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18 November 2014

Collecting the Referendum

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During the months leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, The British Library participated in a Web Archiving project to reflect the debate in Scotland and across the UK. This project was led by the National Library of Scotland. In this guest post, Amy Todman, Referendum Curator at the NLS, explains more about Collecting the Referendum.

The Scottish Independence Referendum was a hugely significant international event that captured the world’s attention. Questions raised by the Referendum, on all sides of the debate, have cut across Scotland’s cultural, social, intellectual and political life. The National Library of Scotland has been at the heart of this event, collecting material in a wide variety of formats in order to preserve its material record for future generations.

Collecting the Referendum is a library-wide project, developed as a response to the complexity of issues related to September’s constitutional debate, and at the behest of the Scottish Government. It aims to produce and make accessible an un-biased, representative and comprehensive collection. We aim to capture the rich cultural and artistic legacy of the Referendum as well as what might be considered the more obviously political. The collection now includes material from a growing number of campaign groups from ‘Leith says Aye’ and ‘Academics Together’ to ‘Women for Independence’ and ‘Conservative Friends of the Union’.

Raising public awareness of our collecting activity is important and is being explored through various channels, both online and by face-to-face engagement. Our project web page encourages donations and also highlights the role of other collecting organisations, with whom we are exploring the development of referendum collections over the coming months and years.

Web archiving is an important element of collecting a contemporary national debate. We have been working in collaboration with the British Library and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University to create an archive that reflects that debate. The web archive collection contains more than 1,000 blogs, campaign sites, news pages, contributions from think tanks, trade unions, churches and arts organisations, as well as twitter feeds from Members of the Scottish Parliament. Online material is collected under Legal Deposit regulations, and, when complete, will be accessible in the reading rooms of the National Library of Scotland, British Library, Bodleian and other UK Legal Deposit Libraries.

At the NLS, Collecting the Referendum is part of a wider development to expand capabilities for managing the challenges of cross-format and hybrid collections. As such it includes material in a wide variety of formats: publications in print and digital, analogue and born-digital archives and records, moving image and sound, as well as websites and social media streams. Ephemeral material such as leaflets and flyers are included as well as monographs, serials and newspapers, official publications, reports from a wide range of think tanks and research institutes, and moving image, in partnership with the Scottish Screen Archive.

Open days

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visitors to the first Collecting the Referendum open day. Image used with permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Building relationships is key to developing the collection. To support this, the NLS held two public referendum open days, in July and August 2014, giving us an opportunity to raise awareness of the Referendum collection and build on its positive relationships with campaign groups, political parties and individuals involved in the debate.

The first open day was structured around the main Scottish political parties and their differing responses to the referendum debate. Representatives from Scottish Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Greens, Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish National Party were invited to NLS to engage with the Collecting the Referendum project and discuss issues related to the referendum with readers, NLS staff and members of the public.

As well as these representatives, there were several displays of material from NLS collections. These included ephemeral material and official publications from the developing referendum collection as well as historic materials from the rare books collections to put these more recent items within a wider context.

 
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Items on display at the first open day, NLS. Images used with permission of the National Library of Scotland.

NLS web archivist Eilidh took part in the event, using her knowledge of the web archiving aspect of the referendum collection to engage with the public about the collection. As well as discussing the web collection with staff, participants of the open day, and the public, Eilidh also talked through the Library’s approach to collecting the web and the practicalities of researching the new collection.

The second open day followed a similar format to the first, although this event focussed on campaigning groups rather than political parties. Again, six groups were invited, two each from the yes and no sides of the debate, and two neutral organisations.

While the political parties, perhaps by chance, had arranged themselves by their respective positions on the vote, with the yes’s on one side and the no’s on the other, the campaign groups chose differently. As on the first day, each group claimed a table and arranged their campaign literature on it. Here though, groups from the ‘no’ side chose to sit alongside those from ‘yes’, across and in-between those that were neutral. There was no attempt to separate out along the lines of the debate and those who attended could talk easily to campaigners from either side. A particular group of undecided voters, in their mid-20s, worked their way around every group, debating and discussing with all. We also welcomed back several of our former representatives from the first open day who were keen to continue conversations begun the month before.

Mirroring the richness of our growing collection of ephemeral referendum materials, the open day highlighted the diversity and activity of sectoral campaign groups. Women for Independence and National Collective were asked to attend, along with Academics Together and Women Together. Future of the UK and Scotland (an ESRC funded research group) and a well-established group local to Edinburgh, Open Democracy were also approached, providing an important neutral voice.

