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Award details

Global Commodities in Early Modern Wills’: A Leverhulme Trust funded PhD Studentship in the Department of Archaeology and History Ref: 5048

About the award

Duration 3-year studentship
Funding source The Leverhulme Trust
Funding  Home (UK) tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate of £18,622 per year (2023/24 rate)

A PhD studentship analysing global commodities described in early modern wills is available as part of a project at Exeter University and the National Archives. The project uses Transkribus to provide a database of 25,000 transcribed wills for analysis.
A PhD studentship is available as part of Leverhulme Trust-funded research project ‘The Material Culture of Wills: England 1540-1790’. This PhD focuses on the global commodities mentioned in wills, examining their nature, incidence and change over time. The project uses cutting-edge digital humanities techniques to automate the transcription of 25,000 wills from the National Archives. The successful candidate will be provided with a pre-populated database of these wills to analyse for their PhD research.

The period from 1540 to 1790 saw an influx of goods from outside Europe into English homes. These included Indian cotton (calico) and silks, Chinese porcelain, and exotic woods. In addition, objects associated with the consumption of global foodstuffs also appear, such as sugar bowls, coffee pots, and a range of items associated with tea drinking. The importing of goods can be studied via other types of document. However, wills are unique revealing not only ownership but attitudes towards these goods indicating how they were assimilated into English homes and families.

Themes explored in the PhD are likely to include: the types of global commodities found in English wills and the chronology and quantification of their spread; the types of will-makers who owned such goods (with the possibility of case studies of particular groups such as mariners, merchants, gentry, and those resident abroad); the ways such possessions were described and who they were bequeathed to, as evidence of attitudes towards these objects, with comparisons made with traditional English/European items such as silverware and woollen cloth (with the possibility of case studies of particular types of objects such as calico cloth or porcelain).

Questions to be explored will include: how were new goods from outside Europe adopted and assimilated into English lifestyles? At what date and where did different types of global commodities first appear in English wills? What types of will-makers were most likely to adopt them? How does this relate to the patterns of adoption documented in studies of probate inventories? Do the wills of mariners, merchants and those resident abroad suggest that they acted as conduits and innovators in the adoption of new goods? What does the description of global goods and associated objects (such as tea equipment) and the way they were bequeathed reveal about people’s attitudes to these goods?

Involvement in the project provides advantages that are not available for a standalone PhD. These include: (1) the provision of a ready-made dataset to work with; (2) working as part of team in developing approaches to quantitative analysis of the dataset; (3) a grounding in digital humanities research methods including Transkribus and crowdsourcing through discussions with other project members; (4) a six-week placement at TNA during their studentship, to understand the archival context of early modern manuscript documents and their preservation; and (5) an opportunity to publish research in project publications.

Duration and value of award
The studentship will be for a period of up to 3 years (36 months), dependent on satisfactory progress, and will cover full tuition fees and an annual maintenance grant of £18,622 (2023/24 rate).

For more information about the project and informal enquiries, please contact the primary supervisor, Professor Jane Whittle

Entry requirements

Applicants should have at a minimum a good first degree (at least 2.1, or international equivalent) in History or a closely related subject, and have obtained, or are currently working towards a Master's degree at Merit level, or international equivalent, in History.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information.

• Applicants would be expected to start their studies in September 2024.
• Recipients are expected to commit to engagement beyond their doctoral studies through contributing to the research environment of their discipline and the Faculty by participating in research activities, accessing skills development training and opportunities and career development etc. Continued funding would be dependent on satisfactory evidence of this engagement having taken place.

This award is only open to applicants whose fee status is classed as Home (UK). Therefore this award is not open to International students. Click here for further information about fee status.

This studentship, including full tuition fees and maintenance allowance, is available to UK candidates

Please note that these studentships are only open to applicants who will start their study in September 2024, not those who have already started.

Applications will only be supported for campus-based programmes as this studentship is not open to Distance-Learning programmes.

How to apply

To apply, please click the ‘Apply Now’ button above. You will be asked to submit the following by 1st MAY 2024

• A Research proposal of 1500-2000 words (exclusive of bibliography), describing how you would approach the PhD topic of ‘Global commodities in early modern wills’
• A 200-500 word statement on your fit with the department/Faculty research culture and your prospective supervision team. You should also name which programme of study you are applying for
• A CV
• Proof of academic track record (transcripts/certificates)
• Two references, at least one to be an academic reference
• Proof of your English language proficiency, if relevant

Please submit all documents, apart from your references and degree transcripts, as one combined file and submit this against the research proposal section of the application form.
All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.
Please note that we will seek a supporting statement from named prospective supervisors for all shortlisted candidates as part of the final assessment process.

Please quote reference 5048  on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.

Reference information
It is your responsibility to ensure that your referees email their references to, as we will not make requests for references directly; you must arrange for them to be submitted by 1st MAY 2024.  Please note that applications with missing documentation will not progress to shortlisting.
References should be in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.
For general information about this studentship and the application process, please contact

Interview Date: Week commencing 18 MAY 2024 


Application deadline:1st May 2024
Value:Home (UK) tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate of £18,622 per year (2023/24 rate)
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions