Making the most of the reading room

This post is part of a series I have written arising from my British Academy SRG, where I have been thinking about the processes and practicalities of doing research in rare books rooms. It was planned pre-pandemic, and so some of the detail for reading rooms will need to be checked locally, but the broad ideas should still apply.


In previous posts, I have talked about how I prepare for a rare books reading-room focused research trip, and the essentials I take with me to my desk. In this post, I will talk a little bit about what to expect in rare books rooms about handling books, and then I will explain how I keep track of my material, both notes and photographs.

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Sara’s essential reading room kit

This is part of a series arising from my British Academy SRG project on pamphlet reprinting and copying during the French Wars of Religion. 

Working in a rare books room for the first time can be a rather overwhelming experience. Rare books rooms tend to be extremely quiet, you are likely to have to agree to rules and regulations over and above those in place for readers of non-rare books material, and each reading room seems to have its own traditions and regulations. I’ll talk a bit more about those in my posts on individual libraries.

Continue reading Sara’s essential reading room kit

Planning a research trip – before I go

This post is part of a series about preparing for and undertaking research trips in rare books rooms and libraries which arises from a British Academy Small Research Grant I held between 2017 and 2020. I will mainly be talking about French libraries, but I will also make reference to libraries in other countries too

I have been on dozens of research trips over my years as a PhD student, a postdoc and latterly as a member of staff on a lecturing/research contract. Most of my early research trips were undertaken as part of the French Vernacular Books Project, and were done as part of a team. That meant that some of the logistical challenges (organising accommodation and transport, setting a schedule of what to see when, etc.) were largely taken out of my hands. I had to learn how to handle that for myself later on. But I did get to see how other people got the most out of their library time, which has no doubt influenced how I work now. I’ll go through my reading room checklist in another post – here, I will go through what I do before I have even left on my trip.

Continue reading Planning a research trip – before I go

Working in rare books rooms – some (partly pre-pandemic) thoughts.

The great joy of my research is that I have been able to work with rare books collections all over France and further afield. When I started my latest project on provincial reprinting of pamphlets during the French Wars of Religion, which was funded by a British Academy Small Research Grant, I decided I would share some of those experiences to give fellow researchers the kind of experience-driven information that we often wish we had before getting to a reading room, and hopefully to help those new to research with some tips and advice about how I get the most out of my research trips. Fieldwork is often quite stressful – you probably only have a relatively short amount of time to see what you want to see, you might not know exactly how much material is there for you to work with, or how long it will take you to work through. You might be working in a different language – even if you are fairly fluent, that can still be exhausting over the course of several days. Different reading rooms have different policies about how much you are allowed to see at one time, if and how you are allowed to take photographs, when you have to give works back. And that’s all before the regular business of keeping yourself fed and watered. If you are working in a new place, you probably want to do some exploring as well – so days when the library is shut can be just as jam-packed as days when you are working. I usually come back from research trips totally exhausted, both mentally and physically – which you might not get if you just follow my twitter feed of fun books and food.

This series of posts will go into things I have learned about prepping a research trip, what to expect as I go, and how to make the most of my time. I will also follow up with some posts about individual libraries. My experience is predominantly with libraries and their rare books rooms – archives will have slightly different procedures, especially around their catalogues, but a lot of the general advice will still hold.

N.B. These posts were drafted and planned before the current pandemic took hold, and so many reading rooms will now have extra procedures in place. As ever, check what is required before you leave for your trip.

Online resources for sixteenth and seventeenth-century French history – museums, châteaux and institutions

Despite the herculean efforts of librarians all over, not least those at my home institution, some of my students have been struggling to get hold of useful resources for essays as they are based at home and online, without a physical library to get to. Here are some of the things that I have shared with them as useful places to look online – I will try to deal with libraries and archives in a separate post. I have mainly linked to English language pages where they exist. If you have suggestions for anything else to add, please do get in touch.

Continue reading Online resources for sixteenth and seventeenth-century French history – museums, châteaux and institutions


It has been a while since I published anything on here – when life gets busy, extensive blog posts are always one of the first things to go for me. But in our new normal, when so many of us are having to rethink how we work – in my case, teach and research and engage with people about early modern France – I thought it might be worth coming back here and sharing some of the resources I have found for teaching and researching French History between c.1515 and c.1715 – that was after all, the original point of this blog. I won’t promise to do it exhaustively, or even that systematically, but hopefully there will be some things which help people out there if they want to use their time to learn more about early modern France.

‘Read What I Own’ – my 2019 challenge

I love books.

No, I really, really love books.

One of my earliest memories is of sitting on the floor of our kitchen in Edinburgh, “reading” my mum’s cookbooks. When I went to nursery, my mum got a ticking off, because I could already read, but I had not learned in whatever way it was that was approved in the early 1980s. Thankfully, she ignored the ticking off and both my parents (and my wider family) encouraged me to read through my childhood and teenage years.

Continue reading ‘Read What I Own’ – my 2019 challenge

Back into the swing of things…

It has been a long time since I blogged here, for many reasons. I have various writing deadlines, I am trying to develop future projects to the point where I can submit them to funding competitions, I have a number of professional projects that I want to see through at Leeds which have taken up my time. Plus I had a full teaching load and a demanding admin role this year. This is all fairly standard stuff, although it takes up a lot of ‘mental bandwidth’ to keep all of those things going – so any upset to that (say, your union going on strike for several weeks in the middle of the year) can really throw a spanner in the works. Anyway, I’m feeling a bit more settled (although no less busy) after the summer, and so I hope to get back into things, including giving this blog a bit more TLC. Watch this space…

Printing & Books in Early Modern Europe – a bibliography

I recently started teaching a new module on printing and books in early modern Europe – my dream module. This is a one-semester module taught through 11 two-hour long seminars, and the module includes sessions in Special Collections at the Brotherton library, and visits to the Leeds Library and to the Centre for the Comparative History of Print/School of English Print Room. As part of the preparation, I had to get together a bibliography, and – acknowledging that my knowledge is weighted towards France and the sixteenth century – I turned to Twitter for help. And as I have so often found, the #twitterstorians did not let me down. I promised I would make that bibliography public – well, four weeks into term, I’ve finally got round to it.


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