THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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.

11 July 2019

What is a Manifesto ... ?

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Gay Liberation Front, Manifesto. London: Gay Liberation Front. 1971

The origins of writing and the reason why we write are central themes around which the Making Your Mark exhibition revolves. Encompassing the act of writing and the mediums used from carvings, scrolls, papyri, typing, print and digital. The exhibition is divided into different chapters, featuring a section on ‘People and Writing’ that considers the methods and purposes of various types of documents which are utilised as tools of power. Publications that reflect this include charters, petitions, pamphlets and treaties. Another such ubiquitous document that is congruous with this section is the manifesto.

A manifesto is a unique way of communicating which addresses an audience and asks them to unite to take action and change something. In this sense, the manifesto is an historical artifact and political tool within the history of radical democracy. The earliest examples can be traced back to Europe of the 16th Century; most famous manifestos include the Declaration of Independence and the Communist Party Manifesto. The concept of a manifesto is a little bit like a pamphlet, which were often homemade and distributed by hand in public places; likewise the manifesto is a public announcement often printed in newspapers or journals.

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Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, (Manifesto of the Communist Party). London : gedruckt in der Office der 'Bildungs-Gesellschaft für Arbeiter' von J. E. Burghard, [1848] 

There is no definite style or format. What all manifestos share is a call to its reader to unite and join together to make a change. Manifestos are frequently written during unsettled periods, often by small groups of people who want to challenge the status qua. Throughout history the authors vary from political parties, art movements and individuals. Developed as a text, the manifesto fuses art and politics to create a type of modernist literature. Studies of this particular writing form has lead researchers to consider it a genre within its own right.

A manifesto proves that writing is a tool of power and can be used to intervene and demonstrate against dominant systems. The phrasing used is often pleading, attacking, protesting and opposing in tone and declaring the intention of the writer. Any subject, cause or social group can write their own manifesto, but it is always written from an opposing position implying an ‘us’ and ‘them’. The style is often short and repetitive that attempts to get its message across and encourage readers to agree.

The texts broadcast ideals demanding the reader seize the moment to change the future. In this way, the writing is an activist text, inciting readers to take practical action to make decisions for themselves. This articulation must however be recognised by the audience or subject it addresses in order to function.

Where and when and who wrote manifestos are dependent on power struggles and an urge for change. The manifesto can appear under threat in this age of social media where a blue thumb can signify individual consent. Yet the desire to transform injustices and ignorance exists now more than ever. In these unsettled times, there are a lot people who still want to change things. If you were to write your own manifesto, what might it include and why?

This post has been written by Rachel Brett, Reference Specialist for Humanities at the British Library. Rachel frequently delivers discovery sessions on art, fashion and related subjects, and contributes to the Library's Doctoral Open Days

01 July 2019

A social scientist’s experience of navigating the British Library’s collections

Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library, writes 

During the first month of my fellowship, I learnt at the Doctoral Open Days that the British Library has approximately 170 million items, which include books, academic journals, government records, personal correspondence, oral histories, newspapers, stamps, and currencies from all over the world, and archived websites.

I felt excited about the possibilities for research, thinking, surely, that with this number of documents, I should be able to find ample material for my project on race and ethnicity.

However, it can be quite daunting to know where to start. I embarked on my search by having a 1-2-1 session with a Reference Specialist at the Social Sciences Reading Rooms to get training on how to use Explore (the British Library’s main catalogue).

This platform was quite familiar to me because it is very similar to catalogues I have used at other academic and public libraries.

The Archives and Manuscript catalogue (for documents like personal papers, unpublished documents, and photographs) proved trickier, as information relating to items varies in detail. In some cases, it is better to start your search with the printed indexes like the list of the official publications of the India Office Records, which can be found in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. These lists will help you get an idea of the documents in the collections.

Whether I was doing a search with Explore or a specialist catalogue like Archives and Manuscripts or SAMI (Sound and Moving Image Catalogue), I found it useful to speak to the relevant curator, who often had tips for navigating the catalogue and helpful suggestions for materials that I had not considered. For instance, my discussion with Debbie Cox, Lead Curator for Contemporary British Publishing, alerted me to recent independent publications that feature the experiences of Black and Asian youths such as Thiiird.

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Thiiird Magazine s/s 2017. © Thiiird Magazine.

While searching through 170 million items can seem like an impossible task at times, the British Library’s Reference Team are available to help with finding your way.

10 May 2019

Meet the new British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library

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Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow

I am the new British Sociological Association’s (BSA) Postdoctoral Fellow at the British Library.  The Fellowship provides an opportunity for a postdoctoral researcher to conduct archival research using the British Library’s collections (you can find out more about last year’s inaugural Fellowship on our Research Case Studies pages)

This year’s theme for the Fellowship is race and ethnicity in the UK and the aim of the project is to explore how archival methods can be used to examine contemporary concerns around this topic.

Before starting this Fellowship, I conducted research on the transnational parenting and educational practices of British-Ghanaian families. I have also worked as an Assistant Archivist at the Black Cultural Archives, where I catalogued the collections of Stella Dadzie, who co-founded the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and Dr Jan McKenley, who was also a key member of OWAAD and other black women’s groups.

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Southall Black Sisters Annual Report 1992/93. Southall Black Sisters. © Southall Black Sisters

With a background, and a keen interest in education and community activism in Britain’s African Caribbean and Asian communities, I have spent my first few months of the Fellowship exploring relevant materials from the Library’s collections. This includes Pulse, a publication by the National Association of Afro Caribbean Societies from 1986, which features a piece on the lack of diversity in the British (English) curriculum and the Annual Report of the Southall Black Sisters, an activist group of Asian and Black (African and Caribbean) women providing support for, and campaigning against, gender-based violence, and racism.

I have now narrowed the focus of this project to exploring Black and Asian activism and community projects around education in the UK since the 1960s. The items I discover as part of my research will be used in academic publications as well as learning resources aimed at A Level Sociology students.

I am excited about the opportunity this Fellowship provides to explore the British Library’s collections relating to Britain’s minority communities and to develop a range of outputs that will contribute to the study of race and ethnicity in the UK. I will also share findings from my work on this blog throughout the Fellowship.