Intern programme: History of science & technology

Student research intern programme

History of science and technology collections

The purpose of the intern programme

The collections of Royal Museums Greenwich in the fields of time, navigation, astronomy, cartography and nautical technology are world class. The intern programme is designed to further our knowledge of the collections and increase their accessibility to our audiences.

Research at the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory is not just for those considering a career in museums or galleries. The Museum’s collections offer rich sources for a wide range of subjects – not only maritime history and history of astronomy, but also the wider history of science and technology, economic and business history, the history of production and consumption, imperial history and exploration. For those considering further postgraduate research, they provide an opportunity to access the collections and gain valuable experience in the study of material culture within a clearly defined project.

The aim of the programme is to encourage research in the collections, and although this will include work on archive material, the primary focus should be on collection items. Interns will be supervised by an appropriate member of the curatorial team. Applicants are welcome to suggest their own research topics but a selection of potential topics are listed here to provide inspiration:

Jonathan Betts (Senior Curator of Horology)

  • A short history of the Kew Observatory watch and chronometer trials, as revealed from the archives now held in our Department.
  • Presentation watches and clocks, given as tokens of thanks or in commemoration.
  • Research on ships’ clocks of various kinds, used for showing local time on board ship, as opposed to the marine chronometer which always kept GMT for navigational purposes. We have a small group of ships clocks, some striking the ship’s watches, and one very interesting and un-researched example also used for recording the speed of the ship.

Louise Devoy (Curator, Royal Observatory Greenwich)

  • Magnetic and meteorological instruments used at the Royal Observatory Greenwich during the late 19th century/early 20th century.
  • Memorabilia associated with the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1910 and 1986.
  • Perpetual calendar medals held within the RMG collections

Richard Dunn (Senior Curator, History of Navigation)

  • Admiralty Compass Observatory (ACO) collection
    Established in 1842, the ACO remained at the forefront of compass design and magnetic matters for over a century. The ACO collection and related holdings at the NMM offer extensive resources for exploring themes including the development, testing and deployment of different compass types, and magnetic research as an expeditionary activity.
  • The use of scientific instruments in polar exploration
  • Almost-rans: scientific/navigational instruments that never made it into widespread use
  • The development of instruments to carry out navigational computations

Heloise Finch-Boyer (Curator of History of Science and Technology, including oceanography and modern navigation)

  • Zigzag technology during world war one convoys, using objects ZAA0190 and ACO0049 as starting points for investigation
  • History of electronic mapping sciences through the study of radars, radar charts, glass radar slides and radar plotters at the National Maritime Museum
  • Use of sun compasses in the World War II North Africa campaigns

Gillian Hutchinson (Curator of Cartography)

  • A comparison of two pairs of 18th century globes and the accompanying texts describing their use. The purpose of this study is to describe the similarities and differences between the output of John Senex and Benjamin Martin and interpret the findings. The key items from NMM collections involved in this study are:
  • Globes: John Senex - terrestrial and celestial table globes, about 1730 (GLB0138 and GLB 0139); Benjamin Martin - terrestrial and celestial table globes, about 1770 (GLB0079 and GLB 0080)
    • Books: John Senex, Proposals for a new pair of globes, about 1720, HSR/T/3; Thomas Wright, The use of the globe, or the general doctrine of the sphere printed in 1740 for John Senex; Benjamin Martin, The description and use of both the globes… 1762
    • Context can be provided by other globes and treatises and by secondary works including Helen Wallis, The place of globes in English education, 1978.
  • The relationship between sailing directions and sea charts. Verbal sailing directions predated graphic charts and both still co-exist. Sailing directions have received less attention from historians of navigation and cartography. An intern project might take the form of a chronologically and geographically defined investigation, such as the sailing directions and charts available for use by the Royal African Company, to elucidate their respective roles and changes that took place. Or it might focus on sailing directions produced during the century after the establishment of the Board of Longitude (1714-1814) to investigate whether, and if so how, sailing directions compensate for the inability or assume the ability of the navigator to find longitude.

Rory McEvoy (Curator of Horology)

  • Royal Observatory buildings: Study and collate historic plans, photographs and contemporary accounts to develop a detailed narrative of the changing shape and utility of buildings at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.
  • Obscure timing devices: A collection of timing devices that were designed for both military and civil use offers an opportunity for a researcher to connect these objects to a broader, military, industrial or social history.
  • The Humphrey Smith Archive: Humphrey Smith was in charge of the Time Department of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in the mid-20th century. This collection of papers offers a vast resource for the study of the daily business of the Time Department in the latter years of the Royal Observatory. The papers include: raw data, periodicals, off-prints and correspondence.

The Museum is keen to encourage interdisciplinary and contextual studies of the collections. There may also be scope to work with the Exhibitions, Digital Media and Learning departments on methods of using the results of research to interpret objects for different groups of visitors, including those who use our website. Others will prefer to use the research for a university dissertation, an article or a seminar paper.

Duration and payment

  • Internships will last for six weeks, agreed in advance, depending on the scope and level of the proposed project.
  • In 2013–14 the bursary offered was £1500 for the six week period, intended to cover living expenses and travel to and from the Museum. There will also be a limited amount of additional money for exceptional travel expenses essential to the research and agreed in advance.
  • Applications for the 2014–15 scheme are now open. The closing date is Monday 17 March 2014 and the internship may be taken between June 2014 and April 2015.

Who can apply?

  • All postgraduate students
  • Final year undergraduates who wish to use research on the Museum’s collections for a dissertation or long essay.
  • Applicants can also apply for an internship in between courses, for example, between undergraduate and postgraduate study, or to gain experience of a subject which they may wish to propose for an MPhil or PhD.

How to apply

Applications should include:

  • Curriculum vitae, giving contact details, educational qualifications, and the names of two referees who know your work.
  • An outline of no more than 500 words that describes the key collections items of interest and the associated research topic.
  • An indication of the output you would hope to achieve from your research, for example an article, seminar paper, blog post, online resource or other outcome.

Hints and tips to improve your chance of success

  • In the first instance, please explore our Collections Online website to identify objects and topics of interest.
  • Potential applicants should make initial enquiries about their project and refine their proposal ideas with the relevant curator. Please email your initial enquiries to Louise Devoy ( ) who will then forward them on.
  • The research proposal should be based on specific collections and objects held by the Museum.
  • The proposed topic must be clearly relevant to studies in the history of science and technology.
  • The internship period of six weeks should be a reasonable and realistic length of time for successful completion of the research.
  • The proposed project should display original thinking that builds on existing academic literature with no repetition of existing research.
  • Applicants are strongly encouraged to use the full length of the outline (500 words) to explain and promote their proposed topic.

Please send your application by email


Museum staff will expect the intern to:

  • Undertake research leading to an agreed piece of work, such as an article or note for a journal, a post on one of the Museum’s blogs, a paper for a staff seminar, entries for the online catalogue, a talk for visitors, text or object labels for an exhibition, and/or part of a postgraduate dissertation. For details of previous project themes, titles and outputs see: RMG History of Science internships: 2004–2013.
  • Go through the staff security vetting procedure.
  • Be in attendance at the Museum during normal working hours, unless there has been prior agreement that the research topic requires work in other collections or libraries.
  • Report absence through illness the same day and provide a doctor’s certificate if away for more than seven days.
  • Successfully complete any courses, such as object handling, necessary for safe working.
  • Complete a brief research report at the end of the internship.

For further information contact: