Social Science blog

3 posts from May 2014

15 May 2014

Culture and football in harmony

The Football World Cup starts next month, and the British Library is celebrating the event on 23rd May with a conference about football and culture. Our collections include fascinating titles about sport in general and football in particular. Barry Taylor curator for Hispanic Studies describes one of them and shows how football and culture are closer than one might think.

El libro homenaje a Diego A. Maradona. San Martín Pcia Bs As : SAFE, Sociedad Argentina de Fomento Editorial, 2001 British Library shelfmark: HS.74/2205

England fans may well remember Diego Maradona as the man whose hand ball won Argentina victory over England in the quarter final of the 1986 World Cup and paved the way to Argentine triumph over West Germany.

In his native country he is of course a god (to put it mildly) and this item from the BL collections points up some cultural differences between the two footballing nations who faced each other on 22 June 1986 at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

‘Cultural’ itself is a word with quite different connotations in English and Spanish.  In vernacular English, culture lives in art galleries and concert rooms.  In Spanish, it’s a much broader term, commonly used in the sense in which only anthropologists use it in English.  It’s the whole way of life, as much in the streets and on the terraces as in the academy.

This lavish production also demonstrates the integration of the Argentine intellectual into the life of the nation.  In Latin America, poets are seen as the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’, speaking for the nation in times good and bad.  It’s eloquent that the prefaces of this volume are by Rosa María Ravera ( President of the National Academy of Fine Arts) and Daniel Arcucci (Maradona’s biographer and editor of the prestigious daily newspaper La Nación)

El libro homenaje a Diego A. Maradona contains texts by ten well known Argentine authors, illustrated by original prints by ten well known Argentine artists.  The artists are: Alicia Scavino, Alicia Díaz Rinaldi, Mirta Ripoll, Leonardo Gotleyb, Lucrecia Orloff, Carlos Scannapieco, Ricardo Tau, Pablo Delfini, Alberto Arjona, and Vera Rodriguez.   The authors are: Roberto Fontanarrosa, Pacho O'Donell, Federico Andahazi, Dalmiro Sáenz, Martín Caparrós, Elvio Gandolfo, Rodolfo Fogwill, Leopoldo Brizuela, Sergio Bizzio, and Daniel Guebel.  Authors and artists have signed each copy. It is an edition of 505 copies.

Measuring 42 x 33 cm, printed on hand-made paper, physically it consists of a  booklet (24 pages); another booklet with facsimiles of the texts (20 pages); 13 unbound quires; a postcard; and a pair of gloves..  This last element a fitting monument to the Hand of God.

 A Cultural History of the World Cup, a one day conference at the British Library, will be held on Friday 23 May 2014, 09.30- 17.00. Tickets £30 (full price), £15 (concessions) 

09 May 2014

Languages and the First World War

Julian Walker writes:

The early part of 2014 saw a rush of books, new websites and television programmes about the First World War, and for some of us there was a concern that ‘First World War fatigue’ would set in before the arrival of the actual anniversaries. Finding a new way of considering the conflict seemed a remote idea. The field of language, however, has been little considered, is a fantastically rich area, and allows examination of both the differences and the commonality of experience among civilians and combatants across all the combatant nations. How did language change during and as a result of the war, how did languages influence each other, and what effects have lasted through the century between then and now?

The conference ‘Languages and the First World War’, to be held at the University of Antwerp and the British Library in June 2014 will address some of these questions, with papers from 27 speakers, and subjects ranging from the influence of French on English trench-slang, to the professionalisation of interpreting, to the censorship of soldiers’ letters home in Welsh, the difficulties faced by French-speaking Caribbean soldiers in France, and the use of propaganda in an Italian soldiers’ magazine. The conference coincides with Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour, the British Library’s exhibition on the First World War, and is open to the public.

The linguistic experience was a fundamental part of the experience of the war, and ranged from the deeply problematic to the enjoyable. The melting-pot of the Western Front brought together speakers of different dialects or sociolects within one language, leading to the uptake and spread of previously isolated terms. Officialese brought terms such as ‘debus’ and ‘attest’, while British soldiers tucked into ‘Bombardier Fritz’ (pommes de terre frites); new terms from the conflict – camouflage, tank, air raid – quickly came into common use. The management of the war was in many cases required to be multilingual: administrators dealing with Belgian refugees were baffled by Flemish, and the 1919 report on the Belgian community in County Durham relied partially on sources from the Catholic Church, written in Latin.

Trench glossary
Pastiche glossaries were popular in trench journals, newspapers produced by soldiers for soldiers.

The British Expeditionary Force was to a large extent made up from men who were the beneficiaries of a series of compulsory education acts, and who constituted the most literate army Britain had ever had. They were led ‘over the top’ by junior officers who were in many cases public school and university educated, conversant with Latin and Greek. Trench journals, diaries and letters home give evidence of how important reading and writing were for the Tommies – 15,500 bags of mail crossed the Channel just from England to France every day in 1916 and 1917. Those who found themselves further away from home, in Palestine, Greece or Iraq, might not know exactly where they were – so labelled those parts ‘Mesapolonica’.

Examination of the linguistic aspects of the war reveals an underlying sense of shared experiences, and there are instances of parallel wordplay occurring across the hell of no man’s land. German hand grenades were called ‘potato-mashers’ by both sides. Both German and British soldiers were unimpressed with the substitute for butter in their rations: on one side they called it ‘Wagonschmiere’, on the other ‘axle-grease’. Sometimes this wordplay emerged as the most awful puns: a German raiding party scrawled the words ‘Gott mitt uns’ on a plank left amongst the barbed wire; the following night a British raiding party turned it round closer to the German lines, adding the words ‘Don’t swank – we’ve got mittens too’.

Message for the Bulgars
Message for the Bulgars: the conflict in Salonika allowed references to what was at that time a highly contentious term

German soldiers could find themselves using a phrasebook that told them how to say in French both ‘I am confiscating the money’ (schè kongfisk larschang) and ‘Waiter, bring me half a litre of wine’ (garsong, donneh moa öng dèmih litr dè wäng). It all looks very like an English schoolboy’s attempt to pronounce French; but then many of the British soldiers fighting in France were not long out of school themselves.

Postcard tray bon
Postcard home: Arthur Tildesley writes that he is ‘tray bon’.

Perhaps the one word that conjures up images of the First World War is ‘Blighty’, meaning ‘home’ or ‘Britain’. Deriving from the Hindi bilyati, meaning ‘foreign’ or ‘European’, it was applied to British soldiers and administrators, who then took the term themselves. ‘A Blighty one’ or ‘a blighty’ was a wound that would take you safely away from the fighting, while ‘a Blighty touch’ was the same thing, but self-inflicted.

Throughout the war there was discussion of the origins of the names of allies and enemies – did the nickname Poilu (‘hairy’) for French soldiers really derive from their being able to grow beards while on active service, or was it from a novel by Balzac? And where did the word ‘Boche’ come from? Indeed was it ‘Boche’ or ‘Bosche’? Newspapers regularly updated their readers with new slang terms, and there was an awareness in the UK that the ‘war of words’ was enlarging and enriching the English language. Right at the beginning of the war the Rev. Andrew Clarke set about collecting what he saw as ‘ordinary words’ – the words used in reporting the war, in advertising, and in people’s conversation as they experienced the fear, grief, relief and stress of the conflict. Lynda Mugglestone, University of Oxford Professor of the History of English, will be giving a keynote paper on his work.

The conference is at the University of Antwerp on 18th June and the British Library on 20th June, and is open to all. Regular updates and information will be posted on the blog and the twitter feed @LanguagesFWW and tickets can be booked on

06 May 2014

Happy Birthday Channel Tunnel

In this post Philip Eagle, Content and Collection Specialist for Business and Intellectual Property, provides more information about the Library's Item of the week.

On the 6th May 1994, twenty years ago this week, the Channel Tunnel was officially opened by HM the Queen and President François Mitterrand. The current Item of the Week on the British Library's website is a Deputation to the Prime Minister by promoters of an earlier Channel Tunnel scheme, published in 1913 and held in the Business & IP Centre's Trade Literature Collection.

The work describes a scheme quite close to today's Channel Tunnel, with two bored single-track tunnels from Dover to Sangatte. Trains would be electrically hauled and cross passages would be used for workers and to improve ventilation.

Much of the 136-page brochure, however, is taken up by arguments against the fear that a Channel Tunnel might provide an avenue for France or some other hostile nation to invade Britain, which had shut down the most serious previous attempt to start construction of a Tunnel in 1882. It is argued that changes in both the political situation and military technology since would make a Channel Tunnel less of a hazard to Britain in the event of a European war, and more helpful as a way of evading any naval blockade to trade.

Arguments for the Channel Tunnel are familiar - increased trade, tourism, and the avoidance of seasickness. The most prominent supporter of a Tunnel scheme listed in the brochure is the late William Ewart Gladstone, whose speech of 1890 supporting a tunnel is quoted. The brochure ends by predicting through trains from London to points as far away as Lisbon, Nice, Palermo, Constantinople and Siberia, and the possibility of a tunnel under the Bering Strait to link Russia with North America for a London-New York express.

The illustration shows a drawing of an even earlier scheme by Hector Horeau in 1851, which would have involved a submerged iron tube resting on the sea bed. The huge moored towers seen in the picture would have been retained after the completion of the tube, to hold it in place and provide ventilation.

Channel tunnel sized

Elsewhere in the Trade Literature collection, we have a number of items covering the modern tunnel, including annual reports from Eurotunnel and Wimpey, and celebratory items in staff magazines from the contractors Tarmac and Costain. For people who want to see what St Pancras and Kings Cross were like before the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, we have a brochure published by the City and South London Railway tube company for their 1907 extension from Angel to Euston via Kings Cross (now part of the Northern Line), which has fascinating pictures of the station and the streets around.