Tag Archives: english

Using Special Collections for your dissertation

You’ve chosen your dissertation topic because it’s something you’re really interested in – now it’s time to delve into the sources held within Brunel’s special collections to take your research to the next level!

Recent topics that students have researched using our Special Collections include:

  • Politics under Churchill and Attlee
  • London during the First World War
  • Communists during the 1920s and 1930s
  • Clothing of the poor
  • Literary cultures of Victorian railway workers
  • Perceptions of fascism in the inter-war period
  • Motherhood and bereavement in the First World War
  • Feminism under Thatcher
  • Presentation of women in the media
  • Colonial and post-colonial writers at the BBC

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 consulting our:

Using Special Collections

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

Dissertation drop ins

You can drop into these sessions at any time to find out more about using Special Collections in your dissertation. These sessions will be held in BANN 328 (access via main stairs/lift).

Monday 21 January 2 -5 pm

Tuesday 22 January 2 -5pm

Wednesday 23 January 2 -5 pm

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Explore Special Collections

Explore Archives week is a national event to showcase and promote archives. Here in Special Collections we have a number of archival collections and we’d love to invite you to visit during our Explore Archives Week open afternoon and find out more about how you can use them. You’ll find us on Level 3 of the library, accessed by the main staircase/lift.

Monday 20th November 1 – 4 pm

We’ll have collections out themed around various subject areas. There will be collection items out on display for you to see and handle, plus plenty of opportunities to ask questions and find out more.

English/creative writing

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Bill Griffiths collection

Come and discover more about our literature collections and how our collections have been used in creative writing. You can get a flavour of the collections on our Special Collections English guide. You can find out more about how these collections have been used by other students and academics in these blog posts: Writing back and Teaching from the archives.

History/politics

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Burnett Archive: William Belcher’s Royal Navy Service Certificate

Drop in to discover which Special Collections you might find useful for your assignments or dissertation. You’ll find more information in our Special Collections guides for History and Women’s history.

All very welcome.

50 objects 37: Reactions to Old Age

Fiction and the Cultural Mediation of Ageing”  was a project run  at the Brunel Centre for Contemporary Writing  between 2009 and 2012, as part of the cross council New Dynamics of Ageing programme.

One of the research methods used was to set up eight reading groups of University of the Third Age members across London in order to read, write about, and discuss postwar novels featuring different representations of ageing. The data generated by these reading groups now forms part of Brunel’s Special Collections, and is available for further research. Aspects of the participants’ writing complements the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, in reflecting the everyday ups and downs of the lives of ordinary people; they also give first-hand accounts of issues related to ageing and to the way society views the elderly.

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Some of the books used in the reading groups

A flavour of the content is given by a brief study of the information given by one participant. Each reader was given a unique identification code in order to preserve anonymity; this one is known as SEL003, and she participated in a reading group in South-East London. From SEL003 we have a brief life history, and three diaries recording her reading of the set novels, her views of their representations of aspects of ageing, and her group’s discussions of them.SEL003 was born in Dublin in 1938 to a well-off family, reared by a nanny, and sent to a Quaker boarding school. Her favourite school subjects were maths and handwork, and since neither she nor her mother could think of a career formed of those two things, she became a teacher. She is now thoroughly enjoying her retirement, and her writing constantly reflects her joy and optimism about her current, fulfilling, lifestyle.

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The end of SEL003’s “Life History” document

She writes in a lively, enthusiastic, style. The reading diaries cover her thoughts in general of the books, characters, and authors, but also her perspicacious comments on subjects arising, including how one’s writing style changes with age; whether it’s possible to predict which individuals will get Alzheimer’s; how society is geared towards younger people and how the young patronise the elderly; whether it’s appropriate for an agile old lady to run for a bus.

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She is insightful about character attributes and how world-view and morals change over time, and she adds in anecdotes about her own experiences and those of her family and friends.

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Reading through the diaries gives the impression of someone lively and thoughtful, who analyses the problems that ageing can bring but who enjoys life to the full.

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50 objects 32: Poetry of the Now

Poetry of the Now is a collection of contemporary poetry and text-based work, including small press publications, chapbooks, and magazines. It was founded at Brunel University’s Centre for Contemporary Writing by Dr William Watkin and Dr Angela Brady in 2005. William Watkin is Divisional Lead, Creative Writing and English, at Brunel.  Angela Brady is now a Professor in the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary University London.

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Part of the Poetry of the Now collection

The print collection of poetry and related materials remains at Brunel and can be consulted in the Special Collections reading room, but the closely related collection The Archive of the Now is held at Queen Mary University London. Both collections aim to preserve material that could otherwise be lost, to represent the diversity of poetic practice, and to support emerging artists.

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Amongst authors represented in both these collections is Angela Brady; you can find out more about her work at her page.

Much of her work is also held in the main library collection at Brunel: search the library catalogue.

50 objects 29: Poems of Sir Walter Raleigh

raleigh5Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552 – 1618) is well-known for his connections with the court of Queen Elizabeth I and for his voyages of exploration, and is popularly credited with introducing potatoes and tobacco to Britain. He was, less famously, a scholar and poet. In 1813 his poems were published with a critical introduction; Special Collections at Brunel holds a second edition of this work, which was transferred to Brunel from the Shakespeare Authorship Trust.

 

This copy of the book is of great interest not simply for the texts it contains, but also for the light it can shed on the past; on the way it was used, and on the ways in which former owners interacted with the text.

 

The work is bound in a nineteenth-century Raleigh3gold-tooled leather binding, with more modern repairs, together with an edition of the poems of Robert Southwell which was printed separately in 1817. The binding would have been done on the orders of an early owner of the works, and may reflect his or her taste and budget as well as current fashions.

 

Handwritten names and notes throughout the book show that there have been several former owners or users; two people with the same surname added their names, indicating that perhaps the book was given or bequeathed by one family member to another.

 

Some of the notes are simply correcting the text, commenting on it, or marking passages of particular interest to the reader. One of the most intriguing additions is a lengthy Raleigh quotation, copied out, and captioned “Quoted by the father of a missing pilot, 1941”.

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The source for this is a letter written by the said anonymous father to The Times, hoping the quotation would bring comfort to others as it had to him.  The book’s owner, under the quotation, has added “This is supported by the conclusions in psychotherapy as expanded by Marcus Gregory”, and has made notes elsewhere about psychotherapy, showing another of his or her interests as applied to Raleigh’s works.  Marcus Gregory published several  works on psychotherapy in the 1930s; it is not clear which one is referred to here.

 

One former owner studied a place where Raleigh lived, and added pencil sketches to this copy of the poems. The drawings are of Myrtle Grove, a house near Youghal in Ireland, and of yew trees in the garden there. Raleigh lived at Myrtle Grove in the 1580s and legend has it that the first potatoes in Ireland were planted there.raleigh11

The drawing of the garden seems to be copied from a print in The Illustrated Guide to Sir Walter Raleigh`s House by Samuel Hayman (Youghal, 1861), shown here; further research on the annotations in the edited poems could reveal more about the interests of former owners, and about the information they had access to.

This post gives a taste of the kinds of information that can be gleaned from a study of the book as a physical object. Many books have more secrets waiting to be discovered.

Using Special Collections for your dissertation

During Undergraduate Dissertation Week, we’re holding a drop in for anyone interested in using Special Collections in their dissertation. Come in to Special Collections (BANN 317a, Level 3 of the Bannerman Centre, accessed via the green staircase) between 12 and 2 on Wednesday 20 January to find out more.

Why use Special Collections?

Your dissertation topic is something you’re really interested in investigating in more detail. Delving into the sources in Special Collections can take your dissertation to the next level by making it more original. Using primary sources means you might discover something no-one has written about before, or find a new angle on your subject.

Develop your research skills

Using primary sources, such as manuscripts and archives, helps you to develop your research skills. 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.

Tempted?

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
  • Historical perceptions of fathers
  • Perceptions of fascism in the inter-war period
  • Issues surrounding crossing political borders
  • Presentation of women in the media
  • Feminism in the US in the 1950s
  • Equality in the 1968 Olympics

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.

The Engineer’s Corset

A blog post by Janet Goddard, writer and director of The Engineer’s Corset.

 

“I wanted the genuine voices of working people of the 1840’s to play a substantial part in The Engineer’s Corset. While I love reading histories and biographies of the Brunels and spending many a happy hour trawling through old newspapers in library archives one of the most inspirational sources in terms of listening to the voices of ordinary working people and their experiences is John Burnett’s Useful Toil.

John Burnett worked at Brunel University in the 1980’s when my father, Prof Crook, was Vice Principal and he alerted me to his work for another of my writing projects. A friend then gave me Useful Toil, she having found a copy at a car boot sale. It is one of my favourite books for dipping into whatever the reason so The Engineer’s Corset has given me the opportunity to turn my leisure pursuit into my work.

Having read the book cover to cover I came to Brunel Special Collections to look in the archive of working people’s diaries and journals kept there and while I didn’t spend as long or read as many as I would have liked – there’s always a next time – the information I gleaned has gone into the play – both in the voices of the working men and in the references the maids make to a range of fabrics and textiles and the means to keep them clean and well presented.

Horror stories of household fires and swirling skirts are also a shocking reminder of the risks women took when they dressed in highly flammable, voluminous clothing and sat of an evening in front of the fire sipping gin! Keeping up appearances is also well recorded in the working people’s voices – and it’s these forgotten voices that, along with Mary Brunel, who is always centre stage, that permeate The Engineer’s Corset and the message of the play – that history is rarely recorded as it was – and fictional interpretations can be as illuminating as factual ones. A proviso in this is to start with factual information and the Special Collection, John Burnett’s archive and Useful Toil, all entirely factual, have been the best starting off point for my fictional telling of the incident involving IK Brunel and his swallowing of a gold half sovereign in The Engineer’s Corset.”