My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Visit to the London Metropolitan Archives

Although my PhD research is being carried out in collaboration with The National Archives (TNA), I am always on the look out for any opportunity which might broaden my view of relevant issues. So when I saw a Behind the Scene Tour advertised on IanVisits’ calendar for the London Metropolitan Archives, I booked myself onto it.

The tour didn’t start off to well I must admit. When I entered I was directed to where the tour should start. However, as time passed, no one came to pick the other three and I for the tour. When 15 minutes had elapsed we went to try to track down what has happening. It seems that we were directed to the wrong room, and the tour had started without us! Around 20mins late a woman came to pick us up and start the tour for us.

The building in which the archives is housed was built for the Temple printing press in the 1930s. It was selected to become an archival building due to the very well supported floors it had to support the printing presses and which are now needed to support all the archival materials stored there.

Having been given a brief history of the place we were then led into the conservation space where we joined up with the rest of the group. A conservator was showing degraded cellulose acetate photographs and of course making us smell the unmistakable smell of vinegar. He had previously discussed with the rest of the group some issues with a map and a bound book which he briefly summarised for us.

From the conservation studio we were then led to the Image and Design area where we were introduced to David Tennant (no, not THAT one). He explained that the work of the department was to producing advertising material for the organisation. However, the main job relevant to the archive is that they provide an imaging service for people for materials which cannot be photocopied, such as parchment, bound books, or hand-coloured materials.

The last area we visited was the archives themselves. Having often been inside TNA repositories I was of course not particularly overawed like some of the others were. They looked as I expected a well-functioning archive to look like. I tried to ask about environmental control (as I didn’t feel that cold in there), but besides being told that there is a set-point it is kept at, I didn’t learn much more.

Coming to the end of the tour I would say I would have two suggestions to others thinking about going on this tour:

  1. Do go!
  2. Make sure you’re at the right place! The tour leaves exactly on time we were told so if no one comes at that time start asking around.
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Researching out and about in Kew

As I have written about in previous posts, the centre I am based in organises monthly research meetings during the ‘academic year’ months. It has however become a sort of tradition that the last meeting in June is what we call a ‘research day away’. Last year we visited the two London Tates. This year we travelled a bit out of central London toKew.

Our first stop was at the Collection Care department at The National Archives. There they discussed with us what is the work they do. However, even more importantly they discussed how they approach research and how it is informing their policy making and priorities.

As a researcher it is very important to understand how research is being used in practice in institutions working outside of academia and what is valuable to these institutions as outputs from research. Particularly as they are a partner in my PhD project it was exciting to hear more about how my work will feed into the bigger picture of the work and research being done at TNA.

A visit to the repositories was then planned. I have of course often visited them, but for most of the others in the group it was their first time, for some also their first time in an archival repository. It was interesting to learn that they position their materials on the basis of how often they are requested, amongst other factors, so as to improve accessibility to their users. Accessibility in fact seems to be one of the highest, if not the highest, priority at TNA.

Following a delicious lunch at TNA, the day then continued with a visit to Kew Gardens. It was my first visit there, partly because none of my friends were that interested in going, and partly because I never could justify me spending money for me to visit on my own. It was good to finally go though. We thus spent the afternoon walking around the gardens, peeking through different greenhouses (it was too hot to spend too much time in any of them!) and in general just relaxing with our people from the group.

A thoroughly enjoyable day. I think it is a great idea of bringing the group together, while learning more about the field we work in and relaxing together. Looking forward to next year’s research day away. Who knows where we will go?

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