Social Science blog

51 posts categorized "Politics and Government"

29 October 2015

Sources and Methods in Criminology and Criminal Justice

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Registration open now!

Late News: We are pleased to announce that Professor Benjamin Bowling (Kings College
London) will also be speaking at the event.

Criminology and Criminal Justice are the focus of this year’s all day workshop on sources and methods in socio-legal research. Following last year's suggestions for themes of future events the British Library, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and Socio-Legal Studies Association have teamed up with the British Society of Criminology. The workshop will take place at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies on Friday, 20 November 2015.

The event, aimed at PhD/MPhil researchers, early career academics and policy researchers, offers a valuable opportunity to benefit from insider views of several UK collections that support criminological and criminal justice research, but crucially, also offers the opportunity to hear an international group of distinguished researchers in law and criminology talk about particular sources and attendant methodological issues encountered in their research. There will be opportunities for questions and discussion throughout the day which finishes with a panel discussion.

From the British Library, Jon Sims, will provide a glimpse of content and services that offer potential to support contextual studies of criminal law, crime and criminal justice, offering examples that illustrate the scope of the Library’s collections including news media, sound recordings, industry information, colonial public records, private historical papers, literary and pictorial sources. Beyond the British Library the day offers insight on the qualitative, quantitative and theoretical methods and data sources used by or found in the collections of the impressive array of speakers who have volunteered their time.  

From the Manheim Centre for the Study of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the LSE, Paul Rock (with Tim Newburn and David Downes) discuss the “large and worrying gaps in formal documentation” encountered during their research since 2009 on the official history of criminal justice (1959 to 1997) in context of the accumulation of records, and procedures of file selection and retention. From the National Archives (Kew), Nigel Taylor will discuss the context of Freedom of Information and Data Protection legislation, the EU Right to be forgotten ruling, compliance and inter-institutional dialogue surrounding decisions about access to records of criminal justice. Representatives from other UK national collections are Sharon Bolton, Data Curation Manager at the UK Data Service, who will be talking about finding quantitative and qualitative crime and criminological data sources and also highlighting associated resources such as case studies based on the data and teaching sets, and Stuart Stone, from the Institute of Criminology (Cambridge), talking about the world renowned, and strongly interdisciplinary, Radzinowicz Library.

On the theme of qualitative methods and the interpretation of texts, Lizzie Seal (University of Sussex) will discuss sources used for research on public reactions to the death penalty in mid twentieth-century Britain. Focusing on letters sent to successive Home Secretaries, she will compare these articulations of qualitative views with what sources accessible at the British Library - the Mass Observation Capital Punishment Survey, contemporary newspaper articles and oral history interviews from the Millennium Memory Bank - did and didn’t reveal. Linda Mulcahy and Emma Rowden (LSE and University of Technology, Sydney) focus on Court Design Guides published by the UK government in the aftermath of the Beeching Report which concluded that the court system was in crisis. They discuss the use of a Foucauldian methodology and analysis that highlights relationships between data management and emerging themes, discourses on status, efficiency and danger, the privileging of some court users over others, and issues around designated space.

Visiting fellow at Queen Mary, Adrian Howe discusses standard positivist and post-structural methodologies deployed by feminist researchers in criminology and criminal justice. She will be looking at the role of statistical analysis, which allows for particular biases in the collection of data,  in determining the scale and in raising the policy profile of domestic violence, and on the discursive production of crime by non-feminists researchers. Also from the University of London David Nelken (Kings College) asks ‘Whom Can We Trust?’ in discussion of qualitative methods in comparative research, briefly addressing issues such as conflicting accounts of events in context of approaches he has called ‘Virtually there’, ‘Researching there’ and ‘Being there’ and ‘second-order comparison’.

Paul Dawson, Research Manager at the Evidence and Insight Unit of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), will discuss the use of police data, providing insight of the work of the unit through case studies, demonstrating data use and research within the Metropolitan Police Service, and offering advice about data access. Also in the context of policing and data access, Lisa Dickson from the Law School at the University of Kent will discuss her investigation of NHS disclosure to the police of confidential patient-identifiable information without patient consent through the Data Protection Act 1998. She will be talking about her use of Freedom of Information requests as a research method to secure the data, and about FOI responses as a distinctive and interesting source of research information.

On quantitative sources and methods, Nick Tilley (UCL) will be discussing the wide range of statistical sources available in criminology, what types of data are currently most commonly used, possibilities, pitfalls and practical problems for broadening the range of data sources, and other data sets that are often overlooked. Following on from this, Andromachi Tseloni (Loughborough University) offers an overview of common methods applied to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, asking what such analyses can and cannot tell about the issues examined. Continuing the focus on quantitative methods, but also the themes of policing data and domestic violence, Allan Brimicombe, Head of the Centre for Geo-Information Studies at UEL, will discuss the use of police recorded data to understand patterns of escalation to violence and homicide amongst repeat victims of domestic violence/abuse (DVA).

Booking information

This event is organised by the British Society of Criminology, Socio-Legal Studies Association, British Library and Institute for Advanced Legal Studies. The price of £90 (Students £65) includes lunch and refreshments. If you would like to take advantage of this great opportunity please visit on the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies events page for booking details, timings and access arrangements.

21 October 2015

Enduring Ideas 3: The Problem of Prejudice

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Book now!

The third lecture in our Enduring ideas series takes place on the 17th November. Following Matt Flinders on democracy and Ha-Joon Change on capitalism, our exploration of the key concepts and ideas that underpin our understanding of society continues with Dominic Abrams on prejudice. Recent and continuing reactions to the refugee crisis in Europe highlight the importance of our understanding of the problem of prejudice. Professor Abrams will address questions such as whether a tendency to judge and stereotype is an inherent part of human nature, an inevitable aspect of society or something which could be prevented through better education and focused social policies. His talk will also discuss whether our tendency to pre-judge others means that any attempts to aim for sustained societal harmony in our increasingly diverse communities are simply far too optimistic.

Dominic Abrams is Professor of Social Psychology and Director of the Centre for the Study of Group Processes at the University of Kent. We’re delighted to be joined by Professor Dame Helen Wallace, a European Studies specialist, British Library Board member, and Foreign Secretary and International Vice-President of the British Academy.

The Enduring Ideas series takes place in collaboration with the Academy of Social sciences. It starts at 1830, in the Terrace Restaurant. Booking information is available via this link here Enduring Ideas. Look forward to seeing you there!

23 March 2015

Spring/Summer Events

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Over the last few months members of the team, along with colleagues from across the library and external partners, have been working to organise numerous public events.  This post gives details of some of these events.

On Wednesday of this week (25th March), we will be holding the next event in our Talk Science Series.  On this occassion, journalist and Antarctic veteran Alok Jha (ITV) will chair a discussion with Director of the British Antarctic Survey Professor Jane Francis, UCL anaesthetist and space medicine expert Dr Kevin Fong and University of Cambridge historian Dr Michael Bravoon the subject of 'Scientists in extreme environments'. They will consider numerous questions including:

  • Why do scientists work in extreme environments, and is it worth the financial and human cost?
  • Why do Scientists travel to the tops of mountains, the polar regions and even outer space in order to conduct experiments, make observations and set up instruments and what have we learned from doing science in extreme environments?
  • Is what we gain worth the high financial, and sometimes human, cost?
  • Does exploring these places also make science a vehicle through which geopolitics is played out and do we need to explore for the sake of exploration?

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For further inforamtion on the event and to book a ticket please visit the library's What's On page

On the 11 May, we will be holding Family History/Public History? in association with the Raphael Samuel History Centre, London.  This evening event will consider how family history spans both private stories and public history. It challenges our ideas of what we mean by ‘proper’ history and experiments with the limits of fiction and non-fiction.

Richard Benson and Alison Light read from their recent work and discuss writing their family histories of the working classes.

Richard Benson’s The Farm (2005), an account of his family during the forced sale of their farm, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. The Valley (2014), which sets his family stories against the history of the mining industry, was a Radio 4 Book of the Week; it was praised for combining ‘the epic sweep of Gone with the Wind with the microscopic intensity of Tolstoy’.

Alison Light is author of the much-acclaimed Mrs Woolf and the Servants (2007). Common People: the History of an English Family (2014) explores her own family history across two centuries. Shortlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize, one reviewer deemed it ‘part memoir, part thrilling social history of the England of the Industrial Revolution, but above all a work of quiet poetry’.

