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PhD studentship: Colonial science and military service: The West India Regiments and circum-Atlantic networks of knowledge, c.1815-c.1900

A fully-funded PhD studentship is available at the University of Warwick’s Department of History, in collaboration with the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) and the Royal Botanic Gardens, through the AHRC’s Science Museums and Archives Consortium Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.

Applications are invited for a fully funded PhD studentship exploring the role of the West India Regiments in projects of circum-Atlantic colonial science, particularly exploration, botany and ethnology, in the nineteenth-century British Empire. Sitting at the interface of histories of science, empire and the military, the project also seeks to contribute to the ‘decolonisation’ of scholarly collections and academic knowledge. This is because the West India Regiments occupy a unique place in the history of British Empire in that they were a regular part of the British army but were almost entirely comprised of men of African descent.

The PhD studentship is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Science Museums and Archives Consortium Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme. It will be supervised by Professor David Lambert and Dr James Poskett at the University of Warwick’s Department of History and by Dr Catherine Souch and Dr Sarah L. Evans at the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) (RGS-IBG), with additional support from Kiri Ross-Jones at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The PhD will begin in October 2021.


The Project

Britain first established the West India Regiments during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815). They served across the Caribbean, including in the continental enclaves of British Honduras (Belize) and British Guiana (Guyana). From the 1820s, they were also deployed at Sierra Leone, the Gambia, the Gold Coast (Ghana), Lagos and elsewhere in West Africa. Numbering twelve at their peak, only a single WIR comprising two battalions remained after 1888. A third battalion based in the South Atlantic island of St Helena briefly existed from 1897 to 1902. The final regiment was disbanded in 1927.

Initially, the West India Regiments’ rank-and-file largely comprised of African men purchased from slave traders. When Britain ended its formal involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, ‘recruits’ came from foreign vessels captured by the Royal Navy as part of its suppression activities. After slavery was formally ended in the British West Indies in the 1830s, the regiments became increasingly African-Caribbean as local volunteers enlisted, although there were still enrolments from West Africa. Despite their ethnic make-up, the West India Regiments were a regular part of the British army, armed, paid, rationed and uniformed (until 1858) like other foot regiments. They had white, mainly British, officers, although prior to the reform of the commission system, it was cheaper to join the West India Regiments, which meant they attracted officers of lower socio-economic status, often seeking personal advancement through a military career – and through participation in projects of colonial science.

The successful applicant will be able to shape the PhD to reflect their own interests and goals, though key questions are likely to include the following:

  1. What role did West India Regiment officers and men play in the collection, exchange, circulation and publication of scientific knowledge, particularly relating to exploration, botany and ethnology, across the British circum-Atlantic world?
  2. What was the impact of the specific character of the West India Regiments on these practices, i.e. its ethno-linguistic composition, the socio-economic status of the officers and the regular circum-Atlantic redeployments?
  3. How were these practices entangled with other colonial projects in which the West India Regiments participated, such as the suppression of slave trading/slavery; protecting commerce; diplomatic missions; and conflict with indigenous polities and (post-)colonial powers (e.g. Asante, Mexico and France)?

The project will draw extensively on the collections of the RGS-IBG and the Royal Botanic Gardens, as well as others including the National Army Museum, The National Archives, plus archives in Jamaica and Barbados, which were the principal headquarters of the 1st and 2nd West India Regiments respectively. The applicant will also benefit from access to the Wiley Digital Archives platform, which provides searchable online access to a major proportion of the RGS-IBG’s collection, as well as those of Royal Anthropological Institute and the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

A full project description is available here.


The Studentship

The studentship (which is governed by UKRI’s terms and conditions) offers funding for 4 years of full-time study or 7 years of part-time study. The studentship will provide tax-free annual maintenance (stipend) payments at the standard AHRC rate. (The maintenance rate for 2020/21 was £15,285 and is expected that this figure will increase slightly for 2021/22 and in each subsequent year of the studentship.) It will also cover the costs of tuition fees at the ‘home’ rate. International students awarded funding through for this studentship will not be required to cover the difference between home and international fees as this will be met by the University of Warwick.


The Applicant

Applicants should have a good undergraduate degree and a distinction-level Master’s degree (or equivalent professional experience) in history, history and philosophy of science, anthropology, human geography, postcolonial studies, or a cognate field. Applicants should have experience in the analysis of primary and secondary historical sources. Familiarity with the history of the Caribbean, West Africa and/or the British Empire would be an advantage, as would a demonstrated ability to communicate research to a range of different audiences, including non-specialists.

The successful candidate will become familiar with the history and operation of the RGS-IBG and Royal Botanic Gardens, and further develop their archival research skills (including using the RGS-IBG’s digital platforms). The studentship also includes funding for an extended placement of up to 6 months. This could be at the Royal Botanic Gardens to work with its public engagement team. The candidate will also be supported in a range of other professional development opportunities, including networking, publishing, public talks, blogging, and exhibitions.


How to Apply

Applications should be emailed to Monica Dinu ( and include the following documents (as a single PDF):

  • A covering letter (maximum 2 pages) outlining your qualifications and suitability for the studentship, particularly in terms of previous experience and future career aims
  • A CV (maximum 2 pages), including contact details for TWO academic referees
  • A sample of your academic written work (around 6000 words maximum)

Applications should be submitted no later than 5pm, Monday 1 March 2021.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to attend an online interview with the project supervisors during the week beginning Monday 8 March 2021. They will be expected to explain their own response to the project and the directions they might want to take it.

Informal enquiries may be directed to Professor David Lambert (