Displays highlighted the archival aspect of the referendum collection, including materials from previous Scottish home rule and independence campaigns. Items included printed ephemera (like leaflets and flyers) but extended to unpublished material such as handwritten campaign diaries, press releases and digital correspondence.

Eilidh returned to lend her expertise, this time preparing a short text to introduce web archiving to the public, complementing her verbal explanations and demonstrations. Diane Milligan (NLS Digital Assets Team) was also able to participate in this event and was on hand to discuss the ins and outs of collecting digital material.

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Pamphlets and other ephemera on display at the second Collecting the Referendum open day, NLS. Images used with permission of the National Library of Scotland.

During the open days myself and other staff members were available to talk with representatives and members of the public about the referendum collection and to explain the significance of their individual contributions. It was useful to show people the kind of leaflets and flyers that we want for the collection, and how these fit into a wider historical context. Our appeal for donations from the public was also assisted by press attention resulting in a broadcast on STV.

Artist and co-community designer Dr Priscilla Cheung-Nainby also participated in the day’s events. Priscilla has worked on referendum-related issues in a variety of venues and contexts, exploring creatively with communities some of the ways that a ‘yes’, or a ‘no’ vote might practically affect our everyday lives. We worked together to produce a simple framework for engaging with issues around the referendum. Priscilla’s intervention provided a gentle way of holding conversations about the issues around the referendum, and offered our visitors a place to step back from the campaign groups and to reflect on how they felt about the forthcoming vote.

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Collective Referendum Weave, Priscilla Cheung-Nainby. Image used with kind permission of artist. 

Indeed, such relatively small-scale community engagements with the referendum are an important part of the developing collection, representing some of the many facets of discussion that might otherwise be less easy to capture.

Developing an unbiased Referendum collection that will be useful to future generations of researchers requires pro-active work and collaboration in order to respond quickly and flexibly to what is undoubtedly an extremely significant event in Scotland’s history.

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.

24 October 2014

Exploring British Online Archives

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British Online Archives is an online platform that brings together digitised images, and descriptions, from a wide range of archives held at institutions across Britain. From this month, registered readers at the British Library can access all the collections held here through our Remote e-Resources Service. To celebrate, I'm picking some of my favourite parts of the collection. 

BBC Handbooks and Listener Research

Beginning in 1928 (1937 for Listener Research), this collection includes all the BBC Handbooks produced during the 20th century. The Handbooks form an annual report for the corporation, alongside detailed information on scheduling, technological development and research and commentary on the year. They form a significant resource for understanding the history and workings of the BBC.

Listener Research conducted surveys across panels of the BBC's audience, to both quantify audience numbers and also provide qualititative information on the way programmes and presenters were perceived. The reports included here, running for 1937 up to the end of the 1940s, reveal detailed information on audience behaviour and attitudes in Britain during the Second World War. They extend beyond commentary on programming into general attitudes to events during the War and aspirations for the post-War world. They are also fascinating for the study of methods in interviewing and public opinion research during the first half of the 20th century. I referred to the Listener Research reports in my post last year on the Kitchen Front broadcasts.  

Colonial and Missionary Records

This series contains official records of administration, missionary records from the archives of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG), papers from plantations in the Caribbean, and other commercial organisations. The records provide details of the impact of British imperialism over nearly 300 years. The missionary records themselves describe some of the earliest contacts between the European world and the peoples of the Americas, Africa and Polynesia. The collection of African Blue Books, which served the function of annual colonial reports,  provide detailed accounts and statistics of British administration. There is much also in these collections, and the related British Records of the Atlantic World, of relevance to the history of slavery, the trade in slaves, and anti-slavery movements.

Communist Party of Great Britain

A significant collection for British politics, these archives mainly cover the period from the 1940s up to 1991. The records include minutes and records of the Executive Committee of the party, as well as the Political Committee, National Cultural Committee, Womens Department (including issues of Red Rag magazine), International Department and Industrial Department. Also included are National Congresses, miscellaneous pamphlets, and the personal papers of leadeing figures such as Harry Pollitt, John Gollan, and Dona Torr. The materials reflect both internal debates in the history of the party, but also engagement with other countries and political movements, and social change more widely in Britain.

This is just a short selection from 11 series and 55 (and growing) collections. Other collections include: World War One diaries; industrial and urban change in Britain; and the records of Parliamentary Labour PartyRegistered readers can start exploring these collections from home, using our Remote e-Resources Service, as well as at the British Library Reading Rooms themselves.    

22 September 2014

Exploring Play – a free, open, online course

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Professor Marsh writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 September 2014

Regeneration?

