Apply now to this course

Undertaking doctoral research allows you to develop in-depth knowledge, while making a meaningful contribution to your chosen field.

The Institute of English Studies (IES) provides a unique scholarly community in which to pursue doctoral research. We offer research supervision in a number of literature-related subject areas, ranging from book history to contemporary writing. With guidance from our expert supervisors, you'll carry out extensive independent research culminating in a thesis of up to 100,000 words. 

This degree presents the opportunity to gain expertise in your area of interest while also honing a range of transferable skills. On completing this course, you'll be well prepared for specialist career paths both within academia and beyond.

Subject Areas and Supervision

The Institute of English Studies offers doctoral research supervision in the following broad areas:

  • Bibliography
  • Book illustration
  • History of the book from the medieval period to the present
  • History of collecting
  • History of printing
  • History of publishing from 1800 to the present
  • History of readers and reading
  • Textual scholarship, scholarly editing and digital humanities
  • Author-focused studies (e.g. J.M. Barrie, Dickens, Scott Fitzgerald, Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Melville, Shakespeare, R.L. Stevenson, Twain, W.B. Yeats)
  • Medieval manuscript studies and palaeography
  • Early modern print culture
  • Victorian literature
  • Twentieth-century literature
  • American literature
  • Anglo-American Modernism
  • Scottish literature

Before submitting an application you are advised to contact a member of the academic staff who has interests in your proposed field of study to discuss your proposal. A list of academic staff and their interests can be found here.

Contact the Institute

Key Information

The Institute of English Studies

The Institute of English Studies (IES) occupies a position at the heart of the academic study of English in the United Kingdom. The Institute offered the world’s first degree in Book History and was founded to help establish it as a discipline.

Today, the Institute is recognised nationally and internationally as a centre of excellence for its research activities, and in the provision of resources to the academic community as a whole. A vibrant, interdisciplinary research culture is fostered within the IES, and more broadly within the School of Advanced Study.

The Institute’s core activities include providing supervision for postgraduate research students in specialist areas of English studies and related disciplines; delivering the long-established Masters’ degree in the History of the Book; hosting major collaborative research projects; providing essential research training in book history and palaeography; and facilitating scholarly communities in all areas of English studies. It specialises in the history of the book, manuscript and print studies, textual scholarship and digital editing.

The School of Advanced Study

The School of Advanced Study at the University of London brings together eight internationally renowned research institutes to form the UK's national centre for the support of researchers and the promotion of research in the humanities.

Course structure

Full-time study for the PhD degree entails three or a maximum of four years' independent research, culminating in the writing of a thesis of not more than 100,000 words. Part-time students complete the same programme in five, or a maximum of six years.

After submission of the thesis, you'll attend an oral examination conducted by an internal examiner, from the University of London, and an external examiner, normally from another British university.

There is no formal coursework, but you'll be expected to participate in a weekly seminar on Work in Progress and to present a paper every year from their second year onwards. In your first year you are required to attend a weekly class on Techniques of Scholarship. You are also encouraged to participate in the regular seminars held at the Institute during the academic year.

Distance Learning

The School of Advanced Study offers students with an appropriate topic and level of local resource the opportunity to undertake a PhD by distance learning. These students are required to attend our London campus at set intervals to complete an intensive research training module, for upgrade, and for the viva but will otherwise study at their own location. This option is available to UK, EU and international students on the same basis as our on-campus PhD programmes (three years full time, six years part time). Fees are the same as for our on-campus PhD programmes. Please note that not all institutes and supervisors offer this option, and that some topics are not appropriate to be studied this way.

If you would like to be considered for our Research Degree programme via Distance Learning, please download and fill out the Research Degrees by Distance Learning form, to attach to your online application.

Opportunities and facilities

The Institute of English Studies' holds a number of collections, which are mainly integrated within Senate House Library. Central to our collections are the History of the Book teaching collection, the Museum of Writing and the T. Sturge Moore Collection.

The Institute also aims to make available a number of its publications in SAS-Space, an online library for humanities and social sciences research outputs,. Items including the documentary outcomes of research projects, University Trust Lectures (e.g. the John Coffin and the Hilda Hulme Memorial lectures), papers from presentations given at or in association with the Institute, including selected research seminar papers, and outstanding dissertations at Masters and Doctoral level are available and regularly updated.

The Institute also has a number of helpful key networks. For example, the Institute administers the day-to-day business of the Bibliographical Society (BibSoc), a world-renowned leader in the study of the book and its history. We also have connections with London's Palaeography Teachers’ Group, a group of experts in palaeography from across the federal University of London and beyond. Many of the teachers run courses as part of the London Palaeography Summer School and are also involved in some of the courses on the London Rare Books School.

More broadly, the School of Advanced Study itself offers excellent resources for inter-disciplinary research by bringing together eight internationally renowned research institutes that support the promotion of research in the humanities.

The School of Advanced Study is also home to the previously mentioned Senate House Library, the central library for the University of London. The art deco building, which the School and Senate House Library are part of, is a literary landmark in the heart of Bloomsbury, located next to the British Museum. The Library occupies the fourth to the nineteenth floors of the building, with a range of historic library reading rooms and collections.

Much like the Institute Institute itself, the School offers a broad range of events, seminars and conferences that we encourage you to engage with.

You can also take advantage of a varied and challenging research training programme, with general research skills training and research methodologies courses provided through the School and subject-specific training provided within the institutes

How to apply

Before submitting an application you are advised to contact a member of the academic staff who has interests in your proposed field of study to discuss your proposal. You can find contact details and areas of expertise from our academic staff here.

Before agreeing to accept you, the School will require you to submit a research proposal, so it is worthwhile having this drafted ahead of a formal application. Guidelines on drafting your research proposal.

Candidates will normally receive an initial response to their application within 28 working days. Those who have been formally interviewed will normally be informed within one week as to whether they are to be offered a place.

Note: in accordance with regulations research you'll be registered for the MPhil degree in the first instance. Upgrading to PhD will be considered in the second year for full-time students and in the third or fourth year for part-time students

View all our supervisors:

Professor Sarah Churchwell

Chair in Public Understanding of the Humanities

Email | Research Profile

I broadly supervise topics relating to the American novel of the long 20th century (Henry James to the present), and my methodologies focus on biographical criticism, reception history and literary history. I am particularly interested in the intersection of biography, authorship, celebrity and the marketplace.


Sarah Churchwell is Professorial Fellow in American Literature and Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She received her MA and PhD in English and American literature from Princeton University, and her BA with honors in English literature from Vassar College. She is the author of Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and The Invention of The Great Gatsby and The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, editor of Forgotten Fitzgerald: Echoes of a Lost America, and co-editor of Must-Read: Rediscovering the American Bestseller.

Her scholarly articles cover subjects including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the cultural influence of the 1920s  Her literary journalism has appeared widely, including in the Guardian, New Statesman, TLS, New York Times Book Review, Financial Times, Prospect, and many others.

She also comments regularly on arts, culture, and politics for UK television and radio, where appearances include Question Time, The Review Show, and Today. She has judged many literary prizes, including the 2008 Orange (now Bailey’s) Prize for Women’s Fiction, the 2014 Man Booker Prize, and was a co-winner of the 2015 Eccles British Library Writer’s Award. She is currently writing a book about Henry James.


  • F. Scott Fitzgerald and his circle
  • Henry James and his circle
  • The American 1920s and 1930s
  • American modernism and the marketplace
  • American cinema in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s
  • Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
  • American bestsellers (from the 18th century to the present)

Dr Cynthia Johnston

Lecturer in Book History and Communications

Johnston, Cynthia

Email | Research Profile

My research interests include all aspects of medieval book culture with special interest on the development and transmission of decorative technique in western Europe during the thirteenth century. I am also in interested in the history of collections and collecting.


Dr Cynthia Johnston is the Course Tutor for the MA/MRes in the History of the Book at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study. She has an MA and MPhil from New York University in late Medieval Literature, a Master of Studies from Oxford University in Medieval Studies and a PhD in Manuscript Studies from IES. Professor Michelle Brown supervised her dissertation on the development of penflourished decorative styles in English manuscripts between 1180 and 1280.

Dr Johnston has curated two exhibitions on the industrialist collector of books and coins, R.E. Hart, and she heads the ‘Academic Partnership’ between the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, who hold Hart’s collections, and IES.


