THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

24 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

18 April 2018

Social Sciences at the British Library

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Over the past few years this blog has brought together various events, activities and archives at the British Library that have relevance to social scientists.

We have covered activities like our Propaganda exhibition in 2013 and our collaborative work on women’s liberation in the UK, incoming archives such as those deposited by Joan Bakewell and John Pilger, and recently our partnerships with PhD students on topics such as housing activism, British comics and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Our yearly events calendar always includes an open day for social science PhD students, as well as the Equality Lecture on which we partner with the British Sociological Association.

But as well as the activities that receive publicity through this blog, there is a great deal of work under the surface at the British Library which has connections to social science research and presents opportunities for work with social scientists at all stages of their career.

On a day to day basis at the British Library, curators are managing and developing the content that they care for. They assess current research needs and consult with researchers to plan for the future, making connections across content types to facilitate the research process. They bring in new content via deposits and acquisitions, seeking to ensure the Library's collections represent British culture and society. Our international language and area specialists curate our overseas content, with rich collections to enable comparative, socio-historical and economic research.

It is not just printed content such as books, newspapers (national and international) and official publications that our curators manage. The collections here include diverse formats such as digital maps, websites, fanzines, oral history interviews, broadcast news (radio and television), spoken word recordings, world music recordings, personal and public archives, and political ephemera.

We have found through speaking to social scientists that they are often surprised at the range of content at the British Library that could support their research, or take it in new directions. There are so many opportunities here to contextualise research, to analyse different formats, to work with international material and indeed, to find unused or rarely-seen items which bring originality to research.

This short video should give you a taste for social sciences at the British Library. Please feel free to share and contact research.development@bl.uk if you would like information about collaborating with the British Library on social science research.

You can also view this video on YouTube here.

28 February 2018

Legal Deposit in 12 panels

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Olivia-comic-websmall

Last month, Olivia Hicks completed a 3 month PhD placement at the Library, investigating our collections of 21st century British comics. You can read more about how this project started in Olivia's blog post at http://blogs.bl.uk/socialscience/2017/12/21st-century-british-comics.html. In this post, Olivia describes the creation of a comic for comics creators, explaining Legal Deposit - and helping to build our collections.

Olivia Hicks is a second year PhD student at the University of Dundee. Her PhD focuses on the superheroine in British and American girls' comics. Her favourite superhero is the Spoiler, alias of Stephanie Brown, because they both love waffles and are penniless students.

  Olivia-comic-2-websmall

For the first two months of my placement here in the Library, I kept things fairly academic. I regularly went into the reading room, digging up old zines and small press comics – everything from roughly printed, handmade artefacts to glossy, professional-looking publications. I supplemented my research on 21st century British small press comics with plenty of serious and studious academic reading, learning from the grand-daddies of British comics scholarship, David Huxley and Roger Sabin. I complemented this by compiling my data into pretty (if slightly incomprehensible) graphs, which intricately detailed the gender and regional location of each creator I came across. My aim was to use ‘best of British comics’ anthologies as a representative sample for the comics industry; to try and gain an understanding of who was producing comics, and where.

Of course, these books are inherently curatorial, which problematizes the use of them as definitive statements on the UK comics scene. As a humanities student, this made them even more fascinating; what was the vision of UK comics that people were choosing to present. I spent my days poring over the editorials, introductions and statements of intent which accompanied these volumes. They provided a view of Britishness that was varied, and, in the volumes published in the wake of Brexit, increasingly unstable. However, because the Library’s collection of 21st century comics is both overwhelmingly large and also somewhat incomplete, anthologies represented a manageable microcosm for me to examine over my placement.

This was all well and good, if a little numbers heavy and dry for a final report. But this was only the first two months of my placement. The final month was completely different.

Ian, my supervisor, agreed to let me try and aid the Library’s collecting by creating a comic to raise awareness amongst comics creators of the legal deposit system, and that it is a legal requirement for them to deposit their work in the Library. The final month my desk space, already quite messy, became swamped in pencilled pages and I could regularly be found at my desk, headphones in, inking something which was at first, quite incomprehensible to the rest of the office, but which has slowly morphed into a wee comic which is silly, colourful, but packed to the gills with information about the legal deposit. The completed comic is now displayed above my (still messy) desk, and hopefully will serve as a reminder for the next PhD student to not be afraid to get creative with the placement. While my report findings will interest relatively few, the comic has taken on a life of its own in the office, and has encouraged lots of interest in the Library’s online and physical comics collection. By finding a creative angle to compliment your more serious output, you can broaden the audience for your research and get more people engaged, which is the aim for any academic, and indeed, for the Library as an institution. What can I say, the sky is blue, water is wet and people love comics!

Olivia-comic-3-websmall

All images in this post from The Legal Deposit and You, by Olivia Hicks (coming to the British Library's website soon)

  

03 January 2018

The Persistence of Gender Inequality

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A Summary of the Annual Equality Lecture 2017 by Professor Mary Evans

At the end of October 2017 we hosted our seventh annual Equality Lecture in partnership with the British Sociological Association. We were really delighted that the lecture this year was given by Professor Mary Evans, who has been central to the development of women’s and gender studies in the UK, and a prolific writer and academic on all aspects of gender in society. Her work has covered diverse topics such as love, detective fiction, austerity, autobiography, social class and higher education, Jane Austen, and has examined how social actions and actors are formed and structured within the social world.

Professor Evans drew on her recent book ‘The Persistence of Gender Inequality’ (Polity, 2016) to show how gender inequality is being reproduced in contemporary society, but is taking new forms. She began by making the point that gender as well as race, have been largely ignored in those major recent works (for example, by Thomas Piketty) which seek to address inequality. She argued that the connection between class inequalities, as shaped by gender and race, need to be brought to the fore if we are to understand the forms that unequal social relationships take in the contemporary western world.

WEB Equality Lecture Mary and John credit Sam Lane

Professor Mary Evans taking audience questions with event chair, Professor John Horne. Photo credit Sam Lane for The British Library Board.

She suggested that in the past forty years particular forms of social change have enlarged and reshaped inequality including:

‘the dissolution of some forms of class boundaries; the creation of a new social contract and with it a new version of the ‘ideal citizen’ and the expectations of women’s appearance and conduct.’

Evans described these latter two changes as constituting a form of ‘aspirational coercion’ which has a particular effect on four central forms of inequality between men and women, which are:

‘inequalities of income, public power, responsibility for care and; forms and means of representation, all of which are experienced in different ways according to difference in class and race.’

The notion of who counts as ‘middle-class’ and assumptions about middle-class personhood and values in contemporary neoliberal western societies such as the UK, were shown by Evans to be important to her idea of ‘aspirational coercion’.

On the one hand traditional markers of ‘middle-classness’ are increasingly uncertain; on the other, the middle-class to whom politicians often refer could be more accurately described as the ‘upper middle-class’.

Evans argued that in the UK, it is in fact, upper middle-class white men who remain dominant in elite professions, ‘high’ culture and politics. Yet, it is this particular version of elite autonomy, financial reward and social mastery that have become central to the notion of the ideal contemporary citizen whom she named: ‘the master of the universe’.

‘Being a commander of men has always dominated the aspirations of the ruling class but what interests me here is that we get to the point here where it intersects with gender in the way in which this idea of the powerful autonomous individual, replete with choice and agency has now become generalised as a human ideal.’

Evans suggested that very few people, men or women, of any race, ever get to occupy the position of ‘master of the universe’ but that this fantasy has a very real impact on the way in which people, and especially women, are recognised and ascribed social value. As paid work becomes the ‘gold standard’ as part of the fantasy status of ‘autonomous subject’, the unpaid work of caring for others, which remains overwhelmingly work done by women, becomes value-less:

‘The ‘master of the universe’ […] the specialist, the highly skilled, is essentially […] care-less. So with ‘success’ goes distance from care: a social association which establishes a connection between high achievement and being care-less, and being a low achiever and doing care.’

  WEB Equality Lecture audience credit Sam Lane
Audience questions at the Equality Lecture. Photo credit Sam Lane for The British Library Board.

The second issue of ‘aspirational coercion’ is around consumption as a route to, and marker of, female emancipation. The inability to participate in social expectations around consumption become a marker of lacking, and therefore source of personal shame, such that for women living in poverty, consumption has done very little to narrow class difference or experience. At the same time, consumption is a site for control and coercion around the shape and appearance of the female body. In this, the standards about the appearance of the female body are presented in ways which are connected to an ideal about an autonomous, emancipated, culturally hegemonic female subject. An ideal subject very far removed from the reality of most women’s lives, both in the west and in developing nations.

Professor Evans finished her lecture with a reminder of the need to think about gender and social inequality together, to enable us to understand what is being called the ‘new form of capitalism’. The idea of ‘aspirational coercion’ is important to understanding the relationship between individuals and capitalism which shape who is able to participate as an autonomous subject. And autonomy remains largely determined by new forms of this interplay between class, gender and race.

Further information;

Watch a video of Mary’s lecture here.

Listen to a podcast of Mary's lecture here.

Read a short piece by Mary on her lecture here

18 December 2017

BL Sports Word of the Year 2017

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

And so this is Christmas … and what have you done? Me? Well, I’ve been compiling examples of interesting English usage in the British sporting press and media for the 4th unofficial British Library Sports Word of the Year (SWOTY 2017). Unlike the various ‘official’ Word of the Year Awards, which collectively reflect how global politics continues to dominate public discourse – Oxford Dictionaries declared youthquake its winner; Collins chose fake news and Merriam-Webster plumped for feminism – this review, like most sports punditry, is completely unscientific and entirely subjective. So, on the day after Mo Farah finally won BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Jess Ennis was rightly recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award, here are the 10 candidates for SWOTY 2017:

February (Ed Leigh of Sweden’s Sven Thorgren’s final jump at Air & Style Innsbruck 2017, BBC Ski Sunday): cab twelve sixty double shifty rewind roast beef

April (Peter Allis of Rory McIlroy’s bunker shot at 7th hole at 2017 Masters, BBC2 Masters Day 3): that could’ve been a Lucy Locketseptic tank

June (Geoff Lemon of Australian batsman Adam Voges impressive Test batting average, Guardian Sport): Voges has immovably rolled out a banana lounge on the Test average list next to Bradman

August (Paul McInnes of interval between second and final session when Edgbaston staged first ever day-night Test in England, Guardian Sport) rather than bemoan the creation of an entirely new meal break, coined ‘trunch’ by my colleague Andy Bull, the Edgbaston crowd were bang into it

August (Guardian Sport ‘in brief’ review of 2017 Netball Quad Series) The Roses overturned a 13-point deficit in the first quarter to secure only their fifth win in 88 matches against the Silver Ferns

September (Sloane Stephens on her near flawless 2017 US Open Final victory, Guardian Sport) I made six unforced errors in the whole match? Shut the front door

April (Paul Rees speculating on coach Warren Gatland’s tactical approach during Lions tour to New Zealand, Guardian Sport) Warrenball did for Australia four years ago but it will be the third generation version this summer

December (Ali Martin of England batsman James Vince’s batting technique, Guardian Sport) Nick city’ was how the likeable Kerry O’Keefe described the right-hander’s open bat face in his first innings just seconds before Josh Hazlewood exploited this exact glitch via a tame punch to a ball

December (Ali Martin of England debutant Craig Overton’s batting prospects in First Ashes Test, Guardian Sport): Overton, fresh from three ducks in the warm-ups, was on for the dreaded ‘Audi

December (Sean Dyche of Burnley briefly moving into Premier League top 4 following victory against Stoke City, Sky Sports News): I’m very proud I’m super proud prouder than the proudest man in Proudsville

As in previous years the list is drawn from several sports that make an annual appearance – one each for golf, tennis, rugby union, football and netball and four for cricket – while this year sees one newcomer in freestyle snowboarding. It’s difficult to say whether the monopoly of certain sports is entirely down to my own reading preferences and sporting interests or more a reflection of the relative column inches/broadcast airtime afforded each sport. Certainly, in a year in which England’s women won a thrilling World Cup and both our men and women have contested (less thrillingly) the Ashes, it’s perhaps not surprising that cricket is particularly well represented.

Linguistically the list can be categorised in a number of ways. Two entries are examples of sporting jargon – words or expressions used by a profession or interest group that can be difficult for others to understand. Perhaps the most impenetrable sequence of words here is the wonderful cab twelve sixty double shifty rewind roast beef which I’m reliably informed describes a particularly impressive jump manoeuvre in which a snowboarder performs a 720º rotation with their hands between their legs on the opposite edge of the board before slowing down, over-rotating back and rotating another 360º before landing. I think. This list of snowboard tricks might help. Warrenball, on the other hand, refers to a style of attritional rugby based around attempting to break the opposition midfield defence with a series of ‘crash ball’ runners. The term, associated with the Wales coach Warren Gatland, is linguistically intriguing as it’s formed by adding the suffix –ball to Gatland’s first name, thus referencing Moneyball, a methodology employed by Oakland Athletics baseball team general manager, Billy Beane. The principle of Moneyball was to create a successful baseball team by prioritising statistical analysis and empirical evidence over collective coaching wisdom and ‘instinct’. Both Moneyball and Warrenball, despite achieving consistent success, are often viewed negatively as somehow more dispassionate and sterile compared with other approaches perceived to be more imaginative or inventive, which is perhaps why Gatland himself distances himself from the term.

Three entries are intriguing as I suspect they started out life as nonce-words – i.e. a word coined for use on one specific occasion. Two are used in reference to cricket and might subsequently have been adopted more widely, but to my knowledge remain pretty low-frequency. The first, Audi [= four consecutive scores of nought] is a visual reference to the brand logo of the car manufacturer – four interlocking (i.e. consecutive) letters ‘O’ or zeroes. This visual association mirrors the use of bagel to refer to a score of ‘love’ (i.e. zero) in tennis, which was a nominee for SWOTY 2014. The second is trunch, a blend of ‘lunch’ and ‘tea break’ – the ‘traditional’ timings of intervals in Test match cricket – to represent the somewhat later timing of the interval during the floodlit evening session of a day-night Test. Lucy locket and septic tank are examples of rhyming slang for ‘socket’ and ‘shank’ respectively, both of which are in turn golfing jargon for the point where a club head meets the shaft and a mishit shot in which (for a right-handed player) the ball squirts out diagonally to the right of the intended target. This online Cockney Rhyming Slang website suggests Lucy Locket and septic tank are indeed established rhyming slang forms, but for ‘pocket’ and ‘Yank’ (i.e. American). The fact the word shank is disguised by the commentator in this way not only shows our great affection for the creative possibilities of rhyming slang, but would also be immediately understood by golfers as (rather like mentioning Macbeth to an actor about to appear in The Scottish Play) there is a well-known superstition among golfers that uttering the word shank will instantly result in succumbing to the shot oneself.

One entry this year captures the proliferation of nicknames in sporting nomenclature. In most cases this is part and parcel of the team itself – United or Wednesday enables us to distinguish between Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, for instance. Many US team sports are characterised by teams that bear a franchise name – the Rams have played variously in Cleveland, Los Angeles, St Louis and are now based back in Los Angeles. This often mystifies British sports fans, although we can no longer claim it’s a uniquely American phenomenon – consider the Rugby Union team Wasps who in the days of amateur Rugby Union were based in Sudbury, but shortly after the advent of professionalism relocated to High Wycombe and, more recently, Coventry. In many cases, teams have an additional nickname such as the Blades [= Sheffield United] and, especially in international sport, teams are increasingly likely (possibly for commercial reasons?) to be referred to by their nickname alone. The Roses [= England Netball] and Silver Ferns [= New Zealand Netball], here, are two examples of several I’ve found in the Guardian alone, including the following five that I suspect might prove difficult quiz questions for many: Djurtus [= Guinee-Bissau football (male)]; Brave Blossoms [= Japan Rugby Union (male)]; Black Ferns [New Zealand Rugby Union (female)]; Spar Proteas [= South Africa netball (female)]; and Kumuls [= Papua New Guinea Rugby League (male)]

The other four items fall loosely into the category of slang. They’re certainly not exclusive to sport, but are interesting because they demonstrate how vernacular and colloquial expressions permeate even mainstream print and media coverage of sport. The term banana lounge is Australian slang for a ‘sun-lounger/reclining deck chair’, while shut the front door is a US English exclamation expressing surprise or disbelief. The final two are also originally US slang phrases, but in this case used by an English football manager and a former Australian cricketer. The use of –ville as a terminal element to refer to a fictitious place associated with a particular quality, is dated to 1863 by the OED; the analogous use of City is listed from 1946. The fact a Burnley football manager, Sean Dyche, chooses to express his pride by reference to Proudsville and Australian commentator, Kerry O’Keefe describes James Vince’s tendency to be dismissed caught behind as Nick city are testament to how – like rhyming slang – such idiomatic expressions are so endlessly productive and entertaining.

Many of the terms above are documented in authoritative dictionaries in the British Library's collections, but some are yet to appear in print reference works, so their presence in our newspaper collections and web archives is an invaluable resource for language scholars monitoring the continued evolution of English. And as for this year’s winner – much though I’m tempted by cab twelve sixty double shifty rewind roast beef I don’t think I really understand it even now, so I’m going to plump for shut the front door, simply because I had to ask my seventeen-year-old daughter what Sloane Stephens meant.

17 December 2017

21st Century British Comics

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Wilma-for-web
Wilma, Ashling Larkin, Ink Pot Studio, University of Dundee

Hello! My name’s Olivia Hicks and I am the latest in the long line of British Library PhD Placements – this time based in the Contemporary British Collections Department and looking at 21st Century British Comics.

The placement follows the logic that the vast majority of comics produced in the Britain are not available at newsagents – the traditional place of comics retail – in fact, it’s unclear how many of them are even available in specialist comics shops. Thus traditional methods of examining a country’s comics culture (namely looking at the readily available published material), are slightly defunct. Therefore, to get a full understanding of British comics in the new millennium, it is important to examine not only the comics output of DC Thomson and 2000AD but also small press comics and independent creators. These alternative comics are currently blossoming in Britain; but what are they about, who’s making them, who are they for, where are they being made and where can they be found? 

Being let loose in the largest scholarly sandbox in Britain is an exercise is discipline and restraint. It is a fine line between ambitiously aiming to make the very most of this exceptional opportunity, and bearing in mind that it is only three months (and it has to be useful). It is easy, in such circumstances, to get lost.

In order to combat this, I drafted a research proposal before coming to the Library, identifying the kind of questions and themes that seemed to me particularly pertinent. Then, throughout the first few weeks (has it been four weeks already? Nooooo), I began, in cooperation with the Library, to identify outputs. Some of these outputs had already been identified and agreed upon beforehand (in our case a report and a comic), but others made themselves apparent as I began the placement. 

 The first, and most important output, is of course the report, where I will attempt to answer some of the questions asked in the second paragraph. The questions are a good mix between those that the Contemporary British Collections Department are particularly interested in, and those which will feed back nicely into my PhD (namely, as a girls comics scholar, it is helpful to understand how women are represented, and how girls are currently catered to). 

The second output will be two comics; one will aim to summarise the findings of the report into an easily accessible format for members of the public. The second comic will be for comics creators, explaining how their work falls under the legal deposit scheme. In this way we hope to rectify what is one of the biggest hurdles for studying 21st century British comics and preserving them for future generations – getting small press and independent comics into the Library’s collection.
This is a brief summary of the work I hope to carry out over the next two months. If you have any comments or queries, or simply want to talk more about comics (especially girls’ comics or superhero comics!), please get in touch at olivia.hicks@bl.uk.

See also: Earlier this year, Jen Aggleton explored digital comics publishing in the UK. You can find more details of this project in blog posts on digital comics in the UK and creating a web archive collection of digital comics.

08 November 2017

The Power of Documentary: John Pilger at the British Library 9- 10 December

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ComingWar-Quad-Approved4-web-small

The British Library will be holding a 2-day documentary festival over the weekend Saturday- Sunday 9- 10th December, to celebrate the career of John Pilger, along with other documentaries chosen as fine examples of the craft. The festival will include screenings of films from across his career, John Pilger will speak on the Power of the Documentary (Saturday) and will be in conversation on Sunday afternoon. A full programme can be found here.

The screening celebrates the acquisition by the Library of a digital archive of Pilger’s journalism – covering print, film and radio broadcasts over six decades. The archive, produced by Florian Zollmann from John Pilger’s personal collection, brings together for the first time nearly 1,500 news reports, films and radio broadcasts.  This includes articles from the Daily Mirror, Guardian, New Statesman, BBC Radio, and 60 films. His latest, prescient documentary, The Coming War on China, is his 60th film. 

Throughout his career, John has demonstrated the power and significance of investigative journalism in uncovering stories of peoples who have been ignored by the mainstream media or left otherwise without voice. His ground-breaking work in Cambodia revealed the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge, and his film Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia (1979) has subsequently been described as one of the 10 most influential documentaries of the 20th century. His later film, Stealing a Nation (2004), revealed the plight of the Chagos people, who were expelled from their homes in the 1960s and 1970s on idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean to make way for a military base.

John Pilger’s work is well-known for reporting on conflict, the human and civil rights abuses that result from conflict and the propaganda used to justify and prolong such abuses. His first film, The Quiet Mutiny (1970), interviewed young American soldiers in Vietnam, uncovering confusion and resistance to the war amongst conscripts and breaking the story of American troop insurrections in Vietnam.

Other work has placed a fresh focus on everyday subjects. His film, Burp! Pepsi v Coke in the Ice Cold War (1984) was an early example of investigative film-making that used originality and wit to examine the power of multinational corporations.

John Pilger’s work also sounds a warning of the threats to independent investigative journalism. The War You Don’t See (2011) recounts the history of embedded journalism in conflict and asks us to question the reporting of conflicts in the 21st century.

All these films will be shown at the British Library for the festival, The Power of Documentary, celebrating the career of John Pilger and emphasising the continued significance of independent investigative journalism.

04 October 2017

The Annual Equality Lecture: The Persistence of Gender Inequality

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On the 23 October this year, the British Library and British Sociological Association will host the seventh annual equality lecture. This year we are delighted that the speaker will be Professor Mary Evans, talking about gender inequality and why many continue to ignore it as a major issue in structural and cultural inequality.

The issue of gender inequality has made the headlines again and again in recent years. Research undertaken by the coalition A Fair Deal for Women for instance, has shown that in the UK women, especially BAME and disabled women, have been disproportionately affected by cuts to public spending. Meanwhile, the gender pay gap and the poor representation of women at senior levels in employment, in politics, and on Boards, is a persisting problem. The issues which were so central to the Second Wave Feminist movement – such as childcare, employment equality, freedom from sexual oppression, the right to economic equality - remain daily battles for women in the UK today.

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Image: Professor Mary Evans outside the British Library. Photo copyright Sarah Evans.

Feminism as a movement feels as though it has regained momentum in the UK. The work of Laura Bates and the Everyday Sexism project has sought to expose the sexism, abuse and misogyny that women face on a daily basis. Activist groups such as Sisters Uncut  have lobbied to improve conditions and support for those women who are victims of domestic violence. And, the marches on International Women’s Day earlier this year harnessed women’s anger about policies and attitudes, both in the UK and internationally, which continue to dehumanise women and cause suffering.

Despite the fact that women continue to suffer both structural and cultural inequality, gender is often ignored as a fundamental constituent of inequality in discussions about inequality, both within academia and the public realm. Professor Evans will draw on her most recent book, The Persistence of Gender Inequality (Polity Press, 2016) to make this argument, and to show the importance of making these connections if progress in gender equality is to be achieved.

Professor Mary Evans began her academic career over 40 years ago at the University of Kent, where she taught sociology and women’s and gender studies. Since 2007, Professor Evans has been Emeritus Professor in Sociology at the University of Kent and more recently she took up a post at the London School of Economics where she is now Visiting Professor at the Gender Institute. Professor Evans is particularly interested in gender and class as components of social identity and the way we structure and imagine the social world.

For more information about the event and to book tickets, please visit our events pages.

Visit Mary’s blog post about her book on the Polity Press Blog: http://politybooks.com/the-persistence-of-gender-inequality/

 

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).

  New Cross Frt Cvr 

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

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