THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

22 posts categorized "Social sciences"

09 October 2019

The 2019 Annual Equality Lecture: Jack Halberstam

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We are delighted that Jack Halberstam, Professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University, will deliver the Ninth Annual Equality Lecture in collaboration with the British Library and the British Sociological Association. This will take place on Friday 1 November 2019, 19.00-20.30, in the British Library Knowledge Centre Auditorium.

Professor Halberstam will provide a very timely consideration of the history of Trans* communities, and examine their association with political goals and a quest for recognition. They will also offer up new and different aesthetic avenues to Trans* lives and images, and be signing copies of their latest book Trans*: a Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability (2018).

In this book, Halberstam explains the inclusion of the asterisk at the end of the word ‘Trans’ as moving the idea of transition resulting in a final form, an ultimate destination and beyond established configuration of desire and identity. The asterisk, they argue, stops any sense of knowing the meaning of any given gender varying form, and gives Trans* people authorship and authority of their own categories.

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Jack Halberstam, Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability (2018). British Library YC.2018.a.15460

This idea of ambiguity or flexibility in categories does not sit easily within a library and museum context, where material is defined, catalogued and archived for posterity.

Yet, libraries, and the worlds of words they contain, have long been a refuge for people excluded from the normative and major narratives of history and nationhood. Minorities of all types often seek evidence of themselves in the past, buried in the traces left behind. The validation of finding someone like you living and surviving in a different time, who may be long dead, can be transformative.

The exploration of the past for a minority history can be painstaking in terms of time, labour and emotional investment. However, these research journeys and the stories they uncover can have profound implications for the majority, the archive project, and the subscribed historical norms.Libraries do not just keep our stories safe; they are where new stories begin. 

Technology offers new opportunities for communities to find themselves in archival records. The British Library and its partners have digitised over 20 million individual pages of printed news media, and the use of optical character recognition (OCR) enables searches hitherto impossible in the past.

In 2018, the British Library invited Trans activists E-J Scott (Curator of the Museum of Transology), Dr Jay Stewart (Chief Executive of Gendered Intelligence), and Annie Brown (activist, artist and GI youth worker) to consider two articles found in the British Library digital newspaper collections: ‘The woman in man’s attire’ (Tamworth Herald, 1901) and ‘An extraordinary investigation’ (Sussex Advertiser, 1833)

 

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‘The woman in man’s attire: a remarkable marriage story’, Tamworth Herald (1901)

When gender varying individuals approach the binary space of archived and not archived, the past and the present collide and the researcher is subject not only to the temporal nature of our present language around gender, but also the historic lack. In this conversation between Annie Brown, E-J Scott and Dr Jay Stewart, we get a glimpse into the impact that the historical record can have for communities still fighting for representation and inclusion.

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

11 July 2019

What is a Manifesto ... ?

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Gay Liberation Front, Manifesto. London: Gay Liberation Front. 1971

The origins of writing and the reason why we write are central themes around which the Making Your Mark exhibition revolves. Encompassing the act of writing and the mediums used from carvings, scrolls, papyri, typing, print and digital. The exhibition is divided into different chapters, featuring a section on ‘People and Writing’ that considers the methods and purposes of various types of documents which are utilised as tools of power. Publications that reflect this include charters, petitions, pamphlets and treaties. Another such ubiquitous document that is congruous with this section is the manifesto.

A manifesto is a unique way of communicating which addresses an audience and asks them to unite to take action and change something. In this sense, the manifesto is an historical artifact and political tool within the history of radical democracy. The earliest examples can be traced back to Europe of the 16th Century; most famous manifestos include the Declaration of Independence and the Communist Party Manifesto. The concept of a manifesto is a little bit like a pamphlet, which were often homemade and distributed by hand in public places; likewise the manifesto is a public announcement often printed in newspapers or journals.

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Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, (Manifesto of the Communist Party). London : gedruckt in der Office der 'Bildungs-Gesellschaft für Arbeiter' von J. E. Burghard, [1848] 

There is no definite style or format. What all manifestos share is a call to its reader to unite and join together to make a change. Manifestos are frequently written during unsettled periods, often by small groups of people who want to challenge the status qua. Throughout history the authors vary from political parties, art movements and individuals. Developed as a text, the manifesto fuses art and politics to create a type of modernist literature. Studies of this particular writing form has lead researchers to consider it a genre within its own right.

A manifesto proves that writing is a tool of power and can be used to intervene and demonstrate against dominant systems. The phrasing used is often pleading, attacking, protesting and opposing in tone and declaring the intention of the writer. Any subject, cause or social group can write their own manifesto, but it is always written from an opposing position implying an ‘us’ and ‘them’. The style is often short and repetitive that attempts to get its message across and encourage readers to agree.

The texts broadcast ideals demanding the reader seize the moment to change the future. In this way, the writing is an activist text, inciting readers to take practical action to make decisions for themselves. This articulation must however be recognised by the audience or subject it addresses in order to function.

Where and when and who wrote manifestos are dependent on power struggles and an urge for change. The manifesto can appear under threat in this age of social media where a blue thumb can signify individual consent. Yet the desire to transform injustices and ignorance exists now more than ever. In these unsettled times, there are a lot people who still want to change things. If you were to write your own manifesto, what might it include and why?

This post has been written by Rachel Brett, Reference Specialist for Humanities at the British Library. Rachel frequently delivers discovery sessions on art, fashion and related subjects, and contributes to the Library's Doctoral Open Days

01 July 2019

A social scientist’s experience of navigating the British Library’s collections

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Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library, writes 

During the first month of my fellowship, I learnt at the Doctoral Open Days that the British Library has approximately 170 million items, which include books, academic journals, government records, personal correspondence, oral histories, newspapers, stamps, and currencies from all over the world, and archived websites.

I felt excited about the possibilities for research, thinking, surely, that with this number of documents, I should be able to find ample material for my project on race and ethnicity.

However, it can be quite daunting to know where to start. I embarked on my search by having a 1-2-1 session with a Reference Specialist at the Social Sciences Reading Rooms to get training on how to use Explore (the British Library’s main catalogue).

This platform was quite familiar to me because it is very similar to catalogues I have used at other academic and public libraries.

The Archives and Manuscript catalogue (for documents like personal papers, unpublished documents, and photographs) proved trickier, as information relating to items varies in detail. In some cases, it is better to start your search with the printed indexes like the list of the official publications of the India Office Records, which can be found in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. These lists will help you get an idea of the documents in the collections.

Whether I was doing a search with Explore or a specialist catalogue like Archives and Manuscripts or SAMI (Sound and Moving Image Catalogue), I found it useful to speak to the relevant curator, who often had tips for navigating the catalogue and helpful suggestions for materials that I had not considered. For instance, my discussion with Debbie Cox, Lead Curator for Contemporary British Publishing, alerted me to recent independent publications that feature the experiences of Black and Asian youths such as Thiiird.

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Thiiird Magazine s/s 2017. © Thiiird Magazine.

While searching through 170 million items can seem like an impossible task at times, the British Library’s Reference Team are available to help with finding your way.

10 May 2019

Meet the new British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library

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Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow

I am the new British Sociological Association’s (BSA) Postdoctoral Fellow at the British Library.  The Fellowship provides an opportunity for a postdoctoral researcher to conduct archival research using the British Library’s collections (you can find out more about last year’s inaugural Fellowship on our Research Case Studies pages)

This year’s theme for the Fellowship is race and ethnicity in the UK and the aim of the project is to explore how archival methods can be used to examine contemporary concerns around this topic.

Before starting this Fellowship, I conducted research on the transnational parenting and educational practices of British-Ghanaian families. I have also worked as an Assistant Archivist at the Black Cultural Archives, where I catalogued the collections of Stella Dadzie, who co-founded the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and Dr Jan McKenley, who was also a key member of OWAAD and other black women’s groups.

