Over the next few months, interns and volunteers on the Reflections project will write a few blog posts to discuss their experience working on the project and some of the research materials they have uncovered. Starting this is intern and recent Northumbria University graduate Robbie Taylor.
I recently graduated from Northumbria University, and it was around March or April 2015 during the second semester of my final year that opportunity to be a part of this project came about. Although it was a hectic time balancing a dissertation on the Gold Rush in California and exam preparations, getting involved seemed an interesting way to finish my time as a student in Newcastle and also a chance to delve deeper into the history of a city that has been my home for the last 4 years. After successfully applying for the position of research intern and finishing my final exam, I was looking forward to getting started and finding out more.
Our first meeting as a project in early June was a chance to meet everyone and it was great to see so many volunteers (members of the Lit & Phil and the wider public) in attendance. Although I had heard of the Lit & Phil before and knew a little bit about its significance to the city, I was unfamiliar with the 18th century library building itself. Kay Easson took us on the tour, explaining where useful archival material might be found and informing us to beware the ghost that haunts the member’s area. It was fantastic to be shown around a historic Newcastle landmark and building, still in all its glory, and everyone was excited to get the research started. At the meeting, we found out that the research done during the project will fall under three broad categories of interest. They are the Lit & Phil’s building, the Lit & Phil’s historic collection of books, periodicals, newspapers and archive material, and the cultural life of the city. Under this, a number of thematic areas were also set out, such as wartime reading, cultural events, fashion and shopping and ‘notable Novocastrians’. The project encourages a flexible approach to research rather than a prescriptive one and that proved important, especially as it was hard to know where to begin!
From a purely chronological point of view, it made sense for me to begin looking at how the actual outbreak of war in the early days of August 1914 and the transition from peace to national warfare affected Newcastle. Over the course of the next two months I worked at the Lit & Phil, accessing their library and archive, and paid numerous visits to Newcastle City Library; digging into the microfilm of local newspapers from the time. With other researchers taking responsibility of themes such as ‘women in the war effort’, I was free to imagine how the life of someone similar to myself was changed by the sudden outbreak of war. After all, the experience of a 23 year old male would have differed greatly from that of a female of the same age. Some young men worked, others studied, but each had a unique story to tell, and it was something that I wanted to bring out of my research. By taking a close up on two key writers who documented their experience of Newcastle during wartime, one a student, the other a trainee on the Commercial Exchange, I feel confident in saying I have a built up a decent understanding of how I myself might have reacted to the sudden outbreak of European war, had I lived in Newcastle a hundred years ago…
Being a part of Reflections of Newcastle has been a great experience for me personally and I hope you enjoy reading more and following the project as it unfolds.