Getting down to research at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas

Getting down to research at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas

Alison Clarke

Alison Clarke worked as a translator from French and Italian, before beginning her AHRC CDP.

Alison is doing her PhD at the National Gallery and University of Liverpool. Her project, using the archives of the very British art dealers Agnew’s, has led to research trips to California, Connecticut and Texas.

What brought you back into education?
I was ready for a new challenge, and decided that I wanted my career to move in a different direction. I studied for an MA in Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Culture at the Warburg Institute, which paved the way for me to start my PhD directly afterwards.

How did you hear about the AHRC CDP scheme?
My Warburg MA was organised in partnership with the National Gallery, the organisation with which I am now doing my PhD. I hadn’t actually thought about doing a PhD when I started my MA, but hearing about the kinds of partnership projects being carried out at the National Gallery and other institutions really sparked my interest in going down this route.

What attracted you to doing your PhD as part of the CDP scheme?
The opportunity to gain insight and experience in the heritage sector at the same time as working towards my research degree. I have supervisors both at the University of Liverpool and the National Gallery, offering me a perspective on life both inside and outside academia. In Liverpool, I’ve been able to tap into the academic community there and get involved in university activities like teaching. But being part of the National Gallery has also offered me the opportunity to collaborate in gallery projects, such as helping to organise and speak at a conference there. In addition, the training workshops put on by the AHRC as part of the CDP scheme have covered a wide range of subjects such as exhibition design, object handling and copyright.

Can you tell us about your project?
The (working!) title of my thesis is ‘Agnew’s and the National Gallery as centres of expertise, 1874-1916’. British art dealers Agnew’s was founded in 1817, and was run by six generations of the same family until it was finally sold in 2013. The firm’s archives are now at the National Gallery, and it’s been fascinating to have access to much material that has not previously been available to researchers. The documents in the archive are helping me to compare the ways in which Agnew’s and the National Gallery operated in areas such as connoisseurship, display, reputation and networking.

What aspect of your research do you find does generic accutane work as well most exciting?
I’ve really been enjoying archival research: it’s not something to which I had much exposure before my PhD. There’s definitely a thrill in handling old documents, particularly private papers. It’s always great to come across an unexpected drawing in a letter, too, as it really helps you feel closer to the original writer. Reading the diaries of one of the partners in the firm, Morland Agnew, I found an anecdote about his son Alan playing cricket in an ‘Authors v. Publishers’ match at Lord’s in 1912. As Alan was on the side of the Publishers, this involved going up against such illustrious names as Arthur Conan Doyle and PG Wodehouse!

What other activities have you been involved in?
In the first year of my PhD, I undertook a knowledge-exchange placement that involved writing a series of blog posts [link:] based on objects in the Victoria Gallery & Museum, which is part of the University of Liverpool. This was an opportunity to address a wider public, and engage with material outside my research. In my second year, I’ve been lucky enough to go on a number of research trips abroad, including two months spent at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, as part of the AHRC’s International Placement Scheme. Whilst in America, I also spent a week researching in the archives of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, funded by the Paul Mellon Centre, and presented a paper at the College Art Association’s annual conference in Washington D.C. I’ve since spoken at conferences and workshops at Durham, Wolverhampton and Cardiff universities. In June 2016, I also attended a week-long graduate student seminar at the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut. The workshop, on the theme of ‘Tudor Portraiture’, was an exciting chance to gain hands-on experience of the conservation and study of artworks from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

What are you hoping to do in the future?
For me, one of the main attractions of the CDP was that it offered experience both inside and outside academia. I am currently drawn towards the museum and galleries sector because of the varied and challenging nature of the work: I’d be particularly keen on a role that involves object research and interpretation. The time that I’ve spent in America has also opened my eyes to the range of opportunities available around the world, not just in the UK!

Beautiful January sunshine on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin

Beautiful January sunshine on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin

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