Family History - Sepia family portraitsmall

The Private History/Public History event is free, but booking is essential.

We will be holding a one day conference, in association with Urban Photo Fest and Goldsmiths, University of London, on the the 29th May on 'Visual Urbanism: Locating Place in Time'.  Throughout the day speakers and delegates will examine interdisciplinary approaches to investigating urban space and consider topics such as how does the temporal dimension influence practices of urban place-making; what happens to our perception of urban space when we look at it both forwards and backwards in time; and how can time-based media be used to challenge linear notions of time?

A keynote talk will be given by Professor Michael Keith (Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford). The event will include a short film festival showcasing work by artists and researchers exploring urban space through moving images and sound.

Visual Urbanism 2015small
Refreshments, a sandwich lunch and wine reception are included in the ticket price.  Tickets can be booked here.

We are delighted that Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, will deliver the fifth Annual British Sociological Association/British Library Equality Lecture on the evening of the 22nd June.

Drawing on her recently published book 'On Liberty' and her work in high-profile campaigns, from privacy laws to anti-terror legislation, Shami explores how our world has changed since 9/11. Her talk considers whether governments have decided that the rule of law and human rights are often ‘too costly’, and look at the unprecedented pressures those rights are under today. She outlines why our fundamental rights and freedoms are indispensable, even paramount in upholding democracy and democratic Institutions.

The event will be chaired by Professor Eileen Green, Chair of the British Sociological Association and Professor Emerita in Sociology at Teesside University.

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Shami Chakrabarti. Image used courtesy of Liberty.

Tickets are £10.00 full price, with concessions available and can be booked here.

Now are you are you sat down or sitting down while reading this? Have you got or do you have a preference for one form over the other?   If you do, why not join us on the 29th June for English Grammar Day 2015

Grammar Daysmall
English has a number of ways of expressing the same concept and with approximately 400 million mother-tongue speakers and an estimated 1400 million non-native speakers it has become a diverse, flexible language that continues to adapt, evolve – and provoke strong reactions. Despite – perhaps because of – this extraordinary diversity debates about English usage have been commonplace since at least the 18th century. Jonathan Swift’s Proposal for Correcting, Improving, & Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712) warned against the dangers of unregulated language, linking jargon and slang with declining morals and poor social behaviour.

In the 20th and 21st century radio phone-ins, newspaper letters' pages and online discussion forums bear witness to continued enthusiasm for dissecting the state of the nation’s linguistic health – more often than not with a particular focus on notions of ‘grammatical correctness’.

Recent developments in the National Curriculum have placed the teaching of grammar in schools once more at centre stage and divided opinion among politicians, teachers, linguists, and journalists, as well as the wider public. How have teachers implemented changes to their teaching and learning programmes to adapt to the new syllabuses and assessment criteria? What resources are available for students, teachers and the general public to learn more about English grammar and vocabulary?

What do teachers, professionals, academics and the general public feel is the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about the language? Join us for a day of talks, and feel free to ask our panel of experts to explore any aspect of English grammar from ain’t to innit. 

To book a place please see our 'What's On' page

In addition to the above events we also have London and the Nation and A Magna Carta for Women?  taking palce in July.

Gosh! There is a lot going on.  We hope you will join us. 

27 February 2015

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

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This week, we announced our new online course Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life. This is the first online course of its type that is using the Library's collections, and we are developing and delivering it with the Centre for the Study of Ideologies at the University of Nottingham. The course will start in May, and run on the FutureLearn platform.

During the course, learners will explore and debate issues such as: freedom, community, place, justice and choice. These concepts form the building blocks of our political views but they mean different things to different people. We'll be exploring how those words come to hold different meanings and how political ideas can impact on everyday lives.

B. Prorokov, Freedom American-Style. 1971. (detail of poster).

There are two academic leads on the course. Mathew Humphrey, Professor of Political Theory, works on environmental political theory and theories of ideology. Maiken Umbach, Professor of Modern History, researches the relationship between political ideas and material culture (eg through the built environment or private photography).

