Oxford University Museums (Ashmolean Museum Cast Gallery) and School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award: Applications Invited

Original copies in the modern museum: value, authority, authenticity and practice in the uses of archaeological plaster casts

Applications are invited for an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA), to enable the exploration and reassessment of archaeological cast collections, and questions of authenticity, authority and value, in contemporary museum practice. The studentship is part of the Oxford University Museums Collaborative Doctoral Partnership, funded through the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme which is facilitates collaboration between a Higher Education Institution and a museum, library, archive or heritage organization (http://www.ahrc-cdp.org/about/).

The successful candidate will commence their PhD in October 2017. They will hold their CDA in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, the world’s leading centre for research and scholarship in museum studies, and will work in partnership with the Cast Gallery at the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, a major art and archaeology museum with an exceptional classical archaeological cast collection. The project will be supervised jointly by Dr Sandra Dudley (University of Leicester), Professor Bert Smith (Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology & Art, University of Oxford) and Dr Milena Melfi (Ashmolean Museum and Classics Faculty, University of Oxford). The student will be expected to spend time in both Leicester and Oxford, as well as becoming part of a wider cohort of CDP-funded students across the UK.

The Project

This project will contribute new ways of thinking about the life and significance of replicas and copies in museums, and of cast collections in particular. The research is very timely: the last international conference devoted to the topic, Destroy the Copy II, organised by the Freie Universität Berlin (8 to 10 October 2015), expressed the urgency of sharing views, knowledge and practice over the value of casts and their future. This CDA will contribute to addressing this need for impactful work in this area in general, and in the Ashmolean’s cast collection, in particular.

The research aims to explore the possibilities that may lie in considering casts in museums as what they are, rather than what they stand for. It will examine questions such as: Do cast collections have their own value, or do they inevitably comprise secondary, supplementary objects? What right do they have to be kept and exhibited in a museum? Are they simply copies of masterpieces, made of poorer material? Do they have intrinsic value, and if so, what is it? What perceptions do visitors have of casts? What are museum professionals’ main challenges in curating and presenting these materials? Are there alternative means of engaging and enabling visitors to engage with them? And how might such an investigation inform current scholarship and practice around authenticity, object potentiality and visitor experience in museums?

Over the last few decades, plaster cast collections have become an increasingly resonant area for scholarly research and museum practices. There has been renewed interest in such objects – from their role as teaching materials and means of representing absent and lost works, to broader recognitions of their artefactual appeal for display. Yet in most of these approaches, casts continue to be dependent upon the originals from which they were derived, with their own intrinsic identities as objects in their own right, still neglected. How far do the casts’ own qualities have particular effects on museum visitors, and how far are these effects enhanced or altered by other factors too? Recent work in material culture theory and museum studies, particularly that focused around object materiality and object agency, will provide an important critical context for understanding this aspect of classical archaeological casts. At the same time, disentangling the specificities of casts in museums from wider debates on authenticity in the arts and in museums, and reconsidering the role and value of cast collections in contemporary museum practice, will ultimately widen access to and the possibilities of these artefacts. 

The research will be interdisciplinary, drawing on relevant work in the fields of archaeology, history of ancient art, art criticism, material culture, museum studies, visitor studies, etc. It will involve field research conducted in the Ashmolean Museum’s Cast Gallery, utilising a combination of methods that will likely include ethnographic techniques together with some experimental interventions and evaluations thereof. The student will also make broader contacts with other academics, researchers, professionals and visitors, from significant displays of archaeological casts and with related interests in replica objects and/or authenticity, in order to deepen the research and its potential impacts, and to build and strengthen wider collaborations.   

Research Resources and Supervisory Arrangements

The award holder will work in both Leicester and Oxford, as well as conducting research visits elsewhere as appropriate.

In the Ashmolean Museum, she or he will have an opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of work in a leading museum. This will include hands-on curatorial and documentation work, and a thorough insight into the conservation issues surrounding archaeological casts, as well as face-to-face work with museum visitors and the potential for experimental interpretive intervention in the Cast Gallery as part of the project’s research methodology. The award holder will in regular contact with Dr Milena Melfi, Assistant Curator of the Cast Gallery, who will mentor the PhD student on museum curatorship and scholarship, and on the practicalities of working in the Ashmolean. Dr Melfi is a specialist in Hellenistic archaeology and material culture, has published widely in her area of expertise and curated with Prof Smith the temporary exhibition Gods in Colour: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity at the Ashmolean’s Cast Gallery, in 2015. The award holder will also receive supervision from Professor Bert Smith, Curator of the Cast Gallery and Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology & Art. Professor Smith is a specialist in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Late Antique periods, the Director of New York University’s excavations at Aphrodisias (since 1991) and the author and editor of many books and articles in his area of expertise. The Cast Gallery possesses one of the best, richest, and ever-increasing, British collections of archaeological casts. With its own spacious and well-lit gallery in the heart of a museum of archaeology and art, it is accessible for both scholars and general visitors from around the world, popular with schools and used as a local entertainment venue. It also has a special connection with the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Classics that makes it a source for outreach and a hub of higher education. Dr Melfi, Professor Smith and other academic staff of the gallery, being involved in the teaching and researching of Classical Archaeology and Art for the University will provide invaluable guidance for the research and world-wide contacts with collections of archaeological casts.

