Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

2 posts from July 2023

31 July 2023

Historical census publications of Africa, the West Indies, and Pacific Islands: 'Unlocking our Hidden Collections'


The British Library acquires material at a rapid rate, and this has resulted in areas where material cannot be catalogued promptly soon after its arrival. This prevents discovery and access by readers, effectively ‘hiding’ the material away. In response to this, the Unlocking our Hidden Collections initiative aims to clear cataloguing backlogs, process donated material, and upgrade already existing bibliographic records, making the material 'visible' once more.


Swaziland 1956 1

Front cover of the Swaziland census 1956. Credits: Swaziland census 1956 shelfmark C.S.D.475/1.

There are several collections being worked on under this umbrella including  Archives by Women Musicians, the Tony Benn Archive: Correspondence and personal papers, Cotton charters and rolls, and the Harley Manuscripts (post 1600).

The Government and Official Information group at the British Library also has a collection joining this exciting line up, the Historical Census Publications of Africa, the West Indies, and Pacific Islands; which is comprised of 18th and 19th century publications and was donated by the Office for National Statistics in the late 1990s. Up to now the material has not been fully accessioned and catalogued.

With the commencement of the Hidden Collections project, these items are being sorted and catalogued, so that readers will now be able to access this intriguing material via the Library's main catalogue Explore the British Library.  The main focus is to process items from Africa, the West Indies, and the Pacific Islands.  

But this work will also reveal and allow us to catalogue material from other areas, because when the material was first accepted it was listed and stored in boxes containing a mix of items, for example the Gold Coast with Canada, or Malawi with Ireland, resulting in a mix of locales. Many of these areas went through periods of upheaval and change during the 18th and 19th centuries  – from world wars and other conflicts, to the end of colonial rule and establishing independence as separate nations.

The first item to be catalogued from these donated publications as part of the Hidden Collections Programme was the Swaziland census of 1956, which was one of the last censuses carried out in the country before it regained independence in 1968.

Swaziland 1956 2

Introductory paragraph of the Swaziland census 1956. Credits: Swaziland census 1956 shelfmark C.S.D.475/1.

During this time Swaziland was governed by a resident Commissioner who worked with the white settlers, the Swazi ruler, and the British High Commissioner to South Africa. Following Swaziland’s involvement in the Second World War, and some unpopular decrees made by the Commissioners, in 1952 the Swazi paramount chief was given a degree of autonomy that had been unheard of in the indirect British rule in Africa.

While the census document itself may look unassuming, inside it is filled with tables that give an insight into the lives of people living in Swaziland in 1956 as the country was being prepared for independence. For example, there are tables that measure the population growth of Swaziland against other regions, before going on to list the demographics of age, sex, residence, occupation, and it also contains comparative tables of the African population compared to the Euro-African population.

As the project has continued it has become evident that this census material is a true mix of cultures, spanning the globe from New Zealand to Lesotho, to Malta to Jamaica, to Argentina to Canada, and everywhere in between.

The mix of material has thrown up different challenges to be met along the way. One of the first encountered was how to approach censuses that had been bound together, whether to catalogue the item as a whole or to treat each census as an individual item.

Gold coast

Spine of an item with three census years listed, culminating in four different documents in need of cataloguing. The 1921 census can also be found at C.S.C.378/4., and the 1931 census at C.S.C.378. Credits: Gold Coast 1911, 1921, 1931 shelfmark OPE.2023.x.59.

Other headscratchers have been about what the correct approach should be for censuses published as a Parliamentary Sessional Paper, or in a Gazette, or in a supplement to that Gazette, or published in a supplement to a bulletin for the census of a completely different country. There are a lot of different ways to publish a census, and not just as a simple monograph.

However, there have been some fantastic finds within the material donated by the Office for National Statistics. Highlights have included additional volumes from the Mauritius 1983 census (CSD.384/63) and the Commonwealth Caribbean 1970 census (CSF.157/60) which have been added to our existing holdings. A census new to our collections was that for Nigeria in 1963. This census was the last taken before the civil war of 1967-70, and the 1973 census was cancelled amid controversy and accusations of inaccuracies in the counting.

There has also been the first census of Malta taken in 1842, which unlike most we have received was conducted not by a Statistics or Census Office, but instead by the Chief Inspector of Police. Another item of note was a very interesting census for the Western Pacific Islands in 1911. While geographically expansive, it was incredibly short – with most of the islands having a single sentence census: “Island was empty at this time.”

Labuan 1881

The first page from the handwritten census of Labuan in 1881. Credits: [Report on the census of Labuan and its dependencies taken in 1881], shelfmark OPG.2023.x.8 (1)


Some of the best finds though have been the handwritten censuses, such as the Gambian census of 1901, or that of Norfolk Island in 1891. There was also the census of Labuan in 1881, a tiny island near the coast of Borneo that was uninhabited until it came into the hands of the British who constructed a port there, although how it came to be under British control is a matter of some debate. Some stories involve pirates, and others hostage taking and cannon fire. Later the censuses of this island became folded into that of North Borneo, and were published in the Official Gazette.

As the Hidden Collections Programme progresses, more of this material will become accessible.  Its eclectic mix of locales and publication methods serves to highlight the incredibly varied census publications already in the collection, as well as some great new additions.


Vikki Greenwood

Cataloguer, Hidden Collections Project


11 July 2023

Animals and social justice: readings on animals in literature

From 7 March – 9 July 2023 the British Library Treasures Gallery has had a small exhibition ‘From the Margins to the Mainstream: Animal Rights in Britain’, which follows the progression of animal rights from the enlightenment period until the present day.


To complement the exhibition guest Kim Stallwood, a highly respected international figure in animal welfare, has written a series of four blog posts of his own thoughts and opinions on key themes connected with animal rights in Britain and around the world. The articles are based on his own reading and research and aim to highlight some of the books held at the British Library that have helped shape his view. In 2022, the Library acquired the Kim Stallwood Archive and a few of the items from the collection are included in the exhibition.


The four posts in this series focus on ‘Animals and the Climate Emergency’, ‘Animals and Feminism’, ‘Animals and the Law’, ‘Animals and Social Justice’.



Copyright: Paul Knight, Image Courtesy of Kim Stallwood (2023)


Guest writer Kim Stallwood writes his final guest blog about books held at the British Library that have helped shape his understanding of the importance of animal rights in social justice:


Janina Duszejko lives alone in rural Poland near the Czech border. She teaches in a local school in the nearby town. She loves nature, particularly the woods where she lives, and supplements her income by maintaining nearby cabins owned by part-time summer residents. A vegetarian and supporter of animal rights, she mourns the disappearance of her two beloved dogs. She perseveres with her studies in astrology and continues to translate with her friend Dizzy the English poet William Blake (1757 – 1827). Studying helps her to grieve. She believes it may reveal what happened to her dogs. Or, indeed, the local hunters dead in suspicious circumstances.


Duszejko is the protagonist in the novel Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead (Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead, Olga Tokarczuk, London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018, shelfmark DRT ELD.DS.325469), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2018. The book was originally published in Tokarczuk’s native language, Polish, in 2009 called Prowadź Swój Pług Prez Kości Umarłych (Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych, Olga Tokarczuk, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2009, shelfmark YF.2010.a.22348). Tokarczuk is recognised for her ‘narrative imagination that with encyclopaedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.’


Drive your plow over the bones of the dead cover

Polish Drive your plow Cover

Front covers of the English version of Drive your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and original Polish version Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych by Olga Tokarczuk. Credit: English: Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead, Olga Tokarczuk, London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018, shelfmark ELD.DS.325469 and Polish: Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych, Olga Tokarczuk, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2009, shelfmark YF.2010.a.22348


Novels entertain with their narrative imaginations. They engage readers with an infinite variety of human experiences. But, considering this is a guest post for The British Library’s Social Science blog, what has Duszejko’s imagined life got to do with animals and social justice? 


I choose not to use, as may be expected, an acclaimed nonfiction book or a trusted textbook to explore animals and social justice. I pick a novel instead. Novels often explore themes of social justice. Think Dickens or Dostoevsky, Toni Morrison or Alice Walker. But what of fiction about animals and social justice? Perhaps few people would consider the plight of animals a social justice issue. But clearly both the prize-winning author, Tokarczuk, and her narrator Janina, do. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is in the tradition of novels engaging readers with the infinite variety of human-animal experiences. There is Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (Black Beauty, Anna Sewell, London: Oxford University Press, 1931, shelfmark 012199.e.4/49). Hackenfeller's Ape by Brigid Brophy (Hackenfeller's Ape, Brigid Brophy, London: Secker & Warburg, 1964, shelfmark X.907/1310). The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary (The Roots of Heaven, Romain Gary, pseud. Romain Kassef, London: White Lion Publishers, 1973, shelfmark X.989/19402). A Tiger for Malgudi by R K Narayan (A tiger for Malgudi, R.K. Narayan, London: Heinemann, 1983, shelfmark Nov.48695). Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons by J M Coetzee (Elizabeth Costello: eight lessons, J.M. Coetzee, Leicester: W.F. Howes, 2004, shelfmark LT.2013.x.1797), which won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003. The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay (The Animals in That Country, Laura Jean McKay, Brunswick, Victoria: Scribe, 2020, shelfmark ELD.DS.497335), winner of the Victorian Prize for Literature and Victorian Premier's Prize for Fiction in Australia in 2021.


