Not as boring as they sound – reading the history of Zimbabwean independence from airline annual reports in the BLDS Legacy Collection

By Danny Millum – BLDS metadata and discovery officer

One of the many strengths of the BLDS Legacy Collection lies in its holdings of annual reports, from both government departments and public and private companies. While obviously vital source material for business and economic historians, these might appear a little dry to others, but on closer perusal the incidental details of their production are in fact often strikingly revealing of wider social, cultural and political developments.

One example of this which struck us during cataloguing were the runs of Air Rhodesia and Air Zimbabwe annual reports which run from 1968 to 1988/89. The fact that Zimbabwe only achieved independence relatively late gives it a unique place within our collection, as while for the majority of African countries our holdings only really begin with independence, here we have material which allows us to compare and contrast pre- and post-independence publications across a wide variety of organisations.

Just dipping our toe in the water with this one example affords us a fascinating visual insight into how the airlines saw themselves. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single black Zimbabwean in any of the images from the 1968 and 1973 issues [image 1, 2 & 3], whereas the 1981 picture is decidedly multi-racial [image 4] and by 1989 the vast majority of the office staff are black [image 5] (interestingly for much of the late 70s photographs have been replaced by cartoon images – this would probably take an entirely separate blog to explore though!)

Besides the pictures, there are also snippets of text in the reports which cast light on international political developments and their local ramifications.

As we can see from the extract below from the 1968 annual report on Traffic and Sales that the tensions between Zambia and Rhodesia following the latter’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 were playing themselves out in the air industry as well, with Zambia banning air services between the two countries (and South Africa commensurately increasing its traffic).

“The new national airline of Rhodesia was born on the 1st September, 1967. Its birth was bedevilled by difficulties but it has come through the first few months of its life, not unscathed, but a great deal stronger than even the most optimistic had hoped for.

The Airline’s strength and resilience, in this important period of its life, stemmed from its predecessor’s proud heritage of service to Central Africa during the period 1946-1967… The difficulties facing the airline, and the country it serves, are by no means over; indeed the extent and degree of pressures from some quarters is increasing; however, Air Rhodesia faces the future with confidence…”

Air Rhodesia annual report 1968 – BLDS Legacy Collection

Post-independence we can see [image 6] that by 1989 routes stretched across Africa, to Europe and even to Australia.

Image of the route network of Air Zimbabwe
(Image 6) Air Zimbabwe route network – annual report 1989 – BLDS Legacy collection

Though Air Zimbabwe is still extant, mounting losses and the grounding of all flights due to the current Covid-19 pandemic mean its future is uncertain. It is unlikely that preserving its archive will be its priority, and therefore the preservation of this material by BLDS demonstrates in microcosm the importance of cataloging and conserving this type of material for histories of all kinds.

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Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), The Library

12th May 2020 an introduction to the diaries

By Chloe Daniel – Mass Observation Archive Assistant

23 March, 2020. The country, along with life as we knew it, stopped. School’s out. Non-essential shopping is no longer permitted. Gatherings involving more than two people now prohibited. You may only leave your house for a small number of reasons and exercise outdoors is now limited to once a day. ‘Lockdown’ begins. Of course, reader, I probably do not need to explain the reasons behind this. If you are reading this in 2021, you will already know. If you are reading this in the future, this period was so momentously life changing that I imagine you would have learnt about it in school. Or maybe your grandmother or grandfather told you what it was like to live through this strange time. For the sake of clarity however, I will explain.

How the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in the United Kingdom

COVID-19 is a disease which was identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Questions surrounding this illness, which seemed to attack the respiratory system, soon began circulating around the world. At first, the attitude amongst ordinary people in the United Kingdom generally seemed to be one of nonchalance (or at least from what I remember). In fact, as of 9 January 2020, health officials were still unsure if the virus even spread via ‘human-to-human transmission.’[1] As the month went on however, the cause for concern progressed. Alarming reports of a hospital in China being constructed in ten days to treat coronavirus patients began to cause anxiety.[2] If this new disease is nothing to worry about, what would be the need to panic build a hospital? On the 31 January 2020, the first two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the United Kingdom.[3] Over the next couple of months, the number of confirmed cases in the UK continued to grow. It became clear that a serious problem was arising. On 5 March 2020, the first person to die of the coronavirus in the UK was announced.[4] Just six days after this, on 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that coronavirus was to be officially classified as a pandemic.[5] On 23 March 2020, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared on television sets across the country.[6] 27.5 million people watched his sobering message[7] The disease was spreading quickly and taking many lives. Something needed to be done. A national lockdown was announced and together we needed to adhere to the restrictions I mentioned above, in order to control the spread of the virus.

“Mass Observation has annually been asking for people to send in a record of their day on 12th May. The diaries provide an amazing insight into the lives of ordinary people across Britain”

The (ongoing) period that ensued would be life changing for many. For some, there would be periods of immense sorrow and loss. For others, this period would bring newfound happiness in areas previously unexplored. For the majority, I think it proved to be a mixture of the two. After all, our thoughts and feelings are not linear.

The 12th May 2020 collection

How do I know about how people were feeling, you may now be asking?

A Google map showing locations of MO diarists
12th May – Map detailing diary locations (sample size: 1000 diaries)

The Mass Observation Archive sent out a call for 12th May 2020 diaries. This was not a new directive. In fact, since 1937, Mass Observation has annually been asking for people to send in a record of their day on 12th May. The diaries provide an amazing insight into the lives of ordinary people across Britain.[8] The call for 12th May 2020 diaries occurred during the first lockdown. The responses will be a fundamental resource for those who wish to learn more about life for ordinary people during the coronavirus pandemic. The response rate was astonishing. Over 5000 people sent in a diary for 12th May 2020. Entries arrived from every corner of the United Kingdom, from Aberdeen in Scotland to Marazion in Cornwall. The youngest diarist I have so far encountered was just three years old whilst the oldest was ninety-one. Responses have arrived from people of all races, religions and genders. From those living in city locations to others in the countryside. Similarly, the range of occupations of our writers is also broad, from school children and students to nurses, teachers, lawyers, administrators, architects, archivists, photographers, bakers, civil servants and engineers, just to name a few.

12thMay Pie chart detailing age groups of the diarists
12th May – pie chart detailing age groups of the diarists (sample size: 1000 diaries)

As the Archive Assistant working on the 12th May 2020 collection, it is my duty to catalogue each diary and ensure that they are properly digitally preserved so that they can be made accessible. This means saving an original copy of each diary and then a second copy with any sensitive information redacted so that they can be used for research and other purposes. Of course, many diaries are deeply personal, and some writers do not wish for their submission to be used for research purposes, so these are stored separately and securely. Whilst cataloguing the diaries, I record any demographic data contained and I also record anything specifically notable about the diaries which may be of use to researchers. As you can probably imagine, almost every diary written during a pandemic has something very notable included.

Pie chart detailing gender groups of the diarists (sample size: 1000 diaries)
12th May – pie chart – gender groups of the diarists (sample size: 1000 diaries)

Reading the diaries is an emotional journey. Some entries provide very raw accounts of loss and death and detail the anguish of losing a loved one, as well as the difficult grieving process which follows.[10] These can be very hard to read and highlight the dark realities of living under the threat of a deadly virus. Many diaries also discuss separation and the heartache this causes. Grandparents who can no longer see their grandchildren, students unable to return to their parents and lovers kept apart.[11] Others detail financial worries or concerns around losing employment.[12]

There are, however, those who detail happy experiences during lockdown. One set of new parents have recorded how happy they were to be working from home as it meant they could experience precious time with their new-born baby.[13] Some have used this time as a period of self-development, to start new hobbies and even look in to setting up new businesses. Others have used this period has a time to connect with nature and appreciate the natural world.[14]

Photograph of a sunflower seedling
12th May – sunflower competition – writer MT_2020_589 – for her street sunflower growing competition… she said she hoped to maintain ‘the friendliness and support from neighbours and strangers.’

Some of the diaries have made me laugh, a few have made me cry, some I can relate to and some experiences seem to be a world away from my own. Even though each lockdown story is different, this period also seems to have brought people together. Of course, there are times that it has brought out the worst in people, panic buying being one of them.[15] Yet there also seems to be a tremendous sense of community spirit which has been documented in many of the diaries. Writers discuss shopping for their isolating neighbours or volunteering at foodbanks.[16] The main thing that I have taken from the vast majority of the diaries is that this experience has put into perspective what really matters for many people. Very few entries detail materialistic things such as how important it is to have the nicest car or newest phone. Instead, they discuss the food on the table, the importance of health, contact with friends and family and the need to treat the world and those around us with kindness. Many entries finish off with the writer stating that they hope that after this is over, we focus more on these things and continue to look after our communities. I sincerely hope so too.

Over the next few months, I plan to share more information from the diaries with you. I will be writing on the different themes and trends that I notice coming from the entries. I will also be discussing the ways in which I think they may be useful to future researchers and the areas that they can provide insightful information on. These diaries provide 5000 individual stories of what it is like to live through an event that changed history. To me, the beauty of the diaries is that they are not giving us a retrospective account but instead provide an expression, sometimes even an outburst of thoughts and feelings in the actual moment. I feel very privileged to be the first person to look at many of these diaries since they were sent in by the diarists almost a year ago and I look forward to sharing my findings with you.

[1] Author unknown, ‘Wuhan pneumonia outbreak: Mystery illness ‘caused by coronavirus’ (9th January 2020 [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[2] Author unknown, ‘Coronavirus: 10 days of hospital building in 60 seconds’ (2nd February 2020) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[3] Author unknown/ James Gallagher ‘Coronavirus: Two cases confirmed in UK’ (31st January 2020) [Accessed 31st January 2020]

[4] Author unknown ‘Coronavirus: Woman in 70s becomes first virus fatality in UK’ (5th March 2020) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[5] Author unknown/ Philippa Roxby, ‘Coronavirus confirmed as pandemic by World Health Organisation’ (11th March 2020) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[6] UK government/ speech by the Prime Minister (Coronavirus: Boris Johnson’s address to the nation in full) (23rd March 2020) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[7] Conrad Duncan ‘ Boris Johnson speech becomes one of the most-watched TV broadcasts in history’ (11th May 2020) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[8] Author unknown, ‘Wednesday 12th May 2021: Would you like to keep a one- day diary for Mass Observation? (n.d) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[9] Google Maps, Map data 2021 GeoBasis-DE/BKG 2009, Google, Inst. Geogr. Nacional

[10] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_759, 12th May 2020.

[11] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1016 and MT_2020_858, 12th May 2020

[12] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_834 and MT_2020_901, 12th May 2020

[13]  Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1060, 12th May 2020 [1] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_856, 12th May 2020

[14] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_856, 12th May 2020

[15] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1235, 12th May 2020

[16] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1208, 12th May 2020

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Posted in MO (Mass Observation), The Keep

House bound

By Lisa Towner – Collection Development Library Assistant (and bookbinder extraordinaire)

Pile of bound notebooks with small mug
Bound books – Lisa Towner

When bookmaking during lockdown I think about a book by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, Mindfulness a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. Making books has given me moments of peace and distraction from all that has been happening outside of my home. I have a tendency to over think and bookmaking has been the ideal remedy for me. I get lost in the act of doing and create a handmade item with purpose as a result of my endeavours.

Book binding tools
Book binding tools – Lisa Towner

Making a book involves quite a few techniques. Folding, cutting, stitching, measuring, gluing and pressing are all part of the therapeutic process the craft gives me. I can lose myself for an hour folding and cutting paper and then return at another time to mindfully stitch the pages together. Choosing paper for the cover and thread for the stitches always causes me some enjoyable deliberation. I marble paper for some of the book covers, or make paste patterns. The paste gives the paint a thicker consistency to enable you to print or mark with it.

Marble paper covered notebook
Marble paper cover – Lisa Towner
2 turquoise paste patterned covered notebooks
Paste patterned covers – Lisa Towner

A Coptic stitch method of binding allows the book to lay completely flat when open and the stitching is visible, ideal for sketch books. The stitching is decorative with Japanese Stab Binding but the book will not fully open. Case Binding is the traditional way to produce a hard backed book with a covered spine.

Coptic stitch bound notebooks upright on shelf, shelved among books
Coptic stitch – Lisa Towner
2 Japanese stab bound books 1 A4 landscape 1 A5 Portrait
Japanese stab binding – Lisa Towner
Pile of case bound hardback books
Case binding – Lisa Towner

Spending so much time at home over the past months has resulted in me being very productive. Friends and family have been gifted a selection of books, the latest batch are pocket sized sketchbooks. My stock resulted in an online stall at a Christmas Market Place run by Community Base in Brighton. I am preparing more books for another online sale in May.

Photo of 3 pocket sized sketchbooks
Pocket sized sketchbooks – Lisa Towner

Tea and biscuits, coffee and cake, a nice evening meal and bookbinding have all played an important part in my day whilst being housebound.

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Posted in Collection Development, Uncategorised

Telling the time and temporal rhythms

Evidence from the MOA Autumn 2017 directive One-day diary: organising and experiencing time

By Clare Holdsworth, Keele University

Writing a one-day diary is a key activity of being a MOA correspondent. One-day diaries are often used in directives, including the annual request for 12th May diaries. These diaries can provide an intriguing glimpse into telling the time by analysing references to clock time included in a sub-set of diaries. This includes how clock time is recorded by MOA correspondents and daily rhythms in noting time. This analysis showcases the varied ways in which researchers can interpret the data collected in MOA diaries and their contribution to the illusive and fascinating study of time.

The Autumn 2017 directive used the one-day diary format to collect accounts of time pressure. Correspondents were asked to write about a day when either they or their partner was at work. If no one in the household was in work correspondents were asked to choose any day This directive specifically asked correspondents to recall clock times, particularly those associated with time squeeze. These dairies are particularly suitable to analyse how correspondents tell the time throughout the day.

Writing a Diary

Before we examine how MOA correspondents tell the time in the diaries it is interesting to look at how MOA correspondents write their diaries. One of the fascinating, and equally frustrating, qualities of MOA diaries is the variety of responses received. There is no standard format for submitting a MOA response. There are 137 responses to the Autumn 2017 directive, though three correspondents did not submit a diary. Of the 134 diaries, one quarter of the diaries are handwritten, and one diary is a cartoon.  The diaries vary in length from half a page to 15 pages and the modal length is 3 pages. 31 correspondents include images, all photographs except for the cartoon and one correspondent who provides two sketches. The choice of day is evenly distributed throughout the working week (10 correspondents write about a weekend, mostly Sunday), though there is a slight bias towards the start of the week, with Monday the most popular day (28 responses) and Friday the least common (20 diaries).

There is not a set way of writing a MOA one-day diary, though most correspondents adopt one of two style formats. The first format is to use a time-structured approach: the diarist divides the day into specific time points detailing activities at each time. Some of these time-structured diaries use a table format and all confirm to a stylistic devise of noting the time on the left-hand side of the page. The second format is to write a time-narrated diary in which the narrative of the day is dictated by activities rather than temporal structure. These diaries usually take the form of a long essay, though some might identify key time points in the margin. References to clock time include deterministic (activities happen because of the time, such as leaving the house to go to work) and incidental (activities happen at certain times, such as a meeting starting or finishing). A few time-narrated diaries have no specific mentions of clock time.

