THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

17 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

01 September 2017

Bringing Voices Together: the importance of independent Black publishing

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A guest post by Kadija George   

Kadija George, FRSA is a Birmingham University alumni and currently an AHRC/TECHNE scholarship PhD candidate at Brighton University researching Black British Publishers.  She is the Publications Manager for Peepal Tree’s Inscribe imprint, an editor of several groundbreaking anthologies and publisher of SABLE LitMag.  She is a Fellow of the George Bell Institute and a Fellow of the Kennedy Arts Centre of Performance Arts Management. 

Why do we need Black publishers if one of our societal objectives is to nurture a diverse society in Britain? Because diversity is paralleled with having options; we need gay publishers, women publishers as well as Black publishers.

This does not mean though that Black publishers (or any other ‘minority’ publisher) should be eschewed as being ghettoised, but rather as specialised. Therefore, when Shappi Khorsandi, withdrew her longlisted novel, Nina Is Not OK, for consideration for the Jhalak Prize, saying that, she “felt like my skin colour was up for an award rather than my book” [i] , she assumed that being nominated for the prize would place her in a category that would stigmatise her or limit her audience, yet such prizes highlight the books for what they are – good work, well written. With just 51 books being nominated though, it should shame the mainstream white dominated publishing industry in Britain into doing better with regards to publishing Black writers; an estimated 184,000 books were published in 2013 in the UK. [ii]

Aside from this, there are five broad reasons rationalising the need for, and increased awareness of Black publishers:-

Black publishers take on writers without shock or stereotype. If a writer approaches a Black publisher with a ‘thirty something’ love story between a devout Muslim and a devout Christian who live happily ever, this does not present a story that is unrealistic to a Black publisher; they understand that it is an ordinary part of everyday life (which means that Black writers' work is humorous at times, too). These are black lives, and they matter without the need to challenge the writer’s credentials, their authenticity or the need to be validated by white expertise.

They are also often the only ones willing to take the risk to publish work that is viewed as ‘experimental’, giving the writer permission to be who they are, to write what they want. The best of such work, which often does not easily fit into any one genre is published by independent Black press or is self-published, such as Walter Moseley’s The graphomanic’s primer: a semi surrealist memoir  (Black Classic Press) or Tim Fielder’s Matty’s Rocket, (dieselfunk.com).

Secondly, publishing is more than the physical product for Black publishers as there is the equal need to educate the Black community. This was contained in John La Rose’s 'Dream to Change the World' when he established New Beacon Books in 1966.

Those who migrated to Britain in the 1950’s, who were to become publishers, were equally activists in the community. Social justice work was an integral aspect of their work, supporting the lives of those of African descent who (im)migrated to Britain from the West Indies, Africa and Asia and for the human rights of communities and activists abroad who were under attack, such as Ngũgĩ  wa Thiong’o and Angela Davies (West Indian Digest, Vol. 1, no 8, Nov/Dec 1971). They were at the forefront of campaigns such as the New Cross Massacre (The New Cross Massacre Story (New Beacon 1981), and challenged authorities regarding the murder of Stephen Lawrence - Black Deaths in Police Custody and Human Rights: The Failure of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry by David Mayberry (Hansib Publications, 1993).

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The New Cross Massacre Story (New Beacon 1981)

The third factor is that they are information providers, utilising the pamphlet as a tool to send out political and social messages, such as the Pan African Association in 1898 announcing the need for a conference to address the dire position of black people in the world. The practical outcome was the first Pan African conference in 1900. Similarly, informing the community of how West Indian children were being (dis)educated in British Schools sparked a movement that started in late 1960’s and carried on until the mid-1980’s that comprised establishing supplementary schools and led to associations of black professionals and the black family to reverse this situation. How the West Indian Child is made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System (1971) by Bernard Coard (New Beacon) originated as a paper at a conference.

