Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

3 posts from March 2024

13 March 2024

Consulting Official Publications collections after the cyber attack.


This post, written by the Library's Content Lead for Official and Government Publications describes how readers can access official publications in the wake of the cyber-attack on the Library in October 2023.   Information about the restoration of services can be found on the British Library Knowledge Matters blog, and details of opening hours and current services are on the Library's website.


Following the cyber-attack on the British Library’s IT estate in October 2023, access to our official publications collections is limited, but will gradually improve.  At present, you can only consult print and microform materials that are either shelved in the Social Sciences Reading Room at St Pancras or in the St Pancras basements. In the reading room we have a selection of historic UK parliamentary and legal texts including:

Commons and Lords journals
The Official Report (Hansard) and Standing Committee Debates
Public General Acts, Local and Personal Acts and Private Acts
UK Statutory Instruments
House of Commons papers and bills on microfiche, 1801-2004/05
House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century reprint edited by Sheila Lambert


Reading room

Official publications on the open shelves in the Social Sciences Reading Room at St Pancras.


Basement 1 at St Pancras holds an eclectic mix of UK, US and United Nations publications in print which, in a leap back to the 20th century, can be ordered on paper tickets:

Bound sets of Commons and Lords papers and bills from 1801-
United States Congressional Serial Set 1817/18-1979/90
Electoral registers, 2002-
United Nations documents 1946-2012


Official texts were historically catalogued and shelved in series, not at the individual document level. Fortunately hard copy indexes are still available in the reading room and these will enable you to record the correct citation in the series so that the library assistants can locate your chosen document on the shelf.



Hansard: the official record of parliamentary debates in the House of Commons.


The St Pancras basements also hold a treasure trove of official materials on microform which can be consulted in lieu of electronic sources, such as:

The depository collection of US federal government and Congressional papers, 1982- on microfiche arranged by Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) code
US Congressional hearings on microfiche
Historic electoral registers for England, 1832-1937 on microfilm
HMSO controller’s library on microfilm
Government publications relating to Kenya, 1897-1963 on microfilm
Annual departmental reports relating to Sierra Leone, 1893-1961 on microfilm


There are printed indexes to these sets in the reading room that will help you to find the correct document codes and reel numbers so that you can place orders. There is also a card index of official microforms available for consultation.


Now for the bad news. Apart from these print and microform sets, all other UK, foreign national government, and intergovernmental organisation (IGO) publications are two hundred miles away on our Boston Spa site in Yorkshire. UK departmental publications and electoral registers 1832-2001 in print are kept in an automated store and cannot be retrieved as yet, although restoring this service is a priority.  However the historic collections of foreign national government and IGO documents are in static stores, and we aim to restart delivery around the end of March. You can find their shelfmarks in the interim catalogue or in the printed copy of the British Museum Library catalogue in the Social Sciences reading room.


Edinburgh council

An example of the electoral registers available at the Library.


Our world class collection of subscribed electronic resources is inaccessible at the moment, including full-text document collections such as the US Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994, Congressional Record to 1997,  Congressional Hearings, 1823-1979, US Territorial Papers, the US Foreign Broadcast Information Service, UK Parliamentary Papers, UK State Papers Online 16th-18th centuries, and British Online Archives databases, but in many cases there are print or microform alternatives available.  Originals of digitised UK government archives are available at the National Archives, Kew.  Recent UK, IGO and foreign national government materials can of course be found freely available on the internet.  Large and influential IGOs such as the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank now make their electronic libraries available free as a public good:

World Bank Open Knowledge Repository 
United Nations Official Document System  
IMF eLibrary 


You will find records for electronic UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland government documents acquired through non-print legal deposit before April 2023 in the interim catalogue, but there is no access to the documents themselves at present. We are aiming to restore view access in June or July this year, so watch this space. However, prior to the cyber incident we received feeds of records with hot links to freely available documents published by the European Union, the US federal government and the Irish Republic government. These links work and you can view the documents from within the catalogue.


Access to full text of Scottish government and Parliament documents is available from the National Library of Scotland catalogue (Library Search). Queen’s University Belfast hosts the Northern Ireland Official Publications Archive, a repository containing Northern Ireland government documents. For current UK government and Parliamentary documentation you can of course search Gov.UK and the UK Parliament website.


