Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

10 posts categorized "Black & Asian Britain"

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

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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

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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

 

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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

Surfacing

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 https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/61368

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

 

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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. 

 

 

 

21 October 2021

Seven of the best Open Access titles to read for Black History Month

This post picks out a selection of cultural studies and postcolonial studies books relevant to Black history that can be accessed freely online.

Black History Month is a good time to track down some of the lesser known books that bring Black history and creativity to life.  I’ve seen some great booklists such as this from members of the Black Writers Guild. The Library's own Black British literature timeline  is full of inspiration. Some of us will be able to browse the shelves of a good bookshop or settle down with a paperback. Others may be inspired to visit their local public library or come into the British Library.

There's also a small but growing number of books available free, online, on Open Access platforms, where anyone who has an internet connection and a suitable digital device can read them.  It can be a challenge to find what is out there, but hopefully this post can act as a way in.

One of the British Library’s aims is to connect people with knowledge, wherever they are, not just in the Library’s reading rooms. That’s why the Library works in partnerships to support Open Access initiatives where appropriate. I was inspired to put together this brief listing because, as part of my regular library work, I am preparing for our annual meeting with Knowledge Unlatched. In its own words, “Knowledge Unlatched (KU) makes scholarly content freely available to everyone and contributes to the further development of the Open Access infrastructure.”  That means KU works with libraries and publishers to make some books and journals available to read or download free, online.

The phrase ‘scholarly content’ probably isn’t the best advertisement for some of the books that are available through the Open Research Library  or the OAPEN Library. I spent a morning looking for open access books that come within the broad heading of Black history, and this blog post picks out what I found to be some of the most engaging and readable books. They all fall broadly within the area of cultural studies, and either take a biographical approach or a historical approach focused on a single city. All are relevant to the social sciences.

 

West Indian intellectuals cover

West Indian intellectuals in Britain, Bill Schwarz (2003)

In eleven readable chapters by different contributors, West Indian intellectuals in Britain, edited by Bill Schwarz, explores the new ways of thinking and ideas which West Indian migrants brought with them to Britain. “For more than a century West Indians living in Britain developed a dazzling intellectual critique of the codes of Imperial Britain.”  The chapters give an insight into the lives and work of major Caribbean thinkers who came to live in twentieth-century Britain including Harold Moody, Claude McKay, Jean Rhys, Una Marson, George Padmore, C. L. R. James, George Lamming and V. S. Naipaul, as well as the Caribbean Artists Movement and the BBC’s Caribbean Voices.

Having worked on the Library’s Unfinished Business exhibition, I found the chapter on the poet and journalist Claude McKay fascinating because his journalism and connection with Sylvia Pankhurst featured in the books I read about her work. It’s also good to see the focus here on Una Marson’s journalism and the different audiences she addressed. Taken as a whole the book creates a sense of the connections between key individuals and movements from the 1920s to the 1960s.

 

 

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Mongrel Nation: diasporic culture and the making of postcolonial Britain, by Ashley Dawson (2010) looks at postcolonial literature in Britain. Chapters available online include one on the novelist Sam Selvon, the relationship between the Caribbean Artists Movement and the British black power movement and on the writing of novelist Buchi Emecheta.  Other chapters of the book are not available in the open access version.

 

Invoking Flora Nwapa
 

Invoking Flora Nwapa, by Paula Uimonen (2020).  This study of Nigerian author Flora Nwapa will appeal to anyone interested in postcolonial and literary studies. “Honoured  as the  ‘Mother  of African  Women’s  Writing’, Flora  Nwapa  has been  described  as a  ‘trail-blazer’  in the  ‘world  literary canon’”  (p.42).  Born in 1931, her novel Efuru made her the first African woman writer to have her work published in English when it appeared in the Heinemann African Writers Series in 1966. She continued to write, publish and teach in Nigeria and in the United States until her death in 1993.

 

Martin Delany

 

In the Service of God and Humanity: conscience, reason, and the mind of Martin R. Delany, by Tunde Adeleke (2021)  Martin R. Delany (1812–1885) was one of the most influential Black activists and nationalists in American history. His ideas have inspired generations of activists and movements, including Marcus Garvey in the early 1920s, Malcolm X and Black Power in 1960s, and even today's Black Lives Matter. Tunde Adeleke argues that there is more to Delany to appreciate beyond his contribution to Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism. 

 

Black Cosmopolitans

Black Cosmopolitans: Race, Religion, and Republicanism in an Age of Revolution

This study by Christine Levecq, published in 2019, focuses on the lives and thought of three extraordinary men—Jacobus Capitein, Jean-Baptiste Belley, and John Marrant—who traveled extensively throughout the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Unlike millions of uprooted Africans and their descendants at the time, these men had freedom to travel and contribute to writing and publishing in their day. As public intellectuals, Capitein, Belley, and Marrant were inspired by the ideas of the French Revolution and developed a cosmopolitan vision of the world based in the republican ideals of civic virtue and communal life.  By exploring these men’s connections to their black communities, Levecq shows how these eighteenth-century black thinkers took advantage of surrounding ideas to spread a message of inclusion and egalitarianism.

 

Black musician in the white city

 

Amy Absher’s The Black Musician and the White City (2014) tells the story of African American musicians in Chicago during the mid-twentieth century. While depicting the segregated city before World War II, Absher traces the migration of black musicians, both men and women and both classical and vernacular performers, from the American South to Chicago during the 1930s to 1950s. Absher takes the history beyond the study of jazz and blues by examining the significant role that classically trained black musicians played in building the Chicago South Side community. Absher argues that black migrants in Chicago had diverse education and economic backgrounds but found common cause in the city’s music community.

 

Slavery to Civil Rights

 

From Slavery to Civil Rights, by Hilary McLaughlin-Stonham (2020) traces the history of segregation on New Orleans streetcars. It traces the formation of stereotypes that were used to justify segregation and looks at the way white supremacy came to be played out daily, in public.  Streetcars became the 'theatres' for black resistance throughout the era and this survey considers the symbolic part they played in civil rights up to the present day.

This post has dipped into just a few of the titles that have been made available through Open Access initiatives. As I noted at the foot of an earlier blog post there are many more Open Access titles relevant to Black history as well as a wide range of subjects across all disciplines.  The books listed here are available to readers under a Creative Commons (4) licence, and while they are free to access, download or share, appropriate credit must be given.

 

20 July 2021

Unfinished Business: finally giving black feminist history and contribution its due

A guest post by Dr Hannana Siddiqui

Dr Hannana Siddiqui is a leading multi-award winning expert and activist on violence against black and minority women. She has worked at Southall Black Sisters for 35 years and is also a freelance consultant researcher and policy advocate. She has published widely on black feminism and co-edited the book, ‘Moving in the Shadows’ in 2013. 

Walking around the British Library’s exhibition, Unfinished Business, with mask and mobile phone camera in hand, I went mad with taking photographs. There was so much to take from the first edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and protest poems written on toilet paper in Holloway Prison by Sylvia Pankhurst to objects and images from modern feminism, both familiar and unfamiliar. A world of discovery for old feminists and new; but also much to learn for the unaware and the unreconstructed.

In one corner, there are pictures of me! (Surreal or what?) The section on Southall Black Sisters (SBS) is part of a familiar history, but distilled into a few objects. SBS has a long and proud history of struggle and survival, having led black feminists' fight against gender-based violence in black and minority communities for over 40 years. I saw the annual report that I assisted in writing, and a poster and note from the Free Kiranjit Ahluwalia Campaign that I helped to win. Kiranjit is an Asian woman who we campaigned to free from life imprisonment after she was convicted of the murder of her husband, who had subjected her to ten years of violence. In 1992, the conviction was overturned, and she was released. The landmark case reformed the law of provocation so that it took account of the cumulative impact of abuse on women; and propelled the issue of domestic abuse in Asian communities onto the national agenda. A poignant piece, which I had to dig up from piles of documents in the office, was the Charter of Slavery, a note in which Kiranjit promises to give up all her freedoms and hopes to placate her abusive husband. A sad moment in history, but also, ironically, a liberating one, as its presentation in court proved the history of abuse which ultimately freed her.

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Banners on display at Unfinished Business

The other pictures I captured on my camera and in my mind included key campaigns led or supported by black and minority women. One featured Sophia Duleep Singh, a lesser known suffragette, who was a recent discovery for SBS too. The survivors at SBS acknowledged her contribution to obtaining women’s right to vote in a banner at the centenary celebrations in 2018. Another section showed the Grunwick Strikers, led by Jayaben Desaiand other Asian women to win worker’s rights. Camden Black Sisters were also featured along with black feminist icons such as activists and authors, Claudia Jones and bell hooks, as well as black politicians, space scientists, artists and punk rockers. Old banners also hung from the ceiling (remember to look up!). One SBS banner marked a 1980s march on violence against women. The banner was based on the controversial SBS poster of a multi-armed Goddess, Kali, holding multiple weapons to fight male violence. Also hanging up was the banner produced for the successful legal battle for our race equality fight for specialist services in 2008. These and other exhibits highlight the intersections with race, gender and class inequality which black and minority women have led on to address without proper credit, until now.    

Grunwick poster

Dan Jones, Look back at Grunwick, 1978 On loan from Bishopsgate Institute.

I bumped into Susie Orbach and we shared our enthusiasm for the exhibition, which we were both unfortunately rushed through in the early morning before a busy day at work.  Susie co-founded the Women’s Therapy Centre back in 1976, a place where I have referred women seeking recovery from the trauma of abuse. The section on her work in the exhibition connected the past with the present. Mental health problems are now heightened with the Covid-19 pandemic and over a year of lockdowns and social distancing. Domestic abuse has surged with black and minority women particularly affected. Asian women are three times more likely to kill themselves than women generally, and I worry how many are being driven to suicide and self-harm while in isolation or locked in with abusive partners or family members. SBS and other women’s groups have seen a rise in mental health problems, and have called for more action from government to alleviate the crisis.

In the midst of these and other troubles, the feminist struggle continues, and there is indeed ‘unfinished business’. However, although we still have much to do, the exhibition is also a symbol of hope as we know from the past that victories, small and great, have been won and so will be in the future. I need to go back as there is much more to see and know. Next time, though, I must remember to take my husband!

 16 July 2021

Twitter: @hannanasiddiqui

 

01 March 2021

History in the Making: 40 years on from the Black People’s Day of Action

This post highlights a small selection of items in the Library’s collections of interest to anyone wanting to know more about the educators and activists behind the Black People’s Day of Action on 2nd March 1981.

On that day, around 20,000 people from across the UK marched from New Cross to Hyde Park, crossing Blackfriars bridge and bringing parts of central London to a standstill on a weekday.  The demonstration took place six weeks after the devasting New Cross fire (also referred to as the Deptford Fire) that claimed the lives of 13 young black people at a house party celebrating Yvonne Ruddock’s 16th birthday and the 18th birthday of her friend Angela Jackson.  In the face of official indifference, the march channelled the anger and grief of a community into a political action that marked a turning point for black people in Britain.

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Poster held by the George Padmore Institute featured on the Library’s Windrush Stories website. The poster was not used once the death toll of 13 became clear. Another young person who experienced the trauma of the fire died two years later.

 

There are numerous accounts of the New Cross Fire and of the Black People’s Day of Action online, including Nadine White’s extended article, which is accompanied by a short film.  The film gives voice to a survivor of the fire and three women who joined in organising the Day of Action. Commemoration leaves further traces online such as this event marking 30 years on the Black History Studies website.  This year, UCL is marking the 40th anniversary with an event, podcast, and online exhibition of photographs. 

Online events have given a wider reach to conversations and memorialisation, particularly where they have been recorded and made available for later listening.  At a recent event made available through Westminster University’s ‘Black History Year’ site, Leila Hassan Howe, who was a member of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, recalled the context to the Day of Action and spoke about her personal journey to activism.

What can resources in the Library add to the accounts available by searching online? 

For anyone wanting to go further into this history, it’s no surprise that the Library holds books written by people involved in organising the Black People's Day of Action. The Library also holds some of the newsletters and journals produced at the time. A small number of oral history recordings held by the Library and some recordings of events are available online and can be accessed while the Library is still closed.

To pick out just two accounts in books, in Black British History: new perspectives, edited by Hakim Adi and published by Zed Press, Carol Pierre describes how the fire, along with the movement of solidarity afterwards left “an indelible imprint on a community”. 

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 Black British History: New Perspectives from Roman times to the present day. ELD.DS.396110

A detailed account is also given in Robin Bunce and Paul Field’s Renegade: the life and times of Darcus Howe.  Bunce and Field describe the way Darcus Howe spoke at meetings across the north of England, accompanied by Gus John who was based in Manchester at that time.  Gus John has held professorial positions including Associate Professor of Education at the UCL Institute of Education in London.  In December 2016, Professor Gus John delivered the British Library Lecture ‘Changing Britannia through the Arts and Activism’ to mark 50 Years since the founding of New Beacon Books. This post describes the background to the event.

Renegade cover

Renegade: the life and times of Darcus Howe.  ELD.DS.110104 and YC.2018.a.2504

Nadine White’s article mentioned above shows how the organisation of the march marked a first step into political action for some of those involved.  But many of the core group within the New Cross Massacre Action Committee had worked together as part of the Alliance linking the Race Today collective with the Black Parents Movement, Black Youth Movement and Bradford Black Collective. 

Race Today cover

An issue of Race Today featuring the Black Parents Movement. P.523/84

The Action Committee emerged from a meeting on 25 January 1981 in Lewisham.  Led by John La Rose and Darcus Howe, it also included Leila Hassan and other members of the Race Today collective.  Linton Kwesi Johnson and Farrukh Dhondy were part of the collective. Each of them feature extensively in the Library’s collections.  As a group their actions were informed by an exchange of ideas and experience.  They were engaged in teaching (mainly through supplementary schools), discussion groups, research, reading and publishing. The work of Trinidadian intellectual CLR James was an important influence.

The British Library holds much of this publishing output and also fosters research on these collections, particularly those that are harder to find elsewhere.  In 2019 Emma Abotsi worked in the Library as British Sociological Association Fellow exploring independent community publications relating to education. This blog post describes one aspect of the work she did.  

Currently, UCL doctoral student Naomi Oppenheim is working with the Library on a collaborative doctoral partnership focused on Caribbean diaspora publishing and activism. Naomi is leading on a project supported by the Eccles Centre to collect oral histories through conversations about Caribbean food shedding light on wider aspects of life, history and politics. She has recently written about the ‘Caribbean Foodways at the British Library’ project.

Selected publications and recordings by John La Rose, Darcus Howe, Leila Hassan Howe and Linton Kwesi Johnson

 John La Rose

John La Rose (1927-2006), who founded New Beacon books (pictured in this Wasafiri article ) with Sarah White in 1966, was an educator, mentor and friend to the members of the organising committee.  As a poet, writer, activist and publisher, John La Rose was at the heart of key movements advancing the cause of black people in Britain, in education, the arts and culture, for four decades.  His works in the Library range from poetry, to interviews and newsletters.

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The New Cross Massacre Story: interviews with John La Rose YK.2013.a.19831.  This book is still available from the George Padmore Institute, along with The Black Peoples Day of Action 02.03.1981 (Café Press, 2020)  by Vron Ware which contains contains black and white photographs taken by Vron Ware on the day.

A. New Beacon Review No 1 Jacket

New Beacon Reviews, first collection 1968-,  P.901/409.

The Library holds a recording (C1172/14 and C1172/15) of John La Rose interviewed by Ron Ramdin (author of The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain, 1987, reissued by Verso in 2017).  He can also be heard giving the welcome address, introductions and thanks on recordings from the International Book Fairs of Black Radical and Third World Books.  These were ground-breaking events that John La Rose organised jointly with Jessica Huntley of Bogle L’Ouverture Publications between 1982 and 1995.  (The Library also holds an oral history interview with Jessica Huntley and Eric Huntley, who jointly founded Bogle L’Ouverture publishing.)

On 2 March 2021, the George Padmore Institute launched its new website with a film about the Institute’s New Cross Massacre Action Committee archive collection

The film Dream to Change the World: A Tribute to John La Rose, directed by Horace Ové can be viewed online.

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Dream to change the world: the life and legacy of John La Rose.  YK.2019.b.783 

Darcus Howe

Born in Trinidad, Darcus Howe was a broadcaster, writer and racial justice campaigner. He edited Race Today and was chairman of the Notting Hill Carnival.  Steve McQueen’s film Mangrove, part of the Small Axe series available on BBC iPlayer, dramatises Howe’s experiences as one of the 'Mangrove Nine', charged with “inciting a riot” following a demonstration in defence of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill which had been targeted by police raids.

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Darcus Howe: a political biography. Held by the Library at ELD.DS.79837 and YC.2014.a.8855. Bloomsbury have made this book available free online.

Many of Darcus Howe’s publications are held by the Library along with sound recordings from conferences and events. Although the Library tries to collect UK and Irish publications as fully as possible under Legal Deposit, some books are missed, as are many small-circulation magazines and newsletters.  In writing this post, I have come across a small number of titles from the prolific output of people around Race Today, the Institute for Race Relations and the George Padmore Institute that the Library still needs to add to its collections.

 

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From Bobby to Babylon was originally published in 1988, but is not held by the Library. It has recently been reissued and will be added to the collections when we return from lockdown.

Outside the Library, on British Library Sounds, you can listen to Darcus Howe discussing the work of CLR James with Farrukh Dhondy, recorded in 1992.

 

Leila Hassan Howe

Leila Hassan Howe can be found in the British Library catalogue under the name Leila Hassan. Her writing for Race Today is featured in the magazine and in an anthology published in 2019 by Pluto Press, and a booklet authored by Farrukh Dhondy to which she and British Black Panther member Barbara Beese contributed.  The Library also holds poetry recordings introduced by Leila Hassan on behalf of Creation for Liberation Society and the Poetry Society. Recorded in London in 1985, they feature the poetry of Amryl Johnson, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. Sadly, these fascinating recordings are only available in the Library.

Here to fight  RT

Here to stay, here to fight: a Race Today anthology. ELD.DS.456429 and X.529/70862

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The Black explosion in British schools, by Farrukh Dhondy with Leila Hassan and Barbara Beese. X.529/70862  63 pages.

 

Linton Kwesi Johnson

Linton Kwesi Johnson was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize in 2020 in recognition of his work.  In making the award, the judges said:

 ‘Linton Kwesi Johnson is a poet, reggae icon, academic and campaigner, whose impact on the cultural landscape over the last half century has been colossal and multi-generational. His political ferocity and his tireless scrutiny of history are truly Pinteresque, as is the humour with which he pursues them.’

