Alexandra, an International student originally from Virginia, United States, studied the MA in History of the Book at the Institute for intellectual interest and to further her career.
Please could you introduce yourself and your experiences at the Institute of English Studies.
I’m originally from Fairfax, Virginia in the United States, and I came to the Institute of English Studies after having just completed my BA in Linguistics and Hispanic Studies at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. During the fall and spring at the Institute of English Studies, I took modules covering the history of the book in ancient Mesopotamia all the way up to the digital book of today. Then during the summer, I researched and completed a dissertation on the book trade in early modern Navarre, Spain.
Why did you choose to study the MA in History of the Book?
I chose to study the MA in the History of the Book for intellectual interest and for my career. On one hand, I was introduced to book history in my first year of undergraduate study through a course on the medieval book, and then from there I ended up writing an undergraduate dissertation on the early modern Navarrese private libraries of clergy, lawyers, and women. I wanted to continue studying book history at the postgraduate level.
Additionally, I am intending to become a rare books librarian, and I think it’s essential for me to have a deep understanding of the book as a material object. With a knowledge of book history, I can better understand the objects under my care and better collaborate with my potential patrons in their research.
What aspect of the MA course did you most enjoy?
My favourite part of the MA course was living in London and having access to the resources of the libraries in London, particularly the British Library, the Institute of Historical Research’s Library, and the Warburg Institute. I sincerely doubt that I’ll ever live in another place with that many books in a mile or so radius of me.
What facilities and resources are on offer at the Institute and School of Advanced Study?
I think the resource I made the most use of at the Institute were our instructors. My conversations with them about my research and academic/professional career are invaluable, not to mention the connections they have with other experts in our field that they could direct me to.
What was your experience of the teaching and teaching practices at the Institute?
It was a novel experience being taught by several instructors for one class. For a class like the Book in the Ancient World, this was an excellent strategy as we had five different instructors that were all consummate experts in their respective fields of cuneiform, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, ancient writing implements and supports, and Late Antiquity. Additionally, I really appreciated the field trips we were able to take for courses to places like Lambeth Palace Library and particularly the St. Bride Foundation with Dr. Elizabeth Savage where we learned about different printing presses and even had the opportunity to cast our own type!
How has your experience of studying the MA course helped you in your current position?
As a current student in a Masters of Library Science program at Indiana University Bloomington, my degree gives me perspective on the rare books field from the scholarly side while I am in classes studying the same field from a librarian’s perspective. For example, I am currently in a course called “Reference Sources for Rare Books”, which covers the kinds of sources that I will need in my career to answer reference questions in a rare books library setting. Since I have used rare books in my own research, I can easily understand how different types of information in these bibliographies, dictionaries, catalogues, and other reference works are relevant to patrons.
What would you say to someone who is considering studying the MA course?
You’re never going to get as good of an opportunity to study and handle as many manuscripts and rare books with experts in their fields as you will in this course.