MERL Fellowships

MERL Fellowships are open to scholars wishing to undertake collections-based research here at the Museum. The scheme aims to foster and facilitate research that will enhance and extend understanding and knowledge of the countryside, food, and farming, with an emphasis on exploiting the Museum's outstanding collections. These connect to a broad spectrum of disciplines including agriculture, design, archaeology, anthropology, material culture studies, social policy, plant and animal sciences, and social, economic, and disciplinary history.

Please note that MERL Fellowships in their usual form have been on hold since 2014. The current Special MERL fellowship was designed to complement a range of current and ongoing activity within the Museum and, as such, was not subject to the usual application process. It is expected that the competition for Fellowship funding will resume towards the end of 2016 with a view to selecting a new MERL Fellow for 2017. Further details will be added to these pages in due course.

Those interested in undertaking research at MERL may also be interested in other collections-based research opportunities within the University of Reading.


Antonia Bruce2016 Special MERL Fellowship

The 2016 MERL Fellowship has been awarded to Antonia Bruce, Lead Artist at the First Food Residency (FFR).

The aim of this Fellowship is to support MERL’s participation in the First Food Residency.  A key purpose is to help develop the Museum’s knowledge, networks and experience in relation to working with artists, with particular reference to the Museum’s ambitions to develop a sustainable approach to its public engagement activity linked to food, nutrition and environmental issues.

In addition to supporting Antonia's research and development of FFR, this will involve:

  • Arranging, in collaboration with University of Reading colleagues, three international residencies to be hosted by MERL. The artists will be encouraged, through their research, to draw on and promote awareness of the collections and facilities of the Museum.
  • To instigate a workshop based at MERL around either Chocolate or Amaranth, as part of a First Foods project, with the scheduling of First Food artists and related community educational programmes in conjunction with the Museum.



Chris GreenGwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowship

This Fellowship has been generously endowed to commemorate the life and work of the late Gwyn E. Jones, who served for many years as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development here at the University of Reading. He was directly involved in the work of this Museum for a number of years as a member of the MERL Advisory Committee.

Current Fellow

In 2013 the Museum was pleased to award the Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowship to Chris Green, an independent scholar and museum professional. Chris has already begun in earnest on a project that is geared towards production of a Historical Dictionary of Hand Tools, Devices and Equipment for General Agricultural Work. The broad aim is to produce a well-honed, detailed, and referenced listing of technologies used in farming contexts prior to the impact of mechanisation. This will lead to various outputs, both digital and otherwise, and will embed further expertise and significant detail in the Museum’s collections database. As Chris notes:

‘Surprisingly little has been written on English tools, and there is rarely much consideration of their date and development (e.g. to suit changing tasks, or new methods of manufacture). Because the subject is so large I will be looking at tools and equipment for general agricultural work such as land clearance, drainage, hedging, ditching, manuring, weeding, lifting and carrying, but excluding items used specifically in arable and livestock farming. In addition to the collections on display and in reserve at MERL, I will be trying to extend the study back into the more distant past using tool catalogues, photographs, prints and drawings, early writings on agriculture, and archaeological finds back to medieval times. The ways in which tools were made and sold is of particular interest, reflecting the decline of local suppliers like the village smith in the face of new specialist tool making centres.’

As a result of this exciting project, Chris will be helping to improve the way in which tool holdings are both catalogued and understood at MERL and will be offering advice on identifications of materials both in store and on display. His regular presence and ready supply of expertise will also prove invaluable in preparations and planning concerning the Our Country Lives project.


Previous MERL Fellows:

Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowship 2012-13

In 2012 the Museum was pleased to award the Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowship to Dr Rachel Worth, Professor of Dress History at the Arts University College at Bournemouth. Rachel worked for the duration of the Fellowship on a book - Clothing the Landscape: Representations of Rural Working-Class Dress 1850-1900 - for forthcoming publication by Oxford University Press / Pasold Research Trust. Her research explored the subject of rural working-class dress through both visual sources (surviving garments, paintings and photographs) and literary sources (documentary and fictional) and drew upon the object and archival collections at MERL, which offer a diverse and unique range of relevant material for the study of the subject.

Gwyn E Jones MERL Fellowships 2011-12

In 2011 the Museum was pleased to be able to award two Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowships.

