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The London Trip: History & Politics Seniors Dive into Research

March 18, 2013

The Department of History and Politics added a new international experience to its Senior Thesis Program this year. Over winter break, seven history seniors and their thesis advisor, Dr. Lloyd Ackert, travelled to London to experience the UK archives and libraries up close.

Students at the British Museum

At the Wellcome Library and Trust, student Jessica Rodden found the broad collection of manuscripts, journals, and archives on the history of medicine and public health to be incredibly valuable to her thesis on “Food Venders in Philadelphia.” Even students with non-medical thesis topics found useful materials throughout the collection.  Max Jannetta, who is writing on “The Marian Reforms,” found a copy of Catharine Edwards’ Death in Ancient Rome, while Anthony Devlin located an article on British concentration camps for his thesis “Military Strategy During the Boer Wars.”

While waiting for their books at the British Library—an archive much like the Library of Congress—the students took advantage of the current exhibits. They were most interested in a number of original documents, including a folio-sized Gutenberg Bible (comparing it to an 11th century scribal version), the original Magna Carta, and drafts of the Beatles’ original songs. The British Museum didn’t disappoint either, with its displays of counterfeit coins from Ancient Persia and current day British Pound, 17th century automata, Ancient Roman surgical instruments and, important to Jannetta’s work, information on Gaius Marius’ reforms of the Roman Army.

Students at Big Ben

The group’s research was nestled between a variety of cultural outings. On a walking tour of the city center on the first day, they discovered Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, and a holiday spectacular along the Thames River.  Cultural differences can be subtle and dramatic.  The students found that the latter variety is best illustrated either in the bureaucratic policies of foreign archives, or local culture.  Joseph Kyle organized a tour of a few of London’s other great cuisine treasures: the Savoy Tup, Ship & Shovell, Walkers of Whitehall.  On their day off, the students visited Buckingham Palace, and were struck by its magnificence and display of European royalty.  And of course, the food of London—from the cafes to the various ethnic eateries—was for some the most enjoyable cultural experience!

Student testimonials reflect the genuine success of the trip. For Anthony Devlin the “trip refreshed my viewpoints on my research and relit my desire to continue to travel the world and meet other cultures.” Noah Washabau “was pleased to find that the British Library had a source tied directly to my research.” Likewise, Courtnee Curry found a unique source so useful that she “borrowed it from the British Library using the Hagerty Library’s Iliad system.”

Students waiting for the tube at Tufnell Park

The trip concluded with an evening in the company of Dr. Franklyn Prochaska, an expert on British history.  The group visited Prochaska’s London flat for an informal seminar on his research.  Noah Washabau, whose thesis explores the “History of Philadelphia Politics,” found the visit particularly helpful, as he was able to discuss possible career options with Dr. Prochaska.

Pleased with the success of the London trip, the Department of History and Politics plans to offer it again as a travel-integrated course. To learn more about research opportunities in the department, please contact Dr. Ackert at and visit