THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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36 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

27 April 2016

Propaganda course nominated for Learning on Screen Award

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Update! We won! Very pleased to say that our film won the Courseware and Curriculum Non-Broadcast award. Details are at http://bufvc.ac.uk/events/learningonscreen. Congratulations to Director Alec Millward, author and presenter Maiken Umbach and all involved. 

We're very excited to report that one of the films from our online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life has been nominated for a Learning on Screen award.

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The Battle for Civilisation, British leaflet from Word War Two

The award, to be announced on the evening of 28th April, is in the category of Courseware and Curriculum non-broadcast production. Our film, 'From the "Just War" to the "Unjust Peace"', features in week 2 of our course, which addresses issues related to justice and protest. The film is presented by Maiken Umbach, Professor of History at the University of Nottingham and one of the lead educators on our course. Learners are asked to consider the problem of violence and justice, reflecting on an exhibition of photographs made by Lee Miller. The photographs document the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, including images of violence against the Nazi perpetrators of atrocities. For our course, the question is whether violent methods have a role to play in justice, and the role of war as a means of restoring justice.

The films in our course are designed to explain current thinking and research around issues that are often complex and contested. Bringing a range of perspectives on propaganda and ideology, they feature researchers from disciplines, including history, politics, sociology, media studies and psychology. Our course has 18 short films in total, four of which were made at the British Library and feature material from our collections of maps, Chinese posters, and British World War Two publications.

As with other learning steps on the course, the aim is to generate an informed and diverse debate on politically significant topics that have relevance to our everyday life. When we first ran the course last year, we attracted thousands of learners from over 20 countries around the world. Across the five weeks of the course, participants learned from each others' experience and opinions, and drawing on the leading-edge research presented in the learning steps.

We're very excited that a film from our course has been nominated for a Learning on Screen award, and wish Maiken, director Alec Millward, and the production team the best of luck for Thursday evening. Our course starts on 16th May, and you can register for free now at http://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda

20 April 2016

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

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Our free online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life starts on 16th May 2016

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Svoboda po-amerikanski (Freedom, American Style) by B Prorokov, 1971

Freedom, justice, community, place and choice: words which are politically-charged and fundamental in our experience of everyday lives. Over five weeks, our online course explores how words and images gain different meanings, how we interpret the symbols we encounter, and how these interpretations are sometimes 'quoted back' to us with a specific political intent.

Our course is developed and delivered with the Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies at the University of Nottingham. Learners can sign up for the course now, free of charge, at the FutureLearn website. Learning is structured across a small number of activities each week, which are broken down into simple steps. A step might be a short video presentation, or a reading or a question to discuss. Discussion is the most important part of our course, allowing us to learn from each-other's experiences and opinions. The nature of a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) means that we can explore our shared interests in comparative political study and the way in which our material worlds reflect and shape our political experience.

This is the second year in which we have run this course. In 2015, we had nearly 12,000 learners from 20 countries around the world. Our focus on learning through discussion meant that all participants, including those of us who developed the course, learnt through contributing to a lively debate that ran through all five weeks. Some of this learning has been incorporated into this year's course, including a focus on the experience of migration in expressions of identity, and how definitions of the 'unnatural' influences our political views. In preparation for this year, we have reviewed and updated course content, including the addition of four new films.     

A unique feature of our course is that we ask participants to share images either that they find online or of photographs that they have taken themselves. These images relate to the themes discussed each week, and are surprising in how they reveal our responses to concepts such as 'freedom', 'nature' and 'community'. Many of the images shared last year were of open spaces, representing nature as an expression of freedom but also as something threatened by unrestrained freedom or consumption. You can see a selection of images shared on our Flickr site.

We were incredibly impressed by the quality of interaction on our course last year, and learners were very positive about course content and the course leaders. We hope that you will join us from 16th May when the course restarts, and sign up today at www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda/

21 October 2015

Enduring Ideas 3: The Problem of Prejudice

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The third lecture in our Enduring ideas series takes place on the 17th November. Following Matt Flinders on democracy and Ha-Joon Change on capitalism, our exploration of the key concepts and ideas that underpin our understanding of society continues with Dominic Abrams on prejudice. Recent and continuing reactions to the refugee crisis in Europe highlight the importance of our understanding of the problem of prejudice. Professor Abrams will address questions such as whether a tendency to judge and stereotype is an inherent part of human nature, an inevitable aspect of society or something which could be prevented through better education and focused social policies. His talk will also discuss whether our tendency to pre-judge others means that any attempts to aim for sustained societal harmony in our increasingly diverse communities are simply far too optimistic.

Dominic Abrams is Professor of Social Psychology and Director of the Centre for the Study of Group Processes at the University of Kent. We’re delighted to be joined by Professor Dame Helen Wallace, a European Studies specialist, British Library Board member, and Foreign Secretary and International Vice-President of the British Academy.

The Enduring Ideas series takes place in collaboration with the Academy of Social sciences. It starts at 1830, in the Terrace Restaurant. Booking information is available via this link here Enduring Ideas. Look forward to seeing you there!

23 March 2015

Spring/Summer Events

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Over the last few months members of the team, along with colleagues from across the library and external partners, have been working to organise numerous public events.  This post gives details of some of these events.

On Wednesday of this week (25th March), we will be holding the next event in our Talk Science Series.  On this occassion, journalist and Antarctic veteran Alok Jha (ITV) will chair a discussion with Director of the British Antarctic Survey Professor Jane Francis, UCL anaesthetist and space medicine expert Dr Kevin Fong and University of Cambridge historian Dr Michael Bravoon the subject of 'Scientists in extreme environments'. They will consider numerous questions including:

  • Why do scientists work in extreme environments, and is it worth the financial and human cost?
  • Why do Scientists travel to the tops of mountains, the polar regions and even outer space in order to conduct experiments, make observations and set up instruments and what have we learned from doing science in extreme environments?
  • Is what we gain worth the high financial, and sometimes human, cost?
  • Does exploring these places also make science a vehicle through which geopolitics is played out and do we need to explore for the sake of exploration?

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For further inforamtion on the event and to book a ticket please visit the library's What's On page

On the 11 May, we will be holding Family History/Public History? in association with the Raphael Samuel History Centre, London.  This evening event will consider how family history spans both private stories and public history. It challenges our ideas of what we mean by ‘proper’ history and experiments with the limits of fiction and non-fiction.

Richard Benson and Alison Light read from their recent work and discuss writing their family histories of the working classes.

Richard Benson’s The Farm (2005), an account of his family during the forced sale of their farm, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. The Valley (2014), which sets his family stories against the history of the mining industry, was a Radio 4 Book of the Week; it was praised for combining ‘the epic sweep of Gone with the Wind with the microscopic intensity of Tolstoy’.

Alison Light is author of the much-acclaimed Mrs Woolf and the Servants (2007). Common People: the History of an English Family (2014) explores her own family history across two centuries. Shortlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize, one reviewer deemed it ‘part memoir, part thrilling social history of the England of the Industrial Revolution, but above all a work of quiet poetry’.

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The Private History/Public History event is free, but booking is essential.

We will be holding a one day conference, in association with Urban Photo Fest and Goldsmiths, University of London, on the the 29th May on 'Visual Urbanism: Locating Place in Time'.  Throughout the day speakers and delegates will examine interdisciplinary approaches to investigating urban space and consider topics such as how does the temporal dimension influence practices of urban place-making; what happens to our perception of urban space when we look at it both forwards and backwards in time; and how can time-based media be used to challenge linear notions of time?

A keynote talk will be given by Professor Michael Keith (Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford). The event will include a short film festival showcasing work by artists and researchers exploring urban space through moving images and sound.

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Refreshments, a sandwich lunch and wine reception are included in the ticket price.  Tickets can be booked here.

