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Pre-Dissertation Grants


The NACBS Pre-Dissertation Grants are awarded to Ph.D. candidates to pursue preliminary research on potential dissertation-length studies related to any topic in British (including Scottish, Irish, and Imperial) history or British Studies. Two grants in the amount of $4000, which must be used to offset costs associated with research travel outside of North America, will be awarded on an annual basis to students enrolled in a U.S. or Canadian institution.


Grants will have the following conditions:

  • The nomination must be made by the student’s dissertation advisor, supported by one additional letter of recommendation. The nominating advisor and the nominee must both be members of the NACBS. It is not necessary for the additional referee to be an NACBS member.

  • Applicants must be graduate students in good standing at a Ph.D. program at a university in the US or Canada, who will not have had a qualifying dissertation prospectus approved by the time of application or travel. The two awards may not be held, in any given year, by students from the same institution.

  • The grant must be used within fifteen months of its awarding and the research trip funded by the grant must not be less than one month in duration.

The NACBS pre-dissertation fellowship cannot be held during the same year as a similar pre-dissertation grant (such as those offered by the Council for European Studies or the SSRC). Other agency/organizational or university grants up to $3000 may be held in conjunction with the NACBS grant. In the case of grants over $3000, the NACBS will work with other organizations/institutions to top up the value of the grant to the amount of the largest award for those applicants chosen for both the NACBS grant and another award.

Recipients of the NACBS pre-dissertation fellowship are expected to propose a paper based on their research to either the national or a regional conference of the NACBS within three years of holding the fellowship.

Procedures for Application:

The application consists of the two letters of nomination and recommendation described above; a one-page curriculum vitae of the candidate; and a 1000-word research proposal written by the candidate, which should explain the potential importance of the topic to the field of British Studies and include a description of the relevant primary materials that are to be explored outside of North America. (Citations count toward the 1000-word limit.) Appended to the CV should be a list of the financial support (source, type, and amount) received by the applicant since the beginning of graduate study, and an indication of any current pending applications for financial aid to support pre-dissertation research.

Letters of reference should address themselves not only to the student's past record, but also to the importance of the potential dissertation topic and the need to pursue research outside North America. The major advisor, in endorsing the candidate, is also confirming that the candidate's proposed travel precedes formal approval of the dissertation prospectus and vouching for the financial information requested above.

Submit the application package as a single document (either WORD or PDF) through the link below. Referees should submit letters of reference via the “Letter of Recommendation” link. Applications should be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on April 1, 2024. The application file should be named (APPLICANT’S LAST NAME_Application) and letters of  recommendation files should be named (APPLICANT’S LAST NAME_Letter_REFEREE’SLAST NAME).


Matthew Mitchell

The University of the South

Averill Earls

St. Olaf College

Daniel Livesay

Claremont McKenna College

Due Date

April 1, 2024 at 11:59PM

Previous Winners


Julia Burke (Columbia University), “Irregularities of the System: The Business of Abortion in Nineteenth-Century London.”

  • Julia Burke’s dissertation project examines the lives of British women who underwent abortion care in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Through a close look at individual biographies, she paints a vivid portrait of the social circumstances that drove healthcare decisions, especially for working-class women. Yet, her research also seeks to explain how the business of abortion operated in Victorian Britain. Burke’s project uncovers the political stakes around abortion, as well as the wider social implications of its practice. It works to reveal how law, urbanization, labor, and mass-marketing created a complicated matrix of pressures on women’s healthcare.


Calvin Paulson (University of California-Berkeley), “Carrying the Sea on their Backs: The Uganda Railway and Kenya’s Indian Ocean Legacies.”

  • Calvin Paulson’s dissertation project explores the creation of the Uganda Railway from 1895 to 1903, and its role in the construction of race, settlement, and identity in East Africa. Built largely by indentured laborers from South Asia, the Railway was critical to the colonization of East Africa. Paulson’s dissertation will not only document the railway’s history as a vital piece of infrastructure, but also as a site of contested meaning for the region. Although British settlers wished to see the new nation of Kenya as neither African nor Indian, native inhabitants and immigrant laborers who built the railway challenged those efforts. The project promises to trace a key part of African history, while also incorporating it more firmly into the larger social and political networks of the Indian Ocean.



Alexandra MacDonald (The College of William and Mary), “The Social Life of Time in the Anglo-Atlantic World, 1660-1830.”

  • Macdonald's dissertation recovers the diverse ways in which people experienced, measured, and engaged with time in the Anglo-Atlantic. She argues that conceptions of time were shaped and mediated by a variety of material objects, and as much through conceptions and representations of gender, age, family ties, race, and ethnicity as they were by the ticking of the second hand. Looking beyond mechanical timepieces, she examines temporal signifiers in samplers, earthenware, and small portable objects such as handkerchiefs and snuff boxes as well as a diverse set of textual sources including almanacs, diaries, letters, wills, and inventories.


Chenguang Zhu (Boston University), “The Silent Delegates in a Foreign Capital: Chinese Objects, Civilizational Hierarchy, and Cultural Diplomacy in the International Exhibitions and Museums in London, 1851-1912.”

  • Through an examination of the collection and display of Chinese objects in international exhibitions in London as well as the exhibits staged at the British Museum and the South Kensington Museum from 1851 to 1912, Zhu explores how these displays shaped British opinions about the culture and society of China and Britain. Zhu's dissertation shows how these exhibits produced knowledge about China and reveal Britons' assumptions about China and Britain's relative places in the world, unpacking important historical concepts that remain relevant in the present day.



Du Fei (Cornell University), “"Together but Separate: Law, Urban Environment, and Inter-Communal Relationship in Three Early Modern Indian Ocean Port Cities.”


Jocelyn Zimmerman (SUNY Stony Brook), “‘Fairy Dreams’: Polygamy, Sexual Dissonance and the British Empire, 1765-1815.” 



Alexa McCall (University of Notre Dame), ““Reforming Ireland: Church Lands and Colonization, 1641-1660.”


Morgan Wilson (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill), “Tigers on the Thames: Korean Objects and London’s Public Museums, 1885-1945.”



Benjamin Herman (Pennsylvania State University), “Atlantic Arbitrations: The Court of Requests, Royal Governance, and Settlement Dynamics in the English Atlantic, c. 1620s-1660s” 


Pranav Jain (Yale University), ““Low Church Thought and Religion in England, c. 1680-1720”



Catharine Babikian (Rutgers University), “Creating Welfare, Nursing Empire: Colonial Student Nurses in the NHS”

Katya Maslakowski (Northwestern University), “Men of Violence: Counterinsurgency and British Colonial Violence at the End of Empire”

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