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Robert Davies, Engagement Support Officer for Social Sciences writes

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

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

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

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Car wreckage at the Heygate Estate. Photograph by author.

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

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Demolition at the Heygate Estate. Photograph by author.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rubble at the Heygate Estate. Photograph by author.

13 August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

07 August 2014

Play the Game!

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At the start of World War One, professional sports associations came under intense pressure to cancel fixtures. Clubs and supporters alike were criticised for taking part in leisure activities that diverted the energies of "fit young men" from the armed services. Such criticism was felt acutely by the Football Association, as the football season was about to start. Against this background, the FA and clubs alike argued that professional football, and matches, made a significant contribution to the war effort, and that criticisms of players and supporters alike were disproportionate and unfair. Fundraising at matches, and the establishment of a football 'Pals Battalion', were both widely promoted.

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Play the game” Sharpen up ‘Spurs…Join the Football Battalions of the Die-Hards (17th Middlesex) [text: blue]. Issued by the Publicity Department, Central London Recruiting Depot Printed by The Haycock-Cadle Co., [1914?]. British Library ref: Tab.11748.a (number 93) 

If you attended football matches in Britain during the First World War, you would be likely to see posters of this nature displayed at grounds. At the start of the War, Britain had a small professional army, and recruitment was a vital early goal. Unlike many other European countries, Britain did not have a system of conscription, a situation that remained until early 1916.

In the first decades of the 20th century, posters were even more part of everyday life, and, alongside newspapers, the most significant form of mass-communication. When we think about wartime recruitment posters, we often imagine the visually iconic examples, technically very skilled and with a strong and direct emotional appeal. Some striking examples of these can be seen in our current exhibition Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour.

However, many posters were much simpler, relying on bold text to get their message across. Our collections at the British Library reveal a mix of complex and more simple designs. Despite their apparent simplicity, the football posters showed a good understanding of their audience. The use of humour to create a sense of camaraderie was significant, as the call was to join a 'Pals Battalion' of football players and supporters.

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Do you want to be a Chelsea die-hard? [text: blue] Issued by the Publicity Department, Central London Recruiting Depot Printed by The Haycock-Cadle Co., [1914?] British Library ref Tab.11748.a (number 101)

The 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, with recruiting offices at West Africa House, Kingsway, was established during December 1914, for players, officials and supporters of football. The Battalion was formed in an atmosphere of hostility towards the continuance of sporting fixtures, with much public criticism directed at professional football. During the late summer of 1914, a number of vocal and well-publicised commentators complained about the continuance of public entertainments that, they argued, diverted young men from volunteering to join the army. 

Professional football in particular came in for criticism, putting pressure on the Football Association to cancel matches and the 1914-15 FA Cup. The criticism reflected class prejudices against professional sports (as opposed to amateur) in general, and football in particular, as players and supporters were admonished for ignoring their "greater duty". Professional players were presented as employees rather than sportsmen, and clubs were criticised for not releasing players from contracts so that they could sign up. In response, the FA pointed to the small numbers of professional players who received a living wage, that many had already signed up (and no clubs had refused to release a player from a contract), and that professional matches had been used as venues for recruitment and raising substantial funds for war relief. 

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Men of Millwall ... [1914?]. British Library ref: Tab.11748.a (number 117)

The 17th Battalion left for France in November 1915, suffering heavy casualties at the battle of the Somme in 1916, and, later, at Redan Ridge, Oppy and Cambrai. The battalion is also remembered for Walter Tull, the first black infantry officer in the British army, and a professional footballer for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town. Tull was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in May 1917, and killed in action in France in 1918. The 17th Battalion itself was disbanded at the beginning February 1918, as part of a wider reorganisation of British troops fighting in France, although members of the battalion continued fighting in different units. Six years later, in 1924, the president of the Football Association unveiled a memorial tablet to all footballers who had fought and died during the war.

Websmall-appeal-good-sportsmen
An appeal to good sportsmen… F.J. Wall, Secretary, Football Association [text: red, black]. Issued by the Publicity Department, Central London Recruiting Depot Printed by The Haycock-Cadle Co., 1914. 18th November 1914.
British Library ref: Tab.11748.a (number 92)

Further reading

Andrew Riddoch and John Kemp. 2008. When the Whistle Blows: The Story of the Footballers' Battalion in the Great War. Somerset: Haynes Publishing.
Available in the British Library at: YC.2010.a.1402

Everard Wyrall. 1926 & 1929. The Die-Hards in the Great War. A history ... 1914-1919. 2 vol. London: Harrison & Sons.
Available in the British Library at: 09084.cc.48.