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.
25 August 2021
Unfortunately, the third-party platform that the British Library uses for email notifications for our Blogs is making changes to its infrastructure. This means that, from August 2021, we anticipate that email notifications will no longer be sent to subscribers (although the provider has been unable to specify when exactly these will cease).
To find out when new blogposts are published, we also recommend following us on Twitter @Contemporary_BL or checking this page https://blogs.bl.uk/socialscience/ on the British Library website, where all our Blogs are listed. If you do use Twitter, please note that @BLSocSci and @BLsportsociety are no longer updated, but if and when we do start up a Social Sciences account again, it will be announced here and on @Contemporary_BL.
We want to assure you that we are actively looking into this issue and working to implement a solution which will continue your email notifications, however we do not know whether you will continue to receive notifications about new posts before we are able to implement this. But we promise to update the blog with further information as soon as we have it. Thank you for your patience and understanding while we resolve this.
We appreciate this is inconvenient and know many people are not on social media and have no intention of being so. Many rely on email notifications and may miss out without them. As soon as we have been able to implement a new solution we will post about it here. Thanks for bearing with us.
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.
16 December 2020
As many of you know, back in 2015 the British Library, working closely with partners at Jisc’s Journal Archives platform and with copyright holders, digitised and made freely available the entire run of Spare Rib magazines. We are delighted that this resource, documenting a vibrant and important period of women’s activism in the UK, has been so well used by researchers and those interested in the Women’s Liberation Movement.
It is therefore with considerable regret that we are confirming that the resource, as a result of the UK leaving the European Union, will no longer be available following the end of the transition period. The decision to close down the Spare Rib resource once the UK leaves the EU was made on the basis of the copyright status of the digitised magazine, which relies heavily on the EU orphan works directive. For a more detailed account of the reasons behind the suspension please see the British Library’s blog from February 2019.
For researchers working on Spare Rib, the full run of the hardcopy magazine remains available via the British Library’s Reading Rooms in London and at Boston Spa. Furthermore, the curated Spare Rib website, with contextual essays and digital images of selected magazine content, will remain available. This has recently been updated to include an interactive research map which plots feminist activity in the UK between 1972 – 1993 based on analysis of Spare Rib letters and listings. Please see this recent blog post for more information about the map and the Business of Women’s Words research project which created it with the British Library.
While we recognise that the suspension of the digitised Spare Rib resource is a loss, we hope these other resources go some way to compensate. We will continue to liaise with the relevant Government departments to seek ways that the regulations could be updated to enable scholarship and research through an Orphan Works exception, so that this resource and others like it, can be made available in the future.
28 May 2020
Polly Russell, Lead Curator for Politics and Public Life, Contemporary Manuscripts, writes
A few moments ago a cruel diary notification reminded me of something I’d been looking forward to all year - a talk at the British Library about the culture and history of Jewish food with Claudia Roden and Simon Schama. This was one of the 25 events on offer during April and May for the 2020 British Library Food Season, supported by Kitchen Aid. For the third year in a row the Food Season was set to celebrate the Library’s extensive food-related collections and explore the politics, pleasures and history of food. Speakers including Ken Hom, Harold McGee, Asma Khan, Carolyn Steele and Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall were to discuss subjects as diverse as the UK’s cheese history, food in crime fiction and feeding our children.
Mrs. Beeton's Family Cookery and Housekeeping Book ... New ... illustrations, etc. [Another issue, in an altered form, of “Beeton's Every-day Cookery and Housekeeping Book.”] 07944.g.63. facing p. 80
Thanks to Covid-19, however, this series of talks, tastings and workshops has been put on hold but we recognise that the conversation about food is more important than ever in the current climate. The emergency has brought to the fore so many food related issues and has impacted on our shopping, cooking and eating habits. At a global level food supply chains have been challenged through interrupted distribution and labour shortages while closer to home eating out has been off the menu and home cooking has seen a surge. Research commissioned by KitchenAid found that 23 per cent of bakers have increased their repertoire but they are not just baking for themselves. According to the research almost a third deliver their creations to others, including 36 per cent to relatives outside of the home and 23 per cent to neighbours. Covid-19 has sharpened awareness of the politics and pleasures of food and so the Food Season feels more relevant than ever. We were incredibly proud of the events planned for 2020 so we are hoping that many will still go ahead in some form and we’ll be announcing details when we know more.
