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Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

Introduction

Find out about social sciences at the British Library including collections, events and research. This blog includes contributions from curators and guest posts by academics, students and practitioners. Read more

22 September 2014

Exploring Play – a free, open, online course

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Professor Marsh writes:

Beginning on 29th September 2014 and running for 7 weeks, the University of Sheffield has developed a new, free, online course ‘Exploring Play: the Importance of Play in Everyday Life’ which will be delivered through the FutureLearn platform. Through the course, we aim to investigate play as a serious subject for study and in particular examine the place of play as an
important part of our everyday lives, across our life courses. Play is not only something that occurs in childhood, with a moving away from ‘childish pleasures’ in adulthood, but it is an essential part of life.

‘Exploring Play’ doesn’t require any previous knowledge in the area, just an enthusiasm to know more. It introduces key theories and concepts, and explores the many definitions there are of play. Given that play is such a fuzzy concept, some consideration is given to the meaning of play from different personal, academic and professional perspectives and its value in terms of its contribution to our daily lives is a matter for extensive reflection.

The course is highly interactive and uses video, articles, discussions, quizzes and a wide variety of resources including the British Library Playtimes website. This website was created as part of the AHRC Beyond Text project Children’s Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age and provides information on the history and nature of play, drawing on some of the data collected in that project. In the ‘Exploring Play’ course, learners will engage with the material on the British Library website and consider what it tells them about changes in play over time.
Children playing on stones in river
Children playing on stones in a river © University of Sheffield

One of the main aims of the course is to enable participants to understand the very varied nature of play as it takes place across difference contexts. For example, the nature of play in different cultures is explored and learners will consider the way in which the values of different societies impact on the play that takes place within them.

Muffin the Mule

Muffin the Mule puppet, V&A Museum of Childhood Collection

A very wide range of topics is considered, including outdoor play spaces for children and teenagers, playful adult engagement with urban environments, disability and play, play in virtual worlds and play in the workplace. Through the seven weeks of the course, learners will gain a great deal of knowledge about play - and engage in some playful learning activities along the way!

To sign up visit: www.futurelearn.com/courses/play

12 September 2014

Regeneration?

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Robert Davies, Engagement Support Officer for Social Sciences writes

Just over a year ago I wrote a short blog post ‘Memory Place’ which recorded my reaction to seeing a particular item in our Propaganda Power and Persuasion exhibition and how it evoked memories of the fire at the Cuming Museum, Walworth, a few months earlier. Since then I have been prompted to explore some of the Library’s holdings relating to the study of regeneration and re-development.

Why these particular areas of study? Well, the Cuming Museum, the town hall and the Newington library remain under plastic wraps or behind hoardings following the fire last year, but thankfully they have not disappeared as if part of an illusionist’s amazing turn of prestidigitation. However, over the last few months many other buildings have disappeared behind similar wraps or hoardings to re-emerge as temporary piles of rubble. This is all part of the vast and often disputed project to replace the Heygate Estate with Elephant Park and the wider redevelopment plans for this particular part of South London (or as it was once described ‘London South Central’).

As the re-development progresses I have been taking photographs in an attempt to record how once familiar places are being removed. Often you are confronted with rather peculiar sights such as spotting the wreckage of this car:

Websmall-Heygate_carwreck
Car wreckage at the Heygate Estate. Photograph by author.

This prompted me to wonder: who had left it behind, had the contractors forgotten to ensure that the garages were empty before demolishing them, could the owner not be contacted or had a film crew decided to take advantage of the demolition sites to record a scene for an apocalyptic movie or gritty television crime drama? Maybe it is a left over prop from the filming of ‘Attack the Block’, ‘World War Z’ or perhaps even as far back as ‘The Bill’? To me it is also one of many images which represent the “shock and awe of urban renewal….” as Professor Michael Keith phrases it [Chapter 14, The Routledge Companion to Urban Regeneration, 2013].

Heygate_demolition
Demolition at the Heygate Estate. Photograph by author.

As you can probably tell I am not a very good photographer. To gain a much better sense of the many types of media being used to research and record changes to ‘material culture, heritage, urban life, place-making practices and spatial politics’ you can read Dr Bradley L Garrett’s blog post on Visual Urbanisms: Perspectives on Contemporary Research and Holly Gilbert’s post Perceptions of the Material Landscape.

A large number of videos, created by a wide range of people, including those recording the oral histories of some of the former residents of the Heygate, can found online  by searching for ‘Heygate Estate’. Other websites worth looking at to gain different perspectives on project include those of the developers and groups such as Southwark Notes , The Walworth Society and 56aInfoshop.

Anyway, I’ll conclude with a select bibliography of some of the latest academic publications on the subjects of regeneration and gentrification held by the library:

Mitchell Duneier, Philip Kazanitz and Alexandra K. Murphy. ed.s. 2014. The Urban Ethnography Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Available in the Social Sciences Reading Room at: SPIS.307.76

Anna Jorgensen, and Richard Kennan. ed.s. 2012. Urban Wildscapes. London: Routledge. Available in the Social Sciences Reading Room at: SPIS.307.76

Michael E. Leary and John McGarthy. ed.s. 2013. The Routledge Companion to Urban Regeneration. London: Routledge.
Available in the Social Sciences Reading Room at: SPIS 307.3416

Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly. ed.s. 2010. The Gentrification Reader. London: Routledge.
British Library shelfmark: YC.2013.b.1602

Michael Storper. 2013. The Keys to the City. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Available in the Social Sciences Reading Room at: SPIS.307.76

Andrew Tallon. ed. 2010. Urban Regeneration and Renewal: Critical Concepts in Urban studies. 4 vol.s. London: Routledge.
British Library Shelfmark: YC.2013.a.9906

Fran Tonkiss. 2013. Cities by Design: The Social Life of the Urban Form. Bristol: Polity Press. Available in the Social Science Reading Room at: SPIS.307.76

In addition to this very short bibliography there are numerous articles and reports available via our Social Welfare Portal and Management and Business Studies Portal. Whilst writing this particular post I have also found many other collections items which cast light on how current regeneration schemes within the UK fit into a wider social history including the ‘improvements’ of the late 19th century, the development of the garden cities movement of the early 20th century, post-war modernist architecture and urban planning, the entrepreneurial property-led regeneration of the 1980s and redevelopment schemes which have formed part of recent sporting ‘mega-events’.   More of that in another blog post.  

Websmall-Heygate_rubble
Rubble at the Heygate Estate. Photograph by author.

13 August 2014

"Beyond the Boundary of Sleep": Mega-Events and Memory

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Andrew Rackley is a collaborative doctoral student at the British Library and the University of Central Lancashire. His research principally focuses on how a national institution, such as the British Library, documents a Mega-Event like the Olympics, and his interests include sport and the relationship between memory and archives. Follow him on Twitter

I haven’t written anything for a few months. I believe I was distracted from my last blog post by the curling and the silver and bronze medals Great Britain managed to win for it.
The past few weeks have kept me quite busy; even if Wimbledon and the World Cup may be alarmingly distant memories, the Commonwealth Games and the Test cricket have valiantly stepped in to fill the void. As a student, some people like to tell me that this is procrastination, but I just think that’s counter-productive.

At any rate, the conclusion of the World Cup got me thinking: did the spectacle overshadow the event? For me, Rio proved an interesting phenomenon as widespread dissent and clashes between protesters and police punctuated the preparations. Question marks remained over the readiness of the stadia, infrastructure and ticketing. Yet once the football was flowing these concerns seemed to melt away: Brazilian support showed in colour and volume, the sound of almost 75,000 voices inside the Maracanã continuing the national anthem well beyond FIFA’s curtailing of the musical accompaniment stood in stark contrast to the expositions of patriotism usually experienced when England play, for example. Contrary to Terry Gilliam’s dystopian imagining that seemed to be brewing, there was an almost ‘Carnaval’ atmosphere, and even the Americans got in on the fun.

