This post was written by Katherine Ambler, Postgraduate Research Student at King’s College London. It is part of a series of posts on researchers’ experiences in libraries and archives.
My research focuses on the history of the ‘Manchester School’ of social anthropologists, who, in the 1950s and 1960s, explored subjects ranging from ritual in central African communities to the behaviour of workers in Lancashire factories. While the personal papers of many of these anthropologists are now scattered across archives around the world, the University of Manchester (their institutional home in the UK) still holds much fascinating material relating to this group of scholars and the university in which they worked.
Over the past few months, I have made a number of visits to the University’s Special Collections centre to view these collections, which include personal correspondence, funding applications and internal reports and memos. The team of archivists and librarians have been unfailingly helpful with my research (as well as with recommendations on where to eat in the local area!), while the reading room is a great place to work.
Working with these materials has been invaluable in providing a window in the daily lives of the subjects of my research, as well as into the history of the institution which supported them. I found it easy to get lost in the documents as I was drawn into reading about unexpected subjects, from the small battles to secure visas for fieldwork trips, to the regular discussions of health concerns and the progress of the local football teams. The diversity of the material in the University of Manchester’s collections provides researchers with a real insight into academic life in the twentieth century, from the development of ideas to everyday working practices, as well as relationships with other institutions and government bodies. For my first experience of working with archival material, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to start!