Theatrical communities and collaborations: artistic networks, professional partnerships, and shared visions, 1880-1947

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at Oxford University, in partnership with the National Trust.

This fully-funded studentship is available from October 2024. Further details about the value of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page.

Closing date: Friday 5th January 2024 (midday, UK time)


Project overview

Smallhythe Place was the home of actress Ellen Terry from 1899 until her death in 1928. One of the foremost performers of the nineteenth century, she made her stage debut in 1856 and her repertoire spanned from historical verse drama and Shakespeare through to cutting-edge productions of Ibsen and Heijermans.

Her daughter, Edith Craig, in partnership with artist Clare [Tony] Atwood and writer Christopher St John [Christabel Marshall], curated Smallhythe as a memorial to her mother, while establishing the Barn Theatre in 1929 as a venue for experimental theatre productions. Edith Craig’s Pioneer Players were dedicated to staging innovative theatre productions, including women’s suffrage drama and experimental European plays. Smallhythe became a hub for artists, writers, designers, critics and performers, a gathering place for co-workers, collaborators, and friends. Smallhythe’s cross-generational and alternative community offered a rich environment for the artistic exploration and expression of lesbian and queer identities.

The holdings at Smallhythe are extraordinarily rich, including a wealth of costumes, cuttings, prompt books, scripts, letters, photographs and paintings, and theatrical memorabilia. A Collaborative Doctoral Award would enable a scholar of Victorian and modern theatre and modernist art to study the full scope of materials at Smallhythe and the associated holdings and papers at the British Library to gain a deeper understanding of the networks that circulated around Terry and Craig, and how they shaped theatre-making across the period.

Potential research questions and areas of research might include:

  • Theatre-making as a collaborative activity, bringing together designers, costume-makers, directors, producers, writers, and critics
  • International networks
  • Design and innovation in costume, staging, painting, and prints
  • Role of familial and collaborative networks in developing artistic visions and practices
  • Alternative family structures: cross-generational and lesbian communities
  • Theatrical development and experimentation from 1880 to 1940
  • Smallhythe and the local community
  • Visual arts and performance: the art of Pamela Colman Smith and Tony Atwood
  • Public and private selves: Smallhythe as refuge and stage-set
  • Curating a women’s museum: curation by a woman for a woman

Within this broad framework, the student will be encouraged to define their own doctoral research project in reference to Smallhythe’s holdings. The resulting research will inform a range of public-facing National Trust outputs including guidebooks, on-site presentation, web content and volunteer training. Intersecting with the Trust’s ambitions to tell more diverse histories about the places and collections in its care, the project has the potential to make an important contribution to an area of key strategic interest for the National Trust, and to shape how the organisation presents and engages with the history of its places and collections. 

The successful student will be part of a growing cohort of doctoral students working with the National Trust and will have access to annual doctoral networking events and training opportunities, specifically in rare book and object handling and the Trust’s collections management system. In addition, the student will have the option to attend monthly curatorial seminar series and disseminate their own research to a wide range of audiences via webinars, in-person events at properties, the Trust’s Research Bulletin, and the Cultural Heritage Magazine. The Trust will also provide access to curatorial, collections, and visitor experience expertise, a full induction and desk space at regional or central offices as required.


This CDA is based in Oxford’s Faculty of English, with supervision from Professor Sos Eltis (currently researching Victorian theatre, identities and communities) and Professor Rebecca Beasley (currently researching twentieth-century cultural canonicity, including the impact of the National Trust). National Trust supervision will be provided by, Susannah Mayor, Senior Collections and House Officer, Smallhythe with further support from Rowena Willard-Wright, Cultural Heritage Curator, London & South East.

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Applicants will ideally have an undergraduate and Masters degree in English or History. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.

For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Professor Sos Eltis at and Professor Rebecca Beasley at  in the first instance.

You should apply to the DPhil in English programme at Oxford by Friday 5th January 2024 (midday, UK time), indicate your interest in being considered for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship and submit a completed copy of the OOC DTP application form at the same time.

Further details on how to apply through Oxford can be found on our How to Apply page. Please include a reference to the advertised CDA title in your application form; you do not need to include a reference number.