Of the 134 diaries collated in the 2017 Autumn directive I classify 36% as time-structured and 64% as time-narrated. There is no significant difference by gender, however age and occupation status are related to diary format (see figure 1). Older and retired correspondents are more likely to write a time-structured diary, while younger diarists and those in paid work tend towards the time-narrated method.

Figure 1 image of table showing MOA One Day Diary Format by Gender, Age, and Employment Status of Diarist
Figure 1 MOA One Day Diary Format by Gender, Age, and Employment Status of Diarist
i P value for pearson chi-square test is .61 i.e. not significant
ii P value for pearson chi-square test is 0.05 i.e. significant at 95% confidence level
iii P value for pearson chi-square test is 0.01 i.e. significant at 95% confidence level
Source: Authors’ analysis of diary format: Mass Observation Archive (University of Sussex): Replies to Autumn 2017 directive One-day diary: organising and experiencing time

Telling the Time

While the use of clock time to demarcate the day varies between the diaries there is a discernible pattern to how correspondents tell the time. In order to explore this I have extracted all references to clock time in the diaries and collated these in a database. There are 2052 clock times in the 134 diaries (an average of 15 clock times per diary). Most clock time references refer to specific times (e.g. 08.00) even if the activities written about are not necessarily happening at this precise time. Some are vague (e.g. a diarist may write ‘at about 9 o’clock’). These approximate times have been recorded as the exact time in the database. Temporal references can also be for a time period (e.g. a diarist may write between 8 and 9am) and for these both clock times (i.e. 08.00 and 09.00) are returned in the database of clock times.  Times noted more than once in the diaries were only recorded once in the database

These 2052 clock times are dominated by the 12 points of clock time (see figure 2). 96% (1970) refer to one of the 12 clock points. Of these over half, 36% and 25%, are for the hour (12) and half hour respectively (6). However the dominance of 12 and 6 for clock time is not the only pattern that emerges from this data, and the symmetry of clock time references is also striking. After 12 and 6, the next most popular clock points are 3 and 9, and these have almost identical frequencies in the database. These are followed in frequency by the remaining even clock points, 2,4,8 and 10, which all have similar frequencies, though there is a slight bias towards 10.  Finally, the least popular clock points are 5,11, 7 and 1 in declining frequency. Despite the heterogenous quality of the dataset and the different approaches that correspondents take to writing a one-day diary, it is possible to extract a symmetry in how MOA correspondents tell the time.

Figure 2 - Image of pie chart - Distribution of clock points in MOA time database
Figure 2 – Distribution of clock points in MOA time database Source: Mass Observation Archive (University of Sussex): Replies to Autumn 2017 directive One-day diary: organising and experiencing time

Diurnal rhythms

The symmetrical recording of clock time is not the only pattern that can be identified in the dataset. It is also possible to discern a linear rhythm in the distribution of recorded time over the day. In order to analyse this, I have counted the number of discrete clock times in the database for each hour. The distribution of time points over the day is illustrated in figure 3. This analysis finds, not surprisingly that the most intensely referenced hours are 07.00, 08.00 and 09.00 respectively. This is followed by a slight lull in noting time in mid-morning (11.00), an increase around lunchtime followed by a second lull in the afternoon. More references to time points are made in the late afternoon and early evening, though this does not match the intensity of the morning rush. Evening (19.00 onwards) are distinguished by a gradual decline in time references, though there are slightly more temporal references between 22.00 and 22.59 compared to 21.00 to 21.59 because the former is the modal hour for going to bed. Further analysis of the rhythm of  time references shows that diarists not in work record a more even distribution of time during the day, while for those in work the morning peak and mid-morning lull are more discernible.

Figure 3 Image of line graph showing percentage distribution of time references in each hour period in MOA time database
Figure 3 Percentage distribution of time references in each hour period in MOA time database
Source: Mass Observation Archive (University of Sussex): Replies to Autumn 2017 directive One-day diary: organising and experiencing time


MOA diaries are very heterogenous and correspondents write their diary according to how they interpret their day. For some timing matters, for others it is more incidental. While diarists use different formats to write their diaries, there is more uniformity in how they tell the time. The symmetry of time references is striking, and it follows a temporal order: hour, half-hour, quarter to/past, ten to/past, twenty to/past, five to/past, twenty-five to/past. Mornings are more temporally referenced than other times of the day. This is partly because morning routines are more predictable and easier to recall, as well as diary writing fatigue during the day. The intensity of time references in the morning also reflects how activities at this time have to be coordinated with other household members (including pets). The MOA diaries illustrate how time pressure, and thus references to time, are a collective experience.

Clare Holdsworth is Professor of Social Geography at Keele University. Her latest book, The Social Life of Busyness, will be published by Emerald in September 2021. If you would like to learn more about her research, Clare can be contacted at

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Posted in MO (Mass Observation), The Keep

Our treasure trove of printed journals

By Chloe Dobson – Collection Development Librarian

Did you know that we have a basement area in The Library which is full of printed journals from all subject areas?

