02 December 2021
This Disability History Month, staff from across the British Library have collaborated on a series of blog posts to highlight stories of disability and disabled people in the Library’s collections. Each week a curator will showcase an item from the collections and present it alongside commentary from a member of the British Library’s Disability Support Network. These selections are a snapshot insight into the Library’s holdings of disability stories, and we invite readers to use these as a starting point to explore the collections further and share your findings with us.
This selection has been made by Eleanor Dickens, Curator, Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts.
In November 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act was passed into law in Britain, after years of campaigning. Now repealed and replaced by the Equality Act 2010, the act was the first piece of legislation to attempt to address the needs of people with disabilities in the UK since the end of the Second World War.
The focus of the act was on anti-discrimination and, for the first time, placed responsibility on service providers and employers to make reasonable adjustments for people with impairments and disabilities.
The Act was not perfect. It was even described by Rachel Hurst, the activist and former director of Disability Awareness in Action (DAA), as ‘The Train spotters Charter’ because ‘[…] you could now stand on the platform but you couldn’t get on the train.’ However, the implementation of this legislation, and the campaigns around it, were a turning point in the history of disability activism and did reflect the beginning of changing attitudes in terms of where the responsibility lies for social change.
“Join Our Protest” Call to protest for the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, March 1994. The rest of this flyer discusses the initial bill being talked out of the House of Commons and lists MPs to write to, demanding their support of the bill. (Add MS 89385)
The act made discrimination a societal issue and not just the responsibility of people with impairments or disabilities.
But, more than anything else, one of the momentous parts of the act was the story behind it. The act was fiercely campaigned and fought for by civil rights campaigners and disability rights activists. And it was these protests and these people that made the passing of the act such a remarkable moment in disability history.
More than 100,000 thousand people took to the streets to protest for the bill and it was a highly publicised campaign.
For a lot of people it felt shocking to see people with disabilities protesting and being arrested and for many it therefore challenged false preconceptions they held about the independence and vulnerability of people living with impairments.
This is reflected in some of the popular slogans of the campaign:
“KEEP FIGHTING FOR RIGHTS NOT CHARITY”
“PISS ON PITY”
(– Popular slogans from the 1994 protests.)
“Keep fighting for rights not charity!” Call to protest for the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, March 1994. (Add MS 89385)
The story of these protests is recorded, in part, in the archive of the Association of Disabled Professionals held at the British Library.
The ADP is a charitable organisation, founded in 1971, to support and advocate for disabled people in employment and education. It was one of the first organisations managed entirely by disabled people and sought to challenge and change age-old perceptions of disability. The organisation and its members were part of the campaign and protest around the bill.
The founding of the ADP is written about in more detail in our blog by a founding member, Diana Twitchin, here.
“Surely progress can be made, I simply cannot believe that in an age where men are sent to outer space it can’t be possible to let disabled youngsters make their way to better chances. So much talent is allowed to wilt.” Letter to the Association of Disabled Professionals, April 1994. (Add MS 89385)
Reflection from staff Disability Support Network member:
Despite the Disability Discrimination Act, and latterly the Equality Act, 2010, the disability community are still fighting for equality and equity in day to day life. Having reasonable / workplace adjustments enshrined in law is a start, but it isn’t enough.
Elements of society still view the disability community through the medical model of disability where it is seen that the individual is disabled by their impairment or difference, and that these impairments or differences should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments.
The Social Model of Disability, however, explains that there are multiple barriers including physical, intellectual, attitudinal, social, and policy which society puts in the way of people with disabilities. The Social Model of Disability sees that people with impairments and differences are disabled by the world around them, not by their impairment or difference. The more of these barriers are removed, or not created in the first place, the less need there will be for adjustments to be made.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the ongoing inequalities faced by people with disabilities. “Worldwide, disasters and emergencies often disproportionately impact the disability community, and this pandemic is no exception”. 
In response to this, this year’s theme for International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd December) is “Fighting for rights in the post-COVID era”. “People with disabilities have been differentially affected by COVID-19 because of three factors: the increased risk of poor outcomes from the disease itself, reduced access to routine health care and rehabilitation, and the adverse social impacts of efforts to mitigate the pandemic.” 
The Association of Disabled Professionals Archive: http://searcharchives.bl.uk/IAMS_VU2:LSCOP_BL:IAMS032-003453637
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00625-5/fulltext Accessed 01/12/2021
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00625-5/fulltext Accessed 01/12/2021
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.
21 October 2021
This post picks out a selection of cultural studies and postcolonial studies books relevant to Black history that can be accessed freely online.
Black History Month is a good time to track down some of the lesser known books that bring Black history and creativity to life. I’ve seen some great booklists such as this from members of the Black Writers Guild. The Library's own Black British literature timeline is full of inspiration. Some of us will be able to browse the shelves of a good bookshop or settle down with a paperback. Others may be inspired to visit their local public library or come into the British Library.
There's also a small but growing number of books available free, online, on Open Access platforms, where anyone who has an internet connection and a suitable digital device can read them. It can be a challenge to find what is out there, but hopefully this post can act as a way in.
One of the British Library’s aims is to connect people with knowledge, wherever they are, not just in the Library’s reading rooms. That’s why the Library works in partnerships to support Open Access initiatives where appropriate. I was inspired to put together this brief listing because, as part of my regular library work, I am preparing for our annual meeting with Knowledge Unlatched. In its own words, “Knowledge Unlatched (KU) makes scholarly content freely available to everyone and contributes to the further development of the Open Access infrastructure.” That means KU works with libraries and publishers to make some books and journals available to read or download free, online.
The phrase ‘scholarly content’ probably isn’t the best advertisement for some of the books that are available through the Open Research Library or the OAPEN Library. I spent a morning looking for open access books that come within the broad heading of Black history, and this blog post picks out what I found to be some of the most engaging and readable books. They all fall broadly within the area of cultural studies, and either take a biographical approach or a historical approach focused on a single city. All are relevant to the social sciences.
In eleven readable chapters by different contributors, West Indian intellectuals in Britain, edited by Bill Schwarz, explores the new ways of thinking and ideas which West Indian migrants brought with them to Britain. “For more than a century West Indians living in Britain developed a dazzling intellectual critique of the codes of Imperial Britain.” The chapters give an insight into the lives and work of major Caribbean thinkers who came to live in twentieth-century Britain including Harold Moody, Claude McKay, Jean Rhys, Una Marson, George Padmore, C. L. R. James, George Lamming and V. S. Naipaul, as well as the Caribbean Artists Movement and the BBC’s Caribbean Voices.
Having worked on the Library’s Unfinished Business exhibition, I found the chapter on the poet and journalist Claude McKay fascinating because his journalism and connection with Sylvia Pankhurst featured in the books I read about her work. It’s also good to see the focus here on Una Marson’s journalism and the different audiences she addressed. Taken as a whole the book creates a sense of the connections between key individuals and movements from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Mongrel Nation: diasporic culture and the making of postcolonial Britain, by Ashley Dawson (2010) looks at postcolonial literature in Britain. Chapters available online include one on the novelist Sam Selvon, the relationship between the Caribbean Artists Movement and the British black power movement and on the writing of novelist Buchi Emecheta. Other chapters of the book are not available in the open access version.
Invoking Flora Nwapa, by Paula Uimonen (2020). This study of Nigerian author Flora Nwapa will appeal to anyone interested in postcolonial and literary studies. “Honoured as the ‘Mother of African Women’s Writing’, Flora Nwapa has been described as a ‘trail-blazer’ in the ‘world literary canon’” (p.42). Born in 1931, her novel Efuru made her the first African woman writer to have her work published in English when it appeared in the Heinemann African Writers Series in 1966. She continued to write, publish and teach in Nigeria and in the United States until her death in 1993.
In the Service of God and Humanity: conscience, reason, and the mind of Martin R. Delany, by Tunde Adeleke (2021) Martin R. Delany (1812–1885) was one of the most influential Black activists and nationalists in American history. His ideas have inspired generations of activists and movements, including Marcus Garvey in the early 1920s, Malcolm X and Black Power in 1960s, and even today's Black Lives Matter. Tunde Adeleke argues that there is more to Delany to appreciate beyond his contribution to Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism.
This study by Christine Levecq, published in 2019, focuses on the lives and thought of three extraordinary men—Jacobus Capitein, Jean-Baptiste Belley, and John Marrant—who traveled extensively throughout the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Unlike millions of uprooted Africans and their descendants at the time, these men had freedom to travel and contribute to writing and publishing in their day. As public intellectuals, Capitein, Belley, and Marrant were inspired by the ideas of the French Revolution and developed a cosmopolitan vision of the world based in the republican ideals of civic virtue and communal life. By exploring these men’s connections to their black communities, Levecq shows how these eighteenth-century black thinkers took advantage of surrounding ideas to spread a message of inclusion and egalitarianism.
