Reading Childhood: Collections, Texts, and Visions of Play in the British Country House c. 1780-1914

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at Oxford 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: Friday 6th January 2023 (midday, UK time)

Project overview

The National Trust’s collection of books and manuscripts comprises over 400,000 titles, held in over 160 historic houses and properties. Their value is literary, historical and affective - many of the books contain inscriptions and marginalia which connect them intimately with the lived history of the individuals who lived there, and the shape of each collection reveals much about the families and communities who built them. While these collections’ importance have long been recognised, the research focus to date has been primarily on how they have been used and experienced by adults - we are only gradually acquiring a better understanding of these collections as they relate to children and young people.

The project aims to make a significant contribution to the curation of historical material relating to children and books in a number of National Trust properties, enabling future scholarship in this largely under-researched area.  Notable relevant collections include original manuscripts and notes between Kipling and his children at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire and at Bateman’s, East Sussex, the library and manuscript collection at Cragside, Northumberland, the childhood writings of Vita Sackville-West at Knole, Kent, family correspondence at Petworth House, West Sussex, and family papers at Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire. Further research through this project will locate new relevant collections, improve the understanding of children’s participation in collecting, creating and reading, further the understanding of the history of childhood, and seek to enlarge knowledge about how to better archive, curate and recognise children’s heritage, and ways of knowing.

Potential research questions and areas of research might include:

  • Investigating the extent and variety of children’s books and related manuscripts in National Trust Library and Manuscript Collections
  • Researching the way children have curated their own textual networks through home-made magazines, scrapbooks, marginalia, and letters through National Trust Collections
  • Examining the intersection between reading and play in National Trust book collections, and the relationship between book and toy collections
  • Investigating how material curated by adults for children sheds light on categories of child and adult, play and work
  • Investigating the way in which children’s reading, play and toy collecting intersect with global networks of power

Within this broad framework, the student will be encouraged to define their own doctoral research project in reference to the National Trust collections. 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. 

The successful student will be part of a growing cohort of doctoral students working with the National Trust and will have access to annual doctoral networking events and training opportunities, specifically in rare book and object handling and the Trust’s collections management system. In addition, the student will have the option to attend monthly curatorial seminar series and disseminate their own research to a wide range of audiences via webinars, in-person events at properties, the Trust’s Research Bulletin, and the Arts, Buildings, and Collections Bulletin. The Trust will also provide access to curatorial, collections, and visitor experience expertise, a full induction and desk space at regional or central offices as required.


This CDA is based in Oxford’s Faculty of English, with supervision from Professor Sophie Ratcliffe (currently researching the history of childhood reading and libraries in the nineteenth century) and Professor Siân Pooley (currently researching nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century children’s writing for local newspapers). National Trust supervision will be provided by Nicola Thwaite, Assistant National Curator (Libraries) at the National Trust.

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Applicants will ideally have an undergraduate and Masters degree in English or History. 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 Professor Sophie Ratcliffe at and Professor Siân Pooley at in the first instance.

You should apply to the DPhil in English programme at Oxford by Friday 6th 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.