sparrow or Skyflash airborne missile

Above: Sparrow or Skyflash airborne missile capable of attacking both sub and supersonic targets at high or low altitudes, manufactured by Hawker Siddeley Dynamics in conjunction with Marconi and EMI in the UK, c. 1978.


Doctoral candidate: Sarah Harper

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of Stirling Supervisors: Professor Holger Nehring and Professor Sian Jones (History and Politics)
 
National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Sam Alberti (Department of Science & Technology) and Dorothy Kidd (Department of Scottish History & Archaeology)

2018 - Understanding colour in Renaissance embroidery: new analytical approaches, Collections Services, Art & Design

National Museums Scotland's internationally significant collection of European textiles and dress is 50,000 objects strong, dating from the 14th century to the present day, and is the third largest in the UK after the V&A and the Bath Fashion Museum. Despite the significance of workshop production in England and Scotland to textile scholars, very little art historical research has been undertaken.

At the heart of this collection is an outstanding group of over 30 Scottish and English embroideries dating from the mid-16th to the late-17th century. Its quality and breadth, as well as the techniques represented, make this collection of national significance.  This project will seek to answer key questions about the manufacture of Scottish and English embroideries in the national collection, the raw materials and dyestuffs used and their relationship to continental European examples. The development of non-destructive analytical platforms (e.g., direct desorptive MS techniques such as Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Electrospray Ionization (MALDESI)) which will underpin this study, is essential for the future scientific analysis of museum collections. This project will bring fundamental progress to both the heritage science community and the field of historical textile analysis. 

 

Above: Square purse of white satin with petit point embroidery in coloured silks, and lined in pink silk: English, early 17th century.

 

Doctoral candidate: Edith Sandstroem

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of Edinburgh Supervisor: Professor Alison Hulme (School of Chemistry)

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Lore Troalen (Department of Collections Services) and Helen Wylde (Department of Art & Design)

2017 - Typewriters and Commerce in Scotland, 1870s-1920s, Science & Technology

Between 1875 and 1910 the sale and use of typewriters in Scotland grew dramatically. While in the mid-1870s few people had even heard of the new-fangled American invention known as the typewriter, by 1900 there were dozens of retailers in the major towns and cities of Scotland that specialised in a whole range of writing machines of the most weird and wonderful designs.

This project utilises the extensive collections of typewriters held in the National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh and Glasgow Museum Resource Centre, to shed light on the commercialisation of typewriters in Scotland between 1875 and 1930. By researching the history of these collections, this project will tell the story of the manufacture and marketing of typewriters in Scotland. Actively engaging with these collections will involve cleaning, repairing and operating some of these machines to gain an insight into the practices of typewriter users in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sholes Glidden typewriter keyboard

Above: Sholes-Glidden typewriter keyboard.

 

Doctoral candidate: James Inglis

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of St Andrews Supervisors: Professor Aileen Fyfe and Dr Malcolm Petrie (School of History

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Sam Alberti and Alison Taubman (Department of Science & Technology)

Blog posts by James Inglis

2017 - The Material Culture of Mass Politics in Scotland, c. 1815 - c. 1914, Scottish History & Archaeology

By the end of the 18th century, politically active individuals (both radical and loyalist) were well experienced in the use of materials as a means of communicating, expressing and imposing their ideologies. Such experience was not lost in the mass political action of the 19th century. The many movements which made up a century of almost relentless political agitation made good use of a widely varied arsenal of objects. Flags and banners were borne through lively processions by bodies of uniformed tradesmen, who often chose to decorate themselves with political medallions. Live demonstrations of the workplace were carted through these processions, showing men and women working at forges and spinning frames. Mass production also meant the creation of materials for less public use. Ceramic figurines, plates, cups, jugs were all emblazoned with political symbolism and sold for display within the home.

Previous research on the political movements of the 19th century has tended to focus largely on textual sources, which, while useful, are mostly reflections of the ideologies of these movements' leaders. This project will instead examine these objects and the contexts for their use in order to gain access to the individuals who utilised them. In doing so, the ideologies, motivations and beliefs of the rank and file of mass political movements can be centralised and a more complete understanding of the nature of these movements revealed.