We are delighted that Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, will deliver the fifth Annual British Sociological Association/British Library Equality Lecture on the evening of the 22nd June.

Drawing on her recently published book 'On Liberty' and her work in high-profile campaigns, from privacy laws to anti-terror legislation, Shami explores how our world has changed since 9/11. Her talk considers whether governments have decided that the rule of law and human rights are often ‘too costly’, and look at the unprecedented pressures those rights are under today. She outlines why our fundamental rights and freedoms are indispensable, even paramount in upholding democracy and democratic Institutions.

The event will be chaired by Professor Eileen Green, Chair of the British Sociological Association and Professor Emerita in Sociology at Teesside University.

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Shami Chakrabarti. Image used courtesy of Liberty.

Tickets are £10.00 full price, with concessions available and can be booked here.

Now are you are you sat down or sitting down while reading this? Have you got or do you have a preference for one form over the other?   If you do, why not join us on the 29th June for English Grammar Day 2015

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English has a number of ways of expressing the same concept and with approximately 400 million mother-tongue speakers and an estimated 1400 million non-native speakers it has become a diverse, flexible language that continues to adapt, evolve – and provoke strong reactions. Despite – perhaps because of – this extraordinary diversity debates about English usage have been commonplace since at least the 18th century. Jonathan Swift’s Proposal for Correcting, Improving, & Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712) warned against the dangers of unregulated language, linking jargon and slang with declining morals and poor social behaviour.

In the 20th and 21st century radio phone-ins, newspaper letters' pages and online discussion forums bear witness to continued enthusiasm for dissecting the state of the nation’s linguistic health – more often than not with a particular focus on notions of ‘grammatical correctness’.

Recent developments in the National Curriculum have placed the teaching of grammar in schools once more at centre stage and divided opinion among politicians, teachers, linguists, and journalists, as well as the wider public. How have teachers implemented changes to their teaching and learning programmes to adapt to the new syllabuses and assessment criteria? What resources are available for students, teachers and the general public to learn more about English grammar and vocabulary?

What do teachers, professionals, academics and the general public feel is the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about the language? Join us for a day of talks, and feel free to ask our panel of experts to explore any aspect of English grammar from ain’t to innit. 

To book a place please see our 'What's On' page

In addition to the above events we also have London and the Nation and A Magna Carta for Women?  taking palce in July.

Gosh! There is a lot going on.  We hope you will join us. 

27 February 2015

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

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This week, we announced our new online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life. This is the first online course of its type that is using the Library's collections, and we are developing and delivering it with the Centre for the Study of Ideologies at the University of Nottingham. The course will start in May, and run on the FutureLearn platform.

During the course, learners will explore and debate issues such as: freedom, community, place, justice and choice. These concepts form the building blocks of our political views but they mean different things to different people. We'll be exploring how those words come to hold different meanings and how political ideas can impact on everyday lives.

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B. Prorokov, Freedom American-Style. 1971. (detail of poster).

There are two academic leads on the course. Mathew Humphrey, Professor of Political Theory, works on environmental political theory and theories of ideology. Maiken Umbach, Professor of Modern History, researches the relationship between political ideas and material culture (eg through the built environment or private photography).

The 5-week course draws on themes and items used in our 2013 exhibition, Propaganda Power and Persuasion. One of the most enjoyable aspects of curating that exhibition was giving public tours and talking to people as they visited the exhibition. This is a subject that everybody has an opinion on and experience of, and this new course will provide a new space in which to continue discussions started during that exhibition, and to look at the subject in a new light.

An exciting aspect of this course is that we'll be calling on learners to post images to an online gallery, contributing to the debate on what freedom or protest or community might mean. The online nature of the course means that people can join from all over the world, and there are no previous qualifications or experience required to take part.

Registration is open now. You can fnd out more, and see a video trailer for the course online.

 

02 February 2015

2014 in review: Management Book of the Year, the problem with democracy, epigenetics and beyond.

