Untold lives blog

14 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

19 June 2020

Get Up, Listen Up! for Windrush Day 2020

Windrush Day was introduced in 2018 to mark the 70th anniversary of the docking of the Empire Windrush at the port of Tilbury.  The day honours the life and work of the British Caribbean community whose presence in the UK long predates the arrival of the Windrush, but grew in the post-war years as the forces of colonial oppression pushed people to travel to a ‘Mother Country’ in need of rebuilding.  72 years on, the relationship between Britain, the Caribbean and the descendants of the ‘Windrush Generation’ continues to be fraught as anti-racist protests gather force and people await compensation following the fallout of the Windrush Scandal.

To mark Windrush Day this year we have released audio of three public events that speak to our current times. These events were recorded at our Knowledge Centre in 2018 as part of a series accompanying our exhibition Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land.    The exhibition shed new light on the significance of the arrival of the Windrush as part of a longer history of slavery and colonialism, telling the story of Caribbean people’s struggles for social recognition, self-expression and belonging throughout history.

Here’s your chance to listen again (or perhaps for the first time) to a lecture on that other ‘Middle Passage’ by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles; a conversation on race relations legislation and the Windrush Scandal produced in association with the Runnymede Trust; and the incredible voices of Wasafiri magazine’s ‘Windrush Women’ writers with Beryl Gilroy, Jay Bernard, Hannah Lowe, Valerie Bloom and Susheila Nasta.

For more explorations of race, migration and culture take a look at our Windrush Stories website which includes articles, collection items, videos and teaching resources. You’ll find suggestions for further resources specific to each event below.

Jonah Albert and Zoë Wilcox

 

British Trade in Black Labour: The Windrush Middle Passage
Recorded on Friday 15 June 2018 and sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

In this keynote lecture Professor Sir Hilary Beckles examines the circumstance which lead to people from the Caribbean re-crossing the Atlantic in response to the push of colonial oppression and exploitation, and the demand for their labour in the UK.

Historian Hilary Beckles is Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.  Born in Barbados, he received his higher education in the UK and has lectured extensively in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. He is the founder and Director of the CLR James Centre for Cricket Research, and a former member of the West Indies Cricket Board.

For more on this topic take a look at the articles in the Waves of History section of our Windrush Stories site.  You can discover personal stories of migration in The Arrivants section, including video portraits from the 1000 Londoners series and video interviews with members of the Caribbean Social Forum.


Race Relations: An Act?
Recorded on Friday 6 July 2018, this event was produced in association with The Runnymede Trust.

Image by Michael Ward © Getty image

There have been four Race Relations Acts since 1965.  Our panel of experts discusses the impact of immigration legislation on the Windrush generation and other migrants and their descendants.

Sir Geoffrey Bindman founded Bindmans LLP in 1974 and throughout his long and distinguished legal career has specialised in civil liberty and human rights issues.  He was legal adviser to the Race Relations Board from 1966-1976 and to the Commission for Racial Equality until 1983.

Amelia Gentleman writes on social affairs for The Guardian.  An awarding winning journalist, she is known for her investigative and campaigning work on the Windrush scandal.

Maya Goodfellow, chair of the conversation, is a writer and researcher.  Her work spans a range of issues including UK politics, gender, migration and race.

Matthew Ryder was Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement at City Hall.  He became a barrister in 1992 and writes regularly for national newspapers on social policy and cultural issues.

Iyiola Solanke is Professor of European Law and Social Justice at the University of Leeds, and an Associate Academic Fellow of the Inner Temple.  She has published on judicial independence and diversity, intersectionality and race relations in Britain and Germany.

For further reading see our series of articles, Perspectives on the Windrush Generation Scandal, by Judy Griffith, David Lammy and Amelia Gentleman.

 

Windrush Women: Past and Present
Recorded on Monday 25 June 2018 and produced in association with Wasafiri

There are many stories missing from the Windrush narrative, not least those of the bold and pioneering women who left everything behind, to better their family’s lives and their own.  At this event, contemporary international writing magazine Wasafiri celebrates women writers from the Windrush era.  Former Editor-in-Chief of Wasafiri, Susheila Nasta introduces a recording of her interview with one these pioneers, Beryl Gilroy - writer, poet and London’s first Black head teacher.  Poets Jay Bernard, Val Bloom and Hannah Lowe read work inspired by their legacy of these women.

Jay Bernard is a writer, film programmer and archivist from London.  In 2016, Jay was poet-in-residence at the George Padmore Institute, where they began writing Surge, a collection based on the New Cross Fire and which won the 2018 Ted Hughes Award for new work.

Hannah Lowe is a poet and researcher.  Her first poetry collection Chick won the Michael Murphy Memorial Award for Best First Collection.  She has published a family memoir Long Time No See.  She teaches Creative Writing at Brunel University and is the current poet-in-residence at Keats House.

Valerie Bloom is an award-winning writer of poetry for adults and children, picture books, pre-teen and teenage novels and stories.

Susheila Nasta was Founder and Editor in Chief for 35 years from 1984 to 2019 of Wasafiri, the magazine of international contemporary writing.  A literary activist, writer and presenter, she is currently Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at Queen Mary, University of London.

For over three decades, Wasafiri has created a dynamic platform for mapping new landscapes in contemporary international writing featuring a diverse range of voices from across the UK and beyond.  Committed to profiling the ‘best of tomorrow’s writers today’ it aims to simultaneously celebrate those who have become established literary voices.

You will find more on Beryl Gilroy’s books Black Teacher and In Praise of Love and Children on our Windrush Stories website, as well as articles on the work of Andrea Levy and performances by female poets of Caribbean heritage including Malika Booker, Maggie Harris, Khadijah Ibrahiim, Hannah Lowe, Grace Nichols and Kim O’Loughlin.

 

08 March 2019

The Making of ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’. Part 2: From Idea to Event

Yesterday I explored some of the background of our upcoming performance ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’ (15 March 2019). In this second part I will take you on a trip behind the scenes of developing this event.

This year’s edition of ‘Dear John’ will be part of British Science Week, a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths. Run by the British Science Association, British Science Week features events and activities across the UK, and I’ve previously written blog posts on the Library’s Science blog as part of it.

Following its theme of ‘journeys’, let me take you on a trip behind the scenes of ‘Dear John’ - and join us for our journey into the past and into the archives during the event itself!

Chair, desk and lamp in the set of Dear JohnThe set, designed by Tanya Stephenson. Copyright © Undercurrent Theatre: photographs by Grace Hopkins

As I mentioned yesterday, after deciding we were going to do the event, the first step was choosing which letters to build it around. The originals are all held in the archives of John Maynard Smith, William Hamilton and George Price at the British Library, and the excerpts previously published in the latter two’s biographies were a good starting point. Maynard Smith’s archive is well organised and most of the letters are part of Add MS 86764: ‘Hamilton Price (1960-1980)’. The relevant folder is in fact prefaced by Maynard Smith himself, who inserted a page saying: ‘Correspondence with George Price. Mainly about the “ESS” paper but his letter of 19 Oct –72 also discusses Bill Hamilton’s feelings about me.’

Choosing the letters was one thing, and a relatively straightforward one at that. In terms of how to build an event around them, we had a few options. There was (1) a historical discussion, followed by the reading of letters (or vice versa), or (2) introduce two letters to get the ball rolling, followed by the discussion, and then return to the letters.

I discussed these with Laura Farnworth, artistic director of Undercurrent Theatre and artist in residence at the Library, and we quickly dismissed option 1 as too static and uninspired. Some version of option 2, a cutting back and forth between my historical discussion and the letters, would flow much better. Thinking about television documentaries and their way of moving between source material and explanation, we had found our way of structuring the event.

Neal Craig reading in the performanceNeal Craig performing. British Library, 2018. Copyright © Undercurrent Theatre: photographs by Grace Hopkins

Writing and editing the script, and piecing together additional source material beyond the letters, was step three. This was followed by entering the brave new world of theatre: read-throughs and rehearsals with an actor under the watchful eye of a director! (We also had a proper set, designed by Tanya Stephenson!)