The first of these was awarded to Professor Keith Grieves for a research project entitled 'Open spaces after the Great War: reafforestation, remembrance and recreation.' Keith is Professor of History and Education at Kingston University, London. His work to date has included detailed examination of the planning processes that underpinned the placement of rural war memorial structures. His Fellowship has explored ideas of countryside access in the aftermath of the First World War, with a particular emphasis on forestry and on the use of woodland for both recreation and remembrance. As well as disseminating the results of this project in a monograph and in peer-reviewed journals, Keith has been keen that the project helps facilitate the Museum's development of educational resources and interpretative materials centred on the Great War.

The Museum was also able to welcome its first overseas Fellow, Dr Joseph Hodge, who is Associate Professor of History at West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia. His interests lie in the history of science and development work in the fields of ecology and agriculture, with a particular focus on the post-colonial period. Joseph's Fellowship work has examined a cohort of scientists and technical experts who worked on tropical agriculture in the British colonial empire, and who went on to subsequent careers in international research and overseas development. The University of Reading represents an important intersection in these areas and the project has aimed to explore the work of many figures with strong connections to the University. Indeed, during the 1960s and 1970s the efforts of figures such as Gwyn E. Jones (in whose honour this Fellowship is named) led to the emergence of the University as a leading centre for the study of agricultural extension and rural change. Projected outcomes of Joseph's work include the completion of a book and further scholarly dissemination based here at the Museum.

MERL Fellowship 2010-11

Archive photograph of a snowdriftIn 2010 the MERL Fellowship was awarded to Dr John Martin for his investigation into ‘The impact of the weather on the agricultural sector: case studies of the drought of 1975-76 , 1963 winter and the bleak midwinter 1947.’ John is Reader in Agrarian History at De Montfort University, Leicester. To date, his main research interests have centred on the impact of government policies on British agriculture and the countryside since the 1930s. His publications include The Development of Modern Agriculture: British farming since 1931 (2000), The Encyclopaedia of Traditional British Rural Sports (co-editor, 2005), The Frontline of Freedom: British farming in the Second World War (co-editor, 2007). His numerous articles include 'George Odlum, The Ministry of Agriculture and "Farmer Hudson"', Agricultural History Review (2007) and The Commercialisation of British Turkey Production, Rural History (2009). He has also contributed 54 articles to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. For more detailed information about the outcomes of this Fellowship please visit the online exhibition of John Martin's work. John continues to champion the work of MERL in a variety of contexts and, through his association with the Museum has become an advisor on the television series Wartime Farm.

West Berkshire MERL Fellowship 2009-10

In 2009 the West Berkshire MERL Fellowship was awarded to Dr Hilary Crowe. Hilary trained as a chartered accountant and had an established career in finance before returning to academic life. Her PhD examined agriculture in Westmorland during the first half of the twentieth century. This Fellowship formed a major strand of her post-doctoral research into the financial performance of upland agriculture during the post-war period. Hilary's original thesis made extensive use of the Farm Management Survey whose primary returns are held here at the Museum. These papers comprise several thousand sets of farm accounts from across England and Wales over a 50-year period, enabling local and regional differences in profitability to be uncovered. Hilary has published a number of papers including 'Keeping the wheels of the farm in motion': Labour shortage in the uplands in the Great War', Rural History (2008) and 'Profitable Ploughing of the Uplands?' The food production campaign in the Great War', Agricultural History Review (2007).

Sir John Higgs MERL Fellowship 2008-09

In 2008 the Sir John Higgs MERL Fellowship was awarded to Dr Clare Griffiths, Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. Clare has a background in rural and agricultural history, with particular interests in agricultural policy and rural politics. Her books include Labour and the Countryside: the politics of rural Britain 1918-1939 (2007). Her Fellowship work focused on the photographic collections of the Museum, as well as other print-media sources, and sought to examine the changing image of farmers and farming during the course of the twentieth century. The project led to a number of outcomes including a MERL Seminar on 19 May 2009 entitled 'Heroes of the reconstruction? Images of farmers and farming in war and peace', and a temporary exhibition at the Museum entitled Farming for the New Britain: images of farmers in war and peace (2010), which was guest-curated by Clare. The content of this display will also form the basis of an online exhibition in due course and, along with an exhibition resulting from Dr Nicola Verdon's Fellowship work (see below), provided material for a public engagement case study entitled Research on Show.

