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If you’re like me, for all that you love the humanities — the writing, the reading, the critical thinking, the library-ing — you tend to subconsciously assume that “research” and “research grants” are for the sciences. You get emails about current students or alumni making nuclear reactors or finding a new genome with their x amount of grant money, and you go, “Cool.” The sooner you can disillusion yourself from this falsity, though, the better: as an undergraduate in the humanities at Hopkins, research is for you, too. And the grants that make it happen. In a manner that is on brand for me, I only recently (read: at the very last minute of my Hopkins career) had this epiphany; my thesis advisor found information about the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award (known by close friends as the PURA) six days after the application deadline in October, but the board was kind and flexible enough to allow my late application. A month later, I was honored to find out I’d won the grant, $3,000 dollars to conduct research for my English thesis. I used most of the money to go to London for ten days to look at manuscripts and museums, which — most importantly — meant getting this dope new library card. (Which expires in February.)

The experience wasn’t without its pitfalls and confusions; learning to navigate the British Library, which is huge and a little scary and has a few stodgy security staff and has a mediocre web catalogue system, was a trip in itself. They have the Magna Carta and Jane Austen’s original notebooks, along with George Eliot’s original manuscripts and a trillion other hallowed artifacts of the literary world, just hanging out in there. Despite its initial overwhelm, it was an amazing place to work, alongside scholars from all over London and all over the world. The queue to get in at 9:30am (the time it opens) started up at about 9, and by the time I’d get there (about 9:15am) it’d be this long:

Yeah, the brutalist architecture is dreary, especially on a cloudy day. But the inside is way better, though — because it’s massive — is impossible to capture in a photo. These are from my last day there, a bittersweet ’til next time of a moment (the first is just the lobby):

(I’m the red speck)

But no, no: I didn’t spend all my time in the library. Shocking, given how much I suck at relaxing and indulging and leaving the library (well, Gilman) back at Hopkins. But I went and waved hi to all my favorite places in the city, too, and got to see two friends from school and meet two lovely Victorianist professors, friends of my advisor. I went to Eliot’s hometowns and looked at paintings and ate good food. I tried to steep myself in London to the extent I could, all the while working (which mostly meant reading through manuscripts) and feeling grateful for the opportunity, in awe of it.

A rainbow over Trafalgar Square, which you can’t really beat

Ye olde House of Parliament getting the scaffold treatment on an uncannily gorgeous day

This is all to say: I could do all of this, go back to a city I love, learn how to navigate one of the world’s foremost research institutions, and read the original writing and revisions of an author who matters to me, with the support of an institution that motivates this sort of work in all fields and provides for it, though you may have to look for it or ask a few questions if you — like me — aren’t the first person to whip up a research project and win prizes, but also if you — like me — have something you’re passionate about. It’s there, and it’s waiting at Hopkins.

The BL, from the Manuscripts Reading Room, also known as My House