THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

10 posts categorized "Humanities"

03 September 2018

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

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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.  

19 December 2017

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council: a short introduction, sources for research and appeal case metadata.

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Over the next few weeks, here on the Social Science blog and on the Digital Scholarship blog, Jonathan Sims and Sarah Middle will discuss work done at the British Library to provide insights into appeal cases heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC).  

To start us off, here is some background about the Judicial Committee (JCPC) itself with signposts to resources to support your research, and a brief consideration of whether metadata describing Privy Council appeal cases and judgments can be exploited more effectively.

The court and its jurisdiction

The Privy Council has long acted as a final court of appeal for an extraordinarily wide range of legal cases including both civil and criminal appeals. Details of the wide jurisdiction, current role and powers of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) are set out on its website. Perhaps foremost among these is the Judicial Committee’s role to act as a final appeal court for a number of Commonwealth countries. Hearings are often filmed and made available online.

CourtRm3

Courtroom three at the Supreme Court, London

Today the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) shares a home with the Supreme Court at the Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square, London, where appeals to the JCPC are typically heard in Courtroom Three. However until early this century JCPC hearings took place in a chamber accessed via an unobtrusive door to the Privy Council offices in Downing Street, opposite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Soane Museum’s website includes drawings from Sir John’s designs for these offices (see below, Soane …). However the grandeur evident in drawings and in an 1846 illustration (see below, Sitting …) gave way to more cramped and modest conditions by the time of a 1921 appeal against the judgment of the Lincoln Consistory Court (see below, Archdeacon …).  Depicting an earlier era, Christian Schussele’s mid nineteenth century painting Benjamin Franklin appearing before the Privy Council, depicts a rich and vivid spectacle of the court sitting in 1774 in the Royal Cockpit. (See below, Isaacson.)

IMG_1765

The corner of Downing Street and Whitehall

The origins of the Privy Council’s jurisdiction are introduced on the JCPC website, and background commentary about the Privy Council records at the UK National Archives suggests that the Council's judicial function had become distinguishable from legislative and administrative roles by the sixteenth century. With the creation of the Judicial Committee in 1833 during the Lord Chancellorship of Henry Brougham colonial appeals to the Privy Council were ensured to be heard by professional lawyers, (see below Lobban) and by the start of the twentieth century the JCPC “was the final appellate court over a vast global Empire” of colonies, possessions and self-governing Dominions. (Mohr) A YouTube video embedded on the JCPC website provides a brief and engaging history of the court and its jurisdiction.

Biographical information about Privy Council judges can be found across the British Library collections. Archival collections including the Coleridge Family Papers. (MS 85495-86488), Hardwicke Papers (including five, indexed volumes of “appeal-causes before the Privy Council, 1722-1769”, Add. MS 36,216 - 36,220.), India Office Records and private papers, papers of several Lord Chancellors and Prime Ministers (for example, Robert Peel Add 40181 - 40617 and William Gladstone Add. 44086-44835) offer glimpses into the lives and work of  Privy Council judges, the judicial business of the Privy Council, and sometimes into specific cases. These can be searched on the archives catalogue. Photographs and biographical detail of the first colonial judges appointed to the Judicial Committee including Henry De Villiers (South Africa), Samuel James Way (Australia), Samuel Strong (Canada), and Ameer Ali (India) can be found in British Library’s journal and newspaper collections.

Speaking in 2013 and highlighting the modern internationalism of today’s JCPC, Lord Neuberger drew attention to the long-standing position that, although usually sitting for convenience in Westminster, the JCPC applies the law of the state in question.  The Privy Council has considered law from varied locations and legal traditions including Common Law, acts of the Oireachtas from the Irish Free State, French, Spanish and Romano-Dutch law, Venetian and Sardinian law, customary law from Africa, Ottoman and Chinese law, and Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist law from India. (Haldane p. 154) Research indicates that the huge majority of cases originated in India, with the next highest number attributed to Canada. (See Richardson and below Campbell)

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High Court, Calcutta, now Kolkata. (Photo Stretton, W.G., 1875, British Library Online Gallery)

Rangoon

Recorder’s Court, Rangoon, now Yangon (Photo Jackson, J. 1868, British Library Online Gallery)

The JCPC has heard appeals from courts closer to London too. These include Admiralty and Prize appeals, cases from ecclesiastical courts, and cases pertaining to issues of congenital or temporary mental ill-health, jurisdictions inherited from the High Court of Delegates in the 1830s. During the twentieth century, the court also heard certain cases concerning patents and copyright, and appeals in disciplinary cases from a small number of professional bodies.

Getting to grips with Privy Council appeals, judgments and printed case papers

A snapshot cross section of the court’s caseload is given in Alex Giles’ blog piece Stories from the Empire: Privy Council Cases 1917-1920 while the cultural and international legal significance of particular cases are vividly brought to life in panels from the 2014 exhibition A Court at the Crossroads of Empire: Stories from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council through the stories of individual litigants and lawyers.

 A more comprehensive representation of the JCPC case load than the selective coverage distributed throughout numerous law reports can be found in collections of official transcripts of the judgments. Very substantial collections are available online and bound into volumes of case papers. The website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute BAILII provides easy access to a collection of judgment transcripts digitised from the JCPC’s own collection. More or less equivalent is the collection of judgments bound in with the British Library volumes of JCPC case papers, although some variations in coverage and numbering are evident in comparison with the BAILII set.  

In turn, the case papers, which sometimes amount to thousands of pages for an individual case, provide far more insight to individual cases and the operation of justice than the judgments are capable of offering. Largely made up of records of proceedings reprinted and authenticated from those in the originating courts and distributed for the purposes of the Privy Council appeal hearings, they provide rare opportunities to examine historical law in action in courts around the world. As Weait says of transcripts of criminal trials and their value for teaching law, (see below) the case papers reflect the vibrant dispute, and dialogue of proceedings providing opportunity to take a “critically reflective stance” on the “distillation, reduction and abstraction” of process that is provided in “monologue” appellate judgments.

However, as studies of legal case files also suggest, the printed records of proceedings also offer material traces of how law absorbs and constructs the wider social world through authenticated documentary and sworn evidence. It was the level of detail in spatial representations demanded of documentary evidence that one researcher valued. The information was simply unavailable elsewhere. Valued too was the archive of nuanced language and insight on private devotional practices that offered a reflection of a less homogenous, cultural identity than had commonly circulated in contemporary political narrative.  Further insights afforded by the case papers are illustrated in another of Giles’ blog pieces and in summaries of talks by legal historians at a symposium held at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

The few accessible and comprehensive sets of these internationally significant papers are all located in Britain, distributed to archival collections following the disposal of the appeals.  This includes of course the British Library set. (Please note that printed cases and records of proceedings for selected cases beyond the scope of this set can also be found among the Hardwicke papers and India Office Records at the British Library.)  A catalogue entry on the National Archives website helpfully places another set of the printed case papers in context of the wider collections of Privy Council records, although it does not currently facilitate access to the individual cases. Fortunately, free online access to a subset of the case papers is provided by BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute). Case papers for a small selection of appeals are also provided on Exeter University website Privy Council Papers.  

Elsewhere online resources have focused on cases from specific geographical areas and historical periods. These include the Ames Foundation’s Annotated Digital Catalogue of Colonial Appeals (see below, O’Connor and Bilder) whose principal project provides digital images of printed cases in appeals from the American colonies prior to independence, and draws extensive metadata for each case from Privy Council records including the Acts of the Privy Council of England (Colonial Series) and the original Privy Council Registers  and the relevant parts of the PC 1 series (see below, Privy …). Another example is that provided by Macquarie University, which provides detailed information about pre-1850 Australian cases. Additionally, the Anglo-Indian Legal History site by Mitch Fraas contains data about the first 50 appeals from India (1679-1774).

For the final part of today’s blog we look at the how the metadata that describes the nineteenth and twentieth century judgments underpins some of the online services described above, how it facilitates discovery of and access to these resources, and how it might be further exploited.

