Labour and Livelihoods of Disabled People in Britain, c. 1970-2015

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) at the University of Cambridge, in partnership with the British Library. This fully-funded studentship is available from October 2022 and can be taken up on either a full or part-time basis. Further details about the value of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on our Studentships page

Closing date: 2 December 2021 (12:00am, midnight, UK time)

Project overview

What kinds of working lives have been possible for disabled people in contemporary Britain? Spanning an estimated 18% of today’s population and set to increase in the future, disability is of deep societal and policy interest. Its contemporary history can tell us much about how labour markets operate, particularly for those facing forms of stigma and exclusion. This CDA offers an opportunity to address these questions within the field of labour history, informed by disability studies, to provide an intersectional analysis of disabled people’s experiences of employment in modern Britain. This story is necessarily also a political story of activism and contestation, as well as a cultural story of media, stigma and cultural resistance.

Based at Cambridge University and the British Library in London, it will offer the holder the opportunity to gain experience of writing history across diverse historical subfields, as well as engaging in contemporary policy debates and accessing training for archiving, oral histories, data management and public engagement.

Working in collaboration with the Association for Disabled Professionals (ADP), the CDA will investigate the presence of large numbers of disabled people outside of institutional care, and their presence within a range of occupations. The recently deposited papers of the ADP allow for investigation of professionals, a group who have faced significant obstacles in accessing employment and navigating workplaces despite their educational capital. Other disability collections at the British Library include Speaking for Ourselves, Unheard Voices, Hearing Link and Oral Histories of Disabled Peoples Experiences of Education collections. They offer opportunities to place the experience of professionals alongside other kinds of labour markets, regulatory contexts and economic sectors. These collections portray a range of activist responses to disability exclusions, and help extend the chronology of such activism beyond the ‘disabled civil rights’ era that began in the 1970s into more recent decades.


Supervised by Lucy Delap, Professor in Modern British and Gender History at the University of Cambridge, this CDA locates historical research as central to the collection, curation and archiving undertaken by the British Library. Delap specialises in gender and labour history and has a long association with policy-facing histories through the History & Policy project. See Professor Delap's profile on the Cambridge Faculty of History's website.

The partner supervisor is Jonathan Pledge Lead Curator of Contemporary Archives, Politics and Public Life at The British Library. The supervisory team at the British Library has broad experiences of working with historians to generate archival resources and bring them to public and digital visibility. The project will entail an initial year-long immersion in the training and intellectual environment of the History Faculty at Cambridge University, followed by a second year based at the British Library in London to undertake archival research and training. The final year will be spent writing, with the expectation of being located at Cambridge.

The doctoral student will work closely with the ADP, who are recognised as key stakeholders in this project, as well as with other potential partners such as Disability Rights UK. They will gain experience of ensuring that their research process is inclusive and collaborative, designed to be relevant and accessible to the needs of disabled professionals and policymakers working in this field. This is a project that will prioritise knowledge exchange and consultation in order to ensure that in ethical and practical terms, this research will advance the goals of disability rights and access to employment for disabled people. It will aim to build capacity in the field of disability history and to innovate in terms of excellence of public and policy engagement.

How to apply

Applications from candidates with a Master's degree in modern history or disability studies are welcome. Applications from disabled candidates are especially welcome, and the project will be conducted with appropriate measures to ensure accessibility to all qualified candidates.

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact Dr Lucy Delap with questions and for any guidance before submitting their application. 

Applicants should apply to the PhD in History by 2 December 2021 (12:00am, midnight, UK time), the deadline for the University of Cambridge's Graduate Funding competition. 

For further details on how to apply for this CDA through the University of Cambridge, please see the advert on the Cambridge jobs site.