22 March 2022
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the collective behind the revolutionary weekly newspaper '7 Days'.
Fifty years ago, on 22 March 1972, '7 Days' published an emergency issue that saw it go into ‘suspended animation’. Funds were sought for a relaunch but, apart from a special issue in May 1972 to commemorate the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, the paper disappeared. In this sixth and final post in our series, Maxine Molyneux recalls her time as Arts and Culture Editor and reflects on a unique experiment in cultural politics.
Cover of the emergency issue of 7 Days, March 22, 1972. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Not long before the launch of the first issue I was invited by the 7 Days collective to take on the job of Arts and Culture Editor. At the time, I was stitching together a living as a freelance journalist, writing articles here and there, doing part-time editing and translation jobs and writing PR leaflets on art shows for the amusingly titled Tomorrow’s News. I was lucky to have a regular commission for the International Herald Tribune to cover exhibitions and fine art auctions, and write the odd feature and book review, for which I was paid $12 a piece, almost covering my weekly rent.
In 1971, London’s cultural scene was alive with radical groups of artists, film makers and playwrights who were part of the broader political ferment, not only of the student movement but of a generation. At various times in that transitory world I had found myself sharing houses and flats with activists and artists, one time with the founders of the Red Ladder agitprop theatre group, another with one of the leaders of the radical film activist group, Cinema Action. There was a feeling of excitement, of innovation about, but there was also an intellectual appetite for the radical cultural moments and thinkers of the past, whether in drama, art or film.
Young activists debated the work of Brecht and Eisenstein, read Freud and Lacan as well as Marx, Mao and Lenin. I recall attending a very serious weekly (or was it fortnightly?) - Theoretical Practice group  run by Kasim Kahn from his flat in Finsbury Park. We travelled up by car, me, the feminist artist Mary Kelly, and Clive Goodwin (our driver), literary agent and founder of the Black Dwarf. There, in our group of seven, we pored over passages of Althusser, Balibar, Pierre Phillipe Rey and learned that The Grundrisse marked a distinct break in Marx’s thinking.
My life then was lived in contrasting spaces – private views in the old art world’s Bond Street galleries – and the fringe world of art activism, politics and theory groups, and they would often collide. I remember being at some private view held at the Royal Academy when a group calling themselves ‘the Black Hand Gang’ let off a small smoke bomb leading to a dramatic evacuation of the assembled guests. Agitprop cinema and theatre, fringe performance and avante garde music, and some madness too – all were part of the wave of creative energy and radical politics of that time.
What was compelling about 7 Days was that it was a project of the independent Marxist left, and was fully committed to serious and critical coverage of culture. I was ready for a change, and without hesitation I accepted their offer and took the post of Arts Editor for the brief life of the paper.
7 Days’ arts coverage attempted to bridge high and popular culture. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
I knew some members of the collective if not personally then by name. I had met Peter Fuller in his art critic days at an ICA exhibition of Picasso’s Minotaur prints which we were both covering, and got to know him as a friend. I had also met Fred Halliday earlier at the offices of Black Dwarf, on my return from a work trip to Argentina, and was serving as interpreter for some Latin American revolutionaries who were on a European fundraising tour. When Fred and I met again in 7 Days we ended up sharing a tiny office with grimy red lino, and freezing, but for a bar heater which my co-occupant would stand in front of to warm up while the backs of his trousers slowly burned ever larger holes. No one cared much about their threads on the 7 Days collective.
Reviewing the 21 issues of the paper half a century later I am struck by the breadth and depth of its cultural coverage. 7 Days aimed to transform what it saw as the regressive tropes contained in ‘British values’, racism, sexism, philistinism, homophobia and elitism among them.
The first year of the gay liberation movement’s existence celebrated in 7 Days with a discussion of the London GLF group’s manifesto. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
More ‘Gramsci than Guevara” it was a platform for feminist ideas, and it was committed to anti-racist struggles and cultural interventions. In its arts coverage in particular it sought to create a bridge between high culture and popular culture. Short articles were accompanied by longer think pieces, underground and radical manifestos, analyses of advertisements, reviews of books like One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch. Thanks to being able to draw on a pool of talented writers sympathetic to 7 Days, there was no difficulty in finding a diversity of cultural content. Peter Wollen (aka Lucien Rey) on Realism, John Berger and Anya Bostock on a biography of Mayakovsky, but also a ‘Rock Special’ which included an interview with Jack Bruce ‘Life with Cream” and an appreciation of Miles Davis.
Issue 4 ran a photo-feature on the 1971 Miss World protests by womens’ and gay liberation activists. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
By today’s standard 7 Days was neither egalitarian nor inclusive in its internal relations.
As Rosie Van de Beek observes, the collective was made up of ‘insiders and outsiders’. Nor was it as inclusive in its coverage – notably of Black artists and writers - as it would be today. A piece on Mustafa Matura’s play As Time Goes By was perhaps the exception.
Yet feminist content there was aplenty, thanks largely to the women in and around the collective. Articles included ‘A bash at Women’s Hour’; a review by Sally Beauman of Cosmopolitan, flagged up as ‘an odious new magazine for women’, a critical discussion of the Playboy exhibition, a special feature on Miss World and Mecca, a photo feature on what was described in somewhat patronising language as a ‘ large and satisfactory demonstration’ that ‘took place outside the Albert Hall’. This, along with critical coverage of vaginal deodorants - symptomatic of capitalism - a report on a revolt by members of the BFI against the governors, pieces on Surrealism, a Hogarth show, and Kathleen Tynan interviewing Germaine Greer on the publication of The Female Eunuch. Positive appraisals of Alexandra Kollontai and an extended interview with Simone de Beauvoir by Rosalind Delmar, and pieces by Laura Mulvey and Mary Kelly, brought feminist analysis and politics into art theory, film and popular music.
Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive
It is sad to note how many of the active members of the collective and its supporters are no longer with us, friends Peter Wollen, Clive Goodwin, Peter Fuller, and dear Fred Halliday  among them. Also sad to recall others whose brilliant work in the cultural field has fallen out of favour - I think here of Trevor Griffiths whose play Occupations, on the Turin strikes of 1922, was a subtle exploration of Gramsci and left political strategy.
Playwright Trevor Griffiths respond to Tom Nairn’s review of his play ‘Occupations’. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Since those times the work of the margins has mostly moved into the mainstream, and the members of the collective went into the academy, publishing, or into other professions. 7 Days was a short, intense, highly rewarding and formative experience for those associated with it. It was a space where politics, culture and radical ideas found expression. It forged some important and enduring friendships. When it folded I decided not to continue in journalism but to head for university, where I remained.
The times of 7 Days were so very different, shaped as they were by a young generation that believed that political progress and social change was possible. Important and positive things were achieved in and after the 1970s before reaction set in. Today we live in more threatening, darker times, but a new generation of radical activists has come into politics, incensed by growing inequality, corrupt elites, and the failures of governments to tackle the climate crisis. There is a revival of interest in Marxism and radical thought among students, and more urgent talk of the need for change. The work of cultural transformation continues, but proceeds by other means - the print media is joined by podcasts, social networking, blogs and much else besides. I suspect that if 7 Days were alive today it would be in one of those formats, or perhaps something entirely new, and, who knows, it might well have been able to survive and to flourish.
‘Seven days to save 7 Days’. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
 Theoretical Practice started in 1970 as a reading group and set up other groups dedicated to thinking critically about Marx’s work and that of the French structuralists. It went on to produce seven issues of a journal also called Theoretical Practice, that published translations of leading theorists in the Althusserian school.
 Fred and Maxine married and had their son Alex in 1985.
24 February 2022
In 2020 the British Library acquired the papers of Anthony Barnett, best known as the founder of the campaigning organisation Charter 88 and the website openDemocracy. This series of six posts highlights a discrete part of the archive, consisting of documents and ephemera from Barnett’s time as a member of the collective behind the revolutionary weekly newspaper '7 Days', 50 years on from its publication.
In this fifth guest post, John Mathews recalls how he came to be part of the collective and considers the impact 7 Days had, for himself and others involved. (The second post in the series was written by Anthony Barnett, the third post was by Graham Burchell, and the fourth post by Bill Mayblin.)
In October 1971, when the first issue of 7 Days appeared, I was 25 years old, a young Australian who had been recruited to the newspaper’s collective by Anthony Barnett, then the editor of Black Dwarf. I had been travelling the world (Indonesia, Thailand, India) and had arrived in London a couple of years earlier, at the end of 1969, full of plans to make my mark in the great metropolis.
The way I did this (it is scarcely credible today) was to use my last hundred pounds to launch a film magazine, which in the irreverent style of the day I called Cinemantics – focused on the work of ‘New Cinema’ directors like Glauber Rocha and Jean-Marie Straub as well as emerging semiotic/semantic theories of cinema like Pasolini’s ‘grammar of film’. I had a background in cinema – having been President of the Melbourne University Film Society in my undergrad days – and simply wrote a couple of paragraphs as a manifesto and then went around asking people already writing on the new language of the cinema if they wanted to contribute. Enough of them – including Peter Wollen then working at the BFI – said yes, and the magazine was off. Favourable reviews by Dilys Powell in the Sunday Times helped, and my film reviews also attracted the attention of Anthony at Black Dwarf, and so I found myself drawn into a circle of New Left personalities.
When Anthony asked me in early 1971 whether I would like to join the group planning the launch of a new radical weekly, I jumped at the chance. I had no competing commitments (typical of the time) and saw the issuing of a regular revolutionary masthead as a blow against capitalism. I threw myself into the debates that then dominated our horizons, including how to raise the capital that we estimated would be needed to launch the paper. I participated in some of the fund raising and so earned my stripes as a full member of the collective.
As it turned out, our capital only lasted for the production of 21 issues of the paper, of 24 pages each (from 27 October 1971 to 22 March 1972) – the full set of issues is now available at the 7 Days online archive. We had the choice of stretching our meagre capital out by reducing our page numbers or print run but we never entertained such a possibility – we were too wedded to our own inimitable style of photo journalism, and for publishing ideas and exposes at length.
Those few months producing the paper stand out as a highlight of my youthful years to that point. Our collective boasted such stars as Alex Cockburn as the innovative and indefatigable editor; Anthony as roving ‘special reports’ editor, and Rosalind Delmar as production editor, holding it all together. Judith Ferguson and I fulfilled a floating ‘research/reports’ function. As such we would deal with the guardians of ‘desks’ like home affairs, foreign affairs, arts, life and special sections like ‘capitalism’ and ‘ideas’.
Some of the memorable features I was involved in on 7 Days were the expose of the cruel practice of ECT (electro convulsive therapy) in mental health treatment; (#10, Jan 1972), the narrative of the trial and sentencing of Jake Prescott and Ian Purdie (co-authored with Judith Ferguson #7, 8 Dec 1971) accused in connection with a bombing campaign carried out by the Angry Brigade; and an expose of the phoney psychology that claimed to support cosmetics manufacturers – a story headlined ‘Making Up Psychology’ that I thought was one of our better efforts.
‘Conspiracy and Corruption’, No. 7, 8 December 1971, pp. 6-7. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
My own favourite contributions were my columns on the Advertisement of the Week, where I provided mock reviews of advertisements like the White Horse whisky ads (‘You can take a White Horse anywhere’) or Parkinson Cowan cookers running on North Sea gas (‘The cooker that rises from the sea’) treating them as examples of high bourgeois art with a capitalist twist. I was quite pleased with these efforts at cultural critique – and even had the dubious honour of finding my work sometimes memorialized in the ‘Pseuds’ Corner’ section of Private Eye.
