THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

Introduction

Find out about social sciences at the British Library including collections, events and research. This blog includes contributions from curators and guest posts by academics, students and practitioners. Read more

Social Sciences at the British Library

Over the past few years this blog has brought together various events, activities and archives at the British Library that have relevance to social scientists.

We have covered activities like our Propaganda exhibition in 2013 and our collaborative work on women’s liberation in the UK, incoming archives such as those deposited by Joan Bakewell and John Pilger, and recently our partnerships with PhD students on topics such as housing activism, British comics and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Our yearly events calendar always includes an open day for social science PhD students, as well as the Equality Lecture on which we partner with the British Sociological Association.

But as well as the activities that receive publicity through this blog, there is a great deal of work under the surface at the British Library which has connections to social science research and presents opportunities for work with social scientists at all stages of their career.

On a day to day basis at the British Library, curators are managing and developing the content that they care for. They assess current research needs and consult with researchers to plan for the future, making connections across content types to facilitate the research process. They bring in new content via deposits and acquisitions, seeking to ensure the Library's collections represent British culture and society. Our international language and area specialists curate our overseas content, with rich collections to enable comparative, socio-historical and economic research.

It is not just printed content such as books, newspapers (national and international) and official publications that our curators manage. The collections here include diverse formats such as digital maps, websites, fanzines, oral history interviews, broadcast news (radio and television), spoken word recordings, world music recordings, personal and public archives, and political ephemera.

We have found through speaking to social scientists that they are often surprised at the range of content at the British Library that could support their research, or take it in new directions. There are so many opportunities here to contextualise research, to analyse different formats, to work with international material and indeed, to find unused or rarely-seen items which bring originality to research.

This short video should give you a taste for social sciences at the British Library. Please feel free to share and contact research.development@bl.uk if you would like information about collaborating with the British Library on social science research.

You can also view this video on YouTube here.

10 January 2019

Archiving Activism: The Animal Guide

Catherine Oliver writes about the online collection she has curated which explores Animal Rights Activism

Animal Rights Activism has a long history in the UK, and with a growing surge in ethical veganism, environmental awareness, and the health-based evidence turning people away from animal consumption, it is a crucial moment to reflect on these histories. It is very difficult to pinpoint an exact moment or movement that a concern and care for the welfare and rights of animals emerged. The online collection I have curated using British Library archives, now available at archivingactivism.com, seeks to discuss some of these ‘entangled histories’ of animal rights, for readers to form a picture of the different strategies, organisations, and characters involved.

Rights-of-animals-brophy

'The Rights of Animals' - image copyright of Kate Levey (daughter of Brigid Brophy) and reproduced here with her kind permission.

One part of the collection draws on materials related to the ‘lost women’ of animal rights: Brigid Brophy, Frances Power Cobbe, Rosalind Godlovitch, and Lizzie Lind-af-Hageby and Leisa Schartau. These women all made significant contributions to the philosophy, practice, and understandings of animal rights in the UK, but often are not thought of as central figures. Tracing their stories through the British Library’s archives, the collection seeks to recognise the contribution of women in this area. The collection also draws together contentious histories of animals in politics and the use of animals in medical testing and in the beauty history, recognising the ways in which human and animal lives are entangled in different, often violent, ways. Reflecting on recent advances in the rights of animals in these areas, the collection displays some of the histories that allowed for these changes, as well as the different kinds of activists who worked and fought for these rights.

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Image copyright of the National Anti-Vivisection Society and reproduced here with their kind permission.

By no means an exhaustive history of the animal rights movement in the UK, this collection serves as a starting point for engaging with not only these histories, but also with the importance of archiving animal rights movements, as our relationships with animals continue to evolve. Materials like these help us to understand how human histories are entangled with animal histories, and how humans have lived, and continue to live with animals, fighting to protect more vulnerable species from harm.

To find out more about the project, please visit archivingactivism.com

About the author

Catherine undertook a placement at the British Library ‘Animal Rights and Food Fights’, working with the archive of Richard D. Ryder, in 2016-2017, working with Polly Russell, Gill Ridgeley and Jonathon Pledge, where much of the intellectual work in this Animal Guide was inspired and completed. The materials in the collection are almost entirely located within the Ryder Papers. Catherine is a PhD student in the School of Geography, University of Birmingham researching vegan histories, presents and futures.