  • I am happy to receive inquiries regarding PhD supervisions on late medieval book historical topics.

Dr Andrew Nash

Reader in Book History and Communications

Nash, Andrew

Email | Research Profile

I supervise topics relating to three broad areas: the history of books and publishing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; the material contexts of Victorian and twentieth-century literature; and Scottish literature since 1750. My methodologies focus on literary criticism and history, bibliography and book history, and manuscript and archive studies, especially publishers’ and book trade archives.


Andrew Nash is Reader in Book History and Communications. He was formerly Associate Professor and Head of the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. His research interests include book and publishing history from the nineteenth-century to the present, Victorian literature, and Scottish literature and he welcomes proposals from potential research students in each of these broad areas. Specific interests include: author/publisher relations and the history of authorship 1850 to the present; publishers’ archives; the firm of Chatto & Windus; Victorian popular fiction; and nineteenth- and twentieth-century Scottish literature, especially the work of J.M. Barrie, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Muriel Spark.

Andrew’s publications include the monographs William Clark Russell and the Victorian Nautical Novel: Gender, Genre and the Marketplace (2014) and Kailyard and Scottish Literature (2007), as well as several edited and co-edited collections including The Culture of Collected Editions (2003), Literary Cultures and the Material Book (2007), New Directions in the History of the Novel (2014) and Gateway to the Modern: Resituating J.M. Barrie (2014). He has recently contributed essays on the material history of the novel to volumes 4 and 7 of the Oxford History of the Novel in English. He is currently working on a book on Grub Street Authors and the Fiction Market, 1870-1914, and (with Claire Squires and Ian Willison) completing the editing of Volume 7 of the Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, covering the period 1914 to the present. 


  • The history of publishing from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century
  • The history and economics of authorship from the 1850s to the present
  • Victorian popular fiction
  • Nineteenth- and twentieth-century Scottish fiction
  • The firm of Chatto & Windus
  • J.M. Barrie
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Maritime fiction and the history of the sea story
  • Modern literary archives and manuscripts

Dr Christopher Ohge

Lecturer in Digital Approaches to Literature, Institute of English Studies

Ohge, Christopher

E-mail | Research Profile


Christopher Ohge is Lecturer in Digital Approaches to Literature at the Institute of English Studies. From 2014 to 2017 he was an editor at the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the University of California, Berkeley, where his editorial credits included the third and final volume of the Autobiography of Mark Twain, a digital letters edition entitled Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884, and the forthcoming critical edition of the Innocents Abroad. He also participated in the development of other digital texts at He is a contributing editor on two digital projects, Melville’s Marginalia Online and the Melville Electronic Library, for which he is co-editing a digital edition of Billy Budd, Sailor. His published work has appeared in Scholarly Editing, Critical Insights: Billy Budd, Sailor, Literary Imagination, Notes & Queries, and Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies. He is currently working on a digital edition and network analysis of British anti-slavery writings. 

Christopher would be interested in supervising doctoral projects on:

  • Scholarly editing, digital publishing, textual criticism, and bibliography (particularly of nineteenth and twentieth century literary texts)
  • Studies of Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Transcendentalism, and transatlantic romanticism
  • Literary biography
  • Text analysis and stylometry with the R programming language
  • Using "distant reading" to enhance "close reading" (and vice versa)
  • Network analysis and visualising social and literary networks
  • The impact of digital research on English studies

Dr David Pearson


I would be happy to supervise on topics which fit with my research interests around the book as a material object in the early modern period: ways in which books have been owned, marked, read, sold or bound, and the deductions we can make from that evidence.  This could encompass book collecting, bookbinding, or any aspect of provenance studies.


David Pearson is Director of Culture, Heritage & Libraries for the City of London Corporation, and has previously worked in various major libraries and collections. He has lectured and published extensively on aspects of book and library history, particularly around the ways that books have been used and bound, and has taught at Rare Book Schools in America and New Zealand. He was President of the Bibliographical Society 2010-12.


  • Private or institutional library history between the 16th and 19th centuries
  • Marginalia, annotations, signs and marks of the reading and use of books
  • Patterns of book ownership or collecting
  • Bookbinding history and development, and its application to book history

Professor Clare Lees

Professor of Medieval Literature and IES Director


I am a medievalist who works mainly in early medieval literature from the perspective of contemporary Medieval Studies.


