How Gale Primary Sources Helped Me with My Dissertation – and Can Help You Too!

How Gale Primary Sources Helped Me with My Dissertation – and Can Help You Too!

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Gale is committed to helping students discover research insights to advance learning and research. Gale Ambassadors are students who work within their own university to increase awareness of the Gale primary source collections available to their fellow students. Our Ambassadors study a variety of different disciplines, and all are open to receiving thoughts or questions from other students at their university about Gale Primary Sources.

│By Lily Deans, Gale Ambassador at the University of Birmingham│

Writing a dissertation is undoubtedly daunting, no matter how competent or confident you may feel by the time you proudly hand in the 12,000-word masterpiece! Just like writing a good essay, it is not just your own opinion that gets you the marks, but the opinions of others – and the way you use these opinions to either substantiate or contradict what you have said. So, naturally, the wider, more varied and unique the sources are that you use, the better awareness you will show of the existing discourse, and thus the more convincing your argument will be. “Ah yes,” I hear you say, “but where can I find these unique sources?” Well, with Gale Primary Sources, of course! This blog will show briefly the quantity and variety of sources I have found in Gale’s archives as I have been researching and writing my dissertation.

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the Eighteenth Century

My dissertation is on the representation of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the Eighteenth Century, and how, through prose and poetry, this fantastical, carnivalesque Garden was depicted. You’ve probably never heard of it before, and only know Vauxhall from the Victoria Line, but in the 1700s – 1800s (the time of Wordsworth, Keats and Byron), it was a botanical escape in the middle of Vauxhall, where anyone and everyone could go and visit for just six shillings. Gale Primary Sources has a multitude of information, spanning a variety of topics and time periods, and luckily for me, Vauxhall Gardens is covered extensively. I first wanted to do some general research, before I pinned down a specific topic, so, opening Gale Primary Sources from my library catalogue, I searched “Vauxhall Gardens”.

The results page produced when I completed a very general search of my topic area.
The results page produced when I completed a very general search of my topic area.

Focusing my search results using the filters

As you can see in the screenshot above, there are 680 monographs, 40 manuscripts and 14,721 newspapers and periodicals all relating to “Vauxhall Gardens”. This is a clear indication of the quantity of sources Gale makes available for the perusal of students like me. However, it would take months to go through all those different types of sources, and unfortunately, as an undergraduate, I don’t have that much spare time to sift and read through all these (of course undoubtedly interesting and fruitful) sources! So, to make life easier for me, I narrowed my search down some more…

One of the novels I chose to analyse in my dissertation is Evelina, by Frances Burney. I read this in second year as part of my ‘Stories of the Novel’ module and it was this text that introduced me to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, as Burney’s protagonist, Evelina, goes to visit. I wondered if Frances Burney and Vauxhall Gardens are linked in some way, as this information would be extremely useful to substantiate my dissertation. To find Burney-related sources under my generalised search, I used the ‘Person – About’ filter:

Screenshot of Gale Primary Sources interface.
 After I typed in “Fanny Burney” (the name she most commonly goes by) to the People filter, my results were considerably narrowed down, making it easier for me to sift through them.
After I typed in “Fanny Burney” (the name she most commonly goes by) to the People filter, my results were considerably narrowed down, making it easier for me to sift through them.

A range of critical opinions

After this search, the sources were narrowed down to three (from the thousands I had just moments ago), and I was able to look more clearly at what they were and how they could be useful to me. I was presented with two monographs from Eighteenth Century Collections Online, which were both personal accounts from the critic Samuel Johnson, a friend of the Burneys. (On a side note, the ECCO archive is absolutely crucial for me, as it allows me to explore all of the eighteenth century, and seeing as my English Literature dissertation is focused on novels of this period, it goes without saying I’ll be using this archive a lot!) The remaining source was a newspaper article, written in 1992 by Christopher Hogwood in The Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive, titled “Burney Revealed”.

Screenshot of Gale Primary Sources interface.
 The results page after I applied the People filter.
The results page after I applied the People filter.
A close up of a newspaper
Hogwood, Christopher. "Burney revealed." The Times Literary Supplement, 13 Nov. 1992, p. 10. The Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive, 1902-2014
Hogwood, Christopher. “Burney revealed.” The Times Literary Supplement, 13 Nov. 1992, p. 10. The Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive, 1902-2014, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/EX1200468358/GDCS?u=bham_uk&sid=GDCS&xid=8430dca7

What I can now depict from this source is why Frances Burney may have chosen to use Vauxhall Gardens as a setting for her novel. Including a twentieth-century critical opinion shows variety and multitudes in my analysis, and this gives my argument more credibility. Interestingly, Hogwood’s piece suggests Fanny wanted to remove her father’s “delight in London’s low life” and “the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall” from his biography, suggesting the two are related in some way. However, this attitude towards the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens seems to go against Fanny’s portrayal of Evelina in her novel, thus I have found a dichotomy of representation which would be a perfect way to form an argument in my dissertation.

Something for everyonemake your dissertation stand out!

Naturally, I assume not all of you reading this will care as much as I do about Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the Eighteenth Century, and I don’t expect you to either! However, with this blog post I wanted to demonstrate just how easy it is to get your hands on a range of unusual, unique or niche sources that will make your dissertation stand out. There are a multitude of avenues to explore, as a result of the endless topics, people, places and time periods covered in Gale Primary Sources. A great way to start is to search generally, and see what comes up; from there you can narrow the search results down, and I bet you’ll find something that could help make your dissertation a First Class piece of work!

Studying eighteenth-century social history? Interested in finding more primary sources? It’s not only novels in Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Check out: ‘Ice Cream Recipes in Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online‘ or ‘Fashion and the Eighteenth-Century Public Sphere: from Tatler to Twitter‘.

Blog post cover image citation: Thought Catalog @thoughtcatalog (www.quotecatalog.com) on Unsplash.com

 About the Author


Lily Deans author photoLily Deans is one of the two Gale Ambassadors at The University of Birmingham and is in her final year studying English Literature. Her favourite literary period is the eighteenth-century Georgian era, where she particularly favours studying novels that explore women making their way into the new London social scene. When not found in the library reading copious amounts of books, she can be found in overpriced cafés eating avocado and poached eggs, shouting at the TV about politics, or practising her yoga.