Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

2 posts from June 2024

30 June 2024

Pride beyond June: readings in LGBT+ history, culture and theory

As Pride Month’s celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer communities comes to a close, this post picks out some of the books currently available to readers in the British Library.  Although our digital collections are not yet available following the cyber incident, our contemporary print collections in St Pancras offer a wide range of approaches to LGBT+ culture and history.  The books featured below are just a selection of more recent publications that are held in St Pancras and should be available to order to our reading rooms.

Our collections are particularly strong for their international coverage.   If you are keen to learn more about the development of transnational campaigns for LGBT+ rights from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, Laura Belmonte’s history of the international LGBT rights movement offers a good starting point.  The book celebrates the growing reach of struggles against homophobia but also flags up continuing threats to LGBT+ rights.


Int LGBT movt

The international LGBT rights movement : a history. Laura A., Belmonte. London ; New York : Bloomsbury Academic, 2021.  Shelfmark YC.2022.a.6510


Another historical work, providing an international perspective spanning from Finland to New Zealand, the UK and USA, and focused on the first decade after the second World War is Queer 1950s: Rethinking Sexuality in the Postwar Years, edited by Heike Bauer and Matt Cook.   Collected essays examine the legacy of the 1950s and challenge preconceptions about this period.


Queer 1950s

Queer 1950s: Rethinking Sexuality in the Postwar Years, edited by H. Bauer and M. Cook. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.  Shelfmark YC.2022.a.1503


The work of activists, artists and academics comes together in another ground-breaking collection comprising essays, poems. literary analysis, ethnographies and methodological questions exploring LGBT+ experiences in the Caribbean.   The book aims to disrupt conventional understandings of the Caribbean as deeply homophobic by focusing on LGBT+ agency.


Byond Homophobia

Beyond Homophobia: centring LGBTQ experiences in the Anglophone Caribbean, edited by Mojo Anderson and Erin C MacLeod.  Shelfmark YC.2021.a.5033


Still in the Caribbean, and focusing on the Hispanic nation of the Dominican Republic, Streetwalking by Ana-Mauríne Lara presents the varied strategies employed by LGBTQ community leaders in the Dominican Republic in their struggle for recognition, and rights. Lara employs Maria Lugones's theorisation of streetwalker strategies and Audre Lorde's theorisation of silence and action to explore the exercise of power and agency among the LGBTQ community of the Dominican Republic.



Streetwalking : LGBTQ lives and protest in the Dominican Republic, by Lara, Ana-Mauríne.  New Brunswick : Rutgers University Press, 2021.  Shelfmark YC.2022.a.1315.


Published within Northwestern University Press' 'Critical Insurgencies' series of literary studies, Emilio Amideo's Queer Tidalectics brings a range of theoretical perspectives to bear on Black diasporic experience and aesthetics.   The book looks at the work of Anglophone writers James Baldwin, Jackie Kay, Thomas Glave, and Shani Mootoo. In particular, it explores their use of the idea of fluidity as a means to evade and overcome sexual, gender and racial boundaries. Amideo employs the theoretical perspectives of Sara Ahmed, Édouard Glissant and Edward Kamau Brathwaite, among others, in a fascinating and probing contribution to Black queer studies. 


Queer Tidalectics

Queer Tidalectics: Linguistic and Sexual Fluidity in Contemporary Black Diasporic Literature by Emilio Amideo. Northwestern University Press, 2021. Shelfmark YC.2022.a.5531

The Library's shelves are rich in academic studies applying theoretical approaches to a range of contemporary questions. But it's not all heavy theory: there are a broad range of more accessible texts waiting to be ordered up to our reading rooms. Georges-Claude Guilbert's book, Gay icons: the (mostly) female entertainers gay men love, provides a readable consideration of the way superstars and divas contribute to gay culture. The book focuses on individuals including Mae West, Julie Andrews, Britney Spears, RuPaul, and Cher to consider their appeal and what it is that makes them icons. This book is just one of many that consider gay or Queer icons in cinema, music and the arts. Other books to address this theme include The little book of queer icons by Samuel Alexander (London: Summersdale, 2019, shelfmark YC.2019.a.9751) and Heroes and exiles: gay icons through the ages, by Tom Ambrose (London: New Holland, 2010, shelfmark YC.2011.a.3923).

Gay icons

Gay icons: the (mostly) female entertainers gay men love, by Georges-Claude Guilbert. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2018  Shelfmark YC.2021.a.4232


Jeffrey Brown turns his gaze to the superheroes of popular media, including Hollywood films, TV series and comics, arguing that beyond the struggles of good versus evil, the superhero genre has always been about gender ideals: how men and women are supposed to look, act, and interact with each other. Superhero comics may reinforce sex roles, but their emphasis on transformation and body swaps can also work to blur gender binaries. Similarly, the importance of homosocial bonding adds another layer of complexity to the portrayal of gender identity within the genre. 


Love, sex, gender and super-heroes, by Jeffrey A. Brown. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2022. Shelfmark YC.2023.a.518


The books featured here are just a few that stood out on a walk along the shelves where some of the more recent print publications are stored in our basements.  When access to our digital collections returns, and when we are again able to offer readers access to the thousands of books kept in our automated storage buildings, readers will regain access to newer works alongside our historical collections.   For now, the Library's temporary catalogue allows readers to find the books and journals that arrived in the Library up to April 2023. The catalogue uses colour coding - red, orange, and green - to indicate whether a book or periodical should be available to readers. We may not yet be able to give access to the whole of our collections, but the books on the shelves at St Pancras allow scope for wide reading and study across the humanities and social sciences.




06 June 2024

D-Day: from memory to commemoration


This post highlights a small selection of the many books published in the last two decades and available in the Library that bring a contemporary approach to the history and understanding of D-Day and the battle for France.


Timeleft between us

In The time left between us, by Alicia DeFonzo, Lincoln : Potomac Books (University of Nebraska Press), 2022, shelfmark m22/.11296, the author explores the link between past and present through her grandfather’s experience of D-Day and fighting in France.


To coincide with the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, BBC2 has screened a groundbreaking documentary series, D-Day: The Unheard Tapes (available on iPlayer). The series brings to life audio interviews with those who fought by using actors who resemble the speaker at the time of the war to lip-synch to the recordings.  The use of actors bridges the gap brought by time and gives a contemporary feel to the recordings, many of which have not previously been heard beyond the archives where the tapes are held. The series, accompanied by a new book – one of many focusing on D-Day to be released this month – highlights the way these events are passing from the testimony of living witnesses into cultural history. 


Both the programme and the accompanying book offer new insights, and show that there are new and different ways of approaching history both to make it meaningful to younger generations and to re-examine established narratives to draw out different aspects and understandings. This post focuses on some of the books currently available to readers in the Library’s reading rooms that have been published in recent years that bring a contemporary approach to the telling of social history.  Some of the books featured in this post bring to the fore different perspectives on the invasion, others consider how a younger generation can relate to these events, and some examine the social and political implications of the commemoration of war and of D-Day itself.       


The selection of books highlighted are among those that are held in print format and should currently be available to readers in the Library’s reading rooms.  Most are held at our St Pancras site whilst a couple are held at our site at Boston Spa in Yorkshire.  Some books held in Yorkshire are now available to readers, although those held in automated storage cannot yet be accessed following the cyber incident last year.  Just under half of our current intake of books published in the UK come to us in digital format, and access to these has not yet been restored, so they are also excluded from this selection of books.  An update on the restoration of services can be found on our Knowledge Matters blog.


And so to the books we can make available to readers...   Pictured above, Alicia DeFonzo’s The time left between us blends memoir, history and oral story-telling. DeFonzo, who lectures in English at Old Dominion University in Virginia, retraces her grandfather’s steps through France and Germany and weaves his account of his experiences in wartime Europe into her own memories to understand the relationship between past and present.  Her grandfather’s memories – passing from the Normandy landings to the liberation of concentration camps - become part of her own history.  Starting from the realisation that she knew almost nothing about this history and that her grandfather had not previously related these experiences – she arrives at an understanding that she has a part to play in safeguarding and transmitting memory.


