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Leverhulme Trust-funded PhD Studentship

Leverhulme TrustApplications are invited for a three-year, full-time PhD studentship, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, to be held in the History Department at the University of Warwick. The studentship forms an integral part of a wider collaborative research project on ‘The East India Company at Home, c. 1757-1857’ which aims to explore the ways in which Asian commodities influenced social and cultural life and identities in British country houses in the heyday of the East India Company. The selected PhD student will be supervised by Professor Margot Finn and will also benefit from the expertise of the project’s senior Research Fellow, Dr Helen Clifford. Applicants should be committed to pursuing historical research to the doctoral level, focusing on a specific topic within the project’s wider framework and working with the project team. The studentship will entail a three-year residence in the UK and associated funded research trips to archives and libraries.

The studentship will pay all UK/EU tuition fees and will provide a maintenance grant of £13,590 in the first year, rising in the second and third year in line with RCUK base rate allowances.

Applicants should hold a good first degree and a good MA in History or a related discipline, and demonstrate familiarity with at least one of the following fields: 18th-19th-century British history; British colonial/imperial history; material culture studies.

Candidates should review the further particulars for the studentship (below), which include a full description of the ‘East India Company at Home’ project. Potential applicants may contact Professor Margot Finn with further inquiries at

Application Instructions:

Preliminary applications should be sent to Ms Paulina Hoyos ( Please include the following materials in your application:

  • A covering letter, including your contact details
  • Your CV, including undergraduate and MA degree results
  • The names and contact details of 2 referees, to be contacted in the event that your application is long-listed
  • Your draft proposal (maximum 1,500 words), prepared according to the Guidelines below

Short-listed candidates will be asked to provide an academic writing sample and to interview for the studentship.

The closing date for applications is 31 May 2011.

Further Particulars

Application Guidelines

In addition to a covering letter, CV and the name of two referees, candidates must supply a draft dissertation proposal (maximum 1,500 words) for consideration by the project’s principal investigator (Professor Margot Finn) and named research fellow (Dr Helen Clifford). Please read the ‘East India Company at Home, 1757-1857’ project description (below) prior to writing the draft dissertation proposal. Each proposal should include:

  • An indicative descriptive title for the proposed PhD project
  • A brief description of the specific focus of the proposed dissertation project relevant to ‘The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857’ (for example, do you propose to focus on a specific geographical area and/or East India Company family and/or country house?)
  • An indication of the research questions of particular interest to you
  • An indication of your proposed methodologies and/or sources
  • An explanation of how your previous historical training has prepared you to undertake the proposed project

To help candidates formulate their draft proposals, an indicative list of potential projects follows. Candidates should note that this list is offered purely for guidance—there are many excellent topics that could be devised other than those indicated below, and such proposals will be considered equally with those outlined here:

Indicative Potential PhD Projects:

  • ‘The Meaning of Things: East India Company Goods and British Identities’: This project would investigate the meanings that British men and women attached to goods that they acquired via East India Company trade, or as gifts from East India Company families. How did Indian textiles help British men and women to fashion gender identities? How were regional identities—for example, varieties of Scottish-ness, or metropolitan and European identities—inscribed by the ownership and use of ‘Oriental’ objects.
  • ‘The Company House in the Marketplace: British, European and Indian Possessions’: This project would compare and contrast the acquisition and use of Indian, British and European goods (textiles, artwork, furniture and the like) by English, Scottish and/or Welsh governing-class families who built country houses in c. 1757-1857, focusing on the ways in which distinctive regional material cultures were incorporated to create a British-global aesthetic.
  • ‘Material Biographies of Empire: Company Family Life’: This project would focus on the significance of material culture for one or more selected East India Company families, exploring the ways in which the circulation of material objects both within the family and across the generations worked to knit together family units whose members were dispersed between Britain and a spectrum of Indian Ocean outposts that ranged from India to the Straits Settlements and China.
  • ‘The Stuff of Gender: Material Culture, Masculinity and Feminine Behaviour’: This project would investigate disparities between gender stereotypes and the historical behaviour of British men and women by examining the roles played by the male and female members of East India Company families in shaping domestic material culture in the country house. Did the absence of Company men in India empower their wives and daughters to create new kinds of domestic environments? Did the experience of living in India encourage Company men to re-think domesticity in ways that took material form in the homes they later constructed in Britain?


East India Company at Home, 1757-1857: Project Description

: This project traces and historicises the production of a globally-inflected ‘British’ domestic aesthetic in the country houses of the English, Scottish and Welsh governing classes through the appropriation of material goods from Asia. It does so by combining research conducted by a team of four academically-trained historians (including one PhD student) with data compiled by amateur family historians. The project aims, first, to produce a cluster of detailed high-calibre case studies of selected British interiors so as to document and explicate the incorporation of Asian material goods—artwork, ceramics, furniture and textiles—into later Georgian and early Victorian gentry and aristocratic homes. The project, second, will survey and assess patterns of material ‘Orientalisation’ in British culture by collating, on a publically-accessible online database, detailed information garnered by a network of family historians on a broad range of Asian luxury goods acquired by British families from c. 1757-1857. Together these two complementary strands of research will allow the project to illuminate domestic sites that housed key social, cultural, economic and political developments in the Georgian and Victorian periods and which occupy a central place in twentieth- and twenty-first-century representations of the British home, both nationally and internationally.

Background to the work: The past two decades have seen significant advances in historical understanding of the form, function and meanings of the domestic interior. Situating British developments chiefly within national frameworks, key studies of the homes built, purchased, remodelled and decorated by the men and women of Britain’s governing classes have established country houses as vital epicentres of cultural self-fashioning, polite sociability, economic exchange and political negotiation (Mandler, 1997; Vickery, 1998; Wilson and Mackley, 2001). More broadly, since the publication of John Brewer and Roy Porter’s edited collection on Consumption and the World of Goods (1993), British historians have become increasingly alive to the powerful sway of personal possessions in British culture and society within the home. Research on what Victoria de Grazia and Ellen Furlough in 1996 termed The Sex of Things has enriched analyses of the British domestic interior by highlighting the play of gender relations within consumer culture. Initially focused on reclaiming the history of women’s roles in shaping consumption, gender studies have more recently underlined the purchasing power of British men (Cohen, 2006; Vickery, 2009). As domestic interiors have been historicised, the need to draw upon a range of disciplinary perspectives to contextualise material goods has increasingly been recognised. Studies by anthropologists and art historians now work increasingly in dialogue with research by economic, social and political historians (Bermingham and Brewer, 1995; Coltman, 2009; Pointon, 1997; Retford, 2006; Styles and Snodin, 2001). The fundamental restructuring of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s British Galleries a decade ago reflected this growing appreciation across the disciplines of the ways in which the domestic interior reflected and shaped changing ideas about the wider historical landscape. Influencing how other museums and private collectors consider and present their collections, this mounting appreciation of the elite domestic interior as a vital source of evidence about the past now informs both academic scholarship and public exhibitions of material culture throughout Britain.

The rise of the ‘new’ British imperial history and the growing salience of global paradigms within Humanities and Social Science research more broadly, however, suggest the need to situate analysis of British domestic interiors within wider colonial and international contexts. To date, sustained efforts to assess the dynamic relations between British and non-British consumer cultures have focused on the Anglo-American world (Berg, 2005; Styles and Vickery, 2006), upon the attractions of European luxury goods (Barnard, 2004; Berg and Clifford, 1999); upon individual collectors (Jasanoff, 2005); or upon specific categories of goods, such as cotton textiles, Chinoiserie, furniture or paintings (Clunas, 1984; Jaffer, 2001). Less well studied are the ways in which the influx of luxury items from China, India and Japan created ensembles of ‘Oriental’ goods that were routinely incorporated (alongside domestic and European manufactures) into British domestic interiors. The V&A’s ‘Encounters’ exhibition, for example, demonstrated the analytical virtues of locating British domestic life within the global contexts that shaped Georgian material culture (Jackson and Jaffer, 2004).