Image of the rolling stacks in the basement of The Library
Rolling stacks of print journals

We provide access to tens of thousands of journals online, which is a fantastic way to reach a world of research at your fingertips. But there are benefits from looking at print journals too. Some journals are only available in print, so we keep them for that reason alone and many will be current, where we still receive a new issue regularly. For example we have current subscriptions to the Spectator (from 1928 onwards at AP 4 SPE) and Sight and Sound (from 1967 onwards at PN 1993 SIG)

Image of the journal Magazine of art, open to show pages of journal
Magazine of art (1878-1903)

Some are only partially online, so we retain print to enable access to the whole archive. Other titles have the same availability online as well as in print.. but we still hold the printed issues for areas such as the Visual Arts, Art History, Photography. Many titles are historical and consulting them can bring many benefits, as described by Thomas Elliot, one of our Doctoral Researchers in Art History:

“Print journals are a rich and important resource. They provide a privileged glimpse into the visual and written culture of the past in a very unique way. The very nature of the printed page can in itself be illuminating; what do the articles surrounding my source tell me about the topic? Where is my source placed in relation to other items? Is it a cover story or hidden away at the back? What images, adverts, reviews or op-eds accompany it? All of these considerations can provide us as researchers with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of our area of study – even if they don’t make it into our final project!”

How do we know which titles are in the Basement?

All our print journals are discoverable on Library Search. You can search by keyword and then limit your results by Availability, and then by Available in the Library to show available print titles only.

Screenshot of availability facet menu on Library search, highlighting 'Available in the Library'
Screenshot of Library Search – showing availability

Journals are arranged A-Z by shelfmark and follow the same classification system as our books, so if your subject area is usually in the PNs, target this area in the Basement.

Some examples of titles available in our fabulous print journal collection;

  • The Radio Times: Broadcasting listings, news, interviews covering 1990-2018, found at AP 4 RAD
  • Punch: The satirical magazine, packed with illustrations and cartoons, from 1841-1963, found at AP 4 PUN
  • Stuff: Guide to gadgets, technology and electronics, 2015-2020, found at TK 9900 STU
Image of the journal Conisseur, open to show pages of journal
Connoisseur (1901-1963)

At the moment there is a collection service running for titles in the Basement but once access is resumed it is a wonderful space to browse and find something new.

If you would like any further information on our print journal collections, or any of our Library collections don’t hesitate to get in touch,

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Plans… remember those? A look at the architectural plans of the University of Sussex

By Karen Watson – Special Collections Archivist

Plans. It’s a bit tricky to make any at the moment. Luckily that wasn’t the case when the University of Sussex was commissioning new buildings and renovating student residences over the past 50 or so years. In October last year, I was contacted by the Estates team who had a large cabinet of architectural plans in their offices which they thought should be looked after long term at The Keep. That’s exactly what I thought. There are lots of architectural plans already in the University of Sussex Collection dating from the 1960s and they have been used extensively by lots of researchers. Recently they were consulted by 3rd year Drama students researching the history of the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA), formally the Gardner Arts Centre.

Image of an architectural plan for a University of Sussex building
EP wing east side – to be added to the collection SxUOS1 when catalogued

I hoped that the plans in the cabinet were for buildings constructed later than the 1960s and possibly for buildings that no longer exist on campus (does anyone remember Arts E?) When the plans were delivered to The Keep, the first thing I realised was that my archive accessioning skills had got rusty whilst working from home for many months. I knew it was one cabinet of plans but I hadn’t asked how many plans were inside. The answer? Lots.

Image of an architectural plan for a University of Sussex building
Essex houseto be added to the collection SxUOS1 when catalogued

Now that the plans are safely at The Keep, I’ve been able to have a look through them. There are approximately 200 campus plans including building elevations, perspectives, heating and fire layouts, renovations. I was super please to see that the campus building plans include ones for Arts 4(D) and 5(E) which is where the Jubilee building is now. A lovely surprise is the over 80 plans for buildings off campus including student residences in Falmer village, Windlesham Road in Hove and Victoria Road in Brighton. The date span is from the late 1960s to 1990s and the plans get really big from around 1994, maybe the architectural firm got a new printer. The largest ones are 1085x820mm, the smallest around 880x590mm. These plans have been hanging up so are not creased or rolled and it would be nice to keep them that way. Storage solutions for these are on my list when I can work on site at The Keep.

Image of an architectural plan for a University of Sussex building
Windlesham road – full plan – to be added to the collection SxUOS1 when catalogued

I find architectural plans endless fascinating. They are often beautifully rendered and as you can see below, have figures in them for scale which have their own narrative.

Image of an architectural plan for a University of Sussex building
Windlesham road – close up – to be added to the collection SxUOS1 when catalogued

I also spend a lot of time working out what perspective they are from, especially ones that set the building in the landscape. The plans are not listed on the catalogue yet and there is a bit of work to do before they are available for researchers, but they are an excellent addition to the University’s own archive.

Anyone interested in consulting the wonderful collection of architectural plans available when The Keep is back open, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Special Collections team – 

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A Taste of History – Travelling back in time through recipes and Mass Observation

By Dr Stella Sims

In this video project I recreate recipes taken from, or inspired by 1941 food diaries held at the Mass Observation Archive, going back in time to a moment in history to cook and taste what someone said they were eating on a particular day.  Earlier in the summer of this very strange year, during the 1st Covid lockdown and many subsequent weeks spent indoors, I was able to travel vicariously through food.  I’ve rediscovered recipe books that had gathered dust on the shelf for too long, trying new recipes, and recreating meals that reminded me of comfortable memories, family and foreign holidays.  Like smell, taste can conjure up a memory and give us a sensory leap back to a past moment in our lives.  This project expands this idea to take an imaginative journey back in time where we join a specific person on a specific day in the past to cook and eat what they ate.  With more time this year to cook and to think, the idea for ‘A Taste Of History’ arose as a perfect way to combine the pleasure of cooking with my love of bringing history to life. 

Image of Dr Stella Sims in her kitchen
Dr Stella Sims in her kitchen

I did a PhD at the University of Sussex some time ago, and I’ve used the incredible collection at Mass Observation for my academic work – I could spend hours poring over these vivid fragments and insights into everyday lives.  In more recent years I have worked in the media researching and producing history documentaries and series such as BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are?  One of the things I find unique about Mass Observation material is the personal and detailed nature of much of their collection, comprising as it does of diaries, overheard conversations, personal anecdotes and daily minutiae sent in by ordinary people.  The collection often features very idiosyncratic voices – I’ve often been pleasantly diverted off topic while reading the diary, report or comments of a particularly funny or opinionated person. 

Image of Stella cutting into a Woolton pie
Stella’s Woolton pie

I wondered what kind of research had been done on food, and if Mass Observation writers had shared any recipes in their diaries, or other interesting insights to do with food.  Of course, I discovered Mass Observation had an absolute abundance of writing related to food, spanning both the earlier project as well as the newer correspondence since the 1980s.  As I browsed through various topic collections I found there was an awful lot to distract a greedy historian.  In the end, I decided to focus on a huge collection of food diaries sent in by individuals during the early years of the Second World War.  A short history series was never going to cover everything in this fascinating collection, but I managed to narrow down my focus to five peoples’ menus.  I selected these based on the fact that they were particularly interesting writers or menus which illustrated certain broader points of historical interest on food during the war: the rationing of key foods like meat, butter and sugar; the role of the Ministry of Food; famous wartime recipes like ‘Woolton Pie’ and meat-free substitutes; import problems; and campaigns such as Dig For Victory.  But what I love most about this project is how it puts the ordinary men and women at the centre of these big moments in history and shines a spotlight on these ‘unofficial histories’, particularly women’s stories.  The voices that come through are opinionated, quirky and very human, their experiences vary according to place, income and class.  In particular I enjoyed discovering the occasional very emotional response to taste, such as the woman who wrote with joy in October 1941 that she was served “two awfully good cakes with cream and jam, light, scrunchy pastry!”  These rare treats were few and far between during wartime.

Image of macaroni pudding and chocolate mould
Anyone for macaroni pudding or chocolate mould?

I was grateful for the excellent archive help from Mass Observation’s Senior Archive Assistant, Jessica Scantlebury, who provided me with a wealth of primary documents.  I’ve not only used diaries in the project: almost every document you see in the videos is held in the wartime collections at Mass Observation.  This is just a snapshot of a rich collection of wartime ephemera including newspaper clippings, advertisements, Ministry of Food pamphlets, posters for  wartime cookery classes, food catalogues from posh stores like Harrods and Selfridges, and sample menus from all sorts of places from provincial hotels to Claridge’s.  In some ways this was an ideal ‘lockdown project’ – just me in my kitchen experimenting with food.  Fortunately, I’ve got a huge collection of old recipe books and books about food history, so I was able to do plenty of research in the confines of my own home.  A lot of the time, the 1941 food diaries just mentioned a meal, not a recipe, so I was able to research or adapt authentic recipes from the time to create an approximation of what they would have eaten.  The simplicity that was forced on the filming was in some ways a plus – it meant less faffing or worrying about perfection and more just getting on with it; I was lucky to be living with a partner who valiantly (and patiently) assisted on camera and sound.  I’m certainly more used to being behind the camera, but hopefully people enjoy watching me having a go at cooking 1940s-style, and finding out if these recipes were a success or failure when they are recreated in the here and now.

Image of Stella tucking into a salad inspired by an MO recipe
A stellar salad – based on the recipe of Mrs Clayton of South London

To me, the history of cooking illustrates a very social history: seeing what ingredients were available at what time; what expectations people had about food; who does the cooking; and what methods were open to them.  During Covid, Britain has again faced food supply challenges: queues at supermarkets, supply issues, stockpiling and pressure on incomes meaning people are having to do more with less.  Politically, myths of the Second World War are often called upon to serve the present – the ‘Blitz spirit’ and so on, which often go too far and miss the specific context and huge differences between ‘then’ and ‘now’.  Even during this pandemic, 21st century Britain is a land of plenty compared to Britain in 1941.  However, there are still surprising and useful lessons we can learn from those wartime days of rationing such as not to waste food, how to make the most of what you have, and the nutritious possibilities of a meat-free diet.  It’s been brilliant to take a trip back in time to see how creative people were with food during the war, though one thing I’ve definitely learned is that I think Woolton Pie should probably remain in the history books.

