A successful internship and a new writing group

Lily Brown, one of our dynamic undergraduates, writes:

During the past three months I have been undertaking an internship with jelly, a vibrant arts charity based in the centre of Reading. This opportunity was afforded to me through the Reading Internship Scheme run by the university and funded by Santander. The experience has been an immensely valuable one, allowing me to witness the amazing work of the arts organisations working in Reading to make art more accessible to people living in and around the town. Jelly in particular offers a wide range of workshops and classes including yoga and life drawing as well those aimed at children including Jelly Tots and Messy Club. Jelly’s studios, currently based at 42 Market Place in the centre of Reading, are home to a number of artists who do everything from selling vintage clothing and jewellery to painting murals and creating rag rugs to be displayed in the Oracle. Jelly recently put on the Open For Art weekend festival which allowed local artists to showcase and sell their artwork around the town centre in a number of venues including the 3 B’s Bar in the Reading Museum and the Oracle. The event also comprised a number of workshops and events including Getting your Blog Noticed and Draw like a Fashion Designer.

Lily Brown Jelly writing group poster

My role with the company was primarily to help encourage young people to engage with the arts as well as working on the new cultural strategy that is being put in place for Reading. I am in the process of establishing a new writing group based at jelly for 16-25 year olds. Shadow Writers’ Group is held every Wednesday at 4:30pm on floor one at jelly and aims to produce an anthology showcasing members’ work and events which allow members the opportunity to read and present their work. The group, which is currently recruiting members, hopes to be a lively and energetic writing group centred on discussing writing and critiquing styles as well as having workshops and discussions with local writers, journalists and poets. The group also hopes to compliment the studies of those students studying English Literature or Language but any young people with an interest in writing in any shape or form are welcome. Inspired by the work that organisations like jelly are doing all the time in Reading I would love to be part of a group that helps people to build on something that they already have an interest in and to meet others with the same interests. Being a member of a writing group would look great on a CV and would be a fantastic way to develop your writing skills in key areas without the pressure of being marked on your work. If you are interested in joining or would like some more information please get in touch!

For more information about the writing group please email writers@jelly.org.uk. Alternatively, visit jelly’s website at www.jelly.org.uk, follow jelly on Twitter (@thejellyreading) or join them on Facebook (jelly).

Lily Brown Shadow Writers

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A summer trip to Harvard

Krissie West, one of our postgraduate researchers, writes…

I was really fortunate to spend three weeks of this summer in the US, thanks to a bursary from the department and the Graduate School, continuing my PhD research on Transcendentalism in the archives at Harvard University and presenting a paper at a conference in nearby Concord.

Harvard’s version of our grad school…

Krissie West Harvard

My first two weeks were spent in the Houghton Library at Harvard, which houses thousands of original manuscripts from the most eminent writers in American Literature, researching the papers of Amos Bronson Alcott (better known as the father of Louisa May Alcott) and Ralph Waldo Emerson. This work will form part of my thesis on Transcendentalism and childhood.

The Houghton Library at Harvard…

Krissie West Houghton Library

Having had little previous experience working in archives, I found the process itself really interesting – the thousand, mostly unwritten, rules and regulations prohibiting the use of pens, paper (unless it was pink), jumpers or cardigans unless they were being worn rather than on the back of a chair, and the need to show every little thing being taken in or out of the room. And no bags, of course – not even in the ladies’ room!

However, once I had more or less learned the rules, I found the magnitude of the experience amazing – that as a non-Harvard, non-US scholar, I could visit at any time, for free, and read, transcribe and photograph (with limitations) the original manuscripts of my chosen writers. Particular highlights included discovering the first page of Little Women sequel, Jo’s Boys; letters from her father to a seven-year old Louisa May on her birthday, and letters from Louisa to her ‘Marmee’. Reading Emerson’s Journals was also a particularly exciting addition to my work.

Finally, I enjoyed a week in Concord, attending and giving a paper at the Summer Conversational Series at Alcott family home, Orchard House, which gave me the opportunity to discuss my research with fellow Transcendentalist scholars and learn about their work (not to mention the ‘accidental’ purchase of a first edition of Emerson while visiting a local historic home!)

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables on a weekend visit to Salem…

Krissie West House of Seven Gables

It was an amazing experience, and I hope to return again soon.


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Nixon on Beckett on the BBC

Mark Nixon

Tonight, at 22:45 on Radio 3, Beckett expert Dr Mark Nixon will be talking on editing a Beckett story 80 years after it was written. Find out more by following this link.


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A Pre-Raphaelite Museum

As part of this year’s Oxford Open Doors programme, John Holmes will be giving a talk explaining how the Pre-Raphaelites became involved in the design of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in the 1850s, and how the Museum itself encapsulates in stone, iron, and glass its own scientific conception of the truth of the natural world. The talk will be at 3 p.m. on Saturday 13th September at the Museum. The event is free, but you can reserve a seat at http://bit.ly/PreRaphMuseum.
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An enjoyable UROP experience for one of our students

Sophie McKenna writes:

I am currently working in the fifth week of my UROP placement, in which I am undertaking research for the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP) at the University’s Special Collections. MAPP is a digital humanities project, which aims to create a digital resource that links publishing archives held in the UK, America, and Canada. I am working as a researcher for MAPP’s pilot project: a case study on the archives of the Hogarth Press, the publishing house founded by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

Sophie blog 1

Painted wooden door plaque, 52 Tavistock Square. Special Collections, Victoria University in the University of Toronto.

I am working with files containing editorial correspondence from 1920 to the 1950’s, and financial records dating from 1920-1934. My task has been to prepare these files for digitisation, by selectively interpreting their value as both a source and a subject for future scholarly research. By making this archive globally available in a digital format, MAPP will provide an innovative way for researchers to explore the various processes of publishing production.

The first stage of digitisation I undertook was to take high-resolution photographs of each individual page of the order books, and each page of correspondence. These photographs are currently stored on the University of Reading’s library server and will eventually be used by researchers in theModernist Archives Publishing Project.

In addition to presenting images of the physical archive in digital format, an important part of the digitisation process is the manual transcription of the files. A large part of my work has involved transcribing into Excel the order books kept by Leonard Woolf, in which he handwrote the financial records of the Hogarth Press. Transcription can be a slow and difficult process, due to the extensive nature of the records: for each title published, each individual entry lists the name of the customer; the date of despatch; the date of payment; the price paid, and the number of copies sold. Later order books contain balance sheets, records of profit and loss for individual titles, and notes on production and publicity costs. Additionally, due to the quirks of idiosyncratic penmanship, I have often found it difficult to correctly identify the names and addresses I am responsible for accurately transcribing, so I have taken time to research and check the entries that I need to confirm are correct. However, as the process has continued, I have found this aspect to become easier, as I have learnt to recognise certain names and addresses!
Once completed, my transcriptions will be included in the MAPP database alongside the physical images of the order books, as this enables visitors of the website to personally explore the archive in a visual format, and the transcription alongside the images will allow for a verified clarification of the handwritten material that is often difficult to interpret.

Sophie blog 2

Here I am, standing next to the archival camera I used to photograph the documents in the archive.

The correspondence files I have studied offer a fascinating insight into the world of publishing. It could easily be assumed that publishing records only contain financial records and numerical data, which may be of limited use to scholars of literature and history. However, by reading letters containing active discussions over copyright permissions; prices of publication; requests for reprints and general production; sales, and editorial demands, it is easy to imagine and explore the busy world of publishing.

I have been able to construct ‘stories from the archive’, which can then be preserved in the digitisation process, by selecting specific examples of these publishing activities found in the correspondence of the Hogarth Press archive. For example, correspondence between the Hogarth Press and Messrs Lowe & Brydone (Printers) Ltd, reveals that in 1940, there was a failed attempt to reprint Sigmund Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego and Collected Papers, Vol. 1, due to a low paper supply; caused by the need for paper rationing during World War Two. By preserving stories such as these, MAPP can show how publishing history can be used in innovative and unique ways.

In order to access the archive at Special Collections, researchers must obtain permissions from Random House, the publisher who now owns the archive, and the relevant author’s estate, who hold the copyright for the materials pertaining to the author. In order to help future researchers, I have used the online WATCH database to create my own spreadsheet in Excel, which lists the relevant copyright information for all the authors who have files in the publishing archives at Special Collections. By creating a database which singularly holds the contact details for all copyright holders, it will be much easier for researchers to find the information they need to acquire copyright permissions.

This placement has provided me with invaluable experience. By working at Special Collections, I have been able to carry out research in a practical environment, and I have learnt skills which will continue to be useful in my academic work. Formal research experience is not usually available to undergraduate students, and so I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to assist the Modernist Archives Publishing Project. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to attend my first conference: a series of talks about Digital Humanities held at the British Library. I was then given the opportunity to help create an academic poster detailing the aims and achievements of the Modernist Archives Publishing Project, and had the privilege of presenting this poster with my co-workers at a Digital Humanities event held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which was a wonderful opportunity to present and discuss my research with academics. Furthermore, I have enjoyed working at MERL so much that I am now interested in pursuing a career within the heritage sector, and my UROP placement has given me the opportunity to explore this kind of work environment. Overall, I would highly recommend undergraduate students at Reading to apply for UROP placements, due to the unique experience of practical research within the university.

