The Royal Historical Society (RHS) has today launched an emergency funding scheme for postgraduate and early career historians, the second of two initiatives from the RHS in response to the specific context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, Margot Finn introduces the RHS COVID-19 Hardship Grants.
This global crisis confronts us all with a series of unprecedented challenges. For History ECRs, these may include any or all of acute financial hardship, mandatory physical relocation, family and community disruptions, new demands on carers, mental and/or physical health concerns and loss of access to research support and resources.
Navigating the PhD and early postdoctoral years is a challenging proposition for historians in the best of times. Acquiring new language and palaeographical skills, honing a research project, grappling with complex archival records, conducting oral histories and teaching for the first time while producing dissertation chapters, articles or book proposals are inherently demanding tasks, both individually and collectively. Concerns about the mental health and wellbeing of early career researchers (ECRs) are now well recognised in UK higher education. The early career stage of professional development in the Humanities has been, moreover, notoriously precarious (in economic terms) long before the emergence of COVID-19. The fallout of the coronovirus pandemic has severely exacerbated this precarity.
The RHS’s standard grant schemes for ECRs operate on the assumption that RHS funding is best deployed in supporting trips to archives, libraries and conferences that lie beyond an individual’s normal everyday budget. In the COVID-19 context, however, the Society’s Council (its trustees) are acutely aware that many ECRs will have lost access to vital employment due to the government-mandated lock-down. Others will have been compelled to withdraw from work due to health concerns and/or caring responsibilities.
The Society’s ECR Hardship Grants are intended to help mitigate these damaging circumstances. We recognise that the resources we are able to offer are very modest given the scale of the current crisis and that it is highly likely that demand will outstrip supply. This scheme is not designed to provide a ‘top-up’ grant for funded students or recent postdoctoral researchers in stable employment: it is an emergency, short-term intervention to offer some material assistance to those most severely affected by the impact of COVID-19.
Universities across the UK have developed financial schemes to support their students, and we ask prospective applicants to explore these funds in the first instance. However, many universities’ schemes were originally designed with undergraduate students in mind; some provide only limited funds for international ECRs. The RHS Hardship grant scheme for History ECRs studying at UK universities or (for postdoctoral applicants) normally resident in the UK is equally open to students of any nationality. Although the Hardship grant scheme focuses on ECR historians as ‘researchers’, there is no expectation that applicants will use any awarded funding to advance a specific research project or to produce specific research outputs. Rather, our goal in providing these admittedly modest funds is to contribute to your wellbeing as a person in these exceptional times of hardship.
The Society’s Research Support Committee and Council will review both the operation of and the need for the Hardship Fund as the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath unfold. Prospective applicants and those supporting them can find full details of eligibility as well as the online application form on the main RHS website.
We have also launched another new scheme to try and mitigate the effect on early career historians of COVID-19. More details about the RHS Adam Matthew Digital Collections Subscription scheme can be found here.
Please note that our usual grant schemes for ECRs are also still running. We encourage innovative applications to support research and the costs associated with virtual events (in keeping with government and public heath restrictions on travel and meetings) at this time.
President, Royal Historical Society