17 November 2021
By Lottie Hazell
I joined the British Library over the summer to discover what can be learned from the data that is generated by the Library from the acquisition of legal deposit books. Specifically, I was interested in the data available on publications submitted using the Publisher Submission Portal (PSP). The PSP is used by publishers who produce fewer than 50 items per year, to deposit publications which exist only as digital copies. The Library was keen to explore this topic further as the UK has a very large number of publishers who fit this description, but it can be hard to find out about them.
Whilst I joined the library under the PhD placement scheme – I am currently researching a Creative Writing PhD at Loughborough University – it was my experience as a marketer in the publishing industry that drew me to the placement. The aim of this placement is to better understand the current behaviour and engagement of publishers using the PSP, examine the British Library’s current outreach strategies for Portal-eligible publishers, and inform recommendations to further support publisher engagement.
But who are the publishers that exist in the PSP? How representative are they of the small publishing landscape in the UK? And how can the British Library continue to grow the numbers of small publishers using the Portal? By the end of December – which is when my placement comes to an end – I hope to have answered these questions. To do this, I am gathering two primary forms of information: data about works deposited using the PSP and survey responses from publishers currently using the Portal.
By examining data from the PSP I will be able to determine publisher behaviour patterns, including frequency, quantity, and type of deposit. The decision to gather and process data that is readily available in British Library systems ensures that any analysis undertaken in this placement can be built upon in future library work.
The survey of publishers using the Portal will provide a fuller picture of how the Portal is serving its current users. Additionally, publishers will be also be asked where else they congregate with other publishers or peers in their industry so the British Library can ensure strong connections are fostered with as many small publishers as possible. The intended outcome of the survey is to inform a series of recommendations that will suggest how the British Library can engage new publishers, encourage frequent deposit, and ensure that small publishers are included and represented within the collection.
30 July 2021
‘Like tripe on a slab’: women’s accounts of reproductive healthcare provision in Spare Rib magazine are now available through the Library’s digital map.
A guest post by Alice O’Driscoll
Find out more about the letters and listings made available via the Library's Spare Rib magazine digital map.
Spare Rib 6 December 1972 p. 27 © Sue Coe, courtesy Galerie St. Etienne
When Jo Evans from Bristol was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst after a visit to the hospital in late 1981, her (male) doctor gave her the ‘stark and unsettling ultimatum’ of either having a baby straight away, or a hysterectomy. A third option was available, he conceded, but it was expensive.
Evans was incensed, not just by the lifechanging decision she was being faced with, but with how her doctor had presented the dreadful choice in a ‘jocular fashion’ while several of his medical students awkwardly looked on. ‘He should stop whipping the wombs out of the women of Bristol and resign’ she wrote, ‘so that more women can rise to the top of the gynaecological profession’. (Letter from Jo Evans, ‘Hospital Confrontations: Taking on the “Big Man”’, Spare Rib 115, February 1982, pp. 24-5.)
Evans wrote into Spare Ribmagazine shortly after this experience to vent her frustration. She also wanted to express her gratitude to the magazine for their timely publication of an article about hysterectomies, written by Kath Cape with the aid of the Sheffield Women’s Health Group and Sheffield Radical Nurses. (Kath Cope, Sheffield Women’s Health Group, and Sheffield Radical Nurses, ‘Womb Loss’, Spare Rib 112, November 1981, pp. 6–8, 38.)
Complete with diagrams and patient testimonies, the piece, called ‘Womb Loss’, aimed to inform and, consequently, empower. In the case of Evans, it worked. She also consulted friends in the medical profession, and the classic feminist tome on women’s health, Our Bodies, Ourselves.
Her letter, which opened with an account of her degrading treatment at the hands of hospital staff, ends with an assurance that she ‘will return to the hospital and tell the consultant how outrageous his suggestion is’. Her determination to become an active and assertive recipient of healthcare is clear, this transformation catalysed by her poor treatment and facilitated at least in part by the informative contents of Spare Rib.For scholars interested in the history of women’s healthcare, the form and function of feminist publishing, or the women’s liberation movement more broadly, there is much material to work with here.
First UK edition of Our bodies ourselves, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1978 (X.319/18521)
Another ‘jolly consultant’ was the object of Abigail Mozley’s ire, a Spare Rib reader from Falmouth who wrote of her humiliation at being surrounded by a ‘small horde of medical students’ during childbirth. (Letter from Abigail Mozley, ‘Epidurals’, Spare Rib 4, February 1973, p. 4.) She felt the same impotence as Evans in the face of an inconsiderate medical profession: ‘they discussed my interesting case as if I wasn’t there, then had me stripped naked’.
A reader named Kathryn Woodward from Sheffield similarly reported having a ‘group of staring students’ standing round her hospital bed as she was giving birth. (Letter from Kathryn Woodward, ‘Epidurals’, Spare Rib 4, February 1973, p. 4.) She too considered herself relegated during the experience, feeling ‘superfluous’ at her own labour, since ‘all congratulations at the end were for the doctor… my only role was being that of a nuisance’. A mother, she said, ‘is often still regarded as an object – a stupid one at that’.
All of these letters are searchable on the interactive Spare Rib magazine digital map of women’s liberation movement networks and activities. The Spare Rib letters pages are littered with accounts such as these, which relay the distress of women made to feel passive and irrelevant, ‘like tripe on a slab’. (Letter from Paula Harmer, ‘...And Choosing Women Doctors’, Spare Rib 115, February 1982, p. 25.)
The rise of the epidural
Many of those who wrote into the magazine perceived the problem to stem not from the attitude of the physicians themselves, but in the limitations of their empathy because of their gender. The solution offered by Evans - that more women become gynaecologists - alludes to this, as does Mozley’s memory of being told her epidural would not hurt (‘it did bloody hurt actually’). Paula Harmer from Knottingley asked ‘can we insist on a female doctor, who will perhaps be more thoughtful and understanding?’ (Letter from Paula Harmer, ‘...And Choosing Women Doctors’, Spare Rib 115, February 1982, p. 25.)
The rise of the epidural – touted in one Spare Ribarticle as enabling painless childbirth – is undoubtedly a remarkable moment in the history of women’s reproductive healthcare. For the author of this piece, journalist and author Kathleen Tynan, it was a feminist victory, facilitating her own ‘thoroughly unnatural’ labour which defied the ‘Puritan hand-me-down that, to be rewarding, childbirth must also be an agonising process’. (Kathleen Tynan, ‘Epidurals’, Spare Rib 6, December 1972, pp. 6–7.)
Woodward’s letter, however, inserts a poignant qualifier into this triumphant narrative, one which expands the definition of labour pains by taking into account her dismissive treatment at the hands of the medics around her. Following the epidural, she conceded that she ‘felt no pain’, but she ‘was frightened and humiliated’, leading her to conclude that ‘drugs are just part of the answer’.
Despite the ‘ultimate lack of pain during the delivery I hated the experience and only remember it with horror’ she said, ‘I felt like a failure’. The contractions which had caused her to be in ‘excruciating’ agony before the epidural kicked in were not to be overlooked either.
A screenshot of the interactive Spare Rib digital map
Breast vs Bottle
One letter, written by reader Jane Cottingham and published in 1981, offers a root cause for the problem with the medical profession which would perhaps appeal to the women above whose reproductive healthcare was so distressing: ‘concern is almost always with the infant and rarely with women’. (Letter from Jane Cottingham, ‘Breastfeeding - How Men Brandish the Bottle’, Spare Rib 103, February 1981, pp. 4, 22.)
Cottingham wrote on behalf of ISIS, the women’s international information and communications service based in Geneva and Rome, and her letter therefore not does feature on the Spare Ribdigital map of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The map offers an easily searchable sample and visualises the location of women’s health groups and related events, such as a ‘spiritual midwifery’ tour in 1982, but does not include international letters and listings.
The matter at hand in Cottingham’s case was the recurrent debate between advocates of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. She had contacted the magazine after having become aware of companies exploitatively promoting their formula to poor women who were then forced further into poverty once their own supply of breastmilk ceased and bottle-feeding became the only option.
Cottingham’s anger was not wholly directed at the market-driven brands, although she was stung by the acute irony that they were ‘capitalizing (literally) on the ideas of the early women’s movement – that our oppression stemmed from our biology and thus we had to get away from reproduction, motherhood, and everything to do with child care in order to be liberated’.
She reserved some of her frustration for the ‘male government delegates, World Health Organisation experts, industry representatives and consumer advocates’ who weighed in to ‘argue about breast or bottle as though the two were interchangeable commodities’ with little regard for the difference forms of parental labour required of the two.
Cottingham’s aim was to problematise the fact that these conversations about ‘breast versus bottle’ were led, at least in the public arena, by the medical profession and corporate stakeholders in childcare. The exclusion of mothers’ perspectives facilitated the commodification of women’s bodies. The fruits of women’s maternal labour, she concluded, were consequently rendered products and services akin to any others in the capitalist system.
While this letter takes a different tone to other, highly personal accounts of their healthcare, Cottingham’s description of the erasure of women’s experiences at a policy level might still have resonated with those who felt invisible during their own treatment, and is part of a larger conversation within the movement that took place through a network of talks and conferences on childbirth, searchable on the Spare Rib map.
The subject and the provenance of Cottingham’s letter speak respectively to the magazine’s international outlook and reach. Regarding those letters about reproductive healthcare which stemmed from within the UK, however, the map can serve as an extremely valuable resource for scholars. It is a wonderful tool for those interested in writing local or geographically-sensitive histories: a full postal address is supplied by many readers and printed alongside their letter, meaning that it is possible in many cases to pinpoint exact hospitals, GPs, playgroups and nurseries.
The map is also searchable by category, allowing researchers to identify relevant material across the two decades the magazine was in print – for instance, ‘Health, Sex & Therapy’. A more specific keyword search allows users to search for, e.g. ‘childbirth’. The cases above are just a fraction of those which have been plotted so far, but their candour and detail hopefully indicate the potential benefits of this resource for scholars of feminist publishing in modern Britain.
Alice O’Driscoll is a PhD student in History at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. Her thesis focuses on women and warfare in seventeenth-century Britain and Ireland, but she is interested in all aspects of gender and violence.
30 October 2020
Written by The Business of Women's Words team.
Think 1970s UK feminism was a purely metropolitan affair? Ever wondered whether the Women’s Liberation Movement stretched beyond the boundaries of big cities? The new digital map resource at the British Library might have some surprising answers.
Spare Rib cover, Nov 1976, Issue 52 © Michael Ann Mullen
The Spare Rib map is the first digital resource to visualise the networks and activities of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) across the UK and Ireland. It has been created by the Business of Women’s Words project, a research partnership between the British Library and the Universities of Sussex and Cambridge funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Its data is drawn from Spare Rib (1972-1993), the iconic feminist magazine digitised by the British Library. Based on a sample (around 30%) of Spare Rib’s listings, adverts and letters pages, the map represents a slice of the intense feminist activity that flowered during the magazine’s twenty-year run. What it shows is that the WLM was a truly national movement, with datapoints ranging from the Western Isles of Scotland to Leiston in Suffolk, and from Derry in Ireland to Falmouth in Cornwall.
Snapshot of the Spare Rib map from 1983
The map sheds new light on the structure of the WLM and illuminates its regional centres and hubs, as well as a wider web of more isolated feminist activity. Lancaster, for example, was a regional hub that hosted a number of feminist publications, women’s counselling services, a lesbian helpline and took part in the Feminist Book Fortnight; and Bangor in Wales offered an array of feminist groups, businesses selling feminist postcards, jewellery and shoes, and alternative communal accommodation. The map’s colour-coded categories and symbols visualise the sheer diversity of activities and goods generated by the WLM, from political demonstrations to carpentry workshops to co-operatively produced clothing.
Although the WLM is often thought of as outside capitalist transactions of buying and selling, the map makes clear that Spare Rib, and the movement more broadly, was a site of exchange – personal, ideological, but also commercial. Businesses, from dating agencies to therapists to bookshops and publishers, were a key part of the feminist community and helped to advance the reach of the movement. The extraordinary number of women-only or lesbian B&Bs advertised in Spare Rib in the 1980s, for instance, demonstrate how women-run businesses extended the movement into some of the most rural parts of the UK, from the Lake District to the Isle of Arran, and from Piltown in Ireland to Yelverton in Devon. By drawing on letters as well as listings and adverts sent into Spare Rib, the map visualises not only the nationwide distribution of feminist events, commodities and services, but a network of (often critical) consumers and activists. It charts change over time, revealing the changing priorities and infrastructure of the movement, from consciousness raising groups to women’s centres, feminist businesses and women’s studies courses.
Fully searchable by category, year, keyword and geographical location, the Spare Rib map is a rich interactive resource which opens up new avenues of research for historians of UK and Irish women’s movements across two decades of intense activism.
26 February 2020
Extrème défense! World War One postcard, from the British Library's collection
Our free online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life will be running for 5 weeks from Monday 2nd March. You can find out more and join this course at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda .
The course is for anyone interested in news, current affairs, politics and history. Over five weeks, we examine how "big political" ideas get expressed and repeated in different cultures and societies around the world, and what that means for our everyday experience. We explore ideas around freedom, justice, community, place and commerce. On the face of it, these themes appear universal - few people disagree that freedom is a good thing. However, definitions of freedom vary, and there are competing views about who and what should be prioritised when freedom is considered.
In our course, we are interested in how this is experienced in people's lives today. Our learners come from around the world, from a wide variety of backgrounds and political beliefs. Current news stories often point to a sharp polarisation of opinion, in particular in online communication and social media. As course leaders, we believe that online education can counter this, by providing a space in which people can respectfully explore and describe differences of opinions and belief - as well as understanding shared values. This is something that we have experienced, and learnt from, in earlier versions of this course.
Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life draws on the collections and expertise of the British Library, and combines this with current research from the University of Nottingham's Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies. In the course, you will see examples from our map collections and Chinese collections, as well as examples from modern British publications. Our course leaders are the co-directors of the Centre: Maiken Umbach, Professor of Modern History, and Mathew Humphrey, Professor of Political Theory. Maiken and Mathew are joined by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Publications at the British Library.
We are excited to start meeting our new learners on Monday 2nd March. You can join at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda
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.
10 May 2019
Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow
I am the new British Sociological Association’s (BSA) Postdoctoral Fellow at the British Library. The Fellowship provides an opportunity for a postdoctoral researcher to conduct archival research using the British Library’s collections (you can find out more about last year’s inaugural Fellowship on our Research Case Studies pages)
This year’s theme for the Fellowship is race and ethnicity in the UK and the aim of the project is to explore how archival methods can be used to examine contemporary concerns around this topic.
Before starting this Fellowship, I conducted research on the transnational parenting and educational practices of British-Ghanaian families. I have also worked as an Assistant Archivist at the Black Cultural Archives, where I catalogued the collections of Stella Dadzie, who co-founded the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and Dr Jan McKenley, who was also a key member of OWAAD and other black women’s groups.
Southall Black Sisters Annual Report 1992/93. Southall Black Sisters. © Southall Black Sisters
With a background, and a keen interest in education and community activism in Britain’s African Caribbean and Asian communities, I have spent my first few months of the Fellowship exploring relevant materials from the Library’s collections. This includes Pulse, a publication by the National Association of Afro Caribbean Societies from 1986, which features a piece on the lack of diversity in the British (English) curriculum and the Annual Report of the Southall Black Sisters, an activist group of Asian and Black (African and Caribbean) women providing support for, and campaigning against, gender-based violence, and racism.
I have now narrowed the focus of this project to exploring Black and Asian activism and community projects around education in the UK since the 1960s. The items I discover as part of my research will be used in academic publications as well as learning resources aimed at A Level Sociology students.
I am excited about the opportunity this Fellowship provides to explore the British Library’s collections relating to Britain’s minority communities and to develop a range of outputs that will contribute to the study of race and ethnicity in the UK. I will also share findings from my work on this blog throughout the Fellowship.
09 April 2019
XKCD, “Click and Drag”. © Randall Munroe, 2012 https://xkcd.com/1110/
We're really excited to announce two new Collaborative Doctoral Awards for research into web comics, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We are working with City, University of London and University of the Arts London to engage in new research on digital comics creation, reading and collecting in the UK.
This work will help us to understand collection management challenges for the diverse and innovative field of web comics in the UK. The knowledge generated by this research will not only help us to build collections of web comics, but will help those writing, reading, collecting and researching web comics. We will be able to apply the research more widely too, supporting our development as we explore complex digital publications through our work on Emerging Formats.
Understanding UK digital comics information and publishing practices: From creation to consumption
In partnership with City, University of London, this research will take a User Experience centred approach. It will examine the use of tools, technologies and sharing of information in the production, publication, collecting and reading of web comics. We're interested in what motivates people and how this informs their behaviour and use of particular technologies. Knowing the sorts of platforms and tools people use will help us prioritise and plan our own collections and collection management requirements. More importantly, knowing what's important to people in how they choose to create, share, and read web comics will help us understand what's important in building our collections.
