Students Dive into the Past at York Explore Archives

Adam Kirkbride reports back on last week’s trip to York Explore Library and Archives. 

Civil War to Civil Society: British Literature 1640-1740 may not sound like the most exciting module (sorry, Adam), but as we put on our coats on a cold autumn day, and walked as a group down to the York Explore Library, I genuinely felt like I was back in primary school, going on a school trip with my friends.

The York Archives holds texts published all the way back to 1155. Through the dedicated work of the archive staff, these texts have been maintained in remarkable condition. As I sat down in front of a travel journal from the Early Modern period, the realization that I was sitting in front of something which was centuries older than I was hit me like a ton of bricks. One part of me wanted to touch every page to examine how well it had been preserved, and an equally powerful, possibly more sensible, part of me immediately wanted to stop breathing so as not to run risk of damaging the books. Suffice to say, I compromised by sitting on my hands for the first five minutes or so.

A key part of this module is examining the rise of print culture, so there was an obvious benefit to the trip in that regard. It provided real life examples of how books were produced and distributed, and there’s no better was to understand that than to see it in person. But besides that, it was thoroughly awe-inspiring. The books that we were able to look at and touch have survived over hundreds of years of societal change, some of which showing clear signs of wear and tear from being passed down from generation to generation. Simply put, it was cool as hell.

Everyone left the library buzzing with excitement, poring over the pictures we had taken of an illustration of a strange fish creature or a handwritten diary. James Damenov, Chair of York St John’s English Literature Society, said: “Going to the archives was really interesting. It opened our eyes to the realities of how the literature that we study on the module was actually produced.” We all took different bits of knowledge away from the session, but I think I speak for everyone when I say the trip was one of the highlights of my degree so far.

The students of 2EN600 would like to thank Adam Smith for organizing the trip, the York Archive staff for being so helpful and welcoming, and Jo Waugh for accompanying us. It wouldn’t have been so amazing if it weren’t for their efforts.