Social Science blog

6 posts from February 2013

25 February 2013

Encounters Between Art and science

The Library's Encounters Between Art and Science exhibition promises to be a fascinating investigation of the complex relationship between these two domains. In this post Toby Austin-Locke, inspired by the context of this exhibition, reflects on what he considers to be a fundamental and inextricable relationship between artistic and scientific practices.

Science and art may appear as incommensurable, as the common narrative goes: science deals with facts, art opinion; science is about objectivity, art is about subjectivity; science is based on empiricism, art on aesthetics. But science and art need not be so divergent, there are many times when artistic and scientific practices cross paths. I’m not only thinking of creative understandings of science such as the literary explorations of physics made by J.G. Ballard in The Atrocity Exhibition (1970); or Proust’s famous investigations of memory (1996) that blur the lines between literature, neuroscience and psycho-analysis. Nor am I only thinking of times when the role of the scientist and the role of the artist converge in one institution or person, Leonardo Da Vinci being the exemplar of such convergences which can be more widely demonstrated by the British Library’s Database of Italian Academies project.


The Leonardo Notebook - Page 22  Copyright © The British Library Board. Sound and light ff. 174v-175. Leonardo made extensive observations and experiments on the production of sound. The wind instruments and drums each has a different mechanism for varying the pitch.

There is a more fundamental convergence between scientific and artistic practices. As Bourdieu puts it in The Rules of Art, “each field (religious, artisitic, scientific, economic, etc.), through the particular form of regulation of practices and the representations that it imposes, offers to agents a legitimate form of realising their desires” (1996: 228). Both science and art show means of understanding the world in which we find ourselves, in Weberian language they offer systems of rationalisation that constitute, form and represent worldviews. Science and art both offer methods of bridging the existential gap between ourselves and the external world; or in the words of the notoriously trendy and esoteric Deleuze and Guattari, art and science “cast planes over the chaos” (2003: 202). A Wittgensteinian understanding too seems to point towards both science and art just as one means of understanding the world, for if we accept his proposition that to know the limits of thought we would have to be able to think both sides of that limit and as such go beyond what was thinkable, we have to conclude that “the subject does not belong to the world but it is a limit of the world” (1922: 5.632). In short, science is as bound by the limits of subjectivity, of the world, as is art. This does not equate to entirely dismissing that perhaps science has a greater claim to objectivity than art, but instead, quite simply, does not ignore the role of subjectivity in objectivity, in the practice of science.

I’m sure there are some of you out there, who have more rigorous and scientific minds than myself, who are despairing right now – yet another anthropological and philosophical pontificator missing the point that science is factual, it represents reality whereas art mystifies it, acts as fetish. The view of the work of art as fetish may appear to separate it entirely from the cold, factual gaze of scientific observation. But we only need to follow the etymologies of the words fact and fetish to their common Latin root of factitius, meaning artificially created or made, to see that they are not all that foreign to one another. This is something that Bruno Latour, following from Bachelard, has demonstrated exceptionally well - that we need not pick between constructivism and realism (2010; 1988).  Latour points out that Pasteur “asserts in one and the same breath that the ferment of his lactic acid is real because he carefully set the stage on which the ferment revealed itself on its own” (2010: 17). The scientist must carefully organise all the element of their laboratory in order to produce the real fact that results of experimentation.


Pasteur in his lab from Musee D’Orsay  6a00d8341c464853ef017d40ff8b67970c-800wi  Albert Edelfelt, via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

From such a standpoint the artist and scientist are united by at least one characteristic: creation. Both engage in creative activity, bringing the Jungian archetype of the artist-scientist into clear view. The Dialectic of the Enlightenment (Adorno & Horkhiemer 1999) is certainly not behind us, but more and more, through the discourse of the likes of Latour, and the popularisation of post-modernist and post-structural thought, is the understanding of the role of science not as that of discovery but that of creation becoming more and more prominent. Such an understanding of science, as not entirely separate from creative-artistic practice, perhaps brings the reuniting of the artistic spirit, the religious spirit and the scientific spirit called for by theoretical physicist David Bohm (1998) closer to fruition. But, before the legacy of the Enlightenment can truly be left behind, there are certainly plenty of Dawkins-esque dogmatists, who would deny such convergences, to be convinced. Perhaps the Encounters between art and Science exhibition now at the British Library can help in starting to show how art and science are not, and never have been, in total opposition to one another.  


