89. An A to Z of Protest in the 20th Century: the Commonweal Peace Pamphlets

This week, not one Object but thousands!  Introducing our collection of peace campaign pamphlets, which will become visible to the public for the first time this summer …Strachey, Scrap all the H bombs. CoverAn incredible resource for researchers, they date from the First World War to the Iraq War and span the century and the world.  Here’s a quick A-Z sampling of authors and topics, to give you a sense of what we can offer:

NALGO Civil defence bunkers or bonkers. CoverArms trade, atomic power.
Bunkers or bonkers? (fall-out shelters and civil defence).
Common Wealth, CND and conscientious objectors.
Doctor Spock is worried … (about atmospheric nuclear tests)
Education for peace, in schools and universities.
Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Gandhi’s ideas on nonviolence and Indian society.
Housmans Bookshop published many of the pamphlets.
Dr Spock is worried, 1962. CoverInternational Voluntary Service.
J.B. Priestley.
Kingsley-Hall, Stephen.
Lawyers against the Bomb – and other concerned professionals.
Marches – songs for.
Nuclear-free Zones and other Council initiatives.
Oliver Postgate.
Williamson, Industry in the country. PPU CoverPeace Pledge Union.
Quakers and Quaker groups.
Radiation.
Scientists Against Nuclear Arms (SANA).
Thompson, E.P.
University of Bradford Peace Studies.
Vietnam War – especially draft resistance.
War Resisters International and many women’s groups and campaigns, from WILPF to Greenham.
X, an unknown author, who wrote a First World War pamphlet about the role of the Church in war.
Yorkshire CND and other regional groups such as the Northern Friends Peace Board.
Zilliacus, Konni (and many other politicians)

Lonsdale, Some account of life in Holloway Prison, 1943 CoverThe pamphlets are important historical sources because of their timeliness, their immediacy, the strong views of their writers and creators.  It seems that for much of the 20th century many people’s natural response to an issue that mattered (not just pacifist concerns) was to write a pamphlet.  Pamphlets were cheap and quick to produce and to disseminate via sympathetic bookshops, meetings, marches etc.

Civil Defence is it any use in the nuclear age CoverPamphlets can be elusive in libraries because of the qualities that made them so useful for quick communication.  They can be hard to collect, to store and to manage.  Ours came via the networks created by Commonweal Library: donated by individual activists, or found in Commonweal archives, notably the immense subject files gathered by Peace News.

IVSP Youth Service Bulletin, 1944-45. CoverAlongside their interest for historical research and as inspiration for modern campaigners, the pamphlets often have great visual appeal, as this mini gallery shows: vivid graphic designs and powerful imagery.   Many were created by well-known artists and designers.

Litherland, Short Guide to Disarmament, 1982. CoverThis summer we are cataloguing the pamphlets, opening up the names, places, ideas and campaigns to new audiences.   We’re careful to include provenance and details of illustrations as well as information about authors and publishers.   Thanks to my colleague Martin Levy and our graduate trainee Katie Mann for their fantastic work so far.  The first batch of cataloguing will be online later this summer.

Poison gas. CoverIf you’re interested in 20th century pamphlets, significant collections which overlap with ours can be found at the LSE and the Bishopsgate Institute, not to mention the British Library!  The latter page includes a link to a British Library case study by Tom Hulme, a great introduction to BL’s collections and to the value and pitfalls of using pamphlets in historical research.

Jude, Experiments for survival. CoverTo be continued … we will be writing much more about pamphlets over the coming months as the cataloguing project continues.  Here are some ways in which you can keep in touch with developments.

Postscript – a note on definition.  We are defining a pamphlet as a”short piece of polemical writing, printed in the form of a booklet and aimed at a large public” (from Orwell’s 1948 introduction to British Pamphleteers).  However, this collection also offers us a suitable way to manage items which are pamphlet-shaped but which were written for slightly different purposes, as some of the examples above suggest – we are not being too prescriptive about this.

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2 responses to “89. An A to Z of Protest in the 20th Century: the Commonweal Peace Pamphlets

  1. Pingback: 94. Pioneering Pacifist Journalism: the Peace News Story | 100 Objects

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