THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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15 posts categorized "Research collaborations"

16 January 2017

2017 / 2018 British Library PhD Placements

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

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

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

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

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

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  Image: The gates of the British Library.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 July 2015

Call for Papers

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The importance of early years, childhood and adolescence: Evidence from longitudinal studies

Monday 30 November 2015

British Library Conference Centre

www.closer.ac.uk/event/conference2015
SUBMISSION  DEADLINE: 27 July 2015
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We are delighted to invite proposals from researchers using longitudinal data to explore the broad theme of: The importance of early years, childhood and adolescence. Submissions will be considered for an oral presentation or poster. Analyses involving cross-study comparisons are particularly encouraged.

Important Dates

Deadline for receipt of submissions: 27 July 2015
Notification of acceptance: Early Sept 2015
Registration Opens: Mid Sept 2015

Deadline for final camera-ready copy: 9 OCTOBER    
CLOSER CONFERENCE: 30 November 2015

Selected submissions may be considered for publication in a "Conference Edition" of Longitudinal and Life Course Studies.

A prize for best Student Poster, as judged by the Conference Programme Committee, will be awarded during the conference.

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The UK’s longitudinal studies are leading sources of evidence on how our early circumstances and experiences affect our paths through life and our outcomes in adulthood. CLOSER is bringing together researchers from across disciplines to showcase outstanding longitudinal research in the importance of early years, childhood and adolescence. It is an opportunity to share ideas and innovations with longitudinal researchers from across disciplines and sectors, both from the UK and abroad. It will also showcase the latest resources for research, including a new cutting-edge metadata search platform.

About CLOSER

Closer_Logo_colour

Image: copyright CLOSER, reproduced with permission

Promoting excellence in cohort and longitudinal research

CLOSER (Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources) aims to maximise the use, value and impact of the UK’s cohort and longitudinal studies. Bringing together nine leading studies, the British Library and the UK Data Service, CLOSER works to stimulate interdisciplinary research, develop shared resources, provide training, and share expertise.

Studies

CLOSER is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council.

27 February 2015

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

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This week, we announced our new online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life. This is the first online course of its type that is using the Library's collections, and we are developing and delivering it with the Centre for the Study of Ideologies at the University of Nottingham. The course will start in May, and run on the FutureLearn platform.

During the course, learners will explore and debate issues such as: freedom, community, place, justice and choice. These concepts form the building blocks of our political views but they mean different things to different people. We'll be exploring how those words come to hold different meanings and how political ideas can impact on everyday lives.

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B. Prorokov, Freedom American-Style. 1971. (detail of poster).

There are two academic leads on the course. Mathew Humphrey, Professor of Political Theory, works on environmental political theory and theories of ideology. Maiken Umbach, Professor of Modern History, researches the relationship between political ideas and material culture (eg through the built environment or private photography).

The 5-week course draws on themes and items used in our 2013 exhibition, Propaganda Power and Persuasion. One of the most enjoyable aspects of curating that exhibition was giving public tours and talking to people as they visited the exhibition. This is a subject that everybody has an opinion on and experience of, and this new course will provide a new space in which to continue discussions started during that exhibition, and to look at the subject in a new light.

An exciting aspect of this course is that we'll be calling on learners to post images to an online gallery, contributing to the debate on what freedom or protest or community might mean. The online nature of the course means that people can join from all over the world, and there are no previous qualifications or experience required to take part.

Registration is open now. You can fnd out more, and see a video trailer for the course online.

 

02 February 2015

2014 in review: Management Book of the Year, the problem with democracy, epigenetics and beyond.

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2014 saw British Library curators working across diverse themes, including: sport, law, language, gender, ageing and democracy. Through conferences, exhibitions, workshops and collection development, we worked with a range of audiences, uncovering new insights to our collections and learning more about contemporary research. Here are some highlights:

The annual Chartered Management Institute/British Library Management Book of the Year awards ceremony was held in the British Library conference centre on the 3rd February 2014.  Details of the category winners can be found on the CMI website along with videos which summarise each of the books.  The videos were produced by students from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication.  The overall winner for 2014 was The Ten Principals behind Great Customer Experience by Matt Wilkinson.  We look forward to participating in the 2015 awards ceremony, which takes place on the 9th of February this year.

As part of the public events series linked to the Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight   exhibition, we held a public discussion ‘Beyond Nature versus Nurture’.  This event brought together social scientists and scientists to discuss how the nature versus nurture debate has been revolutionised by the study of Epigenetics and to debate the moral, ethical and social consequences of the growing understanding of how nurture affects nature. The speakers were Professors George Davey-Smith and Nikolas Rose.  The evening was chaired by Professor Jane Elliott. The discussion is available as a podcast and can also be watched on the library’s Youtube channel.

To mark Le Grand Départ of the Tour de France 2014 from Yorkshire, members of the team, with colleagues from across the library, curated and installed a display of collection items at the library’s Boston Spa site near Wetherby. The display included accounts of the early days of cycling as a mass pastime and sport, including an 1897 description of a ‘bicycle gymkhana’, more recent journalistic accounts of the legendary cycling extravaganza, typographical prints responding creatively to the 2011 Tour de France – including Mark Cavendish’s Green Jersey win – and the original manuscript of Tim Moore’s best-selling French Revolutions, his 2001 account of cycling the entire 3,630km route of the 2000 Tour de France.

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Gill Ridgley and Robert Davies following the installation of Le Grand Tour exhibition at Boston Spa

In addition to the exhibition there was a ‘peloton’ of blogs written by staff including 'Pedal Power' which explored how patents held by the library shed light on the technical development of the bicycle over the last two hundred years and ‘Escorting Stoller's Depart' which reports on the Tour de British Library when members of staff cycled from St Pancras to Boston Spa to mark the start of the Tour de France.

In April we held a one day conference Portraying Ageing: Cultural Assumptions and Practical Implications in partnership with the The School of Language, Linguistics and Film – Queen Mary, University of London and the Centre for Policy on Ageing.  The conference brought together experts from different backgrounds to share and discuss, from a variety of theoretical and practical viewpoints, how age and ageing are not only biological events but also cultural and social constructions and how insights from research can be translated into policy and practice.  They keynote address was given by Professor Lynne Segal, Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, Guardian Columnist and author of ‘Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing’. The conference was filmed and the videos can be accessed via a page on the Social Welfare Portal.  An overview of the day is also available via the ‘Age is in the eye of the beholder' blog post.

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Professor Lynne Segal delivering the keynote address at the Portraying Ageing Conference.

We were delighted to hold the Fourth Annual Equality lecture in association with the British Sociological Association.  This year our speaker was Dr Tom Shakespeare, a senior lecturer in medical sociology at the University of East Anglia and disability rights advocate. Tom’s research interests centre on disability studies and bioethics and his publications include: The Sexual Politics of Disability (1996), Genetic Politics (2002) and Disability Rights and Wrongs (2006). He has worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva where he helped write and edit the World Report on Disability (WHO 2011) and has been involved in the disability movement for 25 years.

The theme of Tom’s talk was ‘Enabling Equality: from disabling barriers to equal participation’ and explored what it takes to achieve equality for disabled people, in the era of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ‘welfare reform’.  The lecture is available on our podcast page and as a video on the British Sociological Association’s vimeo channel.

Members of the team assisted colleagues from across the library in the planning and delivery of the Languages and the First World War International Conference which was held in association with the University of Antwerp and timed to coincide with the opening of the library exhibition Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour.  The conference aimed to study how the languages of combatant nations influenced each other; the use of trench slang to both include and exclude individuals; censorship and propaganda; the development of interpreting as a profession; personal communication and silence during and after the war and how the First World War still influences how we all speak today.  The speakers represented a range of academic disciplines and were drawn from across Europe, North America and Australia.  The programme and related blogs can be found on the dedicated conference tumblr page. Some of the twitter feed from the conference is available via Storyfi.

Post Card Home
Postcard home: Arthur Tildesley writes to his Mother and Father that he is 'tray bon'.

