The History Department is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2019 London History Study Group “Work-In-Progress” Award. This distinction is given annually to the student(s) in the London History Study Group whose research-based thesis projects exhibit nuanced archival work, “spritely imagination,” and critical engagement as well as innovative contributions to the existing historiography. The three winners for 2019 (with project titles) are:
- Emily Goldson, “Remarkable Wives of Remarkable Men: Creating Feminine Political Power in the Women’s Zionist Movement of Great Britain, 1918-1948”
- Anna Pluff, “Laying the Fascist Ghost: A.K. Chesterton’s Relationship with British Fascism, 1933-73”
- Zhelun Zhou, “’Youth Is Our Investment for the Future:’ British Colonial Hong Kong’s Education Policy, 1967-1978”
To celebrate their achievements and share their findings with our students and faculty, the History Department hosted a luncheon on October 1, where the authors of these papers presented their work and took questions from the audience. Condensing a semester of research and writing into a fifteen-minute talk is a challenge, but this year’s winners were more than equal to the task. All three presentations highlighted deep engagement with primary sources, drawn from archives in London and beyond (Anna Pluff, e.g., received funding from the History Department, to make a research excursion to read Chesterton’s papers in the archives at the University of Bath). As the director of the study group, it was deeply gratifying to see what these students had accomplished and to take stock, once more, of the tremendous work and intellectual effort that went into developing these projects and bringing them to fruition.
Something we emphasize to students who are considering the London History Study Group is the opportunity it presents to pursue a broad range of research topics, and this year’s winners help to underscore that point. For thousands of years, London has been connected to the rest of the world in ways that make it a rich portal for exploring the past. It’s been a hugely influential hub of activity in terms of politics, economics, and culture, and that means our students who go there have the chance to dig into the kinds of history they find most compelling. For students who want to read diplomatic cables, including previously classified material, the National Archives in Kew are home to miles and miles of documents. For students interested in gender history, the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics or the Bishopsgate Institute (near Spitalfields Market!) are ideal venues. For histories of race and class, we’ve had our students digging in the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton and in local history archives like the Ealing History Centre (not far from the hallowed football grounds at Wembley Stadium). If cinema is your thing, you can head over to Southbank and root around in the archives at the British Film Institute. In other words, if you can dream it, London can almost certainly accommodate your curiosity.
Besides the many possibilities that London offers in terms of research areas and topics, the other thing our students described so eloquently at the award luncheon is the excitement that archival research generates. We live in an age of information saturation and “connectivity,” but there is still nothing quite like coming across a document in the archives that brings you up close and personal with the past. Handling original documents is not the same as “clicking” through digitized records, even if the “content” of electronic and physical records might be considered identical by some. In The Allure of the Archives, Arlette Farge refers to this as “the feel of touching traces of the past.” It’s a tactile, even sensual, experience that cannot be replicated online. And, despite their being quiet and frequently cold spaces, it’s in the archives that students can encounter most directly the modes of thought and habits of speech that make the past intelligible.
Congratulations to this year’s award winners and to all the students who successfully executed their research projects in London. It was a pleasure and privilege to watch these papers evolve and grow, and while the process was a demanding one by design, hopefully the October luncheon also showed that we had plenty of fun along the way.
Written by Professor Xan Karn, Director of the 2019 London History Study Group.