Tag Archives: undergraduates

Discovering the Edward Thomas archive: a student perspective

This guest post comes from Sarah Murray, a final year English Literature undergraduate. Sarah recently worked on a project in Special Collections as part of the Poetry in the Making module led by Dr Carrie Smith. The students were tasked with exploring the Edward Thomas archive, to find items to inspire short films. These would present arguments about Thomas’ life and work, with reference to primary sources. An extract from one of the films is featured below.

During our first visit to Special Collections, we worked closely with archivist, Alison Harvey, who collected a huge range of material from manuscripts of poems to Thomas’ personal diaries, to flower cuttings, to personal items, such as his clay pipes.

We were able to spend time looking through this material, and quickly realised that the diversity of materials the archive has to offer meant that there was a huge scope for creativity in the upcoming project.

Manuscripts, transcripts, diaries and flower cuttings - a typical scene at our table.

Manuscripts, transcripts, diaries and flower cuttings – a typical scene at our table.

My group was struck by the regular communication between Edward Thomas and fellow poet Robert Frost, and decided to concentrate on the profound impact Frost had on Thomas’ birth as a poet. Armed with more material than it was possible to process, we visited the archive regularly, pouring over the correspondence between Thomas and Frost.

The calming atmosphere of Special Collections made a welcome change from the rest of the Arts and Social Studies Library, and if it was not for the fact that I would be eternally thirsty, I would do all of my writing in the archive! (It’s funny how the moment you know you can’t have something, that’s immediately all you want in the world.)

After much research, constructing our arguments and a lot of video editing, the four groups in our class each created and submitted a ten minute film as part of the module assessment and it was surprising how different each one was. Almost as if we had sat down and allocated different approaches to take.

Uniquely, the work we produced was showcased to the English Literature department. Although slightly embarrassing to watch and listen to ourselves on the big screen (there was a lot of face covering and even a quick exit), the opportunity to share our videos with members of the department who were interested and surprised by the originality of our arguments, made the project seem incredibly worthwhile.

litmodulestudentsFor me, the experience was eye opening as it provided us with the thought processes and concerns that preceded the published versions of Thomas’ eloquent poetry. I hadn’t really considered the apprehension that a poet may experience when writing, perhaps having been consumed by the Romantic idea that inspiration for a complete product is found while sitting peacefully at the top of a hill. The ability to immerse ourselves in the material that led to the publication of Thomas’ poetry enabled us to understand the man and consequently, the poet and his poetry in a deeper sense.

Samantha Palen, third year English Literature and Journalism student, adds: “As an amateur poet myself, I had long ago rejected the Wordsworthian / Romantic idea of writing poetry, if purely for the fact that British weather means that writing anything whilst strolling through the countryside proves nearly impossible. However, I was surprised to learn the range of materials in the archive that fed into the final published poems; classically you imagine that a poem is written, edited through various manuscripts and then published, bish, bash, bosh. What I didn’t take into account was all of the materials that fall outside of this process, the photographs, the diaries, the correspondence with friends and family, which arguably have a greater impact on the creation of a piece of poetry. All of this took some time to get my head around and the sheer amount of information available seemed incredibly daunting, but all of the archive staff were incredibly helpful in making this an incredibly enjoyable experience!”

All in all, this project was definitely more challenging than anything else I have been required to do as part of my degree and was a welcome change to the thousands of words of essay I have written across nearly three years of reading English Literature. I greatly enjoyed the time we spent in Special Collections. Cardiff University is very lucky to have such a rich collection of historical and literary archives and the opportunity to make use of this material enriched my knowledge of a subject I am passionate about. Finally, I am very grateful to Carrie for providing us with this new and exciting academic opportunity and to Alison for her time and commitment to supporting us throughout the project.

Guest post: CUROP Research Project – Pattern and the Romantic Imagination, 1780-1840

This guest post comes from Felicity Holmes-Mackie. A graduate of Cardiff University, Felicity has been working as a research assistant for Dr Jane Moore School of English, Communication and Philosophy on a CUROP (Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) project using ladies’ periodicals held in Special Collections and Archives.

Posters from all the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences CUROP projects undertaken this year will be exhibited later this week on Friday 16th October in the Viriamu Jones Gallery in Main Building between 12.00-13.30.


‘The fashionable colours for this month are…’

dress 2During my undergraduate degree at Cardiff I have been fortunate enough to enrol on several modules taught in conjunction with Special Collections and Archives. Having been exposed to the wonderland of exciting resources nestled underneath the Arts and Social Studies Library, I naturally leapt at the chance to embark upon a research project based there during summer 2015. Now, thanks to a project led by Dr Jane Moore and supported by the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP), I have spent a summer picking my way through the moveable shelving and examining the treasures I discovered.

