21 October 2019
Update (26th January, 2020): Further to our previous updates, the Government has committed to delivering the EU Withdrawal Agreement by 31 January 2020, after which the transition period will apply. The Spare Rib digital archive is expected to remain available until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. Further details will follow as these are confirmed. Original text of post as follows:
In February 2019 the British Library determined that if the UK leaves the European Union (EU) without a deal it will be necessary to remove from access the full run of digitised Spare Rib magazines hosted on the Jisc Journals platform. If the UK were to exit the EU on 31 October without a deal, therefore, the Spare Rib digital resource will no longer be available as of this date. Should a Withdrawal Agreement be finalised before that date, the resource will remain available until at least the end of the transition period.
The decision to close down the Spare Rib resource once the UK has left the EU was made on the basis of the copyright status of the digitised magazine, which relies heavily on EU orphan works directive. This directive allows in-copyright material held by cultural institutions to be made available where rights holders cannot, after due diligence searches, be identified. Spare Rib was published between 1972 and 1993 and as a consequence its content is still in copyright.
When we digitised the magazine the Library sought the permission of rights-holders for their work to feature in the online archive. We successfully obtained permission from 1080 contributors. Around 57% of the magazine however – some 11,000 articles and images from 2,700 contributors – benefits from EU orphan works protection. Should the UK leave the EU this legal exception will no longer apply and we have therefore taken the decision that the resource will need to be closed.
The closure of the Spare Rib digital resource will be felt by the many students, researchers and activists who use it and for this we apologise. As some compensation we can confirm that the British Library Spare Rib site, with contextual essays and selected magazine content will remain accessible.
For additional background and context about the Spare Rib digital archive and its potential suspension please see the British Library’s blog from February 2019.
09 October 2019
We are delighted that Jack Halberstam, Professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University, will deliver the Ninth Annual Equality Lecture in collaboration with the British Library and the British Sociological Association. This will take place on Friday 1 November 2019, 19.00-20.30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre Auditorium.
Professor Halberstam will provide a very timely consideration of the history of Trans* communities, and examine their association with political goals and a quest for recognition. They will also offer up new and different aesthetic avenues to Trans* lives and images, and be signing copies of their latest book Trans*: a Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability (2018).
In this book, Halberstam explains the inclusion of the asterisk at the end of the word ‘Trans’ as moving the idea of transition resulting in a final form, an ultimate destination and beyond established configuration of desire and identity. The asterisk, they argue, stops any sense of knowing the meaning of any given gender varying form, and gives Trans* people authorship and authority of their own categories.
Jack Halberstam, Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability (2018). British Library YC.2018.a.15460
This idea of ambiguity or flexibility in categories does not sit easily within a library and museum context, where material is defined, catalogued and archived for posterity.
Yet, libraries, and the worlds of words they contain, have long been a refuge for people excluded from the normative and major narratives of history and nationhood. Minorities of all types often seek evidence of themselves in the past, buried in the traces left behind. The validation of finding someone like you living and surviving in a different time, who may be long dead, can be transformative.
The exploration of the past for a minority history can be painstaking in terms of time, labour and emotional investment. However, these research journeys and the stories they uncover can have profound implications for the majority, the archive project, and the subscribed historical norms.Libraries do not just keep our stories safe; they are where new stories begin.
Technology offers new opportunities for communities to find themselves in archival records. The British Library and its partners have digitised over 20 million individual pages of printed news media, and the use of optical character recognition (OCR) enables searches hitherto impossible in the past.
In 2018, the British Library invited Trans activists E-J Scott (Curator of the Museum of Transology), Dr Jay Stewart (Chief Executive of Gendered Intelligence), and Annie Brown (activist, artist and GI youth worker) to consider two articles found in the British Library digital newspaper collections: ‘The woman in man’s attire’ (Tamworth Herald, 1901) and ‘An extraordinary investigation’ (Sussex Advertiser, 1833)
‘The woman in man’s attire: a remarkable marriage story’, Tamworth Herald (1901)
When gender varying individuals approach the binary space of archived and not archived, the past and the present collide and the researcher is subject not only to the temporal nature of our present language around gender, but also the historic lack. In this conversation between Annie Brown, E-J Scott and Dr Jay Stewart, we get a glimpse into the impact that the historical record can have for communities still fighting for representation and inclusion.