Amy Absher’s The Black Musician and the White City (2014) tells the story of African American musicians in Chicago during the mid-twentieth century. While depicting the segregated city before World War II, Absher traces the migration of black musicians, both men and women and both classical and vernacular performers, from the American South to Chicago during the 1930s to 1950s. Absher takes the history beyond the study of jazz and blues by examining the significant role that classically trained black musicians played in building the Chicago South Side community. Absher argues that black migrants in Chicago had diverse education and economic backgrounds but found common cause in the city’s music community.
From Slavery to Civil Rights, by Hilary McLaughlin-Stonham (2020) traces the history of segregation on New Orleans streetcars. It traces the formation of stereotypes that were used to justify segregation and looks at the way white supremacy came to be played out daily, in public. Streetcars became the 'theatres' for black resistance throughout the era and this survey considers the symbolic part they played in civil rights up to the present day.
This post has dipped into just a few of the titles that have been made available through Open Access initiatives. As I noted at the foot of an earlier blog post there are many more Open Access titles relevant to Black history as well as a wide range of subjects across all disciplines. The books listed here are available to readers under a Creative Commons (4) licence, and while they are free to access, download or share, appropriate credit must be given.
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.
28 July 2021
The Refugee Dictionary, photo by Simon Jacobs, PA Wire
Today is the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Refugee Convention. The UN Refugee Convention, signed on 28 July 1951, defined who a refugee is in law and set out the human rights of women, men and children fleeing the horrors of war and persecution to seek safety in another country. It also set out the legal obligations of states to protect refugees.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (known as UN Refugee Agency or UNHCR) is the custodian of the Refugee Convention and works around the world to protect the rights and wellbeing of people forced to flee conflict and persecution. Their work includes responding to emergencies, providing access to essential services such as health care and education and also supporting the complex needs for refugees wanting to return to their homes. The charity UK for UNHCR helps raise funds and build awareness to support this work in the UK.
To mark the 70th anniversary, UK for UNHCR have created a very special dictionary to highlight the many personal experiences of refugees and their friends, families, colleagues and others. The Refugee Dictionary has been compiled from hundreds of definitions of just one word: ‘refugee’. The result is a powerful work, at times beautiful, recounting the experiences of fleeing persecution, hopes, building new homes and new relationships. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a joke or favourite food.
Examples of the definitions contained in The Refugee Dictionary include:
‘A refugee is the unexpected but joyful addition to my family. A surprise second son’ (Jane, Lewes)
‘the Asian family who fled Idi Armin’s Uganda. They arrived with just one small suitcase each, but in them they had gifts for us’ (Anne, Stourbridge)
‘Someone in search of what most of us take for granted’ (Andrew, Glasgow)
You can read all the definitions, including contributions from faith leaders across the UK, Lord Alf Dubs, Khaled Hosseini, and Emma Thompson, online at https://www.unrefugees.org.uk/refugeedictionary/
Emma Cherniavsky, UK for UNHCR CEO presents The Refugee Dictionary to Dr Xerxes Mazda, British Library Head of Collections and Curation. Photo by Simon Jacobs, PA Wire
Yesterday, a print copy – one of only two – was presented to us at the British Library, to add to our collections. We are honoured and delighted that UK for UNHCR chose us to hold a copy. The British Library is a place where we celebrate the written and spoken word, and the meanings that we give to them. Even more, The Refugee Dictionary and the Convention that has inspired its creation, speaks to our aim to ensure that our collections reflect the diversity of voices that make up published communication. That could be through fiction, poetry, song, blog posts, charity campaigns, the latest scientific papers or popular magazines.
Our collections have been influenced and enriched by the experiences of refugees and the work to protect the rights of refugees.
Our Oral History recordings include testimonies from people who fled persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany and during the Second World War. More information on these collections can be found at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/oral-histories-of-jewish-experience-and-holocaust-testimonies
The Vietnamese Oral History project includes interviews with refugees from Vietnam to the UK, alongside interviews with refugee support workers. This collection, and others documenting refugee experience, is described at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/oral-histories-of-ethnicity-and-post-colonialism
The British Library is a depository library for the United Nations, and provides access to the published documentary history of the UN and its agencies, including UNHCR. You can find out more about these collections, and find out how to access the many documents that are now freely available online, at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/publications-intergovernmental-organisations
Our Social Welfare Portal provides access to reports and other information from a range of UK charities and agencies working to support the rights of refugees in the UK.