Watch all 5 videos of Taste of history on the Mass Observation YouTube channel

Dr Stella Sims is a cultural historian, researcher and history documentary producer with a love of museums, archives and vintage recipe books.  She can be reached on Twitter @stellastar80 or via

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Posted in MO (Mass Observation), Special Collections, The Keep

‘For security reasons it may not be prudent to unfold where I am’ – Ghana’s 1978 electoral commissioner’s letter from hiding surfaces in the BLDS Legacy collection

By Danny Millum – BLDS Metadata and Discovery Officer

Cataloguing on the BLDS Legacy Collection project has now reached Ghana, and we’ve just unearthed a fascinating letter from a dramatic time in that country’s political history.

On 30 March 1978 the country’s Supreme Military Council, led by Col. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, held a referendum on system of government, and whether Ghana should become a non-party state (from the perspective of the UK in 2021 that does have some appeal…). The referendum was controversial, as many saw UNIGOV (as it was known) to be a ploy by Acheampong to retain power and suspected military interference. Things got so heated that the electoral commissioner himself, I. K. Abban, was forced to go into hiding, from where he wrote the letter below which has just turned up in Box 204 of our Ghana materials.

Image of letter written on a typewriter from I.K. Abban to I.K Acheampong
Letter from Electoral Commissioner I.K. Abban to I.K Acheampong

The message is addressed to Acheampong, explaining that following previous threats from the military (which would end in ‘several deaths including me’) his office was now under siege. He diplomatically shies clear of directly accusing the Head of State of being responsible, but he certainly doesn’t sound full of trust for his boss: ‘For security reasons it may not be prudent to unfold where I am but I am safe’. Readers worried about Abban’s fate can breathe easy – he escaped and eventually became Chief Justice (again not without controversy). Acheampong on the other hand only lasted until July when he was arrested and deposed…

Anyone interested in this item, Ghanaian government publications or the BLDS Legacy Collection in general can drop us a line at

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Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), IDS

Listening to Sussex’s Special Collections

By Esther Gill – UOSH Project Manager

The University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep archive holds extensive material relating to 20th century literary, political and social history, as well as the history of the University. In amongst the books, manuscripts and images, are also boxes of open reel and cassette tapes holding oral history interviews, music, performance and incidental sounds. These recordings capture: voices, emotion, laughter, performance, wildlife, and the everyday domestic sounds that are all around us. Some are carefully constructed re-tellings of a life-story, others are audio scrapbooks, collections of sound ‘jottings’, scraps of recordings fitted onto the end of a tape. All add depth and richness to our reading of the past. 

Two of these collections have been digitised as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project (UOSH), preserving them for future listening, but also making them more easily accessible to more people. The two collections are the British Australian Migration Research Project oral history interviews (SxMOA25/UTK001/84 cassette tapes) and the Copper Family recordings (SxMs87/UTK009/59 open reel tapes, 2 cassette tapes, 8 CDs).

Voices of the £10 Poms

The British-Australian Migration Research Project oral history interviews comprises 33 oral history interviews, over 84 tapes, exploring the experiences of the ‘£10 Poms’: British people who emigrated to Australia for £10 under the Assisted Package Scheme (1945-1982).

Image of a box of tape cassettes from the Ten pound poms collection
The ordered cassettes of an oral history research project

Undertaken by Professor Al Thomson and Dr Lani Russell in 2000/2001, the research looks at the experiences of people who remained in Australia as well as those who returned to the UK, some coming and going a number of times. The collection explores the experience of migration, women’s lives in the UK and Australia, family dynamics, the challenges of returning to the UK. Interview transcripts and the resulting book ‘Ten Pound Poms’: Australia’s invisible migrants (Hammerton/Thomson, 2005) are available to read, but the recorded interviews and hearing the actual voices enable a much deeper ‘reading’ of the life stories being told. In the extract below, Joan Pickett’s description of how she and her friend decided to take the Assisted Package draws one in immediately with her very visual comparison between the winter of 1959 and the sunny presentation of Australia.

Joan Pickett talks to Al Thomson about the decision to go to Australia (Part 1)

Joan Pickett talks to Al Thomson about the decision to go to Australia (Part 2)

A transcript for both audio files can be found in the UOSH additional content page on this blog

Running through the interviews one hears the excitement of travel and opportunity; the details of a first sea journey; the sadness at saying goodbye to family and friends; the challenges and sometimes disappointments of arriving in a new land. All the interviews have been cleared by the UOSH team at The Keep to be streamed via a new British Library sounds website, to be launched in July 2021.

Making music with the Coppers

The Copper Family recordings held by Special Collections is a very different type of audio collection. Whereas the £10 Poms recordings were gathered as part of a structured research project, the Copper Family recordings reflect a more organic approach and were not created as a ‘collection’. The recordings comprise three distinct types of material: firstly, the 18 professionally recorded master tapes for the Copper’s 1975 release, A Song for Every Season. Secondly, interviews undertaken with Bob Copper and folk experts, talking about the role and history of the Copper Family. And thirdly, a collection of open reels and cassettes found amongst Bob Copper’s possessions after he died. The latter tapes capture home recordings, material sent to Bob by aspiring folk musicians, rough recordings of pub performances, recordings of commercial music off the radio. The collection reflects a musician’s life in sound: the clean and clear sound of a professional recording studio to the raucous, distorted sound of a pub recording to what is captured when, in a creative moment, you press the record button on a Saturday night at home.