Exploiting the appeal case metadata for collection discovery and research

The relevant section of BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute) allows the user to search the text of the JCPC judgments, browse the judgments by year and view digitised versions of case documents, where available (see Whittle’s article for more information). Access to the BAILII documents is additionally provided by the LawCite search interface from AustLII, the Australasian Legal Information Institute. Many of the BAILII cases can also be explored and accessed based on the geographical location of the originating courts and the year of the JCPC judgment via a resource provided by IALS (Institute of Advanced Legal Studies), as well as via the University of Exeter’s Privy Council Papers resource.

Map

IALS visualises selected JCPC cases based on their geographical location and judgment year

The brief details describing each appeal case, its judgments and case papers (the metadata) in several of the above online resources is based on information used to identify and manage collections of judgments and case papers formerly housed at the Privy Council Office in Downing Street. Initially in Microsoft Word documents, these were donated to several institutions including the British Library.

In a single document E.C. Stretton recorded the contents of 137 volumes entitled Printed Cases in Indian and Colonial Appeals (now part of the series PCAP 6 covering cases heard between 1792 and 1878 in the catalogue of the UK National Archives). In addition to the origin of the appeal and details of the parties and documents included for each case in a particular volume, the Stretton metadata also includes, in some cases, information about the outcome of the appeal and the names of presiding Privy Council judges.  Much of this information is now searchable in the catalogue of Exeter University’s Privy Council Papers resource.

Additional annual documents that acted as an index to cases decided between 1860 and 1998, providing basic data in a tabular structure, also underpins some of these online resources. While acting as a helpful finding aid used to identify the year and judgment number of a given case the detail and structure of this data made it immediately obvious that the information could be used to ask questions about the whole body of cases.

With such a huge body of cases to negotiate, stretching over so many years, would an approach that offers some perspective on the case load as a whole be valuable?  Giles suggests that there were around 140 cases per year between 1917 and 1920 - we have seen their wide geographical and cultural scope - and behind each case lies a rich and extensive source in the case papers.

At the British Library this tabular metadata was converted to a spreadsheet that forms the basis for data visualisation experiments that will be outlined in future blog posts.  Drawing inspiration from digital humanities projects we wondered how this structured data could be exploited to ask questions about the JCPC case load as a whole or to facilitate discovery and retrieval of judgments and case papers relevant to particular research interests. Could the data facilitate easier understanding of the geographic distribution of the origins of the appeals, or demonstrate how this distribution was structured by year? Could it help to investigate typical duration of cases (from appeal year to judgment year) and explore relationships between duration and the distance of the originating court from Westminster? Could we determine which appellants or respondents occurred most frequently in the dataset? What other connections and relationships could be discovered to facilitate research or help with identification of relevant appeals and case papers for further investigation?

This is the first in a series of posts about a project to make information about JCPC appeal cases easier to discover. Later posts on the Digital Scholarship blog will look at ways of visualising the information about them:

Many of the resources discussed above are signposted in a collection guide on the British Library website: Judicial Committee of the Privy Council appeal cases.

Further Reading

Some of the resources listed below contain links to online subscription websites. If you or you institution do not have a subscription to these websites they can be accessed in the British Library reading rooms.

The image also can be seen on Leslie Katz’ blog 

  • Soane Museum: collections online: drawings http://collections.soane.org/drawings : architectural & other: office of works : London, Board of Trade and Privy Council Offices, Whitehall & Downing Street: designs for new offices and scheme for the improvement of Downing Street, 1823-33 (284 catalogued drawings)
  • Weait, M (2012) Criminal Law: Thinking about Criminal Law from a Trial Perspective, p163, in Hunter, C Integrating Socio-Legal Studies into the Law Curriculum (Palgrave Macmillan)

01 September 2017

Bringing Voices Together: the importance of independent Black publishing

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A guest post by Kadija George   

Kadija George, FRSA is a Birmingham University alumni and currently an AHRC/TECHNE scholarship PhD candidate at Brighton University researching Black British Publishers.  She is the Publications Manager for Peepal Tree’s Inscribe imprint, an editor of several groundbreaking anthologies and publisher of SABLE LitMag.  She is a Fellow of the George Bell Institute and a Fellow of the Kennedy Arts Centre of Performance Arts Management. 

Why do we need Black publishers if one of our societal objectives is to nurture a diverse society in Britain? Because diversity is paralleled with having options; we need gay publishers, women publishers as well as Black publishers.

This does not mean though that Black publishers (or any other ‘minority’ publisher) should be eschewed as being ghettoised, but rather as specialised. Therefore, when Shappi Khorsandi, withdrew her longlisted novel, Nina Is Not OK, for consideration for the Jhalak Prize, saying that, she “felt like my skin colour was up for an award rather than my book” [i] , she assumed that being nominated for the prize would place her in a category that would stigmatise her or limit her audience, yet such prizes highlight the books for what they are – good work, well written. With just 51 books being nominated though, it should shame the mainstream white dominated publishing industry in Britain into doing better with regards to publishing Black writers; an estimated 184,000 books were published in 2013 in the UK. [ii]

Aside from this, there are five broad reasons rationalising the need for, and increased awareness of Black publishers:-

Black publishers take on writers without shock or stereotype. If a writer approaches a Black publisher with a ‘thirty something’ love story between a devout Muslim and a devout Christian who live happily ever, this does not present a story that is unrealistic to a Black publisher; they understand that it is an ordinary part of everyday life (which means that Black writers' work is humorous at times, too). These are black lives, and they matter without the need to challenge the writer’s credentials, their authenticity or the need to be validated by white expertise.

They are also often the only ones willing to take the risk to publish work that is viewed as ‘experimental’, giving the writer permission to be who they are, to write what they want. The best of such work, which often does not easily fit into any one genre is published by independent Black press or is self-published, such as Walter Moseley’s The graphomanic’s primer: a semi surrealist memoir  (Black Classic Press) or Tim Fielder’s Matty’s Rocket, (dieselfunk.com).

Secondly, publishing is more than the physical product for Black publishers as there is the equal need to educate the Black community. This was contained in John La Rose’s 'Dream to Change the World' when he established New Beacon Books in 1966.

Those who migrated to Britain in the 1950’s, who were to become publishers, were equally activists in the community. Social justice work was an integral aspect of their work, supporting the lives of those of African descent who (im)migrated to Britain from the West Indies, Africa and Asia and for the human rights of communities and activists abroad who were under attack, such as Ngũgĩ  wa Thiong’o and Angela Davies (West Indian Digest, Vol. 1, no 8, Nov/Dec 1971). They were at the forefront of campaigns such as the New Cross Massacre (The New Cross Massacre Story (New Beacon 1981), and challenged authorities regarding the murder of Stephen Lawrence - Black Deaths in Police Custody and Human Rights: The Failure of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry by David Mayberry (Hansib Publications, 1993).

  New Cross Frt Cvr 

The New Cross Massacre Story (New Beacon 1981)

The third factor is that they are information providers, utilising the pamphlet as a tool to send out political and social messages, such as the Pan African Association in 1898 announcing the need for a conference to address the dire position of black people in the world. The practical outcome was the first Pan African conference in 1900. Similarly, informing the community of how West Indian children were being (dis)educated in British Schools sparked a movement that started in late 1960’s and carried on until the mid-1980’s that comprised establishing supplementary schools and led to associations of black professionals and the black family to reverse this situation. How the West Indian Child is made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System (1971) by Bernard Coard (New Beacon) originated as a paper at a conference.

Fourthly, black publishers claim and re-claim the printing of classic texts that may otherwise have remained invisible. New Beacon’s re-publishing Froudacity by JJ Thomas (1969) with an introductory essay by CLR James, ‘The West Indian Intellectual’ are two classic works between one cover. Walter Rodney’s The Groundings with My Brothers, was originally printed on a Gestetner, by Bogle L’Ouverture (1969), a title which, along with his next book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa(1972), remain in high demand.

 

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Froudacity / JJ Thomas (1969)

 

Finally, Black publishers ensure the visibility of Black people’s lives in British history.

Not telling the Black British story denies all British people of their true history: 

…the idea of not accepting inhibiting traditions, but being constantly inventive and novel; because one of the problems I can see facing West Indians in Britain in future, is the inhibiting tradition of the education system. This not only affects West Indians as you all ready realise, but ordinary Britons, but it is the rupture of the traditions which underline this tradition which will be important... (John La Rose – letter to Kamau Brathwaite - 24 Feb 1969 - GPI Institute GB2904 LRA/01/143/04)

This underlines the work undertaken by David Olusaga in his TV series and accompanying book, Black and British, A Forgotten History (shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize) in which he disrupts the telling of British history.  His core point is this; it is not possible to tell British history without telling the story of Black British history which is not just about the people who live(d) in Britain, but those in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia too. When Britain became an empire, their colonies would forever be a part of British history. This history includes the history of the book.  Olusaga also pointed out that it is novels such as Andrea Levy’s Small Island that tell important aspects of Black history. [iv]

This is why the ‘Bringing Voices Together’ networking event is needed, because the British Library is surely the first place for people to visit to find out about the history of the book in Britain, and that history needs to ensure the inclusivity of the history of Black British books and publishers, so that it is not as Olusaga says, a ‘deliberately forgotten’ history. (David Olusaga, Brighton University, 30 November 2016)

Related posts: Bringing Voices Together: Inclusivity in Independent Publishing in Contemporary Britain, 7th September

Related links: All about African publishers

Twitter: @kadijattug

 

17 August 2017

Writers of Colour in independent publishing - Bringing voices together: a guest post from Dr. Kavita Bhanot

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This blog post was written by Dr. Kavita Bhanot who has been involved in the development of Bringing Voices Together (7th September), a networking event organised by PhD placement student in Contemporary British Collections, Chantelle Lewis. Kavita will be one of the panellists on the day seeking to discuss issues of representation within publishing, how they’re being countered, and recommending the ways the British Library can engage more actively with independent publishers committed to inclusivity.

Kavita Bhanot writes fiction, non-fiction and reviews. She is editor of the anthology Too Asian, Not Asian Enough (Tindal Street Press 2011), the forthcoming Book of Birmingham (Comma Press, 2018) and co-editor of the first Bare Lit anthology (Brain Mill Press, 2017). She has a PhD from Manchester University, is a reader and mentor with The Literary Consultancy and is currently Honorary Creative Writing Fellow at Leicester University.

  Kavita

What is the difference between a published book and a typed manuscript on somebody’s computer? Whilst editing, giving feedback on novels and short stories over the years, I have come across countless writers who are writing or have written remarkable books. And I have been struck by how vulnerable writers are to the whims and fancies, or structural blockades, of the gatekeepers in the publishing industry. These walls are all the more impenetrable and incomprehensible for writers of colour – there is little correlation between ‘quality’ of work, ‘content’, and what gets published. Many other factors come into play, such as how marketable a work or a writer is; how ‘true’ or palatable the work is for white readers; whether something else with a similar subject matter has been published recently; if another writer of a similar background has recently been launched.

The sense of vulnerability that the relationship of dependency on the publishing industry produces has led writers I know to breakdown, depression, to giving up writing - supposing that they are just not good enough, to a feeling of hopelessness, pointlessness.

Is the answer to participate in conversations about diversity, to enter competitions, to join mentoring schemes - even if we’ve been writing for five, ten, fifteen years? Are we to be perpetual children, beneficiaries of paternalism, needing advice and guidance? Do we always have to stand with begging bowls, asking for encouragement, support and recognition, grateful for anything we get? Doesn’t the ‘need’ for recognition from the ‘mainstream’ continue to make us vulnerable and dependent, so we hand over all our self-worth to people and institutions with power? How does it help us to develop self-esteem, a strong inner core, which is what is needed above all to continue writing?

And the excessive focus on publishers and their lack of interest in our work diverts us from thinking about what really matters – the writing. It can lead us to seek acceptance by writing what publishers want us to write. Or in subtle ways, it can lead us to not interrogate what has come before, and reproduce this, not thinking about what we are writing, how we are writing, who we are writing for. My work for several years has been to unpack the ways in which whiteness has often been centred in our writing in conscious and unconscious ways. This perspective is normalised. Being able to see this, to read it and to write differently requires a great deal of effort and self-care. Focussing on ‘diversity’ distracts us from this work.

It is important for writers of colour to develop a political and creative vision, to nurture self-belief and to create collective structures of mutual support founded in a political core. A core that is not fixed, but is open to self-interrogation, change and complexity. Writers of colour should not feel dependent on existing established structures, they should and increasingly are, finding or creating independent outlets.

While publishing conglomerates and media empires become concentrated into a few increasingly powerful and commercial corporate houses, the number of writers of colour producing work that is experimental in form and content is also increasing, work that emerges from activism and critical thinking, work that is of little interest, is unpalatable even, to the ‘mainstream’. These writers are not waiting for anyone’s recognition - they are turning to online forums, they are creating websites, setting up independent publishing initiatives, they are self-publishing, producing chapbooks, booklets, magazines, e books, crowd-funded books – and they are using social media to promote their work. It is from these spaces that paradigm shifting work can and is emerging, a different way of looking at the world, building on but also unlike what has come before, because it is responding to the present moment.

For the most, such work tends to remain unseen by the ‘mainstream’ – until the power of the collective voice becomes so threatening that it can no longer be ignored. And then there is an effort to co-opt it, to absorb some of the more acceptable elements in order to appear inclusive. The odd writer will be published, turned into a celebrity, so it appears that space is being made for new perspectives, new voices. Some people entrenched in the ‘mainstream’ will jump on the bandwagon, appearing to propagate elements of the new discourse, some of which now seems to have become acceptable to the ‘mainstream’. All this works to keep out voices that are truly threatening.

So why is it important that the British Library keep apace with these changes, putting time and effort into identifying these texts, documents, works of literature that emerge from critical, activist spaces, acknowledging their existence, making them available to be read?

No place or institution is neutral, but due to the assumption that everything that is published in the UK is available in the British Library, there is a perceived neutrality inherent in the idea of the Library. A great deal of scholarship, literature and research emerges from the British Library - the place and the catalogue. The Library therefore comes to define the boundaries, foundations and paradigms of a great deal of the scholarship coming out of Britain through what it includes and excludes in its catalogue. Whilst those who are producing work outside the ‘mainstream’ may not be aware of the processes or procedures or even the need to send their work to the Library, it is important for the British Library to reach out, to do the research to find and acquire these works. So that emerging literature and scholarship, rather than drawing only on what exists in ‘mainstream’ spaces, might write about, reference, build on these texts – not as ‘raw material’, but as political, intellectual, creative contributions in their own right. The circulation of knowledge can become more meaningful if public funded institutions like the British Library can take such initiative.

 

Related posts: Bringing Voices Together / Chantelle Lewis

Decolonise, not Diversify / Kavita Bhanot in Media Diversified.

 

02 August 2017

Bringing Voices Together: Inclusivity in Independent Publishing in Contemporary Britain, 7th September

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Chantelle Lewis is a PhD student working at the British Library on a project on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) publishing. In this post, Chantelle describes her project and a forthcoming event at the Library.

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My name is Chantelle Lewis and I am a PhD student in the Sociology department at Goldsmiths College. My research is focused on the lived experiences of mixed race families in mono-cultural British towns. Since beginning my PhD, I have been interested in 'race' in Britain, racialised inequalities and the legacies of colonialism. I am keen to become a public sociologist emphasising how sociological research can help shape important social policies.

I am currently working as a PhD placement researcher within the Contemporary British Publications team at the British Library. The title of my placement is ‘Independent, D-I-Y, and activist BAME publishing, in print and online, in 21st century Britain’. I am interested in the current production of inclusive publications, and how the Library can better engage with independent publishers and activists invested in widening representation of writers of colour.

I began by using the Library’s online catalogue to assess its holdings of independent and activist publishing committed to writers of colour. Following this, I met with writers, publishers and activists, and asked them about their experience of supporting independent expression in print and online. The result of these meetings will be a networking event at the British Library titled 'Bringing Voices Together'.  I was inspired to organise Bringing Voices Together after the project illuminated devolved literary practices which could help structure a pragmatic response by the British Library.

The event will bring together people from the arts, literary, and activist world, together with staff from the British Library. The group will include people invested in the development of platforms for diverse forms of expression, as many face similar obstacles in a predominantly mono-cultural industry. 

