BECC-BSECS Postgraduate Fellowship

The Birmingham Eighteenth-Century Centre and the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies run an annual fellowship. 

The fellowship provides up to £400 to support a doctoral student or early career researcher visiting Birmingham to conduct research using the eighteenth-century resources available across the city. These resources include those at the Cadbury Research Library and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham, the Library of Birmingham, Birmingham Museum Trust, Soho House, Think Tank and the Assay Office.

Recipients of the award should conduct their research before the end of the academic year in which it is awarded. They are then invited to return to Birmingham to present a seminar for BECC during the following academic year. Recent winners of the award include Dr Kate Gibson (University of Manchester) for her project, "Looked-after Children: Fostering and Adoption in Britain, 1660-1839," and Dr Alice Rhodes (University of York), working on "The Matter of Speaking: Bodies and Voices in Romantic Literature".

How to apply

Please submit a research proposal of up to 500 words, including an explanation of how the use of Birmingham collections will benefit your research, to Each application should also be accompanied by a one-page CV, including details of one referee. Applications must be submitted by 17:00 GMT on 1 February.

Terms of the Fellowship

Receipts must be submitted to claim the value of the fellowship up to £400 by the first day of July in the year the fellowship is awarded, even if the research activity itself takes place after this date. The fellowship is open to any doctoral researcher enrolled at a UK university, or any postdoctoral researcher who is normally resident in the UK and received their doctorate within the previous five years (adjusted for long-term leave). Preference may be given to applications from current doctoral students.

In addition to conducting their research, recipients of the fellowship will be expected to write a 1,000-word report on their experience and findings, suitable for publication in the BECC blog. They will also be invited to return to Birmingham in the following academic year as part of BECC's seminar programme.

Previous Fellows

2019 report: Madeleine Pelling (Postdoctoral Fellow, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)

As the recipient of the BSECS and Birmingham Eighteenth-Century Centre Fellowship I spent a week in June 2019 at the Cadbury Research Library, where I conducted research as part of my postdoctoral project ‘Women and History: Antiquarian and Historiographical Strategies, c. 1750-1830.’ The fellowship offered me the vital opportunity to consult materials relevant to the central themes of my project, including commonplace books, diaries and genealogical manuscripts.

My project explores women’s work as antiquarians, historians, genealogists, and archaeologists in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It turns to a range of material and textual evidence to reveal how women accessed and understood ‘history,’ as both a concept and a material and literary practice, suggesting broad and widespread modes of engagement across public and private, scholarly and domestic settings. At the Cadbury, the diary of Mary Anne Keen (MS225), which contains descriptions and formal itinerary of journeys in England and Wales, revealed much about women’s engagement with historic monuments in the landscape. Similarly, the letterbook of Frances Seymour, Duchess of Somerset (MS745), containing a copy of the text ‘Reflections on a Picture of Raphael’s at the Escurial called La Madonna del Pesce,’ indicated the significance of manuscript spaces in generating and recording art criticism. The diary of Catherine Hutton (MS15) gives insight into the early life of a young woman who would go on to traverse the length of Hadrian’s Wall and publish her father’s The History of Birmingham in 1815. Finally, the memorials of Lady Anne Fanshawe (MS613), begun in 1676 and copied out by her great grand-daughter in 1766, demonstrated fascinating models of intergenerational female collaboration, indicating the potency of such manuscript inheritances useful in creating (auto)biographical texts passed down and augmented by mothers and daughters.

During my time at the University of Birmingham, I found colleagues extremely welcoming, and archivists in the Cadbury both knowledgeable and helpful. Thanks to the fellowship, my visit to the Cadbury Research Library allowed me access to a rich array of manuscripts and materials central to the development of my project.

Elizabeth Spencer (York) reports on her 2018 BECC-BSECS Fellowship

In March 2018, I undertook a week-long trip to the Cadbury Research Library, which was made possible by a generous fellowship from both the Birmingham Eighteenth-Century Centre and BSECS. During this trip, I was able to conduct research for my postdoctoral project ‘Women and Accounting, 1680-1830’. This project has arisen out of my doctoral research on women’s clothing in eighteenth-century England, which raised a number of wider issues concerning the use of accounts as a source. In particular, it highlighted the intertextual processes of women’s accounting, showing that information was moved across and between different texts.

These processes remain largely overlooked and my research therefore aims to recover them, drawing across a number of sources including account books, bills and receipts, notes and drafts, and pocketbooks177particular, I looked at a collection of bills dating from 1748-1765, which were all addressed to Mrs Gough (MS 3145/5/5/4). Mrs Gough had a clear system of keeping track of her various expenditures, noting on the back of each bill the date of payment, what this was for, and the amount paid. Demonstrating that bills and receipts are an integral part of the accounting process is an important part of my project, and Mrs Gough’s bills also show that a well-kept set of these loose pieces of paper was in itself an effective way of keeping track of expenditure.

My visit to Birmingham yielded a huge amount of material, and I am extremely grateful that the fellowship enabled me to conduct research for my postdoctoral project. Thanks to the knowledge and kindness of the archivists at the Cadbury Research Library, I was also able to identify a number of other sources which might prove useful, meaning that a return visit is definitely on the cards!

Report by a previous fellow: Freya Gowrley

The following report is by an earlier fellow,  Freya Gowrley, who was a PhD candidate in History of Art at the University of Edinburgh (the working  title of her thesis was The sociability of things: women, material culture and domestic space in Britain, 1760-1820):

As the recipient of the BSECS and Birmingham Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies Fellowship I spent a week in the Cadbury Research Library, part of the University of Birmingham’s thriving research culture. The fellowship gave me the opportunity to conduct work vital for the completion of my PhD, which examines the relationship between women, material culture and domesticity in the period 1760-1820. Whilst there, I consulted a huge array of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century sources, including scrap books, diaries, pocket books, travel journals and letters (many of which are included in the BECC reading list).

Specifically, I focused on correspondence and ephemera relating to women’s experiences, paying particular attention to records of gift exchange, travel journalism and collecting or purchasing material objects. These included the travel diary of Mary Ann Keene, a young girl who described a familial tour through the West of England and Wales in fascinating detail, and the letters of Ann Ambler, written mostly to her cousin’s children, and which shed crucial light on schooling and educative practices in late eighteenth-century Britain. I also examined the diaries of Ann Prest, kept using the Ladies own Memorandum Book of 1771. Filled with short, daily entries regarding Prest’s day-to-day activities, the diaries constitute important examples of this kind of journal-keeping, whilst simultaneously providing information on contemporary forms of social activities such as tea drinking, travelling, and weddings. Finally, I was able to consult the capacious Jerningham correspondence, comprised of 1764 letters and 10 volumes of journals. Like the Ambler letters, many of the Jerningham letters discuss the young family members’ time at school, and also include letters from well-known correspondents, such as the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ and Fanny Burney.

During my time at the Cadbury, both the archivists and colleagues from the University of Birmingham were welcoming and extremely helpful. Several of the Cadbury’s archivists took time out of their own schedules to sit with me and discuss further resources to consult during my time there, and if I had any queries or problems at all, they were quickly and efficiently dealt with. Ultimately, visiting the Cadbury Research Library allowed me to access a wealth of primary source materials dealing with essential themes for my PhD thesis, which I would have been unable to consult without the fellowship.

Other recent fellows include:

  • Tom Rusbridge (PhD, Sheffield and Birmingham), whose work on leather reassess consumption in the long eighteenth century.
  • Tess Somervell (PhD English Faculty, University of Cambridge), whose Postdoctoral Research Project was entitled Risk in Augustan Georgic, came to study the notebooks of Richard Jago, author of one of the most significant eighteenth-century poems in the georgic mode, Edge-Hill.
  • Grace Harvey (PhD student, University of Lincoln, School of English and Journalism), whose thesis is entitled The Politics of Friendship in the 1790s Radical Novel; she came to study letters of Joseph Priestley and the diary and scrapbook of Catherine Hutton, combining her visit with research into materials held in the Library of Birmingham.

Further information

Informal enquiries about the award may also be directed to: