Social Science blog

3 posts from April 2016

27 April 2016

Propaganda course nominated for Learning on Screen Award

Update! We won! Very pleased to say that our film won the Courseware and Curriculum Non-Broadcast award. Details are at Congratulations to Director Alec Millward, author and presenter Maiken Umbach and all involved. 

We're very excited to report that one of the films from our online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life has been nominated for a Learning on Screen award.

The Battle for Civilisation, British leaflet from Word War Two

The award, to be announced on the evening of 28th April, is in the category of Courseware and Curriculum non-broadcast production. Our film, 'From the "Just War" to the "Unjust Peace"', features in week 2 of our course, which addresses issues related to justice and protest. The film is presented by Maiken Umbach, Professor of History at the University of Nottingham and one of the lead educators on our course. Learners are asked to consider the problem of violence and justice, reflecting on an exhibition of photographs made by Lee Miller. The photographs document the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, including images of violence against the Nazi perpetrators of atrocities. For our course, the question is whether violent methods have a role to play in justice, and the role of war as a means of restoring justice.

The films in our course are designed to explain current thinking and research around issues that are often complex and contested. Bringing a range of perspectives on propaganda and ideology, they feature researchers from disciplines, including history, politics, sociology, media studies and psychology. Our course has 18 short films in total, four of which were made at the British Library and feature material from our collections of maps, Chinese posters, and British World War Two publications.

As with other learning steps on the course, the aim is to generate an informed and diverse debate on politically significant topics that have relevance to our everyday life. When we first ran the course last year, we attracted thousands of learners from over 20 countries around the world. Across the five weeks of the course, participants learned from each others' experience and opinions, and drawing on the leading-edge research presented in the learning steps.

We're very excited that a film from our course has been nominated for a Learning on Screen award, and wish Maiken, director Alec Millward, and the production team the best of luck for Thursday evening. Our course starts on 16th May, and you can register for free now at

20 April 2016

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

Our free online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life starts on 16th May 2016

Svoboda po-amerikanski (Freedom, American Style) by B Prorokov, 1971

Freedom, justice, community, place and choice: words which are politically-charged and fundamental in our experience of everyday lives. Over five weeks, our online course explores how words and images gain different meanings, how we interpret the symbols we encounter, and how these interpretations are sometimes 'quoted back' to us with a specific political intent.

Our course is developed and delivered with the Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies at the University of Nottingham. Learners can sign up for the course now, free of charge, at the FutureLearn website. Learning is structured across a small number of activities each week, which are broken down into simple steps. A step might be a short video presentation, or a reading or a question to discuss. Discussion is the most important part of our course, allowing us to learn from each-other's experiences and opinions. The nature of a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) means that we can explore our shared interests in comparative political study and the way in which our material worlds reflect and shape our political experience.

This is the second year in which we have run this course. In 2015, we had nearly 12,000 learners from 20 countries around the world. Our focus on learning through discussion meant that all participants, including those of us who developed the course, learnt through contributing to a lively debate that ran through all five weeks. Some of this learning has been incorporated into this year's course, including a focus on the experience of migration in expressions of identity, and how definitions of the 'unnatural' influences our political views. In preparation for this year, we have reviewed and updated course content, including the addition of four new films.     

A unique feature of our course is that we ask participants to share images either that they find online or of photographs that they have taken themselves. These images relate to the themes discussed each week, and are surprising in how they reveal our responses to concepts such as 'freedom', 'nature' and 'community'. Many of the images shared last year were of open spaces, representing nature as an expression of freedom but also as something threatened by unrestrained freedom or consumption. You can see a selection of images shared on our Flickr site.

We were incredibly impressed by the quality of interaction on our course last year, and learners were very positive about course content and the course leaders. We hope that you will join us from 16th May when the course restarts, and sign up today at

08 April 2016

Update on the digital Spare Rib: important information for researchers and contributors



On 7th June 2016 the British Library redacted approximately 20% of the content on its Spare Rib website. In this blog post (originally published 8 April 2016) Curator Polly Russell explains why the redactions are taking place and calls for Spare Rib magazine contributors to come forward.  

