“Lord of the Rings”-related news

Fame and fortune–and then what? The freedom to shift gears and careers, to indulge whims and whimsy, explore avenues and pastures new. We refer, of course, to Peter Jackson‘s recent appearance in a context which initially surprised me:

British Library Scholarship
An Oral History Of Recent British Food Activism

University of Sheffield

Supervisors: Professor Peter Jackson (Department of Geography) and Dr Polly Russell (British Library)

In recent years the British food system has been challenged by the critiques of individuals and organisations that might loosely be defined as ‘food activists’ including the Fair Trade movement, the Soil Association and The British Heart Foundation.

These critiques, combined with a series of well-documented ‘food scares´ and anxieties pertaining to public health, have had an impact on food policy, the food industry and food consumers.

Many of these movements originated in the early 1980s via small, informal networks and organisations (such as Parents for Safe Food and the Nestle Boycott). Despite the current high profile and significance of these activist movements, little has been documented about their histories and evolution.

The proposed research will investigate the extent to which these activist movements shape social norms and facilitate behavioural and cultural change. The research will contribute to current debates about the ‘globalisation’ of food production and the development of alternative food networks. It will also address the ways the food industry and policy have been shaped by food activism.

The project’s objectives are:

  • To document the recent history of food activism and the impact of these social movements on the food industry and food policy.
  • To draw on and contribute to The British Library’s unique collection of over 200 oral history recordings: Food: From Source to Salespoint (FFSS).
  • To collect 15-20 oral histories with food activists, tracing the shifting contours of UK food consciousness since the 1980s. These oral histories will be catalogued and archived as part of FFSS.
  • To locate and analyse the relevant grey literature (non-commercial publications produced by government bodies, research organisations and NGOs) held by the BL relating to UK food policy and food production since the 1980s.

The scholarship will cover the cost of UK/EU tuition fees and provides an annual, tax-free maintenance stipend of£13,650. The recipient will also receive a Research Training Support Grant of £500.

For information on how to apply, please follow the link:http://www.shef.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/scholarships/projects/bl1.html

Closing date for applications is 7 May 2010 at 5pm.

Yes, this is real and true, and you saw it here first. Unless you saw it first at the source: thanks to Jobs.ac.uk for advertising this chuckle-bringing morsel; nice to see Government money going to worthier causes than, ooh, Palaeography Chairs … let alone departments of Classics, Chemistry, Maths, and other Stuff That’s Too Hard and Uncool, Man.

I also note that one doesn’t find out what sort of scholarship this is until one clicks on the link, looks further up the page to the digital breadcrumbs, and then sees this is for a PhD. Nice one.

I am being very unfair: malice due to envy is most unladylike and unbecoming, I know. I’m just jealous as unqualified: “applicants should have, or expect to achieve, a first or upper second class UK honours degree or equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK in an appropriate area of study.” Whatever that is.


  1. Well, as a subject with real-world application and interest, “Does political activism work and if so, with what methods?” seems reasonable to me. I would assume that the appropriate area of study would be either politics or sociology, perhaps anthropology. What’s the problem?

  2. Thanks for the comment: I actually agree that this is reasonable, and then some. Killing two birds with one stone, you also set me thinking that hey, maybe I am qualified after all, so I can stop being envious and problematic. And get on with the important business of being grumpy.

    (1) “equivalent qualification […] in an appropriate area of study”: either that’s something directly related to food; or it’s something which provides the right skill-set for data production, collection, and analysis.
    —If the former: I lived through that historical period myself, and did a certain amount of, errrm, pertinent activating in the 1990s. I also know stuff about food (long story, won’t bore people).
    —If the latter: the joys of living in an age of interdisciplinarity means that many people from many different disciplinary backgrounds will have acquired the requisite skills and actively use the pertinent research methodology. Including–but not restricted to–history and the social sciences. And, come to think of it, the hard sciences. And including the well-trained Medievalist undergraduate.

    (2) “Does this work and if so how?” is absolutely cardinal: and what makes this a very nice project, I’d argue not merely real-world applicable but with greater implications and ramifications. This is an exemplary case of subverting a short-sighted government research agenda. I particularly like the fact that the subject is itself, well, subversion incarnate.

