Post-doctoral Internship - Medieval Manuscripts
Salary is £10.55 per hour (The London Living Wage)
The British Library is pleased to offer an Internship in the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section of the Western Heritage Department for a post-doctoral student in History, Art History, Medieval Language or Literature or another relevant subject.
The intern will utilise specialist knowledge of medieval manuscripts to support the curatorial team on a wide range of curatorial activities, including cataloguing medieval manuscripts, supporting delivery of seminars and visits, publicising the work of the Section and the collections on the Library’s Medieval Manuscripts Blog and social media channels, responding to visitor enquiries, preparing labels and other interpretative material and supporting the digitisation of medieval manuscripts.
The successful candidate will enjoy privileged access to the British Library’s world-class collections of medieval manuscripts. The post holder will work alongside specialists with wide-ranging and varied expertise. This internship will provide an opportunity to develop writing and presentation skills, to engage with a variety of audiences, and to gain experience of curatorial duties.How does this enrage me? Let me count the ways.
This position is open only to those who have recently completed or are about to submit a PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of medieval manuscripts and who have a right to work in the UK full time.
Firstly, the rate of pay. £10.55 may be the London Living Wage but it seems very low, whatever the qualifications and duties may be. An egg mayonnaise sandwich in the British Library costs £7, so the hourly rate is almost a sandwich and a half. The lucky winner of this post will presumably spend about the same again getting to and from work, and will have to find the price of a room in London, food, clothing, bills and so on out of his or her £13,000 pounds.
The candidate must have a PhD: this means that s/he will have taken a BA, possibly and MA and then a PhD: 6-8 years of low or no earnings, no savings, no pension contributions, no NI. S/he will be roughly 25 years old at a minimum, and therefore several years behind friends who might have left school and immediately started working on the minimum wage or more. The unexceptionable dreams – a secure home, a family, spare pants – are deferred even further. To the British Library, however, none of this matters: it has no intention of sharing the costs of acquiring the high level skills needed for this job.
It is a job: the work is mostly skilled and requires prior qualifications: the idea that someone with a modern PhD won't already have 'writing and presentation skills' already is a joke. There's no meaningful definition of 'post-doctoral student': PhDs require you to demonstrate to your peers that you have made an original contribution to the field. There's no higher qualification available – the use of the term here is simply a means to justify a low salary.
The benefits are laughable: while the candidate may 'enjoy privileged access' to the British Library, I can't imagine s/he will have the energy to utilise this at weekends - it's a full-time job, so there won't be much time for browsing after work.
Underlying all this is a simple refusal to acknowledge class privilege. The only people who will be able to take up this post (which looks like a great job) are those who have private means: my own students, virtually all first-generation HE entrants with no family money or funded PhDs are loaded with debt after their degrees and would never have the resources required to uproot themselves for a few months to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. No doubt the scheme's progenitors will speak of other forms of enrichment, and the networking opportunities available, but the whole structure depends on entrenched unfairness which will simply restrict (in this case) medieval studies to the same old small group of people. I simply note that the BL's director – a man unencumbered by a PhD*, but an alumnus of a very expensive private school and Oxford University (obviously) – scrapes by on £160,000. The canteen checkout holds no fears for him, especially as he has a second job as a non-exec director of Channel 4. Perhaps there's a shortage of privileged white men, but it does seem that it's a buyer's market for desperate, fully-fledged medievalists, whereas the Roly Keatings of this world can name their prices.
The sad thing is that there will be a queue of people applying for this post: we have an HE and public sector model which refuses to recognise the hidden costs of higher education, and wants to buy expertise on the cheap - this is why over 50% of university teachers are hourly-paid, temporary workers. Some will be able to coast through on private means; some will scrimp and save; others will remain invisible because they lack the means to subsidise one of the world's greatest institutions, thus depriving it of new perspectives and ideas.
Of course, I can say this: I've lucked into a proper salaried job (though student application numbers suggest I shouldn't get too comfortable), surfing all the privileges that accrue to someone like me: the people who should be wielding the flaming torches are precisely those to insecure to speak up. Also, I may frequently clash with my own institution's management, but they have never stooped so low as this – while teaching opportunities are diminishing, PhD students are paid the standard rate here: c. £45 per hour, while the Graduate Teaching Assistants get 2-year contracts, take a PGC and a salary of about £24,000 per year.
*OK, he has some honorary degrees but they require slightly less effort.
Side note - as this is my weekly post, here's what I read this week:
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood. Disorientating, almost prose-poem of a modernist novel about pre-war Paris's queer society. Moments of stunning clarity and insight amongst dense, challenging, flights of fantasy. I'll definitely have to re-read it several times, but it's a short, astonishing text.
James Bradley, Clade. I wasn't initially sure about this melding of the family saga with a story of eco-destruction, and I still think it threw in too many sub-plots (autistic scion discovers alien communication) but it's well written and the clear-eyed analysis of the way we're denying our way to a sterile, hostile world is utterly convincing.
Susan Price, The Sterkarm Handshake. Shades of the later Outlander in this, but (despite Ian McEwan's stupid and snobbish comments about the genre), Price uses an SF trope – time travel in this case – to explore corporate colonialist attitudes towards agency and exploitation. It's also funny.
Anna Burns, Milkman. Another one that's justified quick re-reading: there's a minimal plot and maximal first-person narration and it's wonderful to stand under this shower of thoughts, critiques and feelings and let them soak in. With the misery of Lyra McKee's murder providing space for previously-suppressed voices in the self-policed communities of Northern Ireland, Milkman is so timely. If you want more Northern Ireland/North of Ireland/Six Counties fiction recommendations, ask @DrMagennis, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the field). If you get the taste for contemporary Irish experimental fiction, try Eimear McBride next.
I've also just started Sophie Mackintosh's The Water Cure, a feminist, Welsh novel in English which shares something with the good McEwan of The Cement Garden-era, with Lloyd Jones's Y Dŵr and yet is highly distinctive: a claustrophobic setting with its own unexplained rules, a fabular tone and multiple (sometimes choric, overlapping) narrative voices.