Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

Introduction

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

Social Sciences at the British Library

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.

30 October 2020

New Spare Rib map resource: putting women's activism on the map

Written by The Business of Women's Words team.

Think 1970s UK feminism was a purely metropolitan affair? Ever wondered whether the Women’s Liberation Movement stretched beyond the boundaries of big cities? The new digital map resource at the British Library might have some surprising answers.

Spare rib

Spare Rib cover, Nov 1976, Issue 52 © Michael Ann Mullen

 The Spare Rib map is the first digital resource to visualise the networks and activities of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) across the UK and Ireland. It has been created by the Business of Women’s Words project, a research partnership between the British Library and the Universities of Sussex and Cambridge funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Its data is drawn from Spare Rib  (1972-1993)the iconic feminist magazine digitised by the British Library. Based on a sample (around 30%) of Spare Rib’s listings, adverts and letters pages, the map represents a slice of the intense feminist activity that flowered during the magazine’s twenty-year run. What it shows is that the WLM was a truly national movement, with datapoints ranging from the Western Isles of Scotland to Leiston in Suffolk, and from Derry in Ireland to Falmouth in Cornwall.

Map
Snapshot of the Spare Rib map from 1983

The map sheds new light on the structure of the WLM and illuminates its regional centres and hubs, as well as a wider web of more isolated feminist activity. Lancaster, for example, was a regional hub that hosted a number of feminist publications, women’s counselling services, a lesbian helpline and took part in the Feminist Book Fortnight; and Bangor in Wales offered an array of feminist groups, businesses selling feminist postcards, jewellery and shoes, and alternative communal accommodation. The map’s colour-coded categories and symbols visualise the sheer diversity of activities and goods generated by the WLM, from political demonstrations to carpentry workshops to co-operatively produced clothing.

Although the WLM is often thought of as outside capitalist transactions of buying and selling, the map makes clear that Spare Rib, and the movement more broadly, was a site of exchange – personal, ideological, but also commercial. Businesses, from dating agencies to therapists to bookshops and publishers, were a key part of the feminist community and helped to advance the reach of the movement. The extraordinary number of women-only or lesbian B&Bs advertised in Spare Rib in the 1980s, for instance, demonstrate how women-run businesses extended the movement into some of the most rural parts of the UK, from the Lake District to the Isle of Arran, and from Piltown in Ireland to Yelverton in Devon. By drawing on letters as well as listings and adverts sent into Spare Rib, the map visualises not only the nationwide distribution of feminist events, commodities and services, but a network of (often critical) consumers and activists. It charts change over time, revealing the changing priorities and infrastructure of the movement, from consciousness raising groups to women’s centres, feminist businesses and women’s studies courses.

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Fully searchable by category, year, keyword and geographical location, the Spare Rib map is a rich interactive resource which opens up new avenues of research for historians of UK and Irish women’s movements across two decades of intense activism.

10 July 2020

Food Community in the Context of Covid

By Angela Clutton, Guest Director British Library Food Season
July, 2020

printed images of fruits, including peaches, apples and a pineapple

We so often talk about the ‘food industry’ and the ‘food community’ when what we mean is the staggering breadth of people who all play their part in ensuring there is food on the table. Chefs, restaurateurs, campaigners, retailers, writers, producers, farmers, kitchen brigades, drivers, stall holders, waiting staff, and many, many more…. Their - our - industry was overnight dealt a body-blow back in March, and I think what has struck me most forcefully since then is how quickly the community aspect of food came to the fore. It looked beyond itself to the community at large, with so many food professionals asking: what can we do to help?

The help has been very much needed as the reality of the struggles that too many families face in having food on their table have been exacerbated. The Trussell Trust - who do such extraordinary work with food banks - reported an 81 per cent increase in people needing support from food banks at the end of March, compared with the same time the previous year. Demand from children for food bank services has increased by 121 per cent.

In the face of such sobering statistics, the endeavours of so many individuals and small organisations across the food sector, who are just trying to make a bit of a difference, are heart-warming and important.

Take Barny Haughton, whose Square Food Foundation in Bristol has for nearly 20 years been doing inspiring work in their local community. When Covid and lockdown hit, they refocussed their work to provide free meals for local children and families. They have made and distributed more than 7000 meals, feeding up to 270 children and families each day. Most of those are families who rely on free school meals. Families who when the schools shut would have suddenly found themselves without that assurance of a healthy meal. For the British Library’s 2020 Food Season– supported by KitchenAid – Barny will be talking about the important work undertaken by Square Food Foundation in an event called “Beyond the Bank: Creating Community and Culture Through Food” along with Mary Brennan from Community Unity in Leeds and Jess Thompson from the organization Migrateful which runs cookery courses led by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

a cooking demonstration in a kitchen with one person demosntrating to three people

Migrateful cooking demonstration
Copyright Migrateful

Restaurant kitchens such as Angela Hartnett’s Cafe Murano have cooked and delivered meals for staff at London hospitals. Mary-Ellen McTague and Eat Well Manchester are harnessing their local food community to feed NHS staff, women seeking refuge and homeless people. The home kitchens of too many professional cooks to mention here have been turned into the centre of their own personal operations for helping feed local key workers.