Our Contemporary British Publications reflect the growing range of academic research, news, commentary and creative expression on the experience of being a refugee. We are very pleased to add The Refugee Dictionary to this collection, marking the 70th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention.
10 June 2021
Join our panel discussions to discover more about researchers' experiences when navigating archives, as well as library, archive and museum collection policies related to the Olympics and Paralympics. This event has been organised by the British Library, the British Society of Sports History (BSSH), International Centre for Sports History and Culture (ICSHC) at De Montfort University, and the School of Advanced Study/CLEOPATRA project.
Horse Parade Grounds, The Mall, London 2012 Olympics, by Ank kumar - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99511834
This is a free, two day event, taking place online from 2pm- 4.30pm (BST) on Tuesday 6th July and Wednesday 7th July. It is for researchers, librarians, archivists, curators and anyone with an interest in the Olympic and Paralympic games and the study of sporting events.
Our speakers include Martin Polley (Director, International Centre for Sports History and Culture, De Montfort University), Vicky Hope-Walker (Chief Executive Officer, National Paralympic Heritage Trust) and Ian Brittain (Coventry University).
For a full programme, and to register, visit our Eventbrite page
What to expect
The event will feature discussion of a broad mix of physical, digitised and born digital resources relating to the Olympics and Paralympics, as well as how these collections have been used by researchers.
Participants will be able to ask questions and discuss issues pertaining to these resources and their use. The event is designed for anyone interested in the history and heritage of the Olympics and Paralympics, especially researchers and those working in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums sector.
The year 2020 was originally an Olympic/Paralympic year before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. It was also a significant milestone for the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC), of which the British Library is a founder member, as it marked 10 years since they first started archiving the Olympics. From 2012 they then started to archive both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The UK Web Archive has led collections on major sporting events, which compliment the Library's wider collections, and these can be browsed at https://www.webarchive.org.uk/en/ukwa/collection/2315.
This year, we are very pleased to bring together a great range of speakers to talk about the collections related to the Olympics and Paralympics that can be found in the UK, the challenges of collecting and the research that has been carried out across the archives. We hope that you will be able to join us.
08 March 2021
A guest post on International Women's Day by Rebecca Riddleston and Georgia Olive
In December 2020 Rebecca Riddleston and Georgia Olive, Customer Service Apprentices in the British Library’s Learning team, visited the exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights. Grounded in their own personal experiences as young women, here they reflect on their responses to the exhibition and some of the objects that particularly resonated with them.
During their apprenticeship, Rebecca and Georgia learnt more about the audiences we work with in the Learning team, gained new experiences, knowledge, and skills such as web editing, and provided invaluable support for a range of events and projects for school learners, teachers, families and young people, such as our National Library of Miniature Books.
Please note that this post contains some discussion of abortion and sexual violence.
I felt a particular affinity with Gloria Steinem’s statement ‘The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off’ whilst walking through the Unfinished Business exhibition. A sentiment that I not only felt in the exhibition space, but one that I have felt many times whilst navigating through life as a young woman.
This exhibition evokes pride, solidarity and anger, but the main emotion that hit me was exhaustion. As we got further and further in, the main phrase that came to mind was ‘just leave me alone’. It may not be a particularly profound sentiment, but many of the exhibition objects reminded me of just how many times I've been driven to exhaustion just by simply having to exist as a girl and woman. Why does that person care what I’m wearing? Why won’t that man leave me be? Why is it that seemingly every choice I make, is one that’s inherently based in my gender?
A few items particularly stood out to me as being exemplary of my feminine fatigue, namely the No More Page 3 t-shirt and the Consent Zine.
No More Page Three campaign t-shirt, worn by Dr Caroline Lucas MP at a debate on media sexism in 2013. © Parliamentary Recording Unit
Caro Berry of Pretty in Punk, ‘Towards a Pro-Consent Revolution’. London, 2013. © Caro Berry
I remember my first time seeing a Page 3 spread was when I was barely pubescent and I found some copies of The Sun in my friend’s bathroom. It was one of those things that I knew existed but had been so normalised that I hadn’t really processed how it affected me and the way I perceived myself. As puberty started I knew that I was already being seen as a sexual object, but at that point I had absolutely no idea what the male gaze was.