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2014 saw British Library curators working across diverse themes, including: sport, law, language, gender, ageing and democracy. Through conferences, exhibitions, workshops and collection development, we worked with a range of audiences, uncovering new insights to our collections and learning more about contemporary research. Here are some highlights:

The annual Chartered Management Institute/British Library Management Book of the Year awards ceremony was held in the British Library conference centre on the 3rd February 2014.  Details of the category winners can be found on the CMI website along with videos which summarise each of the books.  The videos were produced by students from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication.  The overall winner for 2014 was The Ten Principals behind Great Customer Experience by Matt Wilkinson.  We look forward to participating in the 2015 awards ceremony, which takes place on the 9th of February this year.

As part of the public events series linked to the Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight   exhibition, we held a public discussion ‘Beyond Nature versus Nurture’.  This event brought together social scientists and scientists to discuss how the nature versus nurture debate has been revolutionised by the study of Epigenetics and to debate the moral, ethical and social consequences of the growing understanding of how nurture affects nature. The speakers were Professors George Davey-Smith and Nikolas Rose.  The evening was chaired by Professor Jane Elliott. The discussion is available as a podcast and can also be watched on the library’s Youtube channel.

To mark Le Grand Départ of the Tour de France 2014 from Yorkshire, members of the team, with colleagues from across the library, curated and installed a display of collection items at the library’s Boston Spa site near Wetherby. The display included accounts of the early days of cycling as a mass pastime and sport, including an 1897 description of a ‘bicycle gymkhana’, more recent journalistic accounts of the legendary cycling extravaganza, typographical prints responding creatively to the 2011 Tour de France – including Mark Cavendish’s Green Jersey win – and the original manuscript of Tim Moore’s best-selling French Revolutions, his 2001 account of cycling the entire 3,630km route of the 2000 Tour de France.

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Gill Ridgley and Robert Davies following the installation of Le Grand Tour exhibition at Boston Spa

In addition to the exhibition there was a ‘peloton’ of blogs written by staff including 'Pedal Power' which explored how patents held by the library shed light on the technical development of the bicycle over the last two hundred years and ‘Escorting Stoller's Depart' which reports on the Tour de British Library when members of staff cycled from St Pancras to Boston Spa to mark the start of the Tour de France.

In April we held a one day conference Portraying Ageing: Cultural Assumptions and Practical Implications in partnership with the The School of Language, Linguistics and Film – Queen Mary, University of London and the Centre for Policy on Ageing.  The conference brought together experts from different backgrounds to share and discuss, from a variety of theoretical and practical viewpoints, how age and ageing are not only biological events but also cultural and social constructions and how insights from research can be translated into policy and practice.  They keynote address was given by Professor Lynne Segal, Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, Guardian Columnist and author of ‘Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing’. The conference was filmed and the videos can be accessed via a page on the Social Welfare Portal.  An overview of the day is also available via the ‘Age is in the eye of the beholder' blog post.

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Professor Lynne Segal delivering the keynote address at the Portraying Ageing Conference.

We were delighted to hold the Fourth Annual Equality lecture in association with the British Sociological Association.  This year our speaker was Dr Tom Shakespeare, a senior lecturer in medical sociology at the University of East Anglia and disability rights advocate. Tom’s research interests centre on disability studies and bioethics and his publications include: The Sexual Politics of Disability (1996), Genetic Politics (2002) and Disability Rights and Wrongs (2006). He has worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva where he helped write and edit the World Report on Disability (WHO 2011) and has been involved in the disability movement for 25 years.

The theme of Tom’s talk was ‘Enabling Equality: from disabling barriers to equal participation’ and explored what it takes to achieve equality for disabled people, in the era of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ‘welfare reform’.  The lecture is available on our podcast page and as a video on the British Sociological Association’s vimeo channel.

Members of the team assisted colleagues from across the library in the planning and delivery of the Languages and the First World War International Conference which was held in association with the University of Antwerp and timed to coincide with the opening of the library exhibition Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour.  The conference aimed to study how the languages of combatant nations influenced each other; the use of trench slang to both include and exclude individuals; censorship and propaganda; the development of interpreting as a profession; personal communication and silence during and after the war and how the First World War still influences how we all speak today.  The speakers represented a range of academic disciplines and were drawn from across Europe, North America and Australia.  The programme and related blogs can be found on the dedicated conference tumblr page. Some of the twitter feed from the conference is available via Storyfi.

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Postcard home: Arthur Tildesley writes to his Mother and Father that he is 'tray bon'.

In June we hosted the inaugural English Grammar Day, which was inspired by renewed political interest in the role of grammar in English teaching and assessment and debates about the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about grammar. EGD 2014 was a sell out event and a forum for reflections on the state of, and attitudes towards, English grammar – in school and beyond – with public contributions encouraged in the form of a lively ‘Any Questions’ style Panel session. The event brought together academic linguists, teachers, PGCE students, teacher trainers and non-specialists and we look forward to hosting EGD 2015 on June 29 and making this an annual event.

The year also saw British Online Archives made available via remote access for British Library readers.  This is an online platform which brings together digitised images, and descriptions, of collections held in archives and libraries from across Britain.   Collections include the BBC Handbooks and Listener Research, Parliamentary Labour Party records, missionary and colonial papers (recording some of the earliest contacts between Europeans and the populations of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific), and the archive of the Communist Party of Great Britain.  More information on some of the material available via the service can be found in an earlier Social Sciences blog post.

Holders of British Library Reader Pass can now access these collections from outside our Reading Rooms, using our Remote e-Resources service at https://eresources.remote.bl.uk:2443/login

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Images taken from British Archives Online.

In partnership with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the Socio-Legal Studies Association we held the third national socio-legal training day.  The theme this year was Law, Gender and Sexuality.  The day aimed to draw attention to archives and content which newcomers to the investigation of intersections between law, gender and sexuality may not be aware of and to consider the methodological and practical issues involved in analysing sources. Information about the programme and details of speakers can be found here and overviews of the day can be found here and here.

We also launched our new series of public discussions ‘Enduring Ideas’ in partnership with the Academy of Social Sciences.  The series aims to explore some of the key concepts which underpin society.  In the first event, Professor Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield and author of Defending Politics, discussed ‘Enduring Ideas: The Problem with Democracy’.

During the evening Professor Flinders asked and addressed many questions: does the apparent shift from healthy scepticism to corrosive cynicism have more to do with our unrealistic expectations of politics than a failure of democratic politics?  Do the problems with democracy – if they exist – tell us more about a failure on the part of the public to understand politics rather than a failure of politicians to understand us?  Is the problem with democracy is not that it is in short supply but that we have too much of it? He went on to suggest new ways of thinking about politics to ensure not the death but the life of democracy.  A podcast of the talk is available here.

Naturally, this post only provides a snapshot of some of the activities we were involved in, in 2014.  We’ve enjoyed working with colleagues from across academia; libraries; archives; third sector organisations; professional bodies such as the Academy of Social Sciences, British Sociological Association and the Sociological Research Association, enormously.  It has also been a great way to meet so many members of the public.  We’re already looking forward to a new Enduring Ideas discussion, Talk Science, the Annual Equality Lecture and more in 2015.  Keep an eye on What’s On for events.

02 December 2014

Feminism in London Conference

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Louise Kimpton Nye writes:

Last month Polly Russell and I joined about 1000 other people in a vast auditorium at the Institute for Education for the Feminism in London Conference. We were there partly for professional reasons - Polly, a Curator at the British Library, manages a project to digitise, preserve and make freely available the complete run of Spare Rib magazine and I have been working as a volunteer with her for the last ten months. But we were also there as committed feminists, curious to find out more about feminist campaigns, issues and arguments. The atmosphere in that auditorium at the start of the conference was exciting, welcoming, irreverent yet serious and this set the tone for the rest of the day.

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  Photograph used with kind permission of Foto Bella Foto
     

The conference comprised lectures, panel discussions and workshops on a wide range of feminist issues including Grounding Feminist Activity in our Everyday Life, Intersecting Oppressions In The Sex Industry and Sisterhood Around The Globe, for instance.  Annette Lawson OBE (National Alliance of Women’s Organisations) kicked off the day with her keynote speech, ‘Feminism in Context’ in which she explored the sources of misogyny and asked why people are often reluctant to use the word ‘feminist’.  Lawson was followed by a rousing speech from Dr Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Pornography has Hijacked our Sexuality and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies.  

Dines aims to put the radical back into feminism, and argued that the core principal of feminism, ‘the personal is political’ has been undermined by too much emphasis on personal empowerment at the expense of a wider collective feminist activism.  She argued that women in positions of privilege and power have ‘sold out’ to do the bidding of powerful men and that while patriarchal power structures are embedded in institutions, women are never going to gain a rightful share. Dines is a powerful speaker who doesn’t mince her words. She captivated the crowd with her no holds barred analysis of pornography and racism in pornography, subjects we had another opportunity to explore at a film and discussion event over the lunch break, The Porn Industry has Hijacked our Sexuality.

In the morning, we attended Feminist Archives and Activism: Knowing Our Past - Creating Our Future, a workshop which explored the importance of preserving and celebrating feminist history.  From our perspective this was an opportunity to find out about the important work of feminist libraries and archives, to meet a range of feminist librarians and archivists and to talk about our project to digitise Spare Rib. Organised by the newly formed national network of Feminist Libraries and Archives, FLA, this workshop was chaired by Sue O’ Sullivan, member of the Spare Rib collective and Sheba Press. Panel  members included Yasmin Ahmed from the Feminist Library , Frankie Green from the Women’s Liberation Music Archive, Jalna Hanmer from the Feminist Archive North, Zaimal Azad from Nottingham Women’s Centre, Sue John from Glasgow Women’s Library, and Liz Kelly and Joan Scanlon from the radical feminist journal Trouble & Strife.

Liz Kelly talked about the impetus for digitising Trouble and Strife magazine – a desire to ensure that the ideas of older-generation feminists are available online to younger feminists. The interactive online resource takes articles from past editions of the magazine and reflects on these from a present-day perspective.  Kelly was keen to encourage women to get in touch if they wish to contribute to the website,  www.troubleandstrife.org.

Yasmin Ahmed, gave us a potted history of the Feminist Library which started in 1975 and houses a large archive of Women’s Liberation Movement material, as well as an extensive collection of feminist books, journals, photos, leaflets and pamphlets charting different feminist perspectives from around the world.  Ahmed’s presentation stimulated some interesting discussion about modern attitudes to de-cluttering and whether it is ‘worth’ keeping our old magazines and other memorabilia.  The resounding message from the older feminists in the room was “don’t throw anything away!”  Indeed, the Feminist Library will take people’s old books, photos, leaflets etc. and archive them.  One younger delegate said how much she enjoys handling the resources held in libraries and archives, in contrast to using the internet for research. Others concurred with this and argued that physical space of a library can play an important part in creating and maintaining feminist communities. The consensus was clear, in our digital age there is still a place for physical items and for spaces where feminist activists, historians and scholars can come together and share ideas and resources.

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Photograph used with kind permission of Foto Bella Foto

In the afternoon, I attended the workshop on Fighting Against Patriarchy in Turkey.   The panel comprised four inspiring young women from the Istanbul Feminist Collective who gave us a vivid picture of how feminists are organising in Turkey to develop a feminist theory and practise against the system of patriarchy.  These women made a real impression on me.  They had such a firm handle on what is needed to make a real difference to real women in Turkey and explained their goals with focus and clarity.   Violence and sexual violence against women were key themes.  They talked about how the women’s movement in Turkey has successfully argued that so-called ‘custom killing’ or ‘honour killing’ should be called femicide.  For them, every male crime against a woman is political in a country where at least three women per day are killed.  But it is in the domestic sphere and in the labour market that the Istanbul Feminist Collective believe deep change is needed if women are to gain the independence needed to rise up against violence and oppression.  Men control women’s labour in Turkey, both paid and unpaid, the collective argue.   ‘We want our dues back from men’ was how one of the panellists described their goal to ‘force the state to demolish the gender division of labour’.  This was powerful stuff. 

