THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

50 posts categorized "Sociology"

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The Archives and Manuscript catalogue (for documents like personal papers, unpublished documents, and photographs) proved trickier, as information relating to items varies in detail.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.

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.

20 November 2018

Professor Kalwant Bhopal on social justice, exclusion and white privilege in universities

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The Annual Equality Lecture with the British Sociological Association took place on 25 October 2018

‘Education is a right, not a privilege’ (Kalwant Bhopal, 2018)

Please note: The British Sociological Association have uploaded a video of the lecture to their Vimeo site here: https://vimeo.com/302226095

On the 25 October this year the British Library and British Sociological Association were delighted to host Professor Kalwant Bhopal who delivered a timely, insightful and important lecture about the current state of ethnic inequality within the UK higher education system.

Professor Bhopal’s lecture began with a look at the demographics of universities in the UK and differences in attainment between different ethnic groups. Her lecture showed that whilst there has been growth in recent years in the numbers of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students attending university, there remain stark differences in attainment and outcomes. For example, White students are more likely to receive a first class or higher-second class degree than BME students. This ‘attainment gap’ is particularly pronounced for Black students from Black African and Black Caribbean backgrounds.

She went on to look at the social and cultural reasons for these differences. Professor Bhopal showed that within secondary education BME students overall achieve good results at A level, compared to their White peers. However, BME students are less likely to apply, or be able to apply, to elite universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and those within the Russell Group. And when they do apply, they are less likely to achieve places. This evidence suggests that cultural and social factors within the higher education system are working to disadvantage BME students, and privilege White students, particularly so those White students from already privileged backgrounds.

So, what are the cultural and social factors that work to maintain White privilege in education, and disadvantage BME students? Professor Bhopal argued that socially embedded racism which operates in all processes, and at all levels, within universities, creates a vastly different playing field for BME students. From the university application process which favours particular forms of knowledge, to teaching at university which prioritises White experience and history, to the fact that within university teaching itself, BME lecturers are hugely underrepresented (only 8% of UK Professors are from BME backgrounds), the mechanics and culture of our university system propagate and reproduce ethnic inequality. Given this, it will come as no surprise that Black students are the group most likely to drop out of university.

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Image: Professor Bhopal delivering her lecture. Photograph copyright of Tony Trueman for the British Sociological Association. Reproduced here with their kind permission.

Professor Bhopal was recently commissioned by the Equality Challenge Unit to understand minority ethnic ‘flight’ from UK higher education, to unpick ethnic differences in experience between academic staff and to understand how to attract and retain BME staff. A survey of 1,200 university staff as well as qualitative interviews, gave some clear indications about why BME staff might leave or hope to leave the UK higher education system.

This research showed that BME staff were more likely than their White colleagues to consider working abroad. There were perceptions that certain overseas countries (such as the USA) were more positive in their treatment of BME staff. Within the USA for example, Black Studies is an academic discipline and African American studies is taught at some of the most prestigious institutions including Harvard and Yale. Respondents to the survey felt that within the UK, race and ethnic studies were not highly regarded, and BME staff who worked in this area felt they were harshly judged. There was concern about limitations on career prospects, which was not surprising given the under-representation of BME scholars at senior levels.

Professor Bhopal concluded her lecture with advice and guidance for policy makers and university leaders about ways towards an equal future for all in higher education. First and foremost, higher education institutions must acknowledge that institutional racism is a problem which permeates processes and systems. Central to this is understanding and recognising how White privilege operates in real world interactions within universities; in interviews, at lectures, in seminars, at meetings and in informal and social scenarios. She suggests there should be greater rigour in monitoring BME attainment, with mandatory targets for elite universities around attracting and supporting BME students. Similarly, there must be targets for the recruitment of BME staff into senior roles and unconscious bias training should be mandatory.

The lecture was followed by an abundance of questions about how we achieve ethnic equality in higher education and more broadly, by a very well-informed and passionate audience. The questions and discussions continued into the foyer as the lecture closed, with people queuing up to ask Professor Bhopal to sign copies of her recent book

To find out more about Professor Bhopal’s recent work, please visit her report with Clare Pitkin on the Race Equality Charter: https://www.ucu.org.uk/HEIs-and-the-Race-Equality-Charter

A podcast of this lecture has been uploaded to the British Library SoundCloud here: https://soundcloud.com/the-british-library/the-annual-equality-lecture-social-justice-exclusion-and-white-privilege-in-universities

 

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.  

22 June 2018

‘The people we are writing for are the people we are fighting for’: Sivanandan as radical pamphleteer.

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For more than forty years A. Sivanandan was at the forefront of debates on anti-racism and politics in Britain. Born in Jaffna in 1923 and educated in Colombo, he came to Britain in 1958, leaving the anti-Tamil riots in colonial Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka in 1972) and walking into the anti-black riots in Notting Hill. He was to become one of the most important and influential black anti-racist thinker-activists in the UK.  His aphorisms, from ‘we are here because you were there’ to ‘poverty is the new Black’ - are known more widely than his name.  Sivanandan was librarian and then director of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) from 1973-2013, one of the founding editors of Race & Class, an activist and author of prize-winning fiction and non-fiction. He died in January this year, aged 94, and this coming weekend a memorial event in London will celebrate his life and work. 

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Several of Sivanandan’s writings are available on the website of the Institute of Race Relations, as is a full bibliography of his work, and five articles from Race & Class are free to download as the Sivanandan collection.  Collections of his articles are available in print, most notably Catching history on the wing: race, culture, globalisation (Pluto Press, 2008).  You can read about his life in more detail in an account on Sage’s Social Science Space by  Michael Todd  or in Gary Younge’s obituary in The Guardian  .

Sivanandan’s response to his arrival at the time of the anti-black riots of 1958 was to abandon his original aim of seeking well-paid employment and a comfortable life.  In an interview he said,

“I knew then I was black. I could no longer stand on the sidelines: race was a problem that affected me directly. I had no excuse to go into banking or anything else that I was fitted up to do … I had to find a way of making some sort of contribution to the improvement of society.  I wanted time to read and reflect and to become active. … So I started off as a tea-boy in a public library in Middlesex.  And I went on to do my library exams by attending evening classes.  From tea-boy I became branch manager of that particular library and then finally I went to be librarian at the Institute of Race Relations in 1964.”  (The heart is where the battle is: an interview with A Sivanandan, Race & Class, 59 issue: 4, pages: 3-14.)

In his early work Sivanandan put together bibliographies of materials in the Institute of Race Relations library about African, Asian and Caribbean migration to Britain, to help build an area of study and draw out materials for activism. This remains an important area of work for contemporary librarians and archivists. Most of Sivanandan’s political writing was first published as articles in Race & Class, the journal of the Institute of Race Relations, which continues today as an academic journal published by Sage:

 

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Importantly too, his articles were reproduced as pamphlets, so that they could be achieve wider distribution among the community activists Sivanandan and others at the IRR worked with, including Newham Monitoring Project and the Southall Monitoring Group.  The British Library holds some of these pamphlets, allowing researchers to see not only the words on the page, but also to see how Siva’s arguments were taken out beyond an academic context.  The pamphlets pictured below show their prices, ranging from 30p to £1.00.   Materials from the IRR Library are now housed at Warwick University as part of their Ethnicity and Migration Collections.    The range of publications can also be viewed in a video on YouTube recounting the First Fifty Years of the IRR's history

 

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Some of the pamphlet versions of Sivanandan's articles held by the British Library.

Sivanandan published articles in a range of activist magazines, for example CARF (Campaign against racism and fascism.) The article below shows the evolution of Sivanandan’s concerns from racism and imperialism to globalisation and its impact on refugees and migrants.  In his foreword to Catching history on the wing  Colin Prescod writes that, through his coinage of the term xeno-racism, Sivanandan aimed to show that, “Europe’s formidable hostility to the impoverished migrant workers on which so much of its basic prosperity depends is not just some nice people’s social phobia about foreigners, but a system of belief and practice aimed at locking down, and locking in, the needy and the desperate.” (p. x)    

 

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Beyond his political writing Sivanandan also reached an audience through his fictional writing.  In 1997 he published When Memory Dies. The novel traces three generations of a family torn by Sri Lanka’s history of colonialism and ethnic strife. It was awarded the Sagittarius Prize (given by the Society of Authors for a first novel by an author over the age of sixty) and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the category of Best First Book for Europe and South Asia.  Where the Dance Is, a collection of short stories, was published in 2000.

Perhaps the most innovative means of taking his ideas out to a new audience was his collaboration with Asian Dub Foundation on the track Colour Line which features on their album Community Music  (2000). 

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The British Library holds an oral history interview conducted by Louise Brodie for National Life Stories in 2010 with A Sivanandan.  Available on the Library’s Sound Cloud the interview is in ten parts and sheds a fascinating light on the life experiences, relationships and events that shaped Sivanandan’s writing.   This long and detailed interview provides a resource for anyone researching the complex evolution of anti-racist or activist politics in Britain. Many others played important roles in challenging racism and building activism, but Colin Prescod writes, “For those who recall the first half of the 1980s as a watershed in Black British politics, Sivanandan was father, elder to them all.” (Catching history on the wing, p. viii)

Selected works by A Sivanandan:

Race and Resistance: the IRR story, London: Race Today Publications, March 1975

A Different Hunger: writings on black resistance, London: Pluto Press, 1982

Communities of Resistance: writings on black struggles for socialism, London: Verso, 1990

When Memory Dies(a novel), London: Arcadia, 1997

Where the Dance Is(short stories), London: Arcadia, 2000

Catching history on the wing: Race, Culture and Globalisation, 2008 (Pluto Press).

01 May 2018

Archiving Activism Website

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 April 2018

Social Sciences at the British Library

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Over the past few years this blog has brought together various events, activities and archives at the British Library that have relevance to social scientists.

We have covered activities like our Propaganda exhibition in 2013 and our collaborative work on women’s liberation in the UK, incoming archives such as those deposited by Joan Bakewell and John Pilger, and recently our partnerships with PhD students on topics such as housing activism, British comics and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Our yearly events calendar always includes an open day for social science PhD students, as well as the Equality Lecture on which we partner with the British Sociological Association.

But as well as the activities that receive publicity through this blog, there is a great deal of work under the surface at the British Library which has connections to social science research and presents opportunities for work with social scientists at all stages of their career.

On a day to day basis at the British Library, curators are managing and developing the content that they care for. They assess current research needs and consult with researchers to plan for the future, making connections across content types to facilitate the research process. They bring in new content via deposits and acquisitions, seeking to ensure the Library's collections represent British culture and society. Our international language and area specialists curate our overseas content, with rich collections to enable comparative, socio-historical and economic research.

It is not just printed content such as books, newspapers (national and international) and official publications that our curators manage. The collections here include diverse formats such as digital maps, websites, fanzines, oral history interviews, broadcast news (radio and television), spoken word recordings, world music recordings, personal and public archives, and political ephemera.

We have found through speaking to social scientists that they are often surprised at the range of content at the British Library that could support their research, or take it in new directions. There are so many opportunities here to contextualise research, to analyse different formats, to work with international material and indeed, to find unused or rarely-seen items which bring originality to research.

This short video should give you a taste for social sciences at the British Library. Please feel free to share and contact research.development@bl.uk if you would like information about collaborating with the British Library on social science research.

You can also view this video on YouTube here.