Legacy of the Genetic Codebreakers

The Wellcome Library has launched a major new digital resource which tells the story of genetics. ‘Codebreakers: Making of Modern Genetics’  contains the digitised archives of the most prominent individuals in this field, together with lots of supporting material.

To celebrate the launch of ‘Codebreakers’ we would like to show you a special selection of MediaHub resources which help illustrate the huge impact the work of these geneticists has had on society and how it has already changed our lives.

It is sixty years since’ Nature’ published  Watson and Crick’s  paper on the structure of DNA. This breakthrough is considered to be one of the greatest achievements of the 20th Century. Since that time enormous progress has been made in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Francis Crick : Nobel Prize-Winning Scientist
Getty (still images) : 23-04-1993

Legendary Geneticist : James Dewey Watson
Getty (still images) 23-04-1993

Genetic Fingerprinting

Alec Jeffreys discovered the technique of DNA fingerprinting by chance while carrying out research at the University of Leicester in 1984. It revolutionised the field of forensic science and police were now able to use DNA evidence to link  a suspect to the scene of a crime. A few years later the technique had been developed sufficiently to make it commercially available. Click on the following ITV news clip to hear how DNA fingerprinting is carried out and the impact it was to have on criminal investigation procedures.

Genetic Fingerprint Techniques
ITV News 13-11-1987

Jeffreys went on to refine the process further and developed DNA profiling, a technique which made it possible for DNA databases to be established. This has led to ethical questions about whose DNA should be stored and for how long.

However, the use of DNA evidence in court is not without its issues. In 2007 attempts to convict an individual for the Omagh bombings failed due to problems with ‘Low Copy’ DNA that ‘did not stand up to scrutiny’. Watch the ITN news clip below to find out more about the implications this has had for the Crown Prosecution Service.

DNA evidence to be reviewed after Omagh bomb trial verdict
ITN 21-12-2007

Sequencing and Mapping of the Human Genome

The Human Genome Project, established in 1989,  allowed geneticists to work collaboratively on sequencing  the entire human genome. This involved identifying every chemical  base pair within every gene of each human chromosome (around 3 billion base pairs).

Base pairs which make up the structure of a DNA double helix
Book of Life : Wellcome Film 2001

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, based in Cambridge, carried out nearly a third of the work; the rest was sequenced by institutions  in the USA .  The ‘Book of Life‘ was made by the Wellcome Trust and is a fascinating account of how the sequencing work was done and the immense potential this has released to understand how genes contribute to human disease. We now have the information to discover the genetic basis of  cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as many other illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. Find out more about how the work was done by clicking on the image below:

Publication of the entire human genome
Book of Life : Wellcome Film 2001

This immense task was completed to a high degree of accuracy by 2003;  timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the discovery of  the DNA double helix.

Frederick Sanger, the researcher after whom the Sanger Institute was named,  pioneered methods of  sequencing  DNA which would form the basis of the high-speed technologies in use today. In the interview below you can hear this modest man discuss his work and how the life of a research scientist is usually strewn with failures from which occasional breakthroughs are made.

Frederick Sanger
Sanger. Sequences [Dr F. Sanger Interviewed by Mr H. Judson, 13 November 1987] Biochemical Society

The process of DNA sequencing is constantly advancing and becoming cheaper. In 2007 it cost $10 million to sequence a human genome whereas in 2012 it could be done in one day for around $1,000. This is having a revolutionary effect on  scientists’ abilities  to defeat diseases which mutate quickly, such as HIV and malaria, as well as for a multitude of other applications.

Many more genomes of other species are now being unravelled, expanding our knowledge of genetics further. Accompanying these advances will be a host of new ethical issues surrounding the use to which this information is being put and whether it is being used for commercial gain.

Greenpeace activists protest against genetically modified maize crops grown by US company, Monsanto.
Getty (images) 03-05-2005

Giant biotechnology companies such as Monsanto have been accused of introducing genetically modified organisms to the detriment of indigenous species and the environmental health of the planet.

The Genome of Neanderthal Man

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology are trying to sequence the Neanderthal genome following the discovery of ancient DNA within well preserved Neanderthal bones . It will allow scientists to compare human and Neanderthal genomes and identify the changes which are unique to modern man. It is hoped this will give clues to how man evolved and why Neanderthals disappeared.  Watch this Channel 4 Newsclip below to find out why scientists think this work could also contribute to our understanding of human speech disorders.

Neanderthal Skull
Technology: Scientists close to mapping genetic code for Neanderthal man: Channel 4 News 15-11-2006

We now stand on the threshold of a new age in which biomedical technologies will be used diagnose and treat disease, design new drugs and provide us with solutions to help make vital resources more plentiful. This promises to improve all our lives but, as with the advent of all new technologies, we will have to confront previously unknown ethical dilemmas along the way.

