Researching the EU referendum through web archive and ephemera collections – British Library PhD Placement

Alexandra Bulat

Alexandra Bulat (PhD, UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies)
A call for applications circulated through the UCL ESRC mailing list in February. The British Library invited research students to develop their skills outside academia through placements. As my PhD focuses on attitudes towards EU migrants in the UK, I was intrigued by a three-month placement researching the EU referendum. I filled in the written application form, was invited to an interview, and found out I was selected in March.

During the summer, I explored two collections while in the British Library offices –  the UK Web Archive’s EU referendum special collection and the LSE Brexit Collection. I also worked with the EU referendum collection at the University of Cambridge Library. I used those three collections to see how immigration was presented in the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

The placement outputs include two blog posts, one for the British Library, and the other for the LSE Brexit Blog. I organised a roundtable at the British Library with curators from different EU referendum collections, research development staff, and academics, to discuss how can researchers make best use of library collections. I also delivered a report on my user experience with the web archive.

Alexandra presenting at the roundtable event, British Library

Alexandra presenting at the roundtable event, British Library

This autumn I will talk about this summer’s placement results to different audiences at the British Library, at academic events, and during the Bloomsbury Festival at Conway Hall. An academic article situating this research project into the emerging literature on Brexit, and providing detail on the findings, will also be available in due course.

As a qualitative researcher mainly working with interviews and observations, I would have never thought that I would explore political campaign leaflets and archived websites in such detail. My placement with the British Library helped not only to inform my doctoral research, but also to develop my transferable skills, in particular presenting to and writing for non-academic audiences, which are essential for public engagement.