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.

About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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