The 5-week course draws on themes and items used in our 2013 exhibition, Propaganda Power and Persuasion. One of the most enjoyable aspects of curating that exhibition was giving public tours and talking to people as they visited the exhibition. This is a subject that everybody has an opinion on and experience of, and this new course will provide a new space in which to continue discussions started during that exhibition, and to look at the subject in a new light.

An exciting aspect of this course is that we'll be calling on learners to post images to an online gallery, contributing to the debate on what freedom or protest or community might mean. The online nature of the course means that people can join from all over the world, and there are no previous qualifications or experience required to take part.

Registration is open now. You can fnd out more, and see a video trailer for the course online.


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.

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.

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.

Post Card Home
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

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

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.

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.

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.

02 December 2014

Feminism in London Conference

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Louise Kimpton Nye writes:

Last month Polly Russell and I joined about 1000 other people in a vast auditorium at the Institute for Education for the Feminism in London Conference. We were there partly for professional reasons - Polly, a Curator at the British Library, manages a project to digitise, preserve and make freely available the complete run of Spare Rib magazine and I have been working as a volunteer with her for the last ten months. But we were also there as committed feminists, curious to find out more about feminist campaigns, issues and arguments. The atmosphere in that auditorium at the start of the conference was exciting, welcoming, irreverent yet serious and this set the tone for the rest of the day.

  Photograph used with kind permission of Foto Bella Foto

The conference comprised lectures, panel discussions and workshops on a wide range of feminist issues including Grounding Feminist Activity in our Everyday Life, Intersecting Oppressions In The Sex Industry and Sisterhood Around The Globe, for instance.  Annette Lawson OBE (National Alliance of Women’s Organisations) kicked off the day with her keynote speech, ‘Feminism in Context’ in which she explored the sources of misogyny and asked why people are often reluctant to use the word ‘feminist’.  Lawson was followed by a rousing speech from Dr Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Pornography has Hijacked our Sexuality and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies.  

Dines aims to put the radical back into feminism, and argued that the core principal of feminism, ‘the personal is political’ has been undermined by too much emphasis on personal empowerment at the expense of a wider collective feminist activism.  She argued that women in positions of privilege and power have ‘sold out’ to do the bidding of powerful men and that while patriarchal power structures are embedded in institutions, women are never going to gain a rightful share. Dines is a powerful speaker who doesn’t mince her words. She captivated the crowd with her no holds barred analysis of pornography and racism in pornography, subjects we had another opportunity to explore at a film and discussion event over the lunch break, The Porn Industry has Hijacked our Sexuality.

In the morning, we attended Feminist Archives and Activism: Knowing Our Past - Creating Our Future, a workshop which explored the importance of preserving and celebrating feminist history.  From our perspective this was an opportunity to find out about the important work of feminist libraries and archives, to meet a range of feminist librarians and archivists and to talk about our project to digitise Spare Rib. Organised by the newly formed national network of Feminist Libraries and Archives, FLA, this workshop was chaired by Sue O’ Sullivan, member of the Spare Rib collective and Sheba Press. Panel  members included Yasmin Ahmed from the Feminist Library , Frankie Green from the Women’s Liberation Music Archive, Jalna Hanmer from the Feminist Archive North, Zaimal Azad from Nottingham Women’s Centre, Sue John from Glasgow Women’s Library, and Liz Kelly and Joan Scanlon from the radical feminist journal Trouble & Strife.

Liz Kelly talked about the impetus for digitising Trouble and Strife magazine – a desire to ensure that the ideas of older-generation feminists are available online to younger feminists. The interactive online resource takes articles from past editions of the magazine and reflects on these from a present-day perspective.  Kelly was keen to encourage women to get in touch if they wish to contribute to the website,

Yasmin Ahmed, gave us a potted history of the Feminist Library which started in 1975 and houses a large archive of Women’s Liberation Movement material, as well as an extensive collection of feminist books, journals, photos, leaflets and pamphlets charting different feminist perspectives from around the world.  Ahmed’s presentation stimulated some interesting discussion about modern attitudes to de-cluttering and whether it is ‘worth’ keeping our old magazines and other memorabilia.  The resounding message from the older feminists in the room was “don’t throw anything away!”  Indeed, the Feminist Library will take people’s old books, photos, leaflets etc. and archive them.  One younger delegate said how much she enjoys handling the resources held in libraries and archives, in contrast to using the internet for research. Others concurred with this and argued that physical space of a library can play an important part in creating and maintaining feminist communities. The consensus was clear, in our digital age there is still a place for physical items and for spaces where feminist activists, historians and scholars can come together and share ideas and resources.

