Typewriters and commerce in Scotland, 1870s–1920s

AHRC-funded Collaborative PhD Studentship, with the University of St Andrews and National Museums Scotland

Deadline: 18 April 2017

Applications are invited for a three year AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Award, for October 2017 start, with the University of St Andrews and National Museums Scotland, to research and study the development of the consumer market for information and office technologies during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The award will enable to student to pursue doctoral research in a world-class history department, and to gain hands-on museums skills while working in a professional museum team.

The aim of the project is to investigate the ways typewriters were sold and used in Scotland during the first fifty years of their commercial availability. The project will innovatively combine the use of printed and archival historical sources (such as advertisements, catalogues and trade directories) with active engagement with the outstanding collections of early typewriters (and auxiliary devices) held by National Museums Scotland and Glasgow Museums, both of which have a philosophy of operating their technology collections where possible. The student will be able to analyse the different features of competing models, and consider how they were represented in marketing material; how certain features became more significant and standardized over time; and how users evaluated and valued the peculiarities of one model over another. In many cases, the student will be able to film the typewriters being used, in order to gain a richer understanding of different features, ease of use, and the aural/haptic ‘sensescapes’ of these information machines.

Gardner typewriter
The Gardner typewriter, from the 1890s, could print 84 symbols with
just 14 keys (and two change case keys).
National Museums Scotland: T.1931.264.

Supervised by historians of science and technology Dr Aileen Fyfe and Dr Sam Alberti, the student will be part of School of History in St Andrews, and of the Science & Technology department of National Museums Scotland. The student will join vibrant PhD community in both university and museum; as well as study facilities in both locations, they will have full access to the technology collections at the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museums Collections Centre and the new Glasgow Museums research facilities at Kelvin Hall. Support and advice will also be provided by Dr James Nott (St Andrews), Dr Klaus Staubermann (National Museums Scotland) and Heather Robertson (Glasgow Museums).

As well as undertaking the historical research, the student will – with appropriate training – document museum office technology collections, and design a web-based public inter-relational information resource to provide broader access to the rich stored collections. They will participate in museum public programmes and social media, as well as undertaking and co-ordinating photography of the collections.

We are looking for a motivated student who is keen to capitalize on this opportunity to develop his or her ideas, skills, and research independence in a highly supportive environment. Experience of working with museum collections and/or archives is desirable, though training in these areas will also be provided according to the student’s needs.  A demonstrated interest in the history of science and/or technology is also desirable.  The student will be based in St Andrews but will be expected to spend a considerable period of time in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to develop their theoretical and organisational approach in consultation with their supervisory team as the project develops.

Working across history of technology, material culture studies and business history, possible research questions include:

  1. How did manufacturers promote the unique features of their machines? Were those features designed or the legacy of the manufacturing pathway? How did the specifications change over 50 years? How/when did they become standardized?
  2. Where could you buy or rent a typewriter in Edinburgh or Glasgow? How were they marketed in Scotland and how did adverts explain the distinctive features? If you bought a typewriter, what else would you need to acquire (e.g. desks, desk chairs, carbon paper)? How often would a user ‘upgrade’ to a new machine, and why? How did adverts shape the gendered use of the machines?
  3. How did different models feel (and sound) to use? How and where did typists learn to type in Scotland, and on what machines? What do surviving machines tell us about remarkable degree of standardization, and what can we glean from them about current ICT choices and the way we handle modern devices? 

How to apply:  Applicants should submit the following items to: Dr Aileen Fyfe, School of History, University of St Andrews KY16 8BA by post or email (akf@st-andrews.ac.uk) no later than Tuesday 18 April 2017:

(i) a two-page curriculum vitae, including contact details of one academic referee
(ii) a sample of academic writing (approx. 2000-3000 words in length)
(iii) a 1-2 page letter outlining your suitability for this project,

Applicants should have a strong academic background in modern history, with a good first degree (at least 2.1, or equivalent) in History or a related subject; have obtained a masters-level qualification, preferably in history of science or technology, though related disciplines will be considered. We will also consider candidates who expect to have completed a relevant Master’s degree by October 2016. If not a native English speaker, applicants must be able to satisfy the English language entry requirements of the University of St Andrews; these can be consulted at https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/elt/entry/postgraduate/

Please note that the award is subject to the AHRC’s terms, to which applicants should refer before applying (see the Research Funding Guide at the bottom of this page on the AHRC website http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/research/researchfundingguide/). Note that overseas students are not eligible for AHRC awards (except under specific circumstances) and EU students need to assess whether they are eligible for fees and maintenance or fees only. Details of current maintenance and fee rates can be found on the ‘Current Research Awards’ page on the AHRC website (http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/research/). In addition, the Award carries  up to £1000/year of additional support from National Museums Scotland towards travel and related research costs.