THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

4 posts categorized "Digital scholarship"

03 June 2017

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

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Web-archive-1996-graph-forweb

 

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’.

  Rebels in the Archives_ WEB

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.

21 December 2016

Rebels in the Archives: Stories of Sexism, Sisterhood and Struggle

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Rachel Tavernor, a British Library PhD Placement Researcher, writes about an upcoming event ‘Rebels in the Archives’ that will be held at the British Library in 2017.

On 8 March 2017, to celebrate International Women’s Day, the British Library will host a panel conversation on the power and potential of archiving feminist movements. Rebels in the Archives is an evening dedicated to stories of sexism, sisterhood and struggle.

Our speakers include Jill Liddington, Abi Morgan, Heidi Safia Mirza and Deborah Withers. Margaretta Jolly, project director of Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the Women’s Liberation Movement, will chair this panel of influential feminists as they debate questions of politics, representation and preservation.

Our panel will be sharing stories of the rebels and rebellion that inspire them. Discussing their own engagement (as historians, screenwriters, researchers and curators) with archives of activism. As well as debating the ways in which collecting, curating and communicating activism can be a radical practice.

Sisters image Web SmallPhotograph copyright of Theo McInnes and reproduced here with their kind permission.

Jill Liddington is a writer, historian and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. She has researched and written on votes for women since the 1970s, when she first visited the Fawcett Library (now Women’s Library). Her latest book Vanishing for the Vote: Suffrage, Citizenship and The Battle for the Census, tells how suffragette organizations urged women, all still voteless, to boycott the census on 2 April 1911.

Abi Morgan is a BAFTA and Emmy Award winning writer and producer. Abi is the screenwriter of Suffragette, the first ever mainstream film about the British campaign for equal votes. The story focuses on the lives of working class women involved in the movement. Radicalised and turning to violence as the only route to change, they were willing to lose everything in their fight for equality – their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives.

Heidi Safia Mirza is a visiting Professor of Race, Faith and Culture at Goldsmith’s College, University of London and Professor Emerita in Equalities Studies at the UCL Institute of Education. Heidi advises English Heritage on diversity and established the Runnymede Collection at the Black Cultural Archives (BCA), a race-relations archive documenting the late 20th Century civil rights struggle for Multicultural Britain. She is author and editor of several books, including Young Female and Black, Black British Feminism and Black and Postcolonial Feminism in New Times: Researching Educational Inequalities.

Deborah Withers is a writer, curator, researcher and publisher. Their new book Feminism, Digital Culture and the Politics of Transmission: Theory, Practice and Cultural Heritage, asks: what does it mean to say that feminism has cultural heritage? The book explores how digital technologies have enabled impassioned amateurs to make ‘archives’ within the first decade of the 21st century. In 2010, Deborah founded HammerOn Press, a grassroots publishing label rooted in feminist / queer do it yourself culture. They are also an active trustee of the Feminist Archive South, and have curated two Heritage Lottery Funded exhibitions Sistershow Revisited and Music & Liberation.

Margaretta Jolly is a Reader in Cultural Studies and Director of the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research at the University of Sussex. Her current book-in-progress is Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the UK Women's Liberation Movement (forthcoming). Her book, In Love and Struggle: Letters and Contemporary Feminism explores feminist relationships as they have been expressed in letters and emails since the 1970s and was awarded the 2009 Feminist and Women's Studies Association Book Prize.

Booking for Rebels in the Archives is now open. We hope you are able to join us and are able to contribute to this discussion.

20 April 2016

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

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Our free online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life starts on 16th May 2016

Websmall-Propaganda_Nottingham_BL_RD
Svoboda po-amerikanski (Freedom, American Style) by B Prorokov, 1971

Freedom, justice, community, place and choice: words which are politically-charged and fundamental in our experience of everyday lives. Over five weeks, our online course explores how words and images gain different meanings, how we interpret the symbols we encounter, and how these interpretations are sometimes 'quoted back' to us with a specific political intent.

Our course is developed and delivered with the Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies at the University of Nottingham. Learners can sign up for the course now, free of charge, at the FutureLearn website. Learning is structured across a small number of activities each week, which are broken down into simple steps. A step might be a short video presentation, or a reading or a question to discuss. Discussion is the most important part of our course, allowing us to learn from each-other's experiences and opinions. The nature of a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) means that we can explore our shared interests in comparative political study and the way in which our material worlds reflect and shape our political experience.

This is the second year in which we have run this course. In 2015, we had nearly 12,000 learners from 20 countries around the world. Our focus on learning through discussion meant that all participants, including those of us who developed the course, learnt through contributing to a lively debate that ran through all five weeks. Some of this learning has been incorporated into this year's course, including a focus on the experience of migration in expressions of identity, and how definitions of the 'unnatural' influences our political views. In preparation for this year, we have reviewed and updated course content, including the addition of four new films.     

A unique feature of our course is that we ask participants to share images either that they find online or of photographs that they have taken themselves. These images relate to the themes discussed each week, and are surprising in how they reveal our responses to concepts such as 'freedom', 'nature' and 'community'. Many of the images shared last year were of open spaces, representing nature as an expression of freedom but also as something threatened by unrestrained freedom or consumption. You can see a selection of images shared on our Flickr site.

We were incredibly impressed by the quality of interaction on our course last year, and learners were very positive about course content and the course leaders. We hope that you will join us from 16th May when the course restarts, and sign up today at www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda/