THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

15 posts categorized "Social sciences"

03 September 2018

Learning from the Past: our new course for curious researchers starts today

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Our free online course starts today. Learning from the Past is  for anyone interested in studying the past, what historians do, and why and how research on the past matters for understanding the world today. The course runs for 3 weeks, and is the second course produced by the University of Nottingham in partnership with the British Library.

Over three weeks, this course will introduce the ways in which historians conduct research, and the materials that are used to understand the past. Throughout the course, examples from across the Library’s varied collections are examined by curators and researchers. The course will also do two other important things. First, it will show the challenges that historians face in understanding and decoding the records of the past: books, archives, photographs, maps, recorded sound and digital records. Second, it will discuss how a study of the past helps us contextualise the issues of today. For example, we cannot fully understand the radical shift in our impact on the environment without knowing how societies in the past used natural resources.

The origins for this course come from our earlier work on the course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life – which sought to explain how contemporary political research provides insight into the values and philosophies that lie at the heart of international debates, co-operation and conflict. We also sought to show how education, and in this case online learning platforms, can be used as a space where people with different ideas and opinions can communicate with each other, understand those differences and also see where there are points of agreement.

The response from learners to this course was incredible. Over the weeks, we saw conversations emerge between participants from around the world on “big political issues” but also in the more personal sphere: the gardens in their towns, food that reminded them of home, and the books and photographs that they always carry with them. We also saw that learners were enthusiastic to follow the debates that drew on current research, and followed links to academic texts where we made them available.

So, we wanted to produce a course that supported this desire for access to the ‘cutting edge’ of historical research, but also took the time to describe the practicalities of research. How do you decide what questions you are going to ask in your research? How can you find the materials that will help you to answer those questions? And how will you avoid the pitfalls of taking the records of the past at face value? Learning from the Past brings together researchers from the University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham, as well as curators from the British Library. Over the 3 weeks of the course, we will look at the materials and methods that researchers employ.

The first day of a new course is always exciting. I've been following our first steps for learners to introduce themselves and their research interests. There's lots of interest in family history and local history, but also other topics such as history of science or a general interest in how researchers work and analyse evidence. A lot of learners want to know more about how to use libraries and archives, and are interested in the practical elements of the course. 

A big topic for our first week is on the significance of language, and language change, in communicating ideas and values. I'm currently enjoying the discussion thread on 'what three words would you use to introduce yourself to a visitor from Mars'?   

If you’re interested in how historians work, thinking about starting your own research project, want inspiration for your existing work, or want to know why history matters today, join in the discussion at Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious Researcher. No need to worry if you're reading this after 3rd September - you can join any time before the course ends on 23rd September.  

01 May 2018

Archiving Activism Website

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PhD placement students, Rachel Tavernor and Catherine Oliver, in collaboration with the British Library, are launching a new website. In this post, Rachel discusses her work encountering stories of housing activism in the British Library. Later this year, Catherine will launch a new section of the website on food activism and will discuss a new British Library acquisition of the Richard Ryder archive. We hope this collaborative initiative will grow with new sections added showing the diversity of our British Library Collections.

The brief for my time with the British Library was to investigate 20th and 21st Century anti-poverty activism in the the British Library Collections. In particular, to make connections between archives and to explore the value of the British Library’s holdings as a whole. I am not a historian, nor an archivist, so my approach to working with the collections was informed by my background in the arts, as well as my own involvement with institutional and grassroots activism. Having worked with smaller archives, I was interested in exploring how radical and rebellious voices are preserved in a large scholarly institution. Before working with the British Library, I had wrongly assumed that institutional voices would be the focus of the collections. While these voices are dominant, and at times privileged, the rebels in the archives are also there to encounter.

After a preliminary mapping of the collections and available material (there was lots), I narrowed the focus of my research to housing activism in the UK. Struggles for decent and affordable housing, with secure and fair tenancies, are at the forefront of many anti-poverty movements today. The decline of social housing, rises in private rents and poor living conditions, are a catalyst for many forms of activism (demonstrations, squatting, housing cooperatives and rent strikes).

One of the greatest strengths of researching activism in the British Library Collections is the diverse range of materials, from personal papers to government documents. Housing activism, as with many political struggles, stretches across institutional, community and mediated spaces. The Library’s collections offer ways to explore the everyday experiences of activism, preserved in oral histories, diaries and letters. Alongside examining how campaigns are shaped by, or in reaction to, housing policies. Researchers can trace these differing, and at times contradictory, narratives throughout the collections. By exploring these stories in tandem, the public have the opportunity to listen to these voices, and explore them alongside one another, to weave new histories, and perhaps new stories of housing activism.

While exploring the different collections archived at the British Library, I also conducted a small research project on ways to archive contemporary forms of activism. It was a privilege to conduct this research, which included interviewing archivists at feminist libraries, housing activists and academics that engage with archives of activism. You can read a section of the report on our new website. One of the themes that emerged in these interviews was that archives are a living resource, which can inspire and influence contemporary forms of activism. However, many people may experience different barriers to accessing materials archived at institutions like the British Library. It was these conversations that inspired Sarah, Catherine and I to collaborate on a website that would act as a guide to materials archived at the British Library. We hope that the Archiving Activism website may inspire people to further engage with some of the histories of housing activism, as well as the British Library Collections. If you have an idea for a new section or would like to contribute, please email: research.development@bl.uk.

With thanks to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding my placement at the British Library and to all the copyright holders for granting us permission to publish images of the items archived in the Collections.

18 April 2018

Social Sciences at the British Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also view this video on YouTube here.

28 February 2018

Legal Deposit in 12 panels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

08 November 2017

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

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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.

17 August 2017

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

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

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

  Kavita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related posts: Bringing Voices Together / Chantelle Lewis

Decolonise, not Diversify / Kavita Bhanot in Media Diversified.

 

02 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chantelle Lewis BSc, MA and PhD candidate in Sociology

07 June 2017

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

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

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

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

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

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

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