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The Royal African Company and Slavery in West Africa: Doctoral Studentship 2023

The Royal African Company and Slavery in West Africa: Doctoral Studentship Awards 2023. Apply below.

When is Application Deadline?

16th January 2023 by 23.59

Tell Me About Award:

This project develops a new, multivocal perspective on the experience of empire in West Africa. Through detailed analysis of the Royal African Company (RAC) records at The National Archives (TNA), the student will investigate the lives of people of varying social status, enslaved and free, men and women, African and European, while producing and promoting resources on this collection for TNA and its audiences.

From 1672onwards, the RAC monopolised British commerce in Africa, transporting enslaved African people as well as gold and ivory, negotiating and fighting with African rulers and other traders. Its fortifications and trading posts, located from Senegambia to the Bight of Benin, became cross-cultural meeting points and crucial nodes in the business of empire.

Scholars have positioned West Africa primarily as a source of enslaved labour for other imperial centres, emphasising the RAC’s role in this trade, but the RAC as an institution remains understudied. The structure of its operations in West Africa, its role in international conflict and cooperation, and its employees’ relations with West African communities deserve greater attention.

Through a methodology that reads corporate records against the grain, an approach rarely applied to RAC records, this project provides new ways to interpret the voices and experiences of both African and European people at all social levels. The people at the centre of this project established, maintained, lived with, and resisted imperial systems, but they are less well-documented and often left out of conventional histories focused on imperial elites, and on the Americas and the Indian Ocean rather than Africa.

In light of ongoing public debate on empire and slavery, including the toppling of Bristol’s statue of RAC merchant Edward Colston, this project will respond to and inform an important cultural moment. Encompassing both bottom-up and top-down perspectives of empire, it will evaluate the relationships between enslaved and free African and European people, surface their voices within the RAC records, and provide a closer study of a formative institution in the creation of the British global empire and slave trade.

Research Questions and Methodology

The research questions cluster around a series of issues relating to the history of empire and slavery, particularly bottom-up perspectives, but will be shaped by the interests and research of the doctoral student in consultation with their supervisors. They might include:

  • Whose voices are preserved in the RAC records, and what methodological challenges and opportunities exist for recovering the experience of different social groups in West Africa, particularly enslaved people?
  • How did the RAC’s social, political, and economic presence in West Africa develop during its early stages?
  • How and why did African and European empires, kingdoms, and trading companies cooperate or compete in late-seventeenth-century West Africa?

The student will adapt conceptual frameworks and practical methodologies around the question of voice and archival silences and omissions and apply these to the RAC records. They will begin their research by surveying these records and identifying specific items for closer analysis, before consulting other TNA collections and potentially other UK and international archives.

The practical methodologies to apply to these records will likely include:

  • Qualitative analysis of well-documented individuals or incidents.
  • Prosopographical reconstruction of identifiable individuals or groups, potentially using digital network analysis and visualisation tools.
  • Visual analysis of the representation of specific RAC locations in maps and illustrations held at TNA, possibly using Geographic Information Software applications like QGIS.

What Countries are Eligible?

UK & International

Who is Eligible?

Your application will be assessed using the following criteria:

  • Quality of the research project proposal;
  • Experience and aptitude for PhD study;
  • Suitability of supervision;
  • SWWDTP2 alignment (considering the training offered, activities and placements supported, inter institutional and inter-disciplinary research communities beyond home universities, opportunities for engagement with organisations beyond HEIs)

How are Applicants Selected?

After the closing date, each application to a project is reviewed by the project’s academic and partner organisation supervisory team independently.

The highest scoring applicants are invited to interview with the supervisory team to discuss the applicant’s proposed shape of the project. The successful CDA applicant will then have an opportunity to revise their proposal in light of the interview discussion prior to the ranking by the comprehensive awarding board.

How many Awards?

9 Collaborative Doctoral awards in total

What is Value of Award?

  • In addition to fees and stipends, studentship holders benefit from additional DTP funding opportunities to support their training, professional development, and research costs.
  • Application processes for such funds are covered in the annual induction processes for studentship
    holders in October of each year.
  • An SWWDTP2 studentship lasts three years eight months (or part-time equivalent).

The close partnership between TNA, the University of Reading, and Cardiff University will provide the student with a unique and valuable skillset. This project connects to a suite of activities led by Dr Philippa Hellawell at TNA concerning the RAC records, which includes a cataloguing project on the RAC letterbooks. Besides their doctoral thesis the student will, as part of these activities, contribute to cataloguing work and produce one or more of:

  • An academic article.
  • Blogs or multimedia outputs.
  • Internal research presentations.
  • Document displays.
  • R esearch guides (possibly including a new edition of TNA’s online research guide on transatlantic slavery).

The student will also have access to TNA’s researcher development programme, including virtual writing retreats, digital humanities training, records training by subject specialists, and privileged access to TNA’s PAST (Postgraduate Archival Skills Training) programme. In addition to this, the student can participate in Reading Graduate School’s Researcher Development Programme, and the SWW Training and Development programme. That training may include specific linguistic and digital skills through Reading’s International Study and Language Institute and Digital Humanities Hub.

Experience working with TNA will equip the student with knowledge and skills relevant to the archival sector, including cataloguing, archive handling, collections research, collections management, copyright, digitisation, and customer services. They will gain considerable experience in public engagement and acquire skills like multimedia publishing, communication and presentation for different audiences, and working with educational resources. Secondments to explore different departments at TNA, and/or placements at other institutions will also allow them to develop professional skills in other areas, such as finance, marketing, and exhibitions.

How to Apply?

Download CDA6 project brief (Word, 27kB)

SWWDTP CDA application and assessment timeline, and application guidance.


Visit Application Webpage for Details

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