Shira is a full-time international student from the United States studying for an MA in History of the Book.
Please could you introduce yourself and provide a short overview of your experiences at the Institute of English Studies.
I am a full-time international student from the United States studying for an MA in History of the Book. I aspire to become a rare books librarian, but I am broadly interested in popular culture, reading practices, and public libraries. My time with the Institute of English Studies has introduced me to many approaches to study and engaged with my areas of interest, enriching my perspective on book history and book culture from a historical and contemporary perspective.
Why did you choose to study the MA in History of the Book?
I am passionate about librarianship, rare books, and book history, and the combined teaching and guided research model offered by the coursework in this program allows me to explore my areas of interest while encouraging me to work beyond my comfort zone. The coursework is broadly divided by era, providing foundational knowledge on key topics in book history while allowing creative and specific investigation on projects that are most compelling to me.
What aspect of the MA course have you most enjoyed so far?
Book history is a material-based field, and I appreciate the emphasis our faculty place on handling and studying primary materials. Our classes are based around specific objects that exemplify the concepts of book technology, industry, and materiality that we discuss together. Above all else, I love discussing the materials with my peers, all of whom bring different perspectives and knowledge bases to each class.
What facilities and resources are on offer and have you made use of at the Institute and School of Advanced Study?
I try to attend all of the Institute’s work-in-progress seminars, which are wonderful opportunities to learn about the ongoing work of our current PhD, post-docs, and faculty members. The talks often provide me with ideas for my own work. I read and work in Senate House Library, which provides easy access to my reading materials, or the Warburg Institute Library nearly every day. SAS’ small study body makes all of the administrative resources that more readily available, and they are entirely dedicated to the unique needs of being a post-graduate student. I have felt incredibly supported by the Office of the Registry, which has helped me navigate the challenges of being an international student. The Career Services, lead by Liz Wilkinson, are equally excellent and well-tailored to any needs, and I have received excellent advice regarding summer jobs, volunteer opportunities, and job and PhD applications.
What is your experience of the teaching and teaching practices at the Institute?
The faculty at IES are extraordinarily supportive, thoughtful, and creative, and they are always willing to meet with students to provide feedback, advice, or help develop research ideas. Their field expertise underscores their support and teaching, which has provided me with insights into a huge range of knowledge and flexibility on what topics to pursue. The small size of the program allows for ample attention from each faculty member to my ideas, work, and progress in their courses, as well as how I have grown personally and professionally from the coursework.
How do you think your experience of studying the MA course will help you in the future?
Our course readings and speakers have introduced me to a dozen subfields of book history, all of which will certainly shape how I approach my own research in the coming years. The exposure to digital repositories, specialty libraries, and databases has given me research tools that I will undoubtedly return to as I continue my post-graduate pursuits. Most importantly, however, I have been lucky to work with faculty who serve as unrivalled mentors and I am certain will continue to support me as I continue my education and career in the book world.
What would you say to someone who is considering studying the MA course?
If you are considering pursuing a research degree but feel uncertain of what to study, or if you feel you need a more structured program that still encourages independent and creative research, or if you are simply looking for foundational knowledge in this field, this course is a worthwhile endeavour.
Any final thoughts?
Applying for funding at SAS was a very easy, straightforward process, and the availability of funding made SAS that much more appealing, rather than having to jump through hoops to try to find applications and secure bursaries.
I have loved studying in London, and SAS’ location is unrivalled: Bloomsbury is genuinely the heart of the book world in London, as it is surrounded by book shops and a few tube stops away from the historic printing centre of Fleet Street. Just beyond SAS lies the British Library and the British Museum, The National Gallery. I have never appreciated being in close proximity to a wealth of material more than when I have been in London.