THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

25 posts categorized "Research collaborations"

30 October 2020

New Spare Rib map resource: putting women's activism on the map

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

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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

The 2019 Annual Equality Lecture: Jack Halberstam

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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.

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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)

 

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‘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.

Steven Dryden (Sound and Vision Reference Specialist and co-curator of Gay UK: Love, Law, Liberty and LGBTQ Histories)

10 May 2019

Meet the new British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library

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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.

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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

Two new PhD opportunities for Web Comics

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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.

More details on how to apply for this studentship.

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.

More details on how to apply for this studentship.

The supervisors for both PhDs at the British Library are Stella Wisdom, Digital Scholarship, and Ian Cooke, Contemporary British Collections.

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

Archiving Activism: The Animal Guide

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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.

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'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.

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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.

01 May 2018

Archiving Activism Website

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PhD placement students, Rachel Tavernor and Catherine Oliver, in collaboration with the British Library, are launching a new website. In this post, Rachel discusses her work encountering stories of housing activism in the British Library. Later this year, Catherine will launch a new section of the website on food activism and will discuss a new British Library acquisition of the Richard Ryder archive. We hope this collaborative initiative will grow with new sections added showing the diversity of our British Library Collections.

The brief for my time with the British Library was to investigate 20th and 21st Century anti-poverty activism in the the British Library Collections. In particular, to make connections between archives and to explore the value of the British Library’s holdings as a whole. I am not a historian, nor an archivist, so my approach to working with the collections was informed by my background in the arts, as well as my own involvement with institutional and grassroots activism. Having worked with smaller archives, I was interested in exploring how radical and rebellious voices are preserved in a large scholarly institution. Before working with the British Library, I had wrongly assumed that institutional voices would be the focus of the collections. While these voices are dominant, and at times privileged, the rebels in the archives are also there to encounter.

After a preliminary mapping of the collections and available material (there was lots), I narrowed the focus of my research to housing activism in the UK. Struggles for decent and affordable housing, with secure and fair tenancies, are at the forefront of many anti-poverty movements today. The decline of social housing, rises in private rents and poor living conditions, are a catalyst for many forms of activism (demonstrations, squatting, housing cooperatives and rent strikes).

One of the greatest strengths of researching activism in the British Library Collections is the diverse range of materials, from personal papers to government documents. Housing activism, as with many political struggles, stretches across institutional, community and mediated spaces. The Library’s collections offer ways to explore the everyday experiences of activism, preserved in oral histories, diaries and letters. Alongside examining how campaigns are shaped by, or in reaction to, housing policies. Researchers can trace these differing, and at times contradictory, narratives throughout the collections. By exploring these stories in tandem, the public have the opportunity to listen to these voices, and explore them alongside one another, to weave new histories, and perhaps new stories of housing activism.

While exploring the different collections archived at the British Library, I also conducted a small research project on ways to archive contemporary forms of activism. It was a privilege to conduct this research, which included interviewing archivists at feminist libraries, housing activists and academics that engage with archives of activism. You can read a section of the report on our new website. One of the themes that emerged in these interviews was that archives are a living resource, which can inspire and influence contemporary forms of activism. However, many people may experience different barriers to accessing materials archived at institutions like the British Library. It was these conversations that inspired Sarah, Catherine and I to collaborate on a website that would act as a guide to materials archived at the British Library. We hope that the Archiving Activism website may inspire people to further engage with some of the histories of housing activism, as well as the British Library Collections. If you have an idea for a new section or would like to contribute, please email: research.development@bl.uk.

With thanks to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding my placement at the British Library and to all the copyright holders for granting us permission to publish images of the items archived in the Collections.

28 February 2018

Legal Deposit in 12 panels

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Last month, Olivia Hicks completed a 3 month PhD placement at the Library, investigating our collections of 21st century British comics. You can read more about how this project started in Olivia's blog post at http://blogs.bl.uk/socialscience/2017/12/21st-century-british-comics.html. In this post, Olivia describes the creation of a comic for comics creators, explaining Legal Deposit - and helping to build our collections.

Olivia Hicks is a second year PhD student at the University of Dundee. Her PhD focuses on the superheroine in British and American girls' comics. Her favourite superhero is the Spoiler, alias of Stephanie Brown, because they both love waffles and are penniless students.

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For the first two months of my placement here in the Library, I kept things fairly academic. I regularly went into the reading room, digging up old zines and small press comics – everything from roughly printed, handmade artefacts to glossy, professional-looking publications. I supplemented my research on 21st century British small press comics with plenty of serious and studious academic reading, learning from the grand-daddies of British comics scholarship, David Huxley and Roger Sabin. I complemented this by compiling my data into pretty (if slightly incomprehensible) graphs, which intricately detailed the gender and regional location of each creator I came across. My aim was to use ‘best of British comics’ anthologies as a representative sample for the comics industry; to try and gain an understanding of who was producing comics, and where.

Of course, these books are inherently curatorial, which problematizes the use of them as definitive statements on the UK comics scene. As a humanities student, this made them even more fascinating; what was the vision of UK comics that people were choosing to present. I spent my days poring over the editorials, introductions and statements of intent which accompanied these volumes. They provided a view of Britishness that was varied, and, in the volumes published in the wake of Brexit, increasingly unstable. However, because the Library’s collection of 21st century comics is both overwhelmingly large and also somewhat incomplete, anthologies represented a manageable microcosm for me to examine over my placement.

This was all well and good, if a little numbers heavy and dry for a final report. But this was only the first two months of my placement. The final month was completely different.

Ian, my supervisor, agreed to let me try and aid the Library’s collecting by creating a comic to raise awareness amongst comics creators of the legal deposit system, and that it is a legal requirement for them to deposit their work in the Library. The final month my desk space, already quite messy, became swamped in pencilled pages and I could regularly be found at my desk, headphones in, inking something which was at first, quite incomprehensible to the rest of the office, but which has slowly morphed into a wee comic which is silly, colourful, but packed to the gills with information about the legal deposit. The completed comic is now displayed above my (still messy) desk, and hopefully will serve as a reminder for the next PhD student to not be afraid to get creative with the placement. While my report findings will interest relatively few, the comic has taken on a life of its own in the office, and has encouraged lots of interest in the Library’s online and physical comics collection. By finding a creative angle to compliment your more serious output, you can broaden the audience for your research and get more people engaged, which is the aim for any academic, and indeed, for the Library as an institution. What can I say, the sky is blue, water is wet and people love comics!

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All images in this post from The Legal Deposit and You, by Olivia Hicks (coming to the British Library's website soon)