Whilst meeting with writers, publishers and activists, I began to feel like there were key people I was speaking to who could benefit by connecting with others committed to inclusivity.  Inspired by the on-going project run by Birkbeck History department - History Acts , where historians meet with activists to discuss the possibility of collaboration, I was keen to do something similar as part of my placement. As well as having writers and publishers involved, there will be academics and researchers at the event. I am hopeful that this will allow for interdisciplinary discussions on past and present expression by writers of colour.

Part of Bringing Voices Together will be to gather information for the British Library’s Contemporary Britain web pages on independent publishers who have committed to writers of colour in print and digital formats. This will serve as a starting point for the Library to become actively engaged with the varied formations of contemporary publishing in Britain. This information is also intended to help bookshops and public libraries connect with different voices, as well as offering more wide-ranging options for users of the Library.  We’ll update this post with more details after the event.

Over the coming weeks, there will be a series of guest blog posts from myself and some of the people I have met who are engaged with inclusive independent publishing. Alongside the updates to the Contemporary Britain web pages, these articles will show that Bringing Voices Together is intended to be action driven, coupled with giving a much needed platform to different modes of expression. It also contributes to the notion of legacy and how collaboration can be at the forefront of change.

The fusion of attendees and speakers from publishing, literary, academic and activist backgrounds will allow a range of stakeholders to meet and debate the contemporary issues in publishing and the innovative ways these are being addressed. This will lead to a celebration of resourceful production which has been rewarded by the widening presence of public appreciation. It will also comment on the positive aspects of independent publishing and the opportunities it can present for inclusive expression.

The event gives all involved the opportunity to contribute to a conversation on inclusionary practices in publishing. The principle aim of the afternoon will be to provide recommendations on how the British Library can become more closely involved with writers of colour in independent publishing.

Chantelle Lewis BSc, MA and PhD candidate in Sociology

28 March 2017

Report on Rebels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 January 2017

2017 / 2018 British Library PhD Placements

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Rachel Tavernor is a Media and Cultural Studies PhD Researcher at the University of Sussex. In this post, she discusses her PhD Placement at the British Library.

At the start of 2016, I did not imagine that I would be finishing the year at the British Library. For the last three months, I have been based in their Research Development team, as part of their new PhD Placement Programme.

My placement focused on exploring twentieth and twenty-first century anti-poverty activism in the British Library Collections. After a preliminary mapping of the archives, and discovering how much material was available, I narrowed the focus of my placement to housing activism. Struggles for decent and affordable housing, with secure and fair tenancies, are at the forefront of many anti-poverty movements and are often led by women. I developed two strands of the project to explore the ways in which radical, feminist, and at times illegal, protest actions are archived.

Firstly, I traced housing activism, including rent strikes, squats and housing cooperatives, across the British Library Collections. Working with diverse materials, including oral histories, manuscripts, music and news media, I was able to map the differing voices in the archive. In particular, investigating the tensions between protesters, mainstream media and government narratives. A guide to the materials found in the collections will be available on a new project website, Archiving Activism (launching in Spring 2017), which will include images of relevant collection items.

Secondly, I developed a small research project on the practices of archiving activism. To understand and propose ways to archive activism, I conducted a series of nine interviews. Many very enjoyable hours were spent listening to campaigners, feminist archivists and academics who engage with archives of activism. The interviews informed an internal report that I produced for the British Library on potential ways to archive contemporary activism.

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  Image: The gates of the British Library.   

We will be discussing archives, activism and feminism movements on 8 March 2017 with a panel discussion on Rebels in the Archives. One of the privileges of working with the Library was the opportunity to invite inspiring feminists, Jill Liddington, Abi Morgan, Heidi Safia Mirza and Deborah Withers, to contribute to this event (booking now open).

I recently presented my research project to PhD students at the annual CHASE conference, Encounters, and to British Library staff as part of the British Library Bitesize Talk Series. Both events gave me the opportunity to share my research and reflect on my time at the British Library. For those of you considering applying for a PhD Placement in 2017, here are my reasons for taking part:

  • Research Skills: you get a chance to use the skills that you’ve learnt conducting your PhD research in a new environment. You will also learn new research skills by working on a short-term project with industry outputs.
  • Rich Resources: you get the time to explore the rich resources of the British Library Collections. You also get to find out about the resources that are yet to be made public or are soon to be acquired… watch this space for some exciting new acquisitions.
  • Public Engagement: you get to engage people with your research and the British Library Collections. You may have the opportunity to create your own event, possibly presenting your research or supporting the Library with their large events programme.
  • Colleagues and Collaborators: you get to work with some fantastic colleagues who are passionate about the British Library and research. You also get to be part of a cohort of PhD Placement researchers and learn about a wide range of research that is conducted at the Library.
  • Inspiration: finally, the British Library is packed with inspiring people, both past and present. I return to my PhD research this week with new ideas, skills and experiences.

