Chloe Forsyth recently joined the IHR library team as a Graduate Trainee and in this, her first blog, she writes about herself and her initial impressions of starting work at the IHR.
Ever since I was a child, I have always loved reading, especially fantasy novels. I spent a great deal of time in imaginary lands taking on daring quests. So its no surprise that when I read Gawain and the Green Knight during my first term reading English at the University of Exeter, I fell in love with Medieval Romances. The exciting quests, sometimes ridiculous plots, interesting characters, and beautiful language hooked me. From my first term, I focused all of my modules around Medieval literature.
With my degree, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend a year studying abroad. I chose the University of New Mexico as it had a great Medieval programme. One of the benefits of US universities is how easy it is to take modules outside your discipline, and I made full use of it by taking several medieval history modules.
To understand Medieval literature (or any literature really) you need to have an understanding of the culture and events that shaped the writers. Similarly, the literature of a time and place, can provide useful insights for historians. My time in New Mexico made me certain that I wanted to undertake an inter-disciplinary MA degree.
With this in mind, I completed my final year at Exeter with a dissertation on the importance of Arthur’s familiar relationships in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.
I decided to take a year out before starting my MA, and spent an enjoyable Christmas working as a bookseller in Waterstones (a nice precursor to working in a library!) before getting a job as a Transport Coordinator at the University of Kent.
When my manager found out I wanted to become a librarian, she helped me organise job shadowing in the University of Kent Library and Special Collections Archive. I had the opportunity to spend time in each department, learning about the different roles that make up an academic library. My favourite experience was working with the Special Collections Librarian and learning how to take care of the manuscripts and pictures that made up the collection.
I went on to study an MA at UCL in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. I was fortunate to be able to study under the wonderful Professor David D’Avray who taught me diplomatic and palaeography. I love working with medieval manuscripts and how you can unpeel their history both through their contents and composition.
I decided to write my dissertation on a collection of fifteenth century English manuscripts held by the British Library. This proved to be harder than first thought thanks to Covid. Luckily, with some tweaking and help from my supervisor, Dr Emily Corran, I was able to complete my dissertation with manuscripts that the British Library had digitised. Having worked with the IHR book scanner, and knowing how time consuming it can be to use, I have an even greater appreciation of all the library staff who provided document scans over lockdown.
Whilst studying at UCL, I was first introduced to the IHR as a great resource for primary sources. I came to many of the Medieval seminars held in the evenings. It was a nice chance to learn topics not taught in my modules and engage in the University of London’s historical community. So when the opportunity to work here arose, it seemed an incredible opportunity. After my first ever Zoom interview (a nerve-racking experience!), I was lucky enough to be offered the role back in May.
I was excited (and very nervous!) to join the IHR at the end of September. I have been welcomed by the small and lovely IHR library team, who are keen to share their knowledge with me. My favourite part of the IHR is the Tower, where we keep our closed shelf books and special collection items. I could happily spend many days trawling through everything we have up there. The view of the London skyline doesn’t hurt either!
I have met many of our lovely readers and already got to know some of our regulars. I enjoy helping them with their queries and making the IHR a nice environment to work in. One of my favourite tasks so far has been helping with research. I love a good research puzzle, especially when it involves trying to transcribe old scripts. So I spent a happy afternoon learning how to use a microfilm and checking a manuscript to find references to particular villages.
Now that we are open until 20:30, I get to work some evening shifts. Once all the readers have gone, being alone in the library after dark has some Night at the Museum vibes. I can’t help waiting for something magical to happen.
Alongside my new role at the IHR, I have started a Library and Information Management MA remotely with Ulster University. This is giving me the opportunity to apply what I am learning from the IHR to my academic work, and, I hope, allowing me to be a better asset to IHR.
I am very excited to see what this next year brings!