18 December 2018

BL Sports Word of the Year 2018

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

Congratulations, then, to Geraint Thomas, 2018 BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY), and to the magnificent England Roses for this year’s Greatest Sporting Moment. Likewise to toxic and single-use – Word(s) of the Year according to lexicographers at Oxford and Collins respectively. And so to the rather more self-indulgent award that is the British Library’s 5th annual Sports Word of the Year (SWOTY) – a twelve month labour of love monitoring the British sporting press and broadcast media collecting examples of eye-catching words, phrases to make my morning commute more palatable. The nominations for 2018 are:

February (Chemmy Alcott assessing artificial snow at Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, BBC 5 Live Breakfast): it’s hero snow you roll on and you feel great.

June (Rio Ferdinand describing Marcus Rojo’s winner for Argentina v Nigeria at 2018 World Cup Finals, BBC1) that’s his week foot he puts it top bins.

July (Simon Hughes reflecting on Joe Root’s bowling figures of 4-5 for Yorkshire v Lancashire in County Championship match at Old Trafford, BBC 5 Live Sport): he’s a clever cricketer he’s a sort of cricket badger.

September (Jamie Donaldson summing up Dustin Johnson’s poor form on day 2 of 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, BBC 5 Live Sport) I don’t know what DJ is playing out there but if it had been stroke play it would have been a snowman.

September (Sean Ingle reflecting on Greg Rutherford’s long jump career, Guardian Sport): Rutherford was just as impressive during clutch moments.

September (David Conn confirming FA’s decision to withdraw proposed sale of Wembley Stadium, Guardian Sport): executives were clearly interested but potential buyers will no doubt have taken note in the split in opinion between the suits and the blazers.

November (Aaron Bower discussing Rugby League World Cup, Guardian Sport): Kelly scored twice for the Jillaroos as they won last year’s women’s World Cup in Australia.

December (Andy Bull reporting on new system for deciding which team bats first in Australia’s Big Bash Twenty 20 cricket tournament): They will be calling hills or flats, just like children playing backyard cricket.

December (Richard Williams reviewing recently released Russian film Coach, Guardian Sport): Why choose a Panenka at a moment like that?

December (Jeremy Whittle reporting Jonathan Vaughter’s assessment of Sky’s decision to withdraw its sponsorship of cycling, Guardian Sport): ‘He [Dave Brailsford] has an impressive ability to reach into the toilet and pull out chocolate’.

This year’s list namechecks seven sports – skiing, football (3 entries), cricket (2), golf, athletics, rugby league and cycling – and illustrates a range of linguistic phenomena.

The rather neat distinction between suits [= ‘business executives implicitly motivated by financial profit’] and blazers [= ‘committee members implicitly motivated by maintaining the status quo’] is a wonderful example of metonymy: a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept (e.g. according to Number Ten is common journalistic shorthand for reporting a statement by the Prime Minister). Panenka [= ‘penalty kick in football in which the ball is chipped delicately into the middle of the goal after the goalkeeper has dived to one side’] provides a rare footballing example of eponymy: a person after whom something is named. Anybody of a certain age will know this audacious approach to penalties is named after Antonin Panenka, who successfully deployed the technique in a penalty shoot-out to secure the 1976 UEFA European Nations’ Cup for Czechoslovakia against West Germany. The Panenka is so risky it remains pretty rare, but sufficiently iconic that English football fans will recall SPOTY host, Gary Lineker, famously missing a penalty with a Panenka in a friendly against Brazil in 1992 (if he’d scored he would have equalled Sir Bobby Charlton’s then England goalscoring record). And we all remember Andrea Pirlo eliminating England with a Panenka in a penalty shoot-out at Euro 2012, although as an Italian he would call it il cucchiaio [= ‘the spoon’]. Having a technique named in one’s honour is surprisingly rare in football – the Cruyff turn is probably the only other widely used term in English – but this kind of accolade is more common in more ‘acrobatic’ sports. Different types of jumps in figure skating, for instance, include the Salchow, the Axel, the Lutz etc. and this year two new eponyms entered my sporting lexicon – the Biles [= ‘double half layout with full twist’ named after US gymnast, Simone Biles’] and the Nat-meg [= ‘run-scoring shot despatched between the legs’, named after England cricketer, Natalie Sciver].