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The 16th February 2013 marked the 90th anniversary of Howard Carter’s historic unsealing of the royal burial chamber of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings. He had been searching for the tomb for many years, with the financial backing of Lord Carnarvon, and its discovery was not only the greatest achievement of his career but also the greatest archaeological find of modern times.

Crowds gather around the entrance to the tomb of Tutankhamun
Lord Carnarvon: Gaumont Graphic Newsreel 05-03-1923

Howard Carter’s personal diary and journal (now held at the Griffith Institute, Oxford)  provide a fascinating account of how the tomb was finally discovered in November 1922.  On Sunday the 5th November, he sent the following telegram to Lord Carnarvon

At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley a magnificent tomb with seals intact recovered same for your arrival congratulations

It took several months to record the hundreds of wonderful objects stored in the antechamber before the team could proceed to investigate the sealed burial chamber. Lord Carnarvon  travelled from England to witness the event on 16th Feb 1923 and the world press descended.

The following clip from Gaumont Graphic Newsreel includes Howard Carter showing  Lord Carnarvon and others around the site in early March 1923. A month later, Lord Carnarvon died suddenly from blood poisoning which originated from a mosquito bite and rumours began to circulate about the curse of  Tutankhamun.

Howard Carter talks to Lord Carnarvon at the tomb of Tutankhamun
Lord Carnarvon: Gaumont Graphic Newsreel 05-03-1923

Tutankhamun ruled Egypt between 1336 and 1327 BC and was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Although his tomb was relatively small for an Egyptian Pharaoh it was of enormous significance because very little looting had occurred and the burial chamber was still sealed. HV Morton, the only journalist allowed into the tomb, wrote vividly of astonishing sights which included not only magnificent treasures but also stores of food, perfumed face creams and withered garlands of flowers. The King had been buried with everything he could conceivably need to sustain him in the afterlife.

Carter was famous for his systematic approach to recording archaeological artefacts, ensuring the context of an object was recorded in addition to information about the object itself. His team used Carter’s own card system to record the contents of Tutankhamun’s tomb and he employed Harry Burton to photograph the excavation as it progressed, providing an invaluable visual record of the tomb in situ.

Contents of the tomb are removed in wooden crates after they have been carefully recorded
Lord Carnarvon: Gaumont Graphic Newsreel 05-03-1923

The discovery of Tutankhamun captured the imagination of the public at a time when such exciting events could be watched on early newsreels as well as being reported in print. This was to have a big impact on archaeology and the way in which it was communicated to a new audience.  Brian Hope-Taylor talks about this in the following  film called ‘The Investigators’ and discusses how archaeologists are equally concerned with finding out about the lives of ordinary people as well as royal ones.

A statue of Anubis guards the tomb of Tutankhamun
Who were the British?: The Investigators: Anglia Television Library 1965

Egypt’s tourist industry boomed as the media fuelled public interest in Egyptology. Take your own tour of  Aswan, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings by watching this 1959 Roving Report presented by the famously combative George Ffitch.

George Ffitch is driven to the Valley of the Kings
The Grandeur of Egypt: Roving Report 29-04-1959

Until the 1960′s all artifacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb were housed in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. As a result of political change it was made possible for the major items to be exhibited throughout the world and they still continue to travel the globe .

The Treasures of Tutankhamun‘  came to the British Museum in 1972 and was their most successful ever exhibition attracting over 1.6 million people. Click on the image below to watch an ITV news clip broadcast on the eve of its opening.

Scarab Beetle from the ‘Necklace of the Sun in the Eastern Horizon’
Tutankhamun Exhibition Opened: ITV News 29-03-1972

Tutankhamun has drawn people to Egypt for decades. Click on the image below to watch ITN footage of the Princess of Wales visiting Cairo and the Valley of the Kings in 1992. She was lucky and did not have to queue in the heat to see all his splendours.

Princess of Wales looks at the Golden Mask of King Tutankhamun
Princess of Wales Egypt Visit: ITN 14-05-1992

We now know much information about the boy king as a result of modern technology. There have been many theories about  Tutankhamun’s early death at around 19 years of age and many believed he had been murdered (evidenced by a skull injury). In 2005 the king’s mummified remains were scanned and results indicate  it is much less likely that he was deliberately killed. DNA testing  in 2010 shows he probably suffered from malaria which would have resulted in a weakened constitution. Death most likely occurred as the result of a leg injury which failed to heal properly. You can follow this story and find out more about his parentage and physical condition by clicking on the image below:

The real face of Tutankhamun
DNA reveals some mystery on King Tut: Getty (moving images) 2010

Recent work on the analysis of mummies has given us valuable information about our own health. This Lancet article shows that evidence of atherosclerosis existed in a third of the mummies which were examined, suggesting that modern lifestyle factors are not completely to blame for an individual’s predisposition to heart attack and strokes. Instead it’s possible atherosclerosis  may be linked more directly to the human ageing process.

