THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

11 posts from May 2013

30 May 2013

Connected histories: the East India Company and the Caribbean

View of Kingston and Port Royal
Above: View of Kingston and Port Royal from Windsor Farm. From the Caribbean Views Online Gallery

It might not feel like it today but summer really is just around the corner, which means Summer Scholars 2013 is too. One of this year's talks stems from an AHRC funded collaboration between the British Library and UCL that seeks to explore the connections between the East India Company and the Caribbean, particularly through family networks that spanned Britain, the Caribbean and India.

Chris Jeppesen, the speaker for this talk, will show the intricate connections between the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds that facilitated the transfer of people, capital and goods during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He will also talk about his experience of working with the Library's collections, providing insights into researching family histories, global networks and other subjects relevant to his research. The talk is one of our later Scholars events, happening during lunch on the 3rd July. If you'd like to book a free place full details can be found here

So far we have four Summer Scholars events scheduled with a few more to be announced in coming weeks. Other events you can book right now include, Kim Ghattas  on Hillary Clinton, Travis Elborough on London Bridge in America and Joe Banks on Rorschach Audio. All these talks are free and sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies, which means you get a free coffee and some biscuits too.

[PJH]

27 May 2013

Lyse Doucet at the British Library

Lysedoucet
Lyse Doucet at the British Library. Image (c) Ander McIntyre

A portrait of Lyse Doucet, just before she delivered the 18th Annual Douglas W. Bryant Lecture at the British Library, entitled From Acadie to Arab Spring: Reflections on America's Place in the World, on 13 May 2013.  The Lecture was sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies.

See also Phil Hatfield's reflections on the Lecture, which will be published in due course.

[Ander McIntyre is a photographer and a Fellow at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.  He is an occasional contributor to this blog.]

23 May 2013

Norman Rockwell and the Four Freedoms

Rockwell

If you’ve already visited the Library to see Propaganda: power and persuasion (and if you haven’t, we’ll send Uncle Sam round to get you) you will have spotted 4 large posters by Norman Rockwell – the Four Freedoms, which have kindly been lent to us for the exhibition.

Rockwell (1894-1978) is probably one of the best known illustrators from the U.S.  Hugely popular with the public for his vignettes of small town American life, the critical reception of his work has been rather less favourable - his folksy depictions of everyday Americana proving much too sugary and sentimental for the fine art world. ‘I guess I have a bad case of the American nostalgia for the clean, simple country life as opposed to the complicated world of the city,’ he wrote. But his Four Freedoms perhaps symbolise one of those conjunctions when particular images can strike the right cord at just the right moment – and in this case, help to promote exactly the right message for the government of the time.

On January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address to the 77th U.S. Congress. Arguing that fundamental liberties and values were under attack, he sought to convince the nation of the need for involvement in the war.  In what came to be known as the 'Four Freedoms' speech, Roosevelt identified 4 essential human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear (you can read the full text here). These 'freedoms' were to become part of the founding principles of the Atlantic Charter, issued by FDR and Winston Churchill in August 1941 (text here).

Rockwell was  inspired by Roosevelt's speech and the Atlantic Charter - 'I wanted to do something bigger than a war poster, make some statement about why the country was fighting the war.' But he struggled to find a suitable idea. Then, during one sleepless night, he recalled seeing a neighbour stand up at a town meeting and say something with which everyone had disagreed. 'But they had let him have his say. No one had shouted him down. My gosh, I thought, that's it. There it is. Freedom of Speech. I'll illustrate the Four Freedoms using my Vermont neighbours as models. I'll express the ideas in simple, everyday scenes. Freedom of Speech - a New England town meeting. Freedom from Want - a Thanksgiving dinner. Take them out of the noble language of the proclamation and put them in terms everybody can understand.'

He prepared some sketches to illustrate the Four Freedoms, and took them to various government departments. Even though there was some enthusiasm for his drawings, he met with little success. 'The war was going badly, no one had time for posters... Finally late in the afternoon, we found ourselves in the Office of War Information (or, to speak plainly, the propaganda department).' An official was shown the sketches but was immediately dismissive: 'The last war you illustrators did the posters... This war we're going to use fine arts men, real artists.' Rockwell finally decided to offer them to the Saturday Evening Post instead.

The Post had been using Rockwell’s illustrations since 1916 and was happy to publish the images. He spent the next 6 months producing 4 large paintings; these were then reproduced in the Post over 4 consecutive weeks, commencing 20 February 1943.  Contemporary writers had been chosen to provide essays on the ideas represented (e.g., the Pulitzer Prize winner Booth Tarkington wrote one to accompany Freedom of Speech). The images were a big hit with the public. Readers were invited to buy sets of reproductions for framing and 25,000 orders poured in. The Office of War Information, which had originally been so sniffy, did an about turn and asked for permission to print 2.5 million posters. The posters appeared in factories, stores, schools, public buildings – everywhere. In addition, the original paintings (which are now housed in the Norman Rockwell Museum) went on tour around the country in an exhibition which not only helped to explain the aims of the war, but also provided the focal point for a major war bond drive. Sponsored by the Saturday Evening Post and the U.S. Treasury Department, the exhibition visited 16 major cities, was viewed by 1,222,000 people and helped to sell more than $132 millions worth of bonds for the war effort. As Roosevelt later said to Rockwell, ‘I think you have done a superb job in bringing home to the plain, everyday citizen the plain everyday truths behind the Four Freedoms... I congratulate you… for the spirit which impelled you to make this contribution to the common cause of a freer, happier world.’