In June we hosted the inaugural English Grammar Day, which was inspired by renewed political interest in the role of grammar in English teaching and assessment and debates about the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about grammar. EGD 2014 was a sell out event and a forum for reflections on the state of, and attitudes towards, English grammar – in school and beyond – with public contributions encouraged in the form of a lively ‘Any Questions’ style Panel session. The event brought together academic linguists, teachers, PGCE students, teacher trainers and non-specialists and we look forward to hosting EGD 2015 on June 29 and making this an annual event.

The year also saw British Online Archives made available via remote access for British Library readers.  This is an online platform which brings together digitised images, and descriptions, of collections held in archives and libraries from across Britain.   Collections include the BBC Handbooks and Listener Research, Parliamentary Labour Party records, missionary and colonial papers (recording some of the earliest contacts between Europeans and the populations of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific), and the archive of the Communist Party of Great Britain.  More information on some of the material available via the service can be found in an earlier Social Sciences blog post.

Holders of British Library Reader Pass can now access these collections from outside our Reading Rooms, using our Remote e-Resources service at https://eresources.remote.bl.uk:2443/login

Britihs Archives Online

Images taken from British Archives Online.

In partnership with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the Socio-Legal Studies Association we held the third national socio-legal training day.  The theme this year was Law, Gender and Sexuality.  The day aimed to draw attention to archives and content which newcomers to the investigation of intersections between law, gender and sexuality may not be aware of and to consider the methodological and practical issues involved in analysing sources. Information about the programme and details of speakers can be found here and overviews of the day can be found here and here.

We also launched our new series of public discussions ‘Enduring Ideas’ in partnership with the Academy of Social Sciences.  The series aims to explore some of the key concepts which underpin society.  In the first event, Professor Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield and author of Defending Politics, discussed ‘Enduring Ideas: The Problem with Democracy’.

During the evening Professor Flinders asked and addressed many questions: does the apparent shift from healthy scepticism to corrosive cynicism have more to do with our unrealistic expectations of politics than a failure of democratic politics?  Do the problems with democracy – if they exist – tell us more about a failure on the part of the public to understand politics rather than a failure of politicians to understand us?  Is the problem with democracy is not that it is in short supply but that we have too much of it? He went on to suggest new ways of thinking about politics to ensure not the death but the life of democracy.  A podcast of the talk is available here.

Naturally, this post only provides a snapshot of some of the activities we were involved in, in 2014.  We’ve enjoyed working with colleagues from across academia; libraries; archives; third sector organisations; professional bodies such as the Academy of Social Sciences, British Sociological Association and the Sociological Research Association, enormously.  It has also been a great way to meet so many members of the public.  We’re already looking forward to a new Enduring Ideas discussion, Talk Science, the Annual Equality Lecture and more in 2015.  Keep an eye on What’s On for events.

12 December 2014

ODIN - Linking datasets and their creators

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Rachael Kotarski, Content Specialist for Datasets, gives us an update on the ODIN project:

Odin-logo

You may or may not have noticed from various blog posts that we love persistent identifiers at the British Library, especially for data. There's no better way to tell the difference between two datasets – or books, papers or people, than by checking their identifiers.

While these identifiers are important parts of the research machinery, they haven't been as well connected as they could be. Over the past two years the British Library has been involved in the EU-funded FP7 project, the ORCID and DataCite Interoperability Network – ODIN. The aim of the project was to investigate where the integration of identifiers for research objects (primarily research datasets) and the people involved in creating them could be improved.

There were many strands to this work carried out in parallel over the past two years. One that we have been heavily involved in is proving the concept of identifier use in humanities and social science, as compared with high energy physics data archives.

Proof of Concept in Humanities and Social Science

As part of the ODIN work here at the British Library, we have worked very closely with three major data archives in the UK to develop workflows for object and people identifiers. We worked with the UK Data Archive (UKDA, a node of the UK Data Service), the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and the MRC National survey of Health and Development (MRC NSHD).

While these data archives all exist within a similar subject area, they all have different challenges in identifying long-term, dynamic and historical data. They have also all been at different stages in their use of identifiers. Despite these differences, the ultimate approach has been similar across humanities and social sciences, as well as in high energy physics:

  • Object identifiers are given to datasets as part of the ingest process
  • For highly dynamic and aggregated datasets, it may be possible to assign identifiers to the subset of data as downloaded
  • Identifiers for authors and contributors are requested as part of the submission information, and can be associated with other forms of identity or profile management at the archive
  • Identifiers for legacy datasets are added in a bulk-process

Feedback to the project has helped to direct technical changes to the way in which DataCite and ORCID work.

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ODIN final event: standing room only. Photograph by Sergio Ruiz

If you run a data repository, find out more about DataCite in the UK. If you create, contribute to or manage research data, see if you have an International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) or consider signing up for an ORCID iD.

ODIN Partners

Not all the reports from all the strands of work are available yet, but once they are they will be linked from http://odin-project.eu/project-outputs/deliverables/.

02 December 2014

Feminism in London Conference

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Louise Kimpton Nye writes:

Last month Polly Russell and I joined about 1000 other people in a vast auditorium at the Institute for Education for the Feminism in London Conference. We were there partly for professional reasons - Polly, a Curator at the British Library, manages a project to digitise, preserve and make freely available the complete run of Spare Rib magazine and I have been working as a volunteer with her for the last ten months. But we were also there as committed feminists, curious to find out more about feminist campaigns, issues and arguments. The atmosphere in that auditorium at the start of the conference was exciting, welcoming, irreverent yet serious and this set the tone for the rest of the day.

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  Photograph used with kind permission of Foto Bella Foto
     

The conference comprised lectures, panel discussions and workshops on a wide range of feminist issues including Grounding Feminist Activity in our Everyday Life, Intersecting Oppressions In The Sex Industry and Sisterhood Around The Globe, for instance.  Annette Lawson OBE (National Alliance of Women’s Organisations) kicked off the day with her keynote speech, ‘Feminism in Context’ in which she explored the sources of misogyny and asked why people are often reluctant to use the word ‘feminist’.  Lawson was followed by a rousing speech from Dr Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Pornography has Hijacked our Sexuality and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies.  

Dines aims to put the radical back into feminism, and argued that the core principal of feminism, ‘the personal is political’ has been undermined by too much emphasis on personal empowerment at the expense of a wider collective feminist activism.  She argued that women in positions of privilege and power have ‘sold out’ to do the bidding of powerful men and that while patriarchal power structures are embedded in institutions, women are never going to gain a rightful share. Dines is a powerful speaker who doesn’t mince her words. She captivated the crowd with her no holds barred analysis of pornography and racism in pornography, subjects we had another opportunity to explore at a film and discussion event over the lunch break, The Porn Industry has Hijacked our Sexuality.

In the morning, we attended Feminist Archives and Activism: Knowing Our Past - Creating Our Future, a workshop which explored the importance of preserving and celebrating feminist history.  From our perspective this was an opportunity to find out about the important work of feminist libraries and archives, to meet a range of feminist librarians and archivists and to talk about our project to digitise Spare Rib. Organised by the newly formed national network of Feminist Libraries and Archives, FLA, this workshop was chaired by Sue O’ Sullivan, member of the Spare Rib collective and Sheba Press. Panel  members included Yasmin Ahmed from the Feminist Library , Frankie Green from the Women’s Liberation Music Archive, Jalna Hanmer from the Feminist Archive North, Zaimal Azad from Nottingham Women’s Centre, Sue John from Glasgow Women’s Library, and Liz Kelly and Joan Scanlon from the radical feminist journal Trouble & Strife.

Liz Kelly talked about the impetus for digitising Trouble and Strife magazine – a desire to ensure that the ideas of older-generation feminists are available online to younger feminists. The interactive online resource takes articles from past editions of the magazine and reflects on these from a present-day perspective.  Kelly was keen to encourage women to get in touch if they wish to contribute to the website,  www.troubleandstrife.org.

Yasmin Ahmed, gave us a potted history of the Feminist Library which started in 1975 and houses a large archive of Women’s Liberation Movement material, as well as an extensive collection of feminist books, journals, photos, leaflets and pamphlets charting different feminist perspectives from around the world.  Ahmed’s presentation stimulated some interesting discussion about modern attitudes to de-cluttering and whether it is ‘worth’ keeping our old magazines and other memorabilia.  The resounding message from the older feminists in the room was “don’t throw anything away!”  Indeed, the Feminist Library will take people’s old books, photos, leaflets etc. and archive them.  One younger delegate said how much she enjoys handling the resources held in libraries and archives, in contrast to using the internet for research. Others concurred with this and argued that physical space of a library can play an important part in creating and maintaining feminist communities. The consensus was clear, in our digital age there is still a place for physical items and for spaces where feminist activists, historians and scholars can come together and share ideas and resources.

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Photograph used with kind permission of Foto Bella Foto

In the afternoon, I attended the workshop on Fighting Against Patriarchy in Turkey.   The panel comprised four inspiring young women from the Istanbul Feminist Collective who gave us a vivid picture of how feminists are organising in Turkey to develop a feminist theory and practise against the system of patriarchy.  These women made a real impression on me.  They had such a firm handle on what is needed to make a real difference to real women in Turkey and explained their goals with focus and clarity.   Violence and sexual violence against women were key themes.  They talked about how the women’s movement in Turkey has successfully argued that so-called ‘custom killing’ or ‘honour killing’ should be called femicide.  For them, every male crime against a woman is political in a country where at least three women per day are killed.  But it is in the domestic sphere and in the labour market that the Istanbul Feminist Collective believe deep change is needed if women are to gain the independence needed to rise up against violence and oppression.  Men control women’s labour in Turkey, both paid and unpaid, the collective argue.   ‘We want our dues back from men’ was how one of the panellists described their goal to ‘force the state to demolish the gender division of labour’.  This was powerful stuff. 

Male violence against women and rape were key themes running through the day.  They were explored by both keynote speakers at the start of the day and further discussed in some of the workshops.  Violence against women was also the main topic of the closing plenary, with the Awarding of the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize which recognises individual women and women’s groups who have raised awareness of violence against women and children.   Women nominated for the prize stood up to give their personal testimonies of how they had been affected by male violence in what was the most moving part of the day. 

Intense and inspiring in equal measure, the conference achieved a good balance between academic debate and discussion of how issues of inequality affect women in their everyday lives.  There was also plenty of entertainment on hand with the fantastic stand-up comedian Kate Smurthwaite chairing the plenary session and a poet in residence who spent the day gathering material for a poem which she then performed at the closing session.  The day ended on a real high note with a feminist party with performances from feminist band the Stepney Sisters, formed in 1975, performance poet, Carmina Masoliver, artist and activist Rebecca Mordan (founder of Scary Little Girls), and many more. Lively, engaging, challenging and rich, this conference had something for everyone.

22 September 2014

Exploring Play – a free, open, online course

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Professor Marsh writes:

Beginning on 29th September 2014 and running for 7 weeks, the University of Sheffield has developed a new, free, online course ‘Exploring Play: the Importance of Play in Everyday Life’ which will be delivered through the FutureLearn platform. Through the course, we aim to investigate play as a serious subject for study and in particular examine the place of play as an
important part of our everyday lives, across our life courses. Play is not only something that occurs in childhood, with a moving away from ‘childish pleasures’ in adulthood, but it is an essential part of life.

‘Exploring Play’ doesn’t require any previous knowledge in the area, just an enthusiasm to know more. It introduces key theories and concepts, and explores the many definitions there are of play. Given that play is such a fuzzy concept, some consideration is given to the meaning of play from different personal, academic and professional perspectives and its value in terms of its contribution to our daily lives is a matter for extensive reflection.

The course is highly interactive and uses video, articles, discussions, quizzes and a wide variety of resources including the British Library Playtimes website. This website was created as part of the AHRC Beyond Text project Children’s Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age and provides information on the history and nature of play, drawing on some of the data collected in that project. In the ‘Exploring Play’ course, learners will engage with the material on the British Library website and consider what it tells them about changes in play over time.
Children playing on stones in river
Children playing on stones in a river © University of Sheffield

One of the main aims of the course is to enable participants to understand the very varied nature of play as it takes place across difference contexts. For example, the nature of play in different cultures is explored and learners will consider the way in which the values of different societies impact on the play that takes place within them.

Muffin the Mule

Muffin the Mule puppet, V&A Museum of Childhood Collection

A very wide range of topics is considered, including outdoor play spaces for children and teenagers, playful adult engagement with urban environments, disability and play, play in virtual worlds and play in the workplace. Through the seven weeks of the course, learners will gain a great deal of knowledge about play - and engage in some playful learning activities along the way!

To sign up visit: www.futurelearn.com/courses/play

24 June 2014

Lost in pronunciation

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MA student Maryna Myntsykovska writes:

The British Library presents a wealth of opportunities, sometimes most unexpected ones. Fuelled by my desire to participate in an on-going linguistic project, I recently completed a three-month placement at the British Library as part of my Linguistics MA course at Queen Mary, University of London. I worked with the BBC Voices Recordings, aiming to create a detailed linguistic description according to the framework developed by the British Library’s Voices of the UK project. My task included capturing instances of lexical, grammatical as well as phonological variation in one of the recordings.

My first task was to choose a recording, in which I would look for vernacular words, pronunciation features and grammatical constructions.  Having considered recordings from Glasgow, Cardiff and Oxford, I opted for the latter, since understanding the flow of words naturally produced by British people is not a piece of cake for a non-native speaker like me. Before coming to London last September I had previously only been exposed to the socially prestigious British accent, Received Pronunciation (RP). Speakers from Scotland or Wales presented a considerable challenge, but even some varieties of southern English speech remained undecipherable for a while. One speaker, for instance, referred to [‘broid’] and [‘stroidz’] –frustratingly, corresponding entries were elusive in the Oxford English Dictionary. Only with the help of another native speaker did I learn that this was a London pronunciation feature, and the speaker was actually saying brideand strides(his preferred variant of ‘trousers’). Gradually, listening to the recording over and over again, I got used to the speakers’ accents to the extent that I stopped noticing vernacular features and could extract the meaning effortlessly.

Bizarrely, right by the time my skill at interpreting non-RP elements reached its peak, I got to the phase of the description in which I had to listen precisely for vernacular pronunciation features. All those little deviations in vowels and consonants that I was so determined to overlook in my effort to understand the meaning suddenly became the focus of my work!

The actual discussion I had chosen was built around 40 words, presented to the participants beforehand. The interviewees had to come up with words and expressions synonymic to those presented in the list (for example, clobber for ‘clothes’ or sprog for ’baby’). My objective was to note down all the instances of a single lexical item and to check for spelling precedent in printed sources, which set me exploring endless pages of slang dictionaries and enriched my vocabulary with new acquisitions, such as chucking it down (‘to rain heavily’), tesco-bombers (‘cheap trainers bought in Tesco supermarket’) and up the duff (‘pregnant’), to quote just a few.

During my time at the Library I also attended a workshop about regional variation in accents and dialects aimed at A-level students, given by the Sociolinguistics curator of the British Library. Inspired by what I had witnessed, I delivered a similar presentation at school in my home town in Ukraine, promoting the use of the BL resources about regional varieties of English, such as Sounds Familiar?. Using Sound Map, we first listened to a fragment of the children’s story ‘Mr Tickle’ (© 1971 Roger Hargreaves), recorded by speakers from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. The pupils attempted to guess the accent of the speaker, but admitted it was a challenging task. In fact, due to their lack of exposure to regional varieties of English in the UK, the class did not identify any of the speakers, but was definitely eager to learn more about accents and dialects. In my presentation I encouraged them to make the most of the resources created by the British Library, both for learning as well as leisure purposes.

Overall, creating a linguistic description like this helped me to appreciate the differences between accents and understand the components constituting those differences. In this respect my time at the British Library was a truly invaluable experience.