THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

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.    

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