11 July 2019
Gay Liberation Front, Manifesto. London: Gay Liberation Front. 1971
The origins of writing and the reason why we write are central themes around which the Making Your Mark exhibition revolves. Encompassing the act of writing and the mediums used from carvings, scrolls, papyri, typing, print and digital. The exhibition is divided into different chapters, featuring a section on ‘People and Writing’ that considers the methods and purposes of various types of documents which are utilised as tools of power. Publications that reflect this include charters, petitions, pamphlets and treaties. Another such ubiquitous document that is congruous with this section is the manifesto.
A manifesto is a unique way of communicating which addresses an audience and asks them to unite to take action and change something. In this sense, the manifesto is an historical artifact and political tool within the history of radical democracy. The earliest examples can be traced back to Europe of the 16th Century; most famous manifestos include the Declaration of Independence and the Communist Party Manifesto. The concept of a manifesto is a little bit like a pamphlet, which were often homemade and distributed by hand in public places; likewise the manifesto is a public announcement often printed in newspapers or journals.
Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, (Manifesto of the Communist Party). London : gedruckt in der Office der 'Bildungs-Gesellschaft für Arbeiter' von J. E. Burghard, 
There is no definite style or format. What all manifestos share is a call to its reader to unite and join together to make a change. Manifestos are frequently written during unsettled periods, often by small groups of people who want to challenge the status qua. Throughout history the authors vary from political parties, art movements and individuals. Developed as a text, the manifesto fuses art and politics to create a type of modernist literature. Studies of this particular writing form has lead researchers to consider it a genre within its own right.
A manifesto proves that writing is a tool of power and can be used to intervene and demonstrate against dominant systems. The phrasing used is often pleading, attacking, protesting and opposing in tone and declaring the intention of the writer. Any subject, cause or social group can write their own manifesto, but it is always written from an opposing position implying an ‘us’ and ‘them’. The style is often short and repetitive that attempts to get its message across and encourage readers to agree.
The texts broadcast ideals demanding the reader seize the moment to change the future. In this way, the writing is an activist text, inciting readers to take practical action to make decisions for themselves. This articulation must however be recognised by the audience or subject it addresses in order to function.
Where and when and who wrote manifestos are dependent on power struggles and an urge for change. The manifesto can appear under threat in this age of social media where a blue thumb can signify individual consent. Yet the desire to transform injustices and ignorance exists now more than ever. In these unsettled times, there are a lot people who still want to change things. If you were to write your own manifesto, what might it include and why?
This post has been written by Rachel Brett, Reference Specialist for Humanities at the British Library. Rachel frequently delivers discovery sessions on art, fashion and related subjects, and contributes to the Library's Doctoral Open Days.
03 September 2018
Our free online course starts today. Learning from the Past is for anyone interested in studying the past, what historians do, and why and how research on the past matters for understanding the world today. The course runs for 3 weeks, and is the second course produced by the University of Nottingham in partnership with the British Library.
Over three weeks, this course will introduce the ways in which historians conduct research, and the materials that are used to understand the past. Throughout the course, examples from across the Library’s varied collections are examined by curators and researchers. The course will also do two other important things. First, it will show the challenges that historians face in understanding and decoding the records of the past: books, archives, photographs, maps, recorded sound and digital records. Second, it will discuss how a study of the past helps us contextualise the issues of today. For example, we cannot fully understand the radical shift in our impact on the environment without knowing how societies in the past used natural resources.
The origins for this course come from our earlier work on the course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life – which sought to explain how contemporary political research provides insight into the values and philosophies that lie at the heart of international debates, co-operation and conflict. We also sought to show how education, and in this case online learning platforms, can be used as a space where people with different ideas and opinions can communicate with each other, understand those differences and also see where there are points of agreement.
The response from learners to this course was incredible. Over the weeks, we saw conversations emerge between participants from around the world on “big political issues” but also in the more personal sphere: the gardens in their towns, food that reminded them of home, and the books and photographs that they always carry with them. We also saw that learners were enthusiastic to follow the debates that drew on current research, and followed links to academic texts where we made them available.
So, we wanted to produce a course that supported this desire for access to the ‘cutting edge’ of historical research, but also took the time to describe the practicalities of research. How do you decide what questions you are going to ask in your research? How can you find the materials that will help you to answer those questions? And how will you avoid the pitfalls of taking the records of the past at face value? Learning from the Past brings together researchers from the University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham, as well as curators from the British Library. Over the 3 weeks of the course, we will look at the materials and methods that researchers employ.
The first day of a new course is always exciting. I've been following our first steps for learners to introduce themselves and their research interests. There's lots of interest in family history and local history, but also other topics such as history of science or a general interest in how researchers work and analyse evidence. A lot of learners want to know more about how to use libraries and archives, and are interested in the practical elements of the course.
A big topic for our first week is on the significance of language, and language change, in communicating ideas and values. I'm currently enjoying the discussion thread on 'what three words would you use to introduce yourself to a visitor from Mars'?
If you’re interested in how historians work, thinking about starting your own research project, want inspiration for your existing work, or want to know why history matters today, join in the discussion at Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious Researcher. No need to worry if you're reading this after 3rd September - you can join any time before the course ends on 23rd September.
22 June 2018
‘The people we are writing for are the people we are fighting for’: Sivanandan as radical pamphleteer.
For more than forty years A. Sivanandan was at the forefront of debates on anti-racism and politics in Britain. Born in Jaffna in 1923 and educated in Colombo, he came to Britain in 1958, leaving the anti-Tamil riots in colonial Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka in 1972) and walking into the anti-black riots in Notting Hill. He was to become one of the most important and influential black anti-racist thinker-activists in the UK. His aphorisms, from ‘we are here because you were there’ to ‘poverty is the new Black’ - are known more widely than his name. Sivanandan was librarian and then director of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) from 1973-2013, one of the founding editors of Race & Class, an activist and author of prize-winning fiction and non-fiction. He died in January this year, aged 94, and this coming weekend a memorial event in London will celebrate his life and work.
Several of Sivanandan’s writings are available on the website of the Institute of Race Relations, as is a full bibliography of his work, and five articles from Race & Class are free to download as the Sivanandan collection. Collections of his articles are available in print, most notably Catching history on the wing: race, culture, globalisation (Pluto Press, 2008). You can read about his life in more detail in an account on Sage’s Social Science Space by Michael Todd or in Gary Younge’s obituary in The Guardian .
Sivanandan’s response to his arrival at the time of the anti-black riots of 1958 was to abandon his original aim of seeking well-paid employment and a comfortable life. In an interview he said,
“I knew then I was black. I could no longer stand on the sidelines: race was a problem that affected me directly. I had no excuse to go into banking or anything else that I was fitted up to do … I had to find a way of making some sort of contribution to the improvement of society. I wanted time to read and reflect and to become active. … So I started off as a tea-boy in a public library in Middlesex. And I went on to do my library exams by attending evening classes. From tea-boy I became branch manager of that particular library and then finally I went to be librarian at the Institute of Race Relations in 1964.” (The heart is where the battle is: an interview with A Sivanandan, Race & Class, 59 issue: 4, pages: 3-14.)
In his early work Sivanandan put together bibliographies of materials in the Institute of Race Relations library about African, Asian and Caribbean migration to Britain, to help build an area of study and draw out materials for activism. This remains an important area of work for contemporary librarians and archivists. Most of Sivanandan’s political writing was first published as articles in Race & Class, the journal of the Institute of Race Relations, which continues today as an academic journal published by Sage:
Importantly too, his articles were reproduced as pamphlets, so that they could be achieve wider distribution among the community activists Sivanandan and others at the IRR worked with, including Newham Monitoring Project and the Southall Monitoring Group. The British Library holds some of these pamphlets, allowing researchers to see not only the words on the page, but also to see how Siva’s arguments were taken out beyond an academic context. The pamphlets pictured below show their prices, ranging from 30p to £1.00. Materials from the IRR Library are now housed at Warwick University as part of their Ethnicity and Migration Collections. The range of publications can also be viewed in a video on YouTube recounting the First Fifty Years of the IRR's history.
Some of the pamphlet versions of Sivanandan's articles held by the British Library.
Sivanandan published articles in a range of activist magazines, for example CARF (Campaign against racism and fascism.) The article below shows the evolution of Sivanandan’s concerns from racism and imperialism to globalisation and its impact on refugees and migrants. In his foreword to Catching history on the wing Colin Prescod writes that, through his coinage of the term xeno-racism, Sivanandan aimed to show that, “Europe’s formidable hostility to the impoverished migrant workers on which so much of its basic prosperity depends is not just some nice people’s social phobia about foreigners, but a system of belief and practice aimed at locking down, and locking in, the needy and the desperate.” (p. x)
Beyond his political writing Sivanandan also reached an audience through his fictional writing. In 1997 he published When Memory Dies. The novel traces three generations of a family torn by Sri Lanka’s history of colonialism and ethnic strife. It was awarded the Sagittarius Prize (given by the Society of Authors for a first novel by an author over the age of sixty) and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the category of Best First Book for Europe and South Asia. Where the Dance Is, a collection of short stories, was published in 2000.
Perhaps the most innovative means of taking his ideas out to a new audience was his collaboration with Asian Dub Foundation on the track Colour Line which features on their album Community Music (2000).
The British Library holds an oral history interview conducted by Louise Brodie for National Life Stories in 2010 with A Sivanandan. Available on the Library’s Sound Cloud the interview is in ten parts and sheds a fascinating light on the life experiences, relationships and events that shaped Sivanandan’s writing. This long and detailed interview provides a resource for anyone researching the complex evolution of anti-racist or activist politics in Britain. Many others played important roles in challenging racism and building activism, but Colin Prescod writes, “For those who recall the first half of the 1980s as a watershed in Black British politics, Sivanandan was father, elder to them all.” (Catching history on the wing, p. viii)
Selected works by A Sivanandan:
Race and Resistance: the IRR story, London: Race Today Publications, March 1975
A Different Hunger: writings on black resistance, London: Pluto Press, 1982
Communities of Resistance: writings on black struggles for socialism, London: Verso, 1990
When Memory Dies(a novel), London: Arcadia, 1997
Where the Dance Is(short stories), London: Arcadia, 2000
Catching history on the wing: Race, Culture and Globalisation, 2008 (Pluto Press).
08 November 2017
The British Library will be holding a 2-day documentary festival over the weekend Saturday- Sunday 9- 10th December, to celebrate the career of John Pilger, along with other documentaries chosen as fine examples of the craft. The festival will include screenings of films from across his career, John Pilger will speak on the Power of the Documentary (Saturday) and will be in conversation on Sunday afternoon. A full programme can be found here.
The screening celebrates the acquisition by the Library of a digital archive of Pilger’s journalism – covering print, film and radio broadcasts over six decades. The archive, produced by Florian Zollmann from John Pilger’s personal collection, brings together for the first time nearly 1,500 news reports, films and radio broadcasts. This includes articles from the Daily Mirror, Guardian, New Statesman, BBC Radio, and 60 films. His latest, prescient documentary, The Coming War on China, is his 60th film.
