AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) Studentship: University of Westminster and Science Museum Group (SMG) 

Photography by Train: New Leisure Experiences of Heritage in Britain, 1880s–1930s

The University of Westminster (a member of the Techne consortium) and the Science Museum Group (SMG) are delighted to announce a call for applicants for a fully funded collaborative doctorial studentship from September 2024, under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme funded by Techne.

This PhD will be the first to focus on the user experience of combining photography and train technologies in Britain between the 1880s-1930s by bringing the photography and transport collections of the SMG’s National Science and Media Museum in Bradford (NSMM) and National Railway Museum (NRM) in York into conversation with one other. 

The successful applicant will have the opportunity to be embedded with the SMG and access the same levels of training, support, and expertise as members of staff, thus developing core heritage skills alongside academic capabilities. The project will be supervised by Dr Sara Dominici (Senior Lecturer in Photography Studies and Visual Culture), Professor Pippa Catterrall (Professor of History and Policy) and Dr Alison Hesse (Lecturer in Museum and Gallery Studies) at Westminster, and, at the SMG, by Dr Oliver Betts (Head of Research) at the NRM in York and Dr Ruth Quinn (Curator of Photography and Photography Technology) at the NSMM in Bradford. 

This inter-museum approach supports the SMG’s ambitious programme to understand and reimagine its collections by allowing for a relatable, human story to be told about how cameras and trains shaped people’s leisure experiences. Its collections-based approach expands the potential for public outputs, and the major redesign work of the NRM’s Vision2025 and of the NSMM’s photography displays offers a great opportunity to research and present these collections’ stories to the public through new displays, talks, and online content.

Project Overview

The PhD will investigate how the interaction of camera technologies and rail travel influenced people’s leisure practices and, consequently, their understanding and use of the British countryside and its heritage between the 1880s and 1930s.

From the early 1880s, a growing number of middle-class photographers used cameras in their leisure time. By the 1900s, cameras had become almost ubiquitous amongst tourists (Dominici 2018), a class whose profile broadened significantly during the interwar years (Walton 2002). Despite the competition from road transport in the 1920s and 1930s, the train remained central to tourists’ experiences.

Fundamentally, the railway did not simply facilitate their movements but, as Schivelbusch (1977) demonstrated, it fostered a sense of detachment from one’s surroundings. Because photography was central to the lives of this growing number of tourists, it follows that camera practices also intersected with how people conceptualised their experiences.

Core research aims and questions

This PhD will be the first to explore:

  • The broadening class and gender profile of those who combined photography and rail travel, seeking to understand what they expected of their leisure excursions and, consequently, how this shaped their interactions with the British countryside and its heritage
  • The position of the railway companies, examining the infrastructure developed to cater for tourists-cum-camera, how this changed as their social makeup and demands diversified and, consequently, how this influenced local authorities and leisure providers’ management of natural and cultural sites
  • The potential links between the development of photography and railways, and the traces these have left in the material record through the close analysis of museum collections

While the student who undertakes the work will be encouraged to choose their own focus, they will be expected to appraise the interaction of photography and railways in relation to these three complementary perspectives. The research questions will be developed in consultation with the student, but may include the following:

  • How did travelling by train with a view to taking photographs influence how people looked and what they looked at, and how was this modified further by the experience of moving and seeing through the mediation of trains?
  • What routes did rail travel disclose to photographers and, relatedly, how did railway companies contribute to their formulation, promotion, and implementation? 
  • What role did the progressive geographical liberation afforded by railways play in photographers’ desire to access heritage sites and open spaces, and thus in claiming a right to photograph (in) them?

Deadline for applications

The deadline for applications is 5pm (GMT) on Friday 5 January 2024.

Interviews will be held the week commencing Monday 22 January 2024.

The chosen candidate will be invited to complete an application form with the proposed supervisors for Techne funding in February 2024, and the studentship is subject to final approval by the Techne board in April 2024.

The final decision on the allocation of studentships rests with the Techne review panel.  Applicants must hold an offer with the University of Westminster before their application can be nominated to Techne.

Further information

For informal enquiries about the project, please contact Dr Sara Dominici at s.dominici1@westminster.ac.uk.

For information or queries about the Westminster application process, please contact Dr Sylvia Shaw at s.shaw@westminster.ac.uk.

Further information about the studentship, including details of the award, how to apply and entry requirements, is available here.