Photo credit - Jill Furmanovsky

British Pop Archive set to open at John Rylands Research Institute and Library

Written by: Joe Stafford

The British Pop Archive (BPA), a national collection dedicated to the preservation and research of popular culture, is set to open at The University of Manchester’s John Rylands Research Institute and Library.

The BPA will celebrate and preserve British popular music and other aspects of popular culture, recognising its pivotal influence on the world stage. Our quintessential British bands, legendary UK television, youth culture, counter-culture and more, from the mid-twentieth century to the present day, have set trends around the globe.

Rylands has a long history of shaping the city’s local and international identity. The University of Manchester Library’s collections of over ten million items include artefacts relating to some of the most important cultural figures in history, including the oldest known fragment of the New Testament, the Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare’s First Folio, invaluable collections of Hebrew and Islamic materials and much, much more. The BPA will be both an important academic resource for research and teaching and a public resource for exhibitions and public events.

Working with the celebrated music journalist and broadcaster Jon Savage - who was recently appointed as Professor of Popular Culture at The University of Manchester - the BPA has ambitious plans to build on its current collection and create a comprehensive representation of British popular culture.  

Professor Christopher Pressler, John Rylands University Librarian and Director of The University of Manchester Library, said: “The John Rylands Research Institute and Library is one of the acknowledged great libraries of the world. This position is founded on our astonishing special collections and archives. Whilst we continue to work on materials in every format and every language from five thousand years of human history it is critical that we also engage with our own time.” 

The British Pop Archive is part of our desire to reach into areas not always associated with major research libraries, including pop music, popular culture, counter-culture, television and film. This is a national archive held in Manchester, one of the most important centres of modern culture in the world.

Professor Christopher Pressler, John Rylands University Librarian and Director of The University of Manchester Library

Hannah Barker, Professor of British History at The University of Manchester and Director of the John Rylands Research Institute, said: “The British Pop Archive is a fantastic resource for a university with strong links to the creative industries. It provides unique material for a growing range of research and teaching at the University on popular music, TV and film history, counter-cultural movements and youth culture from the twentieth century to the present day, linked to our brilliant Creative Manchester research platform.” 

Jon Savage, Professor of Popular Culture, said: “Britain’s pop and youth culture has been transmitted worldwide for nearly sixty years now. As the most fertile and expressive product of post war democratic consumerism, it has a long and inspiring history that is in danger of being under-represented in museums and libraries.  The intention of the BPA is to be a purpose-built, pop and youth culture archive that reflects the riches of the post war period running to the present day. We are launching with Manchester-centric collections but the intention is for the BPA to be a national resource encompassing the whole UK: it is, after all, the British Pop Archive.” 

On 19 May 2022 the British Pop Archive will launch with Collection, a distinctively Manchester-flavoured exhibition, underlining why Manchester is the perfect home for the British Pop Archive. Curated by Mat Bancroft, Jon Savage and Hannah Barker, it explores the vibrant cultural scene of a city that has driven innovation, creativity and social progress.  

The exhibition features iconic items from British pop history, many of which have never been seen by the public. Highlights include personal items relating to The Smiths, New Order, The Haçienda, Factory Records, Granada Television and Joy Division, such as Ian Curtis’s original handwritten lyrics for ‘She’s Lost Control’. 

Mat Bancroft said: “We launch the British Pop Archive with a Manchester focused exhibition full of unique and unseen artefacts. These materials tell the story of a vibrant city with art, culture and music at its heart. More than that they foreground the creative catalysts, musicians, producers, artists, designers and writers who have instigated this repositioning of landscape - to propose media as the new cultural capital of the city.”

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