The British Library Podcast

Series 2: Unfinished Business

The fight for women’s rights is unfinished business. But where do we begin? The British Library’s Curator of Contemporary Archives, Polly Russell, is joined by guests including actor and activist Jameela Jamil, Sex Education writer Laurie Nunn, Olympic gold medal winner Victoria Pendleton, Nubian Skin founder Ade Hassan, and psychoanalyst and feminist writer Susie Orbach, to talk all things sexual liberation, intersectionality, mental health and more.

Find out about the long history of women fighting for justice, discover remarkable characters from the past and hear from women today who are challenging and changing the world for the better.

Creating a space for in-depth conversations on issues that matter across the world, this brand new podcast accompanied the British Library’s major exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights.

Learn more about the fight for women’s rights, our online resources are a great place to start with articles and videos on everything from women’s work during the war to disability activism and a suffrage map of Britain detailing the true breadth of the movement across the country.

Listen on Apple Podcasts    Listen on Google Podcasts     

 or wherever you get your podcasts.

Unfinished Business podcast series is generously supported by Joanna and Graham Barker and The Eccles Centre for American Studies.

A Pixiu Production

Find other audio content from the British Library on SoundCloud.

Women holding up placards

S2 E11 The Anatomy of Activism

In the continuing fight for women’s rights, who is responsible for change, and who should stand up and make a difference today?

Amika George is the Founder of #FreePeriods, a global campaign to end period poverty, which she started at the age of 17. Her campaign successfully persuaded the UK government to pledge funds to provide free menstrual products in all English schools and colleges in 2017. More recently she wrote her first book, Make it Happen: How to Be an Activist.

In the final episode of this series, Amika joins British Library Curator Polly Russell to discuss the anatomy of activism – explaining her journey, and giving thoughts on how women can continue to organise and made their voices heard. They hear from key campaigners including Rachel Grocott from Bloody Good Period, LGBTIQA+ activist Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin from Voices 4 London, Natasha Walter from Women for Refugee Women, and Isabel Cortes from United Voices of the World.

S2 E10 The Accidental Technologists

Too often, men design the technology that shapes our world but in this episode we’re getting excited about the feminist possibilities of tech.

British Library Curator Polly Russell is joined by Alice Wroe, an Augmented and Virtual Realities Lead at the Atlantic Institute. Together, they’re exploring the diversity issues in the industry and hearing from women who are working to disrupt the scene.

Judy Wajcman, a Fellow at The Alan Turing Institute, looks backwards to explain why from the '80s onwards women in the UK became less involved in this field.

Looking to the future, we’re donning Virtual Reality headsets as artist and VR creator Deepa Man-Kler takes us through some of her alternative projects. Co-Founder of non-profit organisation Feminist Internet Dr Charlotte Webb explores how feminist chatbots can change the ways tech can converse with us. And the self-proclaimed ‘accidental technologist’ Stephanie Dinkins will be questioning how technology can care for us in the future…

S2 E9 We Need Space to Party

Having fun is a serious business. In this episode British Library curator Polly Russell joins forces with illustrator and club-night founder Flo Perry to explore how lesbians and queer women have partied, socialised and come together since the 70s. Because it’s in these moments and places that communities thrive and identities are confirmed. And these spaces are under threat.

Polly and Flo are heading back to the 80s to get a sense of lesbian nightlife then, with club promoter Yvonne Taylor. They’re exploring the power of punk with Chardine Taylor Stone  LGBT+ activist and drummer of black feminist punk band Big Joanie. And they’re meeting British Library Research Fellow Eleanor Careless to learn how lesbians found each other in the past using feminist magazine Spare Rib.

There’ll also be lots of metaphorical partying in some of the hottest queer nights happening pre-pandemic  Tabitha Benjamin’s Butch, Please and Xandice Armah’s Gal Pals. Get your glad rags on, it’s going to be a wild one.

S2 E8 Trans Through Time

'It just felt completely natural to me that as long as there were gender roles there would be people who transcended them.' Juliet Jacques.

In today’s episode British Library curator Polly Russell is joined by writer and filmmaker Juliet to explore how transgender lives have been represented in the press, in law and in culture throughout the ages. Because for transgender women in the UK and around the world, there is no finished business. Whether it’s access to healthcare, high suicide rates or being faced with violence on the streets, the issues trans people face are far from sorted. So Polly and Juliet are learning about queer stories from the from 20th century with academic Alison Oram, getting inspired by political activist Christine Burns MBE and chatting to writer Kuchenga about how things stand today.

S2 E7 Intersectionality

Do you call yourself a feminist? For some, the answer is a straightforward ‘yes’ for others, it’s complicated. In this episode focusing on intersectionality we explore why.

The term intersectionality was first used by lawyer Kimberly Crenshaw in the late 1980s to highlight that social justice problems, such as racism and sexism, are often inextricably linked.