The British Library continues to seek contributors to Spare Rib magazine to request their permission to reinstate their works. For more information please email

Spare-rib-front-cover -Issue55-0001compressed for blog

Image: Karate woman, Spare Rib Front Cover Issue 55 (Feb 1977) Usage Terms: © Michael Ann Mullen Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence

Vibrant, relevant and irreverent, over its lifespan (1972-1993) Spare Rib magazine documented the evolution of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the UK and tackled subjects like abortion, the gender pay gap, domestic violence, racism and sexuality, breaking taboos and setting the political agenda for a generation of women.

It was partly a love of Spare Rib magazine – of the hope it came out of, of what it tried to embody in its collective structure, of its courageous call to arms and of its embrace of debate and challenge – which drove the British Library’s ambition to digitise Spare Rib three years ago.

From the outset we knew that the project would be difficult. Spare Rib was a unique publishing phenomenon; organised as a collective, the magazine had over 4,700 individual contributors. Attempting to clear the rights for these copyright holders has been a fiendish task, not least because the vast majority of Spare Rib contributors were not professional authors, but ordinary women encouraged by the magazine to share their experiences and get involved.

Early on in the project we enlisted the support of four former Spare Rib collective members to advise us and to help us track down contributors. In May 2015, after two years of seeking contributors and encouraged by the positive response of those we contacted and by a new body of copyright law which enables libraries to digitise in-copyright material, we launched the digital Spare Rib, publishing the entire run of magazines on the Jisc Journal Archives site and a curated learning resource on the British Library website.

The response from the feminist and research community was overwhelmingly positive. However, following the launch there has been some feedback from trade bodies representing the rights of authors and visual artists.

The feedback prompted us to undertake a full review of all the content on the site, working closely with the trade bodies who approached us in order to ensure good practice around rights clearance procedures.

Since the launch we have continued to clear rights for a further nine months, but there remain around 1000 contributors for whom the legal copyright status of their works remain difficult to resolve. 

It is with regret that after careful consideration and discussion with stakeholders, we have decided to redact the images and articles by these contributors.

The majority of the material on the website (approximately 80%) will remain available, the physical magazines remain accessible to researchers in the British Library Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire, and we will do everything we can to reinstate material where we do receive permissions from these contributors in the future.

Spare Rib was, and still is, a terrific magazine. When it was first published it pioneered a new kind of politics and publishing. It campaigned for women’s rights and for women’s voices to be heard. It is not without irony, therefore, that in its digital incarnation it has been at the vanguard of testing the impact of new legislation and new technologies which force us to consider the difficult balance between the rights of individual copyright holders and the desire to share an important feminist legacy with as many people as possible.

Marsha Rowe, Rose Ades, Ruthie Petrie and Sue O’Sullivan, members of the Spare Rib Advisory Board, commented:

 “The four of us from Spare Rib were delighted to work with the British Library on their ground-breaking project to digitise Spare Rib magazine and make it accessible online. 

Spare Rib was the most public, passionate and popular publication emerging from the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s and 80s. It showcased every facet of feminism nationally and internationally in its wide and challenging coverage. Spare Rib’s inclusive and radical practices transformed readers into activists who became valued contributors. 

The quality and value, both to researchers and activists, of this vital and unique historical resource is threatened by the loss of 1000 contributors' work, leaving black holes in the fabric of those twenty years of feminist representation, unless permission is granted for the work to be included. So, Sisters/supporters, if you contributed 'content' in any form and haven't yet been in touch with the British Library, please do so urgently. We need to hear from you!”

If you are a contributor to Spare Rib and you have not yet heard from us, please get in touch and let us know if you give permission to publish your work by emailing

More information about the redactions to the Spare Rib can be found on the Spare Rib website .

Blog by Polly Russell, Curator of Contemporary Politics and Public Life at the British Library