The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2021 | Public Understandings of Fertility, Pregnancy or Postnatal Health: A Cultural History
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Public Understandings of Fertility, Pregnancy or Postnatal Health: A Cultural History

Principal Supervisor: Dr Isabel Davis

Co-Supervisor: Dr Robin Basu Roy

Project Description

Question: How far were lay and professional understandings of fertility, pregnancy, or postnatal health culturally and aesthetically bridged in the past, and how might historical knowledge be used to rethink gaps between public and scientific knowledge today?

Rationale: Modern medical research is further away from lay understandings than ever before: technically driven, changing rapidly, and couched in specialised language. An explosion of information – particularly on the internet – has not been met by an increased ability to navigate knowledge on, e.g. fertility treatment, lifestyle in pregnancy, birth-place choice, breastfeeding, or postnatal depression.

Approach: This scholarship opportunity uses cultural history to inform current debates about public understandings of maternal or fertility health. How far has knowledge been shared (or not) between lay and professional communities in the past; and to what extent are aesthetic media important in connecting these communities? This scholarship offers the chance for comparative study, between historical and contemporary reproductive/maternal health communication. An innovative co-supervision arrangement positions archival/historical medical humanities work in relation to contemporary public engagement, contemporary health knowledge, clinical practice, and ethics.

This scholarship gives the successful candidate access to two world-leading, multidisciplinary research environments at Birkbeck, University of London and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Specifically, your project will be located in Birkbeck’s English, Theatre and Creative Writing department and Centre for Medical Humanities and LSHTM’s Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive and Child Health (MARCH Centre). There is also an opportunity to take part in other research clusters, e.g., at Birkbeck, the Gender and Sexuality forum, period-specific historical research centres, and the Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethics network, and at LSHTM, the Centre for History in Public Health.

This studentship offers the chance to propose a defined project within the theme: Public Understandings of Fertility, Pregnancy or Postnatal Health: A Cultural History. Applications are expected from candidates holding, or in the process of studying for an MA in a humanities discipline with a strong historical element. You should include with your application form a 2000-word proposal, which sets out your project.

The strongest proposals will contain the following elements:

  • A strong and clear research question, which addresses a specific area within the broad theme set out above.
  • A sense of the project’s significance (why it is important to ask/answer this question).
  • A research context for the work (how it fits into a field of inquiry and is in dialogue with other research in the field).
  • A statement of methodology:
    • project parameters, specifying e.g. the period of history (from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century), geographical place(s), and cultural media (film, image, text, or theatre) which you are trained to analyse.
    • an articulation of the disciplinary frameworks and methods brought from your prior training.
    • a sense of what corpus of evidence your work will interrogate and what libraries, museums or archives you might use.
  • An outline of the main sub-sections/strands within the project.
  • Consideration of how you will incorporate questions about diversity e.g. gender and sexuality, ‘race’, and/or religious difference in your research and public engagement plans.
  • A statement on public engagement. This project is founded upon the importance of exploring public understandings of reproductive and maternal health. A public engagement element is an expected outcome, as well as, or as part of a PhD thesis. Please indicate what kind of public engagement work you envisage for your project. Any plans should be realistic, as well as creative, and two-way, gathering insight as much as disseminating information.

Applicants are invited to make early contact with the Principal Supervisor, who endeavours to offer informal feedback to applicants in advance of their formal application.

Subject Areas/Keywords

  • Cultural History
  • Fertility
  • Pregnancy
  • Maternal Health
  • Public Understanding
  • Public Engagement

Key References:

For more information about Public Engagement:

National Co-Ordinating Centre for Public Engagement -

For further guidance on writing a research proposal:

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal Supervisor: Dr Isabel Davis

Co-Supervisor: Dr Robin Basu Roy

Further information about PhDs at Birkbeck is available from:


How to apply

Application Process

All applications should be made, via the Birkbeck application portal, to the MPhil/PhD English and Humanities programme here:

The application will prompt you to confirm details of any scholarships or grants (for your proposed study at Birkbeck).

Please ensure you respond with: ‘Public Understandings - Bloomsbury Scholarship’.

Please note that if this section is not clearly marked, your application may not be picked up for assessment.

1. Check that you meet the entry requirements, including English language requirements, as below:

If English is not your first language or you have not previously studied in English, the requirement for this programme is the equivalent of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS Academic Test) score of 7.0, with not less than 6.0 in each of the sub-tests. Visit the International section of our Birkbeck website to find out more about our English language entry requirements and relevant requirements by country.

2. We request the following documents from each applicant:

  • A research proposal up to 2,000 words. Expected elements are outlined in the project description. You should particularly include a research question, a research context, research methodology, and a statement on public engagement.
  • Transcripts of relevant studies and – where appropriate – a letter from your course coordinator predicting the expected degree result (for those who still have to complete their current Master’s-level programme);
  • A sample of writing such as your MA dissertation, or similar.

3. References

Referees will be automatically prompted to upload their references when you submit your application.

Please note that all references must be uploaded by 15/02/21. We strongly encourage you to contact referees to ensure they are prepared to upload their reference following submission of your application.


Submission of application

Closing date for applications: 01/02/21

Deadline by which all references must be submitted: 15/02/21

Interview date: w/c 22/02/21

Only complete applications received, with both references, can be considered.

Closing date for applications is:            

If you have any further questions regarding the application process please contact Anthony Shepherd (