The Value of Collaborative Doctoral Award Studentships – some thoughts

It’s not often that you get a chance to reflect and think about where the value in a particular funding stream lies. As a student with a Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDA) from the AHRC, I was delighted to hear a conference had been organised to do just that. What made this conference more interesting was that it had been organised by students like me, and not the AHRC, the universities or institutions who have been part of shaping the scheme.

The day was split into three, origins, innovations and legacy. The first session had Ian Lyne from the AHRC, academics Margot Finn from UCL and Trustee of the V&A, and Alastair Owens from Queen Mary University, and a CDA student, Jade French. The second session focused on the variety of projects CDAs can produce with presentations from past and present students. The final part of the day looked a legacies and had a mix of academics and heritage professionals that included Alexandra Goddard, now at the British Library Goddard focused on her work at the Geffrye Museum, Bill Sherman from the V&A and the University of York, Kevin Moore, director of the National Football Museum, Farah Karim-Cooper from Shakespeare’s Globe and Eithne Nightingale a current CDA student.

More details of the programme and points for discussion can be found on the CDA Value website.

I think the organisers did very well at trying to balance out a mix of presentations and discussion and from the first session it was clear many people in the audience had questions and experiences they wanted to share.

I was interested to learn that the model for the CDA had been borrowed from the sciences and were originally designed ten years ago to meet the perceived gaps in knowledge observed by cultural and heritage institutions. In the ten years CDAs had been running it had become clear that there is no specific model for a CDA. They could be part of a heritage institution or other cultural institution, designed by the either a university, the cultural institution or by the student. Jade French was a perfect example of the project originating from the student and so able to design a process and area of study. This is very different from my experience of applying to a university to study a fairly vague topic and being given free reign in an archive.

As part of the origins discussion I thought one of the most important points raised was by Margot Finn (who raised many other important issues), that ultimately a student has to complete a PhD, and as part of this the University has a responsibility to train and prepare the student to create and write their own academic projects. At one point the audience was asked if they planned to pursue an academic or heritage career post-PhD, and the split was about 50:50. Consequently it was evident that important questions need to be asked about how well the CDA can train students for either. Though because they are all so different, I think it is important for the students to communicate their ambitions to the university and cultural institution and look for ways to develop their training.

An advantage of the CDA that was outlined was the access for students to these institutions, and from my own experience I would argue the CDA experience is partly what you make of it. Use these contacts and don’t be afraid to ask for help or training. Having said this a reoccurring theme or question that was asked was about the nature of collaboration, and even power, where did it originate and how did the student fit into this? Some CDA projects have an outline of work at the cultural/heritage institution and ideally that needs to fit with the student’s ambitions (hopefully discovered at the interview) and also be allowed for within the scope of the PhD. The funding currently lasts for three years and it can be very difficult to train in another discipline and conduct research in that time let alone write up a PhD. So yes, it is what you make of it, but this has to be negotiated within the parameters of the demands of a regular PhD workload and the needs of the institutions you work with.

From my own experience, to ensure I maintained some practical museum experience I started my PhD part time and worked at a museum alongside my research. This was useful as it gave me time to explore my research area and find my research questions and topic for my PhD, but it did give me more distractions and it felt the PhD was dragging at times. To help develop my relationship with the heritage institution my CDA was with, the British Postal Museum and Archive, I decided to undertake the Associateship of the Museum Association. This involved a work-based-project and I completed this with the BPMA. I am yet to have my professional review, so I’ll have to let you know if that was ‘successful’, though I can say it did develop my knowledge and skills in a particular area of the BPMA’s work that I wouldn’t have encountered without the AMA.

