The University of Southampton
Life at Southampton

Delving into the archives

I’ve posted many blog entries about my life here at Southampton: my time as a member of the Wessex Scene team, taking part in student journalism events; cooking as a student; enjoying summer in Southampton; and motivation to avoid procrastination. However, I realise I rarely discuss my course. Therefore I am seizing the perfect moment to discuss my academic studies! After all, that’s why I stayed on after my graduation last year.
I’ve mentioned previously that I am studying a Master’s degree in English Literary Studies. This is a one year full-time course (that can be taken part-time too) and I am slowly coming to the end of it. However, after over 30,000 words of essays this year alone, I have one final hurdle before I start living life as a graduate. This hurdle is the intimidating Master’s Dissertation.
A very empty library during the summer is perfect writing space for me!
At 20,000 words, it is a true behemoth compared to my usual 4,000 / 6,000 word essays. Now, I have written almost that much before in a short time: my deadlines in January meant that I wrote just over 16,000 words in three weeks. But this time, it’s different – I am writing this essay on just one subject, not three or four.
My undergraduate dissertation – an examination of the Poem Paintings of American Poet Frank O’Hara, was 8,000 words long, which was at the time just as scary and was written alongside two other subjects. Now, writing 8,000 words is ‘easier’ than it was at that time – that’s just over the word count for one standard MA essay. This makes me realise just how much I have grown in this year alone! My MA course has truly challenged me and stretched my academic abilities in such a short period.
This time, my dissertation focuses on twentieth-century cinema, and the Medieval. (It’s a little more specific than that, but I want to keep this piece of work to myself as much as possible while I complete it!) I never thought I would end up writing my MA Dissertation on film, but it combines my two favourite eras and a concept I discovered in my third year, from my favourite module.
As I write this blog post, I haven’t actually written much of my Dissertation yet, with research taking up my time. However, with just over a month to go, I intend to finish drafting my first chapter or two this week, which will hopefully motivate me to work extra hard and ‘power through’! That’s the plan, anyway.
So far my research has consisted of trawling through internet journals and books in Hartley Library for information, and occasionally watching films. Last week, however, I took my research to the next level, and visited the archives at the BFI (British Film Institute) on London’s Southbank.
The BFI on Southbank – a restaurant / café, cinema, library and shop, all in one!
This really was one of those moments when I remember how much I truly love studying.
I’ve used archive material in Hartley library before, but this was the first time I liaised with one of the BFI librarians and wrote a statement to the estate holding my material. Then, on Thursday 18 July, I grabbed a quick breakfast on-the-go on Southbank before heading to the archives, unsure as to what exactly I would find.
Upon enjoying my morning coffee, I noticed my name was no longer Jo, but Jane!
Being in London really motivated me, and I couldn’t wait to find some really inspiring content to get the creative juices flowing. The staff at the BFI were extremely helpful and I had no problems finding the relevant articles, books and cuttings, spending my time researching before my archive appointment at 2pm.
The Reuben Library was where I spent the whole day on Thursday – 
they didn’t allow photos inside though, sorry!
When I was presented with my original scripts, press books, newspaper cuttings and pamphlets, some over 70 years old, I made as many notes as possible. It was amazing to be handling original documents that were so old and untouched, and thankfully they proved very useful! I came away with over twenty pages of notes (in very small font!) ready to be analysed and turned into a dissertation chapter.
I personally get a real buzz when I am able to see and even handle objects from the past – it’s a wonder I never studied History! Seeing the first drafts for the scripts of films I am studying made me realise how lucky I am to be able to read and write about these items – that I have the skills to think about them in a critical way, and produce a (hopefully) good piece of work which will enable me to graduate successfully this winter.
This is another opportunity university offers you – it really feeds your thirst for knowledge, a wish to delve deeper into a subject you love and to come out knowing as much as possible. In my third year, I was able to read and handle a text written in the seventeenth century. It’s an experience which drives me to find out more and to really analyse it in the best way possible. I’m hoping that this reaction to archival research will lead to a good final dissertation! It’s also evidence of how, as your education advances, you take initiative more and more. Your work and success start to rely on your passions.
London looking stunning at 8.30am before I went to the BFI
I really believe that actively and physically hunting down information drives you further and produces a better piece of work. That is my experience, at least! Taking an active research role makes your work stand out, provides you with transferrable skills for life post-uni, and really tests your ability to think for yourself, and on your feet!
After my day at the BFI (nearly ten hours straight!) I wandered along Southbank amongst tourists, performers and established Londoners feeling confident, excited and motivated. Let’s hope I can maintain that feeling until my deadline in September!
As I sat in the BFI Reuben Library, running my fingers along plastic-covered script sheets, looking at the spidery handwriting and fading ink, I felt a sadness as I realised I will soon be leaving the world of academia for good in just a few short months.
There’s nothing quite like getting stuck into history and uncovering something new!
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