Skip to Content

PhD Opportunities

Placing Astronomy: Landscape, Space and Science at Armagh Observatory, 1790-1916

School of Natural and Built Environment | PHD

Applications are now CLOSED
Reference Number
Application Deadline
13 January 2020
Start Date
1 October 2020


The project aims to investigate the historical geographies of astronomy at Armagh Observatory, which is the oldest continuously-active astronomical research institution in the British Isles. The importance of place and landscape to the science conducted at the Observatory is evidenced by its position in the wider regional landscape, the situation of several historic astronomical instruments, and its ecclesiastical and civic connections to the City of Armagh. The student, based partly at the Observatory and partly at QUB Geography Department, will be in a unique position to re-appraise the Observatory’s scientific heritage at an important time in its contemporary development.

Aim of the Project
This collaboration presents an exceptional opportunity for a doctoral student to investigate the historical geographies of astronomy at Armagh Observatory, the oldest continuously-active astronomical research institution in the British Isles.
The Observatory is home to a scientific heritage that has been intimately connected to a sense of place and landscape, yet one that has been largely overlooked in terms of its historical and geographical significance. This project will address these
issues by placing the student at the heart of the Observatory to study its past spaces of science.
Institutional Context
Founded by Archbishop Richard Robinson in 1790, at the height of the Age of Enlightenment, Armagh Observatory is
housed in a Grade A-listed heritage building, and is surrounded by 11 hectares of landscaped parkland. The significance of
place and landscape to Armagh Observatory’s scientific heritage is evidenced by the precise context of its location, with
line-of-sight connections to three historic meridian markers on the outskirts of Armagh, its strong civic and ecclesiastical
connections to the City of Armagh, and its dual historical use as a domestic home for astronomers as well as a place of
scientific research. The Observatory houses several unique instruments that remain in the places in which they were
used to conduct pioneering astronomical measurements, such as the Troughton Equatorial Telescope, which is the oldest
telescope in the world that remains in its original setting, the Grubb 15-inch Equatorial Reflector Telescope, which was the
first of its kind, and the Earnshaw Transit Clock, which was believed to be the most accurate clock in the world in its day.
The study encompasses the careers of the first four Directors of the Observatory, who along with their colleagues
pioneered modern scientific understandings of the Universe, most significantly in the publication of globally-authoritative
catalogues of stars and nebulae in 1859, 1888, 1895 and 1908. The Observatory is now part of Armagh Observatory and
Planetarium (AOP), one of Northern Ireland’s leading research, educational and heritage institutions. AOP is currently
preparing plans to secure its cultural and scientific heritage, which include designs for a new archive building and
landscaping works, alongside plans to have Armagh designated as a ‘Dark Sky City’.
Research Context and Objectives
Aside from a brief institutional history (Bailey, 2011), the legacy of Armagh Observatory as a scientific space remains
poorly documented in arts and humanities research. Geographical approaches to the history of science have been
pioneered by scholars interested in the ways in which scientific practice has been contingent on spaces such as
laboratories, museums and botanical gardens (Livingstone 2003, Naylor 2005, Johnson 2011). Armagh Observatory’s
setting as part of an ancient cosmic landscape, in the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, and at the nexus of a modern
landscape of scientific observation and interpretation, presents particular opportunities for broadening this field of
enquiry, taking into account new scholarly directions in cultural and historical geographies of landscape, histories of
observatory science, and cosmography (Edensor and Lorimer 2015, Aubin 2015, Dunnett et al 2017). Key research
questions will include:
 How were new scientific concepts about the Earth and the Universe theorised, tested and negotiated in the spaces of
Armagh Observatory?
 How have the historic landscapes of the Armagh region influenced the development of scientific activity at the
 Who were the key actors in the making of this space, and what networks did they establish with a wider community of
astronomical research?
 What has been the relationship between religious space and scientific space at Armagh Observatory?
 What has been the significance of site-specific instrumentation to the conduct of astronomy at Armagh Observatory?
Research Methods and Sources
A combination of archival research, interpretation of historic instruments and landscapes, and analysis of written and
visual sources will be central to understanding Armagh Observatory’s historic development. AOP owns a substantial
record of original archival material dating back to the eighteenth century, including correspondence, buildings records and
specifications for scientific instruments. These will be examined to interpret the Observatory’s scientific and spatial
histories, including the development of key buildings and the landscapes to which they were connected. Analysis of
historic telescopes, globes, clocks and other instruments in situ will be essential to understanding past interactions
between scientific practice, place and landscape. Supplementary material, including landscape paintings, historic maps of
the region, and local newspaper reports, are held at AOP, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (Belfast), and QUB
Geography Department (Belfast), and will be the basis for further analysis in support of the core research questions.

