By Vicky A Price, on 26 June 2023
The last year has seen Special Collections’ Outreach programme go from strength to strength. We have welcomed school and community groups to a wide range of activities, especially at our new campus at UCL East, and exciting plans are afoot for next academic year. That said, it is always beneficial to look back at triumphs and celebrate them when you can. The upcoming anniversary of George Orwell’s birthday (120 years!) is a great opportunity for us to celebrate something that took place last summer at UCL’s Bloomsbury campus with a very special delivery partner, The Orwell Youth Prize. This new short film does just that:
Delivering a Summer School to Year 12 students from around London is always a brilliant way to explore our collection at UCL Special Collections, as it gives us the chance to spend quality time with young learners and offer them an extended opportunity to engage with the collection. This was a particularly special project, as The Orwell Youth Prize had worked with us to bring in professional, trailblazing journalists, who could share contemporary experiences and advice on becoming a journalist. Alongside this, we were able to present Orwell’s experiences (as represented in the UNESCO registered Orwell Archive), make meaningful comparisons with our guest speakers’ experiences and find present-day applications of Orwell’s principles and journalistic outlook.
Finding the right partners to collaborate with, who share similar goals and who can offer something unique to our programming, is often an essential part of our work in the Outreach team. While this way of working can require careful planning and meticulous, consistent communication, the success of this summer school is testament to the huge potential rewards.
Tabby Hayward (Orwell Youth Prize Programme Coordinator) also recognises the benefits that Special Collections brought to their programme; “We were delighted to work with UCL Special Collections on this Summer School, for so many reasons. At the Orwell Youth Prize, we’re always trying to find new ways to get young people excited and inspired by the life and work of George Orwell, and his profound continuing relevance today. Special Collections provided the fantastic opportunity to share the Orwell Archive with the Summer School participants, allowing them to get up close and personal, exploring manuscripts, diaries and photographs. This direct experience really helped the participants to develop a deeper understanding of Orwell as a man and a writer, and we felt very lucky to be able to offer this. We were also so pleased that some of the Summer School participants went on to enter the Orwell Youth Prize this year, bringing everything together. It felt like a really fruitful and productive partnership and we’re looking forward to more collaborations in future!”
One very special output from this Summer School was participants’ writing. We are delighted to share some excerpts with you from three participants’ pieces in this blog. We asked our Year 12 cohort to find a topic that they were passionate about and to write a persuasive, argumentative piece that spot lit their own voice, using Orwell’s principles of clarity, directness and language economy:
Never Again by Jafa Bin-Faisal (a piece about the persecution of the Uyghur people in China)
After hearing about the immense economic influence of China, it’s perfectly understandable to feel hopelessly underpowered against a country with the second highest GDP in the world. But remember, a fire that engulfs a whole forest begins with a small spark, and it is our efforts right now that will provide the fuel for this spark to begin. We need to pressure our government into taking real action against the CCP, and this can be done through two main avenues: petition and protest.
Petitions are a great way to get issues being discussed in parliament, and it tells the government that the British people care about the welfare of the Uyghurs. In this age of social media, it’s easier than ever to increase awareness and gain signatures for these online petitions. Protests are another impactful way to visually show and physically impose pressure on the government, as it shows that we the people are willing to use our free time and use it to speak out against this injustice. Protests are already being organised, and just by marching, you are strengthening the legitimacy and impact of the message and movement.
CHAD AND STACY: THE PARADOX OF INCELS by Zara Hossain (a piece about misogyny and the internet’s power to amplify it)
The pitfall to such circles [online Incel forums] begins on mainstream sites like Youtube; the algorithm may begin with simple, innocent videos like “how to be more attractive to women,” or “dating tips,” or “how to be more masculine”, but these titles quickly open the door for more extreme content which is blatantly misogynistic. These videos tend to encourage men to embrace masculinity to an extreme degree, such as by asserting their power over women, refusing to be a “beta”, a term used to describe a man who is cowardly, especially in situations which involve approaching women. These videos depict a power imbalance between man and woman, as the man is urged to always be in control of the situation, to never let emotions cloud judgement and to never show signs of weakness. In contrast, women are portrayed as a homogeneous identity where every woman is only attracted to men who are strong, unemotional, in control, or “alpha.” In this “alpha” dynamic, the man is urged to be the leader of his pack and to me a role model for other men; thus in itself isn’t a bad thing; many such circles focus on men’s fitness and confidence, and can be healthy spaces for personal growth; but too often than not, these spiral into internalising extreme perceptions of gender roles, and lead them even deeper into the rabbit hole.
Is Colonisation Still Relevant? by Aya Mohamed (a piece about the importance of recognising the history of colonisation across the world and its influence on modern life)
Finally, why is it so important we acknowledge the relevance of colonisation and for that matter, history as a whole? In 1984, Ingsoc (the government of Oceania) was able to retain control over its citizens by rewriting history to fit its own narrative. “Who controls the past, controls the present.” Without knowledge of our past, we’re unable to make valuable judgments about our present. Those in power who manipulate information are able to not only influence what we do and what we say, but also what we think. It’s vital we never forget our roots, so that we can shape the branches of our future.
The Summer School also acted as a spring board for the creation of our first free digital education resources that feature the George Orwell Archive. Check out our film and written resource, intended for Year 12 and 13 students.