Throughout his career, John has demonstrated the power and significance of investigative journalism in uncovering stories of peoples who have been ignored by the mainstream media or left otherwise without voice. His ground-breaking work in Cambodia revealed the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge, and his film Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia (1979) has subsequently been described as one of the 10 most influential documentaries of the 20th century. His later film, Stealing a Nation (2004), revealed the plight of the Chagos people, who were expelled from their homes in the 1960s and 1970s on idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean to make way for a military base.
John Pilger’s work is well-known for reporting on conflict, the human and civil rights abuses that result from conflict and the propaganda used to justify and prolong such abuses. His first film, The Quiet Mutiny (1970), interviewed young American soldiers in Vietnam, uncovering confusion and resistance to the war amongst conscripts and breaking the story of American troop insurrections in Vietnam.
Other work has placed a fresh focus on everyday subjects. His film, Burp! Pepsi v Coke in the Ice Cold War (1984) was an early example of investigative film-making that used originality and wit to examine the power of multinational corporations.
John Pilger’s work also sounds a warning of the threats to independent investigative journalism. The War You Don’t See (2011) recounts the history of embedded journalism in conflict and asks us to question the reporting of conflicts in the 21st century.
All these films will be shown at the British Library for the festival, The Power of Documentary, celebrating the career of John Pilger and emphasising the continued significance of independent investigative journalism.
03 June 2017
On Wednesday 14th June, we'll be discussing the potential of the archived web in understanding contemporary society and politics.
Our event is chaired by Eliane Glaser, author of Get Real: How to see through the Hype, Spin and Lies of Modern Life, and features contributions from Andy Jackson (British Library), Jefferson Bailey (Internet Archive), Jane Winters (University of London) and Valérie Schafer (French National Centre for Scientific Research).
The first web archive, the Internet Archive, began in 1996. Since then, many university and national libraries around the world have started web archiving initiatives. The British Library began in 2004, and, since 2013 has collected an annual snapshot of all UK web sites. As such, there are very rich collections built up around the world that have documented political and social movements both at international and local levels. For example, the Library of Congress has led collections on the Arab Spring, and the UK Web Archive has collections on past General Elections.
As libraries have gained more experience with building collections of the archived web, so researchers and other users of web archives have developed new methodologies and tools for analysing the collections. As advances are made, so new challenges arise and are identified. The web itself is changing, with one of the biggest challenges for archiving being the use of social media - generating huge amounts of data, but often being highly time dependent and reliant on specific software and hardware to interpret.
As with any large and complex collection, context remains an important consideration. Web archive collections are informed by curatorial or academic judgement on what might be the most significant websites, and may not reflect the most popular sites at a time. When it comes to reporting current events, social media and the web can be portrayed as more "democratic" and open to wider participation than more traditional news media. However, communication on the web includes rumour, satire and misdirection, alongside eyewitness reports and a whole range of data sources and types. Technology to archive the web lags behind the technology to create web sites, so some elements of a web page may be missed by web archiving tools. Additionally, web archiving at a national level often takes place within a legal framework that restricts collecting within national borders. The omissions of web archives can be a useful and interesting source for understanding the structure of web, but, as with other forms of analysis, researchers need information on what decisions were made, and under what conditions, a collection was made.
These are some of the issues that we'll be discussing on 14th June. We'd love you to join us and contribute to the debate. More details and booking can be found on our Whats On pages.
Our panel discussion forms part of the Digital Conversations series and also connects to a week of conferences, hackathons and other events in London that talk about recent advances in web archiving and research on the archived web.You can follow discussions from the conferences on Twitter, using our hashtag #WAweek2017
21 December 2016
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.
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.
Social Science blog recent posts
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- Hundreds of definitions for a big word: The Refugee Dictionary comes to the British Library
- Documenting the Olympics and the Paralympics, 6- 7 July
- "Just Leave Me Alone": responses to Unfinished Business
- Digitised Spare Rib resource
- New Spare Rib map resource: putting women's activism on the map
- Finding Emmeline Pankhurst
- Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious researcher
- Spare Rib archive - possible suspension of access UPDATE
- The 2019 Annual Equality Lecture: Jack Halberstam