Preserved in the British Library’s Asian and African Studies collection, the records of the final century of East India Company rule in India (1757-1857) afford an extraordinarily rich archive of material for identifying and interpreting change over time in British material culture. Political and economic historians have made abundant use of these sources in their analyses of imperial power relations; they have yet to be used systematically, however, to explore the global histories of British material culture. Encompassing trade records, personal correspondence, inventories and wills, these documents record the consumer ambitions and acquisitions of Company employees (so-called ‘servants’) whose Indian fortunes played a central role in bringing Oriental luxuries home to Britain. Key purchasers of country houses, Company families were also essential conduits for the dissemination of eastern luxury objects into western domestic interiors. The Company archive is complemented by substantial collections of family papers and material objects in provincial archives, museums and country houses which document the flow of Asian goods into Britain’s stately homes. The recent explosion of independent research conducted by family historians—much assisted by the growth of online communication—has moreover generated substantial new bodies of knowledge about both individual collection practices and material objects in the families of Britain’s ruling class. Circulating largely outside scholarly circles and often conducted without reference to larger issues of historical change, this emerging body of popular research has the potential to enrich understandings of British country houses as sites of social, cultural, familial, economic and political cohesion and conflict. This project aims to harness this potential, by combining scholarly and amateur studies of the flow of Asian objects into British country houses in the heyday of the East India Company, and thereby integrating dispersed studies of individual persons and objects into wider analytical frameworks that assess the global transformations of consumer society in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain.

The named researchers for this project, Finn and Clifford, have each conducted research on complementary aspects of the proposed topic for over a decade. Finn’s research areas within Georgian and Victorian studies have included the social life of gifts and commodities; property and gender relations; representations of the British interior; and the Anglo-Indian family. Clifford’s profile includes substantial research on Georgian luxury manufacture and trade; museum-based expertise in material studies (including exhibitions) in both local and national institutions; and ongoing engagement with community-based researchers associated with the Federation of Family History Societies. The project will benefit from the intellectual in institutional context of Warwick’s Eighteenth-Century Centre and Global History & Culture Centre: the former served as the home for a Waddesdon-Warwick Trade Cards collaborative grant which also produced an online database; the latter currently hosts several funded projects that explore aspects of Asian material culture in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain.

Hypotheses to be Tested: Key hypotheses that will be tested by this project include:

  • Changes over time in the structure and function of the East India Company produced changes in the consumption of Asiatic goods in elite British households. As Company servants lost the right to engage in private trade and increasingly focused on administrative and military duties, how did their engagement with Asian commodity culture change and their tastes as arbiters of Oriental material culture alter?
  • The consumption of Asian goods in country houses was shaped by the distinctive gender roles assumed by male and female consumers in Company families. The British homes of Company families were, perforce, often managed for extended periods by wives, while husbands established substantial fortunes by employment in India: did this female oversight translate into domestic interiors with a characteristically feminine aesthetic, or did absent Company men find channels for dominating domestic consumption from afar?
  • The incorporation of Asian commodities complicated the articulation of national identities in British country houses; negotiations between metropolitan, European and colonial aesthetics both disrupted and informed the elaboration of a British imperial domestic aesthetic. Portrait painters repeatedly transposed British and Indian settings in their works, while British and European craftsmen incorporated Oriental themes into their domestic manufactures: what impact did such transpositions of form have upon the use and meaning of objects for contemporaries?
  • Regional variations—including distinctions within Britain and among England, Scotland and Wales—marked British efforts to incorporate Asian goods into country house interiors. Scots were notoriously over-represented in the Company service: how did their conspicuous presence in British India inflect domestic Orientalism in British country houses? Berkshire was dubbed ‘the English Hindoostan’ for its concentration of retired Company servants with ostentatious homes: how did the interiors of homes in such regional clusters differ from each other, and from country homes in Wales and Scotland that displayed Asian goods?
  • Different Oriental goods served as distinctive kinds of material emissaries in British country houses. Goods such as shawls and miniatures customarily circulated through gift-giving rather than sale, in contrast to items such as furniture and statuary: which types of Oriental goods were used to attest personal affection between individuals and which were used to mark family lineage or to establish political power? How were Asian goods customised (by mounting, reforming and functional reassignment) to fit British interiors, and how were they ‘read’ by audiences that included family, friends and tourists?
  • Debates about the nature and consequences of imperialism in India for British politics were rehearsed and reconfigured in British country house interiors. Scandals such as the impeachment of Warren Hastings sensitised Britons to the dangers of Anglo-Indians’ conspicuous wealth: how did Company and non-Company families alike seek to insulate their country houses from critiques of excessive Oriental luxury?