Male violence against women and rape were key themes running through the day.  They were explored by both keynote speakers at the start of the day and further discussed in some of the workshops.  Violence against women was also the main topic of the closing plenary, with the Awarding of the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize which recognises individual women and women’s groups who have raised awareness of violence against women and children.   Women nominated for the prize stood up to give their personal testimonies of how they had been affected by male violence in what was the most moving part of the day. 

Intense and inspiring in equal measure, the conference achieved a good balance between academic debate and discussion of how issues of inequality affect women in their everyday lives.  There was also plenty of entertainment on hand with the fantastic stand-up comedian Kate Smurthwaite chairing the plenary session and a poet in residence who spent the day gathering material for a poem which she then performed at the closing session.  The day ended on a real high note with a feminist party with performances from feminist band the Stepney Sisters, formed in 1975, performance poet, Carmina Masoliver, artist and activist Rebecca Mordan (founder of Scary Little Girls), and many more. Lively, engaging, challenging and rich, this conference had something for everyone.

18 November 2014

Collecting the Referendum

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During the months leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, The British Library participated in a Web Archiving project to reflect the debate in Scotland and across the UK. This project was led by the National Library of Scotland. In this guest post, Amy Todman, Referendum Curator at the NLS, explains more about Collecting the Referendum.

The Scottish Independence Referendum was a hugely significant international event that captured the world’s attention. Questions raised by the Referendum, on all sides of the debate, have cut across Scotland’s cultural, social, intellectual and political life. The National Library of Scotland has been at the heart of this event, collecting material in a wide variety of formats in order to preserve its material record for future generations.

Collecting the Referendum is a library-wide project, developed as a response to the complexity of issues related to September’s constitutional debate, and at the behest of the Scottish Government. It aims to produce and make accessible an un-biased, representative and comprehensive collection. We aim to capture the rich cultural and artistic legacy of the Referendum as well as what might be considered the more obviously political. The collection now includes material from a growing number of campaign groups from ‘Leith says Aye’ and ‘Academics Together’ to ‘Women for Independence’ and ‘Conservative Friends of the Union’.

Raising public awareness of our collecting activity is important and is being explored through various channels, both online and by face-to-face engagement. Our project web page encourages donations and also highlights the role of other collecting organisations, with whom we are exploring the development of referendum collections over the coming months and years.

Web archiving is an important element of collecting a contemporary national debate. We have been working in collaboration with the British Library and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University to create an archive that reflects that debate. The web archive collection contains more than 1,000 blogs, campaign sites, news pages, contributions from think tanks, trade unions, churches and arts organisations, as well as twitter feeds from Members of the Scottish Parliament. Online material is collected under Legal Deposit regulations, and, when complete, will be accessible in the reading rooms of the National Library of Scotland, British Library, Bodleian and other UK Legal Deposit Libraries.

At the NLS, Collecting the Referendum is part of a wider development to expand capabilities for managing the challenges of cross-format and hybrid collections. As such it includes material in a wide variety of formats: publications in print and digital, analogue and born-digital archives and records, moving image and sound, as well as websites and social media streams. Ephemeral material such as leaflets and flyers are included as well as monographs, serials and newspapers, official publications, reports from a wide range of think tanks and research institutes, and moving image, in partnership with the Scottish Screen Archive.

Open days

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visitors to the first Collecting the Referendum open day. Image used with permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Building relationships is key to developing the collection. To support this, the NLS held two public referendum open days, in July and August 2014, giving us an opportunity to raise awareness of the Referendum collection and build on its positive relationships with campaign groups, political parties and individuals involved in the debate.

The first open day was structured around the main Scottish political parties and their differing responses to the referendum debate. Representatives from Scottish Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Greens, Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish National Party were invited to NLS to engage with the Collecting the Referendum project and discuss issues related to the referendum with readers, NLS staff and members of the public.

As well as these representatives, there were several displays of material from NLS collections. These included ephemeral material and official publications from the developing referendum collection as well as historic materials from the rare books collections to put these more recent items within a wider context.

 
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Items on display at the first open day, NLS. Images used with permission of the National Library of Scotland.

NLS web archivist Eilidh took part in the event, using her knowledge of the web archiving aspect of the referendum collection to engage with the public about the collection. As well as discussing the web collection with staff, participants of the open day, and the public, Eilidh also talked through the Library’s approach to collecting the web and the practicalities of researching the new collection.

The second open day followed a similar format to the first, although this event focussed on campaigning groups rather than political parties. Again, six groups were invited, two each from the yes and no sides of the debate, and two neutral organisations.

While the political parties, perhaps by chance, had arranged themselves by their respective positions on the vote, with the yes’s on one side and the no’s on the other, the campaign groups chose differently. As on the first day, each group claimed a table and arranged their campaign literature on it. Here though, groups from the ‘no’ side chose to sit alongside those from ‘yes’, across and in-between those that were neutral. There was no attempt to separate out along the lines of the debate and those who attended could talk easily to campaigners from either side. A particular group of undecided voters, in their mid-20s, worked their way around every group, debating and discussing with all. We also welcomed back several of our former representatives from the first open day who were keen to continue conversations begun the month before.

Mirroring the richness of our growing collection of ephemeral referendum materials, the open day highlighted the diversity and activity of sectoral campaign groups. Women for Independence and National Collective were asked to attend, along with Academics Together and Women Together. Future of the UK and Scotland (an ESRC funded research group) and a well-established group local to Edinburgh, Open Democracy were also approached, providing an important neutral voice.

Displays highlighted the archival aspect of the referendum collection, including materials from previous Scottish home rule and independence campaigns. Items included printed ephemera (like leaflets and flyers) but extended to unpublished material such as handwritten campaign diaries, press releases and digital correspondence.

Eilidh returned to lend her expertise, this time preparing a short text to introduce web archiving to the public, complementing her verbal explanations and demonstrations. Diane Milligan (NLS Digital Assets Team) was also able to participate in this event and was on hand to discuss the ins and outs of collecting digital material.

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Pamphlets and other ephemera on display at the second Collecting the Referendum open day, NLS. Images used with permission of the National Library of Scotland.

During the open days myself and other staff members were available to talk with representatives and members of the public about the referendum collection and to explain the significance of their individual contributions. It was useful to show people the kind of leaflets and flyers that we want for the collection, and how these fit into a wider historical context. Our appeal for donations from the public was also assisted by press attention resulting in a broadcast on STV.

Artist and co-community designer Dr Priscilla Cheung-Nainby also participated in the day’s events. Priscilla has worked on referendum-related issues in a variety of venues and contexts, exploring creatively with communities some of the ways that a ‘yes’, or a ‘no’ vote might practically affect our everyday lives. We worked together to produce a simple framework for engaging with issues around the referendum. Priscilla’s intervention provided a gentle way of holding conversations about the issues around the referendum, and offered our visitors a place to step back from the campaign groups and to reflect on how they felt about the forthcoming vote.

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Collective Referendum Weave, Priscilla Cheung-Nainby. Image used with kind permission of artist. 

Indeed, such relatively small-scale community engagements with the referendum are an important part of the developing collection, representing some of the many facets of discussion that might otherwise be less easy to capture.

Developing an unbiased Referendum collection that will be useful to future generations of researchers requires pro-active work and collaboration in order to respond quickly and flexibly to what is undoubtedly an extremely significant event in Scotland’s history.