Visiting the MRC: A Level Session

The MRC recently hosted an archive session for a group of A Level History students from Bilton School…

The session began with a tour of the strong rooms, which is a great opportunity to see behind the scenes of an archive. We looked at the main strong room, as well as the upstairs strong room, which is home to the special collections. The group especially enjoyed looking at all the old books, which are bound beautifully. We also had a quick scan of the shelves as you never know what hidden gems you might find!

During the tour, the students were invited to locate a folder using the reference code. This really helps to demonstrate the cataloguing system and how we order our collections. When looking at archives, it is important to understand an item’s context and how it relates to the other items in its collection. We then brought the folder back upstairs, as it was relevant to one of the student’s topics.

After some brief tips about source evaluation, the students were free to spend some time conducting independent research. Prior to the session, I was able to research and prepare a variety of sources for the students’ essay topics. They chose some interesting subjects:

  • Women’s History – with a focus on WW1 as a catalyst for change in terms of women’s politics, fashion and rights
  • Russian History: on war and revolution and the extent to which one follows the other between the years 1845 and 1945
  • Russian History: use of terror as a means of control

I really enjoyed gathering material on these subjects and I found a great selection of relevant sources. Amongst these included some great colour slides, depicting Soviet Russia. (These have now been digitised and can be found here – definitely worth a look).


After the archive session, the group made their way over to the library for some further research.

We got some really good feedback for this session:

It was really good to see the actual documents to get an idea of the thoughts and ideas behind our research”

 “I have been able to use the evidence and research completed at the MRC to support and improve my coursework.”

 “It allowed me to fully identify with the people affected by events in history!”

 “It was organized carefully & the information picked was really good and specific.”

These sessions are really important for all ages of history student, as understanding archives and engaging with primary material is fundamental to studying history. It also promotes a personal connection to the past through unique and often sensitive material. I encourage teachers and students to make the most of the resources available to them.

The MRC is open to the public – if you wish to visit all you need to do is come in and register. For more information about how to use the MRC see here.

The MRC hosts A Level sessions for students interested in using primary sources in their research projects. We have a vast amount of authentic material on a wide range of subjects. If you would like to arrange a session or find out more about using the MRC please email Nuala (  

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