Last week, along with three other PhD colleagues, I went to the British Library for one of their 'Doctoral Days', a training and information event which the BL organises on a regular basis. Friday's event was specifically aimed at historians, and gave us all the chance to hear what is available, useful, provided and disseminated for our potential benefit.
The whole day (with minor exceptions) was very useful and interesting. A series of speakers gave us all an insight into what the BL holds, and samples were on display for us to see and discuss with the archivists. I was particularly struck with the East India Company records, which featured in a separate talk, and the rich sources they could provide. None of this is relevant to my research, however, but it demonstrated the breadth and diversity of the BL collection.
Later in the day the group split, and two options were possible. Given the choice between Medieval resources and 'Oral History at the BL', I naturally opted for the oral history. I know about the various 'Sounds' projects, however the best part was that the talk was given by Rob Perks, a name I'm very familiar with. He wrote several of the texts I read for my undergraduate dissertation, so hearing him was a real treat. Another name which features in the world of oral history is Paul Thompson, whose book 'Voice of the Past' is extremely important in the field.
The talk, and some of the information we were told, made me realise just how immersed in the field of Oral History I have become, and how much I've been able to pass on to other people in the time I've been involved. Later this month I'll be delivering a lecture on the subject to the second year core module students, and hopefully this 'talking out' of the subject will help me to clarify some more ideas. Writing the paper, and producing the presentation, have already started to do this.
So, for this part of the day alone, it was worth the trip. It was also huge fun to spend the day with colleagues Georgie, James and Helen, and get to understand one another a little better. Being together from 5.30am until 10pm is certainly a bonding exercise.
With the length of the day in mind, we discussed the practicalities of travelling for study. Its certainly an expensive and time consuming process, and we are all envious of those scholars who live in closer proximity to the hub of things in London. The IHR is here, as well as many other organisations who offer regular lectures, seminars and research opportunities, but the cost and time implications mean we have to choose what to attend very carefully. This time we were fortunate enough to receive a contribution towards travel from the BL's own bursary scheme, as other people already on the list failed to turn up (?!)
Two other benefits of the day? The BL serves lovely homemade-type biscuits, and its fascinating to hear the range of PhD research which is being undertaken. From medieval tapestries to Second World War servicemen, analysis of personal letter collections to transport studies, the variety is astonishing. But the one which intrigued me the most was a study of 'local authority damp litigation'...Who knew?