The public face of the King – the Golden Mask of Tutankhamun
DNA reveals some mystery on King Tut: Getty (moving images) 18-02-2010

Controversies continue to follow Tutankhamun. There are problems concerning the deterioration of the King’s remains following their removal from the protective atmosphere of his sealed burial chamber, as well as the condition of the tomb itself. In addition there are the ethics of displaying a dead body, stripped of all the objects with which it had been buried. Many will argue  this is preferable to the looting which would have taken place once the location of the tomb was known, though some believe mummies should not be disturbed.

The legend of Tutankhamun, who died over 3,000 years ago and was sent into the afterlife with treasures beyond imagining, continues to fascinate us and even now he still  holds on to many of  his secrets.

Further Links:


Robert Burns – Man of the People

The life of Robert Burns is celebrated every year on the 25th January; the date of his birth. Why did the Burns Night tradition start and how did this obscure Ayrshire farm lad, born in 1759,  turn into a literary phenomenon and national hero?

The Birth Certificate of Robert Burns held at the General Register Office for Scotland, Edinburgh: Getty (still images) 24-01-2007

The first Burns Night was held on the wrong date (29th January 1802) due to a mistake in a  newly written biography by Dr James Currie (one of many inaccuracies written about Burns’  life).  The poet had been dead less than  six years yet, such was the impact he had made on the Scottish people, there was a great wish to preserve his memory. And what better way than to celebrate in the manner he would have appreciated most: with good company, haggis, Scotch whisky and of course, poetry. If you are thinking of hosting your own Burn’s Night Supper it’s advisable to consult some reliable information on the running order of the event. Click on the image below to watch a newsclip about Burns’ 250th anniversary in 1996.

Delivering the Address to the Haggis
Scotland: Robert Burns: Channel 4 News 23-01-1996


Robert Burns was born into a poor Ayrshire farming family in 1759. It was a constant struggle to make a living off the land and Robert endured hard manual labour during much of his early life. Despite this, his father made sure Robert was given the basis of a classical education, although he spent little time attending school. Find out more about the area where Burns grew up by watching ‘ Ayr from the Auld Brig‘ made by Films of Scotland.

Burns Birthplace at Alloway: Ayr from the Auld Brig: Films of Scotland 1961

As a young man he read widely and began to write poetry inspired by his passion for nature,  revelling and the local girls. To say he had a complicated love life would be an understatement and his many amours (plus resulting progeny) deserve a blog post all of their own.

The Brig O’Doon from Burns’ famous Tam O’Shanter
Ayr from the Auld Brig: Films of Scotland 1961

After his father’s death,  life on the farm continued to be precarious. In a bid to secure a reliable job and escape the embarrassing fallout of a recent romance, he came up with the unlikely idea of emigrating to Jamaica. Unfortunately he did not have money for the ship’s passage so decided to publish some of his poems (by subscription) to try and raise the funds. Astonishingly his volume, written in Scots dialect, was a runaway success. He changed his plans and set off for Edinburgh, where he knew no-one, to seek his fortune.

A Legend is Made
Scotland: Robert Burns: Channel 4 News 1996

In the course of arranging a second edition of his poems, he found himself in demand by the leading figures of Edinburgh society who were eager to meet the  ‘Heaven-taught Ploughman’ themselves. He charmed them all with his vivacity and wit and soon became a celebrity figure. Burns also had a strong interest in folk songs and he set many of his own poems to music. In 1787  he toured different parts of Scotland, in the course of which he collected many traditional songs which were in danger of disappearing. On his return he worked collaboratively with others to collect, publish and preserve this vital part of Scottish culture. Take your own Scottish tour  by watching Holiday Scotland which features most of the places Burns visited himself.


Burns travelled as far north as Inverness during his travels in 1787
Holiday Scotland: Films of Scotland 1966

Sadly,  Burns was never destined to make much money. He sold the copyright to his poetry early on and refused to take any payment for his work collecting folk songs, which he regarded as a patriotic service. He returned to Ayrshire to bring up his family and took up a post with the Excise in order to earn a regular income. Click the image below to find out more about how Burns is still remembered in the town of Ayr.

People of Ayr celebrate the June Rite of Burns by re-enacting the ride of Tam O’Shanter: A Town Called Ayr: Films of Scotland 1974

His outspoken radical views got him into a lot of trouble with the authorities and there were occasions when he nearly lost his job with the Excise as a result.  He desperately needed to support his growing family but hard times lay ahead and he became unwell. Many have said his illness was due to a dissolute lifestyle but we now know he was suffering from endocarditis which, in the days before antibiotics, would inevitably prove fatal. He died on 21st July 1796 at the age of 37. His wife, Jean Armour, gave birth to his 13th child on the day of his funeral. His popularity was so great that it was said  over 10,000 people watched his funeral procession.

Burns Celebrations: Gaumont Graphic Newsreel: 29-01-1920

What was Burn’s legacy to the Scottish nation? His works have been translated into 50 languages and songs such as ‘Auld Lang Syne’ are known globally. His poetry is remarkable for its simplicity and honesty,  expressing his zest for life and egalitarian ideals. He has become a conduit for spreading  Scottish culture throughout the world.

Burns’s poetry and ideas continue to be relevant to us today. When the new Scottish Parliament opened, one of  Burns’ most famous songs was chosen to mark the occasion.  ‘A Man’s a Man for A”That’  is a declaration of equality and liberty.

For A’ that and a”that

It’s coming yet for a’that

That Man to Man, the world o’er

Shall brothers be for a’that


Further Links:



The Hobbit

Peter Jackson’s eagerly anticipated new film ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ opens in the UK today, so  we thought a special blog post about ‘The Hobbit’ would be an ideal way to mark the festive season. So put up your feet and help yourselves to second breakfast while we take you on a journey through JISC MediaHub.

J.R.R. Tolkien has entranced millions with his magical tales of Middle-earth. ‘The Hobbit’, originally written for the entertainment of his son Christopher, was published in 1937.  Professor Tolkien drew upon his vast knowledge of Norse and Old English to conjure a heroic world, where men live alongside dwarves, elves, goblins and other mythical beings. The Channel 4 clip below discusses the Anglo-Saxons and shows how their society and culture was far more sophisticated than we originally thought. It’s interesting to see how Tolkien incorporated elements from Anglo-Saxon life into his Middle-earth fable.

Sutton-Hoo Helmet
[Anglo-SaxonSettlement: New Evidence: Channel 4 News 01-09-1989]

When the tale begins, Bilbo Baggins, the reluctant and unlikely hero,  is living peaceably in the rural idyll of the Shire.

An romanticised view of English rural life was the model for the Shire. A similarly idealised representation can be seen in this propaganda film on the role of the countryside in war efforts.
[Spring Offensive: Royal Mail Film Classics 1939]


Before long his comfortable existence is rudely disturbed by the arrival of the wizard, Gandalf who, together with a band of dwarves, whisks him away on a quest for long-forgotten gold. The dwarves use an ancient map containing runes to guide them to the Lonely Mountain where their treasure is being held. It was thought the Norse sometimes used runes for the purposes of magic and divination. Below is an image of a huge runestone from Jelling  in Denmark which contains both pagan and Christian symbols.

Pagan Runes on a Jelling Stone
[Lost Centuries 7 : The Fury of the Northmen:segment 5: Anglia Television Library]

One of the high points of Bilbo’s unexpected journey is a visit to the secret valley of Rivendell , where he and his fellow adventurers rest at Elrond’s Last Homely House. This beautiful refuge is set in a deep ravine with steep hills on either side.

As beautiful as Rivendell? [Sonlerto in the Bavona Valley, Switzerland
Getty (still images)]

After they make their reluctant farewells to Elrond, Gandalf leads Bilbo and the dwarves across the forbidding Misty Mountains. It’s possible this dangerous mountain range was inspired by a summer holiday Tolkien spent in the Alps when he was 19. Take a look at some footage of the high Alpine peaks below to get into the ‘Misty Mountain mood’.

The Alps or the towering peaks of the Misty Mountains?
[Aerial over French Alps:Getty (moving images)]

In a dark cave, under the mountains,  Bilbo finds a golden ring and has his famous encounter with the creature, Gollum: events which are to have unforeseen consequences for the future fate of Middle-earth itself. Maybe it looked a little like the cave below?

This underground cave was a refuge for those escaping pirates and slave-hunters in the XVII century
[La Cueva de los Verdes – 2: GovEd Communications: Francesco Troina]

Great eagles play a key role in the story, rescuing the party from ravening wolves and appearing at the end of the final battle. Tolkien met his fellow ‘inklings’ at the ‘Eagle and Child’ pub in Oxford – could this legend have prompted him to imagine how eagles could carry Bilbo’s party away from danger? Click on the eagle below to watch this magnificent bird in flight.

