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 research in the history of science and technology within a wider maritime context. 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; and many interns have used their research for a university dissertation, an article or a seminar paper.

Who can apply?

  • Holders of UK/EU passports who have the right to live and work in the UK
  • 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 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.

Duration and payment

  • Internships will last for six weeks, agreed in advance, depending on the scope and level of the proposed project.
  • In 2014–15 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 2015–16 scheme are now open. The closing date is Tuesday 31 March 2015 and the internship may be taken between July 2015 and April 2016. Successful applicants will be able to discuss their exact choice of dates in consultation with the relevant curator.

Applicants are welcome to suggest their own research topics but a selection of potential topics are listed here to provide inspiration:

Louise Devoy (Curator, Royal Observatory Greenwich)

  • The history of the magnetic and meteorological instruments used at the Royal Observatory Greenwich during the late 19th century/early 20th century. This project would require a review of both collection items and archive material.
  • A review of the uncatalogued material relating to early 20th-century Astronomers Royal, such as Sir Frank Dyson (AR 1910-1933) and Harold Spencer Jones (AR 1933-1955), held within our Archive collection at the Caird Library. This project would help further our understanding of how the Royal Observatory functioned and changed during this period.

Richard Dunn (Senior Curator, History of Navigation)

  • The use of scientific instruments in polar exploration: The NMM has instruments associated with a number of Arctic and Antarctic expeditions from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries, including Scott’s Terra Nova expedition of 1910-12. This project would seek to look in more detail at how specific instruments were used in the field in these inhospitable conditions and at the practices associated with their deployment.
  • Almost-rans: The Museum has a number of examples of instruments that were produced only as prototypes, for trials, or which did not prove to be particularly successful. Looking at these failures can be revealing of the processes of invention and adoption. The project would focus on a small number to try to tease out their stories.
  • The development of computing instruments for navigation: The development of new forms of astronomical navigation from the late 18th century onwards placed often long series of calculations at the heart of navigational practice. In response, a number of inventors and makers produced instruments designed to make the calculations quicker and easier. This project would look at the creation of some of these instruments, how they worked, and the extent to which they were used in practice.

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

  • Science in Southern Africa: the use of chronometers in the Royal Navy survey of Africa 1822-26: This intern project would look at the scientific aspects of the British Naval Survey of Captain William Fitzwilliam Owen on the East and West African coasts 1822-26 in the ships Leven and Barracouta. While the political and biographical aspects of the voyage have been studied, less attention has been paid to the scientific and technical aspects of the first major surveying of the African coastline. This project would examine the use of two chronometers taken with the expedition, the Margetts, No. 163 and Barraud, No. 10 through research into these objects, the Museum’s chronometer archives (Admiralty ledgers), Manuscript and Library collections (Owen and Boteler papers and their published voyage accounts) and in archives elsewhere where material is held on scientific aspects of this expedition (UK Hydrographic Office, National Archives, and Royal Horticultural Society). How did Naval Officers deal with the new challenges of using chronometers in hostile tropical environments, and what type of scientific findings did these chronometers enable?
  • Science in the Arctic: instruments used on the British Arctic Expedition of 1875-76: 19th-century exploration of the Canadian Arctic, primarily directed by the British Admiralty, had scientific as well as geographical goals. This project would examine the role of five scientific instruments in the British Arctic Expedition of 1875-76 directed by Sir George Strong Nares. Although the expedition achieved a record farthest north, it has also been described as 'the last of the old-style Royal Naval expeditions to the Arctic' – three people died of scurvy and the quality of the Navy’s scientific investigations has been questioned. This project would examine how the Nares scientific instruments at the National Maritime Museum were used, and also what information they can provide about other items in the Museum’s collection (especially archives and photographs). Was the Nares expedition a scientific failure or not, and what role did these objects play in it?
  • Heloise Finch-Boyer also welcomes projects relating to the development of electronic mapping sciences through the study of radars, radar charts, glass radar slides and radar plotters at the National Maritime Museum.

Gillian Hutchinson (Curator of Cartography)

  • Research projects associated with our collection of cartographic materials and historic globes.

Rory McEvoy (Curator of Horology)

  • Research projects associated with our horological collections.

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 and a short blog post at the end of the internship.
  • Interns will also be invited to present a 15-minute summary of their research findings to RMG staff, either at the end of their internship or at a later date.

For further information contact: