Manchester : Sites of Sociology, Politics, History and Art

On Wednesday I went to visit the People’s History Museum in Manchester and attended the Museums and Academics Research Network’s first meeting in their light and bright reading room. The purpose was to learn about how the Museum’s collections can be accessed by academics interested in the study of British Social History, particularly the history of the working people.  Walking up to the Museum, I took a couple of pictures of this excellent space.  I have walked past the building many times and given it a cursory glance hoping to visit one day.  Today though was my first visit.  And I will definitely be back!

It was an eye-opening and useful meeting attended by many lecturers and students from the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University, giving me insight into the vast collection that can be accessed at the Museum that I hadn’t previously given much thought to: political posters, banners, badges; central executive and sub-committee papers and minutes from the Labour Party and the British Communist Party. Within these papers there are all matter of references to British Social History of the past 200 years: anything that was talked about in political circle will be in these documents.

I also learned more about other great places for academics to use in Manchester.

Sadly on the same day, after getting to know the brilliant resource that is the People’s History Museum, I later read an article in The Guardian referring to funding cuts that will affect the Museum greatly:

“There is also something quite spiteful about this government too: a vengeful, nasty streak seems to underpin almost everything they do. Take its decision to slash funding to the only museum in England dedicated to celebrating the history of working people. The People’s History Museum in Manchester is facing a £200,000 shortfall in funding after the government slashed its grant.
According to the museum’s deputy director, Cath Birchall, part of the reason is because their present exhibition graphically tells the story of working people and their role in the first world war, including some who were conscientious objectors. Birchall has said: “They don’t see the importance of a national museum that shows the effects of the war on ordinary people.” This was a war that saw an estimated three-quarters of a million people die in combat and over a million injured. It produced domestic casualties too. Research suggests that while the battles raged on the western front, as many as 100,000 people died of malnutrition and disease at home.

The proposed funding cut for the museum is a blatant attempt by the Tory party to rewrite history in its own image, to stop future generations from learning what their great-grandfathers sacrificed in the name of their country. In Tory history, brigadiers and colonels are worth more than barrow boys and coalminers.

It is one museum out of approximately 2,500 in the country. If your thing is the history of lawnmowers then you’re well catered for, with several dedicated to the machinery. If you’re a bit of a mustard aficionado then there are multiple museums devoted to telling you the difference between Dijon, English and wholegrain. Yet, when it comes to the history of working people, England boasts just one – and the government wants to shut it down.

History is not just about those who write it, but about those who live it. Working people and the labour movement have been at the forefront of all social and political changes this country has undergone over the past three centuries. We must defend the People’s Museum from the Tory-led government’s malicious and politically motivated attack, and safeguard the one museum dedicated to telling the story of us all.”


People’s History Museum

Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester, Lancashire M3 3ER
0161 838 9190

The Museum is the only one in the UK that focuses on British democracy over the last 200 years.  The collections span from the late eighteenth century up until today as the Museum continues to collect contemporary material.  The complete holdings of the Labour Party and Communist Party of Great Britain, as well as Conservative Party and early Liberal Party material is strongly represented as are other organisations including the Department for Work and Pensions, the Trades Union Congress and The Co-operative Group.

The Museum’s collection of trade union and political banners is the largest and most important of its type in the world. There are over 2,000 posters covering elections and issue campaigns. Satire forms a strong part of our holdings, with over 300 18th, 19th and 20th century political cartoons, including Steve Bell’s cartoons of the Falklands War.  There are 7,000 badges and tokens from the late 19th century to the present day, and over 95,000 photographic images and 17,000 pamphlets covering social and political history.  People’s struggles to gain the vote and workers’ rights to unionise are some of the topics covered in the collections.  The Museum is actively working to amass collections concerning anti-fracking protests, Scottish Independence and LGBTQ history.  The papers from the 2015 Election campaign should be coming to the Museum too.