At City, University of London this PhD will be supervised by Dr Ernesto Priego and Dr Stephann Makri at the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design. Ernesto is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. His research covers a wide range of themes on digital and print comics, and also digital information management practice. Stephann's work focuses on information and behaviour in digital contexts. His research has covered legal information and news, as well as how readers work with libraries and archives.
Collecting UK Digital Comics: social, cultural and technological factors for cultural institutions
In partnership with the University of the Arts London, this research will investigate the form and content of digital comics, exploring the differences between comics that are adaptive, hypertextual, interactive, multimedia, motion based and experimental. It will look at how cultural institutions respond to innovative digital material, and the cultural, social and ethical questions that inform collection building. There are strong links between the characteristics of digital comics, and other types of innovative publication we are considering under our Emerging Formats work. The collection management challenges are not solely technological, and this research will help us understand the wider cultural and social questions that influence the way that digital comics can be represented and used within the Library.
At the University of the Arts London, this PhD will be supervised by Professor Roger Sabin and Dr Ian Hague, and the student will be able to join the newly-formed Comics Research Hub. Roger is the author of Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels (Phaidon, 1996) and is series editor for Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels. His work has helped establish the academic field of Comics Studies in the UK. Ian's research has been on the form of digital comics and cultural and social studies of comics. He is the director of the Comics Forum annual conference.
The awards support fees and provide a stipend for 3 years for the PhD student. More details on how we work with PhD students can be found on our Research Collaboration pages.
10 January 2019
Catherine Oliver writes about the online collection she has curated which explores Animal Rights Activism
Animal Rights Activism has a long history in the UK, and with a growing surge in ethical veganism, environmental awareness, and the health-based evidence turning people away from animal consumption, it is a crucial moment to reflect on these histories. It is very difficult to pinpoint an exact moment or movement that a concern and care for the welfare and rights of animals emerged. The online collection I have curated using British Library archives, now available at archivingactivism.com, seeks to discuss some of these ‘entangled histories’ of animal rights, for readers to form a picture of the different strategies, organisations, and characters involved.
'The Rights of Animals' - image copyright of Kate Levey (daughter of Brigid Brophy) and reproduced here with her kind permission.
One part of the collection draws on materials related to the ‘lost women’ of animal rights: Brigid Brophy, Frances Power Cobbe, Rosalind Godlovitch, and Lizzie Lind-af-Hageby and Leisa Schartau. These women all made significant contributions to the philosophy, practice, and understandings of animal rights in the UK, but often are not thought of as central figures. Tracing their stories through the British Library’s archives, the collection seeks to recognise the contribution of women in this area. The collection also draws together contentious histories of animals in politics and the use of animals in medical testing and in the beauty history, recognising the ways in which human and animal lives are entangled in different, often violent, ways. Reflecting on recent advances in the rights of animals in these areas, the collection displays some of the histories that allowed for these changes, as well as the different kinds of activists who worked and fought for these rights.
Image copyright of the National Anti-Vivisection Society and reproduced here with their kind permission.
By no means an exhaustive history of the animal rights movement in the UK, this collection serves as a starting point for engaging with not only these histories, but also with the importance of archiving animal rights movements, as our relationships with animals continue to evolve. Materials like these help us to understand how human histories are entangled with animal histories, and how humans have lived, and continue to live with animals, fighting to protect more vulnerable species from harm.
To find out more about the project, please visit archivingactivism.com
About the author
Catherine undertook a placement at the British Library ‘Animal Rights and Food Fights’, working with the archive of Richard D. Ryder, in 2016-2017, working with Polly Russell, Gill Ridgeley and Jonathon Pledge, where much of the intellectual work in this Animal Guide was inspired and completed. The materials in the collection are almost entirely located within the Ryder Papers. Catherine is a PhD student in the School of Geography, University of Birmingham researching vegan histories, presents and futures.
Social Science blog recent posts
- What can we learn from legal deposit data? A PhD placement at the British Library
- ‘Like tripe on a slab’: women’s accounts of reproductive healthcare provision in Spare Rib magazine are now available through the Library’s digital map.
- New Spare Rib map resource: putting women's activism on the map
- Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life
- The 2019 Annual Equality Lecture: Jack Halberstam
- Meet the new British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library
- Two new PhD opportunities for Web Comics
- Archiving Activism: The Animal Guide
- Archiving Activism Website
- Legal Deposit in 12 panels