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PhD studentship with the Royal Geographical Society

PhD studentship

  • Date06 January 2021

PhD studentship with the Royal Geographical Society (with the IBG) exploring the history, use, and legacy of systems of orthography.

Translating place: orthography and the problem of place names at the Royal Geographical Society, 1830–1919

technē CDA studentship

Applications are invited for a fully funded PhD studentship exploring the history, use, and legacy of systems of orthography (the conventions governing the spelling of place names) employed at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) between 1830 and 1919. The project, funded by the technē Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme, will be supervised by Dr Innes M. Keighren and Professor Veronica della Dora at Royal Holloway, University of London and by Dr Catherine Souch and Dr Sarah L. Evans at the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) (RGS-IBG). The project will begin in September 2021.

The Project

The project seeks to understand how the Royal Geographical Society attempted to resolve a seemingly intractable problem: how to accurately and authoritatively record the world’s place names in the face of dizzying variety in global spelling, pronunciation, and alphabet. Revealing how the RGS tackled the problem of orthography—and how it subsequently policed and promoted its solution—will tell us much about the connections between institutional authority and geographical knowledge and expose the complex relationships between indigenous and imperial modes of understanding space and place.

In tracing the development of the RGS’s orthographic systems, the successful applicant will show how geography and linguistics, and politics and diplomacy, shaped the way the world was brought to “order” in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Revealing the imperial underpinnings of orthography, and its impact on the production of maps and other geographical publications, the applicant will contribute to wider efforts to decolonise the discipline and to encourage new audiences to engage with its empirical and material legacies. The applicant will use community engagement activities—including counter-mapping—to challenge traditional histories of geography and to engage under-represented communities with the collections of the RGS-IBG.

The project will draw extensively on the book, map, and archival collections of the RGS-IBG, particularly the minutes and reports of the Orthography Committee (1879–1919). The applicant will benefit, in addition, from access to the Wiley Digital Archives platform, which provides searchable online access to a major proportion of the RGS-IBG’s manuscripts, maps, and atlases prior to 1953. The applicant will divide their time between the RGS-IBG and the Department of Geography and benefit from the supportive, world-leading research environments of each institution.

A full project description is available here.

The Studentship

The studentship (which is governed by UKRI’s terms and conditions) offers funding for 3.5 years of full-time study or 7 year of part-time study. The studentship will provide tax-free annual maintenance (stipend) payments at the standard AHRC rate* and will cover the costs of tuition fees at the “home” rate**. The costs of international fees (if applicable) will be met by a fee-reduction scholarship from Royal Holloway, University of London. The studentship also benefits from an additional annual CDA stipend of £550. Candidates are, in addition, eligible to apply for an additional six months of funding to engage in extended career or research development activities.

* For reference, the maintenance rate for 2020/21 (including £2,000 London Weighting) was £17,285. It is expected that this figure will increase slightly for 2021/22 and in each subsequent year of the studentship.

** £4,407 in 2020/21.

The Applicant

Applicants should have a good undergraduate degree and a distinction-level Master’s degree (or equivalent professional experience) in geography, history, linguistics, postcolonial studies, or a cognate field. Applicants should have experience in the analysis of primary and secondary historical sources and a demonstrated ability to communicate research to a range of different audiences, including non-specialists. Familiarity with one of the Romance languages would be an advantage, but is not a requirement.

During the studentship, the applicant will develop a familiarity with key debates in the historiography of geography and related fields. They will become familiar with the history and operation of the RGS-IBG and further develop their archival research skills (including with the Society’s digital platforms). The applicant will be supported in developing a range of public engagement activities (including, for example, teaching and learning resources, public talks and workshops, exhibitions, and participatory forms of working).

How to Apply

Applications be emailed to Dr Innes M. Keighren ( and should include the following documents (all as PDFs):

  1. A covering letter (maximum 2 pages) outlining your qualifications and suitability for the studentship, particularly in terms of previous experience and future career aims;
  2. A CV (maximum 2 pages), including contact details of at least one academic referee;
  3. A sample of your academic written work.

Applications should be submitted no later than 12 noon (12:00 GMT) on Monday, 8 February 2021.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to attend an online interview with the project supervisors during the week beginning 15 February 2021.

The successful candidate will then work with the supervisors to complete a formal technē application form for submission by 19 March 2021. The results of that stage of the competition will be know by the end of April 2021.

Informal enquiries may be directed to Dr Innes M. Keighren ( or Professor Veronica dell Dora (

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