Image of the packaging for a EMITAPE magnetic recording tape
A beautiful box from the Copper Family collection

The UOSH team is still cataloguing the Copper Family recordings and are yet to confirm what all the recordings are, but what is already clear is that the content of these tapes are an essential element of the Copper Archive (SxMs87). Alongside Bob Copper’s correspondence, writing, song books, sketches and lifetime ephemera, the recordings bring sound to the archive of a man whose life had music and sound at its centre.

Image of a small open reel tape on a reel to reel tape recorder
A tiny open reel of Bob and John Copper singing Come write me down

Once complete, the digital recordings will be stored at the British Library for preservation and listed in the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image ( catalogue. People interested in listening to them should email the Special Collections team.

These two collections have been digitised as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Project (UOSH) based at The Keep and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The recordings were identified from the British Library’s 2015 audit of sound collections across the UK as being unique and important, but also being at risk due to the loss of playback equipment and the risk of tape decay and CD rot. However, Special Collections also holds other sound collections, including interviews from the University’s 50 Voices project, celebrating its 50th anniversary and the oral history interviews of the Archive of Resistance Testimony.

For more information on Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, follow @KeepSounds on Twitter or the Keep Sounds blog

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Posted in Special Collections, The Keep, UOSH (Unlocking Our Sound Heritage)

Football, poetry and fables -the surprising features in BLDS African port harbour magazines

By Danny Millum – BLDS Metadata and discovery officer

There are many fascinating rabbit holes to explore in the BLDS Legacy Collection, and you often come across them in the most unexpected places. Perhaps this just shows our limited imagination, but when we first came across a run of journals relating to different African ports and harbour authorities our hearts didn’t leap with excitement. File under “worthy but dull” and move on was definitely the first reaction to a front cover like this:

Front cover of Cameroon inter-ports magazine - black and white image of a harbour in Cameroon
Cameroon Inter-Ports

And let’s face it, if you were asked what you thought lay within the pages of Cameroon Inter-Ports – Organe du Liaison et d’Information de l’Office National des Ports du Cameroun you would have been forgiven for thinking it would just be; tables, charts, reports and the odd institutional history. However, in order to catalogue these items we have to have a leaf through them, and when we did so we found a much richer and more idiosyncratic world than we could possibly have expected.

To start with, there was a sports section. The page below reports on a triumphant season for the Port Foot-Ball Club in 1981-82, winning the cup and coming second in the coastal league:

Image of sports page with black and white photo of a football match
‘Une saison sportive heureuse’ (a happy sporting season) – Cameroon inter-ports

They obviously took it seriously as well, as half the page seems to be taken up with references to how mediocre the team had been in the past, with the hope that this change in fortune augured well for 1982-83. (Please note this assessment is dependent on our extremely shaky French and corrections are welcome!) For those who want to find out how it all panned out next season we believe we have a complete run of the magazine! More surreal than this is the humour and poetry section:

Image of the poetry and humour page in Cameroon inter-ports magazine
Poésie-Poésie (poetry-poetry) and humour interports

Again, this is mostly in French, but the first gag runs something as follows:

A freighter lands for the first time in a desert island far away from the usual sea routes. The captain disembarks to do a reconnaissance. He comes upon an old man with a beard down to his knees…

‘What are you doing here?’

‘I don’t know…’

‘Why did you come to this island?’

‘To forget?’

‘To forget what?’

‘I’ve forgotten.’

It kind of feels like something may have been lost in translation here – although on the same page the poem in English about tyres is if anything, more confusing…

It soon became clear, though, that journals and content of this kind are not limited to Cameroon, and that Somalia and Tanzania could give the West Africans a run for their money.

Front cover of Bandari Zatu - East African Harbours Corporation - newspaper style
Bandari Zatu – East African Harbours Corporation

The BLDS Legacy Collection also holds what appears to be a unique run of Bandari Zetu – Organ of the East African Harbours Corporation, a journal in Swahili and English which contains a potent mix of port news sprinkled with more creative content, including this fantastic Aesopean tale, the morals of which the BLDS team have taken as a code to live by:

Image of article 'if you are unhappy'
Somali Ports – If you are unhappy

The East African Harbours Corporation seems to have been part of the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation – which itself turns out to have been immortalised in song by the great Roger Whittaker. Check out ‘The Good Old E A R and H’ here –

Obviously, we’re trapped at home at the moment, and so the only follow-up research I could do for this post is online. But the very fact that there is so little information on the web relating to the institutions, and journals described above is in itself further evidence of the importance of the collection. The long runs of port authority journals that are held for both West and East Africa are crucial primary sources for anyone wanting to write, not just the ‘serious’ history of transport, trade and commerce in these regions in the post-independence decades but also, possibly even more importantly, they are goldmines of ephemeral information relating to the culture of these workplaces and the people employed there.

It’s an obvious point, but as the examples above show, these dockworkers, engineers and sailors were not just employees, but also poets, comedians and footballers.

(First posted on The University of Sussex Library staff blog April 2020)

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Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), IDS