In this episode curator Polly Russell is joined by poet, activist and educator Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan as they explore intersectionality: WHY IT'S ESSENTIAL, how has the term been misused and misappropriated and how looking at the world through an intersectional lens is just a starting point, not an end in itself.

They look back to the 70s and 80s with Gail Lewis, psychotherapist, writer, activist and co-founder of the Organisation for Women of Asian and African Descent, and explore why this discussion is so pertinent now with academic Azeezat Johnson.

S2 E6 Serious Laughs

Throughout history attempts have been made to silence and ignore women.  They’ve had to fight for a place in politics, had to use male pseudonyms to get published and often find themselves subjected to trolling and abuse when they speak out.

So in this episode, curator Polly Russell and co-host comedian and writer Sara Pascoe are hearing from some women who stand on stage and command attention. They’re having a laugh with broadcaster and writer Sandi Toksvig and stand-up comedian Shazia Mirza as they explore how the comedy scene has changed over time and what still needs to be done.

Strap yourselves in for some very funny conversations and unexpected revelations…

S2 E5 A Scar in Our Society

We’re living in what some have called an epidemic of domestic abuse in the UK. It’s sadly a large part of the ongoing struggle for women’s rights, justice and the ability to live a life free of the threat of violence. In this episode, British Library curator Polly Russell is joined by bestselling author and Women’s Aid Ambassador Holly Bourne to explore why it happens, how it can affect anyone, what is being done to improve the situation, and what still needs to change.

They’re hearing from survivors as well as Pragna Patel, a woman who’s worked to change the landscape over the last 40 years. Pragna is the Director of Southall Black Sisters, an organisation which has been highlighting and challenging all forms of gender-related violence against women since 1979.

S2 E4 Freewheeling Women

Today, we’re going cycling!

When you see a bicycle today 'revolutionary' and 'radical' probably aren't the first thoughts which spring to mind but for women in the late 19th century hopping on a bike was transformative. They could travel where they wanted and when they wanted at speed. In this episode, curator Polly Russell is joined by cyclist, writer and blogger Jools Walker (AKA ‘Lady Velo’) as they pedal through the epic history of women on bikes and explore the politics of cycling today and why the sport is still so important for women. They get a pep talk from daredevil Olympian Victoria Pendleton, take a ride with Velociposse, an all-women’s bike club and hear from cycling sociologist Kat Jungnickel about the pioneering Victorian women who designed new forms of cyclewear.

S2 E3 “Excuse me, I haven't finished”: Feminist Fightback

Actor and activist Jameela Jamil has unfinished business. She joins British Library curator Polly Russell to explore the intersecting realms of mental health and body image. Polly introduces Jameela to Susie Orbach who created the very first Women’s Therapy Centre in the UK. What follows is a fascinating conversation between a frontline feminist waging war against the patriarchy since the 70s and a woman working against body shaming, oppression and injustice today. How have things changed? What’s still the same? And why is women’s mental health still an urgent conversation we should be having?

S2 E2 The politics of pleasure

Does pleasure exist outside of politics? Can we have feminist sex? And how has the online realm affected young people’s views on the subject?

Professor Amia Srinivasan, a philosopher at The University of Oxford, is delving into these thorny questions with British Library curator Polly Russell. They’re laying things bare with Laurie Nunn, the creator of TV drama Sex Education, examining some unusual objects from the past with historian Zoe Strimpel and heading to a school to hear from a group of 16 year old students.

S2 E1 Pants, pageants and protest

For generations women of colour were unable to buy nude lingerie to suit their skin tone. In 2014 entrepreneur Ade Hassan decided to fix this by setting up Nubian Skin, an underwear company catering to people of colour. Three years on Nubian Skin is going strong but Ade still has unfinished business. In this episode she’s joining British Library curator Polly Russell to explore the relationship between race, beauty and feminism with Jennifer Hosten, the first black winner of Miss World and academic Dr Rochelle Rowe.

Trailer: Introducing Unfinished Business

Curator Polly Russell introduces Unfinished Business, a series exploring the fight for women’s rights, from the British Library.

Series 1: Anything But Silent

Buzzing, creative, brave. Places of sanctuary, freedom, and the unexpected. Libraries don’t just keep our stories safe; they’re where new stories begin. Meet the people around the world making amazing things happen in them. Hosted by Cleo Laskarin from our exhibitions team. 

Books are only the beginning. Libraries are alive, and they’re anything but silent.

Listen on Apple Podcasts    Listen on Google Podcasts     

 or wherever you get your podcasts.

Supported by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

Find other audio content from the British Library on SoundCloud.

Anything But Silent

S1 E23 Libraries under lockdown
Amid the pandemic, we hear from the British Library team ensuring crucial documents are delivered to public health services, a library that has exchanged books for food parcels, and a bridal studio, supported by our Business & IP Centre, that pivoted to ‘something new’ when the crisis hit.

S1 E22 Joining the library: Steve Berry
New York Times best-selling author Steve Berry joins us to talk about one of his favourite books, The Twisted Claw, No. 18 in the Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon.