Photograph used with kind permission of Foto Bella Foto

In the afternoon, I attended the workshop on Fighting Against Patriarchy in Turkey.   The panel comprised four inspiring young women from the Istanbul Feminist Collective who gave us a vivid picture of how feminists are organising in Turkey to develop a feminist theory and practise against the system of patriarchy.  These women made a real impression on me.  They had such a firm handle on what is needed to make a real difference to real women in Turkey and explained their goals with focus and clarity.   Violence and sexual violence against women were key themes.  They talked about how the women’s movement in Turkey has successfully argued that so-called ‘custom killing’ or ‘honour killing’ should be called femicide.  For them, every male crime against a woman is political in a country where at least three women per day are killed.  But it is in the domestic sphere and in the labour market that the Istanbul Feminist Collective believe deep change is needed if women are to gain the independence needed to rise up against violence and oppression.  Men control women’s labour in Turkey, both paid and unpaid, the collective argue.   ‘We want our dues back from men’ was how one of the panellists described their goal to ‘force the state to demolish the gender division of labour’.  This was powerful stuff. 

Male violence against women and rape were key themes running through the day.  They were explored by both keynote speakers at the start of the day and further discussed in some of the workshops.  Violence against women was also the main topic of the closing plenary, with the Awarding of the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize which recognises individual women and women’s groups who have raised awareness of violence against women and children.   Women nominated for the prize stood up to give their personal testimonies of how they had been affected by male violence in what was the most moving part of the day. 

Intense and inspiring in equal measure, the conference achieved a good balance between academic debate and discussion of how issues of inequality affect women in their everyday lives.  There was also plenty of entertainment on hand with the fantastic stand-up comedian Kate Smurthwaite chairing the plenary session and a poet in residence who spent the day gathering material for a poem which she then performed at the closing session.  The day ended on a real high note with a feminist party with performances from feminist band the Stepney Sisters, formed in 1975, performance poet, Carmina Masoliver, artist and activist Rebecca Mordan (founder of Scary Little Girls), and many more. Lively, engaging, challenging and rich, this conference had something for everyone.

25 November 2014

Socio-Economic Developments since 1820

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Jerry Jenkins writes:  While unpacking some parcels earlier in the month, Matthew Shaw, the North American Curator and I were comparing the contents of our respective parcels.  I produced from my parcel an OECD title: How Was Life? Global Well-Being Since 1820.

It struck me on browsing the contents that this work provides a useful 'long view' of social development in many different fields and disciplines. The report is in the main concerned with socio-economic developments since the industrial revolution. 

In the foreword it states that the work goes beyond the traditional measures of GDP “to encompass a broader set of dimensions that shape people’s living conditions such as their wages, longevity, education, height and personal security among others.”

Across thirteen chapters, illustrated with figures and tables, the central themes of human well-being are analysed and explored in-depth. Each chapter is organised in a uniform way providing an introduction leading into eight sections all of which provide an overview of the historical sources consulted along with a description of the concepts used.  Each chapter also provides an explanation of the main research findings as well as devoting space to the important issue of data quality and recommendations for future research.

Its publication is a timely one, as it coincides well with a renewed interest in 'long history' as demonstrated by the publication of The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage which is freely available to read on the  publishers website

These two publications go some way to indicate how the 'long view' is coming into focus as methodology and data become accessible for both academics and practitioners to use in their work on modern society and all its competing pressures and the forces which shape it.

Along with How Was Life? Global Well-Being Since 1820 the library has a historic collection of OECD material available and accessible to the researcher in our Reading Rooms.  Furthermore, this title, along with many others by OECD, is available with the click of a mouse through the OECD i-library

I should also mention Matthew Shaw's recent acquisition was a leather bound pocket book diary of a Philadelphia oil worker from the 1870s, which I am sure you’ll be able to read more about in a forthcoming entry on the Americas Studies blog in the future.

Jerry Jenkins is the British Library's Curator for International Organisations & North American Official Publications.