Jonathan Mayo

D-Day minute by minute, by Jonathan Mayo. London : Short Books, 2014. YC.2015.a.763


A more straightforward, fast-paced, and highly accessible account of events is offered by Jonathan Mayo’s D-Day minute by minute, London: Short Books, 2014 (shelfmark YC.2015.a.763).  In just over 300 pages, Mayo’s book draws on a wide range of personal narratives to construct a detailed account of events as they were experienced not only by those who fought but by many people impacted by these crucial events, from French villagers and journalists, to schoolchildren and nurses.  Mayo’s book focuses not on military strategy but on the human experience of involvement in shaping the course of history.



James Holland

Normandy '44 : D-Day and the battle for France: a new history, by James Holland, London : Bantam Press, 2019, YC.2020.a.1072


A similarly broad range of experiences is brought to the fore in James Holland’s Normandy ’44: D-Day and the battle for France.   Holland uses archival research and eyewitness testimonies from around the world to re-examine established narratives of the invasion, bringing out the human aspect of the conflict as well as differing perspectives, with accounts from civilians and resistance fighters as well as military personnel.



Forgotten: the untold story of D-Day's Black heroes, by Linda Hervieux. New York, HarperCollins, 2015. Shelfmark  m15/.11728


Blending social history, biography and an account of military events is Linda Hervieux’s book, Forgotten: the untold story of D-Day's Black heroes (New York: HarperCollins, 2015, Shelfmark  m15/.11728).  The book focuses on the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, a unit of African-American soldiers within the racially-segregated US forces involved in the assault on the beaches. Using military records and interviews with surviving members of the battalion and their families, Hervieux highlights the sense of freedom these men gained in Europe and in England in the lead-up to the invasion. The book notes the lack of recognition accorded to these men and the denial of military honours after the war. The disparity between their experiences in Europe and the segregation and injustice they faced at home was an important backdrop to the emergent civil rights movement.


Breath of freedom

A breath of freedom: the civil rights struggle, African American GIs, and Germany, by Maria Höhn and Martin Klimke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. YC.2013.a.5132


This theme is shared by Maria Höhn and Martin Klimke’s book, A breath of freedom: the civil rights struggle, African American GIs, and Germany, which explores the social and historical impact of serving in Europe for African American servicemen and how this fed into activism within the civil rights movement.  Although not focused specifically on D-Day, it is one of a number of books to consider the wider social and political aspects of participation in the fight to bring to an end to the German occupation of Europe.  This is explored in a more recent work by Sandra Bolzenius, Glory in their spirit: how four black women took on the Army during World War II (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2018), shelfmark YD.2022.a.1758.  The book records a strike against discriminatory work assignments by four African American female privates serving in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) at Fort Devens, Massachusetts in 1945.  At the time, their well-publicised protest “pushed the army's segregation system to its breaking point”.



Sylvia Wild

Woman at the front: memoirs of an ATS girl: D-Day to 1946, by Sylvia Wild, Stroud: Amberley 2012. YK.2013.a.3983

Returning to different perspectives and experiences of D-Day itself, is Sylvia Wild’s first-person account, published in 2012, of her service in the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a shorthand typist working for the Senior Royal Engineer officers developing the D-Day plans concerning ports, docks, harbours and railways as part of Operation Overlord.  Her service continued in France, where she lived in French households as transport services were reinstated in France, Belgium and Germany.  Her first-hand account could be read alongside the very different experiences of the 39 women who served in France within the Special Operations Executive working undercover to support the French Resistance. Their story is recounted in Kate Vigurs’ Mission France: the true history of the women of SOE, published in 2020 by Yale University Press, shelfmark YC.2022.a.4932.




