Leverhulme Trust PhD Studentship Announcement: Runaway Slaves in Britain: Bondage, Freedom and Race in the Eighteenth Century

Issued: Tue, 26 Aug 2014 09:34:00 BST

The University of Glasgow’s School of Humanities is pleased to announce ONE three-year PhD Studentship under a Research Project Grant funded by the Leverhulme Trust, to begin 1 January 2015. The award covers Home/EU tuition fees and provides a maintenance award of at least £13,863 per annum, and some research expenses, for three years.

The successful applicant will join a research team of three people, including Prof. Simon P. Newman (the Lead Investigator), and a three-year postdoctoral researcher.

Applications for the studentships are due no later than Wednesday 24 September 2014, 12 noon. Interviews will be held on Wednesday 8 October 2014 in Glasgow.

The Research Project

Historians of eighteenth-century Britain know very little about the many enslaved Africans who lived and died in Georgian Britain, and most scholarship has treated the trans-Atlantic slave trade and racial slavery itself as institutions that existed far from the British Isles. This project will explore the little-known lives of African slaves in eighteenth-century Britain, focusing on those who sought to escape their bondage. This project will investigate how widespread slavery was, and show how runaways sought to create new lives in British society. It will result in the creation of a publicly accessible database of runaway advertisements from newspapers all over Britain.

The Project will be undertaken by a Project Team consisting of Prof. Simon P. Newman (Lead Investigator), a postdoctoral researcher, and a PhD student.

Slaves who ran away generated records of their lives and their motives. To the enslaved flight represented one of the greatest acts of self-determination, while to slave-owners it was a significant threat to property, productivity and profit. Eager to recapture their valuable property slave-owners placed advertisements in newspapers, describing the physical characteristics, mannerisms, habits, skills and inclinations of people who are otherwise all but completely absent from historical records. Consequently runaway slave advertisements (and sometimes court records related to the capture of runaways) yield an unexpectedly rich source of information about the enslaved and slavery, and such sources have been collated and utilized to very good effect by historians of North American and Caribbean slavery. Location, transcription and digitization of runaway slave advertisements in British newspapers will be central to this research project.

Project objectives will be informed by the following core research questions:

  • What were the characteristics of runaway slaves?

  • What were the motives for running away?

  • What kinds of Britons aided runaways?

  • What kinds of lives and futures do runaways appear to have been trying to secure?

The Project’s research methods will include:

  • read complete runs of newspapers, and locate runaway slave advertisements.

  • transcribe and digitally copy runaway advertisements.

  • research printed and manuscript records of planters, overseers, merchants and doctors for information about enslaved Africans brought back to Britain.

  • research court records of cases in which masters sought to re-establish ownership of recaptured runaway slaves.

  • enter data into project database.
  • analysis of data.

The objectives of this Project include:

  • location, transcription and digitisation of as many runaway slave advertisements as possible, as well as supporting information from legal, church and other sources. 
  • creation of an online searchable database of runaway slave advertisements and other relevant sources, with supporting materials to enhance database accessibility and utility. 
  • analysis of data to answer core project research questions.

The PhD Studentship

Discovery of runaway slave advertisements and related material in newspapers and other sources will constitute a significant proportion of the student’s research. However, the student will be able to fashion the particular research topic for her or his dissertation, building on the research undertaken for the project as a whole. Thus, the student might develop a dissertation on enslaved domestic servants in Georgian Britain, or on religion and church membership among Black Britons, or perhaps on the creation of families within Britain’s black community. There are a large number of potential topics, and the PhD student will be able to research and write a highly original dissertation on a very little-studied topic. Consequently, the PhD student will develop expertise in an area of increasing historical interest and significance, as demonstrated by the relatively new museums and exhibits related to plantation slavery and the transatlantic slave trade in Liverpool, London and Bristol.
In addition to the dissertation, the PhD student will share authorship of the project database and supporting materials. This will result in the PhD student establishing a national and international profile as a key member of the first research team to explore enslaved and runaway Britons in eighteenth-century Britain.

This studentship will be of interest to applicants with backgrounds in social, cultural and economic history. Some experience of studying eighteenth-century history, and the history of racial slavery, will be an advantage, and students who have studied eighteenth and early-nineteenth century North America are certainly eligible to apply. Applicants should hold an undergraduate degree with first-class or upper second-class honours in a relevant field, and a Masters degree with Merit or Distinction in a relevant field (or have fulfilled all requirements to receive such a degree by December 2014).

How to Apply

Applications should include the following materials:

  • CV

  • Covering letter describing in detail your interest in and suitability for undertaking this project
  • An example of scholarly work up to 3000 words in length (e.g. coursework essay, or a dissertation chapter)
  • Degree transcripts (this may be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

  • 2 academic references (these may be sent directly from your referees if they would prefer)

Please send application materials to Humanities-Scholarships@glasgow.ac.uk with the subject line ‘Leverhulme Runaway Slaves Project' by Wednesday 24 September 2014, 12 noon.

Applications for the studentships are due no later than Wednesday 24 September 2014, 12 noon. Interviews will be held on Wednesday 8 October 2014 in Glasgow.

Further Information

For further information or informal communication about the studentship, please contact Prof. Simon P. Newman

For further details about relevant research communities at the University of Glasgow:

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