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Making marks, changing values: The contemporary significance of graffiti at historic sites

A Collaborative Doctoral Partnership studentship between the University of York and English Heritage

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Start date: October 2019


Professor John Schofield (University of York, Department of Archaeology)

Dr Megan Leyland (Senior Properties Historian, English Heritage)


Project Overview

Although many heritage sites have examples of historic graffiti, until recently it has not generally formed an integral part of interpretation or research. However, the public response to English Heritage’s recent Richmond Castle Cell Block project, its work on graffiti at Deal Castle and other EH initiatives such as the recording of graffiti at Conisbrough Castle, has shown clear public interest and research potential. This project, focused on the north of England, would form a continuation of research undertaken at Richmond Castle and start drawing together earlier work on graffiti within EH's estate across the region. It will create a typology of graffiti types from sites of all periods. It will also, for the first time and through a participatory approach involving curators working alongside contemporary graffiti artists, examine historic graffiti from the perspective of contemporary ‘mark making’ activities. This part of the project will also therefore address key social inclusion agenda, creating opportunities to work with non-traditional audiences, now increasingly valued within the heritage sector and specifically defined in EH’s Corporate Strategy.

This studentship feeds directly into EH’s research strategy by working to better understand the national picture and by developing assets which could be used to inform interpretation, such as a catalogue of graffiti in a region and a transferable research framework. By better understanding both the historic and contemporary significance of graffiti it will also inform conservation practice. The research is thus a crucial and timely intervention in a significant debate on recording historic graffiti, assessing its significance and taking values-led decisions on their retention/removal.

Historic graffiti can provide information on past lives, and the use of and values attached to particular spaces over time. Working alongside contemporary graffiti artists can help us to build new interpretations, and see these historic spaces and their graffiti from different perspectives.

Research questions fall into three categories. First, there is a human aspect to the unofficial and unsanctioned act of creating graffiti and the appropriation of a small part of a building by 'mark making'. The project will ask:

  • Why do people create graffiti?
  • What can this tell us about the lives of people in the past?
  • What does this tell us about the changing attitudes of visitors to heritage sites and the changing attitudes of custodians of these sites?

Second, the project will address questions of value, which tie into heritage protection, resilience and recording:

  • At what point, and why, do graffiti become an important historical record as opposed to vandalism?
  • Which graffiti are worthy of study and preservation? Here we will question whether and how graffiti could be used to create a value hierarchy based on style or age, for example.
  • What is the value and significance of graffiti? Who values them and why?
  • What methodologies should we employ to research these inscriptions?

Third, graffiti also has the potential for new stories which might not be discoverable through more conventional methods such as historic buildings recording:

  • What diverse stories do graffiti tell?
  • How can these be interpreted and presented to members of the public?
  • What common themes can be found across graffiti at heritage sites?
  • How do graffiti affect or impact the historical and spatial narrative of the space?

Together these questions will help the project answer the central questions, being (1) why graffiti matter and to whom, and (2) how understanding graffiti and the processes by which they are made can help better inform their future management and wider appreciation.

Details of Award

  • Starts 1st October 2019
  • 3.5 year award (includes a "Student Development Fund" equivalent to 0.5 years of funding)
  • The award pays tuition fees up to the value of the full time home/EU UKRI rate for PhD degrees as well as full maintenance for UK citizens and residents only. The value of the maintenance stipend is to be confirmed; however is expected to be around £15,559*.

*based on RCUK National Minimum Doctoral Stipend for 2018 of £15,009 plus an additional £550 per annum for CDA students

  • The student is eligible to receive an additional travel and related expenses grant during the course of the project courtesy of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, worth up to £6000.


  • Due to restrictions on the funding this studentship is open to UK/EU students who meet the residency requirements set out in the UKRI Conditions of Research Council Training Grants.
  • Applicants should ideally have or expect to receive a relevant Masters-level qualification, or be able to demonstrate equivalent experience, including appropriate research skills. Suitable disciplines are flexible, but might include Archaeology, Heritage Studies, History, Cultural Anthropology and Geography.
  • Applicants must be able to demonstrate an interest in the heritage sector and potential and enthusiasm for developing skills more widely in the areas of heritage/archaeology/built environment.
  • As a collaborative award, students will be expected to spend time at both the University and English Heritage properties and offices.
  • Part time study will be considered for this studentship.

How to apply

  • Candidates will need to apply for a PhD at the University of York, clearly indicating that the application is for the AHRC/ English Heritage CDA in Archaeology.

As part of your application, you will need to include:

  • An individualised research proposal, in which you amplify and shape the project as summarised above. You should set out your contribution to the project research design and how the project topic will be tailored to your particular strengths and research interests.
  • two references from external referees.
  • a writing sample.

Application Deadline is 26th April 2019 at 23h59min

Interviews will take place in week commencing 27th May 2019

Further Enquiries

For further information you may contact:

John Schofield (University of York) -

Megan Leyland (English Heritage) -