The MERL Fellowship Scheme is open to researchers wishing to make use of the museum’s collection in their research. It is designed to enhance understanding of our diverse holdings. Most awards are made in response to an annual application process.

Current MERL Fellow

Dr Jenny Chamarette (Senior Research Fellow in Art, University of Reading) has been appointed as as the 2022 Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellow.

Q is for Garden: Queer ecologies, soil collectives and radical politics

Jenny will use the Fellowship to complete Q is for Garden, a book-length work of creative non-fiction that she has been developing over the last 18 months. Shortlisted for the Fitzcarraldo Essay Prize 2021, and recently longlisted for the biennial Nan Shepherd Prize 2021, the book develops creative methods of self-enquiry, embodied memoir and auto-fiction, entwined with explorations of queerness, gardens, colonial botany, cultivation (including horticulture and agriculture) and indigeneity. She is particularly interested in the stories less well-told about rural life, nature connection and cultures of cultivation. Specifically, the Fellowship will allow her to provide historical and contextual grounding to the section of Q is for Garden which discusses earth, soil, roots, matter, illness/decay and recovery/renewal.

The range of memoirs and other forms of land writing in The MERL Library will be particularly helpful in uncovering queer tendrils further back in time, particularly those related to embodiment, land and sexuality in all its forms.

As part of the Fellowship, Jenny will seek to build relationships with gardeners, nature-workers and other professionals who tend the land around The MERL, to build a ‘living’ sense of The MERL’s position within the urban and rural cultural landscape, in the hope of uncovering new queer ‘constellations’ as The MERL’s recent exhibition described.

Recent MERL Fellows

The MERL Fellowship, 2020-2021

The MERL Fellowship 2020-2021 was generously funded by the Open Spaces Society.

Today, the Open Spaces Society’s principal task is advising local authorities, Commons committees, voluntary bodies, and the general public on the appropriation of commons and other open spaces. We are inviting applications from academics who will focus on the Open Spaces Society archive held at The Museum of English Rural Life. The archive contains administrative records, legal reports and papers, publications of the society, parliamentary papers, and photographic transparencies. More can be learned about the Open Spaces Society Collection on its dedicated Collections page on our website. Katrina Navickas, University of Hertforshire, was awarded the Open Spaces Society Fellowship in 2020.

Changing landscapes of open spaces

Katrina investigated the changing landscapes of open spaces. The lockdown restrictions imposed under the 2020 pandemic highlighted the importance of open spaces for health and recreation. The Open Spaces Society (OSS) has campaigned since 1865 for the preservation of public access to a variety of landscapes, from large estates to woods and nature reserves. The OSS collection at MERL contains 19th century legal case papers and around a thousand transparencies of English landscapes from around 1900-40. This fellowship researched how those landscapes have changed since these records were made – to what extent have they changed? How have they remained important as sites of leisure, nature and heritage for people today? There is great potential to expand the digital humanities capabilities of the OSS collection. The fellowship aimed to geo-locate the images, provide a more detailed context for their campaigns, and potentially link the images to OSS collections in other archives. It produced an interactive map of the sites, enabling the public to see ‘then and now’ landscapes, and explore other uses for the records of the sites. The most interesting or significant images are explored in an online exhibition, and at a symposium of academic research on 20th century landscape change. The fellowship contributed to Dr Navickas’s larger project on the history of public space, to be published as a monograph and associated journal articles.

Whose Landscape? Online Symposium

As part of her Fellowship, Katrina ran an online symposium on Wednesday 8 September 2021, 2pm-5pm.

The Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowship, 2019

Rebecca Ford was awarded the Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowship in 2019. Rebecca is an historical/cultural geographer with research interests in cultural landscapes, histories of horticulture and British rural geographies of the 19th and 20th centuries. She gained her PhD at the University of Nottingham and is the editor of ‘Rural History Today’, which is published by the British Agricultural History Society. She is also cataloguing an extensive archive of manuscripts which detail the lives of an English landowning family in the 17th and 18th centuries. In addition to this she works as a writer and broadcaster, specialising in travel, culture and environment.

