THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

5 posts from June 2011

21 June 2011

Guest Post: First Impressions of the Library

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Our intern, Maro Salikopoulou, writes

Having been an MA student in the Department of American Literature and Culture, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece for the past three years, I was delighted to know one year ago that my application for a work placement with the Eccles Centre for American Studies had been approved. Upon the suggestion of my professor Dr. Rapatzikou and within the context of the Erasmus exchange programme, I applied for an internship in this prestigious institution in the hope that I will be given the opportunity to engage myself in practical tasks always in relation to the field of American Studies. After a year of eager awaiting and a series of correspondence with the personnel of the Eccles Centre in order for the specifics to be arranged, I am finally in London, working in the international environment of the British Library, and more specifically, the American Studies team.

For the last two weeks I have been ‘experiencing’ the British Library, in terms of both its unique working environment and its academic appeal along with the possibilities it offers to students and researchers all over the world. Almost overwhelmed by the building, the high level of organization, the wide array of conferences and lively events that are being held, as well as the Library's temporary and permanent exhibitions, I am in a position to say that this goes far beyond my expectations! From the very first moment that I set foot on the British Library I knew that this is going to be a unique experience; in fact, it is my dual function as both a member of the staff and a student doing research for the completion of the requirement of my MA in Greece that makes this work placement much more exciting. In this way, on the one hand I have the possibility to take advantage of the library’s holdings – in both print and digital form – whereas on the other hand, I am given the opportunity to see how one of the greatest libraries in the world functions. Most of all, by working here I realized that one can maintain a connection with what we have been calling ‘American Studies’ outside the sphere of the university and implement theoretical knowledge by being engaged in more practical and pragmatic tasks and assignments.

My first task was to compile a list of secondary sources that pertain to what has been dubbed ‘The American Fifties,’ in an effort to help researchers interested in the particular area. The thematic entities around which this guide is structured aim at making research more focused and specific so that for students and researchers not to feel lost dealing with an unmanageable load of information and bibliography. However, this research guide is by no means exhaustive and the secondary sources that are included can only hint or lead to more directed research.

A guided trip to the Library basements provided a highlight of my first two weeks. Here, I had the unique chance of witnessing the parallel universe that exists underground with all the people meticulously working there, either tracing the books to be sent in the Reading Rooms, or maintaining and cataloguing the library’s holdings. I was surprised by the fact that in the basement there is indeed another realm of activity and interaction, another section of the library, where the underground workers secure and contribute to the excellent level of organization and management that characterizes the national library of the UK. Tim's guided tour was very exciting due to the fact that I had the opportunity to see some of the library’s most rare holdings, manuscripts and writings that date back to 1500, but also the first editions of some of my favourite writers, both English and Americans. In short, it was a great experience and I’m really looking forward to my second trip in the underground labyrinths of the British Library.

With the vast sea of information and knowledge the British Library offers, it can be said that it is a hub of intellectual activity on a worldwide scale and a goldmine for those who are involved in academic research. Having said that, it is a great honour for me to work here and ‘experience’ this international research centre by using at the same time the theoretical background that I have gained from my consistent preoccupation with American Studies the last few years, within the framework of my MA studies in the ever-growing and increasingly internationally-connected Department of American Literature and Culture, Aristotle University (http://my.enl.auth.gr/asrp and www.enl.auth.gr). Finally,my colleagues here in London have made my transition and adjustment easier, always willing to answer my questions and help me discover and explore all aspects of the British Library. All these things considered, this is an excellent opportunity for a Greek MA student like me, particularly when one takes into consideration the situation that my country is currently dealing with and its consequences for the future.

[MS]

14 June 2011

Aeluyd f'Ewythr Robert, or Uncle Robert's Hearth: Uncle Tom in Translation

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Harriet Beecher Stowe's birth, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin: or, Life Among the Lowly, undoubtedly the most influential novel in American, and perhaps even world, history.

The New York Times carried a pithy piece on Beecher Stowe as the 'unlikely fomenter of wars' by David S. Reynolds (Graduate Center of the City University of New York).  It comes recommended.  Rather than 'an old-fashioned, rather lachrymose affair that features the deaths of an obsequious enslaved black man and his blond, angelic child-friend, Little Eva' we should see Uncle Tom as vital fuel to the antislavery cause, and not just in the U.S.: 'In Russia it influenced the 1861 emancipation of the serfs and later inspired Vladimir Lenin, who recalled it as his favorite book in childhood. It was the first American novel to be translated and published in China, and it fueled antislavery causes in Cuba and Brazil.'  And it had profound influence on the Civil Rights movement.

As it happened, I stumbled across Uncle Tom while I was trying out an online resource.  A letter from Thomas Watts, assistant keeper in the British Museum in the nineteenth century, to a bookseller was published in the  Massachusetts newspaper, The Independent (and was followed up in the Boston Liberator).  The letter is reproduced in full in the excellent Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture(UVA).

Watts spotted the importance of Uncle Tom, which was translated into 'so many languages, and among them into so many obscure ones, languages into which it has been found so hard on many occasions for popularity to penetrate.  Even the master-pieces of Scott and Dickens have never been translated into Welsh, while the American novel has forced its way in various shapes into the language of the ancient Britons.'  He proposed to the head of the printed book department, Anthony Panizzi, that he collect as many editions and translations as possible, in order to be of service to students of language and philology.  The plan was put into action, as the Museum's holdings served as a model for the Boston Public Library, and no doubt elsewhere. 

Watts finished his letter: 'I regret that my account of these versions should be so much less extended than I had hoped to make it, but especially at this period of the year the duties of an officer of the British Museum render it almost impossible for him to make any use of whatever of the treasures committed to his keeping, which are, as a rule, as closed to him as they are open to the public.'

I wonder what he would have made of this wealth of online treasure?

[MJS}

06 June 2011

Ring Any Bells? Paul Revere and printmaking

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Paul Revere is, it seems, an echo of a memory of something that happened.  But as well as taking that pesky (from the British point of view) ride on the night of 18-19 April 1775, when he rode to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington that the British were marching towards them from Boston, sparking a chain of events that would lead the naming of a bunch of restaurants, the great American patriot was also a silversmith and copperplate engraver.  He put these skills to good use in the service of the Revolution, engraving and printing currency for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and in a series of striking prints.  Perhaps his most famous image can be seen above, a dramatic reconstruction of the Boston Massacre: read all about it on our online feature.

There are a number of other Revere prints in the collections.  They can be located by a search of [Paul Revere] in the English Short Title Catalogue, and then by limiting the results to the British Library.  There are a number of bibliographies, studies and biographies.  I can do no better than refer the interested reader in the listing produced by the American Antiquarian Society.

And there's more about the Old North Church and its lanterns here.

[MJS]

03 June 2011

02 June 2011

... and the Pacific (II)

Following on from last week's post on Obama's visit to Europe and possible contrasts with earlier claims to be the 'first Pacific president', here is the promised (brief) introductory bibliography on Samoa, in particular its place within the strategic and global interests of the late-nineteenth century and what might be termed the colonial gaze.  This, along with materials held in the UK National Archives, the Congressional Serial Set, and contemporary newspapers, would I'm sure be the basis for a very interesting final year or MA dissertation.

Manuscripts

Add. MS 41633, Log-book of HMS 'Diamond', on the Australian station, 22 Mar. 1882-16 Apr. 1884;

Add. MS 52309, ff. 11-12, Photographs of the ruler of, and a candidate for, the throne of Samoa (1888) [cf. Scott Papers, cf. Add. MS 52296]

Ashley B4313, ff. 21-24, Two Letters from Sidney Colvin to Edmund Gosse, the earlier on the death of R. L. Stevenson, the later on the possibility of moving his bones from Samoa now that it had become German; 18 Dec. 1894, 11 Nov. 1899. [ALC, vi, p. 11]

Printed Books

Edwards, Elizabeth, 'Time and Space on the Quarter Deck: Two Samoan Photographs by Captain W. Acland' in Raw History: photographs, anthropology and museums (Oxford, 2001), ch. 5;

Gilson, R. P., Samoa 1830 to 1900: the politics of a multi-cultural community (Melbourne, 1970);

Kennedy, Paul M., The Samoan Tangle: a study in Anglo-German-American relations 1878-1900 (Dublin, 1974);

Meleisea, Malama, Lagaga: a short history of Western Samoa (Apia, 1987);

Ryden, George Herbert, The Foreign Policy of the United States in Relation to Samoa (New Haven & London, 1933);

Watson, R. M., History of Samoa (Wellington, New Zealand, 1918);

Wilkes, Charles, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition... 1838-1842 (Philadelphia, 1845), vol. 5. (see also this post)

[MJS]