-       Adorno, Theador & Horkhiemer, Max (1999) The Dialectic of the Enlightenment, London: Verso. British Library Shelf Mark: X.529/37191

-       Ballard, J.G. (1970) The Atrocity Exhibition, London: Flamingo. British Library Shelf Mark: YA.1997.b.3784

-       Bohm, David (1998) ‘On the relationships of science and art’ in On Creativity, Lee Nichol (eds), pp. 27-40, London: Routledge. British Library Shelf Mark: YK.2006.a.12583

-       Bourdieu, Pierre (1996) The Rules of Art, Cambridge: Polity Press. British Library Shelf Mark: YC.1996.b.5503

-       Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Felix (2003) What is Philosophy?, London and New York: Verso. British Library Shelf Mark: YC.1995.b.6266

-       Latour, Bruno (1988) The Pasteurization of France, London: Harvard University Press. British Library Shelf Mark: YK.1989.b.2449

-       Latour, Bruno (2010) On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods, Durham: Duke University Press. British Library Shelf Mark: m11/.11912

-       Proust, Marcel (1996) In Search of Lost Time: Volume One: Sawnn’s Way, London: Vintage. British Library Shelf Mark: H.2001/1040

-       Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1922) Tractatus logico-philosophicus, Routlegde and Kegan Paul. British Library Shelf Mark: X5/9907

Toby Austin Locke is currently working in the British Library social sciences team on the Social Welfare Portal and is due to start working towards his doctorate in October 2013 at Goldsmiths College, University of London. You can contact him on twitter @tobyalocke or read more of his blog-posts at 

19 February 2013

Moving Image and Broadcast News

Last week I attended a couple of the curator sessions which formed part of our social science doctoral training day. One of the sessions was by Dr Luke McKernan, our Moving Image Curator. The collections he looks after, and services he has developed, offer incredible potential to researchers across the social sciences and I wanted to briefly highlight some of them here.

Many people may not realise that the British Library holds moving image material, but in fact there are over 55,000 items in our collections, including ethnographic videos, documentaries and 14,000 music videos. These resources are available to access via our listening and viewing service and can be found through our main catalogue.


Dr Luke McKernan speaks about the new Broadcast News service

There is a new service which could add significant value to social science research, particularly that which undertakes discourse analysis on news sources as part of its methodology. The British Library Broadcast News service provides access to television and radio news programmes from seventeen channels which have been broadcast in the UK since May 2010. Forty-six hours are recorded per day and they are almost immediately available to watch in our reading rooms. Many of the programmes recorded come with subtitles, which we have been able to use to provide a word-search function. This will allow you to find news programmes relevant to your research as well as particular moments within those programmes which will be of interest to you.

The channels we record include: BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News, Al-Jazeera English, NHK World, CNN, France 24, Bloomberg, Russia Today and China's CCTV News.

Luke McKernan has more relevant information about this service, and other moving image services on his blog. He is currently investigating speech-to-text technology and how this will enable us to make even more moving image and sound collection fully searchable. You can read more about this process here.

Other resources

Tom Hulme, our ESRC intern, has written a case study about using Broadcast News at the British Library. Read it here.

14 February 2013

Being a collaborative doctoral student at the British Library

Eleanor Bird, one of the British Library's collaborative doctoral students, describes her experience of meeting other BL PhD students and writes of the different ways they make use of BL collections in their research.

On Thursday 10th January the British Library (BL) hosted a day for its collaborative doctoral (CD) students and BL staff working across different areas. This was held in the conference centre and was organised by Liz Lewis (Engagement Manager for Arts and Humanities at the BL).

Having just started my PhD in Narratives of Slavery in Canada at the University of Sheffield (supervised at the British Library by Dr Philip Hatfield), I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to meet up with fellow BL CD students - past and present - to hear more about the projects they have been involved in, and about how they have used the BL collections in their work.