Outline of Proposal: They Followed the Pied Piper: A Study of Evacuees’ Experiences of Rural Life

Rebecca will investigate the experiences of evacuees who were billeted in rural areas during World War Two. The main aim is to enhance our understanding of the cultural collisions between town and country created by the mass evacuation, and reveal any gender differences in their experiences. It will also look at whether there was a lasting legacy in the shape of changed attitudes to rural life and farming, and if this was passed down the generations. While the project is historical, it also has the potential to inform our current understanding of the migrant experience in the countryside – particularly with regard to that of children separated from their parents.

The Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowship, 2019

Samuel Little was awarded the Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowship in 2019. Samuel is a designer based in London interested in the relationship between resource culture and architecture. He is currently collaborating with Brussels-based design practice Rotor having previously worked at Caruso St John Architects and other London practices. Samuel graduated with Honours from the Architectural Association having previously studied at The Cass, London Metropolitan University and The Royal Drawing School.

Outline of Proposal: Material Reuse in Agricultural Building Practice

Working in ecologically precarious times, architects are increasingly required to engage with ideas of reuse. Through existing, salvaged, or reclaimed building materials they are to play their part in the new ‘circular’ economy. Previous research has highlighted agricultural building practice as an existing niche outside of contemporary design culture; a productive space where progressive reuse practices have developed. This MERL Fellowship project will explore this fertile ground, uncovering evocative collections that address ideas of ‘material reuse’ in agricultural building practice. Such materials will be seen as starting points and conversation pieces, which serve to enrich conversations around sustainability, material use, and waste that are at the forefront of current architecture and design. The project is part of a wider study and will lead to a publication that includes both texts and drawings in early 2020, as well as further dissemination.

The P. H. Ditchfield MERL Fellowship, 2019

Jeremy Burchardt was awarded the P. H. Ditchfield MERL Fellowship, 2019.

Jeremy Burchardt is a rural historian based in the Department of History, University of Reading. His research interests focus on three intertwined themes: the affective significance of the countryside in modern Britain; perceptions and experiences of rural childhood; and leisure in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century countryside. Drawing mainly on diaries, his forthcoming book on the experience of rural landscape in England c.1880-1960 explores the personal meanings of landscape in this period, emphasising how landscape helped many people make sense of their lives and of the changes in the world around them during this turbulent period.

Outline of Proposal: ‘A perfect example of true territorial possession’: Children’s toponyms and outdoor play in c20th central southern England

Many children invent names for places (toponyms) that matter to them, sometimes individually but perhaps more often together with other children, usually siblings or friends. Unlike ‘official’ adult place names, children’s toponyms are rarely recorded, and, indeed, adults may be quite unaware of them. Yet they have the potential to tell us a great deal about children and how they relate to landscape, because they give an indication of which landscape features matter to children and, sometimes, what it was about these often micro-scale landscape elements (e.g. bushes, gaps in hedges, climbable trees etc) that children found engaging. This project will seek to identify and interpret children’s toponyms in two ways: firstly by drawing on the MERL’s extensive library, archival and photographic collections and secondly through inviting visitors to the MERL, and others, to contribute to the project’s digital archive of children’s toponyms.

Historic fellows

2018-19 James Bowen – Funded by the Poultry Club of Great Britain

2017-18 Suzanne Joinson – Sheepcombe: A Reckoning, a nature and landscape memoir

2016-17 Antonia Bruce – First Foods artist residency

2014-15 Karen Sayer – Rat control on British farms

2013-14 Chris Green – Historical dictionary of agricultural hand tools

2012-13 Rachel Worth – Rural working-class dress, 1850-1900

2011-12 Keith Grieves – Forestry and remembrance after the First World War

2011-12 Joseph Hodge – Agricultural extension and tropical agriculture

2010-11 John Martin – Extreme weather and agriculture from 1947 to 1976

2009-10 Hilary Crowe – Farm Management Survey, 1930s-70s

2008-09 Clare Griffiths – Images of farmers and farming in war and peace

2007-08 David Viner – Reassessing farm wagon collections

2006-07 Richard Tranter – Interwar agricultural depression and the Berkshire Downs

2005-06 Andrew Godley – Development of the supermarket chicken industry

2005-06 Richard Bonser – The changing shape of the chicken

2005-06 Nicola Verdon – Women in twentieth century agriculture