THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

74 posts categorized "Archival Research"

10 May 2019

Meet the new British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library

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Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow

I am the new British Sociological Association’s (BSA) Postdoctoral Fellow at the British Library.  The Fellowship provides an opportunity for a postdoctoral researcher to conduct archival research using the British Library’s collections (you can find out more about last year’s inaugural Fellowship on our Research Case Studies pages)

This year’s theme for the Fellowship is race and ethnicity in the UK and the aim of the project is to explore how archival methods can be used to examine contemporary concerns around this topic.

Before starting this Fellowship, I conducted research on the transnational parenting and educational practices of British-Ghanaian families. I have also worked as an Assistant Archivist at the Black Cultural Archives, where I catalogued the collections of Stella Dadzie, who co-founded the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and Dr Jan McKenley, who was also a key member of OWAAD and other black women’s groups.

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Southall Black Sisters Annual Report 1992/93. Southall Black Sisters. © Southall Black Sisters

With a background, and a keen interest in education and community activism in Britain’s African Caribbean and Asian communities, I have spent my first few months of the Fellowship exploring relevant materials from the Library’s collections. This includes Pulse, a publication by the National Association of Afro Caribbean Societies from 1986, which features a piece on the lack of diversity in the British (English) curriculum and the Annual Report of the Southall Black Sisters, an activist group of Asian and Black (African and Caribbean) women providing support for, and campaigning against, gender-based violence, and racism.

I have now narrowed the focus of this project to exploring Black and Asian activism and community projects around education in the UK since the 1960s. The items I discover as part of my research will be used in academic publications as well as learning resources aimed at A Level Sociology students.

I am excited about the opportunity this Fellowship provides to explore the British Library’s collections relating to Britain’s minority communities and to develop a range of outputs that will contribute to the study of race and ethnicity in the UK. I will also share findings from my work on this blog throughout the Fellowship.

19 February 2019

Spare Rib Archive - possible suspension of access

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Polly Russell explains why the Spare Rib resource may be suspended in the event of a ‘no deal’ withdrawal from the EU

Update (11 April 2019): the deadline for exiting the European Union has been further extended to 31 October 2019. Should the UK leave at that point without a withdrawal agreement, access to the Spare Rib digital archive will be suspended, as detailed below. Should an agreement be reached, either in October or earlier, access will continue until at least the end of the transition period (exact end date to be confirmed.)

In 2015, as part of our commitment to making our intellectual heritage available to everyone for research, inspiration and enjoyment, the British Library digitised and made available the full run of the feminist magazine Spare Rib available via the Jisc Journals platform.

This resource is used by researchers, activists, students and teachers not only in the UK but around the world. It is therefore with great regret that I must alert users to the possibility that we may have to suspend access to the resource and I want to take this opportunity to explain why.

Spare Rib was published between 1972 and 1993 and as a consequence its content is still in copyright. At the time we digitised the magazine the Library sought the permission of rights-holders for their work to feature in the online archive. As a result of this work copyright permission was successfully obtained from 1080 contributors. Where we weren’t able to clearly identify and/or locate a rights-holder content - including writing, artwork and photography - was subject to a further process to determine whether they could be made available under the exception that applies to ‘orphan works’ under European Union copyright law.

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Image: Spare Rib, Issue 55, 1977 “Kathy Nairn in the Women’s Free Arts Alliance Karate Class”, copyright Michael Ann Mullen

The EU orphan works directive currently allows such material to be made available by cultural heritage institutions. Around 57% of the Spare Rib archive – some 11,000 articles and images from 2,700 contributors – benefits from this protection.

Should the UK exit the EU without a withdrawal agreement, however, we have been advised by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) that this legal exception will no longer apply. In those circumstances, the Library would have to suspend access to the archive or be in breach of copyright. The remainder of the archive, for which permissions have been obtained, would not form a sufficiently coherent resource to be useful to researchers, so we would have to close the resource entirely.

