THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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59 posts categorized "Events"

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.

10 November 2014

Saturday 15th November: Too much information? Join the debate

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This Saturday, the British Library and Speakers Corner Trust will be at Senate House, University of London, to help celebrate the launch of the Being Human Festival. We're very excited that Zoe Williams and Jeremy Gilbert will be joining us to introduce our two debates, 'Truth, Propaganda and Purpose', and 'Truth, Lies and the Individual'.  

'Too Much Information?' is the theme for the day at Senate House, which will hold talks, workshops, and tours to explore the role of communication, and new communication technologies and behaviours, in our everyday lives. Many of the events focus on the Ministry of Information, which found its wartime home at Senate House, and Mass Observation, the organisation that provided the Ministry with public opinion research.

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Senate House, University of London. Photograph by Andy Day.

The day doesn't just focus on communication in the recent past though. There are fast-paced presentations on new research in the digital humanities, and workshops on researching the UK Web Archive. The day concludes with 'Openess, Secrets and Lies', a discussion on information sharing, privacy and secrecy online. The panel includes Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Heather Brooke, Ben Hammersley and Doc Rocket.

Our public debates are a chance for you to respond to the themes of the day, and tell us your concerns and aspirations for the way that we communicate in the 21st century. At 1.40pm, join us to debate 'Truth, Propaganda and Purpose'. Author and journalist Zoe Williams will introduce our debate, where we will discuss what forms of political communication and persuasion online are justifiable - and how easy is it for us to discover "the truth" online anyway?

At 3.20pm, Jeremy Gilbert, Professor of Cultural and Political Theory, University of East London, will introduce, 'Truth, Lies and the Individual'. What expectations do we have of others when we communicate online, what standards (if any) do we want to see applied, and do we know how to "play by the rules"?

Join us in the Crush Hall, on the ground floor of Senate House, and let us know what you think.    

29 October 2014

Autumn/Winter Events

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Robert Davies, Engagement Support for Social Sciences gives an update on some forthcoming events and conferences to be held at the library.

Our ‘autumn/winter season’ starts on the evening of the 26th November with the first in our new series of public discussions ‘Enduring Ideas’ which aims to explore some of the key concepts which underpin society.

Professor Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield and author of Defending Politics, will discuss ‘Enduring Ideas: The Problem with Democracy’.  During the evening Professor Flinders will ask and address 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; or maybe the problem with democracy is not that it is in short supply but that we have too much of it? He will go on to suggest new ways of thinking about politics to ensure not the death but the life of democracy.

As always we hope our audience will feel free to support, question or challenge the speaker during the question and answer session.  Tickets are selling quickly, so why not reserve a place now via our ‘What’s on’ pages.

Why not keep your diary open for the evening of the 17th February 2015, when Dr Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge and author of ‘23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’ and ‘Economics: The User’s Guide’, will explore the theme ‘Enduring Ideas: The Problem with Capitalism’?  The evening will be chaired by Dame Kate Barker DBE, former Monetary Policy Committee member at the Bank of England.  Tickets will be on sale soon.

As with our Myths and Realities series of public debates, which ran between 2009 and 2013, the new series in organized in partnership with the Academy of Social Sciences.

In the interim we are delighted to be able to host the British Sociological Association’s Ageing, Body and Society Study Group 6th Annual Conference on Friday 28th November.  The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Researching Bodies’.  The keynote address will be given by Professor Les Back, Goldsmiths, University of London.  For further information and details of how to book please visit the BSA website

Just over a week later we also delighted to host the Social Research Association’s Annual Conference 2014.  The title of this year’s conference is ‘Changing Social Research: Evolution or Revolution?’  Details of all the plenary sessions and parallel sessions can be found on the SRA booking page.

Naturally we are already planning for events to take place during spring and summer 2015, so why not keep up-to-date by using our dedicated British Library Social Sciences events page.  Here you will also find details of previous events and links to associated podcasts and videos.

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Photograph from our 'Epigenetics: beyond nature versus nurture' debate.  Copyright British Library Board.

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.

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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'’.

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‘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

16 July 2014

Age is in the eye of the beholder

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Social science curator Simone Bacchini reports on a recent conference at the British Library, which examined the portrayal of ageing.

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Professor Lynne Segal, Birkbeck University of London, speaking at the British Library

Everybody’s doing it, so we might as well be open about it. What? Drug-taking? No: getting older; it’s ageing I’m talking about.

And talk about it we did, at the one-day conference held at the British Library on Monday, 28 April 2014. To be precise, what we explored was how we talk about or, to be more precise, how we portray age and ageing. The event was co-organised by the British Library’s Social Sciences Department, Queen Mary University’s School of Languages, Linguistics and Film, and the Centre for Policy on Ageing (CPA).

You might think that this was a very academic debate, quite abstract and theoretical. And yes, many of the day’s speakers were indeed academics, starting with the keynote speaker, Professor Lynne Segal, - whose recent book ‘Out of Time: The pleasures and the perils of ageing’ (Verso, 2013) is an examination of her own life as well an exploration of ageing. But the whole point of the event was to show that the ways age and ageing are portrayed - in the media, in Government policy documents, or in countless everyday conversations – does have practical consequences.

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This portrait of Ms Alexa Purves (acrylic and watercolour on paper, 83.5 x 59.9 cm.), painted by Scottish artist Fionna Carlisle was displayed at the conference. It is part  of the artist’s cooperation with the Edinburgh-based  Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology for the  Portraits of an Intelligent Scotland project, an exhibition of portraits representing the lives of two groups of people: cohort participants in a unique study of ageing, and the scientists that are studying them.

Like many other occurrences, age and ageing do not appear to be problematic concepts, at least on the surface: age/ing is what happens when, well, when you get older. And yet, think about it a bit more carefully and problems begin to appear. Words like ‘old’ turn opaque: when does one become ‘old’, for example? Is it at 70, 80, or 90? Much depends on average life-expectancy, of course; which is why, in the West at least, who is and who isn’t ‘old’ and what society expects of them is constantly shifting.

So age and ageing have become ‘hot topics’. More and more people are looking at them from a variety of angles. This is why, here at the British Library, we decided to prioritise this disciplinary area by expanding the existing resources to facilitate its study and to actually bring together people with an interest in it, not only to exchange ideas but also to explore how to better respond, as a repository of knowledge, to their needs.

The idea for the conference began to form following an observation: on one hand, scientific innovations that allow us to live longer are hailed as great advances; while on the other, the fact that people nowadays live longer is regularly framed as a problem. The metaphors that are often used when the topic is discussed, for example in relation to the welfare state and health services are revealing: ‘time-bomb’ and ‘drain on resources’ are only two examples. And in discourse on ageing populations, older citizens (itself a problematic label: who are ‘the elderly’? Are they all the same?) are often portrayed as ‘takers’, leading comfortable lives at the expense of the younger generations who, when their time comes, will not be as fortunate. The messages we receive are, in other words, contradictory; age is both an opportunity, especially in a market economy that sees longer lives as a chance for prolonged consumption, and a burden, for its ‘costs’.

The ways in which we, as a society, represent age and ageing are therefore relevant and have consequences for the ways we construe and relate to older people. From policy-making to intergenerational relations, the ways in which age is construed and presented are never neutral. They can and should be constantly challenged; to do so, both the art historian and the sociologist, the social worker and the literary theorist, as well as – let’s not forget it – older people themselves, can and should contribute to the debate. Something we hope to have facilitated with this event, a video recording of which will soon be available (watch this space!).

And anyway, when does ageing really start? The day we are born, one may say.

 

02 June 2014

Languages and the First World War: Trench Journals

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Conference Organiser Julian Walker writes:

The First World War was, as is well known, a great catalyst for literary activity. The relationship between expectation and reality, the change, the magnitude of the experience and the sharp focus on the details are the matter of a literary experience that altered the direction of twentieth-century literature.

But these ideas could be equally seen in a non-literary written culture produced by the war, the trench journal. Trench journals were magazines produced by troops for troops. There were produced in vast numbers, at the front, in hospitals, behind the front lines, in troopships and in prison camps. Issues were printed in a small number of copies, or in their thousands. They are known from September 1914, and they immediately tell the experience of the war.

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Cyclist Battalion Christmas Bulletin 1915

They are important because, as J G Fuller writes in Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies (1990), they are ‘ not coloured by subsequent experience, and they represent a collective rather than an individual commentary, validated to a large extent by their soldier audience.’ Effectively they represent the experience of the war to those who are going through the experience, presented by those who are going through the experience; as such they are uncoloured by subsequent thoughts and to a large extent give us an immediate idea of ‘what it was like’. This validity was recognised early on, as from 1915 the British Museum asked for copies of trench journals for their collection, and the British Library now holds 1138 issues, including Australian troopship journals, hospital journals and journals produced by German internees and prisoners-of-war. The most well known title is the Wipers Times, but there were hundreds of others.

They were produced by people who often had no professional journalistic experience, but employed the skills of soldiers who in civilian life were printers, compositors, or commercial artists. Some were made up in the trenches and printed back in Britain, others were copied out by hand and circulated amongst a handful of men. Full of in-jokes, poetry of dubious quality, limericks, pastiches, well and badly drawn cartoons, awful puns, diary-sketches that give self-censored references to the frontline experience, football results and thanks for gifts from home, they often resemble school magazines. But then the people who wrote and read them were in many cases little older than schoolboys.