Navigating the Library’s historic print and microform collections of government and IGO documents is challenging because they were catalogued at the series level (print) or set level (microform). To trace the correct citation of a document within a series or microform set you need to consult a range of printed indexes. Please ask our friendly and efficient reference team for help. They can be contacted in person in the Social Sciences reading room or by email at [email protected]





08 March 2024

Finding Women's Studies on the shelves: an international turn

Transnational feminist

'Transnational feminist politics, education and social justice', edited by Silvia Edling and Sheila Macrine. Shelfmark YC.2023.a.64.   Books published by Bloomsbury are received in print and continue to be available to readers.


The cyber-attack on the British Library and the resulting IT outage have thrown a spotlight on the Library’s collections held in physical formats such as print and manuscripts.  Whilst the Library is working to restore access to digital collections and to material stored in Yorkshire at Boston Spa, the physical collections held in London are still available to readers.   Written on International Women’s Day, this post takes a look at the books on the shelves in the Library's basements at St Pancras. Focusing on books on Women's Studies, it considers the (temporary) effect of bringing a hybrid library back to a primary reliance on print.



'Edith Cavell: faith before the firing squad', by Catherine Butcher (shelfmark YC.2016.a.12850) gazes out from the centre of a row of books received through Legal Deposit. Works centering women are spread through the collections.  This book comes from Lion Hudson (Monarch Books) who publish Christian material, in print format. 


The Library restored access to a temporary version of its online catalogue on 15 January.  That catalogue, based on a back-up version, includes material received by the Library up to April 2023.    The catalogue marks material held in physical form in London as ‘should be available’, whilst e-books, e-journals and e-resources that cannot be accessed, and print materials held at Boston Spa, are marked as ‘unavailable’.  Some materials available online can still be accessed too.


What does this mean in practice for anyone looking for contemporary published books in social science subject areas?


The answer, in short, is that whilst most older social science books are still available, a sizeable proportion of more recent publications from the UK and Ireland cannot currently be accessed. 


After non-print legal deposit regulations came into force in 2013, most of the UK’s major publishers of academic texts switched to depositing their publications in digital format.  This includes very many of the big-hitters in the social sciences.  For books, think Routledge, Ashgate, Gower, Sage, Policy Press (Bristol University), Palgrave Macmillan, Rowman & Littlefield, and smaller independent publishers such as Intellect Books, Verso, Pluto, IB Tauris, Saqi and Zed Press.  Those depositing e-books rather than print also include several university presses, among them UCL, Manchester, Liverpool, Wales, Huddersfield and two of the major US university presses, Yale and Chicago.  For journals the list is similar but also includes Taylor & Francis and Oxford University Press.  These are major publishers of social science materials.


For these publishers, the Library holds books and journals in print format to at least 2013 and sometimes beyond, as not all publishers switched to digital deposit at the same time.  All had completed their transition by 2018, so any books and journals received since then will have been received in digital format and are not currently available.  The Library is working to restore access to these materials.


Academic publishers who continue to deposit their books in print include Cambridge University Press and Bloomsbury (the latter deposits print and digital copies), as well as Oxford University Press (books, but not journals),  along with very many international university presses who deposit because they distribute their books in the UK and Ireland. A wide range of smaller UK and Irish publishers also deposit print copies, but their output in the social sciences is much smaller than the academic presses who deposit books and journals in digital format.


Women's rights in armed conflict


'Women’s rights in armed conflict under international law', by Catherine O’Rourke.  Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2020.  British Library shelfmark YC.2022.a 1908.   Books published by Cambridge University Press are received in print and should be available.


Legal deposit regulations cover the UK and Ireland. The Library purchases a wide range of academic material and other books relevant to readers’ needs published outside the UK and Ireland.  Purchased books in English and in European languages are received in print format and are held in London at St Pancras.  The vast majority of these books should be available to readers, but readers planning to consult items should contact the Reference Services team by emailing  [email protected]  in advance of their visit to ensure that specific items are available.


 purchased women's studies

A screenshot of a catalogue search showing recent books acquired by purchase as mostly still available to readers.