One other entry reveals another naming process typical of sporting discourse: the nickname, Jillaroo [= ‘Australian Women’s Rugby League team’]. Some nicknames are so well-known they’re arguably more widely used than the official team name (e.g. All Blacks for the New Zealand Rugby Union team), but it’s surprising how often in sporting discourse more esoteric nicknames are used without further explanation, presumably because the user is confident the initiated will understand. Among the more obscure nicknames I’ve spotted in 2018 in Guardian Sport articles are: Matildas [= Australia Football (female)]; Pears [= Worcestershire County Cricket Club (male)]; She Cranes [= Uganda Netball (female)]; Mourners [= Neath Rugby Football Club (male)]; and Las Leonas [= Argentina Hockey (female)].

Two entries here are illustrative of sporting jargon: hero snow [= ‘snow that is soft on top and firm underneath’] and clutch [= ‘critical situation in which the outcome of a game or competition is at stake’]. In addition to the reference to long jump here, in 2018 Guardian journalists have regularly alluded to clutch serves in tennis and clutch putts in golf. Jargon refers to technical terminology used by a speech community – i.e. for our purposes here, sportswomen, sportsmen and sports’ enthusiasts – that can mystify outsiders.  Slang is even more subversive, more playful, and thus potentially even more incomprehensible and three items probably fall into this category. ImagesSnowman [= ‘a golf score of eight shots on one hole’] is a delightfully imaginative association of the figure 8 with a snowman (i.e. a circular head atop a slightly larger circular body). This kind of visual shorthand is equally apparent in the terms bagel (see SWOTY 2014) and Audi (see SWOTY 2017). Top bins [= ‘shot into top corner of goal’] and badger [= ‘overly keen/slightly know-all individual’] are expressions I first encountered among my (late teen/early 20s) children and friends. Badger, for instance, I first heard used among university hockey players to refer to a somewhat annoyingly enthusiastic club member who's never late for training, always brings the right kit, always has an opinion during half time team talks etc. – presumably the name derives from the notion that, like actual badgers, these are rare qualities among students?

The expression hills or flats is probably best characterised as Australian dialect, while one might speculate that reach into the toilet and pull out chocolate is either US dialect (Vaughters is American) or purely idiolectal. Playing cricket in the 1970s and 1980s I certainly recall spinning a bat in the air and calling either bridge [= ‘the bat lands face down’ i.e. presumably the equivalent of hills] or stream [= ‘the bat lands face upwards’ i.e. presumably flats] to determine which side had choice of batting or bowling first. To this day, amateur tennis and badminton players mirror this practice by calling rough or smooth to decide who serves first, based on tossing or spinning a racket so that the knot in the strings either stands proud or flush to the the racket head. The phrase reach into the toilet and pull out chocolate is, however, completely unfamiliar. A rather unwholesome image it is, nonetheless, analagous to polishing a turd, although the implication of pulling out chocolate is you can produce something desirable from something apparently worthless. The meaning is absolutely clear and reminds me a little of the claim, heard frequently in the mid-twentieth century, that if ever England needed a fast bowler they could whistle for one down a mine in Yorkshire.

Of the entries here only suits (but, surprisingly, not blazers) is included in this sense in the OED; clutch is recorded in Oxford Dictionaries Online; Panenka warrants an entry in Collins Dictionary and hero snow, badger and top bins have been submitted to Urban Dictionary. Of the other five, to my knowledge, none appears in conventional dictionaries, but snowman is included in Mike D’Auria’s Golf Fore Ever (2010) and Wikipedia includes Jillaroos in this sense – although, intriguingly, Adrian Room’s Dictionary of Sporting Games and Terminology (2010) suggests it refers to the Australian Women’s U21 Hockey team. The phrases hills or flats and reach into the toilet and pull out chocolate have proved elusive beyond the references here (and associated articles), which makes the British Library’s role in capturing and archiving this kind of linguistic evidence in our newspaper collections, TV and radio archive and UK Web Archive invaluable for anyone interested in documenting this kind of vernacular sporting language.

And so, finally, the winner for 2018. Well, it's Christmas so it’s got to be snowman, hasn’t it?

Follow British Library Accents and Dialects @VoicesofEnglish.

20 November 2018

Professor Kalwant Bhopal on social justice, exclusion and white privilege in universities

The Annual Equality Lecture with the British Sociological Association took place on 25 October 2018

‘Education is a right, not a privilege’ (Kalwant Bhopal, 2018)

On the 25 October this year the British Library and British Sociological Association were delighted to host Professor Kalwant Bhopal who delivered a timely, insightful and important lecture about the current state of ethnic inequality within the UK higher education system.

Professor Bhopal’s lecture began with a look at the demographics of universities in the UK and differences in attainment between different ethnic groups. Her lecture showed that whilst there has been growth in recent years in the numbers of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students attending university, there remain stark differences in attainment and outcomes. For example, White students are more likely to receive a first class or higher-second class degree than BME students. This ‘attainment gap’ is particularly pronounced for Black students from Black African and Black Caribbean backgrounds.

She went on to look at the social and cultural reasons for these differences. Professor Bhopal showed that within secondary education BME students overall achieve good results at A level, compared to their White peers. However, BME students are less likely to apply, or be able to apply, to elite universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and those within the Russell Group. And when they do apply, they are less likely to achieve places. This evidence suggests that cultural and social factors within the higher education system are working to disadvantage BME students, and privilege White students, particularly so those White students from already privileged backgrounds.

So, what are the cultural and social factors that work to maintain White privilege in education, and disadvantage BME students? Professor Bhopal argued that socially embedded racism which operates in all processes, and at all levels, within universities, creates a vastly different playing field for BME students. From the university application process which favours particular forms of knowledge, to teaching at university which prioritises White experience and history, to the fact that within university teaching itself, BME lecturers are hugely underrepresented (only 8% of UK Professors are from BME backgrounds), the mechanics and culture of our university system propagate and reproduce ethnic inequality. Given this, it will come as no surprise that Black students are the group most likely to drop out of university.

IMG_2797 - small web - Tony Trueman credit

Image: Professor Bhopal delivering her lecture. Photograph copyright of Tony Trueman for the British Sociological Association. Reproduced here with their kind permission.

Professor Bhopal was recently commissioned by the Equality Challenge Unit to understand minority ethnic ‘flight’ from UK higher education, to unpick ethnic differences in experience between academic staff and to understand how to attract and retain BME staff. A survey of 1,200 university staff as well as qualitative interviews, gave some clear indications about why BME staff might leave or hope to leave the UK higher education system.

This research showed that BME staff were more likely than their White colleagues to consider working abroad. There were perceptions that certain overseas countries (such as the USA) were more positive in their treatment of BME staff. Within the USA for example, Black Studies is an academic discipline and African American studies is taught at some of the most prestigious institutions including Harvard and Yale. Respondents to the survey felt that within the UK, race and ethnic studies were not highly regarded, and BME staff who worked in this area felt they were harshly judged. There was concern about limitations on career prospects, which was not surprising given the under-representation of BME scholars at senior levels.

Professor Bhopal concluded her lecture with advice and guidance for policy makers and university leaders about ways towards an equal future for all in higher education. First and foremost, higher education institutions must acknowledge that institutional racism is a problem which permeates processes and systems. Central to this is understanding and recognising how White privilege operates in real world interactions within universities; in interviews, at lectures, in seminars, at meetings and in informal and social scenarios. She suggests there should be greater rigour in monitoring BME attainment, with mandatory targets for elite universities around attracting and supporting BME students. Similarly, there must be targets for the recruitment of BME staff into senior roles and unconscious bias training should be mandatory.

The lecture was followed by an abundance of questions about how we achieve ethnic equality in higher education and more broadly, by a very well-informed and passionate audience. The questions and discussions continued into the foyer as the lecture closed, with people queuing up to ask Professor Bhopal to sign copies of her recent book

To find out more about Professor Bhopal’s recent work, please visit her report with Clare Pitkin on the Race Equality Charter: https://www.ucu.org.uk/HEIs-and-the-Race-Equality-Charter

A podcast of this lecture has been uploaded to the British Library SoundCloud here: https://soundcloud.com/the-british-library/the-annual-equality-lecture-social-justice-exclusion-and-white-privilege-in-universities

The British Sociological Association have uploaded a video of the lecture to their Vimeo site here: https://vimeo.com/302226095