In the meantime, there are other fantastic food festivals and conversations on offer remotely. The Oxford Symposium for Food and Cookery, an organisation which since the 1970s has existed to explore and share food research by scholars, enthusiastic amateurs, writers and chefs from around the world, is going virtual this summer. In a normal year in July around 400 people from around the world gather in Oxford for a weekend of lectures, seminars, conversation and conviviality focussed around a selected food topic. This year the subject is “Herbs and Spices” but instead of meeting in person the Symposium has moved online. Taking place between 10 July – 2 August with 500 attendees from across the world, this interactive event will include keynote addresses, panel discussions and chefs’ videos along with spaces for virtual ‘hangouts’ and discussion boards. Follow this link for more details and registration: https://www.oxfordsymposium.org.uk/events/2020-v-symposium-registration/
Closer to the British Library, Borough Market has established itself as a hub for food discussion, debate and deliberation over the last few years through supper clubs, talks and publications. Since Covid-19, Borough have been running a fantastic series of lunchtime events including, last week, a riveting account of food in cities in lockdown with award winning food writer Rachel Roddy in Rome and Yasmin Fahr in New York. Coming up on the schedule, just this month, are Sami Tamim and Tara Wigley on food from Palestine and, possibly more relevant than ever, Kimberley Wilson talking about food and mental health. Find out more at: https://boroughmarket.org.uk/events/borough-talks
We’ll announce news of forthcoming Food Seasons as soon as we can but in the meantime who knows, maybe I’ll see you from the comfort of my kitchen at a virtual food happening. I hope so!
British Library Food Season supported by:
26 February 2020
Extrème défense! World War One postcard, from the British Library's collection
Our free online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life will be running for 5 weeks from Monday 2nd March. You can find out more and join this course at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda .
The course is for anyone interested in news, current affairs, politics and history. Over five weeks, we examine how "big political" ideas get expressed and repeated in different cultures and societies around the world, and what that means for our everyday experience. We explore ideas around freedom, justice, community, place and commerce. On the face of it, these themes appear universal - few people disagree that freedom is a good thing. However, definitions of freedom vary, and there are competing views about who and what should be prioritised when freedom is considered.
In our course, we are interested in how this is experienced in people's lives today. Our learners come from around the world, from a wide variety of backgrounds and political beliefs. Current news stories often point to a sharp polarisation of opinion, in particular in online communication and social media. As course leaders, we believe that online education can counter this, by providing a space in which people can respectfully explore and describe differences of opinions and belief - as well as understanding shared values. This is something that we have experienced, and learnt from, in earlier versions of this course.
Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life draws on the collections and expertise of the British Library, and combines this with current research from the University of Nottingham's Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies. In the course, you will see examples from our map collections and Chinese collections, as well as examples from modern British publications. Our course leaders are the co-directors of the Centre: Maiken Umbach, Professor of Modern History, and Mathew Humphrey, Professor of Political Theory. Maiken and Mathew are joined by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Publications at the British Library.
We are excited to start meeting our new learners on Monday 2nd March. You can join at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/propaganda
21 October 2019
Update (26th January, 2020): Further to our previous updates, the Government has committed to delivering the EU Withdrawal Agreement by 31 January 2020, after which the transition period will apply. The Spare Rib digital archive is expected to remain available until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. Further details will follow as these are confirmed. Original text of post as follows:
In February 2019 the British Library determined that if the UK leaves the European Union (EU) without a deal it will be necessary to remove from access the full run of digitised Spare Rib magazines hosted on the Jisc Journals platform. If the UK were to exit the EU on 31 October without a deal, therefore, the Spare Rib digital resource will no longer be available as of this date. Should a Withdrawal Agreement be finalised before that date, the resource will remain available until at least the end of the transition period.
The decision to close down the Spare Rib resource once the UK has left the EU was made on the basis of the copyright status of the digitised magazine, which relies heavily on EU orphan works directive. This directive allows in-copyright material held by cultural institutions to be made available where rights holders cannot, after due diligence searches, be identified. Spare Rib was published between 1972 and 1993 and as a consequence its content is still in copyright.
When we digitised the magazine the Library sought the permission of rights-holders for their work to feature in the online archive. We successfully obtained permission from 1080 contributors. Around 57% of the magazine however – some 11,000 articles and images from 2,700 contributors – benefits from EU orphan works protection. Should the UK leave the EU this legal exception will no longer apply and we have therefore taken the decision that the resource will need to be closed.
The closure of the Spare Rib digital resource will be felt by the many students, researchers and activists who use it and for this we apologise. As some compensation we can confirm that the British Library Spare Rib site, with contextual essays and selected magazine content will remain accessible.
For additional background and context about the Spare Rib digital archive and its potential suspension please see the British Library’s blog from February 2019.
17 October 2019
The past is now: Examples of Britain’s anti-immigrant policies from independent Black and Asian community publications
'Our right to be here challenged ... what we should know' - articles in Mukti magazine, June- August 1983
Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library, writes
One of the most rewarding aspects of my research is calling up documents at the British Library and discovering a new collection of stories that tell me something about the world in which a particular document was created as well as how it relates to our society today.
Independent community publications from 1960 to 2018 form a large part of the archival materials I am using for my research. These consist of newspapers, magazines and booklets produced by Black and Asian community groups and activists in Britain that offered spaces where people were able to connect with others with similar lived experiences. In addition to articles about racism and other forms of social inequalities, discussions about anti-immigrant policies are a common topic in these publications.
For example, I discovered an article in the June-August 1983 issue of Mukti, a multi-lingual feminist magazine for Asian women, discussing changes to immigration rules in that year. The authors report that these new rules will impact the citizenship status of women and children, particularly from Black and Asian communities in the UK. The magazine includes information about groups that were being organised to campaign against these immigration laws and urged women to apply for citizenship in order to ensure that their children born after January 1983 will be UK citizens.
Around the same time as I was looking through the British Library’s collection of Mukti magazines, I came across this piece just as an interview with British-Nigerian Jazz artist, Bumi Thomas was published on BBC News in August 2019. In the interview, Thomas explains that she faces deportation from the UK despite being born in Glasgow in 1983. Her parents were unaware of the changes to the immigration laws that came into effect six months before her birth and assumed she had automatic citizenship rights like her older siblings. Thomas’ case highlighted the ongoing effects of such anti-immigrant policies and also how independent publications like Mukti served their communities in their attempts to keep people informed about these laws and to fight them. According to the BBC article, Thomas appealed against the Home Office decision to deport her and her case is due to be heard in October 2019.
As the numerous ongoing cases (including the Windrush Scandal) starkly reveal, struggles against issues such as anti-immigration laws and racism are sadly not confined to the particular historical moments that publications like Mukti were produced in; they are very much in the present and continue to have often dire consequences for people in this country today.
Mukti: Asian Women's Magazine, issue 1
Social Science blog recent posts
- Seven of the best Open Access titles to read for Black History Month
- Important information for email subscribers
- Hundreds of definitions for a big word: The Refugee Dictionary comes to the British Library
- Digitised Spare Rib resource
- British Library 2020 Food Season: plans to continue the conversation
- Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life
- Spare Rib archive - possible suspension of access UPDATE
- The past is now: Examples of Britain’s anti-immigrant policies from independent Black and Asian community publications
- The 2019 Annual Equality Lecture: Jack Halberstam
- Finding zines on climate change