A recent BBC article pondered the legacy of the World Cup and the lessons Rio could take forward to the 2016 Olympic Games. For an event widely considered to have been a success, public opinion in Brazil seems to have been drowned out by the pure spectacle of the beautiful game, the popular consensus being ‘there is no legacy’. This is an excellent example of an, albeit international, ‘collective’ memory at work, whereby many of the less salubrious memories of protest  and dissent, that marred the preparations (and almost certainly continued throughout the tournament) seem to have been airbrushed out. A part of me wonders whether these negative sentiments are framed by Brazil’s lacklustre performance, and ultimately the resounding 7-1 defeat to Germany (Oscar being the only Brazilian on the score sheet for all you pub quiz fanatics); would it have been the same following London 2012 had Team GB not put in the stellar performance that they did?

London 2012 was not without its issues: G4S and the security scandal, Olympic lanes and the cost to the nation are but a few issues that come to mind; but such inconveniences do not compete with the national euphoria that accompanied the generally good weather, positive London attitude and sporting success experienced during those heady days. This is where memory institutions come to the fore and is a great example of the important role they play in documenting the knowledge legacy of such events. In collecting, storing and disseminating the knowledge legacy of London 2012, the British Library is one among many memory institutions that are able to reveal a more nuanced picture of the Games. A few examples have jumped out at me in the past few days.

Websmall-WebArch
The UK Web Archive has amassed collections including Slavery and Abolition and Video Games

Social media and the internet allow for a great many voices to be heard, not all of which were optimistic about the Olympics. Two such examples have been captured by the UK Web Archive’s Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012 Special Collection. The first example is something of a personal favourite that uses a strikingly simple method of protest to question the vast sums of money spent in bringing the Olympics to London by suggesting an alternative logo for the event. Another fascinating insight into the Olympic Movement is captured through Games Monitor, a website dedicated to debunking Olympic myths and which seeks to, in their own words, ‘deconstruct the 'fantastic' hype of Olympic boosterism and the eager complicity of the 'urban elites' in politics, business, the media, sport, academia and local institutional 'community stakeholders'’.

Websmall-Savage Messiah
‘Savage Messiah’ by Laura Oldfield Ford [2011]. British Library ref: YD.2014.a.735. For more information, you can read her blog

Despite the contemporary ubiquity of digital media, some types of protest still find their outlet in analogue form. Comic books can often be subversive and, as such, are often utilised as vehicles for protest. At the Comics Unmasked exhibition, there is a comic entitled ‘The Strip’ by Laura Oldfield Ford. This piece, created in 2009 for publication in ArtReview, has been loaned from a private collection, however a larger body of work, Ford’s ‘Savage Messiah’, is held at the Library. Both ‘The Strip’ and ‘Savage Messiah’ offer visual journeys through London’s ‘architectural follies of high-rises and gated estates’ whilst questioning the Olympic legacy by offering visions of reality charted through the experiences of ‘urban drifts’ faced by the spectre of regeneration in forgotten fringes of the capital.

From subversive, counter-culture re-imaginings of famous designs, through websites documenting the hard work of various local communities, to forms of expression often maligned as being ‘just for kids’, there are many alternative stories waiting within the walls of the BL, and on the servers of the UK Web Archive, for those who are willing to look for them.

Now I’d love to stay and chat, but if I’m not mistaken that’s Boycott on the boundary with a stick of celery, and he’s calling me in for tea.

Further information

For extensive collections on sport, from Geoffrey Boycott and Test Cricket to the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, please search the British Library’s catalogue here: Explore the British Library.

Martin Polley. 2011. The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic heritage 1613-2012. Swindon. English Heritage.
Available at the British Library at: YC.2011.a.14717

'Beyond the boundary of sleep' is taken from Michael Laskey's poem 'On having given up cricket', which can be found in:

Michael Laskey. 1991. Thinking of Happiness. Cornwall. Peterloo Poets.
Available at the British Library at: YK.1992.a.10972