Research is at the core of a historian’s day-to-day life. From undergraduates and postgraduates completing final-year dissertations to practised scholars editing their book manuscripts, the current climate has certainly caused difficulties. How can we conduct research in a world plagued by Covid-19? In this post for the RHS, Dr Daniella Marie Gonzalez discusses how a group of research students created MEMSLib, an online “lockdown library” of resources for medieval and early modern history.
As we found ourselves unable to visit libraries, archives or other sites of research as a result of COVID-19, questions of how to research and study in an online-only world, as well as how to navigate this new landscape, became pertinent. This set of exceptional circumstances inspired me, and four of my colleagues – Róisín Astell, Anna Hegland, Emma Louise Hill, and Anna-Nadine Pike – in the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) at the University of Kent to create MEMSLib.
A Library Unchained
MEMSLib provides medievalists and early modernists across the globe with online resources – ranging from databases and dictionaries to digitised records and manuscript collections – to help continue with research during this unprecedented time. By “unchaining the library”, MEMSLib has offered an alternative way to research from home. Intended initially as a tool for postgraduates and lecturers within MEMS at Kent, MEMSLib has become a global phenomenon extending beyond the UK and reaching the shores of Australia, Canada, several European countries, South America and the United States, to name a few.
The website, which was launched on 8th June 2020, provides an extensive and comprehensive list of online resources that are ordered by subject and time period – we have pages dedicated but not limited to early medieval history, medieval languages, and medieval and early modern history and literature. Each page has been designed and edited by members of the team, who have collated resources that will cater to a broad range of users. We have also invited guest editors from MEMS, Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library, Canterbury Christ Church University’s Centre for Kent History and Heritage (CKHH) and the AHRC-funded project Bookscapes to contribute.
Since its launch, the site has attracted a great amount of attention and received international praise from high profile scholars. Engagement with MEMSLib has also extended beyond university communities and a number of archivists and librarians have become members, circulating the site widely amongst their colleagues.
Meeting Researchers’ Needs
A key feature of MEMSLib is our Forum, which was designed as a way for researchers to communicate, exchange knowledge and share resources with one another. Members can use the Forum’s features and engage in dialogues with others. It’s a safe space, where researchers can share ideas, ask for resources, stay connected and be introduced to the wonderful world of MEMS!
Some of the big questions that we asked from the start were what exactly were we looking to make and what kind of format we’d be using that would meet peoples’ research needs? To achieve this, we decided that the format would need to be user-friendly, easy to navigate and would cover a broad range of research topics spanning across the medieval and early modern periods. We decided that a website would provide the best platform for this. Resources have been grouped into specific categories, which are divided according to time periods, so that individuals using the site can get to the types of sources they need easily – unlike the current click and collect services implemented in libraries, the site allows instant access to resources. The resources are also free and are not restricted to members.
Adapting to Change
Following its launch, this challenge has changed somewhat and the longevity and the life of the project is what our attention has turned to. In order to keep the site going we are regularly updating our resources and promoting updates on Twitter to keep our audiences engaged, remind our followers of the Forum and its function, and to keep encouraging the community of medievalists and early modernists to join MEMSLib. We are also sending out newsletters to keep followers updated and encourage others to contribute.
Whilst MEMSLib was created as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and to help those working remotely, we intend for MEMSLib to have a life that goes beyond current circumstances and to have a lasting impact on research communities. Our pages are constantly growing and being added to, with additions not only from members of MEMS but also further afield.
This project has been a joint effort and has shown how collaboration continues to be vital within research communities – even within the limitations of social distancing! Dr David Rundle, for example, has been an impeccable source of knowledge and supported this project from its inception, always adding a different dimension to our editorial meetings and encouraging us to shape and mould MEMSLib in our own way. Several others, including Dr Alison Ray from Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library, Professor Pascale Aebischer and King College London’s staff and students of the MA in Early Modern English Literature: Text and Transmission, have suggested resources that have only strengthened and enhanced the quality of MEMSLib.
Please do become a member and subscribe to find out all about the latest MEMSLib updates! If you have a resource you’d like us to add, please contact us here.
Find out More
You can find MEMSLib on Twitter – follow us at @MEMSLibUKC. Have a browse and watch this space for more!
For more on how to research in an online-only world check out Dr David Rundle’s ‘How to Research in the Online-Only World’ series on his personal website.
Dr Daniella Marie Gonzalez is a co-founder and editor of MEMSLib and undertook her PhD with the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Kent. Daniella is a historian of late medieval London and is interested in political language, civic records and medieval cities. She is Social Media Fellow for the British Association for Local History (BALH) and will soon take up a role as a Communications Officer with the Archives and Records Association. She can be followed on Twitter @DeeGonz92.