I am still working on my PhD and so I was very interested in the final session on legacies. From this discussion it was evident that collaboration and skills of working across institutions will be valuable in the future job market. I was also happy to hear that both Sherman and Moore had experience of working both at museums and academia, and that these are two careers can collide. Unlike many of the audience I haven’t decided, or don’t want to choose, between academia and heritage, and I hope there is scope for work across the two. I see the development of public history as part of this and I think it is an area CDA students should be increasingly aware. One of the main advantages of a CDA is supposed to be the opportunity for students to have an outlet to the public, to gain experience in public engagement and sharing their research with the outside world. I think that this can sometimes take some time to be realised, especially as PhDs can be slippery beings, designing an exhibition on your topic might only appear possible after you’ve submitted. However, I think CDA have a unique position standing between universities and cultural institutions to understand the challenges and opportunities of using research to engage the public.

All in all it a useful and interesting day. As JD Hill identified in his final reflection, there are still areas to be explored further. The AHRC have announced that funding for future CDAs will be for longer than three years, meeting one criticism that has followed the programme for the past decade. However, other issues around funding remain. When a studentship is granted the amount is based on the location of the university not the partnered institution. So a student could be partnered with a London based museum or archive, and so need to be based there to do research, but because their university is outside of London their funding will be without the substantial London weighting. It is also important to think about how this stream of funding can be exclusive, prominently granted to large cultural institutions with a heavy focus on heritage, where as smaller institutions could benefit as could other humanities subjects such as philosophy, law or media studies. There is also the struggle with pulling all of this new knowledge together, do we need an online platform to share resources, challenges, methodologies and discoveries?

Hill concluded with the idea that CDAs had changed the nature of knowledge coming out of universities. I’m not sure if this is true, but from my day in a room full of academics, culture professionals and students I did feel that we were at the forefront of an important shift in producing research, and that we need to ensure students feel empowered to do more with this and meet their ambitions.

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Anniversary Events – what are they good for?

‘Lights Out’ project to mark 4 August led by 14-18NOW

You may feel that we’re flying high in our journey of First World War commemoration, but I’m afraid we haven’t even taken off yet.

We are currently being taxied to our take-off point, flicking through the in-flight magazine, enjoying a few themed exhibitions, BBC documentaries and dramas and perhaps indulging in a puzzle book participating in the National Archive’s hugely successful Operation War Diary crowd-sourcing project.

Hopefully you’ve taken in enough to know that Britain entered the war on 4 August 1914, and it is that date, one hundred years later, that we’re scheduled for take off.

The opening of the refurbished Imperial War Museum on 19 July will mark our acceleration down the runway but we’ll know we’re in the air during the government planned memorial services in Glasgow, Westminster and Belgium, as well as the 14-18NOW art project ‘Lights Out’. An art event designed to echo Sir Edward Grey’s ominous words “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”

With at least four years of commemoration activities, this is a long-haul flight bound to have a mix of blockbuster in-flight movies and turbulence. But what will it all mean by 11 November 2018. Where will we land and will it be a safe landing?

In an attempt to make some sense out of this an AHRC research network has been set up between the Universities of Birmingham, Cardiff and Sheffield and involving heritage partners Historic Royal Palaces and National Library of Wales to investigate the significance of centenary commemoration. I recently attended one of their conferences at Hampton Court Palace and was fascinated by the topic.

Papers were given by a range of organisations and institutions including some of the big players in the First World War commemorations such as Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Imperial War Museum. (Unfortunately the BBC weren’t represented, as their input would have been fascinating, but we did discuss anniversaries on TV.) Also, refreshingly, the day wasn’t just about the First World War and we heard about plans for the Peterloo anniversary in Manchester, the Power Rangers made a surprising appearance and as a reminder that the war wasn’t the only thing to happen in 1914 the Komagata Maru Incident was also discussed, a moment often forgotten in Canadian and Indian history. The bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade was also referred to continuously throughout the day.

I could spend a long time going through each paper and discussing what I took from each, but in fear that this would make a very long blog post I’ll try to summarise the main points.

– Anniversaries aren’t going anywhere, we’re obsessed with them! From two pound coins to TV they feature in public understanding of history, and have been an increasing feature in recent years.

– A parallel change in the public understanding of history has been the emphasis on experience exemplified by the success of the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. This is useful for us to use aspects of family history or local history to engage with possibly new audiences, but could this mean we forsake the macro or political history? Does that matter?

– It is important to remember that as heritage organisations or universities we do not own the history we are trying to communicate. Topics, especially like the First World War or Peterloo or the abolition of the slave trade, are very personal and we need to trust people to make their own sense of this history through the gateways they chose.

– Evaluation was important to everyone involved from DCMS and HLF to the universities, museums and archives. DCMS and HLF have their desired outputs and will try to measure success against these. I was introduced to the logic chain, and DCMS said they would like to meta-evaluation but it sounds like getting evaluations out in the middle of the four years to inform later events will be challenging. HLF will work with Sheffield Hallam University on their evaluation.

– Everyone felt it was important that academia and heritage organisations keep up a dialogue throughout the anniversary events. Many new resources and sources will be unearthed and made available and it is valuable for the latest scholarship to be shared as widely as possible.

– Especially with so many cuts in so many areas it is great to have a lot funding available for First World War projects, as well as anniversaries more generally. HLF noted that through the First World War funding they have had a lot of first-time applicants, but large and small, new fundraisers and well-seasoned, it’s clear we’re all taking advantage of the available funding. But keeping track of the outputs and the current scholarship from all of this is difficult. For the First World War commemoration the number of organisations working in partnerships is huge and it is important to sustain those relationships after the project.

– Diverse stories are important, the fact that the First World War was a global conflict needs to be reflected in our work. There are also links outside of the conflict that can be examined and could be used for community projects, the Komagata Maru Incident is a perfect example.

– Finally there was some concern that we just move from one anniversary to the next, following the funding and the publicity to fund projects and attract audiences. It was felt there needed to be some longer legacy, that for many museums and archives the carefully prepared resources created for the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade are now in drawers and cupboards. Though I don’t think we need to lament too much on this. I think one of the legacies of those events has been the success of UCL’s ‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership’ project. It is possible that the bicentenary events laid the groundwork on knowledge to help people understand the background and importance of this database, and hopefully work like this will continue.

More events by the network are due in the forthcoming months and I will follow them with interest. In the meantime I have a lot to think about and will enjoy looking at how my work as a PhD student and museum professional can use anniversaries to promote the public understanding of history.

For future events of The Significance of the Centenary network: http://thecentenary.wordpress.com/key-events/

IHR Open Access Event, 1 March 2013 – a postgrad perspective

Some of the journals on my shelf. Copyright Kathleen McIlvenna

Some of the journals on my shelf.

Last Friday I went to the ‘Finch Report, Open Access and the Historical Community’ event organised by the Institute of Historical Research and the Royal Historical Society at Senate House.

I found it enlightening as well as a tad frustrating, but also hopeful. I’m not going to try and wade through all the arguments for and against Open Access or the processes and methods of rolling out Open Access across the discipline. As mentioned by many speakers at the event the blogsphere has been bursting with viewpoints and explanations. Here I wanted to touch on some areas I found interesting that I wanted to attempt to share in as straight forward and simple way as possible.

Mark Llewellyn, from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, made a very valid point that communication regarding Open Access has not been as good as it should be. I think this is a serious problem as the move to open access will have massive implications for PhD students (not to mention the rest of academia) and has the potential to completely change how we work as academics. It also needs to be discussed outside of academia, as it’s the spending of public money that is at the core of this, and the point is to widen the reach of academia and current learning to the world beyond the academy. Though the communication doesn’t have to only come from the policy makers and implementers and I feel it is our job as practitioners to also spread the word, hence this blog.

I hope you find it useful, and please do let me know if you think I’ve got anything wrong or if you’d like to share your feelings on the topic.

So, what did I find enlightening?
The existence of the event at all I think is very positive, it was well attended and had a great collection of speakers representing all aspects of the argument from journals and learned societies, to the research councils, publishers, funders like Wellcome and also History Lab plus, an organisation representing the interests of early career researchers. I thought the encouragement and interaction on twitter during the colloquium was great – I think social media channels like twitter have been invaluable in spreading the word amongst students.

It was good to hear from the publishers on the subject, and they are very well placed to discuss the differences in publishing for the arts and humanities disciplines compared to the STM disciplines. They also hold the relationships with the libraries and it was interesting to learn that the relationship between an article’s half-life (length of time until an article will have been read by half of its life time readership) could affect the likelihood of a library subscription. Peter Carpenter from Wiley gave the average half-life of a humanities article as 36 months, where as a Chemistry article was 18months – why pay for access to a journal, if it’s not likely to be read in the next year?

With this in mind and with the realisation that most of the discussions pointed towards humanities going towards the green route over gold, suggests that embargo lengths should be considered with half-lives in mind.

What did I find frustrating?
There are so many areas that appear unresolved and the concern at the speed things are moving was mentioned several times. The biggest issues appeared to be the tied up in the relationship between the REF (Research Excellence Framework), APCs (Article Processing Charge) and funding.

The Wellcome were strong advocates of project funding including the cost of the APC, detailing that it was only 1.5% of their funding costs. However there appeared to be strong feeling in the room that it wasn’t completely clear where other funding was supposed to come from – RCUK (Research Councils UK) were giving universities some, and the possible administration surrounding the delegation of this funding is worrying for many. The question still stands of who would pay for APCs on behalf of students, early career and independent scholars. They could just publish the traditional way, they publish for free and their work sits behind a paywall, but the problem is that to be considered under REF, work would have to be Open Access. Increasingly REF is not only important in assessing the work and impact of universities but is important for academic careers. Kimm Curran from History Lab Plus underlined the significance of this for early career researchers, the majority of whom (if they have a job) are often working part-time contracts. Wages are low and contracts short which could result in a decision over basic living costs or REF-applicable publication.

Alongside this is the questionable fate of humanities’ many journals and learned societies, many of which rely on publication profits to survive and fulfil a role in providing training, conference funding, book reviews and a variety of publications. Malcolm Chase, Chair of the Society History Society asked if societies would have to consider their offer for subscribing members if the publication became open access. Chase also brought up a concern over monographs and collections of essays, these are currently not under considered in proposals from Open Access, but if REF requirements stipulated items under consideration had to be Open Access it is a question of if this could remain that way.

Finally, what left me hopeful?
Though I didn’t feel like anything had been resolved at the late closing of the colloquium, I felt the history community had made some progress in promoting the peculiarities and value of the humanities peer review system. A short select committee in the House of Lords looking into Open Access, published on 22 February 2013, had acknowledged the lack of clarity in the current policy and the Research Councils are responding with a consultation document tomorrow. (See below for links)

As well as making concerns heard, useful questions were being asked, regarding monographs, and the type of licences work would have if open access, and also some clarity on the requirements of REF.

Research is being conducted in many relevant areas to help with some of these; Caren Milloy spoke on a project looking at open access of humanities and social science monographs gathering useful data on the area and holding a conference in July. I also realised my ignorance regarding the many Creative Commons licenses available and realised we all need to brush up on these as they will become increasingly important.

Then, looking to postgraduates and early career academics. Could they, amongst others (if not all), publish in alternative forums to journals to be open access and REF considerable? Could these be solely online journals or university repositories such as SAS-Space? However, journals and societies do provide other roles within academia, and publishers too play a role whether that is just marketing and the platform of publication, so this also needs to be considered.

Ultimately I was hopeful because as a community history practitioners do want open access and do want to share their discoveries and thoughts with the world. We also want to be able to welcome others to join our debates and discussions and so it feels the conversation needs to be widen.

The UK produces 6% of the global research output and we are part of a global academic community. It was a relief to hear from Peter Mandler, President of the Royal Historical Society, that discussions were being held with representatives from other disciplines, and I was glad a review of the situation is going to be made in 2014 by the RCUK. However, I came to the conclusion that these conversations need to continued and expanded with considered policy and practise decided before blanket implementation.