Fourthly, black publishers claim and re-claim the printing of classic texts that may otherwise have remained invisible. New Beacon’s re-publishing Froudacity by JJ Thomas (1969) with an introductory essay by CLR James, ‘The West Indian Intellectual’ are two classic works between one cover. Walter Rodney’s The Groundings with My Brothers, was originally printed on a Gestetner, by Bogle L’Ouverture (1969), a title which, along with his next book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa(1972), remain in high demand.

 

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Froudacity / JJ Thomas (1969)

 

Finally, Black publishers ensure the visibility of Black people’s lives in British history.

Not telling the Black British story denies all British people of their true history: 

…the idea of not accepting inhibiting traditions, but being constantly inventive and novel; because one of the problems I can see facing West Indians in Britain in future, is the inhibiting tradition of the education system. This not only affects West Indians as you all ready realise, but ordinary Britons, but it is the rupture of the traditions which underline this tradition which will be important... (John La Rose – letter to Kamau Brathwaite - 24 Feb 1969 - GPI Institute GB2904 LRA/01/143/04)

This underlines the work undertaken by David Olusaga in his TV series and accompanying book, Black and British, A Forgotten History (shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize) in which he disrupts the telling of British history.  His core point is this; it is not possible to tell British history without telling the story of Black British history which is not just about the people who live(d) in Britain, but those in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia too. When Britain became an empire, their colonies would forever be a part of British history. This history includes the history of the book.  Olusaga also pointed out that it is novels such as Andrea Levy’s Small Island that tell important aspects of Black history. [iv]

This is why the ‘Bringing Voices Together’ networking event is needed, because the British Library is surely the first place for people to visit to find out about the history of the book in Britain, and that history needs to ensure the inclusivity of the history of Black British books and publishers, so that it is not as Olusaga says, a ‘deliberately forgotten’ history. (David Olusaga, Brighton University, 30 November 2016)

Related posts: Bringing Voices Together: Inclusivity in Independent Publishing in Contemporary Britain, 7th September

Related links: All about African publishers

Twitter: @kadijattug

 

17 August 2017

Writers of Colour in independent publishing - Bringing voices together: a guest post from Dr. Kavita Bhanot

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This blog post was written by Dr. Kavita Bhanot who has been involved in the development of Bringing Voices Together (7th September), a networking event organised by PhD placement student in Contemporary British Collections, Chantelle Lewis. Kavita will be one of the panellists on the day seeking to discuss issues of representation within publishing, how they’re being countered, and recommending the ways the British Library can engage more actively with independent publishers committed to inclusivity.

Kavita Bhanot writes fiction, non-fiction and reviews. She is editor of the anthology Too Asian, Not Asian Enough (Tindal Street Press 2011), the forthcoming Book of Birmingham (Comma Press, 2018) and co-editor of the first Bare Lit anthology (Brain Mill Press, 2017). She has a PhD from Manchester University, is a reader and mentor with The Literary Consultancy and is currently Honorary Creative Writing Fellow at Leicester University.

  Kavita

What is the difference between a published book and a typed manuscript on somebody’s computer? Whilst editing, giving feedback on novels and short stories over the years, I have come across countless writers who are writing or have written remarkable books. And I have been struck by how vulnerable writers are to the whims and fancies, or structural blockades, of the gatekeepers in the publishing industry. These walls are all the more impenetrable and incomprehensible for writers of colour – there is little correlation between ‘quality’ of work, ‘content’, and what gets published. Many other factors come into play, such as how marketable a work or a writer is; how ‘true’ or palatable the work is for white readers; whether something else with a similar subject matter has been published recently; if another writer of a similar background has recently been launched.

The sense of vulnerability that the relationship of dependency on the publishing industry produces has led writers I know to breakdown, depression, to giving up writing - supposing that they are just not good enough, to a feeling of hopelessness, pointlessness.