Objectives: The chief objectives of ‘The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857’ are:

  • The creation, through a case study approach, of a research base that allows meaningful assessments of change over time and over geographical area in the acquisition, decoration, meaning and use of country houses in which Asian luxury goods were integral to the British domestic interior.
  • The location of Asian luxury goods within a dynamic historical context that takes account both of face-to-face interpersonal relations and of wider processes such as consumerism, colonialism and globalisation.
  • The embedding of cultural processes such as self-fashioning within social, economic and political frameworks, most notably family formation and reproduction, trade networks, systems of patronage and military conflict.
  • Assessment of the mechanisms by which Asian goods served as powerful agents of social and political relations both between and within British governing-class families.
  • The integration of dispersed research findings by family and community-based amateur historians into an academic research project and through this integration the creation of new models of collaboration between academic and non-academic researchers which will provide foundations for future cross-cutting research collaborations.


Significance: This project is designed to enrich scholarly and public understanding of the domestic and global genealogies of British country house interiors; to complicate received interpretations of British national identities; to examine the effect of global processes on local contexts; and to develop new modes of conducting research that integrate established academic traditions with emerging trends in public scholarship. With the expansion of the National Trust and National Trust for Scotland, and the British economy’s increasing reliance upon international tourism, the country house has emerged as an iconic symbol of British national identity. Eliding significant distinctions between and within English, Scottish and Welsh stately home traditions, the preponderant emphasis on the nation in extant country house studies also occludes the British domestic interior’s vibrant and ongoing engagement with the material cultures of Britain’s Asian empire. By examining the flow of Asian commodities into and among British stately homes at the height of the East India Company’s operation, this project questions received conceptions of British material culture and national identity that dichotomise domestic and foreign, national and international identities and experiences. Both the goods exported from Asia to Britain by Company servants and the Company’s own personnel continuously straddled the British and Asian material worlds. Typically active in India over successive generations, Company families played key roles in the shaping of British country house interiors as the purchasers of stately homes, as patrons of artists and craftsmen in India and Britain, as arbiters of Oriental fashion, as givers of Asian gifts and as the source (through bequests, marriage portions and investment) of new commercial wealth that sustained flagging landed fortunes. These roles have been mentioned only in passing in historical interpretations of the British country house. By integrating research on individual objects of known provenance with assessments of broad categories of import goods, histories of individual consumers, extended genealogies of governing-class families and analyses of individual stately homes over time, this project is designed to create a unified, grounded analytical framework for material cultural studies. By capturing new research being generated outside academic institutions and situating this popular scholarship within rigorous analytical paradigms, ‘The East India Company at Home’ also offers a reflective model of collaboration designed to capitalise upon, but also to corral, new knowledge created by burgeoning online forms of communication.


Methods to be used: Case studies of individual objects, persons/families, country houses and objects examined from interdisciplinary perspectives and situated within the context of dominant social, cultural, economic and political trends lie at the heart of this project. Objects studied by the project team and associated amateur researchers will include cotton and silk Asian textiles, ceramics, furniture, fine artwork, metalwork and curiosities. Informed by Arjun Appadhuri’s approach to the social life if things and by Bruno Latour’s model of objects as active agents in social relations, the project team will exploit archival collections of commercial and personal correspondence as well as probate inventories and wills to examine the provenance, acquisition, use, meaning and transfer of Asian goods in British country houses. Analysis of surviving material objects (located in museums and surviving stately homes) will occur alongside this archival research; the project will also aim to unearth and illuminate objects and archives held by family historians and local museums. Individual persons and families will be studied as the donors, recipients, traders and purchasers of Asian goods, with particular attention paid the function of material objects in social relations and political networks. Detailed case studies of individuals and families connected with specific country houses will be conducted where records permit; abundant supplementary information on less-documented persons will emerge from the parallel research of the project’s associated community-based researchers. The recent boom in family history research has produced a wealth of new information about individuals and objects relevant for this project as well as an impressive network of amateur researchers linked via local history societies and the internet. Joining forces with these researchers through the Federation of Family History Societies (which exists to represent, advise and support members of family history societies and their work) and through the Families in British India Society 1600-1947 (which is affiliated with the Anglo-Indian Heritage centre), the project’s academic team will both extend its range of case studies and help to situate local historians’ findings within broader analytical and historical contexts. Country houses selected for detailed case studies will allow comparisons to be made within and between England, Scotland and Wales as well as over extended periods of time. An indicative list of these includes: Escot, east Devon (dating from the 1790s, it was purchased in 1794 by retired Company servant Sir John Kennaway, burned to the ground in 1808 and rebuilt in 1838); Minto House, Roxburghshire (a sixteenth-century tower encased by William Adam 1738-43 rebuilt with the Indian fortune of the first Earl Minto c. 1810-20, and destroyed after WWII); Powis Castle, Welshpool, Powys (originally built in 1200, substantially remodelled with the Clives’ Indian fortune and filled with Indian artefacts by Henrietta Herbert (1758-1830),wife of a Governor of Madras); Swallowfield Hall, Berkshire (built on Tudor foundations in 1689, it was purchased and substantially remodelled from 1825 by Sir Henry Russell, a former Chief Justice in Calcutta); Touch House, Stirling (acquired by the Setons in 1408, its extensive renovation in 1757-70 compelled the family to seek Company employment, which by 1818 had cleared the estate’s debts and refurbished the family home); Wilbury House, Wiltshire (built in 1710, it was purchased in 1803 by retired Company servant and art patron Sir Charles Warre Malet, in whose family it remained until 1925).