The award holder’s academic department will be the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, where the PhD student will be supervised by Dr Sandra Dudley. Dr Dudley is a social and material anthropologist whose work focuses on objects, object effects and engagements with objects. She has published widely in this area, including Museum Materialities (2010), Museum Objects (2012) and the forthcoming Displaced Things (2017). The School of Museum Studies is the oldest and largest unit of its kind in the world. With 13 permanent research and teaching staff, together with the socially engaged Research Centre for Museums & Galleries and other research staff, it has a strong culture not only of research excellence but also of impact. Through its often collaborative research, the School has made a significant and sustained contribution both to the specific field of museum studies and to the UK and international cultural sectors more widely. The School has extensive experience of working with external partners, including in collaborative doctoral partnership schemes. It also has a large and lively postgraduate research community with full-time and part-time students from around the world. Extensive training, support and resources are provided at School, College and University levels for research students at all stages. The School has a research seminar series, dedicated space for research student work and an annual PhD summer school.

The award holder will initially be a registered probationary research student in the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, moving to full PhD registration subject to satisfactory completion of the probationary review towards the end of the first year. She or he will be subject to all the University regulations that govern the University of Leicester’s research students, and will be able to utilize all the available training and other opportunities open to University of Leicester research students, as appropriate. This includes research skills training and wider professional development opportunities and resources, excellent research resources via the University Library, the University’s IT services and other services provided by the University.

The student will be expected to contribute to the research student community and life of the School of Museum Studies. As appropriate they will also be expected to contribute to the national cohort of AHRC CDP students and to the wider College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities within the University of Leicester, to which the School of Museum Studies belongs. They will also be expected to attend and contribute to relevant research seminars and other events within the School of Museum Studies, Ashmolean Museum, Faculty of Classics at Oxford, and other schools and departments at Leicester.

Financial support

For eligible students, the studentship is fully funded by the AHRC. The award pays tuition fees and a maintenance grant each year for a maximum of three years of full-time doctoral study, subject to eligibility and evidence of satisfactory progress. For eligibility, see: http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/documents/documents/termsconditionstraininggrants-pdf/

The studentship will begin in October 2017. It will cover tuition fees at home/EU rate and provide a maintenance award at RCUK rates. In addition, the Ashmolean Museum will allocate up to £2,000 to the award holder each year, to a maximum of £6,000 over the duration of the studentship. This is primarily to cover the costs of travel and accommodation between Oxford and Leicester, but other costs that derive directly from the requirements of collaborative activities will be allowable. This financial support will be claimed directly from the Ashmolean Museum through its usual expenses claim procedure.


We are looking for an excellent, highly promising and appropriately qualified student who will embrace the opportunity to bring together academic research in museum studies with experience and training in a leading British museum.

All applicants must meet the AHRC’s academic criteria and residency requirements. See: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/documents/guides/research-funding-guide/

Candidates should:

1. Have a first or upper-second class honours degree or equivalent.

2. Have completed a masters-level qualification, or be expecting to complete this

by the time of starting the PhD.

3. Be a resident of the UK or European Economic Area (EEA).

4. In general, full studentships are available to students who are settled in the UK and have been ordinarily resident for a period of at least three years before the start of postgraduate studies. Fees-only awards are generally available to EU nationals resident in the EEA. International applicants are normally not eligible to apply for this studentship.

In addition, the successful candidate is likely to have:

1. A degree in archaeology, ancient history, classics or art history, and a master’s degree in museum studies, Classical archaeology or other relevant area of study.

2. Knowledge of classical art.

3. Possibly knowledge of Latin and Ancient Greek.

4. Experience of working with material sources, possibly in a museum environment.

5. Excellent interpersonal skills and possibly some prior experience of working and/or conducting research with museum visitors.

6. Excellent IT skills

How to Apply

Interested candidates are asked to submit the following by the deadline of 5.00 pm on 31 March 2017:

1. A covering letter and CV.

2. Full transcripts of all previous degree results.

3. Evidence of competence in English, if English is not your first language.

5. A research proposal of 1,000-1,500 words. This should identify how your current academic interests relate to the doctoral project, and explain your reasons for wishing to undertake this research. The research proposal should also indicate critical contexts for the project. It can also outline how you might wish to refine the project so as to meet specific research aims of your own.

6. A sample of work, such as a journal publication or a chapter from an undergraduate or master’s dissertation.

Applications should be sent by email, as one Word document. Please identify the email subject as: ‘AHRC CDP: PhD Studentship – Cast Gallery’.

Your email should arrive by 5.00 pm on 31 March 2017, and should be emailed to:

Dr Sandra Dudley, at shd3@le.ac.uk

and copied to:

Dr Milena Melfi, at milena.melfi@classics.ox.ac.uk

You will also need to ask TWO referees to email references by the same deadline, for the attention of Dr Dudley and copied to Dr Melfi, as above.

Your referees will ideally be familiar with your academic work and able to assess your potential and preparedness to undertake PhD research.

The successful candidate will be required to make a formal application to the University of Leicester to study for a PhD in Museum, Heritage and Gallery Studies, by completing the online application form available via:



The deadline for receipt of applications and references is 5.00 pm on 31 March 2017.

You will be notified by 13 April 2017 if you have an interview.

Interviews are likely to be held in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford on 24 April, though this may change according to circumstance.

Further information

Informal enquiries relating to the project can be directed to Dr Sandra Dudley at shd3@le.ac.uk

Information about studying for a PhD in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester is available at http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/museumstudies/PhD-Students

General enquiries about applying for a PhD in the School of Museum Studies can be sent to Christine Cheesman at cmc17@le.ac.uk

Information about research in the Cast Gallery at the Ashmolean Museum is available at


General enquiries about the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership at Oxford University Museums can be sent to Harriet Warburton at harriet.warburton@ashmus.ox.ac.uk

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