Is the answer to participate in conversations about diversity, to enter competitions, to join mentoring schemes - even if we’ve been writing for five, ten, fifteen years? Are we to be perpetual children, beneficiaries of paternalism, needing advice and guidance? Do we always have to stand with begging bowls, asking for encouragement, support and recognition, grateful for anything we get? Doesn’t the ‘need’ for recognition from the ‘mainstream’ continue to make us vulnerable and dependent, so we hand over all our self-worth to people and institutions with power? How does it help us to develop self-esteem, a strong inner core, which is what is needed above all to continue writing?

And the excessive focus on publishers and their lack of interest in our work diverts us from thinking about what really matters – the writing. It can lead us to seek acceptance by writing what publishers want us to write. Or in subtle ways, it can lead us to not interrogate what has come before, and reproduce this, not thinking about what we are writing, how we are writing, who we are writing for. My work for several years has been to unpack the ways in which whiteness has often been centred in our writing in conscious and unconscious ways. This perspective is normalised. Being able to see this, to read it and to write differently requires a great deal of effort and self-care. Focussing on ‘diversity’ distracts us from this work.

It is important for writers of colour to develop a political and creative vision, to nurture self-belief and to create collective structures of mutual support founded in a political core. A core that is not fixed, but is open to self-interrogation, change and complexity. Writers of colour should not feel dependent on existing established structures, they should and increasingly are, finding or creating independent outlets.

While publishing conglomerates and media empires become concentrated into a few increasingly powerful and commercial corporate houses, the number of writers of colour producing work that is experimental in form and content is also increasing, work that emerges from activism and critical thinking, work that is of little interest, is unpalatable even, to the ‘mainstream’. These writers are not waiting for anyone’s recognition - they are turning to online forums, they are creating websites, setting up independent publishing initiatives, they are self-publishing, producing chapbooks, booklets, magazines, e books, crowd-funded books – and they are using social media to promote their work. It is from these spaces that paradigm shifting work can and is emerging, a different way of looking at the world, building on but also unlike what has come before, because it is responding to the present moment.

For the most, such work tends to remain unseen by the ‘mainstream’ – until the power of the collective voice becomes so threatening that it can no longer be ignored. And then there is an effort to co-opt it, to absorb some of the more acceptable elements in order to appear inclusive. The odd writer will be published, turned into a celebrity, so it appears that space is being made for new perspectives, new voices. Some people entrenched in the ‘mainstream’ will jump on the bandwagon, appearing to propagate elements of the new discourse, some of which now seems to have become acceptable to the ‘mainstream’. All this works to keep out voices that are truly threatening.

So why is it important that the British Library keep apace with these changes, putting time and effort into identifying these texts, documents, works of literature that emerge from critical, activist spaces, acknowledging their existence, making them available to be read?

No place or institution is neutral, but due to the assumption that everything that is published in the UK is available in the British Library, there is a perceived neutrality inherent in the idea of the Library. A great deal of scholarship, literature and research emerges from the British Library - the place and the catalogue. The Library therefore comes to define the boundaries, foundations and paradigms of a great deal of the scholarship coming out of Britain through what it includes and excludes in its catalogue. Whilst those who are producing work outside the ‘mainstream’ may not be aware of the processes or procedures or even the need to send their work to the Library, it is important for the British Library to reach out, to do the research to find and acquire these works. So that emerging literature and scholarship, rather than drawing only on what exists in ‘mainstream’ spaces, might write about, reference, build on these texts – not as ‘raw material’, but as political, intellectual, creative contributions in their own right. The circulation of knowledge can become more meaningful if public funded institutions like the British Library can take such initiative.

 

Related posts: Bringing Voices Together / Chantelle Lewis

Decolonise, not Diversify / Kavita Bhanot in Media Diversified.

 

02 August 2017

Bringing Voices Together: Inclusivity in Independent Publishing in Contemporary Britain, 7th September

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Chantelle Lewis is a PhD student working at the British Library on a project on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) publishing. In this post, Chantelle describes her project and a forthcoming event at the Library.

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My name is Chantelle Lewis and I am a PhD student in the Sociology department at Goldsmiths College. My research is focused on the lived experiences of mixed race families in mono-cultural British towns. Since beginning my PhD, I have been interested in 'race' in Britain, racialised inequalities and the legacies of colonialism. I am keen to become a public sociologist emphasising how sociological research can help shape important social policies.

I am currently working as a PhD placement researcher within the Contemporary British Publications team at the British Library. The title of my placement is ‘Independent, D-I-Y, and activist BAME publishing, in print and online, in 21st century Britain’. I am interested in the current production of inclusive publications, and how the Library can better engage with independent publishers and activists invested in widening representation of writers of colour.

I began by using the Library’s online catalogue to assess its holdings of independent and activist publishing committed to writers of colour. Following this, I met with writers, publishers and activists, and asked them about their experience of supporting independent expression in print and online. The result of these meetings will be a networking event at the British Library titled 'Bringing Voices Together'.  I was inspired to organise Bringing Voices Together after the project illuminated devolved literary practices which could help structure a pragmatic response by the British Library.

The event will bring together people from the arts, literary, and activist world, together with staff from the British Library. The group will include people invested in the development of platforms for diverse forms of expression, as many face similar obstacles in a predominantly mono-cultural industry. 

Whilst meeting with writers, publishers and activists, I began to feel like there were key people I was speaking to who could benefit by connecting with others committed to inclusivity.  Inspired by the on-going project run by Birkbeck History department - History Acts , where historians meet with activists to discuss the possibility of collaboration, I was keen to do something similar as part of my placement. As well as having writers and publishers involved, there will be academics and researchers at the event. I am hopeful that this will allow for interdisciplinary discussions on past and present expression by writers of colour.

Part of Bringing Voices Together will be to gather information for the British Library’s Contemporary Britain web pages on independent publishers who have committed to writers of colour in print and digital formats. This will serve as a starting point for the Library to become actively engaged with the varied formations of contemporary publishing in Britain. This information is also intended to help bookshops and public libraries connect with different voices, as well as offering more wide-ranging options for users of the Library.  We’ll update this post with more details after the event.

Over the coming weeks, there will be a series of guest blog posts from myself and some of the people I have met who are engaged with inclusive independent publishing. Alongside the updates to the Contemporary Britain web pages, these articles will show that Bringing Voices Together is intended to be action driven, coupled with giving a much needed platform to different modes of expression. It also contributes to the notion of legacy and how collaboration can be at the forefront of change.

The fusion of attendees and speakers from publishing, literary, academic and activist backgrounds will allow a range of stakeholders to meet and debate the contemporary issues in publishing and the innovative ways these are being addressed. This will lead to a celebration of resourceful production which has been rewarded by the widening presence of public appreciation. It will also comment on the positive aspects of independent publishing and the opportunities it can present for inclusive expression.

The event gives all involved the opportunity to contribute to a conversation on inclusionary practices in publishing. The principle aim of the afternoon will be to provide recommendations on how the British Library can become more closely involved with writers of colour in independent publishing.

Chantelle Lewis BSc, MA and PhD candidate in Sociology

07 June 2017

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

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Our free online course, Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life starts next Monday, 12th June.

Learners have already started introducing themselves on the welcome page for the course. So far, we've had comments from learners in Ukraine, Germany and Costa Rica, as well as from the UK, USA and Canada. Our group of learners includes students, teachers, journalists and others working in fields such as Human Rights and Communications and Marketing. Political views and past experience vary - a common link is an interest in understanding more about communication and current affairs, and the ways in which values are influenced and formed.

The course has been developed by the British Library, in partnership with the Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies at the University of Nottingham and hosted by FutureLearn. Lead Educators are Maiken Umbach, Mat Humphrey, Sascha Auerbach and Ian Cooke.

The course is run as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), which gives us the opportunity to draw on the experiences of our learners, and this is an important element. The steps in each week give insight to current academic research, from across disciplines in the humanties and social sciences. In addition, learners are asked how the concepts discussed relate to their personal experience and everyday lives - we are interested in the ways that ideologies are expressed and reinforced in situations that we may not normally think of as "political". Each week, we ask learners to share images that they associate with the themes being discussed: freedom, justice, community, nationhood and consumerism. You can see some of those images on our Flikr group.

An important element of the course is that it explores the differences in the political beliefs that we hold, and also highlights areas of common ground; for instance in the value that we place on freedom and on community. Already, learners have started talking about the ways in which people react to news or opinions that challenge their political views. A strength of this course is that it provides a forum in which we can talk critically about important political questions in a group where we don't share the same the political views.

Registration for our course is open now, and you can join at: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda. Our learners include "avid MOOcers" and those coming to FutureLearn for the first time. No prior knowledge or training is required - just an interest in the way that political ideologies are formed and expressed.

03 June 2017

What can the Archived Web tell us about politics and society in the 21st century?

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Visualisation of links between websites from the UK crawled during 1996, generated by Rainer Simon

On Wednesday 14th June, we'll be discussing the potential of the archived web in understanding contemporary society and politics.

Our event is chaired by Eliane Glaser, author of Get Real: How to see through the Hype, Spin and Lies of Modern Life, and features contributions from Andy Jackson (British Library), Jefferson Bailey (Internet Archive), Jane Winters (University of London) and Valérie Schafer (French National Centre for Scientific Research).

The first web archive, the Internet Archive, began in 1996. Since then, many university and national libraries around the world have started web archiving initiatives. The British Library began in 2004, and, since 2013 has collected an annual snapshot of all UK web sites. As such, there are very rich collections built up around the world that have documented political and social movements both at international and local levels. For example, the Library of Congress has led collections on the Arab Spring, and the UK Web Archive has collections on past General Elections.

As libraries have gained more experience with building collections of the archived web, so researchers and other users of web archives have developed new methodologies and tools for analysing the collections. As advances are made, so new challenges arise and are identified. The web itself is changing, with one of the biggest challenges for archiving being the use of social media - generating huge amounts of data, but often being highly time dependent and reliant on specific software and hardware to interpret.

As with any large and complex collection, context remains an important consideration. Web archive collections are informed by curatorial or academic judgement on what might be the most significant websites, and may not reflect the most popular sites at a time. When it comes to reporting current events, social media and the web can be portrayed as more "democratic" and open to wider participation than more traditional news media. However, communication on the web includes rumour, satire and misdirection, alongside eyewitness reports and a whole range of data sources and types. Technology to archive the web lags behind the technology to create web sites, so some elements of a web page may be missed by web archiving tools. Additionally, web archiving at a national level often takes place within a legal framework that restricts collecting within national borders. The omissions of web archives can be a useful and interesting source for understanding the structure of web, but, as with other forms of analysis, researchers need information on what decisions were made, and under what conditions, a collection was made.

These are some of the issues that we'll be discussing on 14th June. We'd love you to join us and contribute to the debate. More details and booking can be found on our Whats On pages.  

Our panel discussion forms part of the Digital Conversations series and also connects to a week of conferences, hackathons and other events in London that talk about recent advances in web archiving and research on the archived web.You can follow discussions from the conferences on Twitter, using our hashtag #WAweek2017

 

  

28 March 2017

Report on Rebels

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Polly Russell, Lead Curator for Politics and Public Life, reports on our event to mark International Women's Day 2017: 'Rebels in the Archives'.

Earlier this month, to mark International Women’s Day, the British Library hosted ‘Rebels in the Archives’, a sell-out panel discussion with four women who, in different ways, have uncovered the hidden histories of women’s lives in Britain’s past.

The evening kicked off with Heidi Safia Mirza, Professor of Race, Faith and Culture at Goldsmith’s College and author of Young Female and Black. Heidi discussed how Women of Colour have been rendered invisible by the absences and omissions which characterise most representations of the past. Attend to the archive, look beyond the obvious and take responsibility for finding and accounting for Women of Colour when researching women’s lives was her message.

Next up was Abi Morgan, BAFTA and Emmy Award winning writer and producer whose film Suffragette introduced cinema audiences around the world to the story of how working class women fought to get the vote in the UK. Abi described the process of writing the film’s script, how libraries and archives held the key to the narrative and character and of the totemic importance of archival objects – she described the tiny purse Emily Wilding Davison was holding when she fatefully stepped in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby on the 4th June 1913 and how this brought to life the fragility and courage of ‘extraordinary sacrifice made by the ordinary’.

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From left to right the 'Rebels in the Archives' Panel: Heidi Mirza; Abi Morgan; Margaretta Jolly; Debi Withers; Jill Liddington. Image courtesy of Polly Russell.

Writer and historian Jill Liddington followed Abi and heroically compressed a life’s work into a splendid 15 minute presentation. Jill, the author of a seminal account of northern working-class women’s contribution to the Suffragist movement, One Hand Tied Behind Us, detailed how archives and libraries held the key to a history of women which had previously been omitted from historical record.

The final speaker of the evening, curator, researcher and digital expert Debi Withers, brought us bang up to date with a discussion of how digital archives and catalogues have the potential, if opened up to tagging and searching, to widen access to and enable links between feminist archives.

The evening’s discussions were expertly chaired by Margaretta Jolly, Reader in Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex and someone directly responsible for increasing the number of women rebels in the British Library archives – Margaretta contributed 60 Women’s Liberation Movement oral histories to the British Library as part of the Sisterhood & After project she led in 2013.

After audience questions Margaretta concluded the evening by noting that though the panel employed diverse approaches to understanding the past, worked across different formats and spoke to different audiences, their work was evidence that archives and libraries are places where the rebels of the past could b e uncovered so th at rebels of the future may thrive.

You can see a short video of the evening’s highlights and a podcast of the evening is also available on the British Library's SoundCloud channel.

The event was developed in association with the University of Sussex and was supported by the Living Knowledge Network.

20 January 2017

Archive of Joan Bakewell joins the British Library’s Contemporary Archives Collections

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Image: Joan Bakewell  © Sukey Parnell

Chris Beckett, Cataloguer in Contemporary Literary Archives at the British Library, writes:

Joan Bakewell’s autobiography, The Centre of the Bed (2003), begins in a white room – a room as white as ‘a fresh sheet of paper’ – at the top of the house in which she has lived for many years. Boxes and packets of papers long-forgotten have been retrieved from cupboards and shelves. They hold evidence of the past, prompts for the play of memory. Can memory sew the fragments together, make good the gaps in the physical record? But Bakewell is conscious that memory is a construction of the present – a reverie of now – that that can deceive as well as illuminate:

‘Stacks of little diaries, a scattering of entries, a few oblique clues. School reports, a clutch of Cambridge bric-a-brac, invitations to sherry parties, a few enigmatic letters – who was Jonathan, who was Ben? And some from people I still know – Karl, Peter, Freddie. Serious boxes house the weightier matters – though just as transient – of a career in journalism and television.’

Those same boxes – the Cambridge ephemera and the ‘weightier matters’ (‘just as transient’) – have now made their way to the British Library, and their contents will soon be available to readers in another room, the Manuscripts Reading Room. ‘Karl’ is Karl Miller, ‘Peter’ is Sir Peter Hall, and ‘Freddie’ is Frederic Raphael (‘with whom I played tennis on long sunny, Cambridge afternoons’), three university contemporaries among many who quickly rose to become, like Bakewell herself, familiar figures in the British cultural landscape.

Joan Bakewell has been an enduring presence on British television for some fifty years, from the trail-blazing topical discussion programme ‘Late Night Line-Up’ (BBC2, 1964-72), which tumbled through the 1960s embracing the excitement and the risks of live transmission, to the retrospective and reflective interviews in ‘My Generation’ (BBC2, 2000).

Her television break began in a predictable place, in the limited daytime slots scheduled for housewives in the early 1960s, in programmes like ‘Table Talk’ and ‘Home at Four Thirty’. However, the conversation was not always about housework and babies: ‘one afternoon it fell to me to interview an eager young doctor with a shock of unruly black hair [….] In three minutes on air he outlined his theory that a dysfunctional family might be a prime cause of schizophrenia.’ The young doctor was R. D. Laing, author of The Divided Self. In the autumn of 1964, two evening appearances as chair of the BBC2 discussion programme ‘The Second Sex’ provided Bakewell with a further opportunity to demonstrate her range, and presaged an invitation to join the (otherwise all-male) ‘Late Night Line-Up’ team.

Since most of ‘Late Night Line-Up’ was transmitted live, few recordings have survived. Occasionally, items were pre-recorded, but even those have generally not been saved. In January 1969, Bakewell and camera crew spent a week in Lausanne, filming a series of interviews with Georges Simenon. Although the programme is lost, we have, in some small compensation, Bakewell’s Simenon notepads which provide a glimpse of the (fastidious and orderly) author of ‘Maigret’ at his Swiss home.

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Image above: Red note book cover

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Image above: Simenon notes, reproduced with the kind permission of Joan Bakewell.

At Cambridge (1951-54), Joan Rowlands, as she was then called, was heavily involved in the theatrical productions of the Cambridge Mummers. The archive includes posters, programmes and photographs from several plays, including (1952) The Importance of Being Earnest, in which Miss Rowlands played Cecily Cardew.

It was at Cambridge that Joan Rowlands met her first husband, Michael Bakewell, who preceded her at the BBC, quickly establishing himself a highly-regarded radio and television drama producer, champion of the new theatre of Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, John Hopkins and David Mercer. Although acting was not to be Bakewell’s profession, certainly the art of performance – and the construction of a robust public persona – have been integral to her remarkable television career.

Bakewell’s autobiography is keyed to a larger narrative, to events and trends in the social and cultural history of her time. Her diaries include a number of yellow ‘post-it’ notes, marking where her memory has been prompted. The pocket diary for 1960, for example, includes the following highlighted entries: 18 April (Aldermaston Protest, Trafalgar Square); 27 April (Arts Theatre, Pinter, The Caretaker); 28 June (Wesker, Roots); 1 August (opening in Stratford of Michael Bakewell's production of Faustus).

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Image: Aldermaston diary entry

Bakewell later recalled: ‘The Easter I was pregnant with Harriet we joined the Aldermaston marchers as they came into Trafalgar Square. Our near neighbour, the American poet W. S. Merwin, had walked all the way. His plimsolls were frayed and his feet blistered, but his wife, Dido, offered us supper that night with another young couple who’d recently moved into the area, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.’

In recent years, Bakewell has taken to writing fiction as another way of re-imagining the past, weaving new narratives from her archive. All the Nice Girls (2009) takes it cue from a World War II initiative (unimaginable today) that encouraged schools to ‘adopt’ a merchant navy ship and their pupils to exchange letters with sailors, raising pupil awareness and sailor morale. The Ship Adoption Scheme, as it was known, is recorded in the magazines of Stockport High School for Girls, which played an active part; there is a set of school magazines in Bakewell’s papers (again with ‘post-it’ notes attached). All the Nice Girls is – like the novel that followed, She’s Leaving Home (2011) – a story of love and changing sexual mores. CND marches feature in She’s Leaving Home, and so does the vividly remembered detail of Bill Merwin’s frayed plimsolls. A potent emblem from the past that has clearly lodged in Bakewell’s memory, the worn shoes make an anonymous but recognizable reappearance in a brief snatch of dialogue (p. 130): ‘I saw one bloke whose plimsolls had shredded by the time we got to Trafalgar Square’.

