Spanish chapbooks : the culture of their time and modern digital description

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP)-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) at Oxford University, in partnership with Cambridge University 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: 5 January 2024.

Project overview

Cambridge University Library (CUL) has extensive holdings of 19th- and late 18th-century ephemeral literature printed in Spain. The Library’s collection includes some 2,000 pliegos sueltos (chapbooks) and nearly 200 poster-sized aleluyas (broadsides) freely available on the Cambridge Digital Library (CDL). CUL also has several hundred further chapbooks and over 1,800 comedias (plays) which are not yet digitised and are only partially catalogued.  We use the term ‘chapbooks’ below to cover all three groups.

Chapbooks responded to the demands of an increasingly literate public.  They are therefore particularly diverse in subject matter: from moral advice, religious tracts and popular accounts of news events to gruesome stories (murders, monsters, natural catastrophes), as well as folk tales, romances and ballads. This is a varied and attractive collection for potential CDA candidates and other researchers in the fields of modern languages and European social and cultural history.

This collection offers a fascinating view of Iberian popular culture from the eighteenth century onwards.  It may appeal to students interested in popular literature and culture, intellectual history, and print culture and the history of the book – as well as in themes such as popular religion, politics, medicine, crime, gender, childhood, and social change as the period’s radical shifts were mirrored in street literature.  Likewise, the chapbooks offer exciting areas of comparison with similar material held by Cambridge in other languages. The themes and narratives of popular print often circulated over many decades and countries, translated and reused in many different contexts: tracing the connections over time and space is one area the student might pursue.

The student may wish to incorporate a distinct element of digital humanities in their research proposal.  The digitised chapbooks are accompanied on CDL by 2,500 British Library pliegos.  This joint corpus has, for example, been the subject of a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant project (2021-22), exploring how image recognition software might allow more accurate dating of material with only approximate publication dates.  That project provided exciting new evidence of the ways in which such material can be interrogated and celebrated through digital humanities.

The CUL-British Library digital collection was created through an AHRC project ('Wrongdoing in Spain 1800-1936: Realities, Representations, Reactions' (2011-14)).  This led to the cataloguing and digitisation of a major part of both libraries’ holdings and a major Spanish and English chapbooks exhibition at CUL.  The collection is also part of the international project ‘Mapping Pliegos’ bringing together UK- and Spanish-held digitised chapbooks and their metadata.

The CDA student would build on this foundation by collaborating with the CUL supervisor and other experts to further the discoverability of the CUL chapbooks. Depending on the student’s specific focus, this could be the production of catalogue metadata for the uncatalogued comedias and chapbooks or more detailed descriptions for the digitised chapbooks. This work would benefit future users in making the collection far more easily discoverable.

The student would undertake relevant metadata training in their first year alongside their literature review, aiming to deliver most of the expected metadata work in their first two years.The CDA student would also help in the promotion of the collection and their own contribution, through blog posts and public events. 


The lead academic supervisor is Professor David Hopkin of Oxford University’s Faculty of History.  His expertise lies in European oral and popular culture.  The library supervisor is Sonia Morcillo-García, the Hispanic Specialist at Cambridge University Library.

This project would give the student unparalleled access to the Spanish chapbooks collection, including uncatalogued material, and to CUL staff expertise.

Depending on the focus of their research, the student would receive hands-on training in providing standard library catalogue records for hidden material or enhanced metadata for the digitised collection.
The student would benefit from the expertise of the CUL External Engagement team in the planning and execution of their promotional and public-facing activities. 

They would also have the opportunity to talk to staff in the Cambridge Digital Humanities centre and CUL’s Digital Content Unit, and with Emeritus Professor Alison Sinclair, the Cambridge academic lead of projects focusing on the Spanish chapbooks collection.

The CDA student would also benefit from the support of the new University Library Research Institute (ULRI).  With assistance from ULRI staff, they will have the opportunity to create ULRI project and profile webpages and have the opportunity to give talks on their research as part of the Staff Research Seminar Spotlight series. They will also have the chance to network with other early career academics engaged with collections-based research, and, towards the end of their PhD, will be able to benefit from the expertise of the ULRI’s embedded Research Development Team, should they wish to submit further funding applications.

How to apply 

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Applicants must have excellent Spanish reading knowledge and already have/currently be studying for a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject relative to this collection and its research potential. 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 David Hopkin ( and Sonia Morcillo-García ( jointly in the first instance.

You should apply to the DPhil in History by Friday 5 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.