Early Career Researchers

Some practical thoughts on short-term research fellowships

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I’m currently on a Short-Term Research Fellowship at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, and next month I’ll be on another at the Harry Ransom Center, at the University of Austin, Texas. These are my fourth and fifth short-term fellowships/research trips sponsored by an institution, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some thoughts and advice about the process of applying for and undertaking these kinds of fellowships.

*n.b. lots of institutions also offer short-term fellowships for maker/creators, although the advice here will probably be most relevant to historians and scholars of english literature undertaking research fellowships in American collections.

Before you go

Although short-term fellowships have been amongst some of my favourite things I’ve done as a scholar, they’re often quite complicated, so plan early.

Applications

Like other kinds of research fellowships, often you apply for short-term fellowships for the following academic year, meaning that you need to think about the process as early as possible. Keep a running list of potential institutions, with the dates that their fellowship competition closes, handy. For example, I applied for my current Huntington Fellowship in November 2016, which feels like a lifetime ago (n.b. I could have taken up my fellowship anywhere from June 2017, although accommodation would have been harder to get and travel would have been more expensive at shorter notice).

Also bear in mind that applying for these things can be a relatively substantial undertaking. Most short-term fellowships require a CV, detailed research proposal, and a list of objects/texts/archival materials that you will need to consult during the fellowship. It’s vital, particularly in an age of the digital facsimile, to be able to tell the committee exactly why you need to see these objects in person, and furthermore, why they are essential sources for the completion of this project.

Thirdly, remember that if a short-term fellowship of a month or longer seems like a quite a time commitment, several institutions (such as Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library) also provide travel grants to go and use their collections for a shorter period, usually around two weeks.

Career Benefits

Short-term research fellowships are highly competitive, and are offered by prestigious institutions. As research proposals are reviewed by a committee and then awarded funds to complete them, successful applications demonstrate that you are undertaking internationally-recognised, fundable, dynamic research. You may have also heard that fellowships beget fellowships: this was certainly true for me – once I’d received a couple of short-term fellowships, I was awarded two more short-term fellowships, followed by two longer-term postdoctoral fellowships. For postgraduate and early career researchers building their CVs, this sort of progression is hugely important for making you competitive on the job/postdoc market. Perhaps most importantly, the short-term fellowships I received were also vital sources of encouragement and success when it felt like a time of overwhelming rejection, and really made me feel like a valid researcher when I had just finished my PhD.

Costs

Although such fellowships are always remunerated, the extent to which this is the case varies vastly. Some institutions provide extremely generous lump sums, some provide smaller bursaries, and some provide a less generous bursaries but will book travel and accommodation for you, or offer the latter free. Depending on which of these is the case for your chosen institution, the amount may not cover the costs of transportation, accommodation, visa fees, and living away for a month or more. Furthermore, payment often comes after the fact, once you’ve been at and maybe even left the institution, so be aware that you may have to pay upfront for things and wait to be reimbursed at a later date. Additionally, not every institution will reimburse for the hidden cost of getting a visa (although some will), and many fellowships are taxed quite viciously (some up to as much as 30%, although getting a Social Security Number will help to reduce this number significantly – many institutions will say you don’t need this, but for heavily-taxed fellowships, like the Huntington, this is well worth it).

On the topic of the visa, again, this can be quite a lengthy process, requiring multiple forms and an in-consulate interview, something that can be expensive if, like me, you don’t live near a visa-issuing consulate. I’d always recommend scheduling the interview in Belfast over London, as it has quicker wait times and accommodation in the city is cheaper. Interview slots are often booked-up a long time in advance, and visa processing can take around a fortnight, so leave plenty of time for this at the other end so you don’t have to worry about not having your visa and passport by the time of your flight!

My final tip for things to do before you go, is to book accommodation as early as possible. If the institution offers accommodation, then it’s good to book this early as they’ll be scheduling multiple scholars into a single residence, and summer will always be oversubscribed due to term-time and teaching commitments. If you’re booking external accommodation, most institutions offer a list of recommended places, but once again the best/nearest places often fill up quickly. As a guide, I booked my accommodation for this trip in May 2017, over a year in advance, and the place I am staying was already nearly full for this Summer back then!