Assessing the resources that are currently available for social science research, there has been less impact for books published before 2013.  After that date, the switch to digital deposit means that a substantial proportion of books published in the UK and Ireland are not currently available.  Books published outside the UK and Ireland, in Europe, the Americas and Oceania, are less impacted by the IT outage.  Most more recent books published in Africa and Asia are not available as most are stored at the Library’s Boston Spa site: there is  information about alternative resources on the Asian and African Studies blog. Additional materials, especially reference books and recent issues of some journals, can be found in the Library's reading rooms, including the Social Science reading room and the Asian and African Studies reading room. 


Gender and elections

'Gender and elections', by Susan Carroll, Richard Fox and Kelly Dittmar.  Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2022.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.1355.


The Library is still able to provide readers with access to a very wide range of important academic texts across all subject areas within the social sciences.  In the absence of a large part of UK and Irish publishing, the more recent books available have a slightly more international frame of reference.


Arab American women

Etel Adnan's artwork graces the cover of the monumental 'Arab American women; representation and refusal', edited by Michael W Suleiman, Suad Joseph and Louise Cainkar.  Syracuse University Press.  Shelfmark YC.2022.b.1696




Knowledge and inspiration combine in 'Womanist and mujerista psychologies: voices of fire, acts of courage', edited by Thema Bryant-Davis and Lillian Comas-Díaz. Washington, D.C. : American Psychological Association, 2016.  Shelfmark YC.2016.b.1854



A brief walk along the shelves in the Library’s basements reveals a rich range of books relevant to women’s studies and women’s history.  Whilst they are generally spread fairly thinly across the shelves, they wait to be discovered and called up to the light of the reading rooms.




The relatively rare sight of two books in a row with a focus on women and gender.  Both the ethnographic study 'Sex, shame and violence: a revolutionary practice of  public storytelling in poor communities' by Kathleen Cash  (YC.2016.b.1866) and 'Nurses as leaders: evolutionary visions of leadership' by William Rosa  (YC.2016.b.1867) are US publications (published by Vanderbilt University Press and Springer,  New York respectively)  showing the international coverage of currently-available, more recent, material in the social sciences.


Recently published books in the humanities and social science sit side by side on the shelves in the basements, whilst works of fiction, general interest, and children's books are housed at Boston Spa.   Interestingly, current drama is housed in London, illustrated in the image below showing three plays, 'Mum' by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, August Strindberg's 'Miss Julie' adapted by Amy Ng and Lulu Raczka's 'Antigone'.   In the centre of this shelf, partly hidden by its label, is Chiara Bottici's 'Anarchafeminism', published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2022.



Social science and humanities books received from UK, Irish and some international publishers by Legal Deposit, and stored at St Pancras.



'Anarchafeminism' by Chiara Bottici (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2022).  Shelfmark YC.2022.a.8306 is among books available to readers.


Chiara Bottici is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research, USA, and has written extensively on philosophy and myth.  Judith Butler, who will be speaking at the British Library on 19 March 2024 (in person tickets are sold out, but online tickets are available), reviewed this latest work by Bottici, saying  "This is a capacious, clear, and revolutionary text that will bring readers who are just starting to learn about feminist philosophy as well as those who have been around a long time. This book does an excellent job in communicating the value of the anarchic, especially in its resistance to the leader, and its thoroughgoing affirmation of the value of freedom. This freedom is not a narrow idea of personal liberty, but an entire mode of transforming the world. We learn as well about a 'transindividualism' which allows us a way to rethink global solidarity for our times."   ( viewed 8/3/2024).



01 March 2024

'Women are up to something': selected readings for Women's History Month 2024

With International Women's Day approaching on 8th March, this post ushers in Women’s History Month by picking out a selection of books published over the last few years that put women’s history and women’s voices centre stage. Ranging from quick reads to more weighty academic studies, this small selection gives an insight into the diversity of the material that is available to readers in the Library’s St Pancras reading rooms.  

Access to the collections held by the British Library remains limited because of a major technology outage caused by a cyber attack at the end of October 2023.  The work being done to restore services is detailed in a post on our Knowledge Matters blog, and our temporary website outlines the services that are currently available, as well as listing what's on at the Library.  Our reading rooms at both St Pancras and Boston Spa are open for personal study, with free wifi and limited access to the collections.  Those who held a reading pass before the outage are able to consult a limited range of collection items.    

The selection of books below ranges from literary criticism to histories of political activism, and from interviews to theory: all are held at St Pancras and should be available to readers who have a readers pass, but if you are planning to come to the Library, please check the availability before you visit.  To do so, contact our Reference Services team by emailing [email protected] .


Uncontrollable women: radicals, reformers and revolutionaries by Nan Sloane

London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2022.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.1245

Uncontrollable women

Cover image of Uncontrollable women: radicals, reformers and revolutionaries, by Nan Sloane. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2022.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.1245

Nan Sloane’s most recent book explores the history of radical, reformist and revolutionary women between the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832. The book puts the often-untold stories and voices of these women centre stage to show the way they challenged power structures and even gave their lives for the cause they made their own.   The battles they fought for political expression and greater freedom are relevant not only to a different reading of history, but also to women's rights today.  Nan Sloane’s earlier work, The Women in the Room: Labour’s forgotten history (London, IB Tauris, 2020, British Library shelfmark YC.2021.a.4484) offered a readable and enlightening account of the political activists who shaped the British Labour party.


Carnival is woman: feminism and performance in Caribbean mas, edited by Frances Henry and Dwaine Plaza.

Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, 2020 British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.488

Caribbean mas

Cover image of Carnival is woman : feminism and performance in Caribbean mas, edited by Frances Henry and Dwaine Plaza. Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, 2020 British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.488


The essays in this collection bring a feminist perspective to the role of women in Caribbean Carnival, through a focus on women and their practices in the Trinidad Carnival. The book presents a range of qualitative research methods, including interviews, participant observation and ethnography to examine women’s empowerment through performance, enjoyment and expression. 


Feminism by Bernardine Evaristo

London: Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd., 2021.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.590.

Evaristo Feminism

Cover image of Feminism, by Bernardine Evaristo, London: Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd., 2021.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.590.

The ‘Look Again’ series of short books explores the Tate’s National Collection of British Art, reframing the collection in new ways and drawing on contemporary perspectives.  In just under 50 pages, this richly-illustrated book offers an interpretation of British art from an intersectional feminist perspective, from one of Britain’s foremost writers.  Bernadine Evaristo is a Booker Prize-winning author and Professor of Creative Writing whose work ranges from fiction and poetry to criticism.  This personal exploration focuses on representations of women and non-binary people of colour who have been less visible within museums and galleries.


The career and communities of Zaynab Fawwaz: feminist thinking in fin-de-siècle Egypt by Marilyn Booth.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.366

Screenshot 2024-03-01 at 13.45.45

Cover image of The career and communities of Zaynab Fawwaz : feminist thinking in fin-de-siècle Egypt by Marilyn Booth. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.366


Academic and literary translator Marilyn Booth has worked for over thirty years to show women’s input into debates around feminism and gender politics in Egypt.  Her latest work focuses on Lebanese author and activist, Zaynab Fawwaz who wrote and published in Egypt toward the end of the nineteenth century. Her monumental work The Book of Scattered Pearls Regarding Categories of Women /   الدر المنثور في طبقات ربات الخدور  which was first published in 1891, is a biographical dictionary that celebrates and supports women's achievements.  Zaynab Fawwaz wrote two novels and a play, and was at the forefront of the emergence of the novel in Arabic.


The women are up to something: how Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch revolutionized ethics, by Benjamin J. B. Lipscomb.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.411


Screenshot 2024-03-01 at 14.01.07

Cover image of The women are up to something: how Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch revolutionized ethics, by Benjamin J. B. Lipscomb .
New York : Oxford University Press, 2022.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.411


This book focuses on four women who began their studies at Oxford just before the Second World War: Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch.  From very different backgrounds, they forged friendships and worked to set out an intellectual understanding of what it means to live a good life. Drawing on letters, archives and interviews, the book explores their ideas and the contribution to intellectual history made by their distinct, alternative, interventions into philosophy and ethics.

