Tuesday, 15 March 2016

British Science Week: Science in the Archives Tuesday

In the second of our British Science Week blogs we take a look at the image of scientific laboratory techniques through the lens of a pressure group known as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV).

Founded in Bristol on 14 June 1898 by Miss Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904), the BUAV was established over a concern for animal welfare. A similar organisation existed in the National Anti-Vivisection Section (NAVS) led by Stephen Coleridge. However, a political difference between Power Cobb and Coleridge led to a breakaway faction and the formation of an alternative group for change. 

Under Power Cobbe, the BUAV campaigned for animal welfare and an end to experimentation using vivisection for scientific and educational purposes. In the early decades, campaigns were predominantly coordinated through the production and distribution of publications. The organisation's longest running publication is a journals known as The Abolitionist, which first appeared 15 April 1899.

Page from the second issue of The Abolitionist, 1901 [U DBV/23/1]

By 1903 there were 20 federated societies throughout the country. The success of the BUAV and the extent of public support behind it also meant that a Parliamentary Association was formed to speak in the House of Commons.

Even in the early days, the BUAV worked in conjunction with other associations, both national and international, to produce joint campaigns with similar agendas. Whilst the early 20th century campaigns of the group tended to focus on achieving the abolition of vivisection, changes in scientific techniques during the 1960s led to a change in emphasis in BUAV campaigning. 

From the 1970s, the focus of campaigns moved away from emphasis on the abolition of vivisection and towards the promotion of ‘humane’ research techniques. At the same time, campaigning tactics also turned towards exposure of inhumane experiments using the expanded national media channels. The 1980s saw a huge increase in campaigning efforts, with the use of media taking centre stage. In addition to the well established publications and pamphleteering, use of radio and TV became a central feature of the BUAV's campaign work.

Promotional leaflet published by the BUAV's General Election Coordinating Committee, 1979 [U DBV/11/2]

The politically orientated nature of the group came to the foreground during General Elections. In the run-up to an election the BUAV organised a General Election Coordinating Committee for Animal Protection Campaigns. In the 1979 and 1983 General Elections the group made particular efforts. At this time, education of school children also became a focus of the BUAV's work, with school visits and the production of education packs forming part of campaigns.

Whilst the group has run many campaigns over the past century, the 'Choose Cruelty Free' campaign launched in the late 1970s became one of the biggest and longest running of BUAV campaigns. In the current information age, campaigning has evolved with the times and now includes online surveys and petitioning to reach an even wider audience.

In the records of the BUAV then we have a view of science through the lens of social conscience, changes in which can be traced across more than a century in Britain.

Claire Weatherall, Assistant Archivist, Hull History Centre

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