Alexandra Bulat

Alexandra Bulat picture

Alexandra is a PhD student at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), University College London. She researches attitudes towards EU migration in the UK, based on interviews in East Ham and Clacton. During a three-month placement with the British Library Alexandra used the UK Web Archive and LSE Brexit Collection to see how migration was presented in the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

Published date:

There were three types of migration in the EU referendum collections: ‘the brightest and the best’, us – and the rest.

I worked with the British Library as a PhD placement student on two 2016 EU referendum collections – ephemera and the web archive. The ephemera collection, available at the LSE Digital Library, consists of over 170 campaign leaflets, posters, short newsletters, and other materials. The web archive comprises approximately 3,000 resources, such as campaigners’ websites and social media pages from across the political spectrum, but also news, blogs, and commentary websites about the referendum.

I started with the ephemera collection and extracted all the text about immigration. I then looked up the ephemera publishers’ online presence in the web archive. A majority had a website, a social media page, or both. I compared and contrasted the text about immigration presented in the leaflets with the more detailed online content. Not all EU referendum campaign websites are still accessible on the ‘live’ web, so the UK Web Archive often becomes the only place where the information is preserved for future researchers. For more information about the web archive and my methodology, I wrote a blog post for the British Library Web Archive Blog.

In addition to the LSE Brexit Collection and the EU referendum web archive, I visited the Cambridge University Library and explored their physical collection of EU referendum ephemera. I also contacted other libraries hosting such collections, including the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. I organised a roundtable event at the end of my placement, discussing with curators, academics, and research development staff how researchers can make best use of library collections.


Photo: The roundtable

At this roundtable event, I presented my research findings, illustrating three main categories of migrants. ‘Desirable’ forms of migration included the British people who benefitted from freedom of movement to other EU states, but also ‘the brightest and the best’ EU migrants, such as students and NHS staff, coming to Britain. The rest of migrants tended to be categorised as undesirable and left to be criticised by Leave campaigners. My findings are summarised in a blog post for the LSE Brexit Blog. An academic article contextualising the findings into the emerging ‘Brexit’ literature, as well as providing more detail on the analysis, will be available in due course.

vote leave

Image: Map included in a Vote Leave leaflet, available here.

Key points

  • Alexandra explored the 2016 EU referendum collections at the British Library
  • She looked at how immigration was presented and by whom in political ephemera, campaign websites, and Twitter pages
  • Alexandra found that a positive case for freedom of movement lacked popularity throughout and that migrants were not given a voice in a debate about them


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