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Author Archives: katewilcox

Historical research in London archives


This post was written by Charlie Berry, a doctoral student at the Institute of Historical Research and cross-posted from the History Collections website

As a research student, a lot of my time is spent beavering away in libraries and archives. My thesis topic, neighbourhoods in fifteenth-century London, means that I am fortunate in having most of the material I need all in one city.

The collections available in London libraries and archives are extensive and usually remarkably well-catalogued. Since I mainly work with documentary sources, the majority of my research time is spent either at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell or The National Archives at Kew. The collections at both are vast, covering a broad range of periods and topics, and it’s easy to follow trails through the documents all in the one reading room. I’m also fortunate in that both the LMA and National Archives have printed and manuscript indexes available for a lot of the material I look at, which is invaluable for pinpointing the records I need.

Beyond the large archives, there is an amazing array of diversity in the collections available to researchers in London. My thesis research has also taken me to the Guildhall Library, which mainly houses the records of London’s livery companies. Local Borough archives too offer a wealth of material which is perhaps underused by historians. My local archive in Hackney is a wonderful resource I used during my MA as well as whilst recently taking part in a local history project. That project is itself creating an archive of material at the Bishopsgate Institute Library, which has archival collections specialising in radical history.

There’s such a large amount of material out there in London’s archives, large and small, that there must be a million untouched research topics hiding in the files and folders just waiting to be explored, with friendly archivists there to help you find them! History Day at Senate House is a great opportunity to find out more about the kinds of collections available in London (and beyond).

Looking for fashion in the IHR library


The IHR library’s focus on primary sources means that often we don’t hold material ‘about’ a particular subject such as fashion history. Instead, rich material for the history of a topic can commonly be found scattered across editions of documents that were never intended to be used by historians of that subject. An inclusive, wide-ranging, and laterally-thinking approach to identifying relevant works pays off. So when looking through the collections for material on fashion history to coincide with the forthcoming Anglo-American Conference we were not too surprised to discover a wealth of material in both obvious and unexpected places.

from The New York Mercury, 1758 in The arts and crafts in New York 1726-1776, p. 344

Here’s a couple of examples. A compilation of advertisements from New York newspapers contains an unusual source for fashion history, with details of the attire worn by runaway slaves and servants. Handbooks for British businessmen and officials travelling to the Gold Coast advised on suitable clothing. Fashion appears in the many editions that we hold of letters, diaries, and travel writing. Household accounts can include lists of clothing and information about costs and acquisition. Legal and parliamentary sources detail sumptuary laws regulating people’s attire, regulations for the textile industry, and trade agreements. Parliamentary reports and petitions cover the lives of workers in the industry. Lists and advertisements in trade directories are a rich source of information about businesses.

from A journey through Albania, and other provinces of Turkey in Europe and Asia, to Constantinople, facing p. 855

A lot of digging is needed as the material isn’t all found in one place. Subject and keyword searching on the catalogue helps to find some specific material, but won’t track down things buried within other sources. Online resources such as the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, newspaper databases, British History Online and the wonderful Connected Histories – which cross-searches multiple resources – are all valuable for in-depth searching and complement the serendipitous pleasures of browsing the library shelves.

See our Guide to fashion history in the IHR library for more examples from our collections. Exhibitions showing works from the IHR and Senate House Library will be held on the 1st and 3rd floors of the IHR over the next month and there is also an online exhibition with beautiful illustrations of department store catalogues from the First World War.

History Day 2015: After the event


History-day-1The IHR and Senate House Library ran a second History Libraries and Research Open Day in January 2015. This brought researchers together with professional staff from a wide range of library and archive collections. It was a fantastic day and it was great to see so many libraries, archives and researchers there. We had very positive feedback from attenders and participating organisations alike.

History-day-2 Speakers gave a range of fascinating talks about how to get the most out of libraries, archives and digital resources. You can read about the day in tweets on the Storify page. An associated website continues to be updated with information about library and archive collections along with podcasts and blog posts from speakers:



Reduced access to library collections on Monday 15th December


NorthAmericanWe’ll be moving books into the IHR’s new North American history room next Monday 15th December. The IHR will remain open but the lower ground area of the library (housing the International Relations and Military collections) will be closed so that the crates can be brought through this area. The Military, International relations and American collections (classmarks W, IR, US, UF and C) will be inaccessible on this day. Other fetches may be disrupted.

