‘Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.’
There seems to be an inevitable element of obsession in any research project. A PhD is a commitment to spend years studying the minute (and sometimes seemingly infinite) detail of an instinct, an idea, or a passion. We asked some PhD students to share their magnificent research obsessions with us. From the resonance of a single object, to collections of postcards, books and other treasured ephemera, these objects tell an alternative story of the PhD experience.
Objects (from top left) with thanks to all donors: framed oil print John Constable, Cloud Study (1822); framed handmade cloud print on Japanese rice paper (2011); Cloud passport holder (2015); ‘CLOUD COLLECTION KIT’ notebook (2014); cartoon cloud notebook (2014); cloud drawstring bag (2014); Casio sky blue F-91W watch (2015); cloud birthday card (modified, 2015); postcard Paul Nash, Battle of Britain (1941, acquired 2013); handmade embroidered note: ‘I’m on cloud nine because you’re cloud mine’ (2015); vintage autograph book with cloud doodles, anon. (c.1941); postcard Lizzie Spikes, Howard’s cloud classification (2015); postcard Clay Perry, Mira Schendel (1966, acquired 2015); strawberry jam miniature jar containing plasticine (2013); gold capped miniature jar containing cotton wool (2012); cloud letters (modified, 2016); black and white cloud photograph found on Deptford Market (sample of 20, acquired 2013); postcard René Magritte, The Future of Statues (1937, acquired 2012); glass shaker containing cotton wool (2014); postcard Zoë Harcourt-Kelly, cloud study (2015); postcard Andrew Logan, Andrew Logan’s Bedroom, Outfit and Flower Sculpture, 10 Denmark Street, Oxford (1969); cloud luggage tag (2015); blue shift lomography film, 35mm (2015); chocolate wrapper ‘Finding faces in the clouds’ (2013); handmade cloud mobile with steel frame and cushion clouds (2012).
Penny Newell is based at King’s College London, where she is currently working on a literary studies thesis about clouds.
My thesis is on early modern images of the pregnant body. When I found this little anatomical model I knew I had to have it as my mascot. I keep it on my desk to remind me that all times and cultures have had their own ways of representing and understanding the bodily interior. And while our vision of the bodily interior is very different to the early modern, we are linked by a fascination with seeing the unseeable – the unborn child.
Rebecca Whiteley is researching her PhD in the History of Art Department at UCL. Her research focuses on images of the pregnant body published in early modern midwifery and surgical books in England and Western Europe. Her thesis uses these images to construct a ‘body history’ for the period, asking what images can tell us about how people in the early modern period understood, treated, and visualised their bodies.
I started this collection of vintage and reproduction Victorian postcards, cigarette cards and die-cut scraps out of the desire to own a cheap, colourful little primary source on the subjects I was writing about. Trawling through Portobello Market antique stalls graduated to browsing online markets, and the collection swelled with celebrities, ads, patriotic battle paintings, politicians, ‘Wish You Were Here’ imperial scenes, P&O liners, and scraps of odd ephemera (the General Gordon Safety Match label is a highlight). It’s become like a group portrait of my work on the era, growing with my PhD and always a work in progress.
Brian Wallace is a history PhD candidate studying Victorian colonial sieges at King’s College London.
My obsessive object is a 1917 photograph held at the British Library which shows two Algerian men looking though the focusing screen of a camera. It is an extremely valuable document as it shows the interaction between the colonised and the imported technology from Europe, urging us to rethink the role of the medium in colonised territories.
Katarzyna Falęcka is a first year PhD candidate at University College London, examining the role of photography in mediating the postcolonial relations between Algeria and France.
Filled with inscriptions and dedications, collected ephemera and lengthy marginal notes, the Library of David Jones (a collection of 1,500 of his personal books) promises to reveal the ‘mysterious connection between [the writer’s] reading and their own work.’ This archival work represents the foundation of my thesis: an obsessive methodology for reading with David Jones, an imagined attempt to read over his shoulder as he sits with a pencil in hand, ready to mark up the margins of his books. My magnificent research obsession is the creation of an echo-collection of a subsection of Jones’ library. I’m slowing gathering my own shadow-library, in identical editions, of the books he owned that are related to Old English literature and language, and the history of Anglo-Saxon England.
Francesca Brooks is doing her PhD with the English Department at King’s College London, her research looks at the influence of Old English on the twentieth-century poet and artist, David Jones.
Have your own magnificent research obsession? Why not tweet us a picture @stillpointLDN