In the event of a withdrawal agreement being successfully concluded we understand that the orphan works exception – as with other EU laws – would remain in place at least until at least the end of the transition period, at the end of next year.

The Libraries Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA) are working on this issue and, in addition, the British Library is actively engaging with the Intellectual Property Office to explore ways that the existing exceptions can be preserved in the event of a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU. I will provide further updates as the situation becomes more certain.

I realise it will not compensate for the entire run of Spare Rib magazines being unavailable but the curated British Library Spare Rib site, with its contextual essays and selected magazine content will still be accessible.

I know how important this resource is as both a research and teaching tool and also as evidence of the incredible energy of the Women’s Liberation Movement. I sincerely hope that we do not have to suspend access to the resource but I wanted to take this opportunity to forewarn users in case this becomes necessary.

Polly Russell, Lead Curator for Contemporary Politics and Public Life

For more information please contact: polly.russell@bl.uk

10 January 2019

Archiving Activism: The Animal Guide

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Catherine Oliver writes about the online collection she has curated which explores Animal Rights Activism

Animal Rights Activism has a long history in the UK, and with a growing surge in ethical veganism, environmental awareness, and the health-based evidence turning people away from animal consumption, it is a crucial moment to reflect on these histories. It is very difficult to pinpoint an exact moment or movement that a concern and care for the welfare and rights of animals emerged. The online collection I have curated using British Library archives, now available at archivingactivism.com, seeks to discuss some of these ‘entangled histories’ of animal rights, for readers to form a picture of the different strategies, organisations, and characters involved.

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'The Rights of Animals' - image copyright of Kate Levey (daughter of Brigid Brophy) and reproduced here with her kind permission.

One part of the collection draws on materials related to the ‘lost women’ of animal rights: Brigid Brophy, Frances Power Cobbe, Rosalind Godlovitch, and Lizzie Lind-af-Hageby and Leisa Schartau. These women all made significant contributions to the philosophy, practice, and understandings of animal rights in the UK, but often are not thought of as central figures. Tracing their stories through the British Library’s archives, the collection seeks to recognise the contribution of women in this area. The collection also draws together contentious histories of animals in politics and the use of animals in medical testing and in the beauty history, recognising the ways in which human and animal lives are entangled in different, often violent, ways. Reflecting on recent advances in the rights of animals in these areas, the collection displays some of the histories that allowed for these changes, as well as the different kinds of activists who worked and fought for these rights.

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Image copyright of the National Anti-Vivisection Society and reproduced here with their kind permission.

By no means an exhaustive history of the animal rights movement in the UK, this collection serves as a starting point for engaging with not only these histories, but also with the importance of archiving animal rights movements, as our relationships with animals continue to evolve. Materials like these help us to understand how human histories are entangled with animal histories, and how humans have lived, and continue to live with animals, fighting to protect more vulnerable species from harm.

To find out more about the project, please visit archivingactivism.com

About the author

Catherine undertook a placement at the British Library ‘Animal Rights and Food Fights’, working with the archive of Richard D. Ryder, in 2016-2017, working with Polly Russell, Gill Ridgeley and Jonathon Pledge, where much of the intellectual work in this Animal Guide was inspired and completed. The materials in the collection are almost entirely located within the Ryder Papers. Catherine is a PhD student in the School of Geography, University of Birmingham researching vegan histories, presents and futures.

03 September 2018

Learning from the Past: our new course for curious researchers starts today

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Our free online course starts today. Learning from the Past is  for anyone interested in studying the past, what historians do, and why and how research on the past matters for understanding the world today. The course runs for 3 weeks, and is the second course produced by the University of Nottingham in partnership with the British Library.

Over three weeks, this course will introduce the ways in which historians conduct research, and the materials that are used to understand the past. Throughout the course, examples from across the Library’s varied collections are examined by curators and researchers. The course will also do two other important things. First, it will show the challenges that historians face in understanding and decoding the records of the past: books, archives, photographs, maps, recorded sound and digital records. Second, it will discuss how a study of the past helps us contextualise the issues of today. For example, we cannot fully understand the radical shift in our impact on the environment without knowing how societies in the past used natural resources.

The origins for this course come from our earlier work on the course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life – which sought to explain how contemporary political research provides insight into the values and philosophies that lie at the heart of international debates, co-operation and conflict. We also sought to show how education, and in this case online learning platforms, can be used as a space where people with different ideas and opinions can communicate with each other, understand those differences and also see where there are points of agreement.

The response from learners to this course was incredible. Over the weeks, we saw conversations emerge between participants from around the world on “big political issues” but also in the more personal sphere: the gardens in their towns, food that reminded them of home, and the books and photographs that they always carry with them. We also saw that learners were enthusiastic to follow the debates that drew on current research, and followed links to academic texts where we made them available.

So, we wanted to produce a course that supported this desire for access to the ‘cutting edge’ of historical research, but also took the time to describe the practicalities of research. How do you decide what questions you are going to ask in your research? How can you find the materials that will help you to answer those questions? And how will you avoid the pitfalls of taking the records of the past at face value? Learning from the Past brings together researchers from the University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham, as well as curators from the British Library. Over the 3 weeks of the course, we will look at the materials and methods that researchers employ.

The first day of a new course is always exciting. I've been following our first steps for learners to introduce themselves and their research interests. There's lots of interest in family history and local history, but also other topics such as history of science or a general interest in how researchers work and analyse evidence. A lot of learners want to know more about how to use libraries and archives, and are interested in the practical elements of the course. 

A big topic for our first week is on the significance of language, and language change, in communicating ideas and values. I'm currently enjoying the discussion thread on 'what three words would you use to introduce yourself to a visitor from Mars'?   

If you’re interested in how historians work, thinking about starting your own research project, want inspiration for your existing work, or want to know why history matters today, join in the discussion at Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious Researcher. No need to worry if you're reading this after 3rd September - you can join any time before the course ends on 23rd September.  

01 May 2018

Archiving Activism Website

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PhD placement students, Rachel Tavernor and Catherine Oliver, in collaboration with the British Library, are launching a new website. In this post, Rachel discusses her work encountering stories of housing activism in the British Library. Later this year, Catherine will launch a new section of the website on food activism and will discuss a new British Library acquisition of the Richard Ryder archive. We hope this collaborative initiative will grow with new sections added showing the diversity of our British Library Collections.

The brief for my time with the British Library was to investigate 20th and 21st Century anti-poverty activism in the the British Library Collections. In particular, to make connections between archives and to explore the value of the British Library’s holdings as a whole. I am not a historian, nor an archivist, so my approach to working with the collections was informed by my background in the arts, as well as my own involvement with institutional and grassroots activism. Having worked with smaller archives, I was interested in exploring how radical and rebellious voices are preserved in a large scholarly institution. Before working with the British Library, I had wrongly assumed that institutional voices would be the focus of the collections. While these voices are dominant, and at times privileged, the rebels in the archives are also there to encounter.

After a preliminary mapping of the collections and available material (there was lots), I narrowed the focus of my research to housing activism in the UK. Struggles for decent and affordable housing, with secure and fair tenancies, are at the forefront of many anti-poverty movements today. The decline of social housing, rises in private rents and poor living conditions, are a catalyst for many forms of activism (demonstrations, squatting, housing cooperatives and rent strikes).

One of the greatest strengths of researching activism in the British Library Collections is the diverse range of materials, from personal papers to government documents. Housing activism, as with many political struggles, stretches across institutional, community and mediated spaces. The Library’s collections offer ways to explore the everyday experiences of activism, preserved in oral histories, diaries and letters. Alongside examining how campaigns are shaped by, or in reaction to, housing policies. Researchers can trace these differing, and at times contradictory, narratives throughout the collections. By exploring these stories in tandem, the public have the opportunity to listen to these voices, and explore them alongside one another, to weave new histories, and perhaps new stories of housing activism.

While exploring the different collections archived at the British Library, I also conducted a small research project on ways to archive contemporary forms of activism. It was a privilege to conduct this research, which included interviewing archivists at feminist libraries, housing activists and academics that engage with archives of activism. You can read a section of the report on our new website. One of the themes that emerged in these interviews was that archives are a living resource, which can inspire and influence contemporary forms of activism. However, many people may experience different barriers to accessing materials archived at institutions like the British Library. It was these conversations that inspired Sarah, Catherine and I to collaborate on a website that would act as a guide to materials archived at the British Library. We hope that the Archiving Activism website may inspire people to further engage with some of the histories of housing activism, as well as the British Library Collections. If you have an idea for a new section or would like to contribute, please email: research.development@bl.uk.

With thanks to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding my placement at the British Library and to all the copyright holders for granting us permission to publish images of the items archived in the Collections.

18 April 2018

Social Sciences at the British Library

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Over the past few years this blog has brought together various events, activities and archives at the British Library that have relevance to social scientists.

We have covered activities like our Propaganda exhibition in 2013 and our collaborative work on women’s liberation in the UK, incoming archives such as those deposited by Joan Bakewell and John Pilger, and recently our partnerships with PhD students on topics such as housing activism, British comics and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Our yearly events calendar always includes an open day for social science PhD students, as well as the Equality Lecture on which we partner with the British Sociological Association.

But as well as the activities that receive publicity through this blog, there is a great deal of work under the surface at the British Library which has connections to social science research and presents opportunities for work with social scientists at all stages of their career.

On a day to day basis at the British Library, curators are managing and developing the content that they care for. They assess current research needs and consult with researchers to plan for the future, making connections across content types to facilitate the research process. They bring in new content via deposits and acquisitions, seeking to ensure the Library's collections represent British culture and society. Our international language and area specialists curate our overseas content, with rich collections to enable comparative, socio-historical and economic research.

It is not just printed content such as books, newspapers (national and international) and official publications that our curators manage. The collections here include diverse formats such as digital maps, websites, fanzines, oral history interviews, broadcast news (radio and television), spoken word recordings, world music recordings, personal and public archives, and political ephemera.

We have found through speaking to social scientists that they are often surprised at the range of content at the British Library that could support their research, or take it in new directions. There are so many opportunities here to contextualise research, to analyse different formats, to work with international material and indeed, to find unused or rarely-seen items which bring originality to research.

This short video should give you a taste for social sciences at the British Library. Please feel free to share and contact research.development@bl.uk if you would like information about collaborating with the British Library on social science research.

You can also view this video on YouTube here.

03 June 2017

What can the Archived Web tell us about politics and society in the 21st century?

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Visualisation of links between websites from the UK crawled during 1996, generated by Rainer Simon

On Wednesday 14th June, we'll be discussing the potential of the archived web in understanding contemporary society and politics.

Our event is chaired by Eliane Glaser, author of Get Real: How to see through the Hype, Spin and Lies of Modern Life, and features contributions from Andy Jackson (British Library), Jefferson Bailey (Internet Archive), Jane Winters (University of London) and Valérie Schafer (French National Centre for Scientific Research).

The first web archive, the Internet Archive, began in 1996. Since then, many university and national libraries around the world have started web archiving initiatives. The British Library began in 2004, and, since 2013 has collected an annual snapshot of all UK web sites. As such, there are very rich collections built up around the world that have documented political and social movements both at international and local levels. For example, the Library of Congress has led collections on the Arab Spring, and the UK Web Archive has collections on past General Elections.

As libraries have gained more experience with building collections of the archived web, so researchers and other users of web archives have developed new methodologies and tools for analysing the collections. As advances are made, so new challenges arise and are identified. The web itself is changing, with one of the biggest challenges for archiving being the use of social media - generating huge amounts of data, but often being highly time dependent and reliant on specific software and hardware to interpret.

