Monthly Archives: January 2015

Why use 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:

  • 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 on 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.

Don’t forget to drop into Special Collections (level 3, access via green staircase) to find out more between 10 and 12 on Tuesday 20 January 2015!

Using Special Collections in your dissertation

During Undergraduate Dissertation Week, we’re holding a drop in for anyone interested in finding out more about using Special Collections in their dissertation. Drop in to Special Collections (Level 3 of the Bannerman Centre, accessed via the green staircase) between 10 and 12 on Tuesday 20 January 2015.

Develop your research skills

Rocket inscriptionUsing primary sources, such as manuscripts and archives, helps you to develop your research skills, as well as adding depth to your dissertation. Even if you’ve never used this sort of material before, we have resources available to help you. We hold a large number of collections available for research and study by all students and covering a wide range of  subject areas. Why not take a look at our history or women’s history pages to get a flavour of what we have? Or try our complete list of collections on our webpages? Some highlights of our collections have also been featured on this blog.

Several of our collections have already been used for dissertation research. The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, in particular, has proven to be popular for its detailed life stories and the people behind the history.



How to use Special Collections

We get a lot of visitors who haven’t visited a special collections library before, so this updated guide is aimed at helping them. If you have any questions please get in touch with us. The guide features Bendy Brunel, whose Day in the Library you can also see on Pinterest.


Bendy Brunel checks the catalogue

You can decide what Special Collections manuscript/archive items you’d like to see by searching our archive catalogue. You can also search for printed books (not manuscript material) on our library catalogue. Further details about individual collections, and detailed finding aids, are available on our collection webpages.

Booking appt

Bendy composes an email to request an appointment

To make an appointment to view the items, or if you need help with searching please get in touch with us by emailing Access to Special Collections is by appointment only. You will find further details about access, including opening times, on our Special Collections guide.


Bendy uses one of our lockers

When you arrive at Special Collections you will be asked to leave any bags, coats or umbrellas in a locker or in a locked area. New readers have to fill in a reader registration form on arrival. Before using Special Collections, you must have clean hands. We don’t wear gloves to handle items (you can read guidance from the British Library on why we don’t here). But don’t worry, there are toilet facilities (including an accessible toilet) adjacent to Special Collections.


Bendy washes his hands

3 items

Bendy views three manuscript items.

Once you are ready, Special Collections staff will bring out a maximum of three items at a time for you to look at. They will also show you how to handle the items correctly. Please ask them for help if you are unsure.

Using book

Bendy uses a “snake” weight whilst studying our facsimile of Shakespeare’s First Folio

If you have requested books you will be given some foam wedges to support the book whilst you look at it, and some “snakes” to hold the pages open. Again, Special Collections staff will show you how to use them.


Bendy is invigilated whilst studying a book

Whilst you are looking at Special Collections material a member of staff will be watching. Don’t worry about this, we invigilate all of our users and it is simply to ensure the security of our unique and rare Special Collections, and to make sure we are there to help you, should you need assistance.


Bendy uses his laptop to take notes

There are some restrictions within Special Collections. Pens and Post-It notes aren’t allowed. Laptop computers are fine.


Bendy takes notes with a pencil

Pencils and notepads are also OK. Photography (without flash) is allowed of items for personal study and research, but you will need to fill out a form before taking photographs, and specify what images you are taking.


Bendy makes sure his camera has the flash turned off


Bendy has a well-earned coffee break

Finally, food and drink are not allowed in Special Collections. However, there is a coffee shop on the ground floor of the library should you need to take a break. We hope this has answered most questions about how to use Special Collections, but please get in touch if there is anything else you would like to know.

The Great Western Railway at Brunel

Bookmark Daily

Railway CuttingBrunel University indirectly owes its name to the Great Western Railway, (GWR). When Acton Technical College was divided, there were plans to call the new college after an engineer or scientist with local connections. There were suggestions to name it after the 16th century Francis Bacon, but as Dr Topping pointed out at the time, Bacon could be an unfortunate name for a college specialising in sandwich courses.  However, Isambard Kingdom Brunel   had built the GWR through Acton in the 1830s, and his Wharncliffe viaduct at Hanwell was nearby, which gave an alternative. When the new Brunel University opened on its Uxbridge site in 1968, it had moved to another area with ties to the GWR.

In 1856 the GWR had built a railway line between Uxbridge Vine Street Station and West Drayton. It ran through what is now the campus, and a section of a railway cutting remains between the car park and Cleveland…

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