The historic role of missionary societies in shaping children’s understandings of Britain’s place in the world with the National Maritime Museum and UEA

A Collaborative Doctoral Partnership studentship between the National Maritime Museum and the Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Start date: October 2019

Application Deadline: Friday 3rd May 2019 at 23h59min

Interviews will take place on Tuesday 21stMay 2019 in Greenwich


Dr Chris Wingfield (Sainsbury Research Unit) –

Dr Robert Blyth (National Maritime Museum) –

Project Overview 

In The Making of English National Identity (2003) Krishan Kumar argued that English identity was characterised by a form of ‘missionary nationalism’:

a nationalism that finds its principle not so much in equating state and nation as in extending the supposed benefits of a particular nation’s rule and civilization to other peoples. 

Kumar did not, however, particularly probe the ‘missionary’ component of ‘missionary nationalism’ – the degree to which exposure to missionary propaganda from a young age profoundly shaped the political, cultural and social attitudes adopted by many children in later life.

For generations of children growing up in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain, it was at Sunday school that they first came into contact with images of people living in other parts of the world. The scale of this impact should not to be underestimated. Susan Thorne (2006, 143) has suggested that ‘virtually every working-class child attended Britain’s massively popular Sunday Schools at one point or another’.

Images commissioned by Britain’s missionary societies formed part of their extensive educational programmes, and frequently embodied ideas about Britain’s providential role in the world (Brewer 2005). We might read these in terms of nineteenth-century ideas about ‘the White Man’s burden’, and as part of what we might now call historical constructions of ‘whiteness’, or perhaps more controversially ‘the white saviour complex’.

As Britain embarks on a new chapter in its relationship with the wider world, it becomes increasingly important to re-consider the ways in which this relationship has been imagined in the past. While ‘decolonisation’ has become a buzzword in both museum and academic circles, it has frequently been associated with the attitudes and positions associated with ‘high imperialism’. This project is intended to develop a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which forms of benevolent paternalism were shaped and propagated in the context of British missionary societies, through their engagements with children and young people across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Details of Award

·       Starts 1st October 2019

·       3.5 year award (includes a “Student Development Fund” equivalent to 0.5 years of funding)

·       The award pays tuition fees up to the value of the full time home/EU UKRI rate for PhD degrees as well as full maintenance for UK citizens and residents only. The value of the maintenance stipend is around £15,559*.

·       The student is eligible to receive an additional travel and related expenses grant during the course of the project courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, worth up to £1000 per year for three years.

·       The Sainsbury Research Unit will also provide the student with £2000 research support funds and £500 in conference support funds over the course of the studentship.

·       The successful candidate will be eligible to participate in CDP Cohort Development events.


·       Due to restrictions on the funding this studentship is open to UK/EU students who meet the residency requirements set out in the UKRI Conditions of Research Council Training Grants:

·       Applicants should ideally have or expect to receive a relevant Masters-level qualification, or be able to demonstrate equivalent experience in a professional setting. Suitable disciplines are flexible, but might include History, Geography, History of Science, History of Art, Archaeology, Anthropology, Heritage Studies or Education.

·       Applicants must be able to demonstrate an interest in the museum sector and potential and enthusiasm for developing skills more widely in related areas.

·       As a collaborative award, students will be expected to spend time at both the University and the National Maritime Museum.

·       Part time study will be considered for this studentship.

Project details and how to apply

Deadline May 3rd 2019

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