If only I’d been to an exhibition like this at that age, I would’ve spotted the Laura Mulvey quote nestled in the corner that reads, ‘in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female’. Maybe then I would’ve been able to look at the women on Page 3 (who couldn’t look back at me) and not project my own internalised male gaze through them and back onto myself, but instead thought: why the hell am I looking at softporn whilst on the loo?
Laura Mulvey quotation as it appears in the book that accompanies the exhibition, edited by Polly Russell and Margaretta Jolly.
Initially I found myself frustrated and very much overwhelmed, looking up and around at all of the injustices on display in the Unfinished Business exhibition. Questions spun around in my head, many reoccurring ones such as ‘why?’ and ‘wait, what?’. In the section on ‘Autonomy’, I spotted a question that I thought at first glance seemed easily answered. ‘Do you have control over your body?’ was written on a panel at the beginning of the exhibition.
I stood and thought about this for a moment, as if someone was interrogating me directly. Yes, I have control over my body. I decide when I am hungry, so I eat. I can wave my hand, and I can close my eyes. It is such a simple question, yet it runs deep enough to send me spiralling. The answer became abundantly clear to me as I explored the exhibition in more detail.
Being in this environment brought up a lot of personal experiences for me. It made me feel an overwhelming resentment toward the men who feel it is ok to comment on a woman’s body, or even touch it, unprompted. Instances like this made me very aware of the lack of control I have over my own body, from the way it is perceived to the way it is treated. The one sure answer I had to this question was that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.
In the exhibition I was inspired to read about the work a wonderful charity called BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) has done to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. The abortion debate is a topic that never fails to get me worked up. It is an opinion that I’ve never been able to comprehend properly, that a woman should not get a say in whether or not she should grow a human inside her stomach, and give birth to it.
This constriction of women’s rights to their own anatomy of course extends further into their private lives. I was utterly perplexed to find out that in the UK marital rape was not even an established crime until 1991, just 30 years ago. It is unfathomable to me, that many of the people I work with, and a lot of my family, grew up in a society where a man could rape his own wife and face no consequences. To me, that sounds medieval.
Banner on loan from Southall Black Sisters: ‘Women march against male violence’, designed by Shakila Taranum Maan, 1986
While this information made me feel shocked and completely disgusted, it oddly gave me a sense of optimism for the strides that could be made in my own lifetime. Surrounded by the work of activists, I could see how change happens. No, I do not have complete control over my own body. But I am working on it, and I will get there.
Find out more about apprenticeships at the British Library
Our public spaces are closed for the moment. In the meantime, you can visit our website Women’s Rights which highlights the powerful and vital stories of feminist activism and agitation in the UK. The website invites visitors to explore the complex history of women’s rights through the voices of our contributors, and through the lens of the rich collections – from photographs, printed material, audio recordings and videos – held at the British Library. You can also find themed podcasts, recordings of events related to the exhibition, and recordings of events held by partner libraries in the Living Knowledge Network.
A selection of placards displayed in the Unfinished Business exhibition.
01 March 2021
This post highlights a small selection of items in the Library’s collections of interest to anyone wanting to know more about the educators and activists behind the Black People’s Day of Action on 2nd March 1981.
On that day, around 20,000 people from across the UK marched from New Cross to Hyde Park, crossing Blackfriars bridge and bringing parts of central London to a standstill on a weekday. The demonstration took place six weeks after the devasting New Cross fire (also referred to as the Deptford Fire) that claimed the lives of 13 young black people at a house party celebrating Yvonne Ruddock’s 16th birthday and the 18th birthday of her friend Angela Jackson. In the face of official indifference, the march channelled the anger and grief of a community into a political action that marked a turning point for black people in Britain.
Poster held by the George Padmore Institute featured on the Library’s Windrush Stories website. The poster was not used once the death toll of 13 became clear. Another young person who experienced the trauma of the fire died two years later.
There are numerous accounts of the New Cross Fire and of the Black People’s Day of Action online, including Nadine White’s extended article, which is accompanied by a short film. The film gives voice to a survivor of the fire and three women who joined in organising the Day of Action. Commemoration leaves further traces online such as this event marking 30 years on the Black History Studies website. This year, UCL is marking the 40th anniversary with an event, podcast, and online exhibition of photographs.
Online events have given a wider reach to conversations and memorialisation, particularly where they have been recorded and made available for later listening. At a recent event made available through Westminster University’s ‘Black History Year’ site, Leila Hassan Howe, who was a member of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, recalled the context to the Day of Action and spoke about her personal journey to activism.
What can resources in the Library add to the accounts available by searching online?
For anyone wanting to go further into this history, it’s no surprise that the Library holds books written by people involved in organising the Black People's Day of Action. The Library also holds some of the newsletters and journals produced at the time. A small number of oral history recordings held by the Library and some recordings of events are available online and can be accessed while the Library is still closed.
To pick out just two accounts in books, in Black British History: new perspectives, edited by Hakim Adi and published by Zed Press, Carol Pierre describes how the fire, along with the movement of solidarity afterwards left “an indelible imprint on a community”.
A detailed account is also given in Robin Bunce and Paul Field’s Renegade: the life and times of Darcus Howe. Bunce and Field describe the way Darcus Howe spoke at meetings across the north of England, accompanied by Gus John who was based in Manchester at that time. Gus John has held professorial positions including Associate Professor of Education at the UCL Institute of Education in London. In December 2016, Professor Gus John delivered the British Library Lecture ‘Changing Britannia through the Arts and Activism’ to mark 50 Years since the founding of New Beacon Books. This post describes the background to the event.
Renegade: the life and times of Darcus Howe. ELD.DS.110104 and YC.2018.a.2504
Nadine White’s article mentioned above shows how the organisation of the march marked a first step into political action for some of those involved. But many of the core group within the New Cross Massacre Action Committee had worked together as part of the Alliance linking the Race Today collective with the Black Parents Movement, Black Youth Movement and Bradford Black Collective.
An issue of Race Today featuring the Black Parents Movement. P.523/84
The Action Committee emerged from a meeting on 25 January 1981 in Lewisham. Led by John La Rose and Darcus Howe, it also included Leila Hassan and other members of the Race Today collective. Linton Kwesi Johnson and Farrukh Dhondy were part of the collective. Each of them feature extensively in the Library’s collections. As a group their actions were informed by an exchange of ideas and experience. They were engaged in teaching (mainly through supplementary schools), discussion groups, research, reading and publishing. The work of Trinidadian intellectual CLR James was an important influence.
The British Library holds much of this publishing output and also fosters research on these collections, particularly those that are harder to find elsewhere. In 2019 Emma Abotsi worked in the Library as British Sociological Association Fellow exploring independent community publications relating to education. This blog post describes one aspect of the work she did.
Currently, UCL doctoral student Naomi Oppenheim is working with the Library on a collaborative doctoral partnership focused on Caribbean diaspora publishing and activism. Naomi is leading on a project supported by the Eccles Centre to collect oral histories through conversations about Caribbean food shedding light on wider aspects of life, history and politics. She has recently written about the ‘Caribbean Foodways at the British Library’ project.
Selected publications and recordings by John La Rose, Darcus Howe, Leila Hassan Howe and Linton Kwesi Johnson
John La Rose
John La Rose (1927-2006), who founded New Beacon books (pictured in this Wasafiri article ) with Sarah White in 1966, was an educator, mentor and friend to the members of the organising committee. As a poet, writer, activist and publisher, John La Rose was at the heart of key movements advancing the cause of black people in Britain, in education, the arts and culture, for four decades. His works in the Library range from poetry, to interviews and newsletters.
The New Cross Massacre Story: interviews with John La Rose YK.2013.a.19831. This book is still available from the George Padmore Institute, along with The Black Peoples Day of Action 02.03.1981 (Café Press, 2020) by Vron Ware which contains contains black and white photographs taken by Vron Ware on the day.
New Beacon Reviews, first collection 1968-, P.901/409.
The Library holds a recording (C1172/14 and C1172/15) of John La Rose interviewed by Ron Ramdin (author of The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain, 1987, reissued by Verso in 2017). He can also be heard giving the welcome address, introductions and thanks on recordings from the International Book Fairs of Black Radical and Third World Books. These were ground-breaking events that John La Rose organised jointly with Jessica Huntley of Bogle L’Ouverture Publications between 1982 and 1995. (The Library also holds an oral history interview with Jessica Huntley and Eric Huntley, who jointly founded Bogle L’Ouverture publishing.)
On 2 March 2021, the George Padmore Institute launched its new website with a film about the Institute’s New Cross Massacre Action Committee archive collection.
The film Dream to Change the World: A Tribute to John La Rose, directed by Horace Ové can be viewed online.
