March 4, 2020, by S Colborne
Putting it in Perspective
Guest post by Chloé Havez (3rd year Politics & International Relations undergraduate student)
The title of a 1992 newspaper clipping on Coates’ criticism of the European Parliament quarrelling over where the European Environment Agency should have been built during the alarmist trend of ozone depletion is of unfortunate relevance today thirty years on, and could be applied to many current day politicians’ refusal to bring climate change to the top of their agenda.
During my second semester of third year I applied to undertake an Archival Assistant placement with the University of Nottingham’s Manuscripts & Special Collections department. The role involved specifically conducting archival research into the work of Ken Coates, a socialist politician and sociologist who himself studied at the University of Nottingham in 1956.
The breadth of his work and size of the archival documentation – 610 boxes! – was what initially sparked my interest in applying for this placement. During his work as a Member of European Parliament and activist he had covered an impressive number of topics which interested me; from his strong advocacy of Pensioners’ rights, to serving as Chair on the Human Rights SubCommittee of the European Parliament, to his work with Bertrand Russell were he was an ardent supporter of nuclear disarmament. Henceforth, his work held particular relevance to my studies as I am a Politics and International Relations student.
Due to the expanse of subjects covered by his career, I was able to choose to research into what topic interested me the most – which was his diplomatic work with Soviet Union officials during the 1990s where he was liaising to encourage Soviet-Atlantic cooperation, and his work concerning climate change, where his interest for the then-nascent risk is of particular pertinence in today’s geopolitical environment of climate crisis uncertainty.
I was tasked with categorising and documenting archival material and putting this information into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets so this data could be easily accessible to future researchers interested in Ken Coates’ work. I believe that this placement has helped to improve my transferable skillset, most notably time management and my research skills. By gaining training on how to correctly handle, preserve and categorise archival documents this has made me more confident in carrying out primary source research, which has proved helpful for my assignments and dissertation. Additionally, my time as an intern researching through material such as diplomatic correspondences, European Committee papers and newspaper clippings has really helped to ‘put into perspective’ the numerous historical events which happened during the 1990s – most notably the Maastricht Treaty, and the dissolution of the USSR.
The fact that Manuscripts & Special Collections allowed me to freely choose what topic interested me has meant that I have gained a deeper understanding of a topic I am passionate about – most notably environmental degradation – and I will be able to utilise this acquired knowledge for my ‘Rights and Wrongs of Climate Change’ module and when applying for my Masters.
I would definitely recommend this placement to future applicants as the Manuscripts and Special Collections department were supportive throughout the internship process. This experience was a great opportunity to come into contact with a different side to the university which undergraduate students rarely come across, and to make a direct contribution to the research aspect of the institution. I also hold that the skills I have developed will undoubtedly have aided my academic journey and will help me to achieve my future career aspirations.
A brief description of the Ken Coates archive collection can be found on the Manuscripts and Special Collections online catalogue. Contact Manuscripts to arrange to view items from the collection in the reading room at King’s Meadow Campus.