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Fully-Funded PhD Studentship (fees and maintenance) to be held at the Department of History, University of Warwick

Project Outline

This PhD project focuses on the colonial and industrial history of the John Percy Collection, held at the Science Museum, London. The Percy Collection comprises over 3,700 mineralogical specimens, including coal from South Africa, silver from Australia, and copper from India. The collection was made by John Percy FRS (1817–1889), and then subsequently acquired by the South Kensington Museum on his death. A study of the Percy Collection provides an excellent opportunity to uncover the imperial and colonial origins of a significant early acquisition by the Science Museum.

Alongside these colonial legacies, this project will also uncover the hidden contributions of under-represented groups in the history of modern science and industry. From Indian translators to Japanese craftspeople, a range of individuals played a part in the making of the Percy Collection. This project will therefore provide a new foundation for presenting the collection to a diverse public.

Percy himself was one of the leading metallurgists of his day, publishing a number of important multi-volume works. A Fellow of the Royal Society, as well as a lecturer at the Royal School of Mines, he had an immense influence on the development of scientific studies of minerals and metals during the nineteenth century. Despite this, the Percy Collection, and John 2 Percy himself, have not been the subject of any detailed academic study. This project will explore the colonial and industrial origins of the Percy Collection, placing it within its nineteenth-century context.

The project will begin by reconstructing the network of collectors and informants that John Percy relied on to build his collection. Percy never travelled beyond Europe, but through his contacts in the army, industry, business, and colonial administration, he was able to acquire specimens from all over the world. Percy’s scientific studies of various metals and minerals were deeply shaped by these colonial connections. For example, Percy studied coins produced by colonial mints, and he dedicated an entire volume to the different coals found throughout the British Empire.

As well as his network of colonial collectors, Percy also relied on a host of intermediaries. One of Percy’s major interests was the metallurgical knowledge of different cultures. For example, Percy employed a Persian diplomat named Mirza Mehdi Khan to translate an earlier Mughal account of gold smelting in Delhi; similarly, when it came to Japanese metallurgy, Percy relied on an English translation of the Kodo Zuroku [Memoir on Smelting Copper, 1801]. This project will therefore connect the history of nineteenth-century science, energy, and industry with colonial history and non-European forms of knowledge.

Within the project there is plenty of scope for the student to follow their own interests. The successful candidate may be interested in a particular theme (such as energy or industry), a particular resource (such as coal or copper), or a particular region (such as Sub-Saharan Africa or East Asia). Equally, the successful candidate may wish to combine themes, resources, and regions as part of the project.

Further details and how to apply can be found here.

Thu 10 Mar 2022, 10:20 | Tags: Award Postgraduate Funding