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Off the Shelf – book history students push the boundaries

MSc Book History and Material Culture students, Amber Matthews and Hailey Brock, talk about the highlights and challenges of organising the mini-conference, Off the Shelf.

Photo of two students
Amber (left) and Hailey (right)

Each year, our MSc in Book History and Material Culture students organise a mini-conference on their dissertation topics.

From punk materials to repatriation law, this year’s event – Off the Shelf – explored diverse questions in book history, interrogating the boundaries of the field.

The students were involved in all aspects of the event, which comprised three panel sessions and a keynote lecture by guest speaker, Dr Fiona Black.

In this short interview, committee members Amber Matthews and Hailey Brock talk about the highlights and challenges of bringing Off the Shelf to fruition.

‘Bringing us all back together’

Off the Shelf took place towards the end of the second semester, when the students were working on their individual research topics, so meeting less often in the classroom.

“We are all in the middle of our dissertations”, Amber remarks, “and it can get a bit lonely and disparate, so I loved the idea of all of us coming back together and sharing ideas. Getting involved in organising that was really exciting.”

Hailey agrees, saying: “The process of organising the conference really created a sense of community amongst the committee, as well as in our programme as a whole. It really was a nice way to end [the year].”

Creating an inclusive professional space

“It was nice to have the opportunity to learn how to structure an academic event like this, all the different planning that goes into it. It was definitely good experience.” says Hailey.

Amber adds: “It was quite a challenge to balance the pragmatic needs of organising a slightly more formal academic conference, alongside making it a really inclusive space, where people felt welcome to present whatever ideas they had. Balancing the organisational needs of that with keeping it open was a good skill to learn.”

Learning new skills

From liaising with speakers and promoting the conference to chairing sessions and presenting papers, there was plenty for committee members to do.

Hailey was responsible for graphic design, including creating the logo and the conference programme.

Reflecting on what the committee and the student speakers learned, Amber says: “It was a good opportunity for everyone to get more experience, not just for their CV but just generally for life.”

“People who wanted to treat it as an academic experience could do so, but also it was great practical experience for giving presentations in the workplace.”

Are you interested in our MSc in Book History and Material Culture?

Book History is a dynamic and rapidly growing area of interdisciplinary study that explores the book as an artefact in material culture. You’ll be part of an international community hosting lectures, seminars, conferences and workshops throughout the year, and with access to the extensive resources of one of the UK’s longest established centres of literary education.

Find out more about doing an MSc in Book History and Material Culture