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Southall Black Sisters Annual Report 1992/93. Southall Black Sisters. © Southall Black Sisters

With a background, and a keen interest in education and community activism in Britain’s African Caribbean and Asian communities, I have spent my first few months of the Fellowship exploring relevant materials from the Library’s collections. This includes Pulse, a publication by the National Association of Afro Caribbean Societies from 1986, which features a piece on the lack of diversity in the British (English) curriculum and the Annual Report of the Southall Black Sisters, an activist group of Asian and Black (African and Caribbean) women providing support for, and campaigning against, gender-based violence, and racism.

I have now narrowed the focus of this project to exploring Black and Asian activism and community projects around education in the UK since the 1960s. The items I discover as part of my research will be used in academic publications as well as learning resources aimed at A Level Sociology students.

I am excited about the opportunity this Fellowship provides to explore the British Library’s collections relating to Britain’s minority communities and to develop a range of outputs that will contribute to the study of race and ethnicity in the UK. I will also share findings from my work on this blog throughout the Fellowship.

09 April 2019

Two new PhD opportunities for Web Comics

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XKCD, “Click and Drag”. © Randall Munroe, 2012 https://xkcd.com/1110/

We're really excited to announce two new Collaborative Doctoral Awards for research into web comics, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We are working with City, University of London and University of the Arts London to engage in new research on digital comics creation, reading and collecting in the UK.

This work will help us to understand collection management challenges for the diverse and innovative field of web comics in the UK.  The knowledge generated by this research will not only help us to build collections of web comics, but will help those writing, reading, collecting and researching web comics. We will be able to apply the research more widely too, supporting our development as we explore complex digital publications through our work on Emerging Formats.  

Understanding UK digital comics information and publishing practices: From creation to consumption

In partnership with City, University of London, this research will take a User Experience centred approach. It will examine the use of tools, technologies and sharing of information in the production, publication, collecting and reading of web comics. We're interested in what motivates people and how this informs their behaviour and use of particular technologies. Knowing the sorts of platforms and tools people use will help us prioritise and plan our own collections and collection management requirements. More importantly, knowing what's important to people in how they choose to create, share, and read web comics will help us understand what's important in building our collections.

At City, University of London this PhD will be supervised by Dr Ernesto Priego and Dr Stephann Makri at the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design. Ernesto is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. His research covers a wide range of themes on digital and print comics, and also digital information management practice. Stephann's work focuses on information and behaviour in digital contexts. His research has covered legal information and news, as well as how readers work with libraries and archives.

More details on how to apply for this studentship.

Collecting UK Digital Comics: social, cultural and technological factors for cultural institutions

In partnership with the University of the Arts London, this research will investigate the form and content of digital comics, exploring the differences between comics that are adaptive, hypertextual, interactive, multimedia, motion based and experimental. It will look at how cultural institutions respond to innovative digital material, and the cultural, social and ethical questions that inform collection building. There are strong links between the characteristics of digital comics, and other types of innovative publication we are considering under our Emerging Formats work. The collection management challenges are not solely technological, and this research will help us understand the wider cultural and social questions that influence the way that digital comics can be represented and used within the Library.    

At the University of the Arts London, this PhD will be supervised by Professor Roger Sabin and Dr Ian Hague, and the student will be able to join the newly-formed Comics Research Hub. Roger is the author of Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels (Phaidon, 1996) and is series editor for Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels. His work has helped establish the academic field of Comics Studies in the UK. Ian's research has been on the form of digital comics and cultural and social studies of comics. He is the director of the Comics Forum annual conference.

More details on how to apply for this studentship.

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

The awards support fees and provide a stipend for 3 years for the PhD student. More details on how we work with PhD students can be found on our Research Collaboration pages.

