Postgraduate research opportunities SGSAH CDA Project - Archiving Agnes Owens: Asserting the Marginal Voice


Key facts

  • Opens: Wednesday 17 May 2023
  • Deadline: Monday 19 June 2023
  • Number of places: 1
  • Duration: 3.5 years full-time beginning 1 October 2023
  • Funding: Home fee, Stipend


This project will see the creation of the Agnes Owens Archive which contains previously unpublished plays, poems and short stories. Owens’ champions point to her class, gender, and age in explaining her neglect; her work is frequently read against her biography. This project will absorb and supersede these contexts in its collation and critical appraisal of Owens’ full literary output, leading to a variety of public-facing events marking the centenary of her birth in 2026.
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A first-class or upper-second Honours degree, or overseas equivalent. In addition, the AHRC also expects that applicants to PhD programmes will hold, or be studying towards, a Masters qualification in a relevant discipline; or have relevant professional experience to provide evidence of your ability to undertake independent research. Please ensure you provide details of your academic and professional experience in your application letter.

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Project Details

Project Overview

Alasdair Gray has described Agnes Owens as ‘the most unfairly neglected of all living Scottish authors’. While her work has widely been acknowledged as culturally and artistically important (she appears, for example, in Calum Colvin’s famous painting of the ‘The Kelvingrove Eight’), there is a lack of supporting materials for in-depth study of her writings. Owens, however, was a prolific writer and had extensive correspondence with fellow writers Liz Lochhead and Alasdair Gray, in which they often commented on and mutually supported each other’s work. At times they also published together (Lean Tales (1985)). Coming from a West of Scotland working-class background, and as a mother of seven children, Owens only began her writing career in her early fifties and continually shunned any literary limelight. Her literary project was taken up with the same forms of marginalisation. Douglas Gifford described her characters as ‘outsiders, down-and-outs... and no-hopers', and as such, they were always imagined through all of the labours of living: as one belonging to a family (or not), as a worker, or a friend, an alienated subject, or simply a body in need of sustenance; a mind in need of distraction. Drawing on her archives recently donated to the Alasdair Gray Archive (AGA), this will be the first study of the complete writings of Agnes Owens, restoring the importance of her literature of the marginalised, within its West of Scotland setting, to Scottish literary culture, and beyond.


The PhD will focus on three key areas

1. Archiving the papers of Agnes Owens- working with the AGA to organise and catalogue the recently donated papers. This will include preparing a chronological study of her works, incorporating the previously unseen, unpublished works.

2. A detailed study of the broader context of Owen’s work. This section will situate Owens’ work within her broader West of Scotland context. This will include a study of the correspondence and collective textual editing between Agnes Owens, Liz Lochhead and Alasdair Gray. To what extent was the writing of Agnes Owens influenced by other Scottish writers? In turn, to what extent did she influence their work? This section will also focus on the working-class context of Owens’ work, as well as the broader networks she was operating within (involvement in writers’ groups and literary magazines).

3. Formal study of her literary works. A central theme running through Owens’ work is marginalisation: her texts illuminate outsider figures who, because of their status, reveal absurdities in our social relations, our psychology, and our value systems. This project will offer a sustained critical analysis of Owens’ entire oeuvre through the lens of the marginalised and alienated subject (from the writer, through the narrator and poetic voice, to characters).



In order to deepen understanding of the context of Owens’ work, a central aspect of the project will be to build upon the existing archival materials through the addition of a strand of oral history interviews (with fellow writers, friends and family members). Many of Owens’ short stories first appeared in small literary magazines and writers’ group publications. She was first ‘discovered’ by Liz Lochhead when she tutored at her writers’ group in the Vale of Leven. These interconnections will be further explored through interviewing magazine editors and writers’ group participants/ organisers. Opening out the cultural and historical context of Owens’ work in this way will also be vital to understanding the broader literary and cultural context of Scotland at this time. Many of the interviewees are elderly and there is an urgency and time-sensitivity to this project. The interview recordings and transcriptions will be stored jointly between the AGA and the Scottish Oral History Centre (SOHC) at Strathclyde, where they will be publicly available resources.

One of the main contexts of the thesis will be a sustained critical analysis of marginalisation and alienated subjectivities throughout Owens’ work. This will involve comparative studies of Owens’ narrative strategies in different works, forms, and periods: focussing on formal features like ironic distance, frame narratives, implied audiences, blind-spots, and black humour. This will place Owens’ work in its wider literary historical context and extend critical appreciation of late-20th-century working-class experimentalism in Scottish literature and the arts more broadly.

Further information

The student will be based at the University of Strathclyde, though will have access to research facilities and networks at the University of Glasgow.

At the AGA the student will receive hands-on training from Dallas in working with material objects and archives, online and physical exhibition design and development, and outreach activities working with local communities. This training will focus on best practice for handling archives, ethics of material use and data protection.

In addition, the student will benefit from extensive oral history training from the Scottish Oral History Centre at Strathclyde (SOHC). Through SOHC, and its strong research culture within the School, they will have access to on-going formal training in oral history theory and methodology.

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Funding details

Home fees & student stipend at standard SGSAH rates & travel costs for field study/research trips etc. International applications are welcomed but if successful, would need to fund the difference between Home & International fees per annum for the duration of study.

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Primary Supervisor: Dr Eleanor Bell (University of Strathclyde)

Additional Supervisor/s: Second supervisor Dr Corey Gibson (University of Glasgow), partner supervisor Sorcha Dallas (AGA).

Dr Eleanor Bell

Senior Lecturer

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To be considered for this scholarship, eligible applicants must apply formally online via Pegasus for PhD in English and be available to commence study on 1 October 2023.

In the funding section of the application form please state the project title:

SGSAH CDA Project - Archiving Agnes Owens: Asserting the Marginal Voice

Please submit your application with the following documents uploaded no later than 19 June 2023 by 5pm BST:

  • 500-to-1000-word personal statement outlining why you wish to undertake this studentship and what you will bring to the project
  • CV (2 pages)
  • 2 academic references – name and full contact details
  • All degree certificates and transcripts, to date
  • IELTS (taken within the past 2 years prior to commencing study) or equivalent proof of English language proficiency (if English is not your first language)
  • A sample of your writing – this might be an academic essay or another example of your writing style and ability.

Number of places: 1

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel after the closing date and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted for interview. Interviews will be held on Monday 26th June 2023.

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Programme: English

Start date: Oct 2023 - Sep 2024


Programme: English

Start date: Oct 2023 - Sep 2024

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Contact us

Informal inquiries may be directed to Dr Eleanor Bell (