The British Library have just published a new call for applicants for 2017/2018 British Library PhD Placements. Included in the programme are placements on:

  1. Independent, DIY, and Activist BAME Publishing, in Print and Online, in 21st century Britain
  2. 21st Century British Comics
  3. Researching the EU Referendum Through Leaflet and Web Archive Collections

If you have any questions about the placements, contact Research.Development@bl.uk

21 December 2016

Rebels in the Archives: Stories of Sexism, Sisterhood and Struggle

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Rachel Tavernor, a British Library PhD Placement Researcher, writes about an upcoming event ‘Rebels in the Archives’ that will be held at the British Library in 2017.

On 8 March 2017, to celebrate International Women’s Day, the British Library will host a panel conversation on the power and potential of archiving feminist movements. Rebels in the Archives is an evening dedicated to stories of sexism, sisterhood and struggle.

Our speakers include Jill Liddington, Abi Morgan, Heidi Safia Mirza and Deborah Withers. Margaretta Jolly, project director of Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the Women’s Liberation Movement, will chair this panel of influential feminists as they debate questions of politics, representation and preservation.

Our panel will be sharing stories of the rebels and rebellion that inspire them. Discussing their own engagement (as historians, screenwriters, researchers and curators) with archives of activism. As well as debating the ways in which collecting, curating and communicating activism can be a radical practice.

Sisters image Web SmallPhotograph copyright of Theo McInnes and reproduced here with their kind permission.

Jill Liddington is a writer, historian and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. She has researched and written on votes for women since the 1970s, when she first visited the Fawcett Library (now Women’s Library). Her latest book Vanishing for the Vote: Suffrage, Citizenship and The Battle for the Census, tells how suffragette organizations urged women, all still voteless, to boycott the census on 2 April 1911.

Abi Morgan is a BAFTA and Emmy Award winning writer and producer. Abi is the screenwriter of Suffragette, the first ever mainstream film about the British campaign for equal votes. The story focuses on the lives of working class women involved in the movement. Radicalised and turning to violence as the only route to change, they were willing to lose everything in their fight for equality – their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives.

Heidi Safia Mirza is a visiting Professor of Race, Faith and Culture at Goldsmith’s College, University of London and Professor Emerita in Equalities Studies at the UCL Institute of Education. Heidi advises English Heritage on diversity and established the Runnymede Collection at the Black Cultural Archives (BCA), a race-relations archive documenting the late 20th Century civil rights struggle for Multicultural Britain. She is author and editor of several books, including Young Female and Black, Black British Feminism and Black and Postcolonial Feminism in New Times: Researching Educational Inequalities.

Deborah Withers is a writer, curator, researcher and publisher. Their new book Feminism, Digital Culture and the Politics of Transmission: Theory, Practice and Cultural Heritage, asks: what does it mean to say that feminism has cultural heritage? The book explores how digital technologies have enabled impassioned amateurs to make ‘archives’ within the first decade of the 21st century. In 2010, Deborah founded HammerOn Press, a grassroots publishing label rooted in feminist / queer do it yourself culture. They are also an active trustee of the Feminist Archive South, and have curated two Heritage Lottery Funded exhibitions Sistershow Revisited and Music & Liberation.

Margaretta Jolly is a Reader in Cultural Studies and Director of the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research at the University of Sussex. Her current book-in-progress is Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the UK Women's Liberation Movement (forthcoming). Her book, In Love and Struggle: Letters and Contemporary Feminism explores feminist relationships as they have been expressed in letters and emails since the 1970s and was awarded the 2009 Feminist and Women's Studies Association Book Prize.

Booking for Rebels in the Archives is now open. We hope you are able to join us and are able to contribute to this discussion.