A Magnificent Hovering Eagle
[Bald eagle hovering and landing on rock: Getty (moving images)]

Beorn the ‘skin-changer’ is one of the most mysterious characters in ‘The Hobbit’; a man who can take on the shape of a bear. Shape-shifters can be found throughout Norse mythology.  Bilbo and the dwarves are given shelter in Beorn’s  great hall which, as Tolkien’s own illustrations suggest, could have been based on a Viking longhouse. To find out more about this and viking culture in general take a look at “Lost Centuries -7: The fury of the Northmen”.

Beorn’s Hall? [A reconstructed viking longhouse at Trelleborg, Denmark: Lost Centuries 7: Segment 4: Anglia Television Library]

Bilbo’s confidence starts to grow as he saves the dwarves from being eaten by giant spiders in black Mirkwood forest. After more adventures they all arrive at the Lonely Mountain and start to plan how to get the treasure back.

A great spider from Mirkwood?
[Garden Spider: Wellcome Images 2009]

No great tale is complete without a monster to overcome and it is through Bilbo’s cleverness that the dragon, Smaug  meets his downfall, leading to the reclamation of the dwarves’ vast treasure hoard.

Smaug? – or another mighty dragon?
[The dragon bridge-3:GovEd Communications: Francesco Troina]

Tolkien was an expert on the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘Beowulf’ and drew upon it as one of his most valued sources.  He used elements from the poem within ‘The Hobbit’ and was very fond of performing it whilst teaching Old English to his students at Pembroke College, Oxford. The story of Beowulf includes a magical sword, a treasure hoard and a dragon. To hear more about this you can watch segment 3 from “The Lost Centuries – 5: A Golden Age” which contains some extracts from ‘Beowulf’.

The tale of how Beowulf defeated Grendel would have been told in Anglo-Saxon halls such as this.
[Lost Centuries – 5: A Golden Age: Segment 3: Anglia Television Library]

And so Bilbo’s great quest was concluded although there were many unexpected outcomes to face before he returned safely to Bag End.

In the words of JRR Tolkien:

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after

A brief glimpse of Tolkien being interviewed about the Oxford Poetry Chair
[Oxford Poetry Chair: ITV News 25-05-1973]

May all your adventures come to a safe end – and don’t forget to let us know if you find your own hobbit-related material on JISC MediaHub!

Further Links:








Digital Content for the First World War on JISC MediaHub

In 2014 we will be commemorating the centenary of the First World War. This event will  generate new interest in historic material relating to such a significant part of our history. JISC has funded work to explore what teachers and researchers will require so they can reinterpret this huge event from a 21st Century perspective. You can read more in a new report called Digital Content for the First World War which was undertaken by King’s College, London and makes recommendations about how valuable resources can be made digitally accessible.

JISC MediaHub provides access to many collections containing First World War material. Our previous ‘War Horse’ blog post focused on the important role horses played on the battlefront. In this blog post we are looking at how the war affected the everyday lives of ordinary people.

Are You In This? : IWM (images) c.1916

Hard times followed the onset of WWI and the government wanted to show the British people how they could contribute to the war effort. Food shortages became more common and rationing was eventually introduced.

Yes – Complete Victory if You Eat Less Bread : IWM (images) c.1916

The IWM (images) Collection contains a large number of propaganda posters distributed by the government to encourage the general public to save food; amongst many other initiatives.

Piling up Rations in the Rations Shed: This item is from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit)


The role of women began to change as men  departed for the War in their tens of thousands .  Many volunteered to serve as nurses at the Front and we are starting to learn more about their individual stories following the release of new material from the National Archives.

The Scottish Women’s Hospital : In The Cloister of the Abbaye at Royaumont. Dr. Frances Ivens inspecting a French patient. Imperial War Museum (images)


Many more women came forward to take over industrial and agricultural jobs which helped keep the economy running. This interesting clip from Gaumont Graphic Newsreel shows a ‘ Women Workers Procession’ in London which was held by the Women’s Social and Political Union to recruit women into  munitions work. Mrs Pankhurst and Lloyd George were key to the organisation of this event.

Women Workers Procession: Gaumont Graphic Newsreel 27-07-1916

The  Great War left its mark on almost every community in the land. Even those living in the far corners of Britain found their lives were changed irrevocably by events played out far from home. The North Highland College Johnston Collection  gives us a unique insight into social change happening around Wick; a coastal town in the top North East corner of Scotland.

Parade after Church Service on Outbreak of the Great War : North Highland College (Johnston Collection) c. 1915

This parade was probably part of a recruiting march taking place throughout the county for one of the Seaforth battallions.

Meanwhile the everyday business of the town had to carry on:

Group photo of Lipton’s staff in Wick, standing outside the shop : North Highland College (Johnston Collection) c.1915

and despite the gravity of the war situation there were still opportunities to have some fun……

Painter and decorator apprentice finishing his time (Brothering) in Market Square :
North Highland College (Johnston Collection) c.1915

Among the treasures of this collection are many studio photographs of men who were about to join the fighting. These photographs would become precious mementoes as families faced an uncertain future. Here a soldier holds his young daughter in a surprisingly informal shot; we can only begin to wonder what their thoughts would have been at such a time.

A Portrait of Mr Clyne and his Daughter – December 1915 : North Highland College (Johnston Collection)


Further Links:

Eric Hobsbawm: Marxist Historian

Following the recent death of the eminent Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, we thought this would be an ideal opportunity to celebrate his achievements and highlight the resources of our ETV Collection, which is unique in its coverage of the history of the British Labour Movement as well as the influence of Communism.

Although he spent most of his life in Britain, Eric Hobsbawm was born in Egypt to Jewish parents in 1917. Far away in Russia  a revolution was beginning, the reverberations of which would be felt globally, as documented in ETV’s Chronicle of October 1917.

Chronicle of October 1917 : ETV Films Ltd

In his autobiography Hobsbawm said

I belong to the generation for whom the October Revolution represented the hope of the world.

The  family moved to Vienna but by the time Hitler began his rise to power Hobsbawm had been orphaned and was living with his uncle in Berlin. They were moving to a country in the grip of significant political change: ‘How to Make Cannon Fodder’ is an account of the rise of Nazism in Germany at this time and its focus on the country’s youth.

How To Make Cannon Fodder : ETV Ltd 1963

As a result of his experiences in Berlin, Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party at the age of 14;

Anybody who saw Hitler’s rise happen first hand could not have helped but be shaped by it, politically. That boy is still somewhere inside, always will be..

He moved with his uncle to London  in 1933 and as a gangly teenage boy had to adapt to a new language and culture. He clearly managed this with some success and went on to win a scholarship to Cambridge where he made many communist friends. Here he would eventually gain his PhD, after a break in his studies during the war which he spent as a sapper on the home front. This experience gave him an opportunity to meet and work alongside working class Britons.

In 1947  he began his long career as a history lecturer at Birkbeck College. By now he had determined his ongoing commitment to  radical socialism, which remained throughout the cold war, to the detriment of the progression of his academic career.

The Allies : ETV Films Ltd 1965

Hobsbawm considered himself part of the international communist movement, a position echoed in the work of ETV, a distribution company aiming to make the movement available through alternative newsreels. For instance  ’The Allies’ is a documentary film made by the DEFA Studio  (the state-owned film studio of the German Democratic Republic) which gives an account of how the successful military alliance between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies in World War II led to the defeat of Germany. The film interprets these events from a Soviet perspective and stresses the huge price paid by Russia (20 million dead) to help bring an end to the Nazi regime.

Following his post-war research into the Fabians, Hobsbawm developed a great and continuing interest in the growth of the British Labour Movement. Many years later, in 1983, he supported Neil Kinnock’s controversial transformation of the British Labour Party  into what would eventually become known as ‘New Labour’.  A 1985 Channel 4 News Clip focusing on splits within the British Communist Party ( including an interview with Hobsbawm) goes on to discuss the resulting impact on the entire Labour Movement.

Fifty Fighting Years: ETV Films Ltd 1972

Fifty Fighting Years was made as a tribute to the journal ‘Labour Monthly’ and documents the struggles of the British Labour Movement from 1921-1971. The film was directed and produced by Stanley Forman, ETV’s founder and a contemporary of Hobsbawm, whose life also was strongly influenced by the Communist movement.

Hobsbawm’s views – political and historical – were formed by his reactions to the great conflicts of the 20th Century which he called ‘the most extraordinary and terrible century of human history’. His formidable reputation as a historian, however, was established mainly by his quartet of books  spanning  events from the French Revolution to the present day (The Age of RevolutionThe Age of CapitalThe Age of Empire and The Age of Extremes).

He believed world events are driven largely by economic and social forces rather than through the power of individual leaders. He said

Social injustice still needs to be denounced and fought….the world will not get better on its own.


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London 2012 Paralympics

As the London 2012 Paralympics draw to a close we can look back on a fortnight full of excitement and not a little controversy. Over 160 nations have taken part in a Games which have challenged current perceptions of what it means to be disabled. Indeed Channel 4, official broadcaster for the Games, has branded the Paralympians “Superhuman” in an advertising campaign that forces us to reassess our mindset on Paralympian sport.