 

Just some of the many web pages out there:

The IHR have storified the event here: http://storify.com/ihr_history/open-access-for-historians-1

The Finch Report [opens PDF]: http://www.researchinfonet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Finch-Group-report-FINAL-VERSION.pdf

Open Access Implementation Group: http://open-access.org.uk/

Council for the Defence of British Universities stance on Open Access with other interesting links: http://cdbu.org.uk/campaigns/open-access/

Research Excellence Framework: http://www.ref.ac.uk/

Research Councils UK’s policy on Open Access: http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/research/Pages/outputs.aspx

RCUK’s revised guidance to be published 6 March 2013: http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/media/news/2013news/Pages/130228.aspx

Lords Select Committee Report on Open Access (with links to report and summary): http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/science-and-technology-committee/news/open-access-report-published/

Open Access Publishing in European Network project page – this is looking at open access of monographs: http://project.oapen.org/

Great piece on Open Access in Journal of Victorian Culture Online this explores the issues in much more depth than I have: http://myblogs.informa.com/jvc/2012/11/21/open-access-and-the-future-of-academic-journals/

Royal Historical Society standpoint on Open Access, a letter to members in January 2013 [opens a PDF]: http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/RHSPresidentE-letterJanuary2013.pdf

An interesting blog on the Open Access issue from a STM background – should we get rid of the middle-man publishers? http://telescoper.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/missing-the-point-on-open-access/

 

The Importance of the History of Portobello Road Market Today

Jesse Smith's Greengrocers and Florists, now where Admiral Vernon Antiques Arcade on Portobello Road. HistoryTalk

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve attended two of the free history events held by North Kensington’s community history group, HistoryTalk. Both of these events have looked at Portobello Market, the first consisted of a community discussion on the history of the market. Discussion was prompted by a slide show of photographs of Portobello through the years and led by two local historians, Eddie Adams and Tom Vague. The lack of a structured talk didn’t diminish the obvious knowledge and expertise of Adams and Vague, but allowed the group to discuss memories, ask questions and generally express their love of the area. I learnt a lot, including that the Antiques arcade ‘Admiral Vernon’, used to be a large greengrocers and florists called Jesse Smith’s, and also where Tesco’s is now used to be a dairy, run by recent Welsh arrivals to the area. Immigrant communities have been central to Portobello’s history, to its development and character, and though I knew about the Spanish community escaping Franco’s regime and Civil War, and of course the West Indian community, but I didn’t know there has also been a Welsh community of settlers who ran the local dairies.

The second event was a screening of the film ‘Stall Stories: A History of Portobello Road Market‘. This was billed as a documentary made by the children at the local Colville Primary School, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Needless to say I was very impressed. We learnt afterwards that the film was a result of a HLF funded project led by an arts and educational charity, Digital:Works, which worked with four primary schools to make a film about their local market. The children did the research in the archives, spoke to local historians and then made the film, which meant they conducted the interviews and filmed them, their involvment didn’t reach into the cutting room, though they were shown a rough edit to give them a chance to make any changes. Some of the children who were involved came to the screening and also answered questions on the making of the film afterwards, and it was really inspirational to see the joy and pride they got out of the process, not only were they proud of their finished product but they also clearly enjoyed the historical research and practice of oral history. I was overjoyed when one of the girls said if she had to make another similar film her topic would be local black history, mentioning Claudia Jones and Kelso Cochrane.

What was also notable about the film, was that it wasn’t just a straight narrative history, it demonstrated the significance of history to the present day and the strong sense of heritage today’s stall holders felt. Stall holders past and present where the celebrated feature of the film and were presented as being responsible for creating and sustaining the character of the area. It made a strong case for why Portobello should continue to be a place for local independent traders, with a regret for the continued increase in rents and establishment of corporate chains along the road.

