The world-class historical resource centre right on our doorstep.

Many new and existing Sussex students may be unaware of the abundance of materials that we are privileged to have access to in Brighton. 

Purpose-built and opened in 2013, The Keep stores, preserves and gives open access to records from The University of Sussex Special Collections, The East Sussex Record Office and the Royal Pavilion and Museums Local History Collections. 

Particularly interesting is the University of Sussex Special Collections, including the ‘internationally renowned’ Mass-Observation (MO) project. For those unfamiliar, this contains material about everyday life in Britain. Originally it was generated by the Mass Observation social research organisation, between 1937 and the early 1950s, but also contains newer material created since 1981. 

Within the Special Collections, The Keep also holds a record of old issues of The Badger newspaper under ‘Student Publications’. For those researching East Sussex’s history, these readily accessible forms of student journalism could be really exciting, especially when studying the main stories of the county throughout the last five decades. 

The Keep is open to everyone five days a week, should you wish to visit. If it is your first time, stop at the reception desk and a staff member will help issue you with a reader’s card. Alternatively, you can make your own reader’s account online, allowing you to browse sources and order documents in advance of your trip.

Whilst in the centre, you can access one of two rooms: the Reference or Reading room. The former does not require booking and can be used for a variety of endeavours, including family or local historical research. The latter can be booked by up to 15 people a day and is where you can view original historic documents. 

Should you wish to have 1-1 expert guidance or support during your visit, you can book this online, which can make using the archive much more accessible.

Speaking about the value of the archive as a resource for Sussex students, Richard Wragg, Special Collections Senior Manager at The Keep, said ‘It’s a real thrill to touch a piece of history and researchers at The Keep get a special connection to the subjects they’re studying, whether that’s a letter from Virginia Woolf or an eyewitness account of the Blitz.’ 

He continued: ‘Working with the original documents at The Keep is excellent training as you develop your research skills. It might even improve the grades your essays receive!’

As well as housing a huge collection of useful materials, The Keep also hosts events including lectures, workshops and outreach projects allowing it to remain community focused. Below are some great examples of upcoming events that are being hosted, which are a fantastic opportunity to learn about current projects as well as meet like-minded individuals. 

September 21, 2-4pm (Online Event): Mass Observing Waste and Recycling

This event is the next instalment of the Mass Observation Seminar Series, hosting colleagues from universities in Leeds, Manchester and York. It will focus on the current scholarship surrounding waste and recycling which use Mass Observation to explore how the archive can be used to inform current policy and practice. 

October 19th, 4-6pm: Mass Observing Menopause 

Dr Jill Kirby, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Sussex, will be speaking about her research on the menopause, inspired by Mass Observation’s accounts of this important stage in a women’s life. There will also be a chance to view a display of archive materials relating to menopause. 

November 2nd, 6-8pm: Let’s Dance!

Come on down to The Keep and join in on some of the wartime dances that were popular at the time that Mass Observation was recording the everyday lives of Britons. View archive materials from exquisite ephemera dresses, dance halls and music. 

December 7th, 2-4pm: Festive Treats from Special Collections

Listen and explore extracts from the University of Sussex’s Special Collections as you enjoy a cup of tea, glass of mulled wine and a mince pie. This event will comprise of materials on the theme of festive celebrations, from a range of archive collections including Bloomsbury and Rudyard Kipling. 

If you do one thing today, why not subscribe and read the monthly newsletter released by the archive to keep up to date with new exhibitions, collections and milestones; a way to really immerse yourself in the history of your new county. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *