Social Science blog

42 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

28 July 2021

Hundreds of definitions for a big word: The Refugee Dictionary comes to the British Library

Emma Cherniavsky, UK for UNHCR CEO, holds The Refugee Dictionany

The Refugee Dictionary, photo by Simon Jacobs, PA Wire

Today is the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Refugee Convention. The UN Refugee Convention, signed on 28 July 1951, defined who a refugee is in law and set out the human rights of women, men and children fleeing the horrors of war and persecution to seek safety in another country. It also set out the legal obligations of states to protect refugees.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (known as UN Refugee Agency or UNHCR) is the custodian of the Refugee Convention and works around the world to protect the rights and wellbeing of people forced to flee conflict and persecution. Their work includes responding to emergencies, providing access to essential services such as health care and education and also supporting the complex needs for refugees wanting to return to their homes. The charity UK for UNHCR helps raise funds and build awareness to support this work in the UK.

To mark the 70th anniversary, UK for UNHCR have created a very special dictionary to highlight the many personal experiences of refugees and their friends, families, colleagues and others. The Refugee Dictionary has been compiled from hundreds of definitions of just one word: ‘refugee’. The result is a powerful work, at times beautiful, recounting the experiences of fleeing persecution, hopes, building new homes and new relationships. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a joke or favourite food.

Examples of the definitions contained in The Refugee Dictionary include:

A refugee is the unexpected but joyful addition to my family. A surprise second son’ (Jane, Lewes)

the Asian family who fled Idi Armin’s Uganda. They arrived with just one small suitcase each, but in them they had gifts for us’ (Anne, Stourbridge)

Someone in search of what most of us take for granted’ (Andrew, Glasgow)

You can read all the definitions, including contributions from faith leaders across the UK, Lord Alf Dubs, Khaled Hosseini, and Emma Thompson, online at https://www.unrefugees.org.uk/refugeedictionary/

photograph of Emma Cherniavsky presenting The Refugee Dictionary to Xerxes Mazda at the British Library

Emma Cherniavsky, UK for UNHCR CEO presents The Refugee Dictionary to Dr Xerxes Mazda, British Library Head of Collections and Curation. Photo by Simon Jacobs, PA Wire

Yesterday, a print copy – one of only two – was presented to us at the British Library, to add to our collections. We are honoured and delighted that UK for UNHCR chose us to hold a copy. The British Library is a place where we celebrate the written and spoken word, and the meanings that we give to them. Even more, The Refugee Dictionary and the Convention that has inspired its creation, speaks to our aim to ensure that our collections reflect the diversity of voices that make up published communication. That could be through fiction, poetry, song, blog posts, charity campaigns, the latest scientific papers or popular magazines.

Our collections have been influenced and enriched by the experiences of refugees and the work to protect the rights of refugees.

Our Oral History recordings include testimonies from people who fled persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany and during the Second World War. More information on these collections can be found at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/oral-histories-of-jewish-experience-and-holocaust-testimonies

The Vietnamese Oral History project includes interviews with refugees from Vietnam to the UK, alongside interviews with refugee support workers. This collection, and others documenting refugee experience, is described at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/oral-histories-of-ethnicity-and-post-colonialism

The British Library is a depository library for the United Nations, and provides access to the published documentary history of the UN and its agencies, including UNHCR. You can find out more about these collections, and find out how to access the many documents that are now freely available online, at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/publications-intergovernmental-organisations

Our Social Welfare Portal provides access to reports and other information from a range of UK charities and agencies working to support the rights of refugees in the UK.

Our Contemporary British Publications reflect the growing range of academic research, news, commentary and creative expression on the experience of being a refugee. We are very pleased to add The Refugee Dictionary to this collection, marking the 70th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention.

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.

Screen Shot 2021-02-26 at 01.59.14

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”. 

20210228_153533 (1)
 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.

Screen Shot 2021-02-26 at 16.04.10

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.

Screen Shot 2021-03-01 at 01.20.41

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.

Screen Shot 2021-02-26 at 01.40.49

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.

 

Screen Shot 2021-02-26 at 01.41.46

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

Screen Shot 2021-02-27 at 20.31.46

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

IMG_0100

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.

09 April 2020

Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious researcher

IMG_2660

Our free online course, Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious researcher, starts on 20 April. The course has been developed in partnership with the University of Nottingham, and is available from FutureLearn.

The course aims to introduce sources used by researchers, with an emphasis on material that can be discovered and accessed online, and the methods that researchers use to analyse and understand these sources. We are also interested in how an understanding of the past both informs and is influenced by contemporary issues - such as globalisation or climate change. 

Over three weeks, we look at language and history, images and artefacts, and newer types of research resource. Learners can find out about British Library collections and projects, such as:

The course is designed for anyone who has an interest in the past. Our learners include students considering a research project, people who have followed a personal research interest for years, and those getting started on family or local history projects.  

As a taster of the course, you can see Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies, talking about an 18th century map of Canada and the Arctic at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-from-the-past/0/steps/58711 

26 February 2020

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

Resized-postcards673

Extrème défense! World War One postcard, from the British Library's collection

Our free online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life will be running for 5 weeks from Monday 2nd March. You can find out more and join this course at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda

The course is for anyone interested in news, current affairs, politics and history. Over five weeks, we examine how "big political" ideas get expressed and repeated in different cultures and societies around the world, and what that means for our everyday experience. We explore ideas around freedom, justice, community, place and commerce. On the face of it, these themes appear universal - few people disagree that freedom is a good thing. However, definitions of freedom vary, and there are competing views about who and what should be prioritised when freedom is considered.

In our course, we are interested in how this is experienced in people's lives today. Our learners come from around the world, from a wide variety of backgrounds and political beliefs. Current news stories often point to a sharp polarisation of opinion, in particular in online communication and social media. As course leaders, we believe that online education can counter this, by providing a space in which people can respectfully explore and describe differences of opinions and belief - as well as understanding shared values. This is something that we have experienced, and learnt from, in earlier versions of this course.

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life draws on the collections and expertise of the British Library, and combines this with current research from the University of Nottingham's Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies. In the course, you will see examples from our map collections and Chinese collections, as well as examples from modern British publications. Our course leaders are the co-directors of the Centre: Maiken Umbach, Professor of Modern History, and Mathew Humphrey, Professor of Political Theory. Maiken and Mathew are joined by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Publications at the British Library.  

We are excited to start meeting our new learners on Monday 2nd March. You can join at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda

17 October 2019

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

scan of Mukti 1983 article

'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.

Mukti_Eng-forweb

Mukti: Asian Women's Magazine, issue 1

20 September 2019

Finding zines on climate change

During a week when many people around the world are striking or demonstrating to demand action on climate change, it’s interesting to look at some of the zines in the Library created by people campaigning on climate change. The Library collects a wide range of independently-produced publications ranging from political pamphlets to hyper-local newspapers. Amongst these are many small journals or one-off publications that can be described as zines. Zines are typically self-published, counter-cultural magazines and booklets. They are generally low-tech, following a DIY ethic, and contemporary zine publishing broaches a very wide range of issues including sexuality, mental health, racism, food politics alongside the longer-established themes of fanzines focusing on music, football or film.

The items below are examples of zines focusing on climate change and environmental issues such as packaging and waste.

IMG_0220 (2)

A guide to zero waste, It’s freezing in LA, Out of the city and into the Trees, Drax ten years on and Freaky Panda.

 

IMG_0222 (2)

Alternative Green and Cracks in the Pavement

 

These publications are not only interesting and potentially inspiring, but they also form a useful research resource for anyone researching climate activism and campaigning. Because of the huge volume of material in the Library finding these types of materials in the catalogue is challenging.   This is true for all zines, in spite of recent changes in cataloguing practice with the introduction of a format heading ‘Zines’ in newer records.  

To find these zines I searched using different search terms, including ‘environmental change’ and ‘climate change’. I also tried individual words ‘green’ and ‘action’ – in each case narrowing the results by selecting the format ‘journals’. Some of the subject headings that feature in catalogue records for the materials pictured above are:

Environmental protection -- Periodicals; Environmental responsibility -- Periodicals;

Global environmental change -- Social aspects -- Periodicals; Global environmental change -- Political aspects -- Periodicals; Global environmental change -- Economic aspects -- Periodicals;

Climatic changes -- Periodicals;

Sustainable development -- Periodicals;

Environmentalists -- Biography -- Periodicals;

Environmentalism -- Periodicals;

Alternative lifestyles – Periodicals.

I found that many of the zines the Library holds on environmental issues and climate change are stored at the Boston Spa site, which is good news for users in Yorkshire, but means that users wanting to see these items in London need to think ahead and order them at least 48 hours ahead of visiting reading rooms.   The zines I featured in this post are held in London. Reading room reference staff and curatorial staff are sensitive to the difficulties involved in identifying zines in the catalogue and are ready to help anyone wanting to use zines in their research.  No single Library can hope to collect all the zines produced by individual creators; collecting zines is a collaborative effort, and researchers wanting to use zines are encouraged to consult the directory of UK and Ireland zine libraries to find out about zine collections they can access.

Looking for examples of climate change zines in our collections, I also found that these represent quite a small proportion of the zines we hold, compared to football fanzines, music zines, and zines on feminism, sexuality, anti-racism, anarchism or other personal and political issues.  This can be seen as a reflection of the way zines often offer a more individual space for their creator to explore issues they confront in their own life, but it also made me feel that there must be many more environmentalist zines out there that are not finding their way into our collections. The Library is always pleased to receive a single copy of any zine published in the UK or Ireland (which may be sent directly to the Legal deposit office). Zines published in other countries may be offered as donations. The Library is grateful for the contribution made by producers of independent publications to its work to represent contemporary society and issues more fully.

03 September 2018

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

Learning-from-past-forweb

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.  

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. 

IMG_0139

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:

 

IMG_0136

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

 

IMG_0137

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

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)    

 

IMG_0134

 

IMG_0135

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). 

IMG_0142

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).

Social Science blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs