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Stress and the Asylum


ESRC CASE studentship

Occupational stress and the Victorian asylum


Project Description

This full time three-year PhD studentship, starting in September 2019, is fully funded by the Economic & Social Sciences Research Council CASE studentship scheme (ESRC NWSSDTP), together with Keele University, and the Staffordshire Archives and Heritage Service.

CASE studentships involve a PhD student working in partnership with an organisation to undertake a study which is designed to be relevant to the organisation. This creates an invaluable opportunity for students to undertake PhD research which bridges academic and professional concerns, having a direct impact in a professional context whilst also producing a PhD thesis.

This PhD will explore occupational stress as a ‘cause’ of asylum admission in the period 1818-1918.  It aims to (i) identify all admissions to the three Staffordshire lunatic asylums where the ‘predisposing cause’ or explanation given for mental ill health was related to occupation; (ii) to track patterns of pre-admission behaviour and post-admission prognosis for this cohort of patients; and (iii) to analyse in greater depth the admissions for all persons within two contrasting occupational groups, where one of the groups encompasses professional men.

The studentship project

This PhD project will permit the consideration of occupational stress on a broad section of nineteenth-century society, and recognition of a de facto typology of occupational stress.  It will build on work by Tomkins on medical practitioners to open out the study of occupational stress to the multiple white-collar workers of England, and foster comparisons between these men and another group (to be defined either by gender, work-type, age or other characteristic).  The latter will be chosen in collaboration with the student, based on their own interests and in line with a cohort that proves to be prominent among Staffordshire asylum admissions.   

The student will begin by drawing on asylum admissions papers and casebooks to identify those patients within the scope of the research. The Staffordshire archives asylum collections include 22 volumes of patient casenotes for the first county asylum 1818-1919, and further volumes for  Burntwood and Cheddleton (from 1864 and 1899 respectively).  This material will be interleaved with existing datasets including census returns and death registration for contextual socio-economic information.  The conflation of data about patients from multiple sources will allow the student to devise multiple partial biographies (i.e.  prosopographical study) for the better exploration of occupational health.  The successful candidate can expect to support the Staffordshire Archives and Heritage Service in promoting its asylum records and associated research projects via contributions to a dedicated blog, assisting in selecting images and writing content for a touring exhibition about Staffordshire’s asylums, and offering public talks at exhibition venues; training from the Archive Service staff will be available. 

The thesis will tackle research questions such as

(i)   How did the medical superintendents of asylums describe and account for poor mental health induced by patients’ working lives?

(ii)  How far, at point of admission, were patients able to articulate their concerns about work, and to what extent were these concerns visible in the medical certificates written about them?

(iii)  Where census and other data can be interleaved with asylum records, where did institutionalisation for occupation stress occur in the career-stage of patients? 

(iv)  In what ways did the character of a patient’s work influence or dominate their reported thoughts, speech and behaviour after asylum admission?

(v)   Can we account for patterns of convergence and divergence across the experience of patients following different types of occupation?

 Further information:

Enquiries about the vacancy, shortlisting, interviews, etc. should be directed to Professor Alannah Tomkins a.e.tomkins@keele.ac.uk

Candidates must have qualifications of a standard Batchelor’s degree at first or upper second class level, and a suitable Master’s degree.

Candidates will need to demonstrate that they have received rigorous training in historical research methods evidenced by, for example, the completion of an MRes in History.

Interviews are expected to take place at Keele University on 5 March 2019. Candidates invited for interview are expected to cover their own travel expenses.

An ESRC studentship includes an annual tax-free stipend at RCUK rate (currently £14,777) plus a tuition fee waiver of £4260.  The full package is worth £19,037 per year for three years.

Closing date: Midnight, Sunday 18 February 2018.

To apply, please go to the following page:


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