Funded PhD opportunities

Transnational networks of knowledge? 18th century nation building, European naval dockyards, and technology.

  • Application end date: 11th February 2018
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (EU/UK students only)
  • Department: School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr Steven Gray, Prof Brad Beaven, Dr Patricia Shamai

Project code: HPSS4140218

Project description

This project looks to understand navies of the Eighteenth Century – where war increased to unprecedented levels, in terms of frequency, numbers, and geographical scope – through a transnational lens. Traditionally, such histories have concentrated on individual conflicts (particularly the French Wars at the end of the century), or looked to the nation state as a framework. Yet these nations were not working in isolation, but carefully watching rivals, as well as allies and neutrals, in order to gain an advantage. Thus, the project looks to understand how navies and their dockyards – often seen as important parts of a growing sense of nationhood in European states (such as the work by Linda Colley on Britishness) – were connected through networks of knowledge. Moreover, it looks to understand how such networks, both open and clandestine, both strengthened and undermined notions of state security, and in many cases, survival. The project will be particularly interested in understanding how these ideas and networks develop, change, and face resistance as the 18th century drew on. 

Recent work has looked to explain how Britain was able to afford to be at war for much of the eighteenth century, and at the same time increase the size of its navy, and how it was constructed, manned and victualled. Yet this, bar a few notable exceptions, has tended to concentrate on one power, most often Britain. Yet whether they were engaging in the conflicts or declaring themselves neutral, the naval nations of Europe were all involved in an arms race regarding shipbuilding. To write European naval history, therefore, it is essential to study the navies in relation to one another, and not as isolated cases. 

In doing so, it will bring a transnational lens to our understanding of how, and to what extent, these exchange of knowledge, secrecy, and resources affected the course of the wars of the Eighteenth Century, and era characterised by an unstable political situation in Europe. Whilst Britain became increasingly dominant, finding itself able to use its maritime power effectively, it was not the only maritime power. Indeed, the Dutch remained an important maritime nation, and the Scandinavian navies also retained their strength. Whilst the Iberian powers had lost their relative strength, France emerged as Britain’s main maritime rival. The increasingly global nature of naval war meant that maritime powers required much larger navies. Not only did the number of ships increase, but also their size. In support of these, we see the growth of associated industries, docks, hospitals, and storehouses. This project looks to understand these changes, which happened to different extents and at different speeds in different nations, through a transnational lens, analysing the role of European networks of knowledge of knowledge and expertise affected the fate of different European states. 

By taking a long view across the eighteenth century, this project looks to show European security and defence was not merely an issue in war. The study is inherently nterdisciplinary, utilising international relations and strategic studies theoretical frameworks. As the project is looking to understand the wider strategic situation across the period in a transnational context, the candidate must be able to work in several European languages. 

Through the supervisors the project will have contacts with museums and archives in Portsmouth, Greenwich, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Karlskrona, and Gothenburg, but the student will also be able to cultivate their own networks and contacts through other case studies. 

Supervisor profiles

Dr Steven Gray

Prof Brad Beaven

Dr Patricia Shamai

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.  


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Dr Steven Gray at (02392 846083) or Prof Bradley Beaven at (02392 842278).

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

You can apply online at  You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at

When applying, please quote project code: HPSS4140218

Interview date: TBC

Start date: October 2018.

Funding notes

The fully-funded, full-time three-year studentship provides a stipend that is in line with that offered by Research Councils UK of £14,553 per annum.

The above applies for Home/EU students only. 

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