Animal Rights and The British Library

The Animals Exhibit at The British Library.

How can we know where the animal rights movement wants to go if we do not understand where we have been? This fundamental question lives permanently in the back of my mind. Along with this question: How can we learn about our past if we don’t take steps to preserve our movement’s history?

In previous blogs, I documented my work to preserve the history of the animal rights movement. Today I want to consider what has been accomplished with The British Library by my working with them on the Kim Stallwood Archive. This post is timed to coincide with the third anniversary (28 September 2020) of The British Library coming to my office in Hastings, East Sussex to collect 36 boxes of research materials that became the Kim Stallwood Archive at The British Library.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom. Its central library is in the King’s Cross and St Pancras neighbourhood in central London. The British Library holds more than 170 million items, including artefacts from every age of written civilisation, and adds about three million new items to its collection every year. What better place could there be other than The British Library to hold my animal rights collection?

From the beginning of my involvement in animal rights in the mid-1970s, I collected the publications I received from joining vegan and animal welfare and rights organisations. This collection grew over time as my full-time work developed, including working in the United States for twenty years. Now in my late sixties and living in the UK again, I knew I had to make a decision about where my collection would go.

Jonathan Pledge, Curator of Politics and Public Life at The British Library, and myself meeting in my office.

About five years ago I approached The British Library to introduce myself, my work, and my collection with the hope that it would consider acquiring my extensive library, archive, and collection. I met Jonathan Pledge, the Lead Curator in Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts in Politics and Public Life, who led a series of meetings and discussions that concluded with the decision that The British Library was interested in acquiring my research materials.

On 28 September 2020, Jonathan came to my office with a van and a driver and returned to London with 36 boxes of research materials that became the Kim Stallwood Archive. The research materials chronicled the history of the animal rights movement from the mid-1970s through to the late 1980s and included nearly 600 organisation files, 150 people files, and 118 subject files. Due to their sensitive nature, some materials are embargoed from public view until 2045. The British Library also acquired two old laptops for ‘born digital’ material, and a box of appointment diaries and address books. The archive is catalogued and details about it can be seen online.

The Kim Stallwood Archive is one of two collections of contemporary animal rights advocates held by The British Library. The other is the Richard D. Ryder Archive.

The British Library’s acquisition of the Kim Stallwood Archive led to a series of events that showcased the collection and brought attention to animal rights.

Emme Ledgerwood, The British Library, and myself in my office after we completed the second of a four-part series of oral history interviews.

The first was the recording of four oral history interviews led by oral historian Emme Ledgerwood that ran for more than 10 hours. The oral history recordings will be made publicly available. A further oral history interview about my animal rights work was also completed for the Petitioning and People Power in Twentieth-Century Britain, a research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by Durham University, Leeds University, and Liverpool University.

It’s important to note that The British Library already held oral history interviews with such leading British animal advocates as John Bryant, Clare Druce, Richard Ryder, Angela Walder, and Dave Wetton,

Earlier this year, The British Library held a major exhibit, Animals: Art, Science and Sound, in its major exhibit space near The Library’s entrance. It was a superb collection of historical and contemporary works (books, manuscripts, art, recordings, etc.) of animals, birds, insects, and nature.

Jonathan Pledge introducing Anat Pick, Kim Stallwood, and Paula Sparks.

To coincide with this exhibit, The Library also held an exhibition, Animal Rights: From the Margins to the Mainstream: Animal Rights in Britain, in its Treasures Gallery. The exhibit followed the “progression of animal rights from the Enlightenment period until the present day”. The items on display, which came from the Kim Stallwood Archive, Richard Ryder Archive, and the library’s own collection, included books, correspondence, magazines, and leaflets. The Treasures Gallery is the library’s permanent display of items from its vast collection, including the Magna Carta (1215) and William Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623). Visitors to the popular Treasures Gallery also had the opportunity to learn about animal rights.

In May, more than 50 people attended ‘The Fight for Animal Rights: Kim Stallwood in Conversation’ public meeting hosted by The British Library and live streamed to viewers in the UK, USA, Australia, Turkey, Ireland, Austria, and Israel. I was joined by Jonathan Pledge, Paula Sparks, Chair of the UK Centre for Animal Law, and Anat Pick, Reader in Film at Queen Mary University of London and author of Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film (Columbia University Press, 2011). A recording of the meeting is available to watch online.

Also, The British Library’s Social Science blog invited me to write four guest posts (click here to read them):

  • Animals and the Law: readings on animal rights law
  • Animals and Feminism: readings on the intersection of oppression
  • Animals and the Climate Emergency: readings on the global impact of industrial animal agriculture
  • Animals and Social Justice, readings on animals in literature

Finally, it’s exciting to report that the Kim Stallwood Archive at The British Library is already being used by academic researchers. Mark Dunick, Centre for Heritage Environment and Politics, University of Stirling  & 
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, published a report on his research “Organising and movement building: Lessons from the 1980s British Animal Rights Movement”. The research “focuses on the British animal liberation movement in the 1980s and represents one of the first academic inquiries into the history of the modern British animal rights movement”. Funding for the research made it possible for him to visit The British Library and consult the Kim Stallwood Archive.