Book spines close

Book spine covers of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, Hackenfeller's Ape by Brigid Brophy, The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary, A Tiger for Malgudi by R K Narayan, and Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons by J M Coetzee. Credit: Black Beauty, Anna Sewell, London: Oxford University Press, 1931, shelfmark 012199.e.4/49. Hackenfeller's Ape, Brigid Brophy, London: Secker & Warburg, 1964, shelfmark X.907/1310, The Roots of Heaven, Romain Gary, pseud. Romain Kassef, London: White Lion Publishers, 1973, shelfmark X.989/19402, A tiger for Malgudi,  R.K. Narayan, London: Heinemann, 1983, shelfmark Nov.48695, and Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons, J.M. Coetzee, Leicester: W.F. Howes, 2004, shelfmark LT.2013.x.1797.


As you can see, animals are not an alien species to questions of social justice. Justice is sought in these books as imagined in society, respectively for horses; an imagined nonhuman primate sent into space; African elephants; a wild-caught tiger performing in a circus ring; and animals generally. Sewell and Narayan imagine the lives of animals and their stories as told by a horse and a tiger. The others are from our human perspective. I am fascinated by how novels with animal protagonists provoke our imaginations and jump-start our minds. (But, what of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) you ask? I refuse to include it. It is not a book about them. It is about us.)


The Animals in That Country Cover

Front cover of The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay. Credit The Animals in That Country, Laura Jean McKay, Brunswick, Victoria: Scribe, 2020, shelfmark ELD.DS.497335


In Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Tokarczuk writes a whodunit served with an order of animal ethics. Duszejko speculates that the deer in the woods and the foxes freed from a fur farm have killed the hunters in revenge. Duszejko describes how Dizzy finds a video they watch on the Internet:

A handsome Stag attacks a hunter. We see it standing on its hind legs, striking the Man with its front hooves. The hunter falls over, but the Animal doesn’t stop, it stamps on him in a fury, it doesn’t give him a chance to crawl away on his knees. (Tokarczuk, 2019, p.224)


‘The World Turned Upside Down’ is a folkloric tradition where songs and art reverse power roles from human to human and human to animal. Women serenade men and give them roses. Working-class men instruct upper-class men to do manual work. Horses sit in carriages drawn by men, and even animal to animal when sheep chase lions.


Would animals do to us what we do to them? Would they fight back? (As they do in Gene Stone and Jon Doyle’s The Awareness (The Awareness, Gene Stone, Jon Doyle, New York: The Stone Press, 2014), when all animals suddenly gain conscious awareness of human domination.) Do they resist? What if humans and animals and their place in society were reversed? Is this what is meant by animals and social justice?


The Awareness

Front cover of The Awareness by Gene Stone and Jon Doyle. Credit: The Awareness, Gene Stone, Jon Doyle, New York: The Stone Press, 2014


In this series of guest posts, I have explained why animals matter in the climate emergency. Industrial agriculture may have provided us with cheap food in a lifetime but we need to move away from chemical-dependent, intensive factory farming to reduce the impact of climate change. I described the spaghetti junction of patriarchy, sexism, racism, capitalism, speciesism, and how the intersection of oppressions maintains its power and control, preventing us from establishing a caring society for all. I argued the greatest challenge facing the animal rights movement is making the moral and legal status of animals a mainstream political issue. Going vegan and speaking out for animals are important steps for people to take. But optional lifestyle choices must be complemented with initiatives that seek institutional, political, and legal change for animals.


In short, animal rights is social justice. The animal rights movement is a social justice movement. Novelists know it. So do some advocates. Our work is to make this everyday common sense. Animals are part of society. They deserve social justice.


Not wanting to give away what happened to Duszejko’s dogs or reveal any other spoilers, I urge you to read Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.


Read books. Change the world.


CC-BY Kim Stallwood is a vegan animal rights author and independent scholar. The British Library acquired the Kim Stallwood Archive in 2020. He is a consultant with Tier im Recht, the Swiss-based animal law organisation, and on the board of directors of the US-based Culture and Animals Foundation.



Brophy B. (1964) Hackenfeller's Ape, London: Secker & Warburg, shelfmark X.907/1310


Coetzee, J.M. (2004) Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons, Leicester: W.F. Howes, shelfmark LT.2013.x.1797


Gary R. (1973) The Roots of Heaven, London: White Lion Publishers, shelfmark X.989/19402.


Mckay, L. (2020) The Animals in That Country, Brunswick, Victoria: Scribe, shelfmark ELD.DS.497335


Narayan, R.K. (1983) A Tiger for Malgudi, London: Heinemann, shelfmark Nov.48695


Orwell, G. (1949) Animal farm, London: Secker & Warburg, shelfmark YA.1989.a.17407


Sewell, A. (1931) Black Beauty, London: Oxford University Press, shelfmark 012199.e.4/49


Stone, G., Doyle J. (2014) The Awareness, New York: The Stone Press


Tokarczuk, O. (2009) Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, shelfmark YF.2010.a.22348


Tokarczuk, O. translated Lloyd-Jones, A. (2018) Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, shelfmark ELD.DS.325469