    My continuing grumping and griping: funding priorities for what is *a British Library-based project for goodness’ sake*. Exemplifying the international embarrassment/joke of government educational and cultural policies. Not just recent, to be fair, going back… let’s see… around about 31 years? On the other hand,

    (3) As a British Library project, this one could develop techniques of relevance and real-world application and interest to other wings of the Library and outside: document preservation and database management; digital philology and electronic medievalism; and exhibitions, free publication, outreach, and other forms of dissemination. Thus also continuing the good work in (2) above of education as subversion.

    (4) “Oral histories […] grey literature […] critiques […] food scares”: I’m guessing would be dealing with the propaganda and rhetorical aspects of this literature, inc. advertising and marketing. If going up to the present, inc. the Web 2.0 revolution in progress (fingers crossed on that one).
    With potential for the way publication, text, and indeed literature are perceived; and consequences for issues of textual authority and authoritative bodies. Old hat to lawyers, social anthropologists, historians, and literary scholars. Especially (medievalists… and) anyone working in book/print culture, new historicism, and reception; but useful to see such ideas spreading outside these fields, outside academia, and rehabilitating left-wing research in a very public context (library, national archive, etc.)–helping it recover from the half-baked sketchy trendy theory that’s successfully increased illiteracy (strict and enlarged senses) and the cultural and scientific illiteracy that leads to lousy eating habits. And to barbarism.
    I’d like to see more on slow food (and good food) and would hope to see more on the class politics of food. I’d really, really love to see more on the history of food in the UK that starts with wartime rationing: that’s the root of the gastronomic rot. And to collect oral histories from the generation who grew up then, as they’re uniquely positioned to offer a full contextualised view of the recent movements.

    (5) Food itself is obviously of real-world application and interest. It’s essential to survival, and must be a research priority. Not only as a Medievalist, but as someone working in the Humanities, I live in increasingly desperate hope there’s still research money left for those other things that ensure other aspects of survival as human beings. That would have an important place in this kind of project, if dealt with imaginatively and creatively: the history, culture, ethics, and politics of food; that is, the substantificque mouelle of the project’s very materials.

    I’m full of optimism. It would be marvellous for this project to work out, for its subversive possibilities to blossom, and for this to be the sort of meta-critico-strain that academic research needs right now (at least as much as ever before, and not forgetting the long and illustrious history of such research, going back to the very start of universities themselves).

    It’s a win-win for me. If the above comes to fruition, I can be smug in predictions. If it goes in another (successful and humanistically positive direction), I can learn. If it works out, I’m sure I’ll find something else to be grumpy about. And if it fails, or pootles off in a blooming awful direction, then boyo will I be full of the joys of the grump.

  3. Wow! Sorry if I stepped on a live wire. I agree that being grumpy is a divine right and I should have thought more carefully before infringing yours 🙂 Seriously, though, I think the BL’s reason for being involved in this is that they have recently put a lot of work into their sound archives, which is I guess where these oral histories are held, so it may not be as weird as you might think. I think they probably raised some of the money on condition that some research would actually be done with them. You have so many ideas for it that perhaps you should apply! (I have no idea whether your circumstances make that at all realistic, however.)

    I might raise an eyebrow at the idea that wartime rationing was really the start of the rot, though. It’s hardly the most neutral or rigorous source, but Orwell’s The Road Wigan Pier (1937) has quite a lot on diet that suggests that really, grinding poverty is more likely to blame. You’ve obviously done work on this and so there’s quite possibly a good reason why that’s not the case, but as what you say seems to stick against the only relevant thing I can call to mind, I thought I’d ask.

  4. *snonk* no live wires–just food for thought leading to verbal diarrhoea, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor. (Been teaching too much Rabelais recently. I blame him entirely. Not for my missing lunch yesterday and today, though, to be fair…)
    *teenage girl squeal* re. Orwell. I’ll say no more, or there might be gushings and swoonings, and that would be most inappropriate. O. would probably turn over in his grave too.

    I was reminded of the sound archives business yesterday evening, though, re. the stuff sadly lost: the very first episodes of “The Avengers”, a lot of “Paul Temple”, that sort of thing. And sound & video & images clearly should be as a much a national priority for preservation as other media from other periods. Nice it’s in the BL, too, and in a library/university partnership.