We plan to open the room up at the start of January and it will house approximately two thirds of the American collections as well as providing additional reader desks.

History Day talks


DSC3939-300x199History libraries & research open day is actually several events rolled into one. Twenty-six libraries and archives will have stalls in a history fair in Macmillan Hall, a large room with enough space for several tables to allow one-on-one consultations with experts on specific research skills. However, Macmillan Hall was not quite large enough to hold our three panels of useful talks, which will be held in a nearby seminar room. Our goal is to give researchers a look behind the scenes of libraries, archives and digital projects, allowing them to discover what happens to books, manuscripts and webpages before they are available.

Our first panel of the day, chaired by Senate House Library’s Dr Richard Espley, Research Librarian for English, Irish and Post Colonial Literatures and Languages, focuses on libraries. The first two speakers in this panel, Alison Gage of Bibliographic Services in Senate House Library and Michael Townsend, a Collection Librarian for the Institute of Historical Research Library, will answer questions about how library classification can have an impact on your research. Their talks will lead into a talk about using libraries in the digital age by the IHR’s Dr Benjamin Bankhurst.

The second panel of the day, chaired by Senate House Library archivist Richard Temple, starts with an introduction to Archives networks, resources and research by Dr Nick Barrett of the National Archives. The next talk of the session, by Shakespeare’s Globe archivist Dr Ruth Frendo, gives insight into archival arrangement and the research process. Finishing the session will be Dr Elizabeth Williams, librarian of History, Theatre and Performance of Goldsmiths, University of London, who will discuss the new Black Cultural Archives and the impact of the archives on British History.

The last panel of the day will focus on research in the digital world, chaired by Dr Jane Winters of the IHR. Dr James Baker of the British Library will lead off the panel with a discussion on digital research, and his talk will be followed by discussions of a variety of digital resources including British History Online, the Bibliography of British and Irish History, Reviews in History and DERA. These will be presented by Simon Baker, Jonathan Blaney and Sarah Milligan of the IHR and by Daniel O’Connor of the UCL Institute of Education Library.

See the event programme for more details. Attendance to each session will be limited to forty so if you are interested, please let us know you would like to attend as soon as you arrive at History Day. We believe these presentations will give you insight into research resources and strengthen your research skills.

Libraries and archives working together for researchers


Librarians and archivists are great at collaborating. Library collections are often built up with a specific remit so as not to overlap too much with other local or specialist libraries. The Institute of Historical Research library collections, for example, have always focused on Western European and American history, leaving other regions to the nearby libraries of the School of Oriental and African Studies and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies. Similarly the Senate House Library and IHR history collections have been built up to be complementary, with the IHR focusing on primary source material and Senate House Library collecting monographs and other secondary material. We continue to work closely together when selecting material.

Libraries and archives also complement each other. The IHR library includes a range of guides, bibliographies and calendars which can be a useful starting point for research. Michael Little from theNational Archives library has written more about this in a recent blog post. As he says, ‘it’s helpful to see archives and libraries as working in conjunction with each rather than as being separate entities’.

On January 20th 2015, we will be hosting the second History Libraries and Research open Day in the MacMillan Hall on the ground floor of Senate House. The idea for an open day originated with the Committee for London Research Libraries in History which was itself founded out of a desire to have a forum for libraries to share ideas and collaborate. The event will bring together libraries and archives from across London to provide information about library collections and workshops and presentations about research methods and skills. Researchers will have the opportunity to talk to staff and find out more about relevant collections.

Librarians also work collaboratively in enquiry work – helping readers to find material in our own institutions, but also pointing out where other organisations have related or more specialist collections. The fair is a great opportunity for students – and for library/archive staff – to meet each other and discover the sometimes hidden gems available in libraries and archives in London and beyond.

Copying and Wifi facilities in the IHR – update


Our Wifi network is now in operation- we have coverage in all areas apart from the Foyle room. Please ask at library office or reception if you need details on how to connect.

Work on setting up the copiers/printers is still ongoing. Sorry for the continued delays and inconvenience caused while these facilities have been unavailable.

