AHRC PhD Studentships Announcement: Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice: Britain and Ireland, c.1100 – c.1750

Published: 8 October 2014

The University of Glasgow’s School of Humanities is pleased to announce a three-year PhD studentship.

The University of Glasgow’s School of Humanities is pleased to announce a three-year PhD studentship.  The studentship is one of two studentships (the other of which will be held at Cardiff University) attached to an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project on ‘Women negotiating the boundaries of justice: Britain and Ireland, c.1100 – c.1750’. The successful applicants will benefit from being part of a team of seven researchers associated with this project.

The award covers Home/EU tuition fees and provides a maintenance award of at least £13,863 per annum for three years, as well as a substantial financial allocation to cover necessary research expenses. 

The start date of the studentship 1 October 2015.

The Studentship:  Married Women and the Law in Scotland, 1600-1750

The dissertation will focus on the agency of married women before the law in Scotland between 1600 and 1750. The research will be structured around a comparison of married women in the Highlands and in Lowland Scotland, with reference to burgh court and sheriff court records housed in Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh; to the Court of Session records and the Register of the Privy Seal (housed in Edinburgh); to the Justiciary Records of Argyll and the Argyll transcripts; and to relevant family and estate papers. The research is designed to establish any differences between wives’ legal agency in very different parts of Scotland, and then place this comparison in a broader historiographical framework relating to women and marital property law in Britain. The practices and outcomes of litigation will be compared with the principles and ideals in legal publications and statute law that began to circulate in print during this period. The research will investigate the extent and character of settlements designed to protect women’s property within marriage as well as the activities of married women both as litigants and interested parties in property disputes and debt cases. Wills and testaments will also be consulted to explore the nature and extent of bequests made by married women. Cases involving single and widowed women will also be sampled, in order to establish the impact of marital status on women’s legal access to and defence of property rights in comparison to ‘never married’ and ‘ever married’ women. Close attention will also be paid to the influence of differences in wealth, social status and kinship ties on married women’s access to justice and legal resources. The analysis will be qualitative as well as quantitative, exploring the rhetorical strategies whereby women negotiated legal disadvantage in pursuing their interests.

The student will be supervised by Dr Alexandra Shepard (Co-Investigator of the larger AHRC project) and by Dr Karin Bowie, who bring expertise in gender history, legal history and Scottish History to the project. The student will be associated with the Centre for Gender History, which brings together the largest concentration of gender historians in the UK, and which has a vibrant research culture associated with several doctoral projects on gender history.  The student will additionally benefit from association with the Centre for Scottish and Celtic Studies.

The dissertation will contribute to the overall project’s main objectives which are:

  • to challenge the essentialist assumption found in many studies that women's gender placed them at a monolithic disadvantage: much relevant historical research is narrowly focused and draws inappropriate comparisons over time, place, and jurisdiction. Little attention is paid to the potential differences of jurisdiction and region, still less to the significance of language, ethnicity, and other affiliations and identities of individuals and groups.
  • to assess critically the frameworks within which women's engagement with the law has been studied, and to challenge the tendency within British legal history to work within discrete, national frameworks and assume that the English situation represents a norm.  Given that women still struggle to obtain equal access to justice, particularly in politically unstable regions, the project also intervenes in modern debates about women's legal subjectivity and the extent to which inequities might be disrupted or modified by political change.
  • to compare women's strategies at different times and in diverse legal structures. A more nuanced understanding of gender is possible by exploring comparative determinants of difference. This project examines women as perpetrators, victims, plaintiffs, petitioners, and witnesses by mapping their experience of justice in a number of discrete contexts: Anglo-Norman England (including a focus on Jewish women); the English colony in late medieval Ireland; late medieval and early modern Wales; early modern Scotland, and early eighteenth century Scotland, Wales and England. Criminal, civil and church courts allow the study of violent offences, property disputes, marital and child custody cases, punishment, alternative routes to justice and the hierarchy of resort.

The Research Project

‘Women negotiating the boundaries of justice: Britain and Ireland, c.1100 – c.1750’ is a four-year project designed to explore women’s relative access to justice in a wide range of different courts, from a comparative perspective. The project is led by the Principal Investigator, Dr Deborah Youngs at the University of Swansea, assisted by two Co-Investigators, Dr Alexandra Shepard (University of Glasgow) and Dr Garthine Walker (Cardiff University) and two Research Associates.

Four over-arching questions will govern the research:

  • How did women’s access to justice and the legal process vary according to national boundaries, language, ethnicity, confessional identity, and social status?
  • In which contexts were particular sorts of women more or less legally disadvantaged?
  • How and with what success did they negotiate these limits, and what does this tell us about their knowledge of the law?
  • How did women’s access and their methods of obtaining justice change over time?

Answers to these questions will be sought by analysing evidence from England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland between 1100 and 1750. The comparison across borders and time, including Jewish, Irish, Welsh and Scottish women operating in courts where their first language was not spoken, and participating in processes imposed by a dominant or colonial power, comprises a new approach to the subject. The project brings together a team of experienced researchers whose combined expertise can deliver a genuinely comparative study of women's participation in the legal process across the multiple jurisdictions in medieval and early modern England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.


This studentship will be of interest to students with a background in early modern history with interests in gender history and social and cultural history.  Applicants should hold a Masters degree with Merit or Distinction and an undergraduate degree with first-class or upper second-class honours in a relevant field.
The studentship is governed by the terms and conditions of AHRC postgraduate studentships.  Applicants must therefore have a relevant connection with the United Kingdom, usually through residence.  For full details of eligibility, please see the AHRC’s Guide to Student Funding.

How to ApplySwetnam - The Woman Hater

Applications should include the following materials:

  • CV
  • Covering letter describing your interest in and suitability for undertaking this project
  • An example of scholarly work up to 3,000 words in length (e.g. a coursework essay or a dissertation chapter)
  • Degree transcripts
  • 2 academic references (these may be sent directly from you referees if they would prefer)

Please send application materials to humanities-scholarships@glasgow.ac.uk with the subject line ‘Women and justice application’ by 13 May 2015.

Further Information

For further information or informal communication about the studentship, please contact Dr Alexandra Shepard

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

First published: 8 October 2014

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