Two Ph.D Studentships: 1. Thomas Browne's Library and 2. Thomas Browne's Correspondence

Two Ph.D Studentships - deadline 4th February

PhD Studentship, University of York: Thomas Browne’s library and sources (3 years, from September 2013) – an AHRC-funded studentship

This cross-disciplinary project will create an intellectual map of the library of Thomas Browne by tracing the relationships between his books as listed in the unusually detailed 1711 sales catalogue, and will produce an archaeology of Browne’s thought, with attention to the influence of classical, medieval, and Renaissance sources. It will map the holdings of his library onto his own work, and make a detailed case-study of at least one of his book-clusters (in, e.g., medicine, natural philosophy, travel literature, biblical scholarship, or patristics). The successful applicant will not necessarily be expected to have advanced knowledge of Browne’s library and works, but will be expected to offer a preliminary vision of an approach to Browne’s work in relation to the history of ideas.

The project will re-establish, in particular, the often- neglected relationship between Browne’s great encyclopaedic workPseudodoxia Epidemica (1646) and the books ‘behind’ it. It will have two broad aims, the first relating to the library itself, and the second a case study in the organisation of knowledge.

Among the ideas that the first part of the project might consider are: Renaissance classical reception; the material reconstruction of the past within libraries; taxonomies of library arrangement; the conceptualisation of early-modern reading through study of Browne’s catalogue of error (Pseudodoxia); a catalogue with an intriguing relationship to sources that are deemed to be unreliable or mistaken; the relationships between books, and the distributions of knowledge, that inhere in the structures of libraries and catalogues. How are clusters within Browne’s library related to the intellectual roots of his encyclopaedic frameworks? How do his books reveal a broader 17th-century intellectual landscape and his own social, cultural and political milieu? What can the library teach us about the acquisition and organisation of knowledge in the period?

The second part of the project will develop from out of the candidate’s own interests, based on one or more of Browne’s fields of knowledge. The student will be based at the University of York in the Department of English and Related Literature, under the supervision of Dr Kevin Killeen (co-editor of Pseudodoxia within the Browne edition, together with Prof Will West and Prof Jessica Wolfe) and will come away from the award with original research that sheds new light on the intellectual history of the era.

As part of the AHRC-funded edition of The Complete Works of Sir Thomas Browne (8 vols, OUP 2015-2019; general editor, Prof Claire Preston), the student will interact extensively with the eleven editors, two post-doctoral researchers, and a second doctoral student in contributing to its intellectual, analytical, and textual framework. The student may be expected to contribute, as directed, to background research on the edition of Pseudodoxia Epidemica.

Enquiries are welcome. Please contact either Dr Kevin Killeen ( or Prof Claire Preston (, specifying ‘PhD1’.

PhD studentship, University of Birmingham: Thomas Browne’s Correspondence (3 years, from September 2013) – an AHRC-funded studentship

The early-modern letter – its generic codes; the material circumstances of composition, dispatch, receipt, and circulation; the influence of epistolary habits of thought on other kinds of writing, and especially literary writing – is a flourishing field, and the edition of Browne’s correspondence carefully attends to such issues. His large epistolary corpus – personal, familial, professional, and natural-philosophical letters by and to him over a long career – give an unparalleled picture of 17th-century intellectual exchange, and of the development of his ideas and of his other works. The PhD based in this rich material will be informed by some of the following questions: how does Browne’s correspondence inform and/or challenge our understanding of his major works? how did scientific knowledge develop and circulate through epistolary exchanges in this period? how did the material conditions and constraints of the letter condition the genesis and communication of Browne's ideas? The student will benefit from a sustained engagement with Browne's correspondence; although contributing to the published volume of correspondence, and to the edition as a whole, the dissertation will be independent of them. Its precise topic will be developed by the student with the supervisors, but will demand the development of the student’s palaeographical and other textual skills. It will consider, too, of the correspondence of other key figures of the period – for example, Spenser, Bacon, Boyle, and Oldenburg. The range of incidents, topics, sources, and correspondents presented by Browne's letters requires command of antiquarian, medical, geological, botanical, theological, and other discourses. Advances in archival description and cataloguing, and improvements in humanities computing, offer in this dynamic field an auspicious moment for a doctoral project with great interdisciplinary scope and opportunity to master and exploit the full range of new publication and dissemination technologies in digital humanities.

Co-supervised by Prof Claire Preston (Birmingham), the general editor of the AHRC-funded Browne edition, and Dr Andrew Zurcher (Cambridge), co-editor of Browne’s correspondence, the student will be formally attached to the Birmingham Department of English, where there is deep editorial and early-modern expertise across the departments of English and History, and in the vibrant interdisciplinary Centre for Reformation and Early-Modern Studies. In addition, the student will have support from the Cambridge Centre for Material Texts (based at the English Faculty), with its strengths in the study of medieval and early-modern printed and manuscript materials. As part of the AHRC-funded edition of The Complete Works of Sir Thomas Browne (8 vols, OUP 2015-2019), the student will interact extensively with the eleven editors, two post-doctoral researchers, and a second doctoral student in contributing to its intellectual, analytical, and textual framework. The student may be expected to contribute, as directed, to background research on the volume of Browne’s letters that forms part of the edition.

Enquiries are welcome. Please contact either Prof Claire Preston ( or Dr Andrew Zurcher (, specifying ‘PhD2’.

How to apply for either or both studentships:

Applications for these posts should first be made directly to Professor Preston. The successful candidates will then be asked to apply formally to the respective universities. If you wish to be considered for both studentships, you need to send a full application (described below) for each one. Remember to specify which post your application refers to (PhD1 or PhD2)

Qualifications: the successful candidate will have a very good undergraduate degree in English Literature or a closely related subject such as intellectual history or comparative literature; and normally an MA or MPhil, preferably in an early-modern literary topic (although relevant cognate subjects can be considered). If you are already embarked on a PhD we are unable to consider you for these studentships. Only UK citizens are eligible.

Application materials (2 hard copies and an electronic copy):
  • a cv including information about your undergraduate and MA/M.Phil educational history with degree and exam results, and any awards; special skills or experience (eg, language proficiency, relevant undergraduate dissertation or long essay topics, etc); and publications (if any).
  • a covering letter of no more than one A4 side describing your preparation and qualification for, and interest in, one or both of these posts.
  • two letters of reference, at least one of which should be from your post-graduate supervisor.
  •  a sample of academic writing, preferably from your post-graduate degree, of no more than 3000 words (in other words, a chapter or section of the MA/MPhil), or a short academic publication. 

Submission of material:

The material listed above (hard copies and electronic copy) is to be sent directly to Professor Preston, Department of English, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston B15 2TT, and reach her by 4 February, 2013. Candidates should ask their referees to send their letters directly to that address or to by the same date. Letters of references will not be sought, so it is your responsibility to make certain they are sent in time. If you wish, you may send an SAE with your application so that you can be informed when/whether all your materials have arrived.

Interviews will be conducted Thursday 28 February in Edgbaston.

Questions about these posts are welcomed, and can be directed to Professor Preston by email.