The Paralympic Movement was born at Stoke Mandeville hospital where athletic events were held for British WW2 veterans following the London 1948 Olympics. Taking a look at an early news report from ITV shot at Stoke Mandeville in 1956 it is clear that it was already becoming an international event.

Paralympics at Stoke Mandeville 1956

Paralympics at Stoke Mandeville 1956: ITV News 28-07-1956









In 1984 the Games returned to Stoke Mandeville unexpectedly. The original American hosts (University of Illinois ) pulled out due to financial problems and Stoke Mandeville agreed to co-host the Games together with New York. They had only 4 months notice to organise the event.

World Wheelchair Games

Prince Charles opens the Seventh Paralympic Games held at Stoke Mandeville: ITV News 22-07-1984










Britain has produced many inspirational paralympic athletes, of whom perhaps the most famous is Baroness Grey-Thompson; better known simply as ‘ Tanni’. During her careeer she won 16 Paralympic medals for wheelchair racing events, of which 11 were gold.

Britain’s paralympian Dame Tanni Grey Thompson holds up her gold medals on the day she announces her retirement from international sport: Getty (still images) 2007











The London 2012 Paralympic Games will be making history as the second biggest multi-sport event ever held in the UK as well as being the largest and most commercially successful Paralympics held to date. Millions of spectators have enjoyed watching an event which previously received relatively little media coverage.  The Paralympics really have become ‘mainstream’ giving them the power to change social attitudes to disability, which must surely be to the benefit of us all.


Further Links:

London Olympics 2012

Excitement mounts as the world awaits the opening of the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London on 27 July 2012. This is the third time the Games will have taken place in London;  the first  being in 1908 when the White City Stadium was built at short notice to accommodate them.

Originally these Games were to have been held in Rome but, following the eruption of Vesuvius in 1906, funds were diverted for the rebuilding of Naples and so their location was changed to a non-volcanic London.

White City 1908 : Museum of London

White City 1908 : Exploring 20th Century London (via Culture Grid)










Forty years later the 1948 Summer Olympics were also held in London. Post-war rationing was still in force although athletes were allowed over twice the calorific intake of an adult in order to give them enough energy to compete. Watch this clip of the stirring opening ceremony which must have raised the spirits of those living through such austere times.

Britain 1948 - The Olympic Games : Gaumont British News  02-08-1948

Britain 1948 – The Olympic Games : Gaumont British News 02-08-1948









Souvenir Guide Book 1948 Olympic Games: Museum of London

Souvenir Guide Book 1948 Olympic Games: Exploring 20th Century London (via Culture Grid)














Sixty four years later, the Games are to revisit London. The intervening period has brought about great changes in the way the Games are run and how we view them. Since the Munich massacre in 1972 there has been increased concern the Games could be used to stage political acts of terrorism. Security will be a huge issue for the London 2012.

In the following clip from ‘News at Ten’ Mark Spitz talks about his own experience, as an athlete and potential hostage target, at the Munich Games during the hostage crisis.

Mark Spitz Interview: News at Ten  05-09-1972

Mark Spitz Interview: News at Ten 05-09-1972









Political changes within Europe have also had a big impact on the Games. As the dominance of the Soviet bloc came to an end, so did their former powerful prescence at the Olympics. There would now be new national teams from each of the former Communist states. The following clip also looks at how the Communist regime trained potential athletes through a system of select schools for children showing  outstanding  abilitiy in sports.

Olympic team after break-up of the Soviet Union : AP Archive  17-07-1992

Olympic team after break-up of the Soviet Union : AP Archive 17-07-1992










Rapid advances in information technology mean more people can watch the Olympics than ever before. A new satellite was ordered by China Satcom to provide live television coverage for the Bejing Games in 2008.

Satellite launched for Olympic TV broadcasts: Getty (still images)  9-06-2008

Satellite launched for Olympic TV broadcasts: Getty (still images) 9-06-2008


Growing television audiences provide new markets for branded products. The Olympic brand for London 2012 is being protected by tough legislation to restrict its use to official sponsors who have paid enormous sums for exclusive rights.

The following clip, which looks at how Olympic sponsors tapped into the growing consumer economy of China, explains ‘…..it’s not just the athletes who are taking home the gold’

Global brands make grab for Olympic gold : Getty (moving images)  19-03-2008

Global brands make grab for Olympic gold : Getty (moving images) 19-03-2008











There are also controversial new rules governing the use of social media during London 2012. This includes banning athletes from posting video clips from the Olympic village or tweeting ‘in the role of a journalist’.

Ticket holders may not broadcast video or sound recordings or post pictures to Facebook from any events they attend. Should the use of social media be policed  during the Games and whose interests are being protected? London 2012 may prove interesting for more than displays of athletic prowess alone.

