Lives of Medieval Books in the National Trust Libraries

Please note that this opportunity has been re-advertised for the 2024-25 recruitment round, to view that advertisement follow this link: Lives of Medieval Books in the National Trust Libraries | Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership (

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the Open University, in partnership with the National Trust.

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 £1500 will be made available to support costs associated with travelling to National Trust properties. Further details about the benefits of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page.

Closing date: 11 January 2023 (12:00 midday UK time)

Project overview

This project aims to reveal the potential for joining up people, places and pages, led by the material histories of medieval books in National Trust collections. Can you reveal the links between making, using and caring for medieval books over centuries of ownership?

The project will adopt an object biography approach, established within material culture studies. The scope will be inter-disciplinary and appropriate methods of enquiry will include: access to archaeological surveys, for monastic sites; enhanced cataloguing of medieval books in the collections; manuscript studies methods for questions of production, patronage and provenance; architectural research methods for associated ‘spaces for books’.

The research challenge is to identify and explain the significance of the medieval book for the National Trust, by confirming the holdings, exploring them for the first time as a discrete group within the Trust’s library collections, and raising awareness of their significance.

Within this broad framework, the student will be encouraged to define their own doctoral research project, possibly choosing to concentrate upon a specific number of books, or upon a particular geographical area or location. The number of known medieval books is limited, under 150, and how they are approached (across sites, through selected case studies) will be part of the first year of the project to determine. The resulting research will inform a range of public-facing National Trust outputs including guidebooks, on-site presentation, web content and volunteer training.

Intersecting with the Trust’s ambitions to tell more diverse histories about the places and collections in its care, the project has the potential to make an important contribution to an area of key strategic interest for the National Trust, and to shape how the organisation presents and engages with the history of its places and collections.

Joining a growing cohort of doctoral students working with the National Trust, the successful candidate will be offered training in object handling and the Trust's collections management system and will be given the opportunity to learn about working with a range of audiences. There will be opportunities for the student to share their research with National Trust staff, volunteers, partners, community groups, and across the National Trust.


The lead supervisor is Dr Susie West, Senior Lecturer in Art History and Heritage at The Open University. She has expertise in the built environment, Heritage Studies, material culture and book history. As an architectural historian, her interests lie in the English country house. She is a trustee and officer for the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain. Dr Susie West | OU people profiles (

The National Trust supervisor is Ms. Yvonne Lewis, Assistant National Curator for Libraries. She is a historian and rare books librarian with expertise in library history, provenance research, practical book production techniques and the reading experience. Yvonne Lewis - Assistant National Curator (Libraries) - National Trust | LinkedIn

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Applicants with masters-level training or demonstrable equivalent experience in the arts and humanities are encouraged to apply, with strengths in the fields of book history, medieval studies, material and/or cultural history particularly desirable. There will be considerable scope for the student to shape the focus of the thesis according to their strengths and interests. Prior experience of working with medieval sources would be desirable. 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 Susie West ( in the first instance. You are strongly advised to consult the Department of Art History webpages for advice on preparing your proposal before completing the OU application form. Your proposal should demonstrate an informed response to this project, addressing the aims of the National Trust as well as scholarly contexts to be considered.

You should apply to the Open University by 11 January (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 the Open University and how to complete the OOC DTP Application Form can be found on our How to Apply page.