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The exhibition Generation UCL: Two Hundred Years of Student Life in London has now been open in UCL’s Octagon gallery since September 2023 and runs until December 2024. We’ve been really pleased with the reception it has had so far among current students, staff and alumni.

The Generation UCL: Two Hundred Years of Student Life in London exhibition, in the Octagon gallery until December 2024.

One of the main drivers behind the exhibition was the idea to spotlight individual stories while also exploring the collective activities of students over time – so each case includes record cards or images of real students drawn from across two centuries. Taking this even further is one of the most popular cases ‘Making a home’, which features photographs of students and their bedrooms and communal spaces in halls of residence across four different decades: the 1880s, 1960s, 1990s and 2020s. 

Student bedrooms from the 1880s to the 2020s – as featured in the Octagon Generation UCL exhibition

Students’ living arrangements over time are endlessly intriguing for lots of people. When UCL opened in the 1820s, it was a non-residential institution and students lived at home with their families or lodged with tutors or private landlords near the new university. Gradually various halls of residence, hostels and lodging houses grew up in Bloomsbury. Interestingly, UCL has just reacquired the first of these, Dr Williams's Library, which was originally known as University Hall when it opened in the 1840s as a hall for UCL students.

Wherever they lived, I’ve found many alumni are keen to share photographs or tell stories about their student rooms and I also ask current undergraduates to take photos of their rooms as part of a course I teach on the history of UCL. We were therefore pleased to be asked to write an article about this for UCL’s online alumni magazine Portico

Images of student residences can provide a fascinating insight into the changes that have marked student life over hundred years – allowing us to explore topics such as changing gender relations on campus, how a student identity is projected through interior décor at different periods, or the shifting value placed on communal dining.  In UCL’s archives, we have all too few photographs taken inside student rooms and even fewer with students actually captured in their rooms, but we hope to identify more as a result of the exhibition. 

Read the full Portico article and see all the images here: Living and learning | Portico Magazine | UCL

Do you have photographs of your student room you would like to share or memories of your time living in halls of residence? Please get in touch [email protected]