Social Science blog

8 posts from July 2013

30 July 2013

Memory Place

In the wake of the fire at Southwark's Cuming Museum and Newington Library, Robert Davies, Social Sciences Engagement Officer, explores local history resources for Walworth and Southwark

“Forward then, but still remember how the course of Time will swerve,

Crook and turn upon itself in many a backward streaming curve”

(From ‘Locksley Hall – Sixty Year’s after’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

When I toured our ‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’ exhibition recently I was rather surprised by the strength of my reaction to one of the exhibits; namely the ‘London has taken it! London can take it again! headscarf, c.1942’ which was designed and printed by Nicol V.Gray as a limited edition of ten scarves.

London can take it 1940's scarf (c) Museum of London

Loan and Image courtesy of the Museum of London (MoL reference LW.COS.U.B21.D1.10.)

The scarf shows a map of London with the legend “arrows indicate famous buildings bombed or burned out and areas devastated by air raids 1940-41". The map is surrounded by borders quoting Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches, We shall fight on the Seas and Oceans, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the streets and in the hills and we shall never surrender!’ speech and American broadcaster Ed Murrow’s famous exultation ‘London can take it!’

However, my emotional reaction was not in response to the quotes themselves, but triggered by the conjunction of text and images found towards the bottom left corner of the scarf:

Loan and Image courtesy of the Museum of London (MoL reference LW.COS.U.B21.D1.10.)

The comment which immediately came to mind was one made to me on the 26th March 2013 by a neighbour whilst we were standing surveying the damage caused to the town hall by the fire which had occurred the day before: ‘‘that building survived the blitz, now look at it”.

Part of the roof of the town hall, built between 1864-5 and extended c.1900, can be glimpsed in the bottom left hand corner of the photograph below which was taken during the fire of the 25th.  The building houses council offices and services and the Cuming Museum  and forms part of a complex of civic buildings including the Newington Library (the building wreathed in smoke in the mid-ground of the image below) and the ‘Walworth Clinic’ building (not visible in the photograph) which was completed in 1937 and with its plaque above the door which states ‘the health of the people is the highest law’.

RobblogImage reproduced with the kind permission of (Further images of the fire and the resultant damage can be found by using the search term Cuming Museum Fire)

A set of buildings, services and museum and library collections, and recent circumstances, which perhaps evoke many different memories and thoughts:  from having lived through the blitz and witnessing the changes wrought on the area by bombing and the associated re-developments over the following decades; the continuities of particular places, sites and activities; the development of ‘integrated’ health care systems which prefigured the formation of the NHS; getting married or, in my case, getting to learn about the history of the Cuming Family Collections, the history of SE17 and the Borough of Southwark more generally after moving to London.

All of this has prompted me to explore some of the resources the British Library might hold not only in relation to the history of the area but also how we perhaps develop and maintain a sense of place and belonging.  As always the starting point was searching the main catalogue.

Searching for ‘Walworth’ - not including Walworth Castle, County Durham (near where I spent part of my childhood) and Walworth County, Wisconsin - alone retrieved 22 Oral Histories recorded under a wide variety of projects including the Millennium Memory Bank; Food: From Source to Salespoint; the Methodist Church Oral Archive; Labour Oral History Project; Oral History of the Post Office; Lives in the Oil Industry and Oral History of British Photography; plus many articles, books, maps and journals.

I’ve discovered a plethora of books, journals and articles relating to the study and research of the formation and maintenance of a sense (or senses) of belonging and identity in an era or globalisation.  The bibliography below provides only a small selection of such works, so I am off to call up more volumes from the stacks and, on a slightly different note, book an appointment to see a chiropodist at the Walworth Clinic.

It almost goes without saying that I look forward to the re-opening of the Cuming Museum and Newington Library in the not too distant future.


Appadurai, A.  The Production of Locality (in Counterworks, Managing the diversity of Knowledge). Shelfmark 6963.140000

Baxter, M. / Lock, D.  Walworth through time (2011 reprint) Shelfmark YK.2011.a.33958

Boast, M.  The Story of Walworth, (revised edition, 1993) Shelfmark YK 1993.a.10636

Humphrey, S.  An introduction to the Cuming Family and the Cuming Musem (2002)  Shelfmark YC.2003.b.966

Huyssen, A. Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (2003) Shelfmark M03/18743

Krapp, P.  Deja Vu: Aberrations of Cultural Memory(2004) Shelfmark YC.2006.a.2010

Najafi, F. / Mustafa Kamal Bin Mohd Shariff The Concept of Place and Sense of Place in Architectural Studies, International Journal of Human and Social Sciences 6.3.2011  

Rogagly, B. / Taylor, B. Moving Histories of Class and Community – Identity Place and Belonging in Contemporary England, Identity Studies in the Social Sciences(2009)  Shelfmark YC.2012.a.6736

Said, Edward W. Invention, Memory and Place (in Critical Inquiry 26, Winter 2000) available via JSTOR

Savage, M./ Bagnall, G./ Longhurst, B. Globalization and Belonging(2005) Shelfmark YC.2009.a.10770

Links to external resources:

Southwark Local History Library:

BBC WW2 Peoples War:

Bomb Sight: Mapping the WW2 Bomb Census


Robert Davies can be found on twitter @blrobertdavies

26 July 2013

When did we ever have it so good? Part 1 of the iPod generation

Abiola Olanipekun is an intern at the British Library. For her latest series of blog posts she will write a four posts which review reports by Reform that have been uploaded onto our Management and Business Studies Portal. This first blog in the series is about the report ‘Class of 2005: The IPOD generation – Insecure, Pressured, Over-taxed and Debt-ridden'.

As a member of the Generation Y, and the iPod Generation, I only know too well the constant reminders about how my generation are riddled with some form of debt or are broke, lost, underemployed and…broke again.

As the younger generation, we are said to be carrying a substantial financial burden of an ageing population on our backs whilst at the same time benefiting less from the state than the generations before us.

Our apparently declining morale is exacerbated by the strong-hold that older generations have on the property ladder which is of a kind that is no longer available to us. Whether it be restricted through receipt of erased housing benefit (young person single room rate anyone?) or through difficulty of affording (let alone attaining) a first mortgage…I think it’s safe to say that things seem a tad bleak.

All this, from my point of view, has been looking this way more or less since 2008. But no, it seems I am wrong. The iPod Generation folks were suffering way before the 2008 financial crisis, according to Reform. (Oh, and in case if you are wondering what iPod stands for then here is a mouthful of sombreness: Insecure, Pressured, Over-taxed and Debt-Ridden.) Nice isn’t it? Well actually no, it is not. I’m afraid there will be more acronyms to follow within this blog post.

As I was working through my latest assignment for the MBS Portal, I was introduced to the think-tank Reform. According to their work, the younger generation (who are under 35), have experienced systematic unfairness and financial insecurity for some time.

We pay higher taxes, have fewer benefits and, as Reform put it, have experienced the end of the ‘welfare bargain’. According to Reform, a substantial number of young people don’t save as much as older generations (and that’s when we do save), are taking care of an aging population and pay higher taxes than previous generations did. We are then nicely reminded (being sarcastic by the way!) in the report of how the baby boomers had free education, jobs for life and the best of the housing property ladder.

Thanks! At such a financially sensitive time, that information definitely just helped my morale. Reading this report tastes rather like a dish served pure and raw (insert straight face icon here).

Above: some members of the iPod generation during happier times - at a silent disco at the Tate Modern. Photo © Dean Ayres

So, when did we ever have it so good?

Or let us just ask the real question, when will the under 35s ever have it as good as previous generations?

The initial aims listed in the report are to review the impact of tax, public expenditure and higher education policies on young people. Other points stressed in the report include the overall economic position of the younger generation, how policy decisions affect their financial standing (such as the tax increases on stamp duty and inheritance tax, introduction of tuition fees, and increased spending requirements for the NHS and social care).

Identified in this report are the following groups of young people (worrying reading - please take caution):

NEETS (Not in Education or Training)

KIPPERS (Kids in Parents Pockets, Ending Retirement Savings)

YADS (Young and Determined Savers)

SKIERS (Spending the Kids Inheritance)

Overall, I find this report bleak but nonetheless full of useful facts. Reform has made a clean effort with facts to show a particular type of financial sombreness for the younger generation that I did know entirely existed before 2008.

Nevertheless, all this hurts. It hurts as a young person, a young adult and another individual trying to make it through life on non-borrowed means and a testing wage. It hurts that these reports provide evidence that is visceral and relatable to such a degree, that my usual interrogation for anything I read is somewhat disabled when I read what Reform have to say. I believe that this is so because of how this information directly correlates with the fears that I have for my own future, and links to the other issues described in reports about Generation Y that I am facing now.

Form your own opinion and read it the report by Reform here which has been added as taster content to our portal.

Let’s hope that my own future along with the rest of the under 35s is actually bright, like that really catchy Orange slogan.

24 July 2013

Exploring social themes in literature

Joshua, a student who has just finished year 10 at his secondary school in North London, came to spend two weeks within the Social Science department for a work experience placement in July. During his time with us he undertook lots of different pieces of work, including this one which he has given permission for us to post on this blog.

Joshua spent one morning with us where we brought along our favourite novels or novellas and talked about what they tell us about the social world of the main protagonist. We were interested in how the social world is described in the books we had chosen and talked about how themes of interest to social scientists (such as family, social class, the home, childhood and youth, gender and the relationship between the social world and imagination) were included in the books we like. We talked about how our own social world has influenced our interpretations of the books we like and about how different authors have written about social issues such as power, wealth and poverty.

Here are Joshua’s responses to ‘Coraline’ by Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury Press, 2002).

1. What are the material circumstances in which the main protagonists live? How is their house and everyday life described?

The main protagonist’s home is a flat within a house. The large house has been shared into four parts, which are flats. Coraline, the protagonist, lives in one of these flats. Her parents work at home and are constantly typing on their computers instead of interacting with Coraline. She has just moved house so she is starting school soon.

2. What clues are in the book about social class, gender inequalities, education, health etc. which help us to understand how the protagonist is situated in their social world?

They are not known to have a high social class, but nor a low social class. They seem to be a middle class family. There are no gender inequalities shown in this book. Coraline is educated as she goes to school. The family seems to be physically and mentally healthy.

They are not looked down upon by people regarding their social class.

3. What seems realistic to you about the social world presented in the book? What is unrealistic? Why?

The realistic parts of this social world are that Coraline lives in a flat with her parents, she goes to school, her parents work and she goes shopping like anyone else would normally do. She has just moved house and is struggling to get used to the new area and being away from her friends which I think is quite realistic.  The unrealistic parts of this are when she goes through the door that leads to the Other Mother’s world and everything is perfect and any imperfections in her normal world are corrected in this other world. For example she is upset that her mother will not buy the gloves that she wants, but in the other world her Other Mother gets her the gloves, and in the normal world, her parents give her disgusting food, but in the other world her other makes her delicious meals. This is not realistic as no one is so perfect that they know exactly what is wrong and has a solution.

Above: The front cover of Coraline and Other Stories by Neil Gaiman with illustations by Dave McKean. Published by Bloomsbury Press. Image © Bloomsbury Publishing PLC and reproduced on this blog with their kind permission.

4. Who holds power in the book and who doesn’t? How can looking at the social world help us to explain this?

In a way, her parents hold the control, but in another way she holds the control. Her parents tell her what to do and she listens, sometimes, but mostly she does what she likes, for example her mother told her not to open the door again, but she did what she wanted and opened the door herself. Looking at her social world we can see that she would probably not want to listen to her parents as they are too busy to spend any time with her.

5. How do the social circumstances of the protagonist help explain their actions?

The reason that her parents are not spending any time with her is an acceptable excuse for not doing what they ask her as they do not have any time for her and so she shouldn’t need to have any time for them. She goes through the door to find a more exciting life, as hers is pretty boring.