German eyes

Normandiefront: D-Day to Saint-Lô through German eyes, by Vince Milano and Bruce Conner. Stroud: Spellmount, 2012. Shelfmark YK.2013.a.1164)


A different perspective on the fighting, based on interviews with, and the testimony of, German combatants in 352 Division is offered by Normandiefront: D-Day to Saint-Lô through German eyes, by Vince Milano and Bruce Conner (Stroud: Spellmount, 2012, shelfmark YK.2013.a.1164).  Through the course of their work over many years, the authors collected German and Allied photographs and documents, many of which had not previously been published.  Although focused more on the course of the battle than on the feelings of those involved, the book gives an insight into a very different experience of how events unfolded.




100 locations

D-Day UK: 100 locations in Britain, by Simon Forty, Swindon: Historic England, 2019, shelfmark YC.2020.b.320


The preparations for D-Day and the way that they involved a wide range of people from across the country is the focus of D-Day UK: 100 locations in Britain, by Simon Forty (Swindon: Historic England, 2019, shelfmark YC.2020.b.320). It is one of a number of books to consider the planning and information-gathering that was necessary before the invasion could be attempted.  This is also the focus of Bletchley Park and D-Day: the untold story of how the battle for Normandy was won, by David Kenyon, published in 2019. Using previously classified documents, David Kenyon shows how preparations for the Normandy landings in 1944 - the turning point in the war in Europe - began at Bletchley in 1942, with the careful collation of information extracted from enemy signals traffic.




Bletchley Park and D-Day: the untold story of how the battle for Normandy was won, David Kenyon, New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019. YC.2020.a.1359




Screenshot 2024-06-04 at 20.58.28

The cruel victory: the French Resistance, D-Day and the battle for the Vercors 1944, by Paddy Ashdown, London : William Collins, 2014, shelfmark YC.2015.a.14166


In a very different vein, Paddy Ashdown’s book about the French Resistance in the Vercors mountain range near Grenoble aims to tell a story overlooked by most English-language histories of D-Day. As Allied troops stormed the beaches in Normandy, the resistance in the Vercors rose up in a planned rearguard action that was brutally crushed when German reinforcements arrived. The book shows how the tragedy gave the Vercors a place in French history and gives voice to the many fighters who fought to gain a say in the future of their country.



Divided memory

Divided memory : French recollections of World War II from the Liberation to the present, Olivier Wieviorka, Stanford, California : Stanford University Press, 2012. Shelfmark YC.2013.a.312


Wieviorka's important book tackles the conflicting memories of all aspects of wartime France: the fall of France, Vichy, the Occupation, the deportations, the Resistance, trials and amnesties. Wieviorka examines the contested area of who should be honoured within French history in the wake of war and occupation.



In memory and history

D-Day in history and memory: the Normandy landings in international remembrance and commemoration. Edited by Michael Dolski, Sam Edwards, and John Buckley. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press, 2014, shelfmark YC.2015.a.5044


The politics of commemoration is the focus of a work bringing together a collection of essays on the complex and often conflicting memories of D-Day.   The work aims to deconstruct and counter the way D-Day has frequently been mythologised by bringing together multiple national viewpoints.



D-Day remembered

D-Day remembered : the Normandy landings in American collective memory, Dolski, Michael, 2016. YC.2017.a.7666.


Addressing similar themes, historian Michael Dolski’s book examines how understandings of the past are shaped by the present through consideration of how D-Day is remembered and commemorated by Americans. His study aims to expose and consider the cultural functions of war remembrance.  Drawing on a wider range of international examples of warfare, Commemorating war : the politics of memory, by T G Ashplant, Graham Dawson, and Michael Roper (New Brunswick, N.J.; London: Transaction 2004) is one of a growing number of academic works to explore war memory and the role of commemoration.  The latter book is available on the open shelves in the Social Sciences reading room at SPIS303.66 and can also be ordered to other reading rooms via shelfmark YC.2009.a.7918.


Because of the Library's IT outage, readers will have to wait a while before access is available to the new crop of books published to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, but as services are restored, anyone with an interest in delving deeper into this history will be able to access these works in the Library's reading rooms.