THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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2 posts from August 2014

13 August 2014

"Beyond the Boundary of Sleep": Mega-Events and Memory

Andrew Rackley is a collaborative doctoral student at the British Library and the University of Central Lancashire. His research principally focuses on how a national institution, such as the British Library, documents a Mega-Event like the Olympics, and his interests include sport and the relationship between memory and archives. Follow him on Twitter

I haven’t written anything for a few months. I believe I was distracted from my last blog post by the curling and the silver and bronze medals Great Britain managed to win for it.
The past few weeks have kept me quite busy; even if Wimbledon and the World Cup may be alarmingly distant memories, the Commonwealth Games and the Test cricket have valiantly stepped in to fill the void. As a student, some people like to tell me that this is procrastination, but I just think that’s counter-productive.

At any rate, the conclusion of the World Cup got me thinking: did the spectacle overshadow the event? For me, Rio proved an interesting phenomenon as widespread dissent and clashes between protesters and police punctuated the preparations. Question marks remained over the readiness of the stadia, infrastructure and ticketing. Yet once the football was flowing these concerns seemed to melt away: Brazilian support showed in colour and volume, the sound of almost 75,000 voices inside the Maracanã continuing the national anthem well beyond FIFA’s curtailing of the musical accompaniment stood in stark contrast to the expositions of patriotism usually experienced when England play, for example. Contrary to Terry Gilliam’s dystopian imagining that seemed to be brewing, there was an almost ‘Carnaval’ atmosphere, and even the Americans got in on the fun.

A recent BBC article pondered the legacy of the World Cup and the lessons Rio could take forward to the 2016 Olympic Games. For an event widely considered to have been a success, public opinion in Brazil seems to have been drowned out by the pure spectacle of the beautiful game, the popular consensus being ‘there is no legacy’. This is an excellent example of an, albeit international, ‘collective’ memory at work, whereby many of the less salubrious memories of protest  and dissent, that marred the preparations (and almost certainly continued throughout the tournament) seem to have been airbrushed out. A part of me wonders whether these negative sentiments are framed by Brazil’s lacklustre performance, and ultimately the resounding 7-1 defeat to Germany (Oscar being the only Brazilian on the score sheet for all you pub quiz fanatics); would it have been the same following London 2012 had Team GB not put in the stellar performance that they did?

London 2012 was not without its issues: G4S and the security scandal, Olympic lanes and the cost to the nation are but a few issues that come to mind; but such inconveniences do not compete with the national euphoria that accompanied the generally good weather, positive London attitude and sporting success experienced during those heady days. This is where memory institutions come to the fore and is a great example of the important role they play in documenting the knowledge legacy of such events. In collecting, storing and disseminating the knowledge legacy of London 2012, the British Library is one among many memory institutions that are able to reveal a more nuanced picture of the Games. A few examples have jumped out at me in the past few days.

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The UK Web Archive has amassed collections including Slavery and Abolition and Video Games

Social media and the internet allow for a great many voices to be heard, not all of which were optimistic about the Olympics. Two such examples have been captured by the UK Web Archive’s Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012 Special Collection. The first example is something of a personal favourite that uses a strikingly simple method of protest to question the vast sums of money spent in bringing the Olympics to London by suggesting an alternative logo for the event. Another fascinating insight into the Olympic Movement is captured through Games Monitor, a website dedicated to debunking Olympic myths and which seeks to, in their own words, ‘deconstruct the 'fantastic' hype of Olympic boosterism and the eager complicity of the 'urban elites' in politics, business, the media, sport, academia and local institutional 'community stakeholders'’.

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‘Savage Messiah’ by Laura Oldfield Ford [2011]. British Library ref: YD.2014.a.735. For more information, you can read her blog

Despite the contemporary ubiquity of digital media, some types of protest still find their outlet in analogue form. Comic books can often be subversive and, as such, are often utilised as vehicles for protest. At the Comics Unmasked exhibition, there is a comic entitled ‘The Strip’ by Laura Oldfield Ford. This piece, created in 2009 for publication in ArtReview, has been loaned from a private collection, however a larger body of work, Ford’s ‘Savage Messiah’, is held at the Library. Both ‘The Strip’ and ‘Savage Messiah’ offer visual journeys through London’s ‘architectural follies of high-rises and gated estates’ whilst questioning the Olympic legacy by offering visions of reality charted through the experiences of ‘urban drifts’ faced by the spectre of regeneration in forgotten fringes of the capital.

From subversive, counter-culture re-imaginings of famous designs, through websites documenting the hard work of various local communities, to forms of expression often maligned as being ‘just for kids’, there are many alternative stories waiting within the walls of the BL, and on the servers of the UK Web Archive, for those who are willing to look for them.

Now I’d love to stay and chat, but if I’m not mistaken that’s Boycott on the boundary with a stick of celery, and he’s calling me in for tea.

