Saturday, 31 October 2009

British Library Visit.

Last week I had the great pleasure, after much planning, to visit the British Library for research that I am doing for my MA dissertation.

I do not live in London so it was quite a long journey to get there by train, and it also meant it would be an overnight stay. This was fine as it meant that I would get lots of research done on the days that I was there. I have been to the British Library before. We found it by accident when I was in London in May and we attended the exhibition that they had there on Henry VIII. It was then that I found a document on display that I knew that I would need for my dissertation. It was a fantastic exhibition, and it was even more great that I knew I would have to come back later on n the year.

Nothing prepared me for such a great visit. The first day was filled with trains and then registration at the library where I got my library card. I ordered some of the documents I needed for the next day and then we went to the hotel.

Next day bright and early I get to the library, I pick up some of my documents and I go and sit in the Manuscripts reading room. Now I have been studying history for seven years now, so I was not wholly suprised by what I was met with. Nothing printed at all like the Calendar papers, but hand written throughout. Making out what was being written was interesting. I think that I need to take a course in reading early modern writing, but I could make out enough and thankfully most of my documents were in English. Even the ones that were in Latin were interesting, and I could take much away from them. Even if it was just talking about the style of writing, and who it may have been addressed to.

The visit did something that I have never really experienced with the printed documents before, it brought the people of the time alive to me. I could look at the pictures and heraldry that a real person had drawn with ink and parchment. You could imagine the king or councillors writing the document for the first time. (perhaps that is the author in me though) Needless to say that it was something special to see the originals, as this was the first time that I had the opportunity to look at them. I see now why historians say you should look at the original sources. They do so much more than the printed ones do, they give you a glimpse into someone's life. It reminds you that person once existed. Its personal like letters as opposed to email which can be rather impersonal.

The other great thing about the library was the fact that everyone was working! I know you would expect that from any library, but in our uni library some people are more interested in their iPods and chatting, than their work. In the BL everyone was quiet, if the computers were on, it was not to surf facebook, but to make their notes. It was quiet, but that did not matter because everyone was embroiled in their own work.

To sum up, a fantastic visit. I am looking forward to my visit to The National Archives and hoping that it will be just as fruitful ad this one!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009