19 February 2019

Spare Rib Archive - possible suspension of access

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Polly Russell explains why the Spare Rib resource may be suspended in the event of a ‘no deal’ withdrawal from the EU

Update (11 April 2019): the deadline for exiting the European Union has been further extended to 31 October 2019. Should the UK leave at that point without a withdrawal agreement, access to the Spare Rib digital archive will be suspended, as detailed below. Should an agreement be reached, either in October or earlier, access will continue until at least the end of the transition period (exact end date to be confirmed.)

In 2015, as part of our commitment to making our intellectual heritage available to everyone for research, inspiration and enjoyment, the British Library digitised and made available the full run of the feminist magazine Spare Rib available via the Jisc Journals platform.

This resource is used by researchers, activists, students and teachers not only in the UK but around the world. It is therefore with great regret that I must alert users to the possibility that we may have to suspend access to the resource and I want to take this opportunity to explain why.

Spare Rib was published between 1972 and 1993 and as a consequence its content is still in copyright. At the time we digitised the magazine the Library sought the permission of rights-holders for their work to feature in the online archive. As a result of this work copyright permission was successfully obtained from 1080 contributors. Where we weren’t able to clearly identify and/or locate a rights-holder content - including writing, artwork and photography - was subject to a further process to determine whether they could be made available under the exception that applies to ‘orphan works’ under European Union copyright law.

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Image: Spare Rib, Issue 55, 1977 “Kathy Nairn in the Women’s Free Arts Alliance Karate Class”, copyright Michael Ann Mullen

The EU orphan works directive currently allows such material to be made available by cultural heritage institutions. Around 57% of the Spare Rib archive – some 11,000 articles and images from 2,700 contributors – benefits from this protection.

Should the UK exit the EU without a withdrawal agreement, however, we have been advised by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) that this legal exception will no longer apply. In those circumstances, the Library would have to suspend access to the archive or be in breach of copyright. The remainder of the archive, for which permissions have been obtained, would not form a sufficiently coherent resource to be useful to researchers, so we would have to close the resource entirely.

In the event of a withdrawal agreement being successfully concluded we understand that the orphan works exception – as with other EU laws – would remain in place at least until at least the end of the transition period, at the end of next year.

The Libraries Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA) are working on this issue and, in addition, the British Library is actively engaging with the Intellectual Property Office to explore ways that the existing exceptions can be preserved in the event of a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU. I will provide further updates as the situation becomes more certain.

I realise it will not compensate for the entire run of Spare Rib magazines being unavailable but the curated British Library Spare Rib site, with its contextual essays and selected magazine content will still be accessible.

I know how important this resource is as both a research and teaching tool and also as evidence of the incredible energy of the Women’s Liberation Movement. I sincerely hope that we do not have to suspend access to the resource but I wanted to take this opportunity to forewarn users in case this becomes necessary.

Polly Russell, Lead Curator for Contemporary Politics and Public Life

For more information please contact: polly.russell@bl.uk

10 January 2019

Archiving Activism: The Animal Guide

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Catherine Oliver writes about the online collection she has curated which explores Animal Rights Activism

Animal Rights Activism has a long history in the UK, and with a growing surge in ethical veganism, environmental awareness, and the health-based evidence turning people away from animal consumption, it is a crucial moment to reflect on these histories. It is very difficult to pinpoint an exact moment or movement that a concern and care for the welfare and rights of animals emerged. The online collection I have curated using British Library archives, now available at archivingactivism.com, seeks to discuss some of these ‘entangled histories’ of animal rights, for readers to form a picture of the different strategies, organisations, and characters involved.

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'The Rights of Animals' - image copyright of Kate Levey (daughter of Brigid Brophy) and reproduced here with her kind permission.

One part of the collection draws on materials related to the ‘lost women’ of animal rights: Brigid Brophy, Frances Power Cobbe, Rosalind Godlovitch, and Lizzie Lind-af-Hageby and Leisa Schartau. These women all made significant contributions to the philosophy, practice, and understandings of animal rights in the UK, but often are not thought of as central figures. Tracing their stories through the British Library’s archives, the collection seeks to recognise the contribution of women in this area. The collection also draws together contentious histories of animals in politics and the use of animals in medical testing and in the beauty history, recognising the ways in which human and animal lives are entangled in different, often violent, ways. Reflecting on recent advances in the rights of animals in these areas, the collection displays some of the histories that allowed for these changes, as well as the different kinds of activists who worked and fought for these rights.

