If you are a History undergrad at Oxford or even simply know a history undergrad at Oxford, then you’re likely to be made aware of the fact that, between their second and third years of study, they are tasked with writing a 12,000-word thesis. For many undergraduates this is a daunting task and one quite unlike any work they’ve completed up to this point. Luckily for them, help is at hand, as History subject librarians organise the Thesis Fair on behalf of the History Faculty every year: this is a large gathering of librarians, academics, and others who have a vested interest in helping these students to craft a first-class thesis.
I say every year, but in fact this is the first in-person event since the turmoil of covid, so the stakes were high on the pleasant but threateningly grey afternoon of Thursday 4th of May as a small team of library staff from the Rad Cam made their way across High Street, burdened down with all manner of posters, leaflets, and handouts, ready to get to work on preparing the North Writing School in Exam Schools for an inundation of second year History undergraduates. The preparation had been intense: months of organising and planning, designing informational materials, and then the final slog of printing cutting and folding. It was a journey that had seen its fair share of casualties, and we give sincere thanks to the guillotines who gave their lives so that the history finalists could be properly informed on how to develop a thesis question.
Time was of the essence as our crack team had only one hour to transform the cavernous exam hall into a friendly and inviting space for finalists to begin to develop their thesis. Luckily, the staff at Exam Schools had done a magnificent job of setting up tables, chairs, and poster boards exactly where requested so that it was easy work labelling and organising each stall ready for its new inhabitant. Slowly the stall holders began to arrive, each one guided into place by a member of library staff, each one bringing all manner of posters and promotional material of their own. The hall began to fill with people and chatter as everyone settled down ready for the arrival of the students.
And arrive they did. Before 14:00 there was already a small gathering of eager students waiting their chance to enter and plumb the combined depths of knowledge contained within the now bustling exam hall. As they were admitted each student was greeted by members of the Rad Cam team and provided with additional information about the fair and their thesis. By the end of the afternoon over 218 students had walked through the doors and we were running low on handouts. Discussions were held on topics as varied as disability history and digital scholarship and all stalls were kept busy with students’ questions for the majority of the 2-hour fair.
Although numbers began to dwindle by the time the many clocks in the room began to mark 16:00 there was still a determined contingent of students who remained deep in conversation until the very end. After all the hard work setting up earlier in the day, the clean up effort was a comparatively easy affair, with the few posters and leaflets remaining packed away in record time. Staff were even aided in their clean up by the generous donation of some leftover promotional lollipops courtesy of the Oxford and Empire Network stall.
Our thanks and gratitude go out to everyone involved in the organisation and running of the history thesis fair, from stall-holders to Exam Schools’ staff who made this event such a success. And best of luck to all the History finalists as they undertake the writing of their theses!