Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library


Find out about social sciences at the British Library including collections, events and research. This blog includes contributions from curators and guest posts by academics, students and practitioners. Read more

19 December 2017

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council: a short introduction, sources for research and appeal case metadata.

Over the next few weeks, here on the Social Science blog and on the Digital Scholarship blog, Jonathan Sims and Sarah Middle will discuss work done at the British Library to provide insights into appeal cases heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC).  

To start us off, here is some background about the Judicial Committee (JCPC) itself with signposts to resources to support your research, and a brief consideration of whether metadata describing Privy Council appeal cases and judgments can be exploited more effectively.

The court and its jurisdiction

The Privy Council has long acted as a final court of appeal for an extraordinarily wide range of legal cases including both civil and criminal appeals. Details of the wide jurisdiction, current role and powers of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) are set out on its website. Perhaps foremost among these is the Judicial Committee’s role to act as a final appeal court for a number of Commonwealth countries. Hearings are often filmed and made available online.


Courtroom three at the Supreme Court, London

Today the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) shares a home with the Supreme Court at the Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square, London, where appeals to the JCPC are typically heard in Courtroom Three. However until early this century JCPC hearings took place in a chamber accessed via an unobtrusive door to the Privy Council offices in Downing Street, opposite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Soane Museum’s website includes drawings from Sir John’s designs for these offices (see below, Soane …). However the grandeur evident in drawings and in an 1846 illustration (see below, Sitting …) gave way to more cramped and modest conditions by the time of a 1921 appeal against the judgment of the Lincoln Consistory Court (see below, Archdeacon …).  Depicting an earlier era, Christian Schussele’s mid nineteenth century painting Benjamin Franklin appearing before the Privy Council, depicts a rich and vivid spectacle of the court sitting in 1774 in the Royal Cockpit. (See below, Isaacson.)


The corner of Downing Street and Whitehall

The origins of the Privy Council’s jurisdiction are introduced on the JCPC website, and background commentary about the Privy Council records at the UK National Archives suggests that the Council's judicial function had become distinguishable from legislative and administrative roles by the sixteenth century. With the creation of the Judicial Committee in 1833 during the Lord Chancellorship of Henry Brougham colonial appeals to the Privy Council were ensured to be heard by professional lawyers, (see below Lobban) and by the start of the twentieth century the JCPC “was the final appellate court over a vast global Empire” of colonies, possessions and self-governing Dominions. (Mohr) A YouTube video embedded on the JCPC website provides a brief and engaging history of the court and its jurisdiction.

Biographical information about Privy Council judges can be found across the British Library collections. Archival collections including the Coleridge Family Papers. (MS 85495-86488), Hardwicke Papers (including five, indexed volumes of “appeal-causes before the Privy Council, 1722-1769”, Add. MS 36,216 - 36,220.), India Office Records and private papers, papers of several Lord Chancellors and Prime Ministers (for example, Robert Peel Add 40181 - 40617 and William Gladstone Add. 44086-44835) offer glimpses into the lives and work of  Privy Council judges, the judicial business of the Privy Council, and sometimes into specific cases. These can be searched on the archives catalogue. Photographs and biographical detail of the first colonial judges appointed to the Judicial Committee including Henry De Villiers (South Africa), Samuel James Way (Australia), Samuel Strong (Canada), and Ameer Ali (India) can be found in British Library’s journal and newspaper collections.

Speaking in 2013 and highlighting the modern internationalism of today’s JCPC, Lord Neuberger drew attention to the long-standing position that, although usually sitting for convenience in Westminster, the JCPC applies the law of the state in question.  The Privy Council has considered law from varied locations and legal traditions including Common Law, acts of the Oireachtas from the Irish Free State, French, Spanish and Romano-Dutch law, Venetian and Sardinian law, customary law from Africa, Ottoman and Chinese law, and Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist law from India. (Haldane p. 154) Research indicates that the huge majority of cases originated in India, with the next highest number attributed to Canada. (See Richardson and below Campbell)


High Court, Calcutta, now Kolkata. (Photo Stretton, W.G., 1875, British Library Online Gallery)


Recorder’s Court, Rangoon, now Yangon (Photo Jackson, J. 1868, British Library Online Gallery)

The JCPC has heard appeals from courts closer to London too. These include Admiralty and Prize appeals, cases from ecclesiastical courts, and cases pertaining to issues of congenital or temporary mental ill-health, jurisdictions inherited from the High Court of Delegates in the 1830s. During the twentieth century, the court also heard certain cases concerning patents and copyright, and appeals in disciplinary cases from a small number of professional bodies.

Getting to grips with Privy Council appeals, judgments and printed case papers

A snapshot cross section of the court’s caseload is given in Alex Giles’ blog piece Stories from the Empire: Privy Council Cases 1917-1920 while the cultural and international legal significance of particular cases are vividly brought to life in panels from the 2014 exhibition A Court at the Crossroads of Empire: Stories from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council through the stories of individual litigants and lawyers.

 A more comprehensive representation of the JCPC case load than the selective coverage distributed throughout numerous law reports can be found in collections of official transcripts of the judgments. Very substantial collections are available online and bound into volumes of case papers. The website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute BAILII provides easy access to a collection of judgment transcripts digitised from the JCPC’s own collection. More or less equivalent is the collection of judgments bound in with the British Library volumes of JCPC case papers, although some variations in coverage and numbering are evident in comparison with the BAILII set.  

In turn, the case papers, which sometimes amount to thousands of pages for an individual case, provide far more insight to individual cases and the operation of justice than the judgments are capable of offering. Largely made up of records of proceedings reprinted and authenticated from those in the originating courts and distributed for the purposes of the Privy Council appeal hearings, they provide rare opportunities to examine historical law in action in courts around the world. As Weait says of transcripts of criminal trials and their value for teaching law, (see below) the case papers reflect the vibrant dispute, and dialogue of proceedings providing opportunity to take a “critically reflective stance” on the “distillation, reduction and abstraction” of process that is provided in “monologue” appellate judgments.

However, as studies of legal case files also suggest, the printed records of proceedings also offer material traces of how law absorbs and constructs the wider social world through authenticated documentary and sworn evidence. It was the level of detail in spatial representations demanded of documentary evidence that one researcher valued. The information was simply unavailable elsewhere. Valued too was the archive of nuanced language and insight on private devotional practices that offered a reflection of a less homogenous, cultural identity than had commonly circulated in contemporary political narrative.  Further insights afforded by the case papers are illustrated in another of Giles’ blog pieces and in summaries of talks by legal historians at a symposium held at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

The few accessible and comprehensive sets of these internationally significant papers are all located in Britain, distributed to archival collections following the disposal of the appeals.  This includes of course the British Library set. (Please note that printed cases and records of proceedings for selected cases beyond the scope of this set can also be found among the Hardwicke papers and India Office Records at the British Library.)  A catalogue entry on the National Archives website helpfully places another set of the printed case papers in context of the wider collections of Privy Council records, although it does not currently facilitate access to the individual cases. Fortunately, free online access to a subset of the case papers is provided by BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute). Case papers for a small selection of appeals are also provided on Exeter University website Privy Council Papers.  

Elsewhere online resources have focused on cases from specific geographical areas and historical periods. These include the Ames Foundation’s Annotated Digital Catalogue of Colonial Appeals (see below, O’Connor and Bilder) whose principal project provides digital images of printed cases in appeals from the American colonies prior to independence, and draws extensive metadata for each case from Privy Council records including the Acts of the Privy Council of England (Colonial Series) and the original Privy Council Registers  and the relevant parts of the PC 1 series (see below, Privy …). Another example is that provided by Macquarie University, which provides detailed information about pre-1850 Australian cases. Additionally, the Anglo-Indian Legal History site by Mitch Fraas contains data about the first 50 appeals from India (1679-1774).

For the final part of today’s blog we look at the how the metadata that describes the nineteenth and twentieth century judgments underpins some of the online services described above, how it facilitates discovery of and access to these resources, and how it might be further exploited.

Exploiting the appeal case metadata for collection discovery and research

The relevant section of BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute) allows the user to search the text of the JCPC judgments, browse the judgments by year and view digitised versions of case documents, where available (see Whittle’s article for more information). Access to the BAILII documents is additionally provided by the LawCite search interface from AustLII, the Australasian Legal Information Institute. Many of the BAILII cases can also be explored and accessed based on the geographical location of the originating courts and the year of the JCPC judgment via a resource provided by IALS (Institute of Advanced Legal Studies), as well as via the University of Exeter’s Privy Council Papers resource.


IALS visualises selected JCPC cases based on their geographical location and judgment year

The brief details describing each appeal case, its judgments and case papers (the metadata) in several of the above online resources is based on information used to identify and manage collections of judgments and case papers formerly housed at the Privy Council Office in Downing Street. Initially in Microsoft Word documents, these were donated to several institutions including the British Library.

In a single document E.C. Stretton recorded the contents of 137 volumes entitled Printed Cases in Indian and Colonial Appeals (now part of the series PCAP 6 covering cases heard between 1792 and 1878 in the catalogue of the UK National Archives). In addition to the origin of the appeal and details of the parties and documents included for each case in a particular volume, the Stretton metadata also includes, in some cases, information about the outcome of the appeal and the names of presiding Privy Council judges.  Much of this information is now searchable in the catalogue of Exeter University’s Privy Council Papers resource.

Additional annual documents that acted as an index to cases decided between 1860 and 1998, providing basic data in a tabular structure, also underpins some of these online resources. While acting as a helpful finding aid used to identify the year and judgment number of a given case the detail and structure of this data made it immediately obvious that the information could be used to ask questions about the whole body of cases.

With such a huge body of cases to negotiate, stretching over so many years, would an approach that offers some perspective on the case load as a whole be valuable?  Giles suggests that there were around 140 cases per year between 1917 and 1920 - we have seen their wide geographical and cultural scope - and behind each case lies a rich and extensive source in the case papers.

At the British Library this tabular metadata was converted to a spreadsheet that forms the basis for data visualisation experiments that will be outlined in future blog posts.  Drawing inspiration from digital humanities projects we wondered how this structured data could be exploited to ask questions about the JCPC case load as a whole or to facilitate discovery and retrieval of judgments and case papers relevant to particular research interests. Could the data facilitate easier understanding of the geographic distribution of the origins of the appeals, or demonstrate how this distribution was structured by year? Could it help to investigate typical duration of cases (from appeal year to judgment year) and explore relationships between duration and the distance of the originating court from Westminster? Could we determine which appellants or respondents occurred most frequently in the dataset? What other connections and relationships could be discovered to facilitate research or help with identification of relevant appeals and case papers for further investigation?

This is the first in a series of posts about a project to make information about JCPC appeal cases easier to discover. Later posts on the Digital Scholarship blog will look at ways of visualising the information about them:

Many of the resources discussed above are signposted in a collection guide on the British Library website: Judicial Committee of the Privy Council appeal cases.

Further Reading

Some of the resources listed below contain links to online subscription websites. If you or you institution do not have a subscription to these websites they can be accessed in the British Library reading rooms.

The image also can be seen on Leslie Katz’ blog 

  • Soane Museum: collections online: drawings : architectural & other: office of works : London, Board of Trade and Privy Council Offices, Whitehall & Downing Street: designs for new offices and scheme for the improvement of Downing Street, 1823-33 (284 catalogued drawings)
  • Weait, M (2012) Criminal Law: Thinking about Criminal Law from a Trial Perspective, p163, in Hunter, C Integrating Socio-Legal Studies into the Law Curriculum (Palgrave Macmillan)

18 December 2017

BL Sports Word of the Year 2017

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

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

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


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

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.

Mary Evans image cropped - web small

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:


01 September 2017

Bringing Voices Together: the importance of independent Black publishing

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, (

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.



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

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.


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

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.


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