The presentation event, including an introduction by Paul Gilroy, was hosted by the British Library and can be viewed on the British Library player

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Voices of the Living and the Dead  YD.2009.a.903

In 1974 Race Today / Towards Racial Justice published Linton Kwesi Johnson’s first poetry collection, Voices of the Living and the Dead.  Between then and now his poetry has been published in print and recorded, performed over dub-reggae.  These recordings (also held by the Library) were mostly in collaboration with producer and artist Dennis Bovell.

This exceptionally rich blog post by Sarah O'Reilly includes selections from her oral history interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson, held by the Library. 

Dread poetry and freedom

Dread poetry & freedom. ELD.DS.333758

 

I have flagged up just a few of the many publications held by the Library that shed light on the events of 1981, but for now the Library is closed and many of these books cannot be accessed. A number of independent bookshops feature an impressive range of titles available to buy or to access through public libraries.

New Beacon Books

Screengrab showing small selection of the non-fiction books available from New Beacon books.

The Londonist published a list of black owned bookshops in London, some of which sell online, and across the country members of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers may also stock these items.  Presses such as Pluto and Verso sell online. 

 

Open access books : Knowledge Unlatched

I noted above the biography of Darcus Howe made freely available by Bloomsbury. The Library is committed to open access publishing and is one of 630 libraries working with Knowledge Unlatched to make books freely available online to read and download. The books that are 'unlatched' cover a very wide range of disciplines and languages.  The Knowledge Unlatched collection features some titles that are relevant to anyone interested in Britain’s black history, for example:

Heidi Safia Mirza: Young, Female and Black. (Routledge, 1992)

Colin Chambers: Black and Asian Theatre In Britain. (Routledge, 2020)

Gerald Horne: Paul Robeson: the artist as revolutionary. (Pluto, 2016). 

Charles Forsdick and Christian Høgsbjerg: Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Black Jacobin in the age of revolutions (Pluto Press, 2017)

Britain, France and the decolonization of Empire – future imperfect? (UCL, 2017)

The Black People's Day of Action marked a turning point in the challenge to racism in Britain. For those of us who remember these events, the sources of information above reveal far more than was reported by a hostile press. For those born later who approach these events as history, these sources may be a starting point to find out more and draw parallels with more recent experiences.

17 October 2019

The past is now: Examples of Britain’s anti-immigrant policies from independent Black and Asian community publications

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'Our right to be here challenged ... what we should know' - articles in Mukti magazine, June- August 1983

Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library, writes

One of the most rewarding aspects of my research is calling up documents at the British Library and discovering a new collection of stories that tell me something about the world in which a particular document was created as well as how it relates to our society today.

Independent community publications from 1960 to 2018 form a large part of the archival materials I am using for my research. These consist of newspapers, magazines and booklets produced by Black and Asian community groups and activists in Britain that offered spaces where people were able to connect with others with similar lived experiences. In addition to articles about racism and other forms of social inequalities, discussions about anti-immigrant policies are a common topic in these publications.

For example, I discovered an article in the June-August 1983 issue of Mukti, a multi-lingual feminist magazine for Asian women, discussing changes to immigration rules in that year. The authors report that these new rules will impact the citizenship status of women and children, particularly from Black and Asian communities in the UK. The magazine includes information about groups that were being organised to campaign against these immigration laws and urged women to apply for citizenship in order to ensure that their children born after January 1983 will be UK citizens.

Around the same time as I was looking through the British Library’s collection of Mukti magazines, I came across this piece just as an interview with British-Nigerian Jazz artist, Bumi Thomas was published on BBC News in August 2019. In the interview, Thomas explains that she faces deportation from the UK despite being born in Glasgow in 1983. Her parents were unaware of the changes to the immigration laws that came into effect six months before her birth and assumed she had automatic citizenship rights like her older siblings. Thomas’ case highlighted the ongoing effects of such anti-immigrant policies and also how independent publications like Mukti served their communities in their attempts to keep people informed about these laws and to fight them. According to the BBC article, Thomas appealed against the Home Office decision to deport her and her case is due to be heard in October 2019.

As the numerous ongoing cases (including the Windrush Scandal) starkly reveal, struggles against issues such as anti-immigration laws and racism are sadly not confined to the particular historical moments that publications like Mukti were produced in; they are very much in the present and continue to have often dire consequences for people in this country today.

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Mukti: Asian Women's Magazine, issue 1

01 July 2019

A social scientist’s experience of navigating the British Library’s collections

Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library, writes 

During the first month of my fellowship, I learnt at the Doctoral Open Days that the British Library has approximately 170 million items, which include books, academic journals, government records, personal correspondence, oral histories, newspapers, stamps, and currencies from all over the world, and archived websites.

I felt excited about the possibilities for research, thinking, surely, that with this number of documents, I should be able to find ample material for my project on race and ethnicity.

However, it can be quite daunting to know where to start. I embarked on my search by having a 1-2-1 session with a Reference Specialist at the Social Sciences Reading Rooms to get training on how to use Explore (the British Library’s main catalogue).

This platform was quite familiar to me because it is very similar to catalogues I have used at other academic and public libraries.

The Archives and Manuscript catalogue (for documents like personal papers, unpublished documents, and photographs) proved trickier, as information relating to items varies in detail. In some cases, it is better to start your search with the printed indexes like the list of the official publications of the India Office Records, which can be found in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. These lists will help you get an idea of the documents in the collections.

Whether I was doing a search with Explore or a specialist catalogue like Archives and Manuscripts or SAMI (Sound and Moving Image Catalogue), I found it useful to speak to the relevant curator, who often had tips for navigating the catalogue and helpful suggestions for materials that I had not considered. For instance, my discussion with Debbie Cox, Lead Curator for Contemporary British Publishing, alerted me to recent independent publications that feature the experiences of Black and Asian youths such as Thiiird.

Thiiird-websmall

Thiiird Magazine s/s 2017. © Thiiird Magazine.

While searching through 170 million items can seem like an impossible task at times, the British Library’s Reference Team are available to help with finding your way.

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.

22 June 2018

‘The people we are writing for are the people we are fighting for’: Sivanandan as radical pamphleteer.

For more than forty years A. Sivanandan was at the forefront of debates on anti-racism and politics in Britain. Born in Jaffna in 1923 and educated in Colombo, he came to Britain in 1958, leaving the anti-Tamil riots in colonial Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka in 1972) and walking into the anti-black riots in Notting Hill. He was to become one of the most important and influential black anti-racist thinker-activists in the UK.  His aphorisms, from ‘we are here because you were there’ to ‘poverty is the new Black’ - are known more widely than his name.  Sivanandan was librarian and then director of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) from 1973-2013, one of the founding editors of Race & Class, an activist and author of prize-winning fiction and non-fiction. He died in January this year, aged 94, and this coming weekend a memorial event in London will celebrate his life and work. 

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Three book covers: A different hunger: writings on Black resistance, shelfmark X.529/48334; Catching history on the wing, shelfmark YC.2012.a.7672; When memory dies, shelfmark YA.1999.a.13299. Photo D. Cox

 

Several of Sivanandan’s writings are available on the website of the Institute of Race Relations, as is a full bibliography of his work, and five articles from Race & Class are free to download as the Sivanandan collection.  Collections of his articles are available in print, most notably Catching history on the wing: race, culture, globalisation (Pluto Press, 2008).  You can read about his life in more detail in an account on Sage’s Social Science Space by  Michael Todd  or in Gary Younge’s obituary in The Guardian  .

Sivanandan’s response to his arrival at the time of the anti-black riots of 1958 was to abandon his original aim of seeking well-paid employment and a comfortable life.  In an interview he said,

“I knew then I was black. I could no longer stand on the sidelines: race was a problem that affected me directly. I had no excuse to go into banking or anything else that I was fitted up to do … I had to find a way of making some sort of contribution to the improvement of society.  I wanted time to read and reflect and to become active. … So I started off as a tea-boy in a public library in Middlesex.  And I went on to do my library exams by attending evening classes.  From tea-boy I became branch manager of that particular library and then finally I went to be librarian at the Institute of Race Relations in 1964.”  (The heart is where the battle is: an interview with A Sivanandan, Race & Class, 59 issue: 4, pages: 3-14.)