Library collections in the new IHR


We’ve now been open for two weeks, and the library staff are getting used to the new layout just as much as readers are.  The book move took months of planning, and it’s pleasing to see how well the new arrangement works in practice and that most readers have been happy with it.  A few books ended up being shelved in the wrong order, inevitable in such a big move. The library staff have been finding time to tidy these sections at times when there are few readers about. Much of the shelf signage is complete. The folio sections were especially disrupted while in store, and we are pleased that they are now back on open access and upright.

We’ve moved as much of the collection as possible to the open shelves, and regret that many periodicals have had to remain in closed access. Exceptions include the four most frequently requested periodicals (see below) and many record society and similar source-based series. The Current Periodicals room on the ground floor houses the last three or four years of most titles.

As most people will already have discovered, the 1st floor houses British (including local), Irish, Crusades, Byzantine and Church history. On the 2nd floor are the other European collections. The Military and International Relations collections are in the basement. Still under construction is a further room on the 2nd floor which will contain substantial parts of the American and Colonial collections. Watch this blog later in the year for news of its completion and opening.

Please note that three collections – Scottish, Spanish local and German – are shelved in rooms which double up as meeting rooms. Please check the IHR diary if you are planning to use these collections. Items can be reserved in advance of your visit if necessary. The rooms are:

  • Scottish History: Professor Olga Crisp room (room N102)
  • Spanish Regional: John S Cohen room (N203)
  • German History: Peter Marshall room (N204)
  • German local: Past and Present room (N202)

Some of the older (pre-1750) and rarer material has been classmarked S and is being kept in closed access for reasons of security. These books can be requested as usual, and will be stored in the library office when not in use.

The main changes to where items are shelved are as follows:

Collections moved from closed access to open access

  • Four heavily-used periodicals – Historical Research, English Historical Review, Past and Present and History
  • Most folios (BB and other double letters)
  • A new sequence of oversized folios (BBB and other triple letters)
  • Most International Relations and Military History
  • Spanish Regional
  • Most German and Low Countries
  • Selections from the general collection (all of E.1 Historiography, E.4 Holy Roman Empire, E.6 Medieval European history, selections from E.2 Reference works, E.3 General European history and E.7 Modern European history)

Collections moved from offsite to onsite store

  • Austria
  • European Universities (E.8)
  • Other selections from the general collection (the parts of E.2, E.3, E.7 not on open access)

Signage, catalogue and website updates are still ongoing, but do pop in and see staff in the library enquiry office if you have any questions.

Update on availability of facilities in the new IHR library


We’re still waiting for the photocopying/printing equipment to arrive, and for the Wifi to be connected. We apologise for the inconvenience the delay has caused. We will provide updates when we have further information. You are welcome to use your own photographic equipment to make copies.

Reader desks are provided around the library. We expect the first floor reading room to be the most heavily used. If you find it fully occupied, remember that there are plenty of desks on the same floor in the Foyle reading room and upstairs on the 2nd and 3rd floors.

The Foyle reading room has book supports and a large table making it ideal for consulting large and fragile material as well as maps.

We have eight PCs currently available and three more will be added once some network faults are fixed. Two of these PCs have our new microfilm scanners attached, but are also available for general use when not required for this purpose.

Thanks for your patience during this time. We will put updates on the blog but please contact us if you’d like any further information on or 020 7862 8760.

Availability of facilities in the newly reopened IHR


The IHR has reopened and the common room is available, with service of drinks and light snacks from 12 til 5.

There are a few outstanding problems still to be ironed out:

  • PCs are now in place on most floors. There will be a delay to their setup in the basement due to a fault with the network.
  • Installation of Wifi has been delayed due to the over-running building works. We expect this to be complete by the end of next week.
  • We are awaiting delivery of our photocopiers. Once these are installed, payment will be made by adding money to an account using your IHR card. Credits from existing cards can be transferred.
  • The lights in the reading rooms are controlled by sensors by the main landing doors. We have asked if these can be adjusted to avoid them going off while people are working further down the room.

The library collections are all in place with more now available on open access. The catalogue update is almost complete, but please ask staff if you need any help locating material.

Apologies for the inconvenience caused. We will continue to provide updates but please contact us if you’d like any further information on or 020 7862 8760.