Fully funded AHRC SGSAH CDA Studentship: “Slavery and Race in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768-1860): A Text Mining Approach”

I’m delighted to say I’ve been awarded a fully funded PhD studentship (open to international applicants!) with the National Library of Scotland, as a AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award, working with Professor Diana Paton (William Robertson Professor of History, University of Edinburgh), Dr Sarah Ames (Digital Scholarship Librarian, National Library of Scotland) and Robert Betteridge (Rare Books Curator (Eighteenth-Century Printed Collections), National Library of Scotland). Please do share this opportunity with recommended potential students, in History, Digital History, and/or Digital Humanities. An official advert will appear soon on UoE digital real estate, but I’m posting here first for expediency!

Fully funded AHRC SGSAH CDA Studentship: “Slavery and Race in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768-1860): A Text Mining Approach”

Application deadline – 5pm on Monday 17th May

Award – Annual stipend of £15,690 per year and tuition fees for 3.5 years (FTE). Open to Home and International students. (The successful candidate should reside within reasonable distance to the University of Edinburgh during the course of their studies).
PhD – English Literature

The University of Edinburgh and the National Library of Scotland are seeking a doctoral student for an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award, “Slavery and Race in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768-1860): A Text Mining Approach”. The project has been awarded funding by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities (SGSAH) and will be supervised by Professor Melissa Terras (College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Edinburgh), Professor Diana Paton (William Robertson Professor of History, University of Edinburgh), Dr Sarah Ames (Digital Scholarship Librarian, National Library of Scotland) and Robert Betteridge (Rare Books Curator (Eighteenth-Century Printed Collections), National Library of Scotland).

The studentship will commence on 13th September 2021. We warmly encourage applications from candidates who have a grounding in EITHER text and data mining/Digital Humanities, with proven knowledge and understanding of the history of slavery and/or race, OR UG/PG study of the history of slavery and/or race while demonstrating good technical skills and an interest in Digital Humanities/ Digital History methods. This is an extraordinary opportunity for a strong PhD student to explore their own research interests, while working closely with a major cultural heritage organisation, in important issues regarding the legacy of slavery in our information environment. 

The student will be based in the School of Literature, Languages and Cultures, at the George Square campus of the University of Edinburgh, but will also spend considerable time in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, and at the National Library of Scotland. There will be a period of funded work placement at the National Library of Scotland, which will be co-determined with the student: for example, highlighting authors of articles relating to slavery and race in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and exploring how these link to Library Collections in innovative ways.

The award will include a number of training opportunities offered by SGSAH, including their Core Leadership Programme and additional funding to cover travel between partner organisations and related events. This studentship will also benefit from training, support, and networking via the School of History, Classics and Archaeology the Edinburgh Centre for Data, Culture and Society, and the Edinburgh Futures Institute. The student will be invited to join National Library PhD cohort activities.

Project Details

“Slavery and Race in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768-1860): A Text Mining Approach”

How is the impact and outcomes of Atlantic slavery represented or alluded to in historical information sources? What is the legacy of slavery in our printed information environment? What text-mining approaches can be used to identify, analyse, and visualise these diverse and problematic histories? This research will use advanced digital approaches to understand how race and slavery feature in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB). The first eight editions of the EB, published 1768-1860, from the height of the UK’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, to the abolition of British slavery in 1838, and to ongoing subsequent debates about slavery and race, contains rich content related to Atlantic slavery and to forms of racialisation that developed from it. Utilising data from the newly digitised 143 volumes of the EB from the National Library of Scotland’s Data Foundry (comprising 167m words), this research will both provide insight into the explicit and implicit representation of slavery, the slave trade and race in this key reference material, but also develop a best-practice methodology for others wishing to use text mining to analyse race and slavery within other historical information sources.

