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New PhD scholarship on life and works of Anne Lister

Posted on 3 January 2023

A new PhD scholarship will offer postgraduates the chance to study the life and works of 19th Century Yorkshire landowner, traveller and diarist, Anne Lister.

Dr Sally Wainwright

The University of York scholarship is funded by the multi-award-winning screenwriter, director and York alumna, Sally Wainwright, who wrote, directed, and executive produced the 2019 BBC dramatisation of Anne Lister’s life, Gentleman Jack.

Anne Lister’s diaries, which run to more than five million words over 26 volumes, offer fascinating insights into her public and private life. Written from 1806 to Lister’s death in 1840, they cover subjects as diverse as engineering calculations, legal issues, relations with tenants on her land, scientific and medical advances of the time, theology and political unrest.

They detail – often in code – her romantic and sexual liaisons with women. Lister also wrote 14 volumes of travel notes, covering trips throughout the UK and Europe. UNESCO acknowledged the diaries as a pivotal document in British history, adding them to its ‘Memory of the World’ register in 2011.

New light

Professor Helen Smith, from the University of York, said: “Anne Lister is a fascinating, but little-studied literary figure, and this scholarship, generously funded by Dr Sally Wainwright, will shed new light on her life, historical significance and writings. We hope that the successful PhD candidate will help us understand more about Anne Lister as a writer, and bring her incredible writings to new audiences.”

Unkindly referred to by her neighbours as ‘Gentleman Jack’, Lister chose to break free of societal expectations of women at the time, dressing and acting in an unashamedly masculine way.

Throughout her life she had numerous love affairs with other women, finally courting neighbouring heiress Ann Walker, leading to a ceremony in 1834 thought to be the first same-sex marriage in England.

Literary canon

The Sally Wainwright PhD scholarship is intended to foster further research on Lister’s life and writing, to establish her place in the canon of English Literature as well as the historical record and better interpret her work. Much of her writing has yet to be explored in detail. The successful student will have full access to the Lister diaries and other writings, currently held in the West Yorkshire archives in Lister’s native Halifax. 

Sally Wainwright said: “Anne Lister's diaries and other writings are a unique, fascinating, vast resource, lending themselves to study across a number of academic disciplines. Anne Lister was a profoundly clever and unusual woman whose writings need much greater analysis than they have yet received. 

“Above and beyond all her other talents, Lister was a prolific diarist, and it is my greatest hope that the scholarship will go some way towards helping establish her extraordinary output firmly within the canon of English Literature.”

Full tuition

The scholarship offers full tuition fees at the UK home rate along with an annual stipend of £20,000 for three years, as well as a small sum for research expenses. It is open to both home and international students, with the University of York providing a waiver fee to cover the additional tuition costs if an international student proves to be the best candidate.

Applications for the scholarship close on 18 January, 2023. More information on how to apply can be found on the University of York website.

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