PhD Studentship: “Making the Oceans Visible: Science and Technology on the Challenger Expedition (1872-­‐1876)

Via Heloise Finch-Boyer, National Maritime Museum
Following the award of an AHRC collaborative doctoral studentship to Dr. Simon Werrett (UCL) and Dr Heloise Finch‐Boyer (National Maritime Museum) for “Making the Oceans Visible: Science and Technology on the Challenger Expedition (1872-­ 1876)” a 3-­‐year fully funded AHRC studentship at UCL is available.
The successful candidate will be expected to carry out research for a doctorate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies, supervised by Dr Simon Werrett (STS) and Dr Heloise Finch-­‐Boyer (NMM). The student will undertake research at the National Maritime Museum and other London museums and archives. Candidates should be able to demonstrate an interest in the study of British maritime history and the history of science. They are normally expected to have a good Master’s degree in History, History of Science, Museum Studies, or a related discipline. A summary of the project is below.
Candidates should apply through the normal application procedure for the PhD degree at UCL, via an online application system:
Candidates should make clear in their personal statement that they are applying for the “Challenger studentship”. Candidates should explain in the statement their experience and/or qualifications for undertaking this project and they should describe how they will approach the topic to be researched. Candidates should also provide a sample of their work (an essay or Masters thesis chapter, for example) no longer than 3000 words.
Applicants are bound by AHRC eligibility criteria: only EU citizens can be given awards and for a full award UK residency is required. EU students will receive a fees only award, and UK resident students will receive fees and a stipend. Please see the AHRC<> pages for detailed guidance on this.
The deadline for applications will be 15 March 2014 and candidates should be ready to be called for interview for the studentship in the last week of March in London. It is expected that the successful candidate will take up the position in October 2014. Further enquiries about the position may be directed to<> or<>
Further Particulars:
Making the Oceans Visible: Science and Technology on the Challenger Expedition (1872‐1876)
This project is a new partnership between the National Maritime Museum and University College London, offering an innovative research project combining the History of Science, British maritime history and museum studies.
Before the nineteenth century, the ocean depths remained a mystery to Europeans. Even the Navy’s worldwide coastal surveys only emphasized how little people knew. From 1872 to 1876 the H.M.S. Challenger expedition, sponsored by London’s Royal Society and the Admiralty, set out to explore deep oceans. As the first expedition sent out with the primary aim of gathering scientific information, Challenger is now seen as the foundational voyage for the entire discipline of oceanography. Yet despite its importance, historians tend to study only small aspects of Challenger, and popular accounts tend to see the voyage as a “new dawn” of science. This PhD project examines the legacy of earlier exploration voyages for Challenger and considers its significance for histories of science, anthropology and museum studies.
Although scientists on board pioneered new deep‐water collecting techniques, the expedition actually drew on a far longer tradition of maritime science and exploration that began with Captain Cook. The Challenger story is now told in museums and aquariums around the world as story about environmental protection and saving our “blue planet”. In fact, at the end of the 19th century audiences were more interested in Challenger’s results which suggested the potential of commercial fisheries beyond Europe’s seas, and the exotic ethnographic materials brought back from remote Pacific islands.
Scholars have long sought to understand scientific expeditions at sea. Historians of European exploration have described life on board and encounters with other peoples in great detail. Yet the centrality of Cook tends to anchor histories of exploration in the 1770-­‐1840 period, whereas this project analyses its legacy in important later Victorian voyages such as Challenger. Many historians have focused attention on ship technology or the precision instruments used in Challenger, isolating its science and engineering aspects. This project links the science to the cultural, political and social dimensions of Challenger’s role in exploration history. Museum studies scholars are researching how exhibitions can change our assumptions about the history of exploration and geography. Studying how Challenger was exhibited from the 1880s and the stories told about oceanography adds to this research. It also contributes to discussions about how exhibitions using historic objects can present scientific debates.
Research Questions
Given Challenger’s significance, the central focus of the project will be an analysis of the influences on the voyage and its legacy. How did Challenger make the ocean knowable through experiments, practical skills and expertise? How were the results of the expedition made visible to different audiences in the past and today? The project will explore three issues:

  1. Challenger used novel techniques: bottom trawls, depth soundings, temperature measurements and specimen collections. The project will assess the ship, navigation and crew modifications deployed to make this possible. What new instruments, techniques and practices enabled Challenger, its scientists, officers and crew, to make the ocean knowable?
  2. The project will situate the history of the instruments and techniques used by Challenger in a longer tradition. While the voyage pioneered the use of photography, for example, the traditional method of painting and drawing specimens was also used. How did practices on Challenger differ from those used in previous voyages of exploration?
  3. Knowing the oceans did not, of course, finish with the end of Challenger’s voyage, but continued after. Objects and materials collected on the expedition were taken on land, distributed, researched, exhibited and discussed in laboratories, lecture halls, and museums across the country. The project will ask: how was knowledge of the oceans made visible after the Challenger expedition concluded?

The student will consider the entire history of Challenger’s voyage. There will also be considerable leeway to focus on one or more of the following research themes:
• History of Science and Technology: For the first time on Challenger the Captain shared his cabin with the chief scientist. This shows how closely sailing and science were linked on the expedition. The student could focus attention on the wide range of old and new instruments, ship modifications and new navigational practices that proved to be the foundation of oceanography.
• History of Anthropology: Challenger pioneered the use of photography, which provided graphic images of communities encountered on the voyage. The crew collected ethnographic objects from them, including human remains. The student could examine how previous exploration influenced the way that Challenger studied non-­European cultures, and how the expedition informed later cultural evolution theories.
• History of Museum Studies and Material Culture: The student could focus on what happened to the expedition’s oceanographic materials, instruments, specimens and objects after the voyage. It is possible to demonstrate how artefacts circulated around museums, universities, laboratories and exhibitions in the decades after Challenger. The student could show which objects were used to communicate knowledge long after the expedition had concluded.
Research Method
The student will begin researching the archival and object collections at the National Maritime Museum that are linked to the Challenger voyage. NMM has an official Challenger photograph album with ethnographic and technical images (some of the first photographs to be made on a voyage of exploration), memoirs, correspondence, logbooks and scientific data from Commission Captain Nares, Commander Maclear, Paymaster Hynes, Navigating Lieutenant and Abraham Smith. NMM holds Challenger oceanographic samples, instruments, medals, lithographs, ships plans, charts and models. As part of the doctoral research, the student will improve catalogue records of these items. The student will also be able to draw on a wealth of manuscripts, artworks and objects related to previous eighteenth-­‐ and nineteenth-­‐century British voyages of exploration.
After refining the research question, the student will link this material to objects and archives in other institutions. British institutions that have relevant holdings include the UK Hydrographic Office, the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, the Science Museum, the Royal Society, Edinburgh University and the University of Southampton. The Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego and the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco also have relevant objects
and archives related to Challenger.
To enhance research on how the historical objects derived from the Challenger expedition made the oceans visible, the student will engage with museum curators, restoration experts, learning professionals and design experts at the UCL Institute of Making. The student will study and experiment with ways of recreating historical evidence from Challenger (for example coral or sediment samples, water collecting bottles, dredgers or ethnographic objects) using 3D printing, reproductions, or digital software. These will provide resources for asking new research questions and for communicating the research, and will be trialled in learning programmes at the Rethink space and future Exploration Gallery at RMG.

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