    Origins – you’re right, should take it further back; and it would be foolish to lose sight of that very long continuity of poor eating tied directly to, well, poverty. Were this my project, I’d go back to the ’20s, General Strike & crash & depression for sure. Earlier–alas, we’ll probably be stuck with what sound archives are already there. A parallel: lots of research in Ireland on daily life inc. food, and on changing attitudes to all manner of things (well, much of the funded research there is on this sort of thing, due to government political priorities; and the Many Things have changed very fast, particularly in the ’90s and ’00s).

    Why I’d start with wartime and postwar rationing is because of the links between food & eating habits, and government & other authoritative dictates/suggestions/guidance. You’ve got ersatz food, government food propaganda, and limited availability having some influence on eating habits and tastes and on believing what one is told by an authority, especially one in the media. It would be really interesting to see if attitudes towards such public information changed when the BBC lost its monopoly and the Third Channel came into existence, with advertising. Eventually, good gastronomic influence from the outside, thanks to 50s-70s decolonization and returning and/or immigrant populations in the 50s-70s, plus democratization of foreign travel in the 70s-80s. And, again, I’d love to see the subsequent analysis, particularly (cos I’m boring that way and still basically a Medievalist at heart) interpretations re. changing ideas, cultural context, history, and a comparative perspective (i.e. looking outside the UK, as well as looking at geographical, social, etc. differences within the UK).

    My ow interest in the general subject is twofold:
    (1) on the language & politics side, having read a smattering of histories of advertising kind of as a tangent to linguisticsy work on rhetoric and authoritative speech, with agendas in mind, somewhere between the back and the front of the mind: feminist and otherwise subversive;
    (2) I’ve heard so many (hi)stories on the topic from family, friends, family of friends; many being of that generation, born in the 1930s-40s, growing up with rationing but then seeing all these changes in food, attitudes to food, and attitudes to the attitudes. The tellers’ facts, opinions, and arguments will simply stay with me as oral history and more or less vague memories unless discussed and further transmitted. That’s my expertise here: mainly hearsay.

    Now, I’m not always the best listener; and I’ve heard too many old people told to shut up their yacking about old nonsense, and we all know how cruel The Young(er) can be …It’s a terrible shame that so much is being lost, with old people being told to shut up (and dying) verily and as we speak. Following on from the Irish parallel: I’d had lots of students back there who’d had Peig Sayers (sometimes the complete matching Blasket set) as compulsory reading at school. Mainly–almost exclusively–received and perceived simply as “that miserable bloody old woman.” Alas.

    How about a nationwide call for people to submit diaries (in whatever medium) to the national archives–particularly More Senior (And Hopefully Wise) Citizens? The poor old BL and NA probably shouldn’t be bombarded with stuff, don’t want to sink and destroy them. But send more stuff to them, and hope they can retain some independence of government–while getting grants by jumping through the right hoops, ticking the right boxes, and producing the right NewSpeak–and, by putting materials and intelligent commentary (with space for public comments too) directly online (including, indeed, the fine sound archives…), produce radically good history: not officially sanctioned, not written by the winners, not simply that of the winners. Complete, open, and open to some continuity of/in discussion …

  5. And–no, I’m not applying. One PhD is quite enough to last me a lifetime, thank you very much. Also, I have quite a nice job. But in an alternate world, I would. In this world, I’ll keep an eye open for developments. The BL site is always worth watching anyway, even at those (rare) times that there’s nothing new.

  6. I am really liking this trend in archival history. I know it’s early days yet, but based on (a) this having already been a trend for some time in the social sciences and some areas of the humanities and (b) there being movement towards group research projects in the “more artsy” end of the humanities–partly, of course, alas and alack, due to government pressure (in turn too often due to foolish and ignorant advisers); based on an imported round peg/square hole sciences model (see previous rants on education policy); my gut hunch is that (c) we’ll be seeing more of this kind of project in the future, as it has some hope of success. Re. the happiness of the powers that be, benefit to grad students as trainee somethings-or-other (be that within The Academy or further afield), survival of academic fields (and their practitioners), and public interest. Maybe even, dread thought, usefulness. Though connotation-wise that’s a small step away from utility …

    See also, just advertised today:

    Doctoral Studentship (three years)
    Centre for the Study of the Renaissance
    University of Warwick

    Web and Interview-based Project on Academic Publishers, Museums, and Libraries
    Golden Web Foundation

    Research Fellow
    ‘The History of Television for Women in Britain, 1947-1989’
    Department of Film and Television Studies
    University of Warwick

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.