Library of Birmingham’s Black History Collection

During the existence of Birmingham Libraries, the Library of Birmingham has, over the years amassed a large collection of books which has been given the designation of the Black History collection. As the name suggests this collection does indeed contain material relating to black history but it also includes other topics including Asian History, Culture, Arts, the Black and Asian experience in the UK, and other diverse topics such as the climate and topography of the Indian sub-continent. The collection currently contains over 9000 books.  The Black History collection has grown from previous collections held within past departments of the library including Central Lending, Information Services and Archives and Heritage, with the library continually adding material to the collection. The collection is currently housed within the Archives and Collections Department of the Library of Birmingham.

This collection covers diverse subject areas including the history of Black footballers, for example Colouring Over the White Line by Phil Vasili [796.33408900] and Pitch Black by Emy Onuora [A796.334089];

Colouring Over the White Line by Phil Vasili [796.33408900] and Pitch Black by Emy Onuora [A796.334089]

and the history of well-known Asian politicians such as Nehru and Ghandi.

India from Curzon to Nehru by Durga Das [964.035 DAS], and an extract showing Ghandi with Lord and Lady Mountbatten

The collection includes Gazetteers, articles on the religions and customs of indigenous peoples and geographical descriptions and illustrations from numerous countries such as Africa, the Caribbean, India and the Indian Sub-continent, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal etc. For example, this illustration from the book Tunis it’s land and people by Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg from 1882 [961.109] shows the harbour of Tunis.

Tunis it’s land and people by Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg from 1882 [961.109] showing Tunis harbour

I am currently item modifying volumes in the Black history collection to make them visible on the on-line catalogue, and therefore more accessible to researchers who might wish the see the material on offer in the Black history collection.

Due to the work that has been completed so far, 34.5% of the collection has been processed with 22.28% of the collection appearing on the Library Catalogue. This important work, taking place behind the scenes is already proving useful for students studying Black History at Birmingham City University. Students will be examining the histories, social movements and contributions of people of African descent. By opening up the black history collection, students will be able to access for the first time, a collection which on the whole has been inaccessible.

By making this material more accessible, the Black History collection can also be potentially accessed by students, researchers and readers interested in social sciences, anthropology, archaeology and related subjects, and anyone with an interest in Black History and Culture.

Some of the information that can be found within the collection could even be used by students from other more unexpected disciplines such as climatologists and meteorologists! The collection contains rainfall and temperature data from the gazetteers of India and Africa alongside the known CO2 levels to find a correlation between CO2 levels and local temperature, rainfall and other climactic variables such as snowfall.

By opening up access to this collection we are allowing people to research and learn about Black and Asian histories and letting their stories be told. This collection aims to reflect the multi–ethnic composition of Birmingham so we can welcome the needs of a wider range of users who may wish to access this collection. Opening the collection also shines a light on a part of history that people do not always see. It helps people understand the importance of equality and how things have not always been that way. Some of my favourite pieces from this large and varied collection include:-

The world in colour– Across widest Africa South and Central Africa [960.9. LAN]

I particularly like this item for its colourful illustrations and maps.

The world in colour- Across widest Africa-South and Central Africa, inside cover [960.9 LAN]

The world in colour- Across widest Africa-South and Central Africa p 44 [960.9 LAN], showing the itineraries of the great explorers

The itineraries shown include those of:

Barth 1848                     Livingstone 1849- 1873

Nachtigal 1869-1873    Serpa Pinto 1878

Stanley 1871-1889        Brazza 1875-1890

Binger 1889                    Mizon 1891

Marchand 1897-1898   Foureau 1898-1900

Gazetteer of the Tinnevilley  District  Vol 1  [954.82003]

This item has some wonderful maps and descriptions of the Tinnevilley district in India.

Gazetteer of the Tinnevilley district Volume 1, map page 22 [954.82003] showing the topography and road network in the Tinnavilley district.


One response to “Library of Birmingham’s Black History Collection

  1. Reblogged this on keithbracey and commented:
    In this week of the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ anti immigration speech we look at the Library of Birmingham’s ‘Black History’ collection as the West Midlands paved the way for immigrants and their children to make their mark on Britain with people like the late, lamented Cyrille Regis changing the face of football forever…..

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