A visit to The National Archives

Students enhance their research skills at The National Archives

Led by tutor Dr Judith Carmel-Arthur, three classes of students from Academic Research and Writing, Principles of Academic Research, recently visited The National Archives in nearby Kew.

The trip was held in conjunction with class lessons on Judging the comparative values of primary and secondary research sources, and used the British Suffragette Movement of the early 20th century as a model research subject for the day. Before the visit, students discussed film clips from two related secondary sources:

  • The 2013 Channel 4 documentary presented by Clare Balding on the Suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison’s interruption of the Epsom Derby in 1913 (Secrets of a Suffragette)
  • The Hilary Swank film about American suffragettes, Iron Jawed Angels

At The National Archives students visited the museum and worked with the Education Department, learning basic document handling procedures, membership and document request protocols and how to use the reading rooms. Each student then received an individual file of original documents to analyse, compare and discuss, including prison medical reports, police records, prison warden reports, Home Office records, family correspondence and original news items of specific events, such as the 1913 Epsom Derby.

All students who took part in the visit now hold Reader’s tickets to The National Archives, encouraging them to return for further research in their own time. Here’s what some of our students said about the visit:

The National Archives visit was really fun! Getting access to primary sources and actually holding the fragile documents for myself gave me a greater appreciation for my topic. I found that reading and handling original documents made my research more meaningful and further inspired me to gather information from other sources (e.g., medical reports, prison documentation, photographs). The whole experience opened my eyes to how important and interesting research can be and I’m grateful to have a Reader’s ticket so that I can visit The National Archives again on my own time.

The trip to The National Archives proved not only incredibly informative but also fascinating. I was able to read and handle the original hand-written Metropolitan Police report surrounding Emily Davison’s collision with the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby. This was a truly unique experience, I will DEFINITELY be going back!

Handling original documents was such a humbling experience. Seeing hand-written medical reports, pleas from suffragettes and witness accounts of the way these activists were treated allowed me to really become involved in the topic and come away with a much greater respect for the whole movement and the rights the suffragettes fought for. I’ll definitely be going back for research in the future!