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Senate House Library

Black History Month 2022


Written by
Andrea Meyer Ludowisy, Argula Rublack, Leila Kassir, Mura Ghosh and Tansy Barton, Academic Librarians, Senate House Library

For Black History Month Senate House Library's Academic Librarians share some recent projects and purchases from the library collections

To mark Black History Month, the Academic Librarians in Senate House Library wanted to share some recent projects and purchases that are helping us in our longer term efforts to genuinely diversify the voices in our collections.

Recent Black History purchases 

Black lives and histories already command a strong presence in Senate House Library’s collections. We are actively seeking to make these collections more visible and to expand our print and electronic holdings to enable our readers to explore these histories. The Library has a new, extended subject guide on Black History, which can be consulted to find materials in the collections. On the new acquisition shelves in the Periodicals Room, our readers can explore a growing range of titles on Black history across Britain (including its former empire), Europe and the Americas. 

Black British history books

Some recently purchased titles include:

The cataloguing of the Ron Heisler collection is continuing to reveal valuable and rare materials to help us understand Black activist movements in the 20th century, for example this invitation to a preview opening of a photographic exhibition from 2010 at Open the Gate, the Black Culture Café in Stoke Newington. We are looking forward to making more exciting research materials available to our readers in future.

Colonial and Postcolonial Psychiatry  

Cutting edge histories of psychiatry are increasingly drawing connections between local and global developments in late-colonial and postcolonial settings, redefining the understanding of mental illness in universal human terms beyond racial and cultural divides. Senate House Library’s holdings in the history of psychology and psychiatry are comprehensive and include a strong and growing cluster of works on colonial psychiatry, emanating from scholars across the globe. 

Here are a couple of titles recently added to our collections, illustrating the fascinating histories of psychiatry in colonial Zimbabwe and Nigeria: 

Jackson, Lynette A. Surfacing up: psychiatry and social order in colonial Zimbabwe, 1908 - 1968. Cornell University Press, 2005. 

Heaton, Matthew M. Black skin, white coats : Nigerian psychiatrists, decolonization, and the globalization of psychiatry. Ohio University Press, 2013. (eBook) 

Books on the histories of psychiatry in colonial Zimbabwe and Nigeria

Researchers will find titles in the Library on a wide range of topics, from the development of ideas such as the ‘African mind’ and the ‘insanity of Africans’ as core features of colonial psychiatry, to the management of madness in colonial contexts, and the consequences of the end of Empire on theories of racial difference and their relationship to insanity and its treatment. Alternative perspectives on insanity that reflect the views of indigenous populations, and Black Africans as producers of psychiatric knowledge are also strongly represented in our Library. Following is a small selection of titles on these topics:  

Carothers, J.C. The mind of man in Africa. Tom Stacey Ltd, 1972. 

Keller, Richard. Colonial madness: psychiatry in French North Africa. University of Chicago Press, 2007. (eBook)

Mahone, Sloan and Meghan Vaughan (eds.) Psychiatry and empire. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.  

Marks, Shula. ‘Every facility that modern science and enlightened humanity have devised’: Race and progress in a colonial hospital, Valkenberg Mantel Asylum, Cape Colony, 1894-1910. Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 1998. 

McCulloch, Jock. Colonial psychiatry and "the African mind". Cambridge University Press, 1995. 

Sadowsky, Jonathan. Imperial bedlam: institutions of madness in colonial southwest Nigeria. University of California Press, 1999.  

Smith, Leonard. Insanity, race and colonialism: managing mental disorder in the post-emancipation British Caribbean, 1838-1914. Cambridge University Press, 2013. 

Studer, Nina Salouȃ. The Hidden Patients: North African Women in French Colonial Psychiatry. Böhlau Verlag, 2016. [E-BOOK] 

Vaughan, Megan. Curing their ills: colonial power and African illness. Polity Press, 1991. 

Some Recent Literary Purchases 

Published between 1978 and 2021, these works of poetry and short stories are recent additions to Senate House Library’s literature collections, and together present a range of voices, styles, and experiences. All are currently held in fewer than ten UK academic library collections.  

Picture of book covers on poetry and short stories

Four Pamphlets 

Published by community presses to support young and marginalised writers, Lorraine Simeon’s volume of poetry Reflections and Stella Ibekwe’s short stories Teenage Encounters reflect the authors’ experiences as young Black women living, studying, and working in 1970s/1980s London. Continuing this mode of expression, Lorraine Simeon later self-published a second pamphlet, Reflections II, ‘to bring to light certain things which no one wishes to think about, but…no one can ignore’. Also published by a community press, this time the Peckham Publishing Project, is 1981’s Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole: and other Caribbean Recipes. More than a recipe book this work, which originates from attendees at English classes held at the Bookplace, incorporates poetry and anecdotes related to Caribbean food and cookery. 