Up to something

Inside page with figures from The Women are up to something... : Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot and Mary Midgley.


Surfacing: on being Black and feminist in South Africa, edited by Desiree Lewis and Gabeba  Baderoon. 

Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2021.  British Library shelfmark YC.2022.a.3898


Cover of Surfacing : on being Black and feminist in South Africa, edited by Desiree Lewis and Gabeba  Baderoon.  Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2021.  British Library shelfmark YC.2022.a.3898


This ground-breaking collection of essays, edited by feminist theorist Desiree Lewis and poet and scholar Gabeba Baderoon is dedicated to bringing to the fore a range of contemporary Black South African feminist perspectives. The writers and practitioners who have contributed their views use creative expression, photography and poetry to explore representations of Blackness, sexuality, girlhood, history, divinity, alongside other themes.

Surfacing blurb



Challenging women's agency and activism in early modernity, edited by Merry E. Wiesner.

Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021, British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.1071


Agency and activism

Cover of Challenging women's agency and activism in early modernity, edited by Merry E. Wiesner. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021, British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.1071

An Open Access edition of this book is also available free online as at OAPEN Online Library of Open Access Books

This collection of essays, focusing on Europe and beyond, considers the various ways women were able to exercise agency in the Renaissance and early modern period. At this time women faced new constraints but also found new forms of activism. The essays look at how the actions of girls and women could shape their lives and challenge male-dominated institutions in spite of family and social pressures. 


Feminisms with Chinese characteristics, edited by Ping Zhu and Hui Faye Xiao.

Syracuse, New York : Syracuse University Press  2021.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.908


Feminisms  Chinese

Front cover of Feminisms with Chinese characteristics, edited by Ping Zhu and Hui Faye Xiao.  Syracuse, New York : Syracuse University Press  2021.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.908

Edited by two academics from US universities, this collection of ten essays and two interviews examines the varying ways Chinese feminist ideas have developed since the mid-1990s. It includes articles by contemporary activists and writers from China to highlight the importance of exploring different interpretations of feminism in a way that is integrated into Chinese culture and history.



Shakespeare's 'lady editors': a new history of the Shakespearean text, by Molly G. Yarn

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022. British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.1605


Screenshot 2024-03-01 at 13.37.46

Cover image of Shakespeare's 'lady editors': a new history of the Shakespearean text, by Molly G. Yarn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022. British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.1605

In the tradition of challenging established histories and revealing the work of women who have been left out of history, this book sets out to recover the lives and work of almost seventy women editors. It challenges the received wisdom those who edited Shakespeare’s texts were almost all men up until the late twentieth century. Its alternative perspective takes these women's work seriously in order to change our understanding of how Shakespeare’s works were edited and how we read Shakespeare across time.


Family, slavery and love in the early American republic: the essays of Jan Ellen Lewis. Edited by Barry Bienstock, Annette Gordon-Reed, and Peter Onuf.

Williamsburg, Virginia : The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture ; Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2021.  British Library shelfmark YC.2023.a.455


Family and slavery

Title page of Family, slavery and love in the early American republic: the essays of Jan Ellen Lewis. YC.2023.a.455


Historian Jan Ellen Lewis, who died in 2018,  taught at Rutgers University-Newark for over four decades.  Her studies of gender, emotions, and the family transformed understandings of the early American republic.  She was a renowned scholar of colonial and early national history, focusing on the intersections between gender, race and politics.  She was also known for championing the career progress of students and colleagues.   This collection, brought together by her husband Barry Bienstock, along with colleagues Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf, contains thirteen of her most important essays, along with critical interpretation and contextual discussion by fellow historians.


The ten books picked out here - just a few of the diverse approaches to women's history -  also have in common the fact that they were received by the Library under Legal Deposit. This is the requirement that publishers should deposit a copy of each book published or distributed in the United Kingdom or in the Republic of Ireland with the British Library, and it remains a key means through which the Library builds its collections.  Just over half of the books received each year under Legal Deposit come into the Library in print, whilst slightly less than half are received in electronic format.  Our contemporary printed collections are also built through purchase and donation.  The Library is still able to receive Legal Deposit copies in print format.  Electronic deposit is yet to be restored but has been identified as a priority.