The comprehensive archive of Joan Bakewell at the British Library testifies to a pioneering career in television journalism and records a remarkable personal and professional journey, from pre-war Stockport to the post-millennial corridors of the House of Lords.

16 January 2017

2017 / 2018 British Library PhD Placements

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Rachel Tavernor is a Media and Cultural Studies PhD Researcher at the University of Sussex. In this post, she discusses her PhD Placement at the British Library.

At the start of 2016, I did not imagine that I would be finishing the year at the British Library. For the last three months, I have been based in their Research Development team, as part of their new PhD Placement Programme.

My placement focused on exploring twentieth and twenty-first century anti-poverty activism in the British Library Collections. After a preliminary mapping of the archives, and discovering how much material was available, I narrowed the focus of my placement to housing activism. Struggles for decent and affordable housing, with secure and fair tenancies, are at the forefront of many anti-poverty movements and are often led by women. I developed two strands of the project to explore the ways in which radical, feminist, and at times illegal, protest actions are archived.

Firstly, I traced housing activism, including rent strikes, squats and housing cooperatives, across the British Library Collections. Working with diverse materials, including oral histories, manuscripts, music and news media, I was able to map the differing voices in the archive. In particular, investigating the tensions between protesters, mainstream media and government narratives. A guide to the materials found in the collections will be available on a new project website, Archiving Activism (launching in Spring 2017), which will include images of relevant collection items.

Secondly, I developed a small research project on the practices of archiving activism. To understand and propose ways to archive activism, I conducted a series of nine interviews. Many very enjoyable hours were spent listening to campaigners, feminist archivists and academics who engage with archives of activism. The interviews informed an internal report that I produced for the British Library on potential ways to archive contemporary activism.

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  Image: The gates of the British Library.   

We will be discussing archives, activism and feminism movements on 8 March 2017 with a panel discussion on Rebels in the Archives. One of the privileges of working with the Library was the opportunity to invite inspiring feminists, Jill Liddington, Abi Morgan, Heidi Safia Mirza and Deborah Withers, to contribute to this event (booking now open).

I recently presented my research project to PhD students at the annual CHASE conference, Encounters, and to British Library staff as part of the British Library Bitesize Talk Series. Both events gave me the opportunity to share my research and reflect on my time at the British Library. For those of you considering applying for a PhD Placement in 2017, here are my reasons for taking part:

  • Research Skills: you get a chance to use the skills that you’ve learnt conducting your PhD research in a new environment. You will also learn new research skills by working on a short-term project with industry outputs.
  • Rich Resources: you get the time to explore the rich resources of the British Library Collections. You also get to find out about the resources that are yet to be made public or are soon to be acquired… watch this space for some exciting new acquisitions.
  • Public Engagement: you get to engage people with your research and the British Library Collections. You may have the opportunity to create your own event, possibly presenting your research or supporting the Library with their large events programme.
  • Colleagues and Collaborators: you get to work with some fantastic colleagues who are passionate about the British Library and research. You also get to be part of a cohort of PhD Placement researchers and learn about a wide range of research that is conducted at the Library.
  • Inspiration: finally, the British Library is packed with inspiring people, both past and present. I return to my PhD research this week with new ideas, skills and experiences.

The British Library have just published a new call for applicants for 2017/2018 British Library PhD Placements. Included in the programme are placements on:

  1. Independent, DIY, and Activist BAME Publishing, in Print and Online, in 21st century Britain
  2. 21st Century British Comics
  3. Researching the EU Referendum Through Leaflet and Web Archive Collections

If you have any questions about the placements, contact Research.Development@bl.uk