The academic team will be coordinated by Finn, and will meet as a whole no fewer than six times per year. Meetings between the PI and the full-time Research Fellow will occur no less frequently than monthly. Meetings between the PI (who has extensive experience as a PhD supervisor) and the PhD student will occur fortnightly while the PhD project is being formulated and no less frequently than monthly thereafter. (Candidates selected to interview for this studentship will receive a copy of the grant proposal and an indicative list of potential projects, and will provide a draft dissertation proposal for consideration by the interview team. The focus of the PhD dissertation will be determined in consultation with the wider academic team.) Monthly update reports by the two Research Fellows and the PhD student will be prepared in advance of in-person meetings and shared electronically across the team to enhance communication, share promising leads and ensure early identification of any problems. The PhD student and Research fellows will benefit from the robust training programmes in place for doctoral and postdoctoral researches in the Warwick History Department, the Arts Faculty and the wider University.

The named RF, Dr Helen Clifford, will coordinate the project’s interface with local and family historians. To this end, she will: 1) issue an electronic call for information on families with relevant East India Company connections; 2) construct a secure database that includes contact information, research subjects, and research dates; 3) select from this secure database individuals willing and able to respond to a detailed project questionnaire; 4) in conjunction with the project team, select case studies that link meaningfully with academic research conducted by team members, and orchestrate descriptions or scans of documents, photographs, objects and paintings for inclusion in the project’s website; 5) assisted by the full-time RF and subject to the advice of Keith Sweetmore (Archives Development Manager at North Yorkshire County Record Office, who has agreed to lead the project’s advisory group), coordinate progress workshops across the country with local historians; 6) supervise the full-time RF’s construction of the project website, which by the end of the project will include a web-based, publically-accessible exhibition of the collated results. Dr Helen Clifford has an established track record with innovative community-based collaborative projects and familiarity with issues of participant privacy through, for example, her participation in the Upper Dales Family History group.

Details of how results will be published: The project will produce five categories of research output. (1) The PI will produce two research articles on Anglo-Indian domestic interiors for peer-reviewed journals and will incorporate substantial research from the project into her ongoing research monograph on ‘Imperial Family Formations’, which will be published by an academic press. (2) The PhD student will produce a doctoral dissertation based on an extended case study of a selected country house and/or governing-class family. (3) The named Research Fellow will oversee the creation of a publically-accessible project website with four main elements: a) a project overview, including a bibliography of printed and online resources relating to the subjects investigated; b) a database of information garnered by the research team and its associated network of family historians; c) documented synopses, accessible to the lay reader, of the research findings from the selected country house case studies (composed by all four members of the academic team, but predominantly by the unnamed Research Fellow); d) a collection of electronic research papers emanating from the family history and community groups associated with the project. (4) The unnamed Research Fellow will produce two original sole-authored articles on Asian goods in Georgian and Victorian country houses for publication in peer-reviewed journals. (5) No fewer than twelve outreach events and dissemination of research findings to appropriate academic and community audiences by the four members of the academic research team, including one interim national workshop on the project’s research and one end-of-project international conference.