As with any large and complex collection, context remains an important consideration. Web archive collections are informed by curatorial or academic judgement on what might be the most significant websites, and may not reflect the most popular sites at a time. When it comes to reporting current events, social media and the web can be portrayed as more "democratic" and open to wider participation than more traditional news media. However, communication on the web includes rumour, satire and misdirection, alongside eyewitness reports and a whole range of data sources and types. Technology to archive the web lags behind the technology to create web sites, so some elements of a web page may be missed by web archiving tools. Additionally, web archiving at a national level often takes place within a legal framework that restricts collecting within national borders. The omissions of web archives can be a useful and interesting source for understanding the structure of web, but, as with other forms of analysis, researchers need information on what decisions were made, and under what conditions, a collection was made.

These are some of the issues that we'll be discussing on 14th June. We'd love you to join us and contribute to the debate. More details and booking can be found on our Whats On pages.  

Our panel discussion forms part of the Digital Conversations series and also connects to a week of conferences, hackathons and other events in London that talk about recent advances in web archiving and research on the archived web.You can follow discussions from the conferences on Twitter, using our hashtag #WAweek2017

 

  

28 March 2017

Report on Rebels

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Polly Russell, Lead Curator for Politics and Public Life, reports on our event to mark International Women's Day 2017: 'Rebels in the Archives'.

Earlier this month, to mark International Women’s Day, the British Library hosted ‘Rebels in the Archives’, a sell-out panel discussion with four women who, in different ways, have uncovered the hidden histories of women’s lives in Britain’s past.

The evening kicked off with Heidi Safia Mirza, Professor of Race, Faith and Culture at Goldsmith’s College and author of Young Female and Black. Heidi discussed how Women of Colour have been rendered invisible by the absences and omissions which characterise most representations of the past. Attend to the archive, look beyond the obvious and take responsibility for finding and accounting for Women of Colour when researching women’s lives was her message.

Next up was Abi Morgan, BAFTA and Emmy Award winning writer and producer whose film Suffragette introduced cinema audiences around the world to the story of how working class women fought to get the vote in the UK. Abi described the process of writing the film’s script, how libraries and archives held the key to the narrative and character and of the totemic importance of archival objects – she described the tiny purse Emily Wilding Davison was holding when she fatefully stepped in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby on the 4th June 1913 and how this brought to life the fragility and courage of ‘extraordinary sacrifice made by the ordinary’.

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From left to right the 'Rebels in the Archives' Panel: Heidi Mirza; Abi Morgan; Margaretta Jolly; Debi Withers; Jill Liddington. Image courtesy of Polly Russell.

Writer and historian Jill Liddington followed Abi and heroically compressed a life’s work into a splendid 15 minute presentation. Jill, the author of a seminal account of northern working-class women’s contribution to the Suffragist movement, One Hand Tied Behind Us, detailed how archives and libraries held the key to a history of women which had previously been omitted from historical record.

The final speaker of the evening, curator, researcher and digital expert Debi Withers, brought us bang up to date with a discussion of how digital archives and catalogues have the potential, if opened up to tagging and searching, to widen access to and enable links between feminist archives.

The evening’s discussions were expertly chaired by Margaretta Jolly, Reader in Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex and someone directly responsible for increasing the number of women rebels in the British Library archives – Margaretta contributed 60 Women’s Liberation Movement oral histories to the British Library as part of the Sisterhood & After project she led in 2013.

After audience questions Margaretta concluded the evening by noting that though the panel employed diverse approaches to understanding the past, worked across different formats and spoke to different audiences, their work was evidence that archives and libraries are places where the rebels of the past could b e uncovered so th at rebels of the future may thrive.

You can see a short video of the evening’s highlights and a podcast of the evening is also available on the British Library's SoundCloud channel.

The event was developed in association with the University of Sussex and was supported by the Living Knowledge Network.