This CDA will involve learning (well established) text and data mining approaches, applying them to the EB, involving unique corpus analysis that would need to consider the intellectual and cultural context in which eighteenth and nineteenth-century encyclopaedias were produced and published, and also linking and cross-referencing to other information sources available within the National Library of Scotland collection. By searching, analysing, and visualising the ways in which terms related to slavery appear in this essential reference material, using a variety of methods including GIS, accurate geoparsing, and following concepts and their relationships diachronically, we will both understand more about how Atlantic slavery was understood or instantiated within our information sources, whilst also developing a methodology for research into other similar primary reference material, and the ideas that they disseminated.

This is a timely topic, of significant relevance, given increasing interest in decolonising academic and cultural institutions. This project will have scholarly impact in Digital Humanities, History, and Library and Information Science, as we consider how to analyse, deconstruct and decolonialise historical information sources using computational methods, as well as contributing to discussions and policies at the National Library of Scotland on this topic.  

Eligibility

At the University of Edinburgh, to study at postgraduate level you must normally hold a degree in an appropriate subject, with an excellent or very good classification (equivalent to first or upper second class honours in the UK), plus meet the entry requirements for the specific degree programme.

In this case, applicants should offer a UK masters, or its international equivalent, with a mark of at least 65% in your dissertation of at least 10,000 words.

The AHRC also expects that applicants to PhD programmes will hold, or be studying towards, a Masters qualification in a relevant discipline; or have relevant professional experience to provide evidence of your ability to undertake independent research. Please ensure you provide details of your academic and professional experience in your application letter.

Experience in the study of the history of slavery and/or race, prior experience of digital tools and methods, an understanding of digitisation and the digitised cultural heritage environment, and use of quantitative research methods including text and data mining of historical sources, will be of benefit to the project.

The AHRC requires that students reside within a reasonable distance to their HEI as a condition of funding, although Covid disruption could be taken into account in the short term. 

Application Process

The application will consist of a single Word file or PDF which includes:

– a brief cover note that includes your full contact details together with the names and contact details of two referees (1 page).

– a letter explaining your interest in the studentship and outlining your qualifications for it, as well as an indication of the specific areas of the project you would like to develop (2 pages).

– a curriculum vitae (2 pages).

– a sample of your writing – this might be an academic essay or another example of your writing style and ability.

Applications should be emailed to pgawards@ed.ac.uk no later than 5pm on Monday 17th May. Applicants will be notified if they are being invited to interview by Tuesday 25th May. Interviews will take place week commencing Monday 31st May via an online video meeting platform.

Queries

If you have any queries about the application process, please contact: pgawards@ed.ac.uk

Informal enquiries relating to the Collaborative Doctoral Award project can be made to Professor Melissa Terras, m.terras@ed.ac.uk and Professor Diana Paton, Diana.Paton@ed.ac.uk

Further Information
How is the impact and outcomes of Atlantic slavery represented or alluded to in historical information sources? What is the legacy of slavery in our printed information environment? What text-mining approaches can be used to identify, analyse, and visualise these diverse and problematic histories? This research will use advanced digital approaches to understand how race and slavery feature in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB). The first eight editions of the EB, published 1768-1860, from the height of the UK’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, to the abolition of British slavery in 1838, and to ongoing subsequent debates about slavery and race, contains rich content related to Atlantic slavery and to forms of racialisation that developed from it. Utilising data from the newly digitised 143 volumes of the EB from the National Library of Scotland’s Data Foundry, this research will both provide insight into the explicit and implicit representation of slavery, the slave trade and race in this key reference material, but also develop a best-practice methodology for others wishing to use text mining to analyse race and slavery within other historical information sources.

The early EB was produced and published amidst the development of colonisation, globalisation and the transatlantic slave trade, and from its first edition it contained entries on slavery. Although the EB’s early success was facilitated by London book trading networks, it had distinctively Scottish roots, appealing to national sentiment.  In this context, examination of the early EB offers the possibility of discerning contemporary Scottish attitudes to slavery. The EB’s eventual popularity provides a useful case study concerning the representation and dissemination of ideas about slavery (and its abolition), but also the implicit legacies of the slave trade, such as the transmission of knowledge, culture, and products, as well as people. 

