Project code



School of Area Studies, History, Politics, and Literature

Start dates

October 2023

Closing date

6 April 2023

Applications are invited for a fees-only PhD bursary to commence in October 2023. 

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and will be supervised by Dr Maria Cannon, Dr Katy Gibbons and Dr Karl Bell

Candidates applying for this project will be eligible to compete for one of a small number of bursaries available. Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees at the UK/EU rate for three years (full time) or six years (part time) and a contribution of £2,000 towards consumables, conference, project or training costs.

Your work on this project will involve:

  • Exploration of the nuances of young women’s agency and ability to negotiate patriarchal systems. You will have the opportunity to offer cutting edge research that provides new insights for historical and contemporary societies.
  • Conducting innovative research on a range of early modern sources to uncover the lives of young single women in early modern England including personal writing, court records, popular literature, visual images and objects.
  • Joining a vibrant research community of students, staff and heritage partners, and acquiring enhanced doctoral programme training from the University’s Graduate School.

Your PhD project will be an innovative study that combines gender, age and marital status as analytical categories, and offers a challenge to feminist approaches that have not always grasped the nuances of young female agency in early modern society. 

For single women across a broad historical timeframe, their place and perceived role has centred on marriage, for instance moral panics about large numbers of unmarried women following world wars in the twentieth century. While marriage may have been the ideal state many women aspired to, and would one day achieve, early modern society contained a sizeable group of young women maintaining themselves outside of this institution. In early modern society, the majority of women delayed marriage until their mid-twenties, with some never marrying at all. Civic authorities were concerned about the activities of independent never-married women as they defied the patriarchal social order, so economic and labour laws prioritised male householders. However, there is much evidence that reveals the choices and strategies available to young, single women negotiating this political landscape. 

You will undertake a qualitative analysis of visual material, popular literature and medical texts will explore the historical narratives which are constructed around the ability of young women to exert agency in this period. You will then analyse personal source material (e.g. letters, diaries and church court depositions) to examine how these narratives are reflected in the lived experiences of these young women. A comparative study of sources relating to the lived experiences of young women in early modern society will enable your project to provide a nuanced analysis of the complexities negotiated by women at a formative stage in the life cycle where their own priorities might conflict with societal expectations.

Your project will be fully embedded within the History research group, which has an impressive track-record of research, publications, international collaborations, impact, and PhD completions. You will have access to international networks and research opportunities through activities and knowledge exchange organised by the group. 

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Some knowledge of early modern history and/or gender or women's history would be desirable but is not essential.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Maria Cannon ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code SASH8120423 when applying.