Funding Information

Prospective applicants are expected to read the full Guidance Notes before proceeding with an application to the studentship competition, and to make themselves aware of the timeline:

Northern Bridge Studentship Competition Guidance Notes 2019/2020
Studentship Competition Timeline 2019-2020
The competition is open to all applicants who meet the AHRC’s eligibility criteria. We will also be hosting two Application Masterclasses for prospective applicants.

Two nomination routes are offered:

Standard PhD
Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA)
The consortium offers a number of established supervisor-led projects which will be available to view on the CDA page on or just after Monday 11 November 2019. We also welcome CDA proposals from applicants working with non-HE organisations.

The studentship competition is a two-stage process:

Stage One: Postgraduate Application

Applicants to both the Standard PhD and Collaborative Doctoral Award routes wishing to apply for a studentship must complete their chosen University’s online postgraduate application form and submit it by 16:00 on Monday 13 January 2020.

It is vital that applicants to the Standard PhD route consult their prospective School or Department at the earliest opportunity so that the expertise and capacity to supervise the proposed research can be identified, and to ensure that you will be fully supported throughout the competition process:

2019-2020 Subject Area Leads

Stage Two: Applicant Nomination

School/Department-based selection panels then select their strongest nominees on the basis of the applicant’s qualifications, research proposal, relevant experience and references. Those applicants will be asked to complete a Nomination Form, which must be submitted to Northern Bridge by 16:00 on Monday 17 February 2020 by the applicant’s School/Department. Nominations made after this date will not be considered.

We strongly recommend that you contact your prospective School/Department as early in the process as possible. Schools/departments may set an earlier internal deadline by which they intend to have a final selection of nominees who they will support through to submission on or before Monday 17 February. If you approach a School/Department close to this nomination deadline, it is unlikely they will be able to support your application.

The results of the competition are expected to be announced on Wednesday 8 April 2020.

Project Summary

Dr Oliver Dunnett

More Information

Research Profile

Mode of Study

Full-time: 3 years

Funding Body
Northern Bridge Consortium
Apply now Register your interest

Geography overview

The research undertaken within Geography falls under three interdisciplinary Research Cells; PAST, PEOPLE and PLANET.

Physical Geography-related projects (PLANET Research Cell) focus on themes such as climate change, long-term landscape and environmental change, resilience of ecosystems, environmental change impacts on heritage structures, and analysis of contaminated lands. Investigative approaches include a range of geo-spatial technologies such as remote sensing, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), big data analysis and spatial and temporal modelling. Much of our research spans several disciplines, for example projects on the restoration of peatlands, climate change implications for resilience and stability of soil, geoforensics and coastal geomorphology. Funding opportunities to pursue these lines of research are available, including the doctoral training partnership, QUADRAT. Further details are available here:

The PAST and PEOPLE Research Cells focus on a number of themes in human geography, both historical and contemporary, which consider the relationships between human society, spatiality and culture. Two doctoral training partnerships provide relevant funding opportunities for research in these areas: NINE-DTP and Northern Bridge Consortium Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to make contact with potential supervisors during the autumn semester.

The four main research themes are:

The Geographies of Knowledge:
Research is focused on the geographies of knowledge, with particular emphasis on the cultures of science. The cluster has expertise on the relationships between science, race and religion since 1650; the historical geographies of scientific knowledge; the cultures of botanic gardens in the age of empire; the reception of Darwinism; the role of climate in debates about human cultures; the geopolitics of apocalyptic thought, and the ways in which cultures of science, technology and outer space are connected to questions of place, landscape and identity in the twentieth century.