Jack Monroe - another friend of the Food Season - rose to the challenge of Covid-induced need with a daily twitter ‘lockdown larder’ Q&A. For many people it has been a very necessary answer to what to do with seemingly incongruous ingredients. So necessary that the BBC enlisted Jack for a daily TV show on lockdown cooking.

portrait photograph of Jack Munroe

Chef and cookery writer Jack Munroe

I write this just as lockdown is beginning to ease. Food shops and cafes and bars and restaurants must now look ahead to what the future of the food industry might look like. There are many questions around food production, supply, distribution and consumption - all of which the autumn’s Food Season will be doing our best to address.

I for one can hardly wait to get back to my favourite restaurants. To actually choose food from a menu! And in so doing play my small part in the one thing that amidst all the uncertainty is certain: that for the food industry to recover, the food community will need the support of us all.

 

KitchenAid text logo

British Library Food Season supported by Kitchen Aid

28 May 2020

British Library 2020 Food Season: plans to continue the conversation

Polly Russell, Lead Curator for Politics and Public Life, Contemporary Manuscripts, writes

British Library Food Season logo, with historical pictures of pineapple and plates of fruit

A few moments ago a cruel diary notification reminded me of something I’d been looking forward to all year - a talk at the British Library about the culture and history of Jewish food with Claudia Roden and Simon Schama. This was one of the 25 events on offer during April and May for the 2020 British Library Food Season, supported by Kitchen Aid. For the third year in a row the Food Season was set to celebrate the Library’s extensive food-related collections and explore the politics, pleasures and history of food. Speakers including Ken Hom, Harold McGee, Asma Khan, Carolyn Steele and Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall were to discuss subjects as diverse as the UK’s cheese history, food in crime fiction and feeding our children.

image from Mrs Beeton's Family Cookey and Housekeeping book, showing a selection of cheeses

Mrs. Beeton's Family Cookery and Housekeeping Book ... New ... illustrations, etc. [Another issue, in an altered form, of “Beeton's Every-day Cookery and Housekeeping Book.”] 07944.g.63. facing p. 80

Thanks to Covid-19, however, this series of talks, tastings and workshops has been put on hold but we recognise that the conversation about food is more important than ever in the current climate. The emergency has brought to the fore so many food related issues and has impacted on our shopping, cooking and eating habits. At a global level food supply chains have been challenged through interrupted distribution and labour shortages while closer to home eating out has been off the menu and home cooking has seen a surge. Research commissioned by KitchenAid found that 23 per cent of bakers have increased their repertoire but they are not just baking for themselves. According to the research almost a third deliver their creations to others, including 36 per cent to relatives outside of the home and 23 per cent to neighbours. Covid-19 has sharpened awareness of the politics and pleasures of food and so the Food Season feels more relevant than ever. We were incredibly proud of the events planned for 2020 so we are hoping that many will still go ahead in some form and we’ll be announcing details when we know more.

In the meantime, there are other fantastic food festivals and conversations on offer remotely. The Oxford Symposium for Food and Cookery, an organisation which since the 1970s has existed to explore and share food research by scholars, enthusiastic amateurs, writers and chefs from around the world, is going virtual this summer. In a normal year in July around 400 people from around the world gather in Oxford for a weekend of lectures, seminars, conversation and conviviality focussed around a selected food topic. This year the subject is “Herbs and Spices” but instead of meeting in person the Symposium has moved online. Taking place between 10 July – 2 August with 500 attendees from across the world, this interactive event will include keynote addresses, panel discussions and chefs’ videos along with spaces for virtual ‘hangouts’ and discussion boards. Follow this link for more details and registration: https://www.oxfordsymposium.org.uk/events/2020-v-symposium-registration/

Herbs and Spices - logo for the Oxford Food Symposium 2020

Closer to the British Library, Borough Market has established itself as a hub for food discussion, debate and deliberation over the last few years through supper clubs, talks and publications. Since Covid-19, Borough have been running a fantastic series of lunchtime events including, last week, a riveting account of food in cities in lockdown with award winning food writer Rachel Roddy in Rome and Yasmin Fahr in New York. Coming up on the schedule, just this month, are Sami Tamim and Tara Wigley on food from Palestine and, possibly more relevant than ever, Kimberley Wilson talking about food and mental health. Find out more at: https://boroughmarket.org.uk/events/borough-talks

logo for Borough Market talks

We’ll announce news of forthcoming Food Seasons as soon as we can but in the meantime who knows, maybe I’ll see you from the comfort of my kitchen at a virtual food happening. I hope so!


British Library Food Season supported by:

 

Kitchen Aid logo