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Morning Rire Issue 3 1916

It is in homage to this extraordinary journalistic culture that the Languages and the First World War conference is working with Graphics students from Central St Martins College of Art and Design to produce a homage ‘trench journal’. It will contain articles by some of the people who wanted to come to the conference but were unable to attend, some linguistic titbits (including new finds), illustrations and photographs, excerpts from journals in the British Library collection and some in private collections, and pastiches of trench journal material.

The Central Saint Martins students have studied trench journals in the British Library collection, and for them this project, working in direct relation to a print medium a century old that was produced under the most stressful conditions conceivable, is a challenging venture. Various print methods are being explored, including letterpress and mimeograph, the print technique by which some of the more close-to-the-action original trench journals were produced. Echoing the ‘autonomy within self-imposd boundaries’ of the originals, the students have full design control of the journal, including the title; working from the description by Graham Seal (The Soldiers’ Press, 2013) of trench journals as a ‘democratic cultural republic amidst a hierarchical martial regime’, the publication is called At No-one’s Authority.

The relationship between the wartime journal editors and their superiors varied; while some were explicitly published under the authority of commanding officers, for others, circulating even in typescript or manuscript, this was not an issue. It is particularly pertinent that Koenraad Du Pont from the University of Leuven will be giving a paper on how an Italian trench journal, L’Astico, was centrally manipulated for propaganda purposes; in this case the attempt to use a range of dialects to cement camaraderie within the army backfired. Though British journals display attitudes of ‘grumbling but not complaining’, pride in achievement, group identity, ‘laughing will get us through’, and ‘getting on with the job’, these were perhaps uneasy and fragile masks of the soldier’s awareness of his unprecedented relationship with his environment, and manifestations of a desperate need to say ‘I am still here and alive now’.

At No-one’s Authority will be available in a very limited edition, and only at the conference, so book your ticket now.

Programme, booking links, and blog: http://languages-and-first-world-war.tumblr.com/

15 May 2014

Culture and football in harmony

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The Football World Cup starts next month, and the British Library is celebrating the event on 23rd May with a conference about football and culture. Our collections include fascinating titles about sport in general and football in particular. Barry Taylor curator for Hispanic Studies describes one of them and shows how football and culture are closer than one might think.

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El libro homenaje a Diego A. Maradona. San Martín Pcia Bs As : SAFE, Sociedad Argentina de Fomento Editorial, 2001 British Library shelfmark: HS.74/2205

England fans may well remember Diego Maradona as the man whose hand ball won Argentina victory over England in the quarter final of the 1986 World Cup and paved the way to Argentine triumph over West Germany.

In his native country he is of course a god (to put it mildly) and this item from the BL collections points up some cultural differences between the two footballing nations who faced each other on 22 June 1986 at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

‘Cultural’ itself is a word with quite different connotations in English and Spanish.  In vernacular English, culture lives in art galleries and concert rooms.  In Spanish, it’s a much broader term, commonly used in the sense in which only anthropologists use it in English.  It’s the whole way of life, as much in the streets and on the terraces as in the academy.

This lavish production also demonstrates the integration of the Argentine intellectual into the life of the nation.  In Latin America, poets are seen as the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’, speaking for the nation in times good and bad.  It’s eloquent that the prefaces of this volume are by Rosa María Ravera ( President of the National Academy of Fine Arts) and Daniel Arcucci (Maradona’s biographer and editor of the prestigious daily newspaper La Nación)

El libro homenaje a Diego A. Maradona contains texts by ten well known Argentine authors, illustrated by original prints by ten well known Argentine artists.  The artists are: Alicia Scavino, Alicia Díaz Rinaldi, Mirta Ripoll, Leonardo Gotleyb, Lucrecia Orloff, Carlos Scannapieco, Ricardo Tau, Pablo Delfini, Alberto Arjona, and Vera Rodriguez.   The authors are: Roberto Fontanarrosa, Pacho O'Donell, Federico Andahazi, Dalmiro Sáenz, Martín Caparrós, Elvio Gandolfo, Rodolfo Fogwill, Leopoldo Brizuela, Sergio Bizzio, and Daniel Guebel.  Authors and artists have signed each copy. It is an edition of 505 copies.

Measuring 42 x 33 cm, printed on hand-made paper, physically it consists of a  booklet (24 pages); another booklet with facsimiles of the texts (20 pages); 13 unbound quires; a postcard; and a pair of gloves..  This last element a fitting monument to the Hand of God.

 A Cultural History of the World Cup, a one day conference at the British Library, will be held on Friday 23 May 2014, 09.30- 17.00. Tickets £30 (full price), £15 (concessions)