Social Science blog

6 posts from November 2013

29 November 2013

Historic Heston at the British Library

Barley Blyton, writes:

“Why should creativity be a new thing?” The answer is: it isn’t. Yet many of us view the cooking of Heston Blumenthal – owner of The Fat Duck and Dinner - as something of a novelty. Culinary creativity, championed by chefs like Blumenthal in Britain, Adria Ferran in Spain and René Redzepi in Denmark can seem ‘space agey’ and utterly new, but when Heston started researching for his new book, Historic Heston, he stumbled upon a whole lot of ‘other Hestons’ buried in the past.

Two weeks ago, as part of the Georgians Revealed exhibition, the British Library hosted a discussion between Heston Blumenthal – one of Britain’s most acclaimed chefs and exponent of the egg and bacon ice-cream, and Ivan Day – food historian, broadcaster, writer and confectioner. Centring on Heston’s new book and using the Georgian period as the frame for their discussion, Blumenthal and Day wound their way through history and their own pasts, expertly guided by food writer and historian Bee Wilson as Chair.

Buying his first Georgian cook book at 13 in the 1960s, a time when food was in ‘a trough of despondenc’,  Day felt like he had alighted on a golden age of British gastronomy. He began collecting his pocket money to cook menus from these books (by his own admission, Day was no ordinary 13 year old!). Initial obstacles were presented by the language  ‘how does one cook a lump?’ he asked himself, ‘how does one broil a lump, grill a lump or even find a lump in the first place?’. A lump, Day later discovered, referred to lumpfish. The next challenge was his lack of eighteenth century cooking equipment – where does a 13 year old boy pick up a ‘larding needle’ on a Saturday afternoon?

WEB Heston blog pic
Above: The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary, or, the Accomplish’d Housewife’s Companion. John Nott, London, 1723. Reproduced with the kind permission of the British Library

The early Georgian cookbooks that Day had stumbled across were not written for the everyday cook but for the courts of the rich and powerful. Many were menus of aspiration and display rather than intended for daily domestic reality. Later in the century, women cookery writers like Hannah Glasse and Elizabeth Raffald began to write for middle class households making a virtue of economy and simplicity.

Any assumptions, however, that things were necessarily more basic in the past are undermined by illustrations showing the intricate presentation of jellies, pastries and pies. For the talk at the British Library, Day brought with him a small, tapered rolling pin - evidence of the delicacy of the pastries produced and the exacting thought behind the instrument. A tapered rolling pin, Day explained, can be tilted and swivelled to mark out a perfect circle. The Georgian period produced a proliferation of cutting edge kitchen equipment feeding an ‘exotic and experimental seam’ of cookery. Many of the instruments uncannily resemble some of those used by Blumenthal today – the syringes used for piping fritters into fat in the Georgian kitchen reminded Blumenthal of the equipment he uses for similar tasks.

Like Day, Blumenthal is a history enthusiast but their approaches to history differ. While Day uses historical cookery books and tools to recreate the dishes of the past, Blumenthal uses historical gastronomy to inspire new recipes. In Historic Heston source recipes are used as a springboard for the creation of new dishes. For instance, an 1826 recipe from Margaret Dods’ The Cook and Housewife’s Manual for cucumber catsup (ketchup) becomes roast scallops with pickled shallots, cucumber fluid gel and cucumber ketchup in a bergamot, borage and cucumber butter emulsion.

Rather than suffering from the particularly British condition identified by Day as ‘cultural amnesia’ Blumenthal celebrates the creativity of the past and proudly leads the flavour-full tradition forward.

Useful information

The Exhibition Georgians Revealed will run at the British Library until the 11th March 2014.

Historic Heston is published by Bloomsbury and is available in the reading rooms at the British Library, as is Bee Wilson’s recent book Consider the Fork published by Particular.

For those interested in getting a more hands-on experience of Georgian cookery, Ivan Day runs courses at his home in the Lake District and can be found at

The author of this post can be contacted by email at:

19 November 2013

A final note on the iPod generation

Abiola Olanipekun recently finished an internship at the British Library. In her final blog post she summarises her previous posts about the iPod generation and bids adieu!

In my final months at the British Library I have been a busy bee! I have written a series of blog posts about the Reform reports on the ‘iPod generation’ which were published in 2007 and 2008. If you have not read my previous posts, please take a look at the links below:

For the 1st one, click here.

For the 2nd one, click here.

For the 3rd one, click here.

If you wish to find out more, please visit our Management & Business Portal for in-depth pieces by Reform and others that will stimulate your brain juices!

Once you’ve done that folks, I hope you might read my final post.

The series of reports analysed the situation for the classes of 2005 and 2006 and made predictions about the financial future for people of my generation. The reports wrote about how the 18-34 generation may pay higher taxes than previous generations, will need to support a generation of long-living retirees, have lost the ‘benefits bargain’ and are generally in a dire mess when it comes to a healthy financial future. You may find this to be pessimistic, but in my own case, as a 26 year old living alone in London, I feel the unsettling reality of some of the findings and predictions in this set of reports.

Despite this, I am determined to take a guarded view and not be completely devoid of optimism. It is also possible to take a retrospective view, since a few years have passed since the publication of the reports: there have been changes to the economy since 2008 and while, for example, the number of graduates in non-graduate jobs has recently been reported to have risen, ONS data also shows that in the last quarter, employment levels have improved.

I like to think that maybe prospects might change and who knows, maybe we will come to read fewer articles about the iPod generation being financially challenged!

In the meantime, I hope that you all found what has been documented in these blogs useful – the Reform reports or what I have written or maybe both?! (Just being hopeful!). Thanks for reading.

Postscript: Abiola recently started a new job working in communications. We wish her the best of luck!

12 November 2013

Calling all Spare Rib Contributors!

In this post Polly Russell highlights the Library's work to assess the feasibility of digitising the complete run of Spare Rib magazine and asks Spare Rib contributors to get in touch.


Members of the Spare Rib Collective Preparing Issue No. 25 in June 1974. From Right to left, Marsha Rowe, Rosie Parker, Rose Ades, Marion Fudger (nee Slade). © Martin Ward, reproduced with kind permission from Marsha Rowe

Few titles sum up an era and a movement like Spare Rib. The magazine ran from 1972-1993 and for many women was the debating chamber of feminism in the UK.

The British Library has recently embarked on a pilot project to assess the feasibility of digitising the complete run of Spare Rib magazine.

Although the entire run of the magazine has always been available to readers at the British Library and other libraries, digitising the copies and making them freely available online would transform access for researchers and the wider public. As Spare Rib is still in copyright, in order for this project to go ahead it is crucial for the British Library that the majority Spare Rib contributors (including illustrators and photographers) grant permission for their material to be digitised and made available online for non-commercial use. 

The contributors and Spare Rib collective members we have spoken to date have been very positive but we still need to contact a great number of former contributors to ask their permission to digitise their content.

The British Library is undertaking a feasibility study to see whether this will be possible. Without sufficient permissions to digitise the project will not go ahead.

If you were a contributor to Spare Rib then we want to hear from you! Please fill in our online form with your information


This project follows the success of our ‘Sisterhood & After’ Women’s Liberation Oral History archive and website which was launched at the Library earlier this year, as well as a sell-out conference which debated the history and future of the feminism. For more information on this project go to

Polly Russell, British Library

11 November 2013

Roads of Remembrance

Jeremy Jenkins, Curator of International Organisations & North American Official Publications, writes:

Following the centenary commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War, few images are more poignant than the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall and the congregation of ex-service persons standing in silent remembrance of fallen comrades. With the last veterans having now passed away, the First World War has past from memory into history.

In many respects the Cenotaph, which started life as a wood and plaster mock-up, sits at the centre of a deep and complex narrative which brings together the arts of literature, sculpture and poetry, with infrastructure planning in communities across the country. This post showcases one of the more imaginative proposals for war memorials in the years following the conflict.

SMALL Cenotaph title  frontis crop (2)
Above: Cenotaph: a book of poetry and prose,  the contents of which are possibly more readily associated with remembrance and memorialisation. [BL Pressmark: 12298.a.9]

Nestled in the collections there is a thin fifteen page pamphlet published by the Remembrance Association Committee in 1920. This work echoes a general desire throughout the country for local memorialisation. The title of this work is Roads of Remembrance. It suggeststhat suitable existing highways are identified and transformed to show the ‘dignity of roads of remembrance, adorned with trees’.

