THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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

02 February 2015

2014 in review: Management Book of the Year, the problem with democracy, epigenetics and beyond.

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2014 saw British Library curators working across diverse themes, including: sport, law, language, gender, ageing and democracy. Through conferences, exhibitions, workshops and collection development, we worked with a range of audiences, uncovering new insights to our collections and learning more about contemporary research. Here are some highlights:

The annual Chartered Management Institute/British Library Management Book of the Year awards ceremony was held in the British Library conference centre on the 3rd February 2014.  Details of the category winners can be found on the CMI website along with videos which summarise each of the books.  The videos were produced by students from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication.  The overall winner for 2014 was The Ten Principals behind Great Customer Experience by Matt Wilkinson.  We look forward to participating in the 2015 awards ceremony, which takes place on the 9th of February this year.

As part of the public events series linked to the Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight   exhibition, we held a public discussion ‘Beyond Nature versus Nurture’.  This event brought together social scientists and scientists to discuss how the nature versus nurture debate has been revolutionised by the study of Epigenetics and to debate the moral, ethical and social consequences of the growing understanding of how nurture affects nature. The speakers were Professors George Davey-Smith and Nikolas Rose.  The evening was chaired by Professor Jane Elliott. The discussion is available as a podcast and can also be watched on the library’s Youtube channel.

To mark Le Grand Départ of the Tour de France 2014 from Yorkshire, members of the team, with colleagues from across the library, curated and installed a display of collection items at the library’s Boston Spa site near Wetherby. The display included accounts of the early days of cycling as a mass pastime and sport, including an 1897 description of a ‘bicycle gymkhana’, more recent journalistic accounts of the legendary cycling extravaganza, typographical prints responding creatively to the 2011 Tour de France – including Mark Cavendish’s Green Jersey win – and the original manuscript of Tim Moore’s best-selling French Revolutions, his 2001 account of cycling the entire 3,630km route of the 2000 Tour de France.

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Gill Ridgley and Robert Davies following the installation of Le Grand Tour exhibition at Boston Spa

In addition to the exhibition there was a ‘peloton’ of blogs written by staff including 'Pedal Power' which explored how patents held by the library shed light on the technical development of the bicycle over the last two hundred years and ‘Escorting Stoller's Depart' which reports on the Tour de British Library when members of staff cycled from St Pancras to Boston Spa to mark the start of the Tour de France.

In April we held a one day conference Portraying Ageing: Cultural Assumptions and Practical Implications in partnership with the The School of Language, Linguistics and Film – Queen Mary, University of London and the Centre for Policy on Ageing.  The conference brought together experts from different backgrounds to share and discuss, from a variety of theoretical and practical viewpoints, how age and ageing are not only biological events but also cultural and social constructions and how insights from research can be translated into policy and practice.  They keynote address was given by Professor Lynne Segal, Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, Guardian Columnist and author of ‘Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing’. The conference was filmed and the videos can be accessed via a page on the Social Welfare Portal.  An overview of the day is also available via the ‘Age is in the eye of the beholder' blog post.

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Professor Lynne Segal delivering the keynote address at the Portraying Ageing Conference.

We were delighted to hold the Fourth Annual Equality lecture in association with the British Sociological Association.  This year our speaker was Dr Tom Shakespeare, a senior lecturer in medical sociology at the University of East Anglia and disability rights advocate. Tom’s research interests centre on disability studies and bioethics and his publications include: The Sexual Politics of Disability (1996), Genetic Politics (2002) and Disability Rights and Wrongs (2006). He has worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva where he helped write and edit the World Report on Disability (WHO 2011) and has been involved in the disability movement for 25 years.

The theme of Tom’s talk was ‘Enabling Equality: from disabling barriers to equal participation’ and explored what it takes to achieve equality for disabled people, in the era of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ‘welfare reform’.  The lecture is available on our podcast page and as a video on the British Sociological Association’s vimeo channel.

Members of the team assisted colleagues from across the library in the planning and delivery of the Languages and the First World War International Conference which was held in association with the University of Antwerp and timed to coincide with the opening of the library exhibition Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour.  The conference aimed to study how the languages of combatant nations influenced each other; the use of trench slang to both include and exclude individuals; censorship and propaganda; the development of interpreting as a profession; personal communication and silence during and after the war and how the First World War still influences how we all speak today.  The speakers represented a range of academic disciplines and were drawn from across Europe, North America and Australia.  The programme and related blogs can be found on the dedicated conference tumblr page. Some of the twitter feed from the conference is available via Storyfi.

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Postcard home: Arthur Tildesley writes to his Mother and Father that he is 'tray bon'.

In June we hosted the inaugural English Grammar Day, which was inspired by renewed political interest in the role of grammar in English teaching and assessment and debates about the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about grammar. EGD 2014 was a sell out event and a forum for reflections on the state of, and attitudes towards, English grammar – in school and beyond – with public contributions encouraged in the form of a lively ‘Any Questions’ style Panel session. The event brought together academic linguists, teachers, PGCE students, teacher trainers and non-specialists and we look forward to hosting EGD 2015 on June 29 and making this an annual event.

The year also saw British Online Archives made available via remote access for British Library readers.  This is an online platform which brings together digitised images, and descriptions, of collections held in archives and libraries from across Britain.   Collections include the BBC Handbooks and Listener Research, Parliamentary Labour Party records, missionary and colonial papers (recording some of the earliest contacts between Europeans and the populations of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific), and the archive of the Communist Party of Great Britain.  More information on some of the material available via the service can be found in an earlier Social Sciences blog post.

Holders of British Library Reader Pass can now access these collections from outside our Reading Rooms, using our Remote e-Resources service at https://eresources.remote.bl.uk:2443/login

Britihs Archives Online

Images taken from British Archives Online.

In partnership with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the Socio-Legal Studies Association we held the third national socio-legal training day.  The theme this year was Law, Gender and Sexuality.  The day aimed to draw attention to archives and content which newcomers to the investigation of intersections between law, gender and sexuality may not be aware of and to consider the methodological and practical issues involved in analysing sources. Information about the programme and details of speakers can be found here and overviews of the day can be found here and here.

We also launched our new series of public discussions ‘Enduring Ideas’ in partnership with the Academy of Social Sciences.  The series aims to explore some of the key concepts which underpin society.  In the first event, Professor Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield and author of Defending Politics, discussed ‘Enduring Ideas: The Problem with Democracy’.

During the evening Professor Flinders asked and addressed many questions: does the apparent shift from healthy scepticism to corrosive cynicism have more to do with our unrealistic expectations of politics than a failure of democratic politics?  Do the problems with democracy – if they exist – tell us more about a failure on the part of the public to understand politics rather than a failure of politicians to understand us?  Is the problem with democracy is not that it is in short supply but that we have too much of it? He went on to suggest new ways of thinking about politics to ensure not the death but the life of democracy.  A podcast of the talk is available here.

Naturally, this post only provides a snapshot of some of the activities we were involved in, in 2014.  We’ve enjoyed working with colleagues from across academia; libraries; archives; third sector organisations; professional bodies such as the Academy of Social Sciences, British Sociological Association and the Sociological Research Association, enormously.  It has also been a great way to meet so many members of the public.  We’re already looking forward to a new Enduring Ideas discussion, Talk Science, the Annual Equality Lecture and more in 2015.  Keep an eye on What’s On for events.

27 January 2015

Activist Archives: Making Marks

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Minutes of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1787. Add.21254. Copyright  The British Library Board

The British Library has been collecting the publications and records of various campaigns for hundreds of years, including the Chartist movement, and campaigns for the abolition of the trade in slaves, and for the right for women to vote. But what is it that’s important about the records and archives of activists and campaigners, and why should we care about whether they are kept?