The film tells an emotive story and records a snapshot of life on the market today. It was good to hear that after it was made it was not only shown to the filmakers’ fellow students at Colville, but also to the market holders working on the market day by setting up a screening on it’s own stall one weekend. Some of the audience felt it needed to be shown to local Councillors, and I’m sure it does have some political strength, though I think it can also act as an inspiration to other children. History on TV, in a variety of forms, is at an all time high, from ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ to ‘Downton Abbey’, and work like this can encourage students to engage with history in an alternative way, as well as giving them training and ideas of how historical research and knowledge could be useful in a future career.

As you can see I liked the film, so it would be wrong of me not to share it, so please find it below. It would also be wrong of me not to mention that there is a campaign to ‘Save Portobello’ from the torrent of commercial chains and retain its historic character, more information can be found on the campaign’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-the-Portobello-Road-Market/300902793992

The project has also looked at Brixton, Leather Lane and Petticoat Lane, you can find more information at their website: http://www.stallstories.org.uk/

Also for more information on HistoryTalk and their events go here: http://www.historytalk.org/

Finally some articles on the Save Portobello campaign:
http://kensington.londoninformer.co.uk/2011/10/antiques-traders-fear-for-futu.html (18 Oct 2011)
http://www.frockery.co.uk/talk/environment/portobello-road-market-help-save-a-national-treasure (12 Nov 2010)
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23824413-campaigners-claim-victory-in-battle-to-save-portobello-market.do (14 April 2010)
http://www.antiquestradegazette.com/news/7482.aspx  (22 March 2010)

 

Exploring an Unruly City: ‘London in Fiction’ at the Bishopsgate Institute

Bishopsgate Institute, Culture24.org

Earlier in the week I went to a ‘London in Fiction’ event at the Bishopsgate Institute, first in a series that invites writers of varying genres to look at some of their favourite works of fiction based in London. The event was appropriately held in the Bishopsgate Library, a beautiful and atmospheric venue. Co-hosted by the website ‘London Fictions‘, and similar to the website the event was hosted by Andrew Whitehead and emphasised an inclusive atmosphere, encouraging an open discussion from the audience on their thoughts and feelings on the works.

Under the theme of ‘Unruly City’ the three works under discussion were Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, presented by historian and writer, Alex Butterworth, John Sommersfield’s May Day, presented by poet, Andy Croft, and Colin MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners, presented by author, Jake Arnott.

With three different presenting styles and backgrounds the three presenters were excellent at contextualising their chosen work and highlighting the core themes without giving away too much of the plot. As much as this was an event for those who had read the books to celebrate them and discuss interesting points raised by the authors and events described, it was also an event to discover new works and explore litteraty avenues you may not have been down before.

The Greenwich Park explosion: siteseers near the scene of the fatality. From the Illustrated London New on the NMM website

Personally of the three titles being discussed I had only read The Secret Agent, a dark London thriller set within the conspiracies and plots of foreign embassies and anarchist in the 1880s. My interest in the book was sparked by my interest in nineteenth century London and also by the true story the book is based on; an intriguing story of a French man, an apparent anarchist, who blew himself up outside the Royal Observatory in 1894, the NMM has some information on the event here. (I also have it on good authority that the post-mortem photographs can be found in the Royal Observatory’s archives – gruesome!)

Through Alex Butterworth’s presentation I’ve become even more intrigued as I learnt that Conrad’s connections and networks were such that much of the novel could have been based on fact rather than his imagination. It also added Butterworth’s book, The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents, to my reading list.

I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of the second book, May Day, however it appeared that most of the audience had also not read John Sommerfield’s militant communist novel, and consequently Andy Croft made it his mission to sell it to us. His enthusiasm was enough to sell it to me, but for you who may not have been there, he pitched it as a revolutionary novel, written in the mid-1930s it is heavily influenced by cinematic techniques, establishing large networks amongst communities and people but also highlighting the alienation felt by some its 90 named characters. The plot is fairly simple focusing on three days leading up to May Day, and a dispute over when the labourers should celebrate May Day in Hyde Park, however it is the style and ideas behind the book that make it a cause for celebration. (There is a longer review of the book here, if I’ve wet your appetite.)

