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Focus on an Archive Researcher: Mel Stewart

Mel Stewart is a third year undergraduate in the History department.

What research are you carrying out at RHUL Archives and which collections are you using?

Currently I am a third year history undergraduate at RHUL and last year, as part of the preparation for my final year dissertation, I had to write a five thousand word essay based on independent archival research.  The essay was entitled “In what ways did wartime conditions influence experiences of domestic living space at Royal Holloway in the years 1939-45”.  The archive collections I chose to use were the Principal’s Correspondence, the Minute Books of the Student’s Union, the College Letter, The Papers of the Post-War Policy Committee and a selection of reminiscences of former students.

What do you enjoy about archival research?

I enjoyed carrying out my own archival research as up to that point my life as a student of history was largely and unsurprisingly taken up by reading about someone else’s historical research.  Annabel made my life very easy by highlighting documents which she thought would be of use, but at last, I had an opportunity to carry out some original research, to collate my findings and to assess where my work fitted within the current secondary literature.  I especially enjoyed reading the testimonies of students at Royal Holloway during the Second World War who brought to life the dry details of officialdom.

Have you experienced any difficulties in using archive for your research?

I did not experience any major difficulties in using the archives for my research although it was not always easy to decipher the handwriting in the reminiscences of former students.  Gaps in the chronology and unfamiliar terminology were problematical, but they are part of the challenge of historiography.

Any tips for other people thinking about archive research?

Always contact Annabel in advance of a visit, whom you will find endlessly helpful.  Be realistic about the amount of material you can look at and try to maintain focused on the aims of your research.  I found it very easy to ‘get lost’ in the archives, distracted by details not always relevant, but nevertheless fascinating.


To find our more about our archives visit out wesbite: www.rhul.ac.uk/archives