In his early work Sivanandan put together bibliographies of materials in the Institute of Race Relations library about African, Asian and Caribbean migration to Britain, to help build an area of study and draw out materials for activism. This remains an important area of work for contemporary librarians and archivists. Most of Sivanandan’s political writing was first published as articles in Race & Class, the journal of the Institute of Race Relations, which continues today as an academic journal published by Sage:

 

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Cover images of Race & Class journal. Photo D. Cox

 

Importantly too, his articles were reproduced as pamphlets, so that they could be achieve wider distribution among the community activists Sivanandan and others at the IRR worked with, including Newham Monitoring Project and the Southall Monitoring Group.  The British Library holds some of these pamphlets, allowing researchers to see not only the words on the page, but also to see how Siva’s arguments were taken out beyond an academic context.  The pamphlets pictured below show their prices, ranging from 30p to £1.00.   Materials from the IRR Library are now housed at Warwick University as part of their Ethnicity and Migration Collections.    The range of publications can also be viewed in a video on YouTube recounting the First Fifty Years of the IRR's history

 

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Some of the pamphlet versions of Sivanandan's articles held by the British Library.  Photo D. Cox

 

Sivanandan published articles in a range of activist magazines, for example CARF (Campaign against racism and fascism.) The article below shows the evolution of Sivanandan’s concerns from racism and imperialism to globalisation and its impact on refugees and migrants.  In his foreword to Catching history on the wing  Colin Prescod writes that, through his coinage of the term xeno-racism, Sivanandan aimed to show that, “Europe’s formidable hostility to the impoverished migrant workers on which so much of its basic prosperity depends is not just some nice people’s social phobia about foreigners, but a system of belief and practice aimed at locking down, and locking in, the needy and the desperate.” (p. x)    

 

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CARF Magazine.

 

Beyond his political writing Sivanandan also reached an audience through his fictional writing.  In 1997 he published When Memory Dies. The novel traces three generations of a family torn by Sri Lanka’s history of colonialism and ethnic strife. It was awarded the Sagittarius Prize (given by the Society of Authors for a first novel by an author over the age of sixty) and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the category of Best First Book for Europe and South Asia.  Where the Dance Is, a collection of short stories, was published in 2000.

Perhaps the most innovative means of taking his ideas out to a new audience was his collaboration with Asian Dub Foundation on the track Colour Line which features on their album Community Music  (2000). 

 

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Asian Dub Foundation: Community Music (2000).

 

The British Library holds an oral history interview conducted by Louise Brodie for National Life Stories in 2010 with A Sivanandan.  Available on the Library’s Sound Cloud the interview is in ten parts and sheds a fascinating light on the life experiences, relationships and events that shaped Sivanandan’s writing.   This long and detailed interview provides a resource for anyone researching the complex evolution of anti-racist or activist politics in Britain. Many others played important roles in challenging racism and building activism, but Colin Prescod writes, “For those who recall the first half of the 1980s as a watershed in Black British politics, Sivanandan was father, elder to them all.” (Catching history on the wing, p. viii)

 

Selected works by A Sivanandan:

 

Race and Resistance: the IRR story, London: Race Today Publications, March 1975

A Different Hunger: writings on black resistance, London: Pluto Press, 1982

Communities of Resistance: writings on black struggles for socialism, London: Verso, 1990

When Memory Dies (a novel), London: Arcadia, 1997

Where the Dance Is (short stories), London: Arcadia, 2000

Catching history on the wing: Race, Culture and Globalisation, 2008 (Pluto Press).

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