Ellen Cooper (b.1921-2000) Researching Writing Lives

The Writing Lives module provided me with a new opportunity to participate in a large research collaborative project. Researching and writing on the life of Ellen Cooper was a privilege and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her through her own writing.

The collection of memoirs in the John Burnett Collection are an important part of history. When I chose to study the memoir of Ellen Cooper in January 2019, I was aware that it was my responsibility to shed light on her memories. In my blogs I wanted to show 21st century readers what the life of a working class child consisted of growing up after 1921 in Britain. I wanted to bring Ellen’s writing to life and promote her voice. Social networking sites such as Twitter and the modules own Writing Lives site were invaluable platforms for this project, which allowed me to promote Ellen’s memoir.

I decided to challenge myself to participate in a public research project. I knew that it would be a challenging yet rewarding experience. In second year, I studied the Prison Voices module, which provided me my first chance to learn the skill of blogging and tweeting in a professional manner. I was able to transfer the skills I learned such as time management, writing and editing into the Writing Lives module and build upon them. I believe that my work in Prison Voices was a stepping-stone for this module even though I did not realise this at the time I can now see how the skills I developed last year have transferred into my blogs making it more sophisticated and professional.

I can now transfer these skills into the internship I am starting on the 13th May as a Media Platform Developer. My work on Prison Voices and Writing Lives have provided me with the experience I needed to obtain this job.

From this project, I learnt a lot about British working class history. Ellen’s memoir reinforced to me how important family is. I encouraged my family to access the Writing Lives site to learn about Ellen Cooper and other authors. My mother loved reading about Ellen’s life as much as I did. I have contributed to public history a positive depiction of a young woman growing up in 1920s Britain.

My copy of Ellen’s memoir.

I believe the saying less is more is applicable to Ellen Cooper’s memoir. I was first attracted to Ellen’s memoir from the title. I was intrigued to discover what happened in Ellen’s family home, who lived there and why it was so significant. I was drawn to Ellen’s memoir as it was hand written. The fact Ellen wrote her memoir at 73 shows what an amazing woman she was.

At times, I found this task difficult. Initially I found using the Ancestry website quite confusing. However, after asking for help in the seminar my tutors showed me how to use the site effectively. The Ancestry site was invaluable for researching Ellen’s life.

I was worried that my blogs would not meet the required word count due to Ellen’s memoir brevity only 2585 words. I took steps to overcome this problem. I re-read Ellen’s memoir when I prepared a new blog post to ensure I did not miss any vital information. I researched into other authors from the Burnett Collection and made comparisons and contrasts between their memoir and Ellen’s memoir.

Researching images for my blog was one of my favourite aspects. I found that adding images to occupy the text improved the quality of my blogs. The images supported not only my written word but also Ellen’s written word.

As I now write this concluding blog, I feel a sense of melancholy. I am going to continue researching Ellen’s life at the Arts and Crafts school as I am keen to find some of Ellen’s artwork. I have truly enjoyed this experience and I have acquired skills that I can transfer into my future careers. I have learnt new skills of writing for a public audience, which I can include in my CV.

Through the experience of transcribing, Ellen’s memoir became so familiar to me. The word count for Ellen’s memoir was not included in her entry. From my transcription, the word count was 2585. I found myself reciting her words as if they had been imprinted in my memory.

The last page of Ellen’s memoir.

I hope that I have presented Ellen’s life in an authentic way, capturing and revealing the honest and loving woman Ellen was. If only Ellen had continued her memoir and expanded on her love story with John, as I would love to have read it. Ellen concludes that it is ‘a story of another love and another home’ (Pg. 8) leaving her readers in suspense.


Mrs. E. Cooper ‘The house where I grew up’, unpublished memoir, 1993, 8pp, Burnett Collection of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections Library, Brunel University

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