Don’t forget to let us know what you think about any of these issues.

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JISC MediaHub Celebrates the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

As celebrations begin for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, why not take a look at some of the historic resources on JISC MediaHub  which date from the time of her coronation in 1953.

ER Emblem designed by James Gardner. University of Brighton Design Archives

ER Emblem designed by James Gardner. University of Brighton Design Archives












Our University of  Brighton Design Archives Collection contain some of the original designs by James Gardner which were commissioned for the Queen’s Coronation . He designed the public decorations for the Royal Borough of Kensington including a magnificent canopy which stood near the gates of Kensington Palace.

Original watercolour sketch of Coronation canopy designed by James Gardner: UoB

Original watercolour sketch of Coronation canopy designed by James Gardner: UoB Design Archives











You can see below how the canopy  looked when it was built.

Coronation Canopy, Kensington Palace Gates, by James Gardner: UoB Design Archives

Coronation Canopy, Kensington Palace Gates, by James Gardner: UoB Design Archives


Gaumont British News produced a film showing the highlights of the Queen’s Coronation. The BBC provided live coverage of the event which encouraged many people to buy their first television set. This would start the gradual decline in the popularity of cinema newsreels.

 The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II :  Gaumont British News

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II : Gaumont British News

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II :  Gaumont British News


Take a closer look at the white satin gown worn by the Queen at her coronation in this news clip from Channel Five News, which reports on a special exhibition held at Buckingham Palace in the year of the Golden Jubilee. Alongside the floral emblems embroidered on the bodice was a unique four leaf clover which the designer, Norman Hartnell, had secretly included.

Buckingham Palace Opens Doors to Public: Channel Five News  01-08- 2003

Buckingham Palace Opens Doors to Public: Channel Five News 01-08- 2003










Enjoy all your celebrations on Jubilee Day –  but keep safe with this sage advice from the 1977 Silver Jubilee:

Jubilee Crime : ITV News 02-06-1977

Jubilee Crime : ITV News 02-06-1977


 Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad mounted a special ‘beat the pickpocket’ operation to keep the public safe from the expected influx of thieves from abroad.




 And watch out for all that dodgy Jubilee memorabilia!
Jubilee Rip Offs : ITV News 03-06-1977

Jubilee Rip Offs : ITV News 03-06-1977


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Northern Ireland: The Years of Conflict

In this blog post we want to introduce you to the vast range of resources held by JISC MediaHub which cover the period of the Irish Troubles and the peace process which followed.

The Saville Inquiry Into The Bloody Sunday Shootings Is Released: Getty (still images) 15-06-2010

JISC have just  announced the launch of Chronicle, a joint project with the BUFVC and the BBC, to make BBC Northern Ireland’s television news  from 1963 to 1976  available to the academic community online.  Alongside this important new resource JISC MediaHub offers a wealth of images and video footage which extends coverage of the conflict in Northern Ireland through to the peace process and up to the present day. Many hours of news coverage are available from the ITV News Collection and the Channel 4 News Collection, as well as images from Getty.

The Maze Prison

H Blocks of the Maze Prison: Maze Prison Backgrounder: Channel 4 News 26-07-2000

Channel 4 News produced a fascinating background feature on the notorious Maze Prison, where paramilitary prisoners were held between 1971 and 2000. The film, made in July 2000, contains interviews with both ex-prisoners and prison staff and it is these first hand accounts of life in the Maze which make it so compelling.

US President Bill Clinton's car passes the Sinn Fein Headquarters 30-11-95 Getty (still images)

US President Bill Clinton's car passes the Sinn Fein Headquarters 30-11-95 Getty (still images)

Bill Clinton was the first US President to visit Northern Ireland in November 1995. The success of this and future visits contributed to him playing a key role in the peace process.

Tony Blair announces the signing of the Good Friday Agreement: ITN 10-04-1998

Hopes for the end to conflict were pinned to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, however only a few months later the Omagh Bombing took place.

Northern Ireland: Omagh Bomb     ITV News  15-08-98

Northern Ireland: Omagh Bomb ITV News 15-08-98

It would be nearly another nine years before a new power sharing government would be installed at Stormont.

Against all odds: Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness share government: ITN 08-05-2007

Divided for years by sectarian hatred, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness became political colleagues at the head of Northern Ireland’s new powersharing Government in May 2007: Northern Ireland Peace Process Has New Power-Sharing  Government Sworn In: ITN  08-05-2007

These are just a few hightlights from the still images and many hours of news footage to be found on  JISC MediaHub, documenting not just the key political negotiations but the testimony of ordinary people who lived through decades of terror.

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