Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Student project takes closer look at Sheffield's 'Nuclear Winter'

The City Archives in Sheffield will be 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...
Do you remember the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire?  Symbolised by the red flag flying high above Sheffield Town Hall on May Day, South Yorkshire County Council represented a particular period within the history of Sheffield and South Yorkshire.  Some may remember the Council with nostalgia, others with irritation, and others may never have known it existed.  Admittedly, before we started this project, we were of the latter variety.

This is the first in a series of regular blog posts aiming to track our journey, as we explore the archives, learn more about the Council, and engage with those connected to its forward-thinking work and philosophy.

Much of the material relating to the Council’s heyday - from minutes to policy documents, leaflets to stickers - has been collected and stored within Sheffield City Archives’ vast collections.  Brief given, we were both very excited to get to explore the material within the Archives - especially as we had no idea what to expect and so much to learn about the Council.  However, when we arrived for the first time, this excitement quickly turned to shock at the sheer quantity of material available.  Overwhelmed is an understatement!

It quickly became clear that there were a plethora of interesting topics and themes relating to the Council:  strikes within the coal and steel industries, industrial decline and high unemployment - not to mention the fractious relationship between the Council and Thatcher’s Conservative Government. We spent a good while discussing possible topics and decided that our primary aim in this project is to draw parallels between some of the issues faced in the 1980s and those facing society today - 30 years on.

The pivotal moment came when we saw the ‘Nuclear Winter’ leaflet (pictured).  The stark image of a mushroom cloud immediately caught our attention and we became further intrigued by the information in the leaflet’s bottom-right corner, stating that the event was sponsored by South Yorkshire County Council.  We continued to dig, and found countless advertising flyers, information leaflets, and correspondence between the Council, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and Government officials.  

What particularly stood out to us was the rhetoric used when both defending and supporting the provision of nuclear weaponry.  Almost a sense of déjà vu.  There was actually a mainstream news article with a similar headline that very day - one side arguing that nuclear weapons are essential in upholding the UK’s status as a significant global power, and the other side condemning the arms on moral, legal and financial grounds.  It echoes almost word-for-word some of debates held recently between David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn on the issue in the House of Commons.  The parallels are uncanny.

After just one day in the archives, we were both hooked on the nuclear theme.  The next stage of our project is to make contact with various people and organisations related to the Council and, in particular, its anti-nuclear position and actions.  We are looking forward to sharing our progress as our project gets underway.

Sabrina Webster and Chantelle Francis
Public Humanities MA Students

University of Sheffield