Schools of empire: Class, race, and colonialism, c.1750-1945

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

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. An additional travel budget for research of £500 per annum is provided by Rugby School. 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

The last decade has seen a surge of academic and public interest in the history and legacies of slavery and colonialism. The Legacies of British Slave-ownership project (UCL) revealed how slave-based wealth was invested creating cultural, commercial, political, and material inheritances which continue to shape the nation. The Colonial Countryside project (National Trust/University of Leicester), highlighted connections between country house ownership and empire. Campaigns to decolonise the curriculum have taken seriously the relationship between education, coloniality, race, and power. This has led to an increased interest in the ways that curriculum, pedagogy, and knowledge systems supported colonial cultures and mentalities.

This research project will use Rugby School as an institutional lens through which to explore histories of class, colonialism, gender, and race alongside their legacies at British public schools. In taking an archetypal public-school setting as its focal point, this project promises to broach new ground, examining the modes of colonial thinking and behaviour inculcated among students and staff, many of them destined for careers in the political, economic, and military machinery of empire. It provides an opportunity for the applicant to make a significant contribution to the history of education and empire as well as contemporary debates.

The successful applicant will have a unique opportunity to explore Rugby’s rich archival holdings as well as its architecture, visual culture, object collection and memorial landscape. The archives are particularly strong in printed material related to student literary and material cultures, gathered registers and account books, and sermon texts. A highlight of the collection relates to Thomas Arnold (1795-1842), one of the most significant educationalists of nineteenth century. Institutional archival analysis will be supplemented by research in other local, regional, national and international repositories. The applicant is free to formulate their own proposal, possible themes might include:

  • Race, class, empire, and student literary culture
  • Chapel life and empire
  • Colonial networks: benefactions, alumni, governors, and staff
  • Pedagogy, curricula, masculinity, and empire
  • Prototypes of power: the British public school in colonial settings
  • Exploration, natural history, and empire: natural history and art collections c.1800-1945
  • Subjects of empire: overseas students in British school settings c. 1800-1945

Given the geographical and chronological breadth of the collections, applicants may focus on any aspect and on any period between 1750-1945, provided the research project would make use of Rugby School Archives and Collections. Interdisciplinary projects are welcome.

This project provides excellent opportunities for public engagement and impact. Possible avenues include:

  • Curation of an exhibition at Rugby School Museum (online and/or physical)
  • Organisation of academic / public events and engagement activities
  • Development of educational resources
  • Creation of a network of schools researching slavery and colonialism
  • Contribution to Rugby’s archival toolkit and database


The successful applicant will be provided with a supervisory team to support their studies. Dr Katie Donington (Senior Lecturer in Black, African and Caribbean History, Open University) will act as lead supervisor and Dr Rosalind Crone (Senior Lecturer in History, Open University) as co-supervisor. Dr Tim Guard and Dr Tom Smith (History Department, Rugby School) will provide co-supervision at the partner institution. The student will have the opportunity to undertake placements with Rugby School Archive and Museum as well as within the classroom. The applicant will receive support and relevant training from Rugby School Archivist Jenny Hunt and the Open University.

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities, including those who are currently underrepresented in the field of history. A Master’s degree in History or a related discipline is preferred but not essential. Relevant experience outside of academia will be taken into consideration. 

Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships. Applicants from outside the UK are welcome to apply and are eligible for this studentship, although they would need to reside in the UK during this project. For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Dr Katie Donington at in the first instance. 

You should apply to the PhD in History at the Open University by 11 January 2023 (12:00 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 to complete the OOC DTP Application Form can be found on the DTP's how to apply page.