It came as a huge disappointment when we published our final issue #21, on 22 March – followed by a further ‘final’ effort to revive the paper with a special issue on Vietnam in May, ‘Who’s for the chopper?’. The expectation we all shared was that the launch of the paper would generate such excitement and growth in readership that it would start to cover its costs and eventually become a profitable and radical, uncompromising journal of ideas and reportage (with its own slant on photo journalism, ably expounded by Bill Mayblin in an earlier contribution to this series of blogs). This was not pie in the sky – after all, it was how media barons like Rupert Murdoch operated, creating media titles that would pay for themselves as their market reach grew. But there wasn’t time for that to happen in the case of 7 Days.
After the paper folded, Anthony had to pick up the pieces and we all went our separate ways. Some of us pursued illustrious careers, like Alex Cockburn who ended up as a leading columnist in the US writing each week for the Village Voice (and blazing a trail that would later be followed by Christopher Hitchens). Our home affairs editor Peter Fuller dived deep into art criticism; our ‘ideas’ correspondent Peter Wollen took up academic film studies and wrote several film scripts; our foreign affairs editor Fred Halliday eventually took a chair in international relations at the LSE.
After the collapse of 7 Days, I dabbled in freelance journalism, securing a commission from the Sunday Times Insight team to adapt a story we had carried in 7 Days on illegal cash-in-hand contract work known as “The Lump”. I also engaged in some serious translation work, taking key texts from French and Italian and presenting them to the English-speaking world. And actually I was pretty good. My translation of some of the political writings of Jean-Paul Sartre (published as Between Existentialism and Marxism, NLB 1974) attracted a highly favourable review in the Times Literary Supplement. And I had the experience of translating the early political writings of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, published by Lawrence & Wishart as Selections from Political Writings, 1910-1920, edited by Quintin Hoare. This gave me a lifelong admiration for Gramsci and a sensitivity to his capacity to ride the political wave in the Turin of these years, then the birthplace of Italy’s automotive industry and FIAT (the acronym formed from Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili di Torino) as well as of the Italian Communist Party.
But I elected not to pursue these freelance possibilities and instead turned to full time degree-crunching, at the LSE and Imperial College, culminating in my securing a PhD from Imperial College in cybernetics. I pursued the PhD as a ticket of entry into the great debates raging at the time – energy, nuclear power, ecology. I have enjoyed a varied career using my doctoral qualifications ever since. But it was the collapse of 7 Days that lit a fire under me and drove me to get some serious qualifications and take serious career steps. I then worked for the white collar union ASTMS as (I believe) the first PhD to work full-time for a union in the UK, helping the white-collar membership develop policies on prevention of occupational diseases like cancer. It was stimulating and thrilling work – and perhaps the ‘we can do anything’ attitude that we all shared on the 7 Dayscollective was a material advantage for me in meeting these subsequent challenges. I returned to Australia in 1979, to take up a similar role at the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), helping to contribute to the ban on nuclear power that still holds in Australia. There followed a stint working in the state Labor government of Victoria, before shifting to the university sector and taking a chair in business strategy at Macquarie University in the year 2000. Thus is a career generated from unlikely beginnings.
‘Long live nature’, No. 19, 8 March 1972, p.20. Credit: CC BY-NC 4.0 by 7 Days, Image courtesy of Amiel Melburn Trust Archive.
Going back to the issues of 7 Days I am delighted to rediscover that we ran one of the first and most credible debates over capitalism and ecology. Historian Gareth Stedman-Jones threw an intellectual grenade with a critique of the ecological left (‘Down with Nature’ – by which he meant an end to the romanticism of nature worship). This attracted a robust response from David Fernbach and Aubrey Walter in the next issue: ‘Long live nature’ which is still more or less the position of the Greens and the ecological left (7 Days #19, 8 March 1972) as of any sane commentator on prospects for curbing global warming. It is a delight to see how these debates foretold my own more recent work on The Greening of Capitalism (2015) and Global Green Shift (2017). So our efforts on 7 Days continue to resonate.
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.
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