Research “In-tents”

Often, our research takes us across the country, and sometimes across the world. But if we are travelling so much, how can we save costs and ensure an efficient and productive trip, particularly if we have to do it frequently. These were the questions and dilemmas that faced me as I confronted the sheer amount of time and money my project would soak up. My project takes me all around the UK, looking at five cities, their local histories, museums, archives, and of course, the people within them.

So, my solution was to abandon home comforts, pack my tent, and camp while I undertook my archival research in the city of Cardiff, in Wales. Financially, it cost about two thirds of the price of staying in a hotel for the same amount of time! I stayed at a council-owned campsite in the centre of Cardiff, a surprisingly peaceful and quite beautiful stretch of green space in the centre of a fairly large city. Although the tent was not always comfortable (or dry), the walk to and from the Local Histories Library was breathtaking. As it was mid-October, the sun rose as I walked into the city, and set on my walk back, and it was pleasant and rewarding after a long day staring at screens and old newspapers.


Living in a tent while working in a library 8-6, however was not always comfortable. Using inflatable mattresses, roll mats, and plenty of blankets, the tent was usually warm  and dry. Also, despite being a three man tent, I missed having a larger bedroom space (and being able to walk around). Cooking was also difficult at times, particularly when it rained in the evenings. However, this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it. Camping made my research feel more of an adventure, I felt more focused on my work, and actually got a good’s night sleep every night without television or the internet to distract me. However, I don’t think I could have camped any more than four nights. By the last day, my back hurt and my need for home comforts began to outweigh my enjoyment of the great outdoors. Anyone who is a keen adventurer and experienced in camping, I would highly recommend camping for those PhD students who have to make numerous research trips during the course of their research.


In terms of the content found, Cardiff was extremely rewarding. The Local Histories Library (Cathay Library) was extremely helpful in helping me find what I needed and ensuring I could have almost constant use of the microfilm machines. The microfilm machines themselves were modern, using a computer to read the films rather then projecting them (a welcome and much needed change in my opinion). The Library would close for an hour over lunch, which was always bittersweet, tearing me away from my work, but also forcing me to have a much needed break and reflect on what I had uncovered.

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I spent the majority of my time at the library looking at the South Wales Echo from 1952-1954, trying to understand Cardiff’s relationship to nuclear weapons during the 1950s. Cardiff seemed conflicted over the emerging appearance of nuclear power in the 1950s, an understanding response considering South Wales high coal worker population. Within the South Wales Echo there appeared to be an apparent ‘normalisation’ of the bomb, with articles talking about using ‘atom rays to grow crops’, powering televisions and aeroplanes with ‘atoms’ and numerous articles on the ‘peaceful’ use of atomic weapons. All this ran alongside Cardiff building numerous nuclear bunkers across and nearby the city and frequent reports on the importance of Civil Defence in the city. In fact, the South Wales Echo reported a large amount of outraged articles when a nearby county decided to not fund Civil Defence anymore, shortly after the first American H-bomb test. What did this mean? Did Cardiff (and South Wales) publicly report on a  peaceful bomb, while taking measures to protect itself? Was there an underlying, embedded fear in the city? Why was Civil Defence reported about so frequently? How did these nuclear experiences and responses in 1950s Cardiff relate to it’s WWII experience? I hope to enlighten the answers to these questions in my next research trip (hopefully in a bigger tent!).

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