 

Necklace of silver, amethysts and green and white enamel, the colours of the suffragette movement: English, Birmingham, by Arthur and Georgina Gaskin, c. 1910

Above: Necklace of silver, amethysts, and green and white enamel, the colours of the suffragette movement: English, Birmingham, by Arthur and Georgina Gaskin, c. 1910.


Doctoral candidate: Sonny Angus

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of Edinburgh Supervisor: Prof Gordon Pentland (School of History, Classics and Archaeology)

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: David Forysth and Dr Anna Groundwater (Department of Scottish History & Archaeology)

2017 - Intellectual Properties: Transferring Science from Universities to National Museums Scotland, Science & Technology

Who owns the intellectual interpretation of an object once it has been added to a museum collection? Taking National Museums Scotland as a case study, this project investigates if an object maintains or changes its intellectual context once it moves from being a current item held at a university to a historic artefact in a museum. The project looks at four different collections: the Playfair Collection (1858), the Natural Philosophy Collection (1973), the Scottish universities collecting project (1985-87), and 'collecting for the future' (2017-2020).

Projection polarimeter by Newton & Co. Part of the University of Edinburgh Natural Philosophy Collection

Above: Projection polarimeter by Newton & Co. Part of the University of Edinburgh Natural Philosophy Collection.

Doctoral candidate: Laura Volkmer

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University Supervisors: Dr Niki Vermeulen (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Dominic Berry (London School of Economics)

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Tacye Phillipson and Dr Sam Alberti (Department of Science & Technology

2017 - The Changing Voice of Science and Technology: Exhibition Labels at the National Museum of Scotland, 1865-2016, Science & Technology

Using the National Museum of Scotland as a case study, this project focuses on the exhibition label collection of the Science & Technology Department, a unique archive that spans over 150 years and is estimated to hold over 20,000 labels. Studying both the archive as a whole and the exhibition history of specific objects in-depth, this research uses the historical collection to examine how the labels can be used as tools to understand the history of scientific narratives and visitor engagement at the museum.

Doctoral candidate: Kate Bowell

Funder: University of Edinburgh – University Chancellors Award

University of Edinburgh Supervisors: Dr Niki Vermeulen and Dr Lawrence Dritsas (School of Social and Political Science)

National Museums Scotland Supervisors: Dr Tacye Phillipson and Dr Sam Alberti (Department of Science & Technology)

2017 - Loyal Exchange: the material and visual culture of Jacobite exile, 1716-60, Scottish History & Archaeology

From 1716, the exiled claimant to the British thrones, James Frances Edward Stuart, and his court lived in Italy, and after 1719 it settled permanently in Rome. Scottish collections reflect the significance of material and visual culture in articulating, promoting, and prolonging the Jacobite cause in exile.

Using the museum’s collections alongside letters and papers from the time, this project will attempt to track the movement of objects and images between the exiled Stuart court and their supporters in Scotland. It will bring a better understanding of how material culture was used by supporters to express loyalty to the cause, as well as what that loyalty was based on. Through the exchanges between court and supporters, a material and visual language of Jacobite sympathy emerged, which endured thereafter in the romantic popular culture of the post-1760 Jacobite ‘lost cause’. This research will examine how that language was originally developed through networks of personal and symbolic exchange.

Finger ring with crowned "JR" under crystal, given by James VII on the night he fled from London on 1688 to Sir Peter Halkett.

Above: Finger ring with crowned "JR" under crystal, given by James VII on the night he fled from London on 1688 to Sir Peter Halkett. 

 

Doctoral candidate: Georgia Vunghillis

Funder: AHRC Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) – Collaborative Doctoral Partnership

University of Edinburgh Supervisor: Professor Viccy Coltman (History of Art

National Museums Scotland Supervisor: Dr Stuart Allan (Department of Scottish History & Archaeology)

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