 

Whilst you’re there…

First few days: plan the trip 

Although fellowships seem long – two months away seems like ages – they go unbelievably quickly. As such, I’d recommend preparing for your research trip before you leave. However, this isn’t always practical, and I inevitably end up doing this the first few days after I arrive. For me this means re-reading my application, redoing my collections searches (this is particularly important as the kinds of objects I am interested in has expanded since I first wrote the application), and working out what extra-fellowship things I want to do and see (and eat!). Bear in mind that the first few days are often also taken up with orientations, having to visit the University’s international office, and other kinds of introductory events, so it can often take a full week to feel fully settled in. Finally, I’d recommend getting in touch with any scholars who live in the area who you’d like to meet – this is a great way for ECRs to make contacts internationally.

Writing retreat 

Short-term fellowships are also a great opportunity to get some serious writing done. I personally find I am the most intellectually generative during research trips, so I often feel inspired to write during fellowships. Although wonderful in other ways, fellowships can be lonely (particularly if the institution doesn’t offer shared accommodation) and the evenings and weekends can feel long and boring. At the same time, they’re also free from everyday work and home-life commitments, making them ripe to be treated as a kind of writing retreat. Depending on the length of the trip, I normally go away planning to make headway on one specific thing (usually a book-chapter or article length project for around two months of fellowship). Don’t be too ambitious with this though, as time always goes much more quickly than you anticipate.

Exploring 

Although it’s tempting to spend all of your time away working (see above), do spend some time exploring the area. I’m currently in California, having never visited before, so I’m currently enjoying weekends exploring Pasadena and LA. If you have twitter, make sure to ask your colleagues and followers for recommendations. Ultimately you won’t be able to do everything that is suggested, but it’s nice to have a plan for your downtime as much as it is your work time.

If you have any further questions, or would like to ask me more about any of the fellowships that I’ve been on, please do feel free to contact me via email or twitter! I’ll keep this post updated with any additional comments and suggestions as I get them.

*Addenda 

Dependents

Lots of people on twitter have asked about the practicalities and realities of taking short-term fellowships with dependents and care responsibilities. In short, short-term fellowships definitely privilege those who can drop anything and uproot for weeks and months at a time, meaning those with dependents and care responsibilities at home are inevitably less able to apply for them. Additionally, the costs of bringing over a whole family are higher, and if you’re on a visa, then you’ll also need to apply for dependents visas for your children. Some institutions, like the Folger Library, the Bard Graduate Center, and Yale Center for British Art, are actively aware of this, and offer family-sized apartments, and other kinds of support necessary, like organising education for visiting children at local schools. The best advice I can offer on this is to talk to each institution on an individual basis to discuss this, and see what they can offer. As a whole however, fellowship-offering institutions need to think about and address this head on, citing how they can provide for families visibly on their fellowship webpages. As noted above, fellowships can be great for career progression, and an individual’s home-life shouldn’t be something that prevents them from undertaking them.

Visa Issues 

As others have pointed out to me on twitter, the ease of being awarded a J1 visa can differ greatly depending on your race, ethnicity, and even your marital status, so this is definitely something to bear in mind. Be sure to talk to your fellowship-awarding institution about this, and see what advice their international office can give you regarding the process. Remember that often travel grants (eg. those of around two weeks or so) don’t require full visas, but ESTAs instead (if you’re from a country where the visa waver programme is an option), so this might be a way of getting around this.

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Award: Paul Mellon Centre for British Art Postdoctoral Fellowship

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I’m absolutely delighted to have been awarded a six-month Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art to conduct research for my project Collage before Modernism. When I’ll take the Fellowship will depend on how the next year shapes up, but I’ll do a lengthier post soon detailing what I’ll be up to during the Fellowship soon!

Programme and Registration for Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700-Present

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The programme and registration details for our conference Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700-Present are now online. The event will be preceded by a free half-day PG/ECR workshop, Collage in History, Theory, and Practice. Registration for this event is available here. But be quick – tickets are very limited for both events!

Looking Forward to 2018

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Just as I did last year, I wanted to make a post on this blog reflecting on 2017, whilst also looking forward to what’s happening in 2018. I find these kinds of posts interesting for a number of reasons, but primarily as an exercise in accountability (and specifically, for countering inaccurate feelings of ‘I didn’t do anything last year!).

2017 was a challenging but hugely rewarding year. It was a year of many exciting firsts. Travel-wise, it was my first time in America (on fellowships at the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale Center for British Art, and the Winterthur Museum), and my first time visiting Sweden, Umeå for the International Society for Cultural History 2017 Conference. I delivered my first lectures as part of Edinburgh’s History of Art 2 course, and I taught an honours course on my own for the first time, having previously taught at pre-hons for a number of years. I was also awarded my first postdoctoral fellowship, at IASH, the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, and I received short-term research fellowships from the Harry Ransom Center and the Huntington Library. Perhaps most excitingly, the last few months of 2017 have also seen the acceptance of my first journal article (to be published next year, in the journal Eighteenth-Century Fiction), and, in the last few days (!), my first book (more to come on this asap).

I also taught. A lot. In fact, I taught six courses across three schools, although my teaching load has been massively reduced since beginning my Postdoctoral Fellowship at IASH in September. IASH is a wonderfully engaging and supportive scholarly community, and I’m glad to be there until August of next year.

Indeed, 2018 is looking just as busy as 2017.

In January, I will continue writing and revising an article on collage, masculinity and Modernism, which will also form the basis of my January 10th Work in Progress Seminar at IASH (details here). I’m also delivering a Research Successes Forum workshop on ‘Fellowships’ on January 22nd. January will also see me back to teaching, as I cover Prof. Viccy Coltman’s hugely exciting 4th-year course, ‘From Jacobitism to Romanticism: The (Re)invention of Scotland in Visual and Material Culture’.

Apart from teaching, February to May will see me do lots more writing – particularly for my article, ‘Reflective and Reflexive Forms: Intimacy and Medium Specificity in British and American Sentimental Albums, 1780-1850’, an abstract for which was accepted for Journal18: a journal of eighteenth-century art and culture‘s special issue on ‘Albums’, due late 2018.

I’ll also be writing and revising the remaining chapters of my first book at this time, as well as editing mine and Katie Faulkner’s special issue of Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies on ‘Making Masculinity: Craft, Gender, and Material Production in the Long Nineteenth-Century’. The submissions we’ve had are hugely exciting, and I’m so looking forward to seeing this published next summer.

In April, our conference Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700-Present, will be held at the University of Edinburgh. We received over 120 abstracts for the conference, attesting to the vibrant and dynamic nature of this area of research. We’ll be finalising speakers and the programme very soon, and I’ll post that here then.

In June and July, I’m back to America, this time spending two consecutive months away, at the Huntington Library and the Harry Ransom Center, respectively. In August, I’m back to Edinburgh for a final month at IASH, which will provide the perfect opportunity to round things off.

As last year, I’ll have to end my post at a fairly-uncertain-September 2018, but what I know for sure is that I’ll be desperately trying to finish my book at that point, which is due by the end of 2018.

What are your plans for next year? Let me know using my twitter handle @Freya_Gowrley.

IASH Twitter Takeover – Favourite Collages #1 – ‘Collection of botanical collages from the circle of Booth Grey.’

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this week I’m over on the IASH twitter talking about my research project, Collage before Modernism. Yesterday, I asked you what some of your favourite collages were – and the results included: Joseph Cornell’s amazing boxes; quilts from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s 2010 exhibition; and queer zines, such as those preserved on .

Each day for the rest of this week, I’m going to introduce you to some of MY favourite collages, and first up, it’s this series of Botanical Collages from the Circle of Booth Grey, now housed at Yale Center for British Art (YCBA).

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I was lucky enough to spend a month at YCBA in May this year as part of their Visiting Scholarship programme. During this time I looked at a huge amount of amazing material, but perhaps the most puzzling was the ‘Collection of botanical collages from the circle of Booth Grey.’ With their black grounds and stark attention to the details of the plants that they replicate, the collages clearly echo those made by Mary Delany, many of whose infamous and extensive series of botanical collages – what she called her ‘paper mosaicks’ – are now in the collections of the British Museum. Delany’s collages just one example of Delany’s industrious material production – she also made shell work, engaged in needlework, and drew and painted. As such, the collages have been discussed in terms of feminine accomplishment, craft practices, botanical amateurism, and female friendship, all of which provide compelling contexts in which to understand these works. Grey’s collection, however, complicates this paradigm.

The attribution to Grey – an elite male – is accordingly tentative. The series’ current record title on the YCBA catalogue – ‘Collection of botanical collages from the circle of Booth Grey’ – indicates only an ambiguous relationship to Grey. He is not necessarily identified as artist, or owner, we are told only that the collages have some connection to him. Yet this identification was prompted by some fairly compelling evidence: an inscription on the original album that once held these collages ’98 Plants done by the Honble. Booth Grey’, ‘done’, here, of course, suggesting that they were ‘made’ by Grey.

Grey certainly could have come into contact with Delany: as the younger son of the Countess of Stamford, and whose older brother was married to the Duchess of Portland’s daughter Henrietta, Grey was part of the elite, and crucially, creative, social circle in which Delany also moved. Kohleen Reeder also supposes that Grey even gave Delany some of her specimens, highlighting a potential relationship that was directly related to these material and artistic practices. Yet despite these corroborating details, there is a palpable reluctance to link Grey to these objects, a feeling that something about this picture must be wrong. Key to this hesitancy, I think, is a general assumption that men simply did not make collage – certainly not during this period, in the late eighteenth century. By 1912 of course, and the advent of Modernism, men certainly did make collage, and that collage was definitively art. This is the date of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque’s earliest papier collé, as exemplified by works such as Picasso’s Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper of 1913. By this point, collage has become a key visual weapon in the attack on traditional painted representation; a central form of Modernist experimentation. This narrative of the Modern invention of collage, however, entirely divorces it from those images and objects that preceded it. The paper flowers of Delany, and, maybe, of Grey, lie far from Picasso’s radicalism, tinged by their association with the explicitly female frameworks of craft, amateurism, and the domestic.

Yet attention to collages like those ‘from the circle of Booth Grey’ – whatever that ultimately might mean – provide a chance to challenge this neatly drawn timeline with its rigid, teleological chronology. Instead they allow us to rethink the relationship between collage and craft; between masculinity and modernism. During my Postdoctoral Fellowship at IASH, I’ll be teasing out this complex relationship in my article, ‘Collage, Masculinity, and the Modern: Gendered Art Histories 1780-1912’, which is forthcoming as part of the Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies Special Issue, ‘Making Masculinity: Craft, Gender, and Material Production in the Long Nineteenth-Century’ that I’m co-editing with Dr Katie Faulkner. Whatever the ‘truth’ around Booth Grey’s collages, they provoke a number of questions that I am excited to try and answer.

Award: IASH Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

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I’m thrilled to announce that from September 2017 until August 2018 I will be joining the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. The fellowship is ten months long, but includes a two-month interruption for my fellowships at the Huntington and the Harry Ransom Center. The fellowship will allow me to conduct research for my postdoctoral research project, Collage before Modernism: Art, Intimacy and Identity in Britain and North America, 1700-1900. I’ll post more about my time at IASH as I take up the Fellowship.

Award – Huntington Library Short Term Fellowship

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I’m thrilled to have been awarded a Huntington Library Short Term Fellowship for the 2017-2018 academic year. The award will allow me to conduct research for my postdoctoral project Collage before Modernism. The broader project will provide an unprecedented history of ‘assemblage’ produced in Britain, North America, and British India between 1700 and 1900. Employing an inclusive definition of the term, the project will examine a variety of material and literary forms of assemblage, including paper collage, shellwork, scrapbooking, and photocollage, and will explore how their production reflected the intimacies, interests, and identities of their makers.

The Fellowship will facilitate research for several aspects of the broader project, including an examination of a number of scrapbooks, commonplace books (both manuscript and published), and albums in the Library’s collections. I’ll also be looking at the correspondence of Robert Southey, Charles Lamb, and Elizabeth Montagu, and a number of grangerized books.