Clare A. Lees FEA, FKC is Professor of Medieval Literature and Director of the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Select, recent publications include: The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature, ed. Lees (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2013; paperback 2016); ‘Women Write the Past: Medieval Scholarship, Old English and New Literature’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 93.2 (2017), 3-22 (the Toller Lecture for 2016); ‘Women and Water: Icelandic Tales and Anglo-Saxon Moorings’, with Gillian R. Overing, GeoHumanities 4.1 (2017), 97-111; and ‘In Three Poems: Medieval and Modern in Seamus Heaney, Maureen Duffy and Colette Bryce’, American/Medieval: Nature and Mind in Cultural Transfer, ed., Gillian R. Overing and Ulrike Wiethaus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprech, 2016), pp. 177-201. 

Clare has worked collaboratively during her career, often with Gillian R Overing, Wake Forest University: forthcoming with Gillian is The Contemporary Medieval in Practice (London: UCL Press, 2019). In 2016-18, she held a Leverhulme Major Research Fellow, for ‘The Contemporary Arts and Early Medieval Culture in Britain and Ireland’ to work on a poetry anthology for Bloodaxe Books and related monograph.  She was the founding Director of the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP), an AHRC-Doctoral Training Partnership. 


  • Early Medieval literatures
  • Languages and cultures of Britain and Ireland
  • Gender and sexuality studies
  • Histories of place and belief

Dr Laura Cleaver

Senior Lecturer in Manuscript Studies

Email | Research Profile

I supervise research into the trade in manuscripts and rare books in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and into illuminated manuscripts of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.


Dr Laura Cleaver is interested in the art and architecture of the High Middle Ages and its reception in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Her research concentrates on medieval manuscripts, encompassing their production, circulation, and reception. In 2019-2024 she will be leading an ERC funded project (CULTIVATE MSS) to assess the significance of the trade in medieval manuscripts for the development of ideas about the nature and value of European culture in the early twentieth century.


  • Medieval illuminated manuscripts
  • The rare book trade in the 19th and 20th centuries
  • Medieval historiography
  • 20th-century medievalism
  • Manuscripts as didactic tools.

Dr Michael Durrant

Lecturer in Book History




Michael’s research has focused on the lives of early modern book-trade professionals, the creative functions of ornamental initials and the printer's device, and user-generated modifications of pre-modern book objects. His first monograph, The Dreadful Name of Henry Hills: The Lives, Transformations, and Afterlives of a Seventeenth-Century Printer, is under contract with Manchester University Press. He has formerly taught at The University of Manchester, Staffordshire University, and, most recently, at Bangor University, where he convened modules on early modern literature, the material text, scholarly editing, and book provenance.

Dr Pragya Dhital

Lecturer in Collections, Archives, and the Study of the Book




Pragya joins the IES from the National Archives, where she is a Records Specialist for Empire and Commonwealth history, and UCL, where she teaches in the Sarah Parker Remond Centre. She has also worked as a Hindi and Urdu cataloguer in the British Library and taught at SOAS, QMUL and UCL for a number of years. Her first book project, based on her doctoral research, deals with political communication in modern India. Her second book project, based on her postdoctoral research, concerns an archive of publications proscribed in colonial India now jointly held by the British Library and the National Archives of India. She has disseminated her research through a number of public engagement activities in collaboration with a wide range of galleries, archives and museums: public workshops at UCL (2018); an open-access special section of History Workshop Journal (2020); an exhibition of DIY and Decolonial print at SOAS art gallery (summer 2023), as well as through blogs, podcasts, talks, and film screenings.

The School of Advanced Study is a unique environment in which to study the humanities.  The School strives to reflect the latest developments in thinking across the humanities disciplines it supports and to ensure that its programmes reflect this.   We are also aware that the needs of our students are constantly changing.  With that in mind, the School continually reviews the its programmes and, as part of that process, reserves the right to alter or discontinue them. 

We assure you that we carry out these exercises at no detriment to any enrolled students. Students enrolled on any programme that we discontinue will be able to complete that programme within a reasonable timeframe and with all the necessary resources at their disposal. The School will communicate any anticipated changes with students as early as possible.