The Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at UEA, together with the British Museum, are pleased to announce the availability of a fully funded collaborative doctoral studentship from October 2023. 

This has been created as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership programme.


Painting of John Williams on board ship with a series of artefacts

John Williams on board ship with a series of artefacts


At the project’s heart are approximately 100 sacred artefacts, acquired by the London Missionary Society (LMS) in Tahiti and the Society Islands, the Cook, Austral and Hawaiian Islands between 1815 and 1830.

This project will be jointly supervised by Dr Chris Wingfield (Sainsbury Research Unit), and Dr Julie Adams (British Museum) - together with Prof. Steven Hooper (Sainsbury Research Unit) and Dr Alice Christophe (British Museum). The student will be expected to spend time at both UEA and the British Museum, as well as becoming part of the wider cohort of CDP funded students across the UK. 

Project overview

Held in the British Museum’s Oceania collection since 1890, some of the related artefacts have gone on to become the most admired and famous works of Polynesian art. Many more have remained in storage and are largely unstudied and unknown to museum audiences and source communities alike. They constitute the most important assemblage of ancient Polynesian ritual artefacts held anywhere in the world.

In January 2023, a number of key artefacts obtained by the LMS, including the figure of A’a from the British Museum’s collection, returned on loan to Te Fare Iamanaha, the Museum of Tahiti and the Isles – the first time they will have been seen in their region of origin for approximately two hundred years. This physical return provides an opportunity to explore responses to these historic artefacts, to confront the narratives through which their presence in Europe has been understood, but also to document contemporary narratives of conversion in Polynesia.

In line with the aims of the British Museum’s masterplan, this project will work collaboratively with communities of origin, including Pacific heritage institutions such as Te Fare Iamanaha (Museum of Tahiti and the Isles) and Cook Islands Library and Museum, to research the provenance of London Missionary Society collections as well as their contemporary significance. The studentship will contribute to the work of colleagues across the British Museum to prepare these objects for display and interpretation in a future permanent Pacific gallery, as well as within two temporary exhibitions, planned for 2024 and 2025/26.

Research questions

  • How did the material collected at conversion vary across islands and over time?
  • How well do episodes of conversion and collecting map onto a seasonal ceremonial calendar?
  • What role did Polynesian pastors play in collecting sacred objects across Polynesia? 
  • How far do different narratives of conversion emphasize European, Polynesian or Divine agency, and to what extent do these framings impact ongoing attitudes towards future loans of objects?
  • To what extent do historic object labels and catalogue descriptions embed framings of conversion that obscure the role of Polynesian pastors?
  • How far do contemporary Pacific re-enactments of conversion map onto historic narratives?

How to apply

Potential candidates will need to complete an application using UEA's application system postgraduate research application form by 5pm BST on 19 May 2023.

You will need to specify that you are applying for 'A specific postgraduate research project which has been advertised', using the project code - WINGFIELD_23SRUAHRC. As well as entering personal and educational details, the application system will request the upload of:

  • CV
  • Personal statement of approximately 500 words
  • Research statement of up to 1500 words
  • Copies of academic qualifications 

You will also be asked to name two recommenders who can provide you with a reference.

N.B. Rather than following the instructions outlined within the system for the Research statement (please cover the requested bullet points in the personal statement), we would like candidates to upload a short piece of academic writing of up to 1500 words:

Using the British Museum online collections database, choose a Polynesian object and consider how the museum accounts for its presence in their collections. Explain how you might undertake research to reveal whether and how indigenous agencies contributed to the collecting history of this object.

Potentially useful sources:

Details of the award

CDP doctoral training grants fund full-time studentships for 45 months (3.75 years) or part-time equivalent. The studentship has the possibility of being extended for an additional 3 months to provide professional development opportunities, or up to 3 months of funding may be used to pay for the costs the student might incur in taking up professional development opportunities.

The award pays full maintenance for all students both home and international students. The UKRI National Minimum Doctoral Stipend for 2022-23 is £17,668, plus a CDP maintenance payment of £550/year, and an allowance of £1,000 a year since the British Museum is based in London. The project can be undertaken on a full-time or part-time basis, payments will be pro-rata for part-time study. 

The student is eligible to receive an additional travel and related expenses grant courtesy of the British Museum during the course of the project worth up to £1,500 per year for 3.75 years (45 months). The Sainsbury Research Unit will also make £2,000 available for fieldwork over the course of the studentship, as well as £500 for conference attendance.

The award also pays tuition fees up to the value of the full-time home UKRI rate for PhD degrees (Research Councils UK Indicative Fee Level for 2022-23 is £4,596). UEA has committed to a partial fee exemption strategy for international PGR students who are UKRI-funded starting in 2023-24 as a widening participation investment in UEA’s research and global reputation, so no additional fees would be due in relation to international students. You can find out more on the UKRI website.

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


We want to encourage the widest range of potential students to study for a CDP studentship and are committed to welcoming students from different backgrounds to apply. We particularly welcome applications from Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds as they are currently underrepresented at this level in this area. 

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 Anthropology, Art History, History, Archaeology, Religious Studies or Museum Studies.

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 British Museum.

The studentship can be studied either full or part-time.

This studentship is open to both Home and International applicants. To be classed as a home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have settled status, or
  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

Download the full guidance (PDF)

NB. All applicants must meet UKRI terms and conditions for funding.