Four Books 

Published by S.A.K.S. Media in 1999, Playing Sidney Poitier and Other Stories contains stories of Black experience written by both published and, at that time, new writers. Kadija Sesay, Courttia Newland, and Jean Buffong are just three of the twenty writers included. Two years later, in 2001, poets Malika Booker and Roger Robinson founded Malika’s Poetry Kitchen as ‘a space where Black writers could gather, eat and develop their craft’. The collection, Too Young, Too Loud, Too Different, (2021) celebrates the group’s 20th anniversary. Also published in 2021, Raymond Antrobus’s collection, All the Names Given, contains poems reflecting on family, identity, and language and is interspersed throughout with [Caption Poems], exploring ‘sound in translation’ (inspired by Deaf artist Christine Sun Kim). Published in a limited edition of 100, Poems Young and Old by Errol Gaston Hill is a celebration of and tribute to the Trinidadian playwright and actor. Hill studied and worked in many countries, including in England where he graduated from RADA and was a BBC Radio announcer. Moving to the USA, Hill taught at Dartmouth College where he was the first tenured faculty member of African descent. 

Arts and Culture 

Black German Studies is an interdisciplinary field that has experienced significant growth over the past three decades and has integrated gender studies, diaspora studies, history and media and performance studies. Of course, the field’s contextual roots span centuries which can all be accessed through SHL’s rich holdings:  

Collections of essays such as Rethinking Black German Studies, Approaches, Interventions and Histories show how present generations look at those of the past for direction and empowerment. The volume charts how agency and cultural identity can be affirmed through cultural productions that engender counter-discourses and counter-narratives.  

Sonia Ashmore’s book: Muslin charts not only the history of muslin, a cotton textile also so fine as to be almost invisible and the story of the working conditions of those that produced, dyed and embellished it, but it also together with books on lace, cotton and other textiles, they show that it is possible to integrate uncomfortable histories into a grand and otherwise celebratory narrative; they provide the key to the understanding of collecting history of museum objects.  

SHL’s music collection is studded with publications that critically recount and analyze the “discovery” of Black music by white elites in the nineteenth century and how this shaped modern approaches to studying racial and ethnic cultures. Nearly 25 years ago, Jon Cruz wrote a pathbreaking book,  Culture on the Margins: The Black Spiritual and the Rise of American Cultural Interpretation. In it he recounts how those claiming ownership of enslaved people had long considered Black song making as meaningless noise. Abolitionists began to attribute social and political meaning to the music, inspired to hear enslaved people’s songs as testimonies to their inner subjective worlds. This interpretative shift marked the beginning of mainstream American interest in the country’s cultural margins. Cruz traced the emergence of the new interpretive framework and showed the beginnings of the cultural concept of “cultural authenticity” which is constantly redefined.  

Book History

Through its collections in Book and Print history and Anglophone literature, the Library has a growing collection of works on and produced by Black British publishers. Works on the pioneering Black publishers of the 1960s include Dream to Change the World (2018) on New Beacon Books and its founder, John Le Rose, and Doing Nothing is Not an Option: the Radical Lives of Eric & Jessica Huntley (2014) charting the lives of the founders of Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications. Both publishers, founded in 1966 and 1969 respectively, produced and distributed books by Black authors, academics and thinkers from Britain, the Carribean and Africa, ranging from political works to poetry and children’s books. Many books from both presses can be found in the Library’s collections alongside works from community presses of the 1970s and 1980s such as Black Ink Collective and Centerprise. Other books in the collections include Children's Publishing and Black Britain, 1965-2015 (2017), which explores the history of material published for Black British children by independent and mainstream publishers and examines themes of education, representation, and activism; and histories of news media, from the pre-war period in Early Black Media, 1918-1924: Print Pioneers in Britain (2019) to the present day with the recently published history of The Voice newspaper: The Voice: 40 Years of Black British Lives (2022) (on order). 

Immersing ourselves in the rich offerings of Senate House Library during Black History Month prompts a redemptive re-examination of cultural attitudes and values, sheds new light on the urgent and timeless issues of forced and economic migration, not least forced and economic, and brings us to issues of belonging and identity which are fundamental to the Humanities.