Applications Open for Fully-Funded PhD Research Project

Applications to take part in a unique fully-funded PhD research project to examine the links between art and industry in the West Midlands have opened this week with applications being welcomed from students across the world.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council funded Midland4Cities Collaborative Doctoral Award, is a partnership between Birmingham City University and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, which cares for historic sites, buildings and monuments across the UNESCO World Heritage site in Shropshire.

The project, entitled ‘Common printed things: intersections of art and industry, the Coalbrookdale Collection, 1850–1930’ will use the extensive Coalbrookdale Collection to illustrate the development of industrial life in the Midlands and the role of print in the manufacture and sale of the ironware items that made the company a household name the world over.

Highlighting the integral role that the Ironbridge Gorge played in the development of the Industrial Revolution, the successful applicant will have unique access to hundreds of historic documents, artefacts and business ledgers still housed in the Trusts archive at the Coalbrookdale Company’s original headquarters in Coalbrookdale.

The project will merge methods used by both printing and social historians to study not only the materials themselves but processes required to produce them as well as the craftspeople who made them to better understand the relationship between the manufacturer, the artefacts, the catalogues and the consumer.

Working with experts at sites across the Ironbridge Gorge over the course of 4 years the successful applicant will study and audit 40 original printed catalogues, the physical ironware products advertised within them, as well as over 1,000 wood engravings used to print the promotional materials in order to build a clearer picture of how they were produced.

Project supervisor Nick Booth, Collections and Learning Director at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust said: “Coalbrookdale and the extensive collection that is housed there offers a truly unique chance to delve into what is such an important part of our history, not only on a regional scale but a global one. The developments that happened within the Ironbridge Gorge and Coalbrookdale specifically were truly world changing and this research project offers the opportunity to unpick another integral piece of the puzzle to help us better understand the important role that print had in the wider industrial story.

“With ten sites across the Ironbridge Gorge, including Blists Hill Victorian Town which houses working facilities including our Victorian print shop, it means that as well as the academic side of the project, the researcher will be able to gain hands-on experience of the processes used during the period under realistic, historically accurate circumstances.”

The Award will be jointly supervised by Professor Caroline Archer-Parré, Co-Director of the Centre for Printing History and Culture (CPHC) at Birmingham City University who added: “This is a rare opportunity to research the materials and processes used to create the printed catalogues in the location in which they were originally manufactured, and to provide new insights into how the various industries involved in their creation interacted and collaborated.”

Prospective applicants can find out more information by visiting

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