Moray House School of Education and Sport

AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership: Unlike a version: the lives of digitised artworks

The deadline for applications for this studentship has now passed. Eligible to UK/EU students. Covers UK/EU fees plus stipend.

The University of Edinburgh and National Galleries of Scotland are seeking a doctoral student for an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Partnership award, 'Unlike a Version: the lives of digitised artworks'.

Cultural heritage organisations, focused primarily on material objects in their care and experiences of visitors to physical sites, can neglect the significance and potential of their digital objects. This project starts from the position that digitised objects are not merely versions of the ‘real thing’ – they have meaning and value in their own right, and significance for sharing, interpretation, connection and inspiration. The research will explore the meanings and movements of digitised artworks in the context of the National Galleries of Scotland’s collections. It will develop a rich picture of digital objects and how they contribute to the shifting boundaries of the institution, to curatorial practice, and to the National Galleries of Scotland’s ambitions to open more of its collection to digital re-use.

The project will be supervised by Dr Jen Ross (Digital Education, University of Edinburgh), Christopher Ganley (Content & Design Manager, National Galleries of Scotland), Màiri Lafferty (Daskalopoulos Curator of Engagement, National Galleries of Scotland), and Professor Melissa Terras (Centre for Data, Culture and Society, University of Edinburgh). The student will be based in the Moray House School of Education and Sport, at the Holyrood campus, but will also spend considerable time at the National Galleries of Scotland and at the George Square campus of the University of Edinburgh.

The student stipend is £15,009 per annum plus tuition fees for 3.5 years. The award will include a number of training opportunities and additional funding to participate in these.


We encourage applications from candidates with a background in education, museum studies, curatorial practice, art history, digital humanities, information studies, and/or digital engagement. This is an extraordinary opportunity for a strong PhD student to explore their own research interests while working closely with a major cultural heritage organisation and a world-leading university. The studentship will commence on 1 October 2019, with a launch event for all new Collaborative Doctoral Partnership students taking place in London on 12 September 2019 (financial support for travel to this event is available).

At the University of Edinburgh, to study at postgraduate level you must normally hold a degree in an appropriate subject, with an excellent or very good classification (equivalent to first or upper second class honours in the UK), plus meet the entry requirements for the specific PhD programme.

To be eligible to apply for the studentship you must meet the residency criteria set out by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

See the UKRI Training Grant Guide document (p17) for further details

The AHRC also expects that applicants to PhD programmes will hold, or be studying towards, a Masters qualification in a relevant discipline; or have relevant professional experience to provide evidence of your ability to undertake independent research. Please ensure you provide details of your academic and professional experience in your application letter.

Prior experience of digital tools and methods, an understanding of digitisation, and the use of qualitative and quantitative research methods will be of benefit to the project.

Application Process

The application will consist of a single Word file or PDF which includes:

  1. a brief cover note that includes your full contact details together with the names and contact details of two referees (1 page).
  2. a letter explaining your interest in the studentship and outlining your qualifications for it, as well as an indication of the specific areas of the project you would like to develop (2 pages)
  3. a curriculum vitae (2 pages)
  4. a sample of your writing - this might be an academic essay or another example of your writing style and ability.

Your application should be emailed to, with the subject line 'AHRC Studentship - Unlike a Version’ no later than 12 noon on Friday 3 May 2019.

Applicants will be notified if they are being invited to interview by Monday 13 May. Interviews will take place on Thursday 31 May, in Edinburgh or via video conferencing for candidates unable to attend in person.

The successful candidate will be required to submit an online application for postgraduate study to the Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh.


If you have any queries about the application process, please contact

Informal enquiries relating to the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership project can be made to Dr Jen Ross

Project Details and Aims

Unlike a Version: the lives of digitised artworks

How do digitised artworks move between institutions and audiences and across digital platforms? What are their meanings and significance for the institutions that create and care for them? How can curators/exhibition-makers use of digital objects throughout the research and realisation of programmes? From an audience perspective, how can we integrate, and make the best use of, digital opportunities throughout the process, realisation and evaluation of public programme?

Digital objects are often seen solely as versions of ‘real’ objects they represent, limiting the questions currently asked about and with them. However, unlike analogue copies, the digitised version of an artwork can offer extensive interpretative, contextual, material, and even molecular information. This project treats digitised artworks as objects of interest to galleries, worthy of critical analysis and attention, paying attention to 'the capacity of the digital for radical transformation, connectivity and multiplicity' (Geismar 2018 p78). It will explore different ways of valuing digital objects, seek to understand their part in shaping the identity and boundaries of cultural organisations, and examine how they function as points of audience engagement.

The research questions, to be refined by the student, are:

  • To what extent do digital objects function to mirror, challenge, supersede, illuminate, diverge from and perform new meanings of their material counterparts?
  •  What are the implications of these functions for curatorial practice, for the institution as a whole, and for other cultural heritage institutions?
  •  What does the future hold for engagement with digital collections?

We anticipate that the methodology for this project will involve a series of case studies from within the National Galleries of Scotland, built up through interviews, virtual and object ethnographies, and analysis of digitised collections and encounters with specific artworks. There may be opportunities to adapt or develop methods for automating the analysis of the movement of digitised artworks. Fieldwork will take place in Edinburgh and online. The student will have the flexibility to shape the project further, in line with their specific interests and expertise.

This research has the potential for significant impact. The studentship is designed to intersect with a range of activity within the National Galleries of Scotland: through engagement with audiences and staff, through research seminars and conferences and through Public Programme activity. In addition, The National Galleries of Scotland’s place at the leading edge of digital and open practice in the cultural heritage sector in the UK will ensure that the implications of this research are widely shared and that the student has opportunities to engage with key partners in the sector throughout their project. Finally, the contributions this project can make to wider developments will be addressed through local links with the Centre for Research in Digital Education, Centre for Data, Culture and Society, Creative Informatics creative cluster and the Edinburgh Futures Institute. Culture and heritage are an important element in all of these developments, and the student will be able to build up a range of contacts and networks via these programmes, centres and initiatives.

Geismar, H. (2018). Museum Object Lessons for the Digital Age. London: UCLPress.

Related Links

Postgraduate Research Degrees