Dream to change the world: the life and legacy of John La Rose. YK.2019.b.783
Born in Trinidad, Darcus Howe was a broadcaster, writer and racial justice campaigner. He edited Race Today and was chairman of the Notting Hill Carnival. Steve McQueen’s film Mangrove, part of the Small Axe series available on BBC iPlayer, dramatises Howe’s experiences as one of the 'Mangrove Nine', charged with “inciting a riot” following a demonstration in defence of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill which had been targeted by police raids.
Darcus Howe: a political biography. Held by the Library at ELD.DS.79837 and YC.2014.a.8855. Bloomsbury have made this book available free online.
Many of Darcus Howe’s publications are held by the Library along with sound recordings from conferences and events. Although the Library tries to collect UK and Irish publications as fully as possible under Legal Deposit, some books are missed, as are many small-circulation magazines and newsletters. In writing this post, I have come across a small number of titles from the prolific output of people around Race Today, the Institute for Race Relations and the George Padmore Institute that the Library still needs to add to its collections.
From Bobby to Babylon was originally published in 1988, but is not held by the Library. It has recently been reissued and will be added to the collections when we return from lockdown.
Outside the Library, on British Library Sounds, you can listen to Darcus Howe discussing the work of CLR James with Farrukh Dhondy, recorded in 1992.
Leila Hassan Howe
Leila Hassan Howe can be found in the British Library catalogue under the name Leila Hassan. Her writing for Race Today is featured in the magazine and in an anthology published in 2019 by Pluto Press, and a booklet authored by Farrukh Dhondy to which she and British Black Panther member Barbara Beese contributed. The Library also holds poetry recordings introduced by Leila Hassan on behalf of Creation for Liberation Society and the Poetry Society. Recorded in London in 1985, they feature the poetry of Amryl Johnson, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. Sadly, these fascinating recordings are only available in the Library.
Here to stay, here to fight: a Race Today anthology. ELD.DS.456429 and X.529/70862
The Black explosion in British schools, by Farrukh Dhondy with Leila Hassan and Barbara Beese. X.529/70862 63 pages.
Linton Kwesi Johnson
Linton Kwesi Johnson was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize in 2020 in recognition of his work. In making the award, the judges said:
‘Linton Kwesi Johnson is a poet, reggae icon, academic and campaigner, whose impact on the cultural landscape over the last half century has been colossal and multi-generational. His political ferocity and his tireless scrutiny of history are truly Pinteresque, as is the humour with which he pursues them.’
The presentation event, including an introduction by Paul Gilroy, was hosted by the British Library and can be viewed on the British Library player.
Voices of the Living and the Dead YD.2009.a.903
In 1974 Race Today / Towards Racial Justice published Linton Kwesi Johnson’s first poetry collection, Voices of the Living and the Dead. Between then and now his poetry has been published in print and recorded, performed over dub-reggae. These recordings (also held by the Library) were mostly in collaboration with producer and artist Dennis Bovell.
This exceptionally rich blog post by Sarah O'Reilly includes selections from her oral history interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson, held by the Library.
Dread poetry & freedom. ELD.DS.333758
I have flagged up just a few of the many publications held by the Library that shed light on the events of 1981, but for now the Library is closed and many of these books cannot be accessed. A number of independent bookshops feature an impressive range of titles available to buy or to access through public libraries.
Screengrab showing small selection of the non-fiction books available from New Beacon books.
The Londonist published a list of black owned bookshops in London, some of which sell online, and across the country members of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers may also stock these items. Presses such as Pluto and Verso sell online.
Open access books : Knowledge Unlatched
I noted above the biography of Darcus Howe made freely available by Bloomsbury. The Library is committed to open access publishing and is one of 630 libraries working with Knowledge Unlatched to make books freely available online to read and download. The books that are 'unlatched' cover a very wide range of disciplines and languages. The Knowledge Unlatched collection features some titles that are relevant to anyone interested in Britain’s black history, for example:
Heidi Safia Mirza: Young, Female and Black. (Routledge, 1992)
Colin Chambers: Black and Asian Theatre In Britain. (Routledge, 2020)
Gerald Horne: Paul Robeson: the artist as revolutionary. (Pluto, 2016).
The Black People's Day of Action marked a turning point in the challenge to racism in Britain. For those of us who remember these events, the sources of information above reveal far more than was reported by a hostile press. For those born later who approach these events as history, these sources may be a starting point to find out more and draw parallels with more recent experiences.
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