A particular highlight for me was the student presentation session in which we each gave a short three-minute talk introducing our work. It was really interesting to see how the students are working with collections in diverse ways. For example, Ami Pass (University of Lincoln) is utilising her strong background in science to evaluate techniques for preserving BL material. Meanwhile, Lauren Blake (University of Sheffield) is conducting oral history interviews on food activism and William Frost (University of Sheffield) is investigating English-speaking tourists’ experience in Norway, drawing from the Library's rich travel narrative collection.

It was an exciting and vibrant atmosphere which generated some very good feedback from staff and students alike. This was the first time we had met as a group and we hope this will be the first of many more.

Useful links

Find out more about our Americas collections here.

Read Phil Hatfield's personal blog here.

Find out more about how we work with Higher Education here.


12 February 2013

Sport and Society

Gill Ridgley writes about developing and managing a British Library website and resource which examine the 2012 Games from a social science perspective.

This time last year doesn’t seem so long ago, and yet a lot happened in those 12 months - a truism, but particularly ‘true’ for the two curators working on the Social Science Department’s Sport and Society website: Gill Ridgley and Simone Bacchini.

Work started on this site in 2008 when a London 2012-related Departmental project was first mooted. The Olympics and Paralympics looked set to provide an ideal opportunity to debate the social science aspects of sport and the Games itself, and more particularly to showcase the wonderful resources of the British Library in this area. The medium of choice was the Internet, which would make the content we planned to include more widely accessible.

Designing the website was a complex process. It had to appeal to a wide audience, from those with a basic interest in the subject to those doing advanced research. We hoped to have something for everyone: bibliographies of the BL sport collections; original research produced by staff and external contributors, links to relevant materials on the web; and details of new events and publications. A great deal was learned in the process, not least the mechanics of site architecture and the editing and creation of pages in the Dreamweaver software. This was also where our training as librarians came in handy: what topics would we divide the subject up into and where would we fit the different contributions we received within this framework? Subject classification began to reveal itself as a very inexact science!

However, perhaps the most rewarding part of creating and maintaining the website was the opportunity it gave us to make new acquaintances outside the Library. Keeping a watchful eye on people researching in the field from undergraduates to university professors; blogging and tweeting information about the progress of the website and the Games; commissioning articles and researching the BL collections; liaising with publishers: all these aspects of Sport and Society improved our knowledge of the wider sports research environment and the needs of those working in it, and also revealed the often untrodden pathways in the Library’s sports collections. This combination of factors proved very fruitful for all concerned, as we discovered what types of material interested researchers the most, and identified gaps in the collections. Wonderful images began to emerge from obscure books and journals, like this one:

SMALL Crop Evan7556
Don't Ride Horses Public Domain Mark

One of the indirect outcomes of our concentration on the London Games and sporting resources more generally in 2012 was a number of events in the Library which really raised the profile of the collections. The first was our conference, Sourcing sport in May 2012 which looked at the Library’s sports collections across the range of the social sciences and humanities, and which shone a spotlight on such topics as Dutch canal pole vaulting & mass sports and physical education in the USSR. This event was soon followed by the Olympex exhibition – an IOC-sponsored philatelic exhibition centering on the Olympics & Paralympics which showed numerous philatelic items and artefacts owned by collectors from around the world. The Library was able to fly the official Olympic flag while the exhibition was on, and was presented afterwards with its own London 2012 torch.

So it’s win-win for all concerned when it comes to engaging with what’s going on in the wider non-library environment, not least because all our hard work won’t be going to waste. Sport and Society will soon be archived in the UK Web Archive, along with other sites about the London Olympics and Paralympics, and will therefore continue to be available to the researchers of the future.


06 February 2013

A Treasury of 1950s Housecraft

Inspired by the Mary Berry Story on BBC Two, we decided to take a look at some of the British Library's collections which relate to cooking and care of the home in the 1950s.

With the improvements which were made to the national grid in the late 1940s it became more feasible for ordinary households to install large electric appliances in the home. The electric cooker became seen as a 'clean' alternative to the gas stove and manufacturers and trade names such as Creda, Belling, English Electric, Jackson, New World, G.E.C and Kenmore sold electric ovens in various shapes and sizes: from the large Belling Horizontal Cooker (with its 5 doors and 2 drawers!) to the more standard sized G.E.C. 'Supreme' cooker with features such as boiling plates, a warming oven and splashguard.