There is to date, a dearth of scholarship on the representation of chattel slavery in encyclopaedias. The limited studies that do exist amount to pieces of contextual evidence or small case studies that serve larger arguments. Much of the scholarship concerning the EB only examines it in terms of its publication history or epistemological approach. Studies of the early EB have omitted examination of change across particular entries across various editions. Investigation of the EB’s entry on slavery over time would in itself make a valuable historiographical addition. This doctoral project will go well beyond that, analysing the 167 million words contained in the 143 volumes of the first editions, using advanced Digital Humanities methods, particularly to look for implicit legacies of slavery, regarding products traded (eg cotton, sugar, tobacco, coffee), places mentioned (eg Haiti, Guyana, Saint Domingue, Calabar), individuals (eg Toussaint Louverture, William Wilberforce), or peoples (eg Igbo, Ashanti/Asante/Ashantee, Carib). 

Vincent Brown has argued that the nature of the slavery archive – riddled with gaps and silences – demands that historians move away from an approach that seeks straightforward ‘historical recovery’ to one that focusses on ‘rigorous and responsible creativity.’ (Vincent Brown, ‘Mapping a Slave Revolt: Visualizing Spatial History through the Archives of Slavery’, Social Text 33 (2015), p.134). There are existing, innovative digital humanities (DH) approaches to the study of slavery. Projects have used computational methods to explore large-scale corpora of slavery-related literature, examining the size of the English lexicon, the evolution of grammar and the frequency with which certain words or phrases were used over time, or in the study of emotions in narratives written by enslaved people. There is a broader range of DH projects that examine slavery in the Atlantic world, which have made novel historiographical contributions, perhaps most notably the broad databases Slave Voyages (https://www.slavevoyages.org/) and Legacies of British Slaveownership (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/), recently brought together with other projects as Enslaved (enslaved.org) but also the more focused Runaway Slaves in Britain (https://www.runaways.gla.ac.uk/) and the Early Caribbean Digital Archive (https://ecda.northeastern.edu/home/about/decolonizing-the-archive/). What we describe is the utilisation of (well established) text and data mining approaches, applied to the EB, involving unique corpus analysis that would need to consider the intellectual and cultural context in which eighteenth and nineteenth-century encyclopaedias were produced and published, and also linking and cross-referencing to other information sources available within the National Library of Scotland collection. By searching, analysing, and visualising the ways in which terms related to slavery appear in this essential reference material, using a variety of methods including GIS, accurate geoparsing, and following concepts and their relationships diachronically, we will both understand more about how Atlantic slavery was understood or instantiated within our information sources, whilst also developing a methodology for research into other similar primary reference material, and the ideas that they disseminated.

The University of Edinburgh is an ideal place to carry out this research. The Edinburgh Centre for Global History, which Paton directs, has Migration, Slavery and Diaspora studies as one of its three thematic hubs (https://www.ed.ac.uk/history-classics-archaeology/centre-global-history). The Centre for Data, Culture and Society’s recent push to establish text and data mining as a core research interest alongside training events and materials (https://www.cdcs.ed.ac.uk), aligned with support from the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre’s research software engineers (https://www.epcc.ed.ac.uk). We have already mounted the EB on EPCC systems, and ran preliminary searches on a selection of terms, as a pilot study to establish that there would be enough content upon which to build a PhD, in the analysis and visualisation of results. The candidate would be trained in both R and Python, and have access to our in-house text-mining at scale platform, Defoe (see “defoe: A Spark-based Toolbox for Analysing Digital Historical Textual Data”, Filgueira Vicente, R et al, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1109/eScience.2019.00033). 

This is a timely topic, of significant relevance, given the Black Lives Matter movement and increasing interest in decolonising academic and cultural institutions. The University of Edinburgh has recently established the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Institute Project on Decoloniality (2021-24) (https://www.iash.ed.ac.uk/institute-project-decoloniality) and the candidate can engage with this. This project will have scholarly impact in Digital Humanities, History, and Library and Information Science, as we consider how to analyse, deconstruct and decolonialise historical information sources using computational methods.  

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