Reading and Writing in Medieval Women's Religious Communities

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

This fully-funded studentship is available from October 2024. Further details about the value of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page.

Closing date: 4 January 2024.

Project overview

This Collaborative Doctoral Award would give you the opportunity to investigate the culture of female religious communities in the Middle Ages, through a study of their surviving manuscripts. Medieval women living together in monasteries and other kinds of convent communities owned or produced an astonishing number and variety of manuscripts. These include literary works in poetry and prose, archive and record books, music manuscripts, financial and administrative accounts, maps, books for religious services, paintings in the form of manuscript illumination, documents such as charters, and sculpture in the form of seal impressions.

We are inviting applicants to propose a project that explores any aspect of women’s conventual life, with the specific aim of bringing together kinds of sources that have rarely been discussed in combination. The themes and structure of the project are entirely open, provided the proposal is interdisciplinary and combines different types of manuscripts—broadly defined, as above—in novel, creative, and productive ways. At least some element of your research should concern institutions in the British Isles, but the project as a whole may be comparative. In your proposal, you would aim to draw principally on the British Library’s collections (although we understand that some research in other collections will almost certainly be inevitable). Some indication of the BL’s holdings can be found on these sites:

Manuscripts and Archives Collections Guides
Digitised Manuscripts
Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts
Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue

The British Library has one of the world’s most extensive and diverse collections of manuscripts from medieval women’s communities. In your research for this project, you would work on these collections alongside the BL’s curatorial staff, and undertake specialised training at both the BL and at Cambridge, where you would be part of a large and collegial community of medievalists in a wide range of fields. The British Library is currently developing a major exhibition, Medieval Women, which is due to open in October 2024. Starting your doctoral research just as the exhibition is opening, you will be able to develop a close familiarity with the display, support the programme of private views and visits to the exhibition, and build on its research findings.


The Cambridge supervisor is Dr Jessica Berenbeim, University Lecturer in Literature and Visual Culture at the Faculty of English. The British Library supervisor is Dr Eleanor Jackson, Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts in Western Heritage Collections. 

We know that the recent cyberattack on the British Library has made it more difficult to identify specific items in the collection in advance of the application deadline. We would like to reassure applicants that we are fully aware of this situation, and we will of course take account of these access difficulties when assessing applications. 

In the meanwhile, the following resources remain available:

• The blogpost which announces all the volumes and charters that were digitised for the Medieval and Renaissance Women digitisation project will be a particularly useful resource

• The BL's full Medieval Manuscripts blog is still online, which should be a helpful site for scoping ideas and manuscripts 

• A Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum (1808-12), 4 vols: in print, and available digitally through

• Catalogue of Additions to Manuscripts in the British Museum series (1854-): in print, and available digitally through

• Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Old Royal and King's Collections (1921), 4 vols: in print, and available digitally through

• A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Cottonian Library Deposited in the British Museum (1802): in print, and available digitally through

• G.R.C. Davis, Cartularies of Great Britain & Ireland, rev. by Claire Breay, Julian Harrison, and David M. Smith (London 2010), available in many university and public libraries, catalogues many manuscript cartularies with extensive records from women's communities (see blogpost on Medieval Cartularies of Great Britain and Ireland)

• Catalogue of Seals in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum (1887-1900), 6 vols: in print, and available digitally through It has subdivisions for royal women and queen consorts, but also religious women and their institutions, with details of the accompanying charters. 

How to apply

We welcome applications from candidates of all backgrounds and ethnicities who have an interest in any field of Medieval Studies. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.
Should you have any questions, or for an informal discussion about how you might approach the CDA project, you are welcome to contact Dr Jessica Berenbeim at and Dr Eleanor Jackson at

You should apply to the PhD in English by 4 January 2024 (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. Please see the advert on the Cambridge jobs site.