We spent a wonderful hour or so in the basement of the Library on Monday looking through materials relating to the 1950s cooker in our trade literature collections. The material we found included guides, instruction manuals and pamphlets. Many of the manufacturers produced their own cookery books and household manuals offering recipes and advice about cooking with electricity.

As well as providing insight about the expectations and ideals about housework in the 1950s, these guides and books elucidate gendered expectations of the time through the advice they offer and in their imagery. They suggest that the ideal housewife, hardworking and altruistic, diligently managed every aspect of the lives of others, from children to party guests. For instance, one manual advises that:

'A good hostess has a mental list of her guests, and tries to arrange her party so that they will enjoy it - not she.' (p. 177, The 'Creda' Housecraft Manual, 1958)


The front cover of 'The 'Creda' Housecraft Manual' © Simplex Electric Co., Ltd. (1958)

Alongside manuals, cookery books and trade literature, the Library holds back-catalogues of household magazines, including well-known names such as Good Housekeeping, House and Home and Ideal Home (where Mary Berry worked as an editor in the 1970s). Indeed, in response to the rise in electric cooking Good Housekeeping produced their own guide (in 1959), which features many recipes for meals such as Veal Fricassee and deserts like Pineapple Creams. Unusually for the time, this guide also features a photograph of a man using one of the ovens, emblazoned with the caption 'Man on his own'!


The front cover and page 23 of 'Good Housekeeping's Electric Cooking Today' (1959). Reproduced with kind permission by Good Housekeeping magazine, Hearst Magazines UK.

A visit to the basement always leaves us thinking about links to other collections and the possibilities of future research or digitisation…but for now, we are off to write down some of these classic recipes, find out whatever happened to candied angelica, and, (as ever) to disregard all past 'wisdom' about how household tasks should be gendered!


(1957) 'Belling' Electric Heating and Cooking. Belling and Company Limited: Enfield and Middlesex. British Library Shelfmark: Y.D.2004.a.6630

(1958) The 'Creda' Housecraft Manual. Simplex Electric Company. Odhams Press Limited: Stoke-on-Trent. British Library Shelfmark:  Y.A.1996.A.13155

(1950) Creda Electric Cookery. Simplex Electric Company. Odhams Press Limited: Stoke-on-Trent. British Library Shelfmark: LB.31.a.7121

(1959) G.E.C. Electric Cookers including timer control. The General Electric Co. Ltd: Kingsway, London. British Library Shelfmark: YD.2012.a.7529

(1936) G.E.C. cookery book. New ed. London: General Electric Co. Ltd. British Library Shelfmark: YD.2006.a.5442

(1959) Good Housekeeping's Electric Cooking Today. The National Magazine Co. Ltd. British Library Shelfmark: 7937.d.62

(1966) Pattern, Marguerite. How to cook perfectly with electricity. London: Electricity Council, EDA Division, British Library Shelfmark: YD.2012.a.6578

Useful links

Food Studies at the British Library, ESRC website resource

Food Studies: Help for researchers web-page

Oral Histories:

This post was written by Robert Davies and Sarah Evans and the views expressed are our own. Follow us on twitter at @BLRobertDavies and @dr_sarahevans.

04 February 2013

Management and Business Studies at the British Library

With the CMI Management Book of the Year awards held at the British Library last week it is opportune to point towards of some of our resources in the areas of Management and Business.

Last week saw the CMI Management Book of the Year award being held at the British Library. The award ceremony took place on the evening of the 28th January and the winner, Richard Newton, was awarded the top prize for his book The Management Book: How to manage your team to deliver outstanding results.

If you are a researcher in Management and Business studies you might be interested in our portal which provides free research reports, summaries and briefing papers. Practitioners and entrepreneurs might be interested in our Business and IP Centre which offers workshops and resources for those working in business, or hoping to start their own business. Our webpages offer an overview of the collections held in Management and Business studies which can be a useful first port of call for those interested in these areas.