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Image copyright of the National Anti-Vivisection Society and reproduced here with their kind permission.

By no means an exhaustive history of the animal rights movement in the UK, this collection serves as a starting point for engaging with not only these histories, but also with the importance of archiving animal rights movements, as our relationships with animals continue to evolve. Materials like these help us to understand how human histories are entangled with animal histories, and how humans have lived, and continue to live with animals, fighting to protect more vulnerable species from harm.

To find out more about the project, please visit archivingactivism.com

About the author

Catherine undertook a placement at the British Library ‘Animal Rights and Food Fights’, working with the archive of Richard D. Ryder, in 2016-2017, working with Polly Russell, Gill Ridgeley and Jonathon Pledge, where much of the intellectual work in this Animal Guide was inspired and completed. The materials in the collection are almost entirely located within the Ryder Papers. Catherine is a PhD student in the School of Geography, University of Birmingham researching vegan histories, presents and futures.

03 September 2018

Learning from the Past: our new course for curious researchers starts today

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Our free online course starts today. Learning from the Past is  for anyone interested in studying the past, what historians do, and why and how research on the past matters for understanding the world today. The course runs for 3 weeks, and is the second course produced by the University of Nottingham in partnership with the British Library.

Over three weeks, this course will introduce the ways in which historians conduct research, and the materials that are used to understand the past. Throughout the course, examples from across the Library’s varied collections are examined by curators and researchers. The course will also do two other important things. First, it will show the challenges that historians face in understanding and decoding the records of the past: books, archives, photographs, maps, recorded sound and digital records. Second, it will discuss how a study of the past helps us contextualise the issues of today. For example, we cannot fully understand the radical shift in our impact on the environment without knowing how societies in the past used natural resources.

The origins for this course come from our earlier work on the course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life – which sought to explain how contemporary political research provides insight into the values and philosophies that lie at the heart of international debates, co-operation and conflict. We also sought to show how education, and in this case online learning platforms, can be used as a space where people with different ideas and opinions can communicate with each other, understand those differences and also see where there are points of agreement.

The response from learners to this course was incredible. Over the weeks, we saw conversations emerge between participants from around the world on “big political issues” but also in the more personal sphere: the gardens in their towns, food that reminded them of home, and the books and photographs that they always carry with them. We also saw that learners were enthusiastic to follow the debates that drew on current research, and followed links to academic texts where we made them available.

So, we wanted to produce a course that supported this desire for access to the ‘cutting edge’ of historical research, but also took the time to describe the practicalities of research. How do you decide what questions you are going to ask in your research? How can you find the materials that will help you to answer those questions? And how will you avoid the pitfalls of taking the records of the past at face value? Learning from the Past brings together researchers from the University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham, as well as curators from the British Library. Over the 3 weeks of the course, we will look at the materials and methods that researchers employ.

The first day of a new course is always exciting. I've been following our first steps for learners to introduce themselves and their research interests. There's lots of interest in family history and local history, but also other topics such as history of science or a general interest in how researchers work and analyse evidence. A lot of learners want to know more about how to use libraries and archives, and are interested in the practical elements of the course. 

A big topic for our first week is on the significance of language, and language change, in communicating ideas and values. I'm currently enjoying the discussion thread on 'what three words would you use to introduce yourself to a visitor from Mars'?   

If you’re interested in how historians work, thinking about starting your own research project, want inspiration for your existing work, or want to know why history matters today, join in the discussion at Learning from the Past: A guide for the curious Researcher. No need to worry if you're reading this after 3rd September - you can join any time before the course ends on 23rd September.