The project, entitled Pattern and the Romantic Imagination: the creative interchange between poetry and needlework 1780-1840, explores the links between material crafts and imaginative poetry and prose fiction of the Romantic period. I have been, slowly but surely, rifling through the hard copy collections and online digital databases of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century
spinesperiodicals. The main publications I have focussed on are The Ladys Magazine, La Belle Assemblée, and The Ladies’ Monthly Museum, which feature a wide range of articles. These include serialised prose fiction, illustrated biographies, recipes for medicines, word puzzles, and needlework patterns. They were generally aimed at upper class ladies and contain work written by both male and female contributors, who were often unpaid.

dressThe most interesting discoveries of the project were undoubtedly those found in the fashion descriptions which feature in all three publications. Each magazine had a slightly different approach to reporting on the latest fashions; while some articles aim to inspire with vivid descriptions, others dictate what the reader should or should not be wearing according to the tastes that month. La Belle Assemblée outlines upcoming fashions, whereas The Ladies’ Monthly Museum describes fashions of the past month in its regular feature ‘The Mirror for Fashion’. The Ladys Magazine includes similar monthly features, but twice a year it also provides vivid and detailed descriptions of the court dresses worn on royal birthdays. In these pieces, each lady’s outfit is described and judged in terms of taste; sometimes the line between gossip and fashion description becomes somewhat blurred!

detailThese fashion articles can seem repetitive and uninteresting, perhaps something to skim quickly before finding the next instalment of a gripping serialised novel or the next letter in a stream of huffy correspondence. However, delving into these articles reveals an arsenal of technical language and a veritable rainbow of descriptive vocabulary. One of the highlights of the project has undoubtedly been the rich, varied, and occasionally eccentric colour vocabulary which features in all the publications to some degree. From pigeon’s breast to faded dove, marshmallow-blossom to date-leaf, ponceau to ethereal blue, the ‘fashionable colours for the month’ are rich, varied, and occasionally eccentric.

dress3The coloured fashion plates too, are a real treat. The majority of plates show ladies sitting or standing in ways which will show off their outfits, but some also show ladies dancing, at the beach, playing musical instruments, or picking flowers. In some months hat fashions go into overdrive and resemble crowns, large turban-style wraps, or even Roman helmets.

These fashion articles and plates are certainly more stimulating and imaginative than they might first appear. Not only did the colour vocabularies surprise me but the technical descriptions of the dresses offered an insight into thinking about outfits and dress which was peculiar to the period and is far-removed from the way we think about style today. The periodicals generally offered a range of unexpected and fascinating articles and illustrations and I certainly feel lucky to have familiarised myself with them.

Guest post: CUROP Research Project – Early Welsh language children’s literature

ChildLitThis guest post comes from Bethan Morgan, undergraduate in the School of Welsh, on her CUROP (Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) project. Bethan has been working with Dr Siwan Rosser to create a bibliographic database of Welsh-language children’s books published before 1900.

Building on last year’s successful CUROP project to create a database of 19th-century periodicals for children, this project seeks to create a new resource for enhanced research on the history of children’s publishing in Wales. At present, no bibliography exists for pre-1900 publications, and library catalogue descriptions are often incomplete and inconsistent, impeding investigations into this important aspect of cultural history.

The project involved searching the University Library’s extensive Special Collections, as well as information from the on-line catalogue of the National Library of Wales, and amassing (through EndNote) relevant bibliographic material. The books were sorted into different categories within EndNote according to their genres, e.g. poetry, music, stories, textbooks, prayer books, and sermons. The resulting database, incorporating the previous CUROP periodical database, will be published online after the project, to be used in research and teaching here and to advance the study of this topic in general.

Bethan notes: “It was fascinating reading the pre-1900 collection of children’s books, because they are so different in comparison with contemporary children’s books. It was hard to believe at times that I was reading children’s literature, because of the serious / dark themes found in many of them, such as sin, death and disasters. The project is very worthwhile, and of value in developing knowledge of Cardiff University’s collection of children’s literature.”

It will also be an invaluable resource for Siwan Rosser during her 2015-16 Research Leave to produce a monograph on Welsh children’s literature. Furthermore, this database will lead to a joint project with Special Collections and Archives to create an online collection of early children’s books, as part of our programme to digitise library and archives to support research and teaching.

View Bethan’s post in full on Siwan Rosser’s Llenyddiaeth Plant blog.