Absolute Beginners, London Fictions website

The last book I was ashamed to say I hadn’t read, especially as it is set in the area I grew up and currently live, North Kensington, and climaxes on the Notting Hill riots. Absolute Beginners is with out a doubt an iconic book, even making it on to the Guardian‘s list of the ten best books set in London. The narrator is a nameless photographer and, as well as celebrating the rise of the teenager in 1950s London with their strict tribal dress codes and slang, it also celebrates the multicultural nature of London. There is a great review on the London Fictions website, the only one of the three books featured on the site as yet.

Arnott argued that through Absolute Beginners MacInnes defined subculture long before any sociologist, demonstrating the different spheres of culture and cultural identity the Mod teenager was able to move through. A remarkable achievement, made even more remarkable when you realise the author was in his forties when he wrote the novel using the voice of an eighteen year old.

Overall the evening was enlightening, and gave me a chance to discover literature as a worthy microscope through which to examine historical themes. It also helped underline the presence of the author in a novel, but also the significance of place. London acts as a distinctive character in each of these works, and not only by the name check of London landmarks, but also by the atmosphere created, they could not be set anywhere else.

Well if you think this sounded interesting and what to go to any of the other events in the ‘London in Fiction’ series, the ‘London in Peril’ series, or any event at the Bishopsgate Institute, see their website here.

Also London Fictions website encourages readers to contribute reviews on any books you love set in London town. See here for more info.

Finally if you’re interested in anarchists you might be interested in my previous post regarding the Sidney Street Outrage, here.

Now excuse me, I have a lot of reading to catch up on….

Becoming part of the British Library’s collection

Evolving English exhibitiona the British Library

Evolving English exhibition at the British Library

Yesterday I went to the British Library to do some reading. During my lunch break I decided to pop in to the new Evolving English exhibition.

For a start I was surprised at how busy the exhibition was considering it was a Tuesday lunchtime. Thankfully it wasn’t too busy and I was still able to pause at the many displays and exhibits. I admired the copy of Beowulf and listened to an analysis of the language used in the Canterbury Tales.

Having spent the morning in the reading rooms and planning on returning in the afternoon, I was very happy to wander between the recordings, enjoying the opening of Shakespeare’s Richard III and the interactive map to Britain and Ireland sampling accents over time.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (11th c.)

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (11th c.) from the British Library

The sound archive has a collection of over 3.5 million recordings that vary from oral histories (the British Library is currently working on a very interesting oral history project relating to the history of science) to performances of music and drama, to recordings focused on accents and dialects. It is certainly an archive I’d love to explore more, but I never imagined I could be part of it!!

At the end of the exhibition there are some small phone booths inviting visitors to sit down and make their own contribution to the British Library’s collection. You can contribute in two ways; you can read an extract of the children’s book Mr Tickle used to record our different vowel sounds. The Evolving English Exhibition blog discusses the reason for using Mr Tickle in more depth, suffice to say a children’s book is used so as not to intimidate the reader and to encourage a constant flow of words and record an accurate pronunciation.

Or you can contribute by recording any words that you consider slang, funny or particular to your family or group of friends, this I assume will help identify any trends developing or the influx of outside influences.

Mr Tickle himself

Mr Tickle the subject of your contribution to the British Library's Sound Archive

I contributed in both areas, unashamedly getting into a jackanory style reading of Mr Tickle and I also contributed two words that I considered everyday and common until I used them outside of my family unit.

These were ‘foundered’ meaning feeling cold, for example ‘I was foundered’, and (I was laughed at a lot for using this) ‘bumfled’ which I generally use in reference to being uncomfortable specifically with too many clothes on, ‘I’m really bumfled’ or ‘this is really bumfley’. Has anyone else heard of these, or is it just my family???

Language is a very personal thing and a person’s use of it can tell you a lot about them, but it also seems that the evolution of our language can teach us a lot about the history of England and all the people in this country and those further afield that speak the English language.