S1 E21 Uncovering mysteries and secrets
Hear how a librarian solved a 33-year cold case, why the British Library is currently researching some mysterious toilet paper and how a library in Manchester is helping its patrons uncover the secrets of their own past.

S1 E20 Joining the library: Anne Fine
The award-winning writer of Madame Doubtfire and Goggle-Eyes, Anne Fine OBE, joins us to discuss The Man Who Loved Children (1940) by Christina Stead.

S1 E19 Choose your own adventure
Hear how Minecraft is opening up literary worlds, meet the young writers powering up their imaginations at Plymouth’s Plymstock library, and settle down for a read with the library that comes to you.

S1 E18 Joining the library: Anab Jain
The designer, futurist, filmmaker and educator tells us about one of her favourite books: The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (1974).

S1 E17 Do librarians dream of electric cranes?
To start the new year, we take a look into the future. Meet the British Library’s robot assistants, get coding at Oxfordshire County Library and take the long view with Norway’s Future Library. Plus we visit our Flashback Project in Boston Spa, which ensures digital content is preserved and accessible even after the original technology has become obsolete.

S1 E16 Joining the library: Blindboy
‘He was writing in the way that I speak. He was talking about country roads that I know….it was me.’ Author and podcaster Blindboy tells us about the writing that made him: The Third Policeman (written in 1939 and published in 1967) by Brian O'Nolan, writing under the pseudonym Flann O'Brien. Contains plot spoilers and some profanity.

S1 E15 Libraries of the unexpected
Encounter Willard Library’s Lady in Grey, be spellbound by the British Library’s collection and meet a druid from a library in the heart of spiritual south-west England. Who you gonna call? A librarian, obviously.

S1 E14 Joining the library: Damian Le Bas
‘It’s interesting when something which isn’t of your realm of experience causes you to look at your own domain differently.’ Writer Damian Le Bas tells us about The Son by Philipp Meyer (2013).

S1 E13 ‘An embassy for humanity’
Libraries are good company. This month we borrow some people from the Human Library, join the Little Free Library book-sharing movement and visit a sports academy working with young people which received support from our Business & IP Centre.

S1 E12 Joining the library: Billy Childish
Punk painter and writer Billy Childish discusses the writing that made him: Lust for Life by Irving Stone (1934).

S1 E11 Rebel rebel
Playwright Joe Orton’s ‘malicious damage’, salvaged cardboard and roller derby. This month we hear stories of libraries as sites of creative rebellion. Contains some explicit language and imagery. 

S1 E10 Joining the library: Simon Doonan
'I defy you not to get lost in it.' Writer, Creative Ambassador and editor Simon Doonan tells us about his love of The Flight from the Enchanter by Iris Murdoch (1956).

S1 E9 ‘The soul needs books’
Libraries can be places of creative and intellectual sanctuary, refuge, hope and companionship. We step into the British Library’s Reading Rooms, visit a hidden library in Syria and meet people in Swansea forming connections through reading.

S1 E8 Joining the library: Megan Hine
‘It just opened up this whole new world to me.’ Adventurer and survival expert Megan Hine tells us about a book that influenced her: Land of the Long White Cloud: Maori Myths, Tales and Legends by Kiri Te Kanawa (1989).

S1 E7 Have library, will travel
Don’t be a numpty: have a skeg at our latest episode and get your lugholes around some UK accents and dialects, join bookmobile Booky McBookface on the Scottish islands of Orkney, and discover the library boldly going where no library has gone before.

S1 E6 Joining the library: Joe Dunthorne
‘The first time you see something you’ve experienced captured in a way that feels accurate, it’s really memorable and changing.’ The novelist and poet Joe Dunthorne discusses Politics by Adam Thirlwell (2003) and writing about sex. Contains some profanity and sexual content.

S1 E5 [Redacted]
We open up ‘the world’s best collection of forbidden books’ and consider current restrictions on free expression, plus two librarians talk weeding and Awful Library Books.

S1 E4 Joining the library: Samra Habib
Writer and photographer Samra Habib discusses the writing that made her: James Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni's Room. Contains plot spoilers.

S1 E3 Love is love
Journey to New York for a milestone 50th anniversary, hear stories of love and identity in wartime Britain as we dip into the British Library’s oral history collection, and meet the drag queens and kings making library story hours fabulous.

S1 E2 Joining the library: Laurie Penny
The sentence that set you on a new path. The library book you struggled to take back. The writing that made you. Author, journalist and screenwriter Laurie Penny join us to discuss what Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre means to her. Contains spoilers…

S1 E1 The library is open
‘The freedom to dream. That’s the most beautiful thing about a library. No matter who you are, there’s a book for you.’ We take a look at a world-famous document that’s a powerful symbol of liberty, hear how the prison library at HMP Nottingham is working with those who’ve lost their freedom, and travel to Nepal where a library in a remote village is helping women vulnerable to human trafficking.

Trailer Introducing the British Library's new podcast