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IOE Student Blog


A blog on life at IOE and education affairs written for students by students.


Fear and amazement: Writing a queer history dissertation

By IOE Blog Editor, on 23 June 2023

Molly giving a tour in Bloomsbury. Image permission: Molly Edwards.

Molly giving a tour. Image permission: Molly Edwards.

By Molly Edwards, Education Studies BA

*From the 2024/2025 academic year onwards, the Education Studies BA has been renamed the Education, Society and Culture BA.

I realised over the past year that a lot of my academic outputs have involved me holding my breath, either out of amazement or fear. In the two blog posts I wrote for the UCL Student’s Union last September, I reflected on my Education, Practice and Society Research Fellowship, which involved researching the queer history of UCL under the supervision of Professor Georgina Brewis as a small part of her Generation UCL project. In my first post, I discussed my amazement of the UCL Special Collections archive. In my second post, I noted my fears of sharing my queer history tour of UCL with historians.

After my experience with the archives and my plea to others to research them further to create a more comprehensive queer history, I was drawn to write my dissertation on UCL’s queer history. This is not because I was fully confident in my abilities (hence my prior plea), but because I know the importance of this history from my personal experience. While writing the rationale for this, I realised that others felt the importance of this history in creating community and belonging. However, I was still worried that I would not be able to accurately represent the history, even after I had narrowed the time frame down to the 1970s. An added pressure was that I also decided to include the history of LSE, so my topic became, ‘Queer student political and social organization at University College London and London School of Economics from 1970 to 1979.’ I found the only way to resolve my worries about representation was to draw on the lessons of established queer scholars and continually question my motives for writing this history. I had to do this before I could begin to accept that I could be the right person to approach my topic.

Returning to the archives for my dissertation research, I still felt a sense of wonder and amazement. Amazement, that there was so much potential and possibility within files that might not have been investigated through a queer lens, particularly in the UCL Special Collections. The archives I looked at had been curated by publication, so finding insight in them felt like getting to the jammy bit in a donut. It was messy, but in the best way. That is not to say that all the materials were easy to read. I struggled with some of the language used and incidents where students had oppressive experiences.

However, it feels important to include some of this in historical narratives alongside the celebrations of success. This is because, I think some students still face some of these experiences or at least hold this history with them when they are afraid to be themselves, because of prejudice. I know when I was researching and deciding to continue this research, I considered the potential negative reactions towards myself as a researcher and towards the research itself. At the same time, my dissertation supervisor is incredibly supportive and encouraging of me and my research. My personal tutor is also pro-active in ensuring I feel comfortable at university. I look to other queer historians and think about how their work inspires me, and I realise that I could be part of creating this feeling of belonging for others by contributing to this history in a small way. This encouragement and inspiration fuelled me through the writing of my dissertation and the application process for Master’s programmes.

My dissertation basically has three main points: 1) students were well placed to organise with the resources they had and their student-status; 2) political and social organisation was crucial to the liberation of queer students; 3) the relationship between universities and societies/groups impacted organisation. I am happy to discuss this more if anyone would like to, because I think the details are more interesting than the overview. Nevertheless, I think these points could help students organise today, and that is another motivator for continuing to research this history on a wider scale. Therefore, when I got my (conditional) offer from Oxford to study MA Education (Research Design and Methodology) and ESRC 1+3 studentship to continue this research, I was filled with slight fear and complete amazement, but overall, I felt relieved. I will hopefully get to continue to do this research, overcome my fears (again, hopefully…), experience amazement and wonder, and share this important history. I recognise that it is going to be messy, but I would not be fully representing queer history if I avoided complexity in experience and unanswered questions.

I have seen first-hand the difference a kind word, a small recognition, or a book recommendation can make. Therefore, I once again want to say thank you to scholars of queer history, my supervisor, personal tutor, and other students and staff who have taken an interest in this history and helped me figure out how to tell it. This has made me feel more confident being me and given me a chance to research something that I think is hugely important to both me and the wider community.

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