SMALL Roads of Remembrance title page crop (2)

Above: Roads of Remembrance as War Memorials (title page). [BL Pressmark:20033.c.13]

The scheme outlined proposals for building ‘highways of exceptional dignity and beauty, with open spaces at intervals as special memorials of the Great War.’ The central argument is that the memorial monuments could play a functional role in improving the local infrastructure. For example, suggestions included replacing a weak and dangerous hump-backed bridge with ‘dignified masonry’ example bearing the inscription:

‘This Bridge was rebuilt to commemorate the Heroes of the Great War.’     

This utilitarian aspect of the Roads of Remembrance scheme would allow war memorialisation and highway improvement schemes to be combined. In the last section of the pamphlet twenty-one suitable schemes are outlined including a bypass on the London to Portsmouth road ‘to avoid the narrow and congested roads of Kingston.’  

The editor of the King's Highway describes a scheme of this kind thus:

‘It seems to us that the first principle of a war memorial should be that everyone can participate in any benefits which it confers; Secondly and hardly less important, that it should be of a permanent character-something that will last of all time. Roads and bridges comply with these two conditions.’


05 November 2013

BSA: Big Data Challenge at the British Library

Asher Rospigliosi, Brighton Business School, writes:

The British Sociology Association hosted a Presidential event, on the Big Data Challenge at the British Library on Friday the 30th October. Upward of 150 interested parties arrived to hear presentations, ask questions discuss and debate the changing nature of  social science research and the evaluation of policy and practice.

The day comprised of four plenary sessions. Each session had a panel of  invited speakers presenting, followed by a discussion. Each considered different aspect of the impact of Big Data on the social sciences or policy, and each had a very different tone. It rapidly became apparent that among many other challenges, a major theme was debate on whether big data as by product of user activities (i.e. not generated as the result of primary enquiry) was to be welcomed or not.

At the heart of this debate on whether to use data generated by use of social media and other digital droppings, were concerns about assumptions of representativeness, ownership of the data, access to the data and informed user consent.


Above: Word Cloud of BSA: Big Data Challenge at the British Library by Digital Coeliac (Warwick University). Reproduced here with kind permission of Sam Martin.

The opening sessions characterised these contrasting considerations. BSA President John Holmwood welcomed delegates, but warned that Big Data risks offering another dream of unifying the Social Science around a behavioural model, while driving our own actions, as academics, for example, through the impact of the National Student Satisfaction Survey.

If this was a mixed welcome to big data, the next speakers were so far apart in their approach and tone as to polarise the audience. Evelyn Ruppert (Goldsmiths) announced her new SAGE journal, Big Data & Society: Critical Interdisciplinary Inquiries, to be launched in 2014. Evelyn offered a highly critical take on Big Data with consideration of the way that business sets many of the questions, and the need for sociologist and anthropologists to provide  the “why?” Ken Benoit (LSE) spoke earnestly about the necessity of doing, if we are to understand and use Big Data. Ken showed examples of technical tools, which he suggested would be needed by researchers in the field. He made a really strong case for introducing technical education much earlier. Then Emma Uprichard (University of Warwick) countered with a passionate warning that engaging with Big Data highlights the splintered nature of the field of sociology. In engaging we are forced to ask “who are we doing this for, and why?”

Lively discussion from the audience drew out these themes, with impassioned calls for sociology to be a force for radical change, countered by John McInnes of Edinburgh welcoming social insight through analysis of “feral data”!

Highlights from other sessions included an enthusiastic Emer Colman (dsrptn), an influential advocate of Open Data and Digital Government and Paul Martin (University of Sheffield) with a sobering insight into big health data and the enormous potential (commercial) value to the  NHS.

Throughout the day a parallel discussion and sharing of views was tweeted, by delegates and those beyond the library, using #BigDataBL.

Digital Coeliac (Warwick University) has generated some insightful visualisations after the event.

Paola Tubaro (University of Greenwich) has written an interesting analysis of the Big Data Challenge, drawing on these visualisations.

SMALLER 2 influencermoth

Above: Influencer Moth: Social Reach vs. Activity for #BigDataBL tweets by Digital Coeliac (Warwick University). Reproduced here with kind permission of Sam Martin. (See Sam Martin's Digital Coeliac blog for a better resolution image)

About the author

Asher Rospigliosi is senior lecture in e-business, digital marketing and business information systems at Brighton Business School. His research interests centre on graduate employability and e-learning. Away from the internet Asher has been fire-keeper at the Glastonbury Festival tipi field for many years, walks his dogs and blogs when he “has a thought”!

01 November 2013

Challenging myths and understanding society

On the evening of the 15 October we held the 20th and final event in our series (with the Academy of Social Sciences) on ‘Myths and Realities’. The series began in 2009 and has examined discrepancies between political and press representations of social issues such as immigration, nutrition, education, crime, food, the environment, welfare and more to understand the gap between social science evidence and more broadly accepted and propagated social ‘truths’. Each event included talks from academics and social science practitioners in which they presented evidence from their field about the particular set of beliefs under discussion. Nearly all of the events have been podcast and are available here as well as on SoundCloud to download.

The final event was chaired by Professor Dame Janet Finch and the speakers were Professors Ivor Gaber and John Holmwood. It aimed to take a broad view of the role of the press and politicians in reproducing particular narratives about our society and to examine the role of social scientists in presenting evidence and challenging misconceptions.

Prof. Gaber gave the first presentation, and with a background in journalism and communications, offered his insights into the notion that as a journalist, one should ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story’. Gaber critiqued this axiom to show that whilst this way of working could be seen to be responsible for many of the current ‘myths’ about society (e.g. the ‘scroungers’ discourse, ‘problem families’, ‘drugs’, ‘immigration’ and so on), it is also a cultural facet of an industry which is highly pressured and competitive, shaped by particular patterns of ownership and bias as well as by audience expectations. Gaber drew on writers such as Stanley Cohen (e.g. Folk Devils and Moral Panics) and Stuart Hall (e.g. in Policing the Crisis) to talk about the way in which particular narratives about society become subject to exaggeration and distortion as well as about how the press are often guilty of giving primacy to the views and opinions of particular groups (as has been discussed again more recently in relation to the ‘riots’ of 2011). Finally, Gaber raised the question of what objectivity is to the press (a ‘gold standard?’, ‘worthy aspiration?’) and finished on a lighter note with this comic song by Dan and Dan films!

Above: 'News on the way' by Vratislav Darmek Cc-by

Prof. John Holmwood’s presentation took a different approach, deconstructing the notion of the ‘expert’ social scientist verses the general public/the press. He suggested that there is a danger to the notion of democracy in thinking of oneself (in this case, the social scientist) as the expert or definer of what counts as valid knowledge. In fact, and as recent events have shown, it is in the public interest to question the nature of ‘expertise’. This took me back to another event held here at the British Library (to which Holmwood contributed) where we examined the relationship between power and knowledge (asking whose knowledge counts?). He suggested that when we think of lived realities, and how these realities are perceived and understood by the individual through various practices and experiences, it can become difficult to make a clear distinction between ‘knowledge’ and ‘belief’. If this position is held to be a useful one to take when considering beliefs in other areas of social science, then why isn’t the same approach taken when we examine the different ‘truths’ about society put forward by the press, the public, and social scientists?  Holmwood suggested that there was some truth in Paul Dacre’s recent point that politicians and the press on the left perhaps do not trust the public enough. Holmwood’s intervention was a useful and in some ways surprising one which gave the audience plenty of food for thought for subsequent participatory session as well as for events we hold in the future.

The audience contributed to the subsequent discussion with questions such as:

  • Are all these ‘myths’ necessarily always right-wing?
  • Why does the value of cognitive psychology not feature in this discussion?
  • How do ‘myths’ and ‘realities’ around pornography feature in this context?

The event itself (excluding audience questions and further discussion I’m afraid) can now be viewed as a video online via our YouTube channel. Please feel free to use this video to generate your own discussions, or in your teaching, and please feel free to share the link!