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Professionalising animal medicine

AHRC/CHASE Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD studentship in collaboration with University of Kent and RCVS Knowledge, (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Trust)

AHRC/CHASE Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD studentship in collaboration with University of Kent and RCVS Knowledge, (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Trust)

Professionalising animal medicine: the RCVS and Veterinary Surgeons Act, 1881

Qualification type: PhD
Location: University of Kent
Funding for: UK Students / EU Students
Funding amount: AHRC stipend: for the academic year 2019-20, the stipend will be £15,559. This includes enhanced stipend to cover additional travel costs relating to the project.
Closes: Friday 3 May 2019, 12 noon


Professionalising animal medicine: the RCVS and Veterinary Surgeons Act, 1881

This collaborative doctoral award is jointly supervised between RCVS Knowledge (operating as RCVS Knowledge) and the University of Kent’s School of History.

Located at the intersection of history of science and medicine and history of animals, this project seeks to understand the reasons for and effects of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, 1881.  It examines how and why the medical treatment of animals came to be professionally delimited within England, and with what effect upon the human-animal nexus.

Working in the RCVS collections and elsewhere, the student will have considerable autonomy to develop the project based on archival discoveries.

In addition to developing their academic skills, the student will have the opportunity of working within a professional body at RCVS Knowledge.

The successful applicant will have staff-level access to the RCVS collections and communicational and digital media training opportunities.

The studentship

Project aims and objectives

The foundational charter granted to the RCVS in 1844 enabled the conferral of professional qualifications, thus creating a discipline, but it did not restrict the practice of veterinary medicine as a profession until 1881, when a Parliamentary Act was passed to help the public distinguish between qualified and unqualified practitioners.  As part of this process, the Act required the RCVS to maintain and publish two documents: a register of its (qualified) members; and a list of unqualified ‘existing practitioners’ who had practised veterinary surgery for the previous five years.  The second of these two lists represents a highly unusual episode within the history of biomedicine, essentially granting a reprieve to established amateurs, allowing them to continue to practise in the new, regulated regime. 

In 2014, the RCVS catalogued its archival materials in relation to the Act, the project’s research questions start with this rich archival source:

  • How were the interests of the RCVS and its leading members implicated in the drawing up and imposition of the 1881 Act?

  • How can we characterise the people who practised veterinary medicine c.1880? What was their background, their status, the nature of their practice?

  • How self-conscious was the RCVS about the process of professionalization, and what was the significance of this process to them? If it was seen as important, why?

  • What was the experience of the RCVS in the aftermath of the Act?  Did it become embroiled in policing the Act or in following up the actions of those on its approved list?

  • Did the Act lead to an improvement in the standard of veterinary education, and how did it change the role of the vet within society?

Depending on the interest and experience of the student, the research may be developed and contextualised in different directions.

Supervisor details

Charlotte Sleigh is Professor of Science Humanities at the University of Kent and has had a long career in which the historical study of animal sciences has played a major part.  She is the author of four books on the subject (most recently, The Paper Zoo (Chicago/British Library 2016) and has substantial experience in PhD supervision.  Karen Jones is Reader in Environmental History at the University of Kent, and also has significant expertise in animal-human history and substantial PhD supervision experience.  Lorna Cahill Bannister is a qualified archivist at RCVS Knowledge and has significant experience managing and training staff, volunteers and post-graduate interns. She has extensive knowledge of the RCVS collections and their historical context.

Available training opportunities

Students can obtain the AFS teacher training qualification, and the University provides a range of centrally run training courses on graduate skills and managing graduate life. They are welcomed with a ‘kickstart your PhD’ induction session and their skills assessed via the Vitae Researcher Development Framework.  The student will have access to all CHASE training and networking events. 

Partner resources

As well as providing staff level access to all the library and archive collections they hold, RCVS Knowledge can assist with specific knowledge of the veterinary profession and work of the RCVS. They will also introduce the student to other useful contacts and potential sources of information.  RCVS Knowledge will provide full training in archival skills and handling, and offer opportunities for involvement with outreach activities and engagement with various audiences, including over 40,000 veterinary surgeons, nurses and allied professionals. This can include blogs, podcasts, web seminars and internal and external exhibitions. The Knowledge team will also provide marketing and communications support.

Research environment

The University of Kent is home to the Centre for the History of the Sciences, an interdisciplinary group of c 10 staff and postgraduates, and to the Kent Animal Humanities Network, a group of about the same or slightly larger size. Together these two groups provide opportunities for interdisciplinary training via informal seminars and reading groups, and offer a platform for PhD and publication drafts to be trialled. The student will be situated within the School of History, a vibrant and supportive school for postgraduate research work.  Our PRES results show that our efforts to forge a supportive academic environment are working.

The candidate:

Essential skills/attributes: first or second degree in history; excellent academic track-record; excellent communication skills

Desirable skills/attributes: specific knowledge of history of science and medicine, and/or animal history, and/or nineteenth-century history

How to apply

Applications for this studentship must be made via the University of Kent application form https://www.kent.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/how-to-apply/#research.

Terms and conditions

The studentship is subject to UKRI eligibility criteria, and will cover home or EU fees and stipend at UKRI rates for a maximum of four years full-time, or eight years part-time study, subject to institutional regulations.

Informal Enquiries

Informal enquiries about this collaborative project can be sent to Professor Charlotte Sleigh, c.l.sleigh@kent.ac.uk