The Art of Ecology: Representing Nature in Nineteenth Century Literature and Drawings

Natural History MuseumTECHNE AHRC PhD studentship in collaboration with Natural History Museum and Department of Humanities, Kingston School of Art, Kingston University London

Department of Humanities, Kingston School of Art and The Natural History Museum welcome applications for an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Partnership studentship: The Art of Ecology: Representing Nature in Nineteenth Century Literature and Drawings. This is offered under the TECHNE Doctoral Training Partnership Scheme, to begin in October 2019. 

Deadline for Expressions of Interest: Monday 3 December 2018: 5.00pm (GMT).

Interviews: Week beginning the 10 December 2018.

Project supervisors:

Dr. Éadaoin Agnew and Professor Sara Upstone, in collaboration with Andrea Hart of the Natural History Museum.

Project Vision

This project is an interdisciplinary study of nineteenth-century artistic and literary engagements with the natural world, exploring the attitudes of their creators toward relationships of the human to the nonhuman. While remaining flexible to accommodate the student's interests, the project proposes a critical study that will consider the different contexts of artistic and literary works and their reception. It aims to investigate the ways in which representations of the natural world had the potential to interrogate and/or uphold cultural discourses surrounding nature. For example, to what extent do these representations affirm or challenge recent arguments which critique Romantic discourses of the natural world, exposing their relationship to hegemonic structures such as patriarchy and Empire? At the same time, the research might consider how one can theorise the role of materiality and the materials of representation in nineteenth-century literary and visual approaches to the natural world.

The research aims to use recent ecocritical theory to develop an interdisciplinary view of human and natural agency as discursively and materially co-constituted. The perceived alignment of nature with aesthetics has offered a way to historicise environmentalism and a means of approaching the inert (that is, non-textual) matter of the natural world through critical (textual) analysis. Yet the vision of 'ecology as text' disavows the agency of the material world: 'nature' is always metaphysical rather than literal, a denial that leaves natural matter vulnerable to mere interpretation. If a 'return to Nature' strikes us as uncritical and grounded in essentialism, though, this project aims to sidesteps the essentialism of 'pure' matter and the relativism of ''pure' discourse.

As such, the alignment of literary works with the Natural History Museum's artwork collections is a methodological approach that is integral to the critical aims of the research. The collaboration will enrich the student's experience by exposing him/her to the broad reaching expertise of the supervisory team at Kingston, while the NHM supervisor brings to the project expert knowledge of the art of natural history across a range of periods and locations, including women artists and writers, and the representations of southern Asia and India. The collaboration will also allow the student to read across artistic, aesthetic, philosophical and literary aspects of the nineteenth century and within an overarching ecological frame. 

For informal enquires about the project contact Dr. Éadaoin Agnew, Department of Humanities,

Award Details

Subject to AHRC eligibility criteria, the studentship covers tuition fees and a grant (stipend) towards living expenses. AHRC studentship rates for 2019-20 are yet to be announced - the doctoral stipend for 2018-19 was £16,777 (three years full-time or part-time equivalent for six years); levels are likely to rise slightly for 2019-20. Collaborative Doctoral Students also usually receive an additional stipend of £550. Students can apply for an additional six months stipend to engage in extended development activities such as work placements. Visit AHRC funding and training for full details.

As a TECHNE student, the selected applicant will have full access to the TECHNE Doctoral Training Partnership development activities and networking opportunities, joining a cohort of almost 60 students per year from across ten universities in London and the south-east.

Student Eligibility

The student should have attained a research degree (MA) in English literature, visual culture or cultural theory which has exposed him/her to critical theory and research methods, both of which will be further developed during this research. An interest in natural history science or the history of natural history science is expected. Exposure to interdisciplinary research and a concentration in the nineteenth century are desirable but not essential. All of these will be further developed during the PhD. Also to be developed are archival research methods, a knowledge of artistic practice, an understanding of the material aspects of textual and visual artefacts and computer skills, organisational skills and criticality.

Applicants must satisfy AHRC eligibility requirements and terms and conditions: International (overseas) students are not eligible to apply for AHRC studentships and EU students may be eligible for fees and maintenance, or fees only.

The proposed studentship (subject to selection by the TECHNE Panel in spring 2019) will fund a full-time PhD studentship for three years or part time study for up to six years (50% FTE and above).

Application Process

Please send your expression of interest for this project by email to:

Please title your email 'CDA NHM'.

Expressions of interest should comprise of the following:

  • 1-2 page statement outlining your interest in this research project
  • A copy of your first degree and postgraduate qualifications
  • A current CV (no more than 2 pages)
  • A sample of your academic work

Applications must be received by Kingston University no later than Monday 3 December 2018: 5.00pm (GMT).

Interviews for shortlisted candidates will be in the week beginning the 10 December 2018.

The selected candidate will then be supported by supervisors and partners to complete a TECHNE application for final submission to TECHNE by Thursday 21 February 2019.

Results of this second stage competition will be known by April 2019.


Please contact us for more research funding information.