As well as the object collection and archival collection, there is an off-site store on Princess Street that can also be visited.  The political posters contained in the Museum probably amount to the largest collection in the UK, and interest not only historians and sociologists, but also art and design students and others.  Much of the collection is catalogued, but if it isn’t searchable online or at the Museum itself, the very friendly team including Chris Burgess (Curator), Darren Treadwell (Learning Assistant) and Heather Roberts (Archivist)will no doubt be able to point anyone needing specialist help in the right direction.  Educationalists who are keen to bring in their students – ranging from Early Years, primary and high school, sixth form or adult community groups – can arrange projects with Kirsty Mairs (Learning Manager) who has been at the Museum for over ten years.  School students of History, Art and Design, English, Drama, Sociology and Citizenship are able to take part in some of the projects organised to inspire young people: Living History where trained actors perform for the students who are in turn inspired to create a response, pARTicipate covers the Art of Protest, printing power, build a banner and protest pottery amongst other activities, City Centre trails to inspire students to respond creatively , and an introduction to archives amongst other projects that the Museum can work on in conjunction with schools and community groups.


Representatives from other organisations and institutes also attended the meeting, and gave insight into how their resources can benefit academics. Here are the details of other great sites of sociology for you to visit:

Working Class Movement Library

51 Crescent, Salford M5 4WX
0161 736 3601

 A representative from the Working Class Movement Library also highlighted how they have a useful collection for academics and researchers to use which follow similar themes to the People’s History Museum.  Although they are closed access, we can call and arrange a time to visit and they can bring out the relevant material.

“The Working Class Movement Library started life in the 1950s as the personal collection of Edmund and Ruth Frow. It became a Charitable Trust in 1971 and moved to its present home in 1987.

Edmund and Ruth Frow were proud that their love of books had created a unique and valuable resource for people wanting to know more about working people’s lives and political beliefs.”

“Working people have always struggled to get their voices heard. The Working Class Movement Library records over 200 years of organising and campaigning by ordinary men and women. Our collection provides a rich insight into working people’s daily lives as well as their thoughts, hopes, fears and the roles they played in the significant events of their time.”

“Our collection contains:
• books • pamphlets • archives • photographs • plays • poetry • songs • banners • posters • badges • cartoons • journals • biographies • reports •

We have information on:

• The trades and lives of people who worked in the past – brushmakers, silk workers, tailors, boilermakers and others

• Trade unions, where people have banded together to improve their working conditions

Politics and campaigns, from Chartism to the General Strike and more recent protests

• Creativity and culture – drama, literature, music, art and leisure

• Important people who have led activist lives

• International events such as the Spanish Civil War, and aspects of Irish history

Much of this information is held in books, pamphlets or leaflets.  Many more stories are told by our photos, banners and tape recordings.

Our collection captures many points of view to tell the story of Britain’s working classes from the beginning of industrialisation to the present day.

Our oldest items date from the 1760s. From the 1820s we have some of the earliest trade union documents to have survived.

We have material on politics of all shades and come right up to date with the archive of Jim Allen, the Manchester-born screenwriter who worked on Coronation Street and collaborated with film director Ken Loach.”


Ahmed Ullah Iqbal Race Relations Resource Centre

Central Library, St Peter’s Square
Manchester, M2 5PD

0161 275 2920

Hannah Niblett from the Ahmed Ullah Iqbal Race Relations Resource Centre which is an open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration came to tell us a little about how we can use the resources they hold in our work.  The Centre is based in the beautiful newly-refurbished Central Library, and I have found this to also be a great bright space to sit and study.  The specialist Centre has approximately 15,000 books on the shelves and another 6000 or so in their archive storage.

Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) Special Collections 

Sir Kenneth Green Library
All Saints, Manchester, M15 6BH

0161 247 6107

Louise Clennell, Education and Outreach Officer, informed us of the vast collections they hold at MMU which are available to all.  There is a Reading Room, an Education Room for teaching groups, and a Gallery.  It is an accredited museum so it is open to the public.


“The collections are central to the artistic culture and teaching of the faculty and have been since its foundation as the Manchester School of Art in 1853.

The collections include:

Artists’ Books: a great range of creative experimentations with the book form

20th century international poster collections

The Manchester School of Art Collection including fine and decorative art and the work of past and present students and staff

The Schmoller Collection of Decorated Papers

Children’s Book Collection: featuring 19th and 20th century children’s book illustration

Book collections exploring aspects of the book as an artifact

Archive collections including artists’ working drawings and correspondence

Manchester Society of Architects Library

Victorian ephemera featuring 19th century albums and scrapbooks

Mary Butcher collection of Baxter prints”

Categories: Rethinking The World, Uncategorized, Visual Sociology

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