Gilbert White and Local Knowledge: Arts of Attention

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Oxford, in partnership with Gilbert White’s House and Gardens.

Available from October 2023, this fully-funded studentship includes: payment of university fees throughout the funded period; a tax-free maintenance grant for your living costs at the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) minimum rate (£17,668 for 2022/23); an additional AHRC stipend of £550 per annum to support costs incurred by working with the partner organisation. A further £1000 is available to support costs associated with travelling to the partner organisation. Further details about the benefits of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page.

Closing date: Friday 6 January 2023 (12:00 midday UK time)

Project overview

Gilbert White’s The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne, in the County of Southampton (1789) is a monument of natural history, nature writing, and ecology. White, a clergyman and Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, composed his history in letters detailing observation of the animals and birds in the immediate environment of his parish, emerging from longer habits of diary-keeping and observation. As White himself wrote, advocating local attention: ‘the more confined your sphere of observation … the more perfect will be your remarks’. The Natural History reoriented contemporaries’ attention from generalisation and theory in natural knowledge to anecdote and detail, spawning imitators throughout the nineteenth century. It continues to encourage reflection on the relationship of local ecologies to the global environment, and the role of ordinary, non-specialist observation in knowledge-making and well-being.

This project represents a unique opportunity to explore these fields, and work at the intersection of the history and contemporary practices of nature writing and observation; attention studies; and public engagement and outreach. The successful candidate will place White’s work in the longer history of natural historical observation and its significance for the burgeoning field of attention studies. Using the manuscript of White’s Natural History, held at Gilbert White’s House and Gardens, and other archival material in Oxford, Gilbert White’s House, and London collections, the student will investigate White’s observational practices, and their significance in the history of ecology and natural history. The project will also engage with the implications of White’s example for contemporary ecology, citizen science, and the renewed interest in local natural observation after the experience of pandemic lockdowns. In elaborating the arts of attention practiced by White, this project will investigate the historical and methodological contexts of White’s attentiveness, and its contemporary implications. The precise emphasis of the doctoral project (whether focused primarily on historical work, White’s influence, or his resonance for contemporary nature writing and ecology) will evolve in discussion between the supervisors and the successful candidate.

The successful candidate will also collaborate with Gilbert White’s House and Gardens on a public engagement project which will draw out the implications of the research, and the contemporary relevance of White’s work. The scope and focus of this project will be decided with the successful candidate. There will also be an opportunity to participate in ongoing Oxford projects related to natural history, attention studies, and citizen science. There may be an opportunity for a 3-month secondment, in addition to the duration of the research project, to one of these projects. The studentship will provide training and experience in academic research, alongside the development of a range of valuable professional skills, including archival work; curation; and public engagement.


The project will be supervised in Oxford by Dr Kathryn Murphy, who works on the history of natural history and attention studies, and Professor Fiona Stafford, an expert in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century nature writing, and herself a nature writer. At Gilbert White’s House and Gardens, the student’s supervisor will be Kimberley James, the Collections and Marketing Manager, whose experience in collections management and public engagement will support the student’s work with the archive, and House and Gardens.

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Applicants will ideally have, or be studying for, a Masters in Literature, History, Art History, or another discipline related to the project, and/or prior experience of public engagement projects or archival research. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.

For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Dr Kathryn Murphy (on in the first instance.

You should apply to the DPhil in English by Friday 6 January 2023 (midday, UK time), indicate your interest in being considered for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship and submit a completed copy of the OOC DTP Application Form at the same time.

Further details on how to apply through Oxford can be found on our How to Apply page. Please include a reference to the advertised CDA title in your application form; you do not need to include a reference number.