University of Portsmouth's History Blog

If you go down to the Archives today …

In this post, Mike Esbester brings us up to date on the book he wrote earlier in the year, marking the 60th anniversary of the British Safety Council – now picked up by The National Archives and health and safety professionals.

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of the British Safety Council, one of the leading organisations aimed at improving health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace, in the UK and beyond. Fortunately the BSC is an organisation attuned to the value of the past, and – as discussed in an earlier post  – has been prepared to put its money where its mouth is, including creating an excellent digital archive , freely available to all.

In the lead up to this anniversary, the BSC called upon me to advise and work with them. They drew upon my research in the field of modern health and safety, including work funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. One of the things I was involved in was writing a book marking the anniversary; it was launched at the Regent St Cinema in London in March 2017 – I’d never been to a launch quite like that!

The book was aimed at professionals and practitioners, drawing on the BSC’s archive and particularly the poster collections, but also grounding the imagery with a detailed contextual discussion. It was an interesting exercise in pitching the tone correctly, selecting engaging images and providing a sturdy analytical approach – but it’s been well received.

And now, if you’re visiting The National Archives at Kew (perhaps as part of ‘Explore your Archive’  week, running this week), you might see a copy of the book in the ‘new books’ display in the Map Room! It was selected for the library and for display, which (as the author) is always pleasing. The Friends of The National Archives also put together a feature for the current issue of Magna, their journal – available here.

In addition, the book was picked up by Safety & Health Practitioner magazine, a monthly publication aimed at health and safety professionals in the UK and received by all 35,000 members of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health, the UK’s largest professional organisation in the field. The SHP piece was based around an interview about the book, drawing out its origins, the role I played in uncovering the BSC’s archive and then the process of writing the book itself. It’s available here.

The book’s reach hasn’t been confined to the UK – it’s been sent worldwide, reflecting the BSC’s connections and interests beyond our shores. I was recently told – though must follow it up! – about favourable feedback on the book from Portugal, and I hope there’s more out there.

All told, it’s great to see academic research reaching out well beyond higher education institutions – and that there is huge scope for and interest in this. There’s no doubt it takes time and effort – I’ve been working with the BSC for 7 or 8 years now – but it bears fruit, and that can only be to the good for the historical community. And a taster: watch this space, as it looks likes there is a lot more to come…


All images courtesy of the British Safety Council


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