Thanks to Laura’s comments and directions, we achieved a dynamic performance in front of a full house that, despite the almost obligatory initial stage fright, was immensely fun to do. So much fun, and so wonderfully positively received, that we’re doing it all over again.

So do come along, lean back, and enjoy a journey into the history of science with us!

Helen Piel
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) PhD student, University of Leeds and the British Library

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07 March 2019

The Making of ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’. Part 1: What’s It All About?

William D. Hamilton: the Darwin of the twentieth century. John Maynard Smith: the senior statesman of British evolutionary biology. George R. Price: colleague of both – and intermediary between them.

Their story is one of personal and professional grievances around one of the most influential ideas in evolutionary biology: the genetics of altruism.

John Maynard Smith standing in a wildflower fieldJohn Maynard Smith. Sussex, 1989. Copyright © Anita Corbin and John O’Grady. Courtesy of John Maynard Smith’s Estate

I study the archive of John Maynard Smith (Add MS 86569-86840) as part of a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership project between the British Library and the University of Leeds. The archive is held by the British Library, as are those of Bill Hamilton (uncatalogued) and George Price (Add MS 84115-84126). From Hamilton’s and Price’s biographies, I was aware of the fact that the relationship between Hamilton and Maynard Smith was a strained one. In Nature’s Oracle, Ullica Segerstråle even writes of Hamilton’s ‘life-long “Maynard Smith paranoia”’.

Going back to the letters in the archive for my own project, I found them as rich as the quotes promised. Accusations of harming a fellow researcher’s reputation were hurled at Maynard Smith – hurled in a very academic way: in his letter, Hamilton methodically numbered and listed his ‘main grounds’ for ‘disbelief’ in Maynard Smith’s version of the story. Maynard Smith replied, addressing each and every one of them.

William D. Hamilton teaching at a seminarWilliam D. Hamilton teaching at a seminar. Harvard, 1978. Copyright © Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

But what were they arguing about in the first place? And what was George Price’s role? The priority issue related to a feeling on Hamilton’s side that he hadn’t been given the credit for first proposing the idea and mathematics for the genetics of altruism. While Hamilton called it ‘inclusive fitness’, the idea is more popularly known by Maynard Smith’s term ‘kin selection’.

The idea was to eventually revolutionise the field of evolutionary biology by explaining why animals behave altruistically. Hamilton published his ideas in July 1964. But Maynard Smith had published a similar idea in March 1964 – and Maynard Smith had been the reviewer for Hamilton’s paper. And Price? Price was the one first informing Maynard Smith of Hamilton’s feelings.

George Price smoking on a benchGeorge Price, London 1974. Copyright © Estate of George Price

Price’s life has been the subject of a very successful theatre production, ‘Calculating Kindness’ (2016 at the Camden People’s Theatre), based on Price’s papers in the Library. The show was developed by Undercurrent Theatre, who subsequently became the British Library’s first Associate Theatre Company. That is how I met their artistic director, Laura Farnworth – we were both based in the Politics and Public Life department. Together with curator Jonathan Pledge we decided the letters and the story they represented were the perfect basis for a theatrical event based on them.

Come back tomorrow to read more about how we developed ‘Dear John: The Kin Selection Controversy’! You can join us for the performance, which is part of British Science Week, on Friday, 15 March 2019.

Helen Piel
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) PhD student, University of Leeds and the British Library

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20 September 2018

‘Fulbrighters’: the US-UK Fulbright Commission Alumni

In this second blogpost relating to the US-UK Fulbright Commission Archive recently acquired by the British Library, Eleanor Casson looks at the newsletters of the British Fulbright Scholars Association (BFSA) and the Alumni of the US-UK Fulbright Commission. For more information about this collection, there is an event on 19 November 2018 called ‘Hidden Histories: Gaps and Silences in the Archive’; tickets are available now.

Over the course of 70 years The Fulbright Commission has administered grants to numerous high-flyers in a wide ranging selection of professions, sectors, and skillsets. Senator Fulbright’s main aim was to produce world leaders through educational and cultural exchange. The US-UK Fulbright Program has been a particularly successful Commission in achieving this aim.

From 1982-2012 The Fulbright Commission had a separate supporting British Fulbright Scholars Association (BFSA), which acted as a charity on behalf of the Commission. It also acted as a central point from which Fulbright Alumni could stay in touch with the work of the Commission and build social and business networks across the Alumni database. This blog takes a look at the copies of the newsletter recently acquired by the British Library as part of the US-UK Fulbright Commission Archive.

The BFSA Newsletter was established in 1983, it was sent out to registered members as a way of keeping the community informed about the activities of The Fulbright Commission and the successes of the numerous alumni. The BFSA received a grant from the US Embassy to produce the newsletter to a high quality and improve alumni engagement.

The newsletter went through various overhauls with changes of name and changes of focus before the BFSA moved away from paper copies and began to distribute the newsletter only online. The multiple BFSA events planned throughout the year were documented in the newsletters, including the May Concerts, BFSA Debates, as well as Annual General Meetings Talks. Amongst the articles and photographs of Fulbright events and fundraising efforts there were snippets of the Fulbright Commission’s community including; birth, marriage, and death announcements.  

Fulbright Association publications arranged on a tableThe British Fulbright Scholar Association Newsletter, 1983-1988, The British Fulbright Scholar Association: Link, 1989-2000, and The Fulbright Alumni News: Linking the UK and USA, 2001-2012

Alongside the community engagement element of the newsletter there were also thought provoking articles from Fulbright Scholars about their chosen interests and often related to the study they were undertaking with their Fulbright Grant. The BFSA newsletter aimed to engage the audience as well as inform them.

Article headline 'America's Dilemma. Illegal Mexicans in the U.S.'This article found in the Spring 1984 issue No. 2 highlights how little politics can change in 34 years. Article by Professor David Walker

Editors of the newsletter included Mary Hockaday, a journalist who went on to become Controller of BBC World Service English, and award-winning Adeola Solanke, a Nigerian-British playwright and screenwriter. Profile articles were written about well-known and successful alumni including Katherine Whitehorn, journalist and columnist with The Observer. Profile articles were also written for the politicians Lord Bernard Donoughue, Baroness Shirley Williams, and Charles Kennedy about their life experiences. Sir Malcolm Bradbury, the author and academic, wrote a small piece reflecting on his time as a ‘Fulbrighter’ in 1955, as well as imagining Sylvia Plath’s journey and experience travelling the opposite way in the same year.

Eleanor Casson
Cataloguer, Fulbright Archive

 

04 June 2018

Senator J. William Fulbright: International Scholar and Statesman

The British Library has acquired the archive of the US-UK Fulbright Commission set up in 1948 under the Fulbright Program for grants for international educational exchange. Eleanor Casson introduces the instigator behind the program, Senator Fulbright, and the Famous Alumni of the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

James William Fulbright (Bill) was born in Sumner, Missouri in 1905 to James and Roberta Fulbright. In 1906 the family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Both his parents were successful local entrepreneurs. His father built up a small empire which included the local newspaper, lumberyards, a bottling company and a bank. In 1923 James Fulbright died suddenly and it was left to Roberta to continue the family business, which she did, becoming one of Arkansas’s most famous and successful business women.

The Fulbrights were known by some in the local area as ‘The First Family of Fayetteville’, they were a family of high achievers. Bill embodied this by winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University in 1924. The Rhodes scholarship and Fulbright’s time in Oxford had a profound effect on him. He immersed himself in his studies, but also embraced the cultural differences of England: from the frivolous such as tea drinking and joining the rugby team, to the more enduring like his admiration of British institutions, systems and politics.

Fulbright’s career, outside of the family business, began in 1939 when he was named President of the University of Arkansas. He was 34, the youngest college head in the United States at that time, he was also unqualified for the job, but passionate about education in Arkansas. This lasted until 1941 when he was ousted from his position by the new Governor Homer Adkins.  

In 1942 Fulbright began his thirty-two year career in Congress running for election in Northwest Arkansas. His experiences in Europe had inspired a deep interest in international affairs and his experience at the University of Arkansas had cemented his belief that education could be used as a tool in international affairs. He spent his political career campaigning for tolerance and appreciation of other cultures. His first act as a Congressman was to co-sponsor the Fulbright-Connally Resolution, the forbear of the United Nations. By 1944 he had won a US Senate seat and pushed through legislation creating the International Exchange Program in 1946.

The Fulbright Program was one of Senator Fulbright’s greatest accomplishments. To this date approximately 370,000 ‘Fulbrighters’ have participated in the Program since its inception in 1946 and the Program currently operates in over 160 countries worldwide. The US-UK Commission was established in 1948, since that time there have been over 27,000 Fulbright exchanges between the two countries. The awards span a number of disciplines benefitting everyone from artists to scientists, historians to mathematicians.

Fulbright Scholarship Signing with UK

22 September 1948, Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin (left) and Chargé d'Affaires Don Bliss (right) sign for the United Kingdom and United States respectively, establishing the Fulbright Agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. Fulbright Papers (MS/F956/144-B), Series 86, Box 9, Folder 2. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. By permission of the University of Arkansas Libraries.

The aim of the program was to nurture the belief that experience and understanding of another culture will contribute to ‘joint ventures for mutually constructive and beneficial purposes’. This belief was reflected throughout his career which led him to become known as the ‘dissenter’. He participated in the censuring of Senator McCarthy, argued against the Vietnam War, and was an advocate for liberal internationalism. Fulbright assumed the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1959 which he held until he lost his seat 1974, the longest serving chairman in the committee’s history. He was presented with the Medal of Freedom by his protégé President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Photograph of Senator Fulbright holding a glass of wineSenator Fulbright at the 40th Anniversary Reception of the Fulbright Program, 1986.  ©The American. By permission of The American.

Eleanor Casson
Cataloguer, Fulbright Archive


Further reading:

Coffin, Tristram, Senator Fulbright, London: Rupert Hart-Davis, (1967)

‘The Fulbright Program, 1946-1996: An Online Exhibit- Expansion in Europe’, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. Accessed: 14/05/2018 https://libraries.uark.edu/specialcollections/exhibits/fulbrightexhibit/bi2pic.html

Woods, Randall Bennett, Fulbright: A Biography, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1995)

Woods, Randall Bennett, ‘Fulbright, J. William’, (American National Biography: 2000). Accessed: 14/05/2018 https://doi.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0700698

30 April 2018

‘Most distinguished Darwinian since Darwin’: William D. Hamilton

To publicise our upcoming event Dear John: The 'Kin Selection' Controversy presented by the British Library and Undercurrent Theatre we present the second of three blogs by PhD student Helen Piel on evolutionary biologists George Price, William D. Hamilton and John Maynard Smith. Today William D. Hamilton.

  Photograph of Hamilton giving a seminar
William D. Hamilton teaching at a seminar. Harvard, 1978. Copyright © Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

According to Richard Dawkins, William Donald Hamilton was ‘a good candidate for the title of most distinguished Darwinian since Darwin’. Hamilton (1936-2000) was an eager naturalist during his childhood years, collecting and botanising in Kent – just a few miles from where Darwin lived. He studied genetics at Cambridge and became intrigued by the ideas of Ronald A. Fisher, one of the founding fathers of Neo-Darwinism, the marriage between Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Mendelian genetics.

After Cambridge, he started a PhD jointly supervised at the Galton Laboratory at University College and the London School of Economics. In his autobiographical writings he recalled feeling lonely, unappreciated and unsupported – his project to study the genetics of altruism did not meet much encouragement. Hamilton remembered being introduced to John Maynard Smith but unfortunately, nothing came of that brief encounter.

Detail from a draft page of ‘Genetical Models for the Evolution of Competitive and Social BehaviourDetail from a draft page of ‘Genetical Models for the Evolution of Competitive and Social Behaviour.’ eventually published as ‘The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour’. Copyright © Christine Hamilton.