6. What, if anything, does your favourite novel tell us about our own social world?

'Coraline' tells us that even if your parents don’t have any time to play with you, feed you nice meals or buy you things that you like, it doesn’t mean that you should do something risky and dangerous and just generally not normal just so you can get what you want, you should appreciate the things that you already have, and not seek perfection in risky or dangerous ways.

Useful links

Find 'Coraline' and other books by Neil Gaiman on the British Library's catalogue here.

Find resources for schools, students and teachers on our Learning webpages here.

Explore wealth and poverty in Dicken's novels here.


22 July 2013

Kannada Jeevaswaraa – a music video created for Karnataka (a State in South India)

In our exhibition, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, we examine ways in which modern British identity and culture has been visualized and presented both to a British audience and on an international stage. We show the film used in bidding for the 2012 summer Olympic Games, and interviews with Tessa Jowell, Alastair Campbell and Iain Dale on bidding for and presenting the Games. You can see these interviews now on our YouTube channel.

In response to our exhibition, Maya Chandra has written this post which describes her work, and one of the films that she has produced to promote the language, culture and heritage of Karnataka, a state in south India. Maya Chandra runs a successful film production company - MAYA, based in Bangalore, and specialising in government communications. TEAM MAYA has been working with the state governments of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh for over 12 years and has created trend-setting films for government propaganda - be it for attracting global investors, tourists or promoting issues and policies of the Governments in power. 

Kannada Jeevaswaraa

Kannada : A language spoken by the people of Karnataka – a State in South India

Jeevaswaraa – “The melody of life”

This is a music video, commissioned by the Government of Karnataka (A State in South India) for propagating the language, culture and heritage of its land.

The video is a fine example of state propaganda, designed to create a sense of pride and belongingness among the citizens.

WEB native-dance-form

[Above: This native theatre art form called Yakshagana is one of the oldest of performing arts, and has origins in the Coastal belt of Karnataka named Mangalore. This art combines dance, dialogue, music, special make-up (made from vegetable dyes and extracts), and elaborate costumes. It is generally performed throughout the night till dawn. This art form is more of a "family heirloom", passed on for generations among the performing families. We shot this dance as the performer is on a moving boat on the backwaters of Mangalore]

Karnataka is a state with diverse cultures and home to people from all over India. It is also one of the most preferred business destinations for global investments, and very cosmopolitan in its nature.

WEB bharatanatyam

[Above: Bharatanatyam - a very ancient and popular classical Indian dance form - origins can be traced back to 3rd or 4th century BC. The potential World heritage Site where we have filmed this dance is the temple of Durga, at Aihole, situated in North of our State]

The use of the local language of Kannada is on the decline, and hence we felt there was a need to bring back the appreciation of the local language.

We felt the concept of a music video will be the best format to achieve this.

The song has been originally composed, and written by a popular lyricist and author – Dr.Jayant Kaikini.

WEB women-workers-flag-factory

[Above: Women workers at the Indian National Flag making company - this one of its kind company is situated in Hubli - North of our State and is the official factory that manufactures the Indian National Flag. Women form the majority workforce in this Company]

We at MAYA proposed this idea to the state government, and it was created over a period of 6 months. The song evokes emotions of the local people, and personifies the Kannada language itself. Shot across the state, the video features people of different ethnicities, along with local celebrity musicians, and literary people who have contributed to the growth of the language.

This music video has received tremendous appreciation and is an innovative form of State propaganda in recent times.

Note: All images supplied courtesy of Maya Chandra © MAYA.

19 July 2013

Call for Papers: Languages and the First World War

Languages and the First World War
The British Library & University of Antwerp
International Conference, 18-19-20 June 2014

The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War coincides with the fading of direct memory of the period. Few can remember the linguistic experience of wartime in the speech of those directly or indirectly involved, but the linguistic traces of combat and civilian life, in and out of war zones, remain.

The term ‘no man’s land’, for instance, came into general use in English during the First World War, referring to inhabitable areas that saw the fiercest of the fighting between the two sides of the conflict; the use of the term, many centuries earlier referring to an isolated patch of land outside the City of London, is indicative of a pattern of language-change produced by the war – by 1920 ‘Niemandsland’ was a widely used term in German. In the varied theatres of war, the home fronts, training camps, war offices, hospitals and supply trains, language shifts happened, in which the dialects and languages of the various parties involved influenced one another, and in which new language and new language use emerged through new technologies of destruction and communication.

The idea for a conference on the linguistic experience and legacy of the war arose from research into the sociolinguistics of the war (especially the Western Front) and the immediate post-war period in the UK, particularly with reference to how terms had crossed linguistic boundaries, including between hostile linguistic groups.  The conference aims to be truly international and interdisciplinary.

The conference will take place on 18, 19 & 20 June 2014.

The University of Antwerp will host the first day, and the British Library will host the third. The interim day will be for travel between the two sites, with a possible visit to In Flanders Fields Museum at Ypres arranged for the morning of 19 June. There will be a book launch and public lecture at the British Library on the evening of 19 June. Eurostar travel between the two Brussels and London only takes two hours.

Abstracts of 300 words need to be sent to by 1 December 2013, 4pm.

Notification of acceptance will be sent on 20 th January 2014.

Papers may be given in languages other than English, with synopses available in English.

Call for Papers PDF

12 July 2013

Propaganda you may have missed

Ian Cooke, co-curator of Propaganda: Power and Persuasion provides a round-up of propaganda inspired blogs from other British Library bloggers.

One of the unexpected pleasures of curating an exhibition at the Library was receiving a limerick from our chief limericist (that’s a word, isn’t it?) Hedley Sutton. It goes like this:

A curator whose surname was Cooke

Said "I hope you will all have a look

At our new exhibition:

I've made it my mission

To cover each cranny and nook."

But of course it wasn’t a mission that I completed alone. Jude England, Head of Social Sciences and co-curator of Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, and I relied on the experience and knowledge of a very large number of people here at the British Library. The exhibition covers many countries and languages, and a lot of different formats such as bank-notes, postage stamps, film, sound, posters, leaflets etc. There’s no way we could have done this by ourselves, and the creativity and enthusiasm of our colleagues here in responding to the exhibition was one of the nicest things about putting the exhibition together.

In the exhibition, you’ll see the question, “what’s the most thought-provoking piece of propaganda that you have seen?” Answers to #blpropaganda please, and many thanks to the person who answered, ’50 shades of grey’.

I’ve written about the item in the exhibition that had the biggest impact on me. Others have written about items in the exhibition on our other British Library blog pages, and I wanted to bring them together here.

James Montgomery Flagg (artist), I want you for U.S. army. c.1917. Loan courtesy of Anthony d’Offay, London.

Starting off with the most prominent image from our exhibition, Uncle Sam has been hard to miss if you’ve visited the Library recently (or just walked past the Euston Road). Over on our Americas studies blog, Carole Holden has written about the origins of this iconic poster, and its artist, James Montgomery Flagg. It’s also served as a dramatic backdrop for photographs, such as this one of Justin Webb.


British World War Two propaganda for use in Iran, drawing on a well-known Persian epic, the Shahnameh (COI Archive PP/13/9L)

The two themes that have been most prominent are the use of propaganda to create a sense of common identity, and, conversely, the use of propaganda to define an enemy and demonise others. John O’Brien describes British plans to discredit the Quit India movement during World War Two. Another example of British wartime propaganda attempted to use the Persian epic, the Shahnameh, or ‘Book of Kings’ to present Hitler as a demonic tyrant, defeated by the heroic warriors Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt. Nur Sobers-Khan explains the history and images used in these propaganda postcards aimed at an Iranian audience.   

Germany was also active in its use of propaganda aimed at states in the Middle East. The tactics used were similar, this time portraying Britain as the oppressor and Germany on the side of liberation in the region. Radio broadcasts in Arabic language were used to promote German victories and encourage dissent against Britain. Writing on our Untold Lives blog, Louis Allday uncovers evidence of British reaction to the broadcast of German radio propaganda in Sharjah, on the Persian Gulf.

One of the most successful examples of propaganda that you’ll see in the exhibition is the ‘Four Freedoms’ series of posters by Norman Rockwell. These posters have great emotional power, using domestic and local scenes to illustrate the rather abstract theme of ‘freedom’. Carole Holden writes about the development and history of these posters, which are credited with raising over $130 million dollars in war bonds.

Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’ Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc

Propaganda remained an important tool during the cold war, and one of our stranger finds dates from this period. Katya Rogatchevskaia describes anti-Soviet propaganda produced by a Russian organisation active in West Germany. This includes two template images for printing propaganda images (complete with instructions on how to make your printing ink). In the United States, Bert the Turtle was used to instruct children on how to respond to a nuclear attack. This seemingly-simple figure has proved to be one of the most complex examples of propaganda – with some people disputing its description as propaganda. The story of ‘Duck and Cover’, and some of the subsequent analysis of this campaign, is recounted by Carole Holden on the Americas studies blog.


'Was Kostet die Betreuung Erbkranker', from Rechenbuch für Volksschulen. Gaue Westfalen-Nord u. Süd. Ausgabe B. Heft V – 7. und 8. Schuljahr. (Leipzig, [1941]). British Library YA.1998.a.8646

In our exhibition you’ll see further examples of propaganda designed for children, the most disturbing of these being a maths textbook produced for use in schools in Nazi Germany. One question in the book asks how much it costs (in terms of a worker’s salary) to care for the ‘hereditarily unfit’. In ‘Propaganda in the schoolroom’, Susan Reed explains more about this textbook and other examples within the Library’s collections.

Revisiting these blog posts reminds me of the breadth of interests and activities across the Library, and I’m looking forward to seeing more as the exhibition continues. If this has inspired you to create your own propaganda, don’t forget our competition for new designers, in collaboration with Artsthread. Fran Taylor explains more on our Inspired by … blog. The brief is to come up with a new design, illustration or short film to encourage people to change attitudes and behaviour on health. You can get food for thought, or at the very least a recipe for bhajiyas, from John O’Brien’s description of booklets from the Government of India’s nutrition campaign in 1945.

02 July 2013

Napoleon riding backwards on a donkey

Jennifer Howes, the British Library's Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, writes about some of the many different versions of Napoleon.

The picture on this medallion shows Napoleon with a rope tied around his neck, seated backwards on a donkey. Satan is holding the end of the rope, and is leading the donkey forward. The inscription on the medallion reads, ‘INSEPARABLE FRIENDS TO ELBA’.

WEB F60141-43

Above: ‘Inseparable Friends to Elba’ Medallion. BL reference: F4577. Photograph by Peter Warner Cc-by

This little medallion was made in Britain to commemorate the exile of Napoleon to the island of Elba in April 1814. Medallions like these were popularly sold in the UK, and many of them, including this one, were punched with a hole at the top, so the medallion could be worn as a piece of jewellery.

The picture on the medallion relates to a popular caricature that was printed in London in May 1814. The caricature shows Napoleon weeping, seated backwards on a donkey. In his right hand he holds a broken sword, and in his left, the donkey’s tail. A line of text is wafting out of the donkey’s bottom. It says, ‘The greatest events in human life is turn’d to a puff’.  A copy of this caricature is in the Library of Congress, Washington.

WEB Napoleon's_exile_to_Elba3

Above: ‘The Journey of a Modern Hero to the Island of Elba'. Printed by J Phillips, London, May 1814. Held at the Library of Congress.

The medallion and the caricature clearly reflect the virulent dislike that the British felt towards Napoleon during that period. It is impossible to calculate the total number of British casualties during the Napoleonic Wars, but no doubt, many people had young male friends and relatives who either died or were crippled during the numerous battles Napoleon prompted.

In the British Library’s ‘Propaganda’ exhibition, there is a massive portrait of Napoleon surrounded by emblems of power. It was painted in 1813, immediately before his protracted downfall began. The portrait shows self-glorification to the extreme, while the medallion is a raw, angry expression of collective ‘schadenfreude’. It is amazing that these two objects relate to the same person.


Above: Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte painted in 1813 by Jean Baptiste Borely. BL Reference: F32. 
Public Domain Mark

‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’ runs until 17 September 2013.