Further information

For extensive collections on sport, from Geoffrey Boycott and Test Cricket to the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, please search the British Library’s catalogue here: Explore the British Library.

Martin Polley. 2011. The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic heritage 1613-2012. Swindon. English Heritage.
Available at the British Library at: YC.2011.a.14717

'Beyond the boundary of sleep' is taken from Michael Laskey's poem 'On having given up cricket', which can be found in:

Michael Laskey. 1991. Thinking of Happiness. Cornwall. Peterloo Poets.
Available at the British Library at: YK.1992.a.10972

07 August 2014

Play the Game!

At the start of World War One, professional sports associations came under intense pressure to cancel fixtures. Clubs and supporters alike were criticised for taking part in leisure activities that diverted the energies of "fit young men" from the armed services. Such criticism was felt acutely by the Football Association, as the football season was about to start. Against this background, the FA and clubs alike argued that professional football, and matches, made a significant contribution to the war effort, and that criticisms of players and supporters alike were disproportionate and unfair. Fundraising at matches, and the establishment of a football 'Pals Battalion', were both widely promoted.

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Play the game” Sharpen up ‘Spurs…Join the Football Battalions of the Die-Hards (17th Middlesex) [text: blue]. Issued by the Publicity Department, Central London Recruiting Depot Printed by The Haycock-Cadle Co., [1914?]. British Library ref: Tab.11748.a (number 93) 

If you attended football matches in Britain during the First World War, you would be likely to see posters of this nature displayed at grounds. At the start of the War, Britain had a small professional army, and recruitment was a vital early goal. Unlike many other European countries, Britain did not have a system of conscription, a situation that remained until early 1916.

In the first decades of the 20th century, posters were even more part of everyday life, and, alongside newspapers, the most significant form of mass-communication. When we think about wartime recruitment posters, we often imagine the visually iconic examples, technically very skilled and with a strong and direct emotional appeal. Some striking examples of these can be seen in our current exhibition Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour.

However, many posters were much simpler, relying on bold text to get their message across. Our collections at the British Library reveal a mix of complex and more simple designs. Despite their apparent simplicity, the football posters showed a good understanding of their audience. The use of humour to create a sense of camaraderie was significant, as the call was to join a 'Pals Battalion' of football players and supporters.

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Do you want to be a Chelsea die-hard? [text: blue] Issued by the Publicity Department, Central London Recruiting Depot Printed by The Haycock-Cadle Co., [1914?] British Library ref Tab.11748.a (number 101)

The 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, with recruiting offices at West Africa House, Kingsway, was established during December 1914, for players, officials and supporters of football. The Battalion was formed in an atmosphere of hostility towards the continuance of sporting fixtures, with much public criticism directed at professional football. During the late summer of 1914, a number of vocal and well-publicised commentators complained about the continuance of public entertainments that, they argued, diverted young men from volunteering to join the army. 

Professional football in particular came in for criticism, putting pressure on the Football Association to cancel matches and the 1914-15 FA Cup. The criticism reflected class prejudices against professional sports (as opposed to amateur) in general, and football in particular, as players and supporters were admonished for ignoring their "greater duty". Professional players were presented as employees rather than sportsmen, and clubs were criticised for not releasing players from contracts so that they could sign up. In response, the FA pointed to the small numbers of professional players who received a living wage, that many had already signed up (and no clubs had refused to release a player from a contract), and that professional matches had been used as venues for recruitment and raising substantial funds for war relief. 

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Men of Millwall ... [1914?]. British Library ref: Tab.11748.a (number 117)

The 17th Battalion left for France in November 1915, suffering heavy casualties at the battle of the Somme in 1916, and, later, at Redan Ridge, Oppy and Cambrai. The battalion is also remembered for Walter Tull, the first black infantry officer in the British army, and a professional footballer for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town. Tull was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in May 1917, and killed in action in France in 1918. The 17th Battalion itself was disbanded at the beginning February 1918, as part of a wider reorganisation of British troops fighting in France, although members of the battalion continued fighting in different units. Six years later, in 1924, the president of the Football Association unveiled a memorial tablet to all footballers who had fought and died during the war.

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An appeal to good sportsmen… F.J. Wall, Secretary, Football Association [text: red, black]. Issued by the Publicity Department, Central London Recruiting Depot Printed by The Haycock-Cadle Co., 1914. 18th November 1914.
British Library ref: Tab.11748.a (number 92)

Further reading

Andrew Riddoch and John Kemp. 2008. When the Whistle Blows: The Story of the Footballers' Battalion in the Great War. Somerset: Haynes Publishing.
Available in the British Library at: YC.2010.a.1402

Everard Wyrall. 1926 & 1929. The Die-Hards in the Great War. A history ... 1914-1919. 2 vol. London: Harrison & Sons.
Available in the British Library at: 09084.cc.48.