The important result of his graduate work was ‘Hamilton’s Rule’, which solved the puzzle of altruism by taking what we now think of as a gene’s eye view of nature. Altruism had been a problem for evolutionary studies since Darwin's day, as one would expect that animals want to increase their own chances of survival and reproduction, not help others increase theirs. In 1964, Hamilton published a ground-breaking two-part paper on ‘The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour’. 'In brief outline,' Hamilton wrote, 'the theory points out that […] a gene may receive positive selection even though disadvantageous to its bearers if it causes them to confer sufficiently large advantages on relatives' because 'relatives, on account of their common ancestry, tend to carry replicas of the same gene.' That is, altruism evolved because it guarantees that genes are passed on to the next generation through relatives, and the closer one is related, the higher the degree of altruism. For instance, you share ½ of your genes with your siblings and parents, ¼ with your grandparents, and 1/8 with full cousins.

In his later career and after some time at Michigan University between 1978 and 1984, Hamilton was research professor of the Royal Society and fellow of New College Oxford, working in Oxford's Zoology Department. Among other things, he studied parasites and their evolutionary impact. Throughout his life he undertook several expeditions to the Brazilian jungle, following his childhood natural history adventures in Kent, and later to the Congo, where he was looking for evidence regarding a theory on the origins of AIDS. Recognition for his ideas often came late, as many biologists had difficulties with Hamilton's mathematics or because the ideas were buried in obscure remarks in book reviews or papers already dealing with other topics. But his 1964 paper is now one of the most cited works in biology, and in 1993, he was awarded the Crafoord Prize (biology's equivalent to a Nobel Prize) for his work on genetics and altruism.

Helen Piel
PhD candidate, University of Leeds and the British Library

Further reading:

Ullica Segerstrale (2013). Nature’s Oracle. The Life and Work of W. D. Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Marek Kohn (2004). A Reason for Everything. Natural Selection and the English Imagination. London: faber and faber

William D. Hamilton (1998, 2001). Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Vol. I and Vol. II.  Oxford: Oxford University Press

23 April 2018

Calculating Kindness: George Price

To publicise our upcoming event Dear John: The 'Kin Selection' Controversy presented by the British Library and Undercurrent Theatre we introduce the first of three blogs by PhD student Helen Piel on evolutionary biologists George Price, William D. Hamilton and John Maynard Smith. Today we start with George Price.

  Photograph of George Price smoking a cigarrette on a park benchGeorge Price, London 1974. Copyright © Estate of George Price

George Robert Price (1922-1975) grew up in New York before he moved to study at the University of Chicago in the 1940s. He gained his PhD in chemistry for work he had done on the Manhattan Project but later, he struggled to find a job that satisfied him and his big ideas, scientific and otherwise.

In 1966, Price was operated on for thyroid cancer but the operation didn’t go well; he had to take medication for the rest of his life. With the insurance money, he moved to England the following year. Interested in altruism and conflict, he taught himself evolutionary biology and spent his time in the libraries around London. Around March, he came across William D. Hamilton’s 1964 two-part paper on ‘The genetical evolution of social behaviour’, published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. Finding the mathematics in it too dense for library reading, he wrote to Hamilton asking for a reprint. Unfortunately, Hamilton replied, he had none left, but instead sent a reprint of his latest article on sex ratios which dealt with similar ideas. Price in fact disliked one idea suggested by Hamilton – that people are genetically predisposed to be kindest to kin (“inclusive fitness”), which seemed to deny true, selfless altruism. He tried to disprove it, but his Price Equation ended up proving Hamilton right (and landed Price a job at UCL). The two men struck up a correspondence and friendship that would last until Price’s death in 1975.

Price-2

Letter excerpt
Extracts from a 1969 letter from Price to William D. Hamilton recounting his discovery of the Price equation and subsequent employment at UCL. Copyright © Estate of George Price.

In the summer of 1970, Price underwent a religious conversion and mainly refocused his energies on Jesus and the Bible. He put himself and his faith to the test, among other things stopping to take his thyroid medication. In October 1972 he wrote to John Maynard Smith that he was ‘now down to exactly 15p and [his] visitors permit for staying in the UK expire[d] in less than a month’ – to which Maynard Smith replied, ‘I have less faith than you do that the Lord will provide. Please let me know at once if I can help.’

Maynard Smith and Price had been collaborating in what was to become their 1973 seminal paper, 'The logic of animal conflict', in which they applied game theory – originally developed in the context of economics by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern – to evolutionary biology. By pitting animals against each other as in a game, supplied with strategies like probing and retaliating, and running these through a computer simulation, Maynard Smith and Price showed that it was evolutionarily beneficial for individuals not to escalate a fight and risk wounding or death.

Price’s faith eventually led him to spend his energy on the homeless in his area. After losing his flat, he briefly stayed in his office at the Galton Laboratory before moving into a squat near Euston in 1974. In 1975, he committed suicide. Hamilton and Maynard Smith both attended the funeral.

Helen Piel
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) PhD student, University of Leeds and the British Library

Further reading:

Calculating Kindness (2016). Undercurrent and Camden People’s Theatre in partnership with the British Library

Laura Farnworth (2016). Calculating Kindness: Meeting George Price. The British Library, Untold Lives Blog

Oren Harman (2010). The Price of Altruism. George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness. London: The Bodley Head

08 December 2017

Hostess with the mostest… and so much more: introducing the Ishbel MacDonald Archive

Imagine the Prime Minister having to pay to run Downing Street out of her own pocket – seems unreasonable from today’s perspective, but until fairly recently this was an expectation for the British Prime Minister. The recently acquired archive of Ishbel Peterkin née MacDonald (1903-1982) sheds light on the burdens of this. Ishbel was the eldest daughter of Ramsay MacDonald, the first Prime Minister for the Labour Party in the UK, first in 1924 and again from 1929 to 1935. When Ishbel’s mother Margaret passed away in 1911 Ishbel acted as her father’s host during his political career living alongside him at 10 Downing Street and running the house.

MacDonalds in Garden HampsteadThe MacDonald family in their garden in Hampstead, North London. Ishbel stands behind her father Ramsay. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

Ishbel visited Downing Street prior to the family’s move and was perturbed by the big, empty house. Previous Prime Ministers had brought their own furniture – and then taken it away with them. The MacDonalds, however, were not moving from a grand residence but from their modest family home in Hampstead. To prepare, Ishbel and her sister purchased linen, crockery and cutlery with their own money, while Ramsay MacDonald arranged a loan of paintings from the National Portrait Gallery. These intimate domestic details reflect an interesting shift in 20th-century politics. MacDonald was of more humble origins than his predecessors in government who had set a precedent for running Downing Street as an extension of their wealthy homes.

Guest list, with annotations

Guest list, with annotationsGuest lists for 11 and 18 December 1930 © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.   

Ishbel’s effort to run Downing Street modestly did not stop with the furnishings but in hosting and feeding guests. Carefully preserved notebooks of guest lists and menu cards paint a vivid picture. We can see who was eating with the Prime Minister and when, including place settings inked on the left in red. The menus themselves suggest that the MacDonalds had to budget carefully and were unconcerned with the culinary fashions of the day. Typical menus of the period from society events showcased a classical, often ostentatious French repertoire, usually written in French. By contrast Ishbel’s menus contain simple dishes like ‘Nut Roast’ and ‘Roast Chicken.’

Menus 18th and 11th Dec 1930Menus for 11 and 18 December 1930. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

Ishbel MacDonald’s papers will offer researchers a fantastic insight into her efforts running 10 Downing Street as well as a record of her fascinating life more generally. Ishbel was an active politician in her own right, elected to the London County Council in 1928 and again in 1931. She was the subject of public fascination and when she decided to leave politics to run a pub in 1935 the move was covered by extensive media coverage. The archive contains correspondence, detailed diaries, and scrapbooks and notebooks relating to the family's time in politics.

Guest list and menu for luncheonGuest list and menu for luncheon on 2 December 1930. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

The archive is currently being catalogued with the aim of making it available to researchers in the Manuscripts Reading Room by the middle of next year. In the meantime please contact eleanor.dickens@bl.uk with any enquiries.

Eleanor Dickens
Curator, Politics and Public Life

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