The National Archives

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Of the places where I conducted research in preparation for my undergraduate thesis, the National Archives in London significantly surpasses the rest in terms of resources, efficiency, and organization. Here you can find documents relevant to military, family history, maritime, diplomatic, political and colonial queries. This hidden gem is surprisingly neglected by university students, as I discovered during those long summer days when I was often the youngest visitor in the reading rooms.

I came to love my routine. Every day, at the earliest hour, I would travel on the District Line to Richmond, a 40-minute ride from Central London. I would get off at the Kew Gardens station and walk for ten minutes past quaint suburban streets until I saw the former World War I hospital, surrounded by fountains and flowers. On the first floor, I would pass the Talks Room, where first-time visitors can attend an information session about navigating the building and conducting research. Near the cafeteria, the same locker took my backpack, while my laptop, digital camera and reader's ticket came with me upstairs to the Document Reading Room.

Here I would find a spot near the large glass windows, set up my computer and order the first set of documents. Although some of these are available online at no cost, there is something special about having the original documents in your hands. I would review each document carefully and if I was interested, I would take a picture of it for my own records. To avoid having to wait for the staff to bring me the documents I had requested, sometimes I would order them in bulk. There was even a special locker where I could keep those left to be checked the next day.

The calmness, the sunshine and the silence contrasted with the exciting content of the documents. The Reading Room was full and every person was deeply immersed in the research. At the help desk, the staff kindly answered any questions and offered direct help. During this first summer in London, I truly felt part of a welcoming, nourishing community, and I can't wait to go back.


Maria is a Harvard graduate and a guest blogger for Foreign Students. She posts regular updates of her experiences as a postgraduate student at LSE in London. Click here to see her older posts.


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