Landscapes, Critical Cartography and GIS:
Research consists of quantitative spatial analyses of socio-economic data and qualitative cultural analyses of landscapes and cartographic knowledge from the medieval to the modern period. Critical cartographic/GIS techniques have been deployed to interrogate the veracity of the knowledge universe of the map, while digitally-translated documentary data have been used to re-configure our understanding of medieval urbanism and agrarian economies, as well as the spatial dynamics of religion and the politics of cartographic rhetoric.

Political Geography:
Research is focused on nationalism and regional conflict; critical geopolitics of religion; monumental landscapes and the politics of memory; international relations in a globalised world; colonial and postcolonial geographies of India; the processes of border making, geographies of embodiment and the securitisation of public spaces. This work has been carried out from both historical and contemporary perspectives.

The Population Dynamics of Contemporary Societies:
Research is focused on the population dynamics of contemporary societies and includes census analysis; research on travel to work; employability and labour markets; as well as social and religious segregation particularly in divided cities such as Belfast; the study of borders and external migration.

Mode of study / duration
Registration is on a full-time or part-time basis, under the direction of a supervisory team appointed by the University. You will be expected to submit your PhD thesis at the end of three years of full-time or 6 years of part-time registration.

Geography Highlights
Career Development
  • Geography at Queen’s has a long-standing record of inter-disciplinary approaches to understanding the relationship between humans and their natural and cultural environments. Our graduates are equipped with high levels of expertise relevant to some of the leading challenges faced by the world today.

    In addition to support from expert staff in Geography, the University’s flagship Graduate School provides postgraduate students with a state-of-the-art interdisciplinary hub to support their personal and professional development.

    QUB’s Researcher Plus scheme provides PhD students with an opportunity to develop skills which are transferable beyond their research degrees, and the Researcher Plus award provides them with official recognition for the skills acquired in addition to their research.

    Many of our PhD graduates have moved into academic and research roles in Higher Education while others go on to play leading roles in educational practice, the public sector or within NGO’s.
World Class Facilities
  • Geography hosts three QUB research centres, the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis, the Centre for Canadian Studies and the Centre for GIS and Geomatics. Strong links exist between physical geography and the QUB Centre for Climate, the Environment and Chronology (14C Chrono )and with the School of Biological Sciences. Human geography has significant and extensive links with the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics (HAPP) and a number of staff are Fellows of the University's Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice.

    The University's Core Technology Units (CTUs) provide researchers and graduate students with high-quality training in advanced laboratory techniques and access to state-of-the-art equipment. The Advanced Informatics unit helps us to maintain a comprehensive and systematic data management framework for our research data.

    The University’s McClay Library brings together wide-ranging library, computing and media services in a single location, blending the best features of a traditional library with the latest technology and provides state-of-the-art study facilities.
Student Experience
  • Postgraduates form an intrinsic part of our research community and are actively involved in the School's cross-disciplinary Research Groups. Visit our School website and read about the exciting research being undertaken by our current PhD students.
  • Research students are encouraged to play a full and active role in relation to the wide range of research activities undertaken within the School and there are many resources available including:

    Access to the Queen’s University Postgraduate Researcher Development Programme.

    Office accommodation with access to computing facilities and support to attend conferences for full-time PhD students.

    Access to the research infrastructure is provided by the School's range of Research Centres and laboratory facilities and by the University’s Core Technology Units.

    A Geography research seminar series and 'lunch and learn' feedback sessions.
Key Facts

Geography at Queens is in the Top 200 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU, 2021).

Course content

Research Information

Associated Research
Research Cells attract funding from a range of sources including; NERC, EPSRC, ESRC; AHRC, British Academy, Leverhulme Trust, and JISC. The clusters have developed an international reputation in the themes identified in the overview as demonstrated by an impressive record of scholarly monographs and publishing agenda-setting articles that have informed and influenced research directions within the wider discipline of Geography.
The Cells research themes are carried out over a wide range of different geographical contexts and from the Medieval period to the present. Current research is focused on the UK, Ireland, Korea, Italy, Israel/Palestine, the Balkans, USA, Canada, Burma, and India.
There are strong connections with cognate disciplines in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in addition to cross-faculty supervision of a number of PhD projects.

Career Prospects

For further information on career opportunities at PhD level please contact the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Student Recruitment Team on Our advisors - in consultation with the School - will be happy to provide further information on your research area, possible career prospects and your research application.

