Monday, March 21, 2016

Student project investigates Cold War in Sheffield

The City Archives is home to two university students over the next few months. Sabrina Webster and Chantelle Francis are studying for an MA in Public Humanities at the University of Sheffield.  They have chosen to base themselves in the Archives and Local Studies Library in a quest to find out more about the city’s recent Cold War history.  In the second of their blogs, they explain what they’ve uncovered so far...

So the time has come to write our second post on the project - where has the time gone? We have so much to tell you!

As Sabrina mentioned last week, our first port of call after the archives was to contact as many individuals and organisations as possible, to find out more about the ‘Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’.  We dropped lucky last week, when we met with the ladies from Sheffield Creative Action for Peace (SCRAP) as they divulged an abundance of information, particularly with regards to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and members of the former South Yorkshire County Council.  In fact, we have been provided with so much information, we had to sit down and decide which parts to focus on for our project.  We’ve decided to look specifically at the Cold War and how this affected day-to day life and policy making in Sheffield, and those issues surrounding Trident which still affect the UK directly today. It is a shame that we will not be exploring related issues such as the disposal of nuclear waste (something Sheffield and Rotherham campaigned about in the 1980s), but we only have a few short months!

Prior to our meeting with SCRAP, we spent some time at Sheffield Local Studies Library. We had lots of fun attempting to use the microfilm readers and print snippets from old newspaper articles - we will have our technique down to a tee by the end of our project!  We found many interesting articles, which caused a variety of emotional reactions from both of us. Sometimes it is difficult to fully relate to a past era and the troubles it experienced, but these articles present the true terror that was being experienced in Sheffield during the time of perceived nuclear threat. It was almost surreal.

We also explored a folder containing leaflets, pamphlets, and posters, which held dates for marches, festivals, and other protests against nuclear warfare. We read a leaflet entitled ‘You and the Bomb’, which presents the effects of two nuclear bombs dropping in Sheffield and Doncaster, and gives detailed accounts of how members of the public would be effected in numerous ‘zones’ through fictional stories. It also became apparent that the Information and Resources Library held several copies of ‘Protect and Survive’, which was a booklet distributed by the council to local people on how to survive an oncoming nuclear attack. We are hoping to arrange to have these available for viewing at our public event in May, so watch this space and we’ll keep you posted.

We really are excited to see how the public reacts to our research and the archival material in May, as we certainly got a brilliant response from SCRAP when we presented them with some of the newspaper clippings. It is interesting how the tiniest snippet of information can open up a raft of memories and stories which we look forward to sharing with you in due course.  An activity which we again had very mixed reactions to was watching Barry Hines’ film Threads. We would also be interested to see if those we will be interviewing also watched the film, and how they felt about it at the time. I wonder if those on the Council will have differing views to those of the activists…

Having watched the film, we decided to visit the Barry Hines archives held at the University’s Special Collections at Western Bank Library. We found some very interesting material about which governing bodies influenced the making of the film and produced the facts and figures. It was interesting to note how Scientists Against Nuclear Arms (SANA) produced figures with a much more devastating impact than those produced by the Government.  A biased opinion or more accurate analysis? We’ll let you know if we work that out.

An upcoming event which I am pleased to be attending is the 30th Abolition Anniversary Celebratory Lunch with the South Yorkshire County Council (SYCC) Association on the 1st April, which we were invited to during some correspondence with John Cornwell (previous Chair of the Anti-Nuclear Working Party and current Secretary of the SYCC Association) himself! I’ll let you know how it goes next time…

Chantelle Francis and Sabrina Webster
Public Humanities MA Students

University of Sheffield