Using Special Collections for your dissertation

Why use Special Collections?

You’ve chosen your dissertation topic because it’s something you’re really interested in discovering in more detail. Then delving into the sources in Special Collections can take your dissertation to the next level by making it more original, as well as helping you to develop your research skills.

Recent topics that people have researched using Special Collections include:

  • Politics under Churchill and Attlee
  • The beginnings of child protection in sport
  • London during the First World War
  • Communists in the 1920s and 1930s
  • Clothing of the poor
  • Perceptions of fascism in the inter-war period
  • Feminism under Thatcher
  • Colonial and post-colonial writers at the BBC
  • Presentation of women in the media
  • Feminism in the US in the 1950s

and the Burnett Archive of working class autobiographies has been featured in Radio 4 programmes about the history of friendship and the lives of working people during the industrial revolution.

Find out about our collections:

Special Collections is home to a huge array of material that can support your research. You can find out more by using our A-Z list of collections, or consulting our Special Collections guide, where we’ve highlighted collections of particular interest to English or History students.

You can search our collections by subject or keywords – use the library catalogue for printed material and the archive catalogue for manuscript.

Browse the Special Collections blog, you can use the tags to find posts on particular themes, such as the First World War or trains.

Contact the Special Collections Librarian, or your Subject Liaison Librarian for help.

If you are looking for collections beyond Brunel you will find a list of resources on our guide.

Using Special Collections

Our collections are kept in closed access, so you will need to make an appointment to come and see them. If you haven’t used Special Collections or archival material before there is a guide on our blog.

 

Brunel Library in 50 blog posts

To tie in with the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations during 2016, Special Collections have been showcasing the Library by running a blog series of 50 Library objects that tell us about the building, holdings, and services. We put up one post on the Special Collections blog every week for fifty weeks during 2016 and the last post went up on 16 December. Check out the blog series here or on twitter via #BrunelLibrary50objects and see the range of collections we have!

Topics covered include the history of the Library building; a railway station record of a corpse being sent by train; autobiographies of ordinary people; letters of palaeontologist Mary Anning; research into cultural and sociological aspects of ageing carried out recently at Brunel; modern poetry; use of the library for recreation as well as study; records of anti-apartheid campaigner Dennis Brutus; rare books and journals; artwork; and much more.

Do let us know in the comments which were your favourite posts. Perhaps you enjoyed comparing the library building then and now? Finding out about our oldest book? Or our railway photograph collections?

50 objects 50: the people behind the books

In this blog series we’ve discussed many items and collections the Library makes available to staff, students, and visitors, but we haven’t discussed the mechanics of how that happens. The reality is that the Library couldn’t function in the same ways to support research and teaching without its staff.

The Library employs some sixty staff. Some of them you see often doing outward-facing tasks such as staffing the enquiry desk, helping find particular items, and teaching information literacy, but the ones behind the scenes are no less important to the smooth running of Library services.

There are people who buy the physical and electronic resources, who catalogue them, and who work on the systems and databases that enable you to search for them online. Staff work in research data management, meaning that data generated by research at Brunel is made freely available for further study. Others build displays and generate posters and social medial posts. There are administrative staff who make sure everything runs smoothly, and there are the Library Management Team who fight for and direct the Library’s budget, resources, and best practice.

In addition there are around fifty student staff members, who do invaluable work in helping to keep the library open 24/7 in term time. The Library is a more pleasant environment because of  those who move the furniture to accommodate different teaching and learning styles, and who clean the floors and empty the bins.

Of course people aren’t objects, but the objects we’ve discussed in this series are made accessible and meaningful by people: a library is always more than a space with books in, and Brunel is fortunate in having a team of skilled and dedicated staff who make the Library an excellent resource.

50 Objects 49: Miami Vice DVD

miami-viceA post by Oliver Thompson, Library Assistant.

A skilled martial artist single-handedly defeating 30 opponents whilst blindfolded. A Miami cop speeding in a Ferrari after a drug baron in a Lamborghini. An iconic grunge band performing live. One may not associate such things with a University library, but they can all be found on the shelves at Brunel. Although it exists primarily for academic purposes, the library hosts a wealth of material that can be enjoyed purely for its entertainment value, including fictional works, DVDs and Music CDs, all available free to check out for Brunel students and staff.

novel-the-shining

There are many popular and critically acclaimed novels available, from authors such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, George Orwell, JG Ballard, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, and Terry Pratchett. Popular series such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and His Dark Materials are also available.

 

dvd-nirvana-live

There is an eclectic library of movies that cater for every taste, including blockbusters such as Avatar, and Back To The Future, comedies such as Spinal Tap and Little Shop Of Horrors, horror films such as 28 Days Later and Psycho, martial arts films such as The Raid, and anime such as Ninja Scroll. The library also holds an extensive collection of public lectures, documentaries and musical performances on DVD.

 

CD - Jeff Buckley.jpgYou can also find a wide library of musical recordings in the library, including Jazz, Classical, Electronic, Rock, Pop, Soundtracks and music from around the world. Beethoven, Jeff Buckley, Miles Davis, and countless others can all be found in the music department.

 

magazine-qOn the top floor of the library there is an extensive selection of journals and periodicals dealing with a very wide range of subjects, including dance, sports, theatre, politics and video games amongst many others, so whatever your interest it is likely that there will be something of interest. Whether you want to take up a new hobby such as photography, learning a new language, film-making, or become adept at chess, learn to paint or get to grips with a new software program, it is likely there will be a book or electronic resource available from the library.

 

There are many things to discover here at the library, so next time that you visit keep an eye and an ear out for the unexpected.

50 objects 48: Elizabethan spies

leftspiesLong before James Bond, there was John Dee and a network of other spies drawn together by Francis Walsingham to serve Elizabeth I. Some research material on such spies in Shakespearian times is found in Brunel’s Holmes collection.

Edward Holmes researched into the authorship of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. He published Discovering Shakespeare: a handbook for heretics (Mycroft : 2001) which discusses the authorship in an accessible way through fictitious dialogue between two people. His research notes were given to Brunel University Library and are housed in Special Collections.  However, the notes are far more extensive than the subject of the book. There are files on many subjects related to Tudor and Elizabethan times, including language, gardens, music, and other literary men. As a tangent to this last, Holmes notes that there seems to be some overlap between writers of literature and drama, and spies or secret agents. leftlit-soldier-spy

Perhaps the most well-known example of this overlap is Christopher Marlowe. Here’s a page of Holmes’ notes on Marlowe’s death and related issues.

marlowe

Holmes goes on to amass a file of information on espionage and ciphers at this time, sometimes interweaving Shakespeare, and similarities to characters in Shakespeare’s plays, with details on other men. Much of the material is in note form and it tends to be brief and cryptic, but forms a basis for further study both of Elizabethan spies and of academic views on them at a particular time.

leftdoulande

There are notes on the life and work of individuals who may have been connected to the network of agents, and theories about their activities. Here Holmes notes information about “John Doulande”, John Dowland the musician who some suspect of being involved with espionage.

Much of the “espionage” file consists of attempts to draw together a unified picture of the web of intrigue at particular point in time, by charting names, places, contacts, and so forth. Below are three diagrams of such networks.

leftnetwork3leftnetwork2leftnetwork1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There seem to be no conclusive findings here, but many questions are raised and ideas generated for further study.

 

For more on the question of Shakespearian authorship, see the De Vere Society and the Shakespearian Authorship Trust.

For more on espionage and secret agents in this period, see

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/spying_01.shtml

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/spies/spies/standen/default.htm

http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/who-were-elizabethan-spies.html

For more on John Dee, see the material surrounding the Royal College of Physicians’ exhibiton.

 

50 objects 47: Dennis Brutus’ poems on Solomon Mahlangu

Dennis Brutus (1924-2009) was a poet and human rights activist who grew up in South Africa. He taught in a high school until he was dismissed for activism against apartheid, and he became instrumental in the movement against racism in sport. He was imprisoned and, on release, forbidden from teaching, publishing his writings, continuing to study law, and attending political meetings.

His poems reflect his frustrations and sadness at the political environment, and are frequently concerned with the sufferings of fellow black or mixed-race people.

One poignant set of poems on this topic is In Memoriam: Solomon Mahlangu, published in 1979. Solomon Mahlangu was a South African who was hanged by the apartheid South African government in 1979 after a controversial verdict finding him guilty of murder, and despite the intervention of the UN. The deaths were caused by another man, who was not considered fit to stand trial, and Mahlangu was found guilty on the understanding that he had had a “common intent” with the other man. The booklet begins, and ends,

“Singing
he went to war
and singing
he went to his death”.

The copy of this collection held at Brunel has a handwritten dedication to Brutus’ wife and children.solomon

Another published booklet of poems held in the Dennis Brutus Collection is Thoughts Abroad, by Dennis Brutus but published under the pseudonym John Bruin in order that it could be published in South Africa, where Brutus’ work was banned. This copy has been updated to attribute the work correctly and explain more about Brutus and his work.

There also handwritten poems and drafts by Dennis Brutus, and various works by other poets. The copy of Restless Leaves, a booklet of poems by Mark Espin, is dedicated to Dennis Brutus in thanks for the inspiration he provided.

espin

hearing1

End of a poem written by Dennis Brutus during a UN hearing

 

Further reading on Dennis Brutus:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/dennis-brutus

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/feb/23/dennis-brutus-obituary

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Dennis-Brutus

 

 

Explore Archives

This week is a great time to get involved in archives and special collections that interest you! Have a look at the Explore Your Archive main page to see what’s happening near you, and look at the #explorearchives posts on Twitter and other social media.

Find out about our collections:

Special Collections at Brunel is home to a huge array of material that can support your research. You can find out more by using our A-Z list of collections, or consulting our Special Collections guide, where we’ve highlighted collections of particular interest to English or History students.

You can search our collections by subject or keywords – use the library catalogue for printed material and the archive catalogue for manuscript.

Browse the Special Collections blog, where you can use the tags to find posts on particular themes, such as the First World War or trains.

You can see more about us on Twitter and Instagram too.

If you are looking for collections beyond Brunel you will find a list of resources on our guide.

Using Special Collections

Our collections are kept on closed access, so you will need to make an appointment with the Special Collections Librarian to come and see them once we re-open in January. If you haven’t used Special Collections or archival material before there is a guide on our blog.