People teaching you

Dr Alastair Ruffell
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Andrew Newton
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Diarmid Finnegan
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Donal Mullan
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Ian Shuttleworth
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr M Satish Kumar
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Merav Amir
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Oliver Dunnett
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Paul S Ell
Senior Research Fellow
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Tristan Sturm
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Prof Gemma Catney
Natural and Built Environment

Prof Helen Roe
Professor, Head of PLANET Research Cell
Natural and Built Environment

Professor Christopher Lloyd
Professor, Head of PEOPLE Research Cell
Natural and Built Environment

Professor Graeme Swindles
Professor of Physical Geography, Head of Geography & Archaeo-Palaeoecology
Natural and Built Environment

Professor Jennifer McKinley
Natural and Built Environment

Professor Keith Lilley
Professor, Head of PAST Research Cell
Natural and Built Environment

Learning Outcomes
A research degree offers students an opportunity to foster their capacity for independent research and critical thought. It also allows students to explore an area of interest and so understand and solve theoretical and practical problems within the field.

Undertaking a research degree also enhances a student’s written and oral communication skills, and a PhD is almost always a formal requirement for an academic post.
Course structure
You will carry out original research under the guidance of your supervisory team. There is no specific course content as such. This independent research is complemented by postgraduate skills training organised by Queen’s Graduate School, and other internal and external training courses organised through your supervisor.

You will normally register, in the first instance, as an ‘undifferentiated PhD student’ which means that you have satisfied staff that you are capable of undertaking a research degree. The decision as to whether you should undertake an MPhil or a PhD is delayed until you have completed ‘differentiation’.

Differentiation takes place about 9-12 months after registration for full time students and about 18-30 months for part time students: You are normally asked to submit work to a panel of up two academics and this is followed up with a formal meeting with the ‘Differentiation Panel’. The Panel then make a judgement about your capacity to continue with your study. Sometimes students are advised to revise their research objectives or to consider submitting their work for an MPhil qualification rather than a doctoral qualification.

To complete with a doctoral qualification you will be required to submit a thesis of no more than 80,000 words and you will be required to attend a viva voce [oral examination] with an external and internal examiner to defend your thesis.

A PhD programme runs for 3-4 years full-time or 6-8 years part-time. Students can apply for a writing up year should it be required.

The PhD is open to both full and part time candidates and is often a useful preparation for a career within academia or consultancy.

Full time students are often attracted to research degree programmes because they offer an opportunity to pursue in some depth an area of academic interest.

The part time route is a suitable option for those unable to study for a PhD full time. This may be due to family commitments or those already in employment. On the former, studying part time for a PhD can be very accommodating in juggling different responsibilities. On the latter, part time candidates often choose to research an area that is related to their professional responsibilities.

If you meet the Entry Requirements, the next step is to check whether we can supervise research in your chosen area. We only take students to whom we can offer expert research supervision from one of our academic staff. Therefore, your research question needs to engage with the research interests of one of our staff.

Application Process
Please review the eligibility criteria on the webpages. If you believe that you meet these criteria then follow the steps below:

Select ONE potential supervisor from our list of Academic Staff ( and send an email containing:

a brief CV (1-2 pages maximum)
a concise statement that you are interested in studying for a PhD, stating when you would start, and how you would plan to fund the research
a brief statement of the research question or interest, and how you think the question could be investigated

Our academic staff welcome approaches from prospective students; staff can liaise with applicants to develop a research proposal of mutual interest. The potential supervisor should get back to you within a couple of weeks. They may invite you to meet with them or they may invite you to apply formally.

If you have difficulty identifying or contacting an appropriate supervisor, please contact Catherine Boone (email: who will be happy to help.

For part-time study – the closing date for this option is 31st August each year.

For full-time study (self-funding) – for those full time candidates who do not wish to compete for a studentship or who are not eligible to compete for a studentship the closing date is 31st August each year.

For full-time study and application for a studentship/award; please be aware that awards are only available to full time students. Candidates wishing to apply for studentships available within the School must apply for full-time study at the same time. Available studentships and closing dates are detailed on the School's studentships web page:

Assessment processes for a research degree differ from taught degrees. Students will be expected to present drafts of their work at regular intervals to their supervisor who will provide written and oral feedback; a formal assessment process takes place annually.

This Annual Progress Review requires students to present their work in writing and orally to a panel of academics from within the School. Successful completion of this process will allow students to register for the next academic year.

The final assessment of the doctoral degree is both oral and written. Students will submit their thesis to an internal and external examining team who will review the written thesis before inviting the student to orally defend their work at a Viva Voce.


Supervisors will offer feedback on draft work at regular intervals throughout the period of registration on the degree.

Entrance requirements

The minimum academic requirement for admission to a research degree programme is normally an Upper Second Class Honours degree from a UK or ROI HE provider, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University. Further information can be obtained by contacting the School.

International Students

For information on international qualification equivalents, please check the specific information for your country.

English Language Requirements

Evidence of an IELTS* score of 6.5, with not less than 5.5 in any component, or equivalent qualification acceptable to the University is required (*taken within the last 2 years).

International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for English language for visa purposes.

For more information on English Language requirements for EEA and non-EEA nationals see:

If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree.

Tuition Fees

Northern Ireland (NI) 1 £4,712
Republic of Ireland (ROI) 2 £4,712
England, Scotland or Wales (GB) 1 £4,712
EU Other 3 £23,850
International £23,850

1 EU citizens in the EU Settlement Scheme, with settled or pre-settled status, are expected to be charged the NI or GB tuition fee based on where they are ordinarily resident, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly Student Fees Regulations. Students who are ROI nationals resident in GB are expected to be charged the GB fee, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.

2 It is expected that EU students who are ROI nationals resident in ROI will be eligible for NI tuition fees. The tuition fee set out above is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.

3 EU Other students (excludes Republic of Ireland nationals living in GB, NI or ROI) are charged tuition fees in line with international fees.

All tuition fees quoted are for the academic year 2021-22, and relate to a single year of study unless stated otherwise. Tuition fees will be subject to an annual inflationary increase, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

More information on postgraduate tuition fees.

Geography costs

There are no specific additional course costs associated with this programme.

Additional course costs

All Students

Depending on the programme of study, there may also be other extra costs which are not covered by tuition fees, which students will need to consider when planning their studies . Students can borrow books and access online learning resources from any Queen's library. If students wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow them from the University Library, prices per text can range from £30 to £100. Students should also budget between £30 to £100 per year for photocopying, memory sticks and printing charges. Students may wish to consider purchasing an electronic device; costs will vary depending on the specification of the model chosen. There are also additional charges for graduation ceremonies, and library fines. In undertaking a research project students may incur costs associated with transport and/or materials, and there will also be additional costs for printing and binding the thesis. There may also be individually tailored research project expenses and students should consult directly with the School for further information.

Bench fees

Some research programmes incur an additional annual charge on top of the tuition fees, often referred to as a bench fee. Bench fees are charged when a programme (or a specific project) incurs extra costs such as those involved with specialist laboratory or field work. If you are required to pay bench fees they will be detailed on your offer letter. If you have any questions about Bench Fees these should be raised with your School at the application stage. Please note that, if you are being funded you will need to ensure your sponsor is aware of and has agreed to fund these additional costs before accepting your place.

How do I fund my study?

1.PhD Opportunities

Find PhD opportunities and funded studentships by subject area.

2.Funded Doctoral Training Programmes

We offer numerous opportunities for funded doctoral study in a world-class research environment. Our centres and partnerships, aim to seek out and nurture outstanding postgraduate research students, and provide targeted training and skills development.

3.PhD loans

The Government offers doctoral loans of up to £26,445 for PhDs and equivalent postgraduate research programmes for English- or Welsh-resident UK and EU students.

4.International Scholarships

Information on Postgraduate Research scholarships for international students.

Funding and Scholarships

The Funding & Scholarship Finder helps prospective and current students find funding to help cover costs towards a whole range of study related expenses.

How to Apply

Apply using our online Postgraduate Applications Portal and follow the step-by-step instructions on how to apply.

Find a supervisor

If you're interested in a particular project, we suggest you contact the relevant academic before you apply, to introduce yourself and ask questions.

To find a potential supervisor aligned with your area of interest, or if you are unsure of who to contact, look through the staff profiles linked here.

You might be asked to provide a short outline of your proposal to help us identify potential supervisors.

Download Postgraduate Prospectus