Sophie blog 3

Dr. Nicola Wilson and I, presenting the MAPP poster at the Oxford Museum of Natural History.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Jessica Sage, who recently finished her PhD in the department, has responded to the recent debate about Penguin’s new cover for Charlie and Chocolate Factory, which received widespread news coverage this week.
Cover from Jess
Drawing on her research into children’s literature and photographs of children taken by Charles Dodgson she wrote a comment piece questioning the assumptions made by the disagreement over whether the cover was appropriate or not, which was picked up by the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association and published on their blog.
The blog piece came about with a helping hand from Twitter, with tweets from fellow academics suggesting and contacting groups that could host the piece whilst it was still being written.  Jessica said ‘It was the first time I’ve written in this way, getting comments on my ideas even as they’re being drafted.  The response since it was published has also been great, with suggestions for further thinking and alternative reading.  An academic paper has also been mooted, which if nothing else is a great confidence-builder for an Early Career Researcher  knee deep in job applications.’
You can read the whole piece here.
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An academic placement in our university archives

Lucy Nicholson, one of this year’s academic placement students, writes:

During the spring term of this year, I became interested in completing an academic placement for one of my English modules: ‘Women’s writing and feminist theory’ and thus after more research and discussion with Dr Cindy Becker I decided it would be a thoroughly interesting and exciting project to undertake as an undergraduate student.

My academic placement was specifically an archival research project, which researched the ideology behind feminist theory in relation to the representation of women in the children’s classics Ladybird books.  This meant I was basing my research around my module requirements in an area of my choice.  This was a perfect topic of research for me since being fascinated with ladybird books from an early age, the nostalgia I felt when being reunited from a favourite pastime was highly rewarding. This was complimented by the knowledge that the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL, on the London road campus) has one of the largest Ladybird book collections in the UK, so I was rather spoilt with a choice of vintage to modern Ladybird publications.

Shopping with mother

I spent a lot of my time researching in MERL in between lectures and seminars; however, this wasn’t a problem since the museum is a short 15-minute walk from the University campus. From here I was able to read through different Ladybird books and write down my findings, which then allowed me to narrow my topic to ‘The Ladybird Woman: At home and at work: 1950s-1970s.’ After my research was complete I was able to divide my information into different topics, for example the representation of race in Ladybird books. This was particularly interesting since little associations to other races were shown in the earlier publications except through politically incorrect images such as a ‘black doll in a maids outfit’.  My excitement to research the Ladybird publications was ever growing, even leading me to visit a local exhibition on the subject. My excitement arguably was even verging on obsessive, where I have rather humorously been known as the ‘Ladybird Lady’ on several accounts; I have enjoyed this association however since I am a proud fan!

My final piece was in a report format and professionally bounded which would be my assessed piece for my module. This was another benefit of the placement since sometimes feeling ‘left in the dark’ with English essays, a report gave me more freedom and the confidence to achieve a good grade in overall. I would highly recommend an academic placement whether it is in archival research or in a real working environment since it is a great addition to your CV and I believe is a valuable skill to obtain for future job prospects and researching for projects ie dissertations. I definitely will think about completing an academic placement again.

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Animated about learning

Cindy Becker writes:

Over the summer we are creating a series of module outline screencasts, ready to welcome our new students in the autumn. This has led to some interesting discussions amongst colleagues about the best format for these screencasts; as a result I am exploring animated screencasts for our students. Although a more formal approach, with plenty of information, seems appropriate for core areas of the curriculum, advice on other matters might, I think, usefully be offered in a less formal way.

So far I have produced two of these screencasts:

Screenshot academic placement screencast


Screenshot careers learning screencast


If you would like to offer suggestions of any other areas about which we could produce similar screencasts, do get in touch on l.m.becker@reading.ac.uk

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Nicola is still with us!!

Nicola Abram 0068
To anyone who read my post last week, I’m delighted to report that I survived my first skydive! Falling through the skies above Salisbury was a brilliant experience, and one I’ll be raving about in the corridors of HumSS this week.
Nicola Abram 0076
Some of us get to do extreme things as ‘sport’; others live risky lives without having the luxury of choice. So I used my skydive to raise funds for people exploited in the Reading sex industry – and I’m thrilled that the team has already raised over £1,000 thanks to the generosity of colleagues, friends and family. If anyone would still like to donate to the wonderful Rahab Project, you can at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/skydivesalisbury 
Nicola Abram 0146
Huge thanks to all for your sponsorship and support. Feel free to join me next time!
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If you happen to be strolling around our department…

If you are thinking of coming along to meet us and get to know our department at one of our open days, you might like to wander down to our ground floor corridor. Opposite room G16 we have a new noticeboard with notices giving information about our academic placement scheme, which is available to any undergraduate taking our modules.

placement notices

We have included on the board (in the bright pink notes you can see in the picture) plenty of examples of recent academic placements, so that you can get a good idea of what students get up to once they join us in the Department of English Literature!





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