MERL Fellowships prior to 2008

  • David Viner, former museum director and now freelance consultant, undertook a significant project related to farm wagons. David has recently returned to the Museum to assist on a visit by members of blacksmithing and wheelwrighting staff from Colonial Williamsburg. His expertise and in-depth knowledge of the Museum's wagons collections proved invaluable in this context.
  • Richard Tranter, Centre for Agricultural Strategy, University of Reading, examined how the interwar agricultural recession affected the Berkshire Downs. His work has led to the production of a paper on the Berkshire Downs, 1921-38, for Agricultural History Review, which is due for publication in 2012.
  • Professor Andrew Godley, University of Reading Business School examined the development of the chicken industry. He was subsequently awarded £500,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to continue this research. Click on the following link to download a working paper about his project, entitled The Chicken, the Factory Farm and the Supermarket (pdf. 130KB)
  • Dr Richard Bonser, Centre for Biomimetics, School of Construction Management and Engineering, University of Reading, examined the biomimetics of the chicken.
  • Dr Nicola Verdon, now of Sheffield-Hallam University, examined the role of women in agriculture during the interwar period. The project led to a number of outcomes including a temporary exhibition at the Museum entitled Land ladies: women and farming 1900-1945 (2011), which was guest-curated by Nicola. Along with an exhibition resulting from Dr Clare Griffith's Fellowship work (see above), this display provided material for a public engagement case study entitled Research on Show.


How to apply to the MERL Fellowship scheme 2014-15

Applications are invited for the Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowship scheme for 2014-15, tenable for up to twelve months, to support academic research in subject areas associated with the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) at the University of Reading.

Successful proposals attract a stipend of up to £10,000 for a maximum period of twelve months. Applications for shorter periods of research are welcome but would attract a commensurately smaller stipend. The funding can be used to offset teaching and administration costs, and other research-related expenses. Appropriate facilities are provided and Fellows are encouraged to participate in the academic programmes of the Museum.

This Fellowship has been generously endowed to commemorate the life and work of the late Gwyn E. Jones, who served for many years as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development here at the University of Reading. He was directly involved in the work of this Museum for a number of years as a member of the MERL Advisory Committee.

The intention for this Fellowship is to create an opportunity for a researcher to develop and disseminate new work in the broad arena of rural research. Applications should aim to perpetuate Gwyn Jones' own passion for the study of rural matters, and to reflect the spirit of his contributions to this field. We would urge potential applicants to examine details of recent Fellowships awarded and completed, as well as to explore the potential for connectivity with current and ongoing activity at the Museum, such as the Collecting Rural Cultures, Sense of Place, Reading Connections, and Our Country Lives projects.

  • Applicants should submit a written proposals (of up to 1000 words), as well as a breakdown of expenditure for the stipend requested, a cv, and ensure that references have been provided by two referees by 1 May 2014.
  • Please note that for administrative reasons applicants are responsible for ensuring that references reach the Museum by the closing date. Referees should send their references direct to Dr Oliver Douglas at the address below. Applicants should ensure that referees are familiar with the content of their proposal and are able to comment directly on their ability to deliver the work outlined. In instances where the applicants have an institutional affiliation, applicants should seek references from external sources.
  • Applicants should provide details of plans for the dissemination of their research programme, including publication and the preparation of research funding proposals to further their work on the Museum collections. They may wish to include one or more examples of ways in which they would hope to disseminate their research by way of the Museum's own academic and public programmes.
  • We would strongly encourage applicants to contact us in advance for an informal discussion about ways in which their work might connect with ongoing activities at the Museum or with particular collections. For further informal enquiries please email Dr Oliver Douglas or call 0118 378 8660.
  • You may find it useful to make use of the Museum's online catalogue to search the collections.
  • Applications should be sent or emailed to Dr Oliver Douglas - Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading, Redlands Road, Reading, RG1 5EX

Assessment of applications will be by a process of peer review and by an expert panel, with the successful candidate being expected to submit a report on completion of their Fellowship.

Click on the following link to download full (and revised) details of this year's Fellowship, including a short biography of Gwyn E. Jones - MERL Fellowship 2014-2015 (pdf 45kb).

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