On Monday 19 January 2015, the Library hosted a one-day workshop on this subject, as part of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation’s Mark of a Great Campaigner project. This project is about remembering the life of Sheila McKechnie, and using records associated with her work to help others learn about campaigning. The Sheila McKechnie Foundation is gathering memories of Sheila and her campaigning activities for an online digital archive.  If you are interested in contributing please email zibiah.loakthar@smk.org.uk

The “Making Marks” workshop was an opportunity for people working in libraries and archives to come together with people working in campaigning organisations, and explore what is important about activist archives and what the practical challenges might be in collecting. Following are some of the issues that we discussed:

Activist archives are important

It was interesting especially to hear those connected to campaigns talk about the value of archives to them in their work. Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter, described campaigning as a process that required continued momentum, and frequent change to adapt to new situations. Records of past activity were important to help understand the processes by which change happens, and how changes were achieved. Maurice Frankel, UK Campaign for Freedom of Information, further argued that records were important as concessions won at an earlier point in a campaign could be challenged later on. Archives could play a role as a reminder, and to challenge misconceptions.

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Maurice Frankel, photo courtesy of Hala Al-Ukaby, Sheila McKechnie Foundation volunteer

Older archives also remained important. One attendee commented on their role in “keeping ideas alive”, and another describing them as a, “historical push” and inspiration to action. At the British Library, we have used our records of campaigners in exhibitions and learning resources, to talk about the tactics and use of written words and speech that campaigners have used to make a change. Elspeth Reid, archivist at Falkirk Community Trust, talked about the use of archives in showing the recurrence of campaign themes across time.

Timing is crucial to collecting

Keeping records of campaigns and campaigning organisations was also seen as important from the point-of-view of accountability. There was a sense from some that campaigning organisations had a particular obligation to be open about their activities. However, not all organisations are so aware of the need to keep records, or that there might be future interest in their activities. This might be especially true of campaigns that might organise around a particular event, where organisations may disband shortly after the end of an event, and records are dispersed or lost. For example, the National Library of Scotland, in collecting archives connected with the Scottish Independence referendum, began contacting campaigning groups at the start of the campaign to ensure that there was a good awareness about the value of records. Stefan Dickers, of the Bishopsgate Institute, spoke about the need for archivists to be pro-active in contacting organisations, and promoting awareness of the use of archives – including to campaigns organisations themselves. 

How to manage volume

A recurring theme through the day was that of the desire to ensure that records survive from as many activities as possible, against the considerable costs of keeping archives. However, as with campaigning itself, this is an environment that is changing. More recent actors, such as “Information Shops” and other activist-run libraries, are supporting some of this need for access to libraries of campaigns materials and advice. Also, the move to using online methods, and new social media, for campaigning raise new challenges for collecting, but also allow the use of new tools. The UK Web Archive has recorded examples of the use of websites in supporting campaigns, including specific collections related to UK general elections, the impact of spending cuts, and the web as a tool for political communication and action.

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Attendees, discussing campaigns materials past and present. Photograph courtesy of Hala Al-Ukaby, Sheila Mckechnie Foundation volunteer. 

The whole day was lively and creative, with many more issues raised, such as the role of communities and activists in co-creation of knowledge (for example, through participating in oral histories or collaboratively producing films), and questions about ownership and re-use of such knowledge by third parties. I am grateful to everyone who came and took part in discussions, and, personally, I have learned much from the day.

The Mark of a Great Campaigner is a partnership project between heritage organisations (including the British Library) and charities led by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

22 December 2014

SWOTY 2014

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

It's customary at this time of year for individuals, societies, institutions and industries to reflect on the previous twelve months and nominate people, events or phenomena for special recognition. In  November, for instance, lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary selected vape [= 'E-cigarette'] as Word of the Year 2014 (succeeding 2013's selfie) and last week BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2014 was awarded to Lewis Hamilton - best driver in a field of 24 (22 of whom apparently had inferior equipment) - ahead of Rory McIlroy - best driver, best chipper and best putter in a field of 175. So, in an equally subjective attempt to combine my two great interests - sport and language - here are my nominations for Sports Word of the Year 2014 selected from examples of interesting English usage in the British sporting press and media:

May (Adrian Chiles commenting on Hull City defence, ITV FA Cup Final): they must be too cream crackered to sort it out.

July (Guardian G2 Tour de France special):  Ey up or allez allez allez?

September (Peter Allis spotting two spectators in fancy dress watching difficult bunker shot, BBC Ryder Cup highlights): I'll tell you what they're two bobby-dazzlers there and is this going to be a bobby-dazzler?

October (Mike Selvey, Guardian Sport): He was, said Smudger, [...] the fellow who would pay the way for all of us, and he was not wrong.

October (Asteras Tripolis, Guardian Sport): The Argentinian scored twice but it was his first-half rabona that sparked a gasp from all inside the stadium.

November (Sachin Nakrani quoting QPR captain, Joey Barton, Guardian Sport): If you're not playing for Liverpool, who couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo, how do you get into the England squad?

November (Simon Cambers & Kevin Mitchell, Guardian Sport): Lamri [...] played a handful of minor matches on the Futures circuit, the last recorded of them when he double-bagled in a qualifier in Morocco two years ago.

November (Lizzy Ammon, Guardian Sport): [Moeen Ali] will be leaving his doosra delivery firmly in the locker for the foreseeable future.

December (Dean Ryan, Guardian Sport): "Jackling" [...] is something which can be taught as, apparently, the exceptional Francois Louw is doing with Burgess in training with Bath.

December (Martin Castrogiovanni): The widely reported, extraordinary rant that demonstrated the Italian prop's perfect mastery of the F-word and C-word.

Though not comprehensive, the list encompasses six sports: cycling, football, cricket, tennis, golf and rugby and entries were chosen to offer a range of linguistic research enquiries.

Four terms stand out as they are restricted to the discourse of their respective sports. Of these, two are loan words: rabona [= Spanish for 'to play truant'] - an impressive skill whereby a footballer kicks the ball by wrapping the kicking foot behind the standing leg thus appearing to kick the ball cross-legged; and doosra [Hindi/Urdu for 'the second/other one'] - a ball in cricket which spins away from a right-handed batsman but is delivered with a bowling action that appears to suggest the opposite. The other two are examples of the kind of jargon that inevitably occurs in descriptions designed for a specialist audience: jackling [= a blend of 'jackal' and 'tackle'] - the skill in rugby of winning the ball in a tackle before a ruck has been formed; and double-bagel [= a visual reference to two zeros] - a 6-0, 6-0 defeat in a three set match of tennis.

Six entries demonstrate how vernacular forms occur even in relatively formal sports discourse. Two items might best be categorised as dialect forms: ey up [= 'hello' or 'watch out'] and bobby-dazzler [= 'someone/something striking or impressive']. Dialect is extremely useful shorthand for conveying a sense of location and/or identity. Three are slang forms typical of an informal register: cream crackered [= rhyming slang for 'knackered', i.e. 'exhausted'], Smudger [= nickname for anyone called Smith] and couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo [= 'wildly inaccurate in front of goal']. This deliberate use of slang creates a sense of shared conversation between presenter and viewer/listener or between journalist and reader. Finally, swearing, though generally still taboo in mainstream press and media sports coverage (albeit part and parcel of the live experience itself), is included here as the Guardian remains unique among British newspapers in printing the C-word and F-word without resorting to asterisks to represent the letter <u>. I've often wondered whether this is confirmation of the paper's sociolinguistic maturity or more a reflection of childish editorial glee.

Most of the terms above are documented in authoritative dictionaries in the British Library's collections, but some are yet to appear in print reference works, so their presence in our newspaper collections is an invaluable resource for language scholars monitoring the continued evolution of English. For anyone interested, the Oxford English Dictionary (online) includes doosra, bobby-dazzler and cream crackered, the Collins English Dictionary (online) has an entry for jackling and includes rabona in a set of 'new word submission[s]' under consideration, while the Macmillan Dictionary (online) records bagel as 'in tennis, a score of 6-0'. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English noted Smudger in the mid-20th-century, while ey up appears in the 19th-century English Dialect Dictionary. Finally, the first person I ever heard use the phrase couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo was my brother-in-law who used it on a golfing holiday in the late 1980s to describe his wayward driving (and his unpredictable long-irons, inconsistent approach play and inept putting). I've not found it in a print publication, but I'm sure he'd be delighted to know it's accorded an entry at Urban Dictionary (online) and features in George Sandford's English Idioms blog.

And this year's winner is ... it's got to be bobby-dazzler, hasn't it?