It's perhaps worth noting that Rockwell was only ever happy with two of his Freedom paintings (Speech and Worship), but remained dissatisfied with both Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear ('Neither of them has any wallop.'). He was also aware that, despite the popularity at home, Freedom from Want - Thanksgiving Dinner in particular, had not gone down well in Europe. Hardly surprising; the table groaning under the weight of food struck a rather discordant note in a war-torn Britain suffering food shortages.

A reproduction of another Rockwell image also appears in the exhibition – it accompanies a recording of the song Rosie the Riveter by the Four Vagabonds, and is very different from the more iconic image of Rosie (We can do it!) by J. Howard Miller. But take a look at Rockwell's rather strange and muscular Rosie when you visit. And if you think there's something familiar about her, you're right. Rockwell admired many artists and sometimes referenced the 'Old Masters' in his work. His 1943 illustration is modelled on Michaelangelo's Prophet Isaiah in the Sistine Chapel!

Rockwell quotes are taken from Norman Rockwell: My Adventures as an Illustrator. As told to Thomas Rockwell. Curtis Publishing Comany: Indianapolis, 1979. BL shelfmark: x955/3165

[C.H.]

22 May 2013

The early US Navy in the Gulf

Thanks to the British Library’s Qatar Foundation Partnership, a large collection of India Office Records are currently being digitised and researched.  One of the Qatar team, Francis Owtram, recently came across some documents that reveal British concerns about  America's expanding naval presence in the region at the time of the War of Independence.  Here he shares some of his notes.

Correspondence of the English East India Company in 1778 discusses the impending outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and France in connection with the American Revolutionary War.

IOR_R_15_1_4_f019v
IOR/R/15/1/4, Letter No. 14, 15 April, 1778, from P. Michell, Secretary East India Houseto William Digges Latouche and George Abraham, Bussora [Basra]

... The present critical situation of public affairs and particularly the great warlike preparations which are making in this Kingdom and in France together with the late declaration made by His Majesty’s Command respecting a convention which has taken place between the French and the Americans and concerning it probable that an event so extraordinary may be productive of the most serious consequences and even of a rupture between Great Britain and France, the Court of Directors have ordered me to communicate this interesting intelligence in order to put you well on your guard in case of extremities in order, that you may exercise the greatest caution and prudence for the security of their property and concerns depending on your management...

The French and Americans concluded a Treaty of Alliance in Paris on 6 February 1778; Britain then declared war on France.

In August 1778, the Lieutenant Governor of St Helena forwarded some intelligence on American shipping in the Atlantic Ocean:

IOR_R_15_1_4_f020r
IOR/R/15/1/4, 24 August, 1778, Letter from P. Michell, Secretary East India House to the Worshipful the Agent and Council, for all the affairs of the English Nation at Bussora [Basra]
... Having received intelligence from Captain Moutray that in his outward bound Voyage to this Island he received information at the Island of Palma that there had been two American privateers lately there, the one a two decked Ship and the other a Frigate and on his arrival at St Jago he was further  informed that the said two Privateers had also been there and had left that Island fourteen days before his arrival giving out that they were bound to the Southwards. This intelligence we thought necessary to communicate to Captain Traver,  Commander of the Earl of Mansfield by Letter...

It can be recalled that in April 1778 the nascent US Navy was involved in action closer to Britain. John Paul Jones and the 'Ranger' attacked Whitehaven in a ship given to the Americans by the French.  The India Office Records also reveal US movements in the Gulf: by 1790 the Boston brig “Rambler” had docked in Muscat, and in 1802 the English East India Company’s Resident in  Bushire, Persia, even used an American ship ‘The Two Sons’ to transport packets to Bussora.

[F.O.]

21 May 2013

Justin Webb, James Montgomery Flagg and Uncle Sam

Webb2
Image: Justin Webb and Uncle Sam © Ander McIntyre


A portrait of Justin Webb, presenter of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, just before delivering the third annual Benjamin Franklin House Robert H. Smith lecture in American Democracy ('Wise Up America! A Friendly Word from a Foreigner'), co-sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library on 10 May 2013.

James Montgomery Flagg's famous First World War recruiting poster image of Uncle Sam is from the current Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition at the Library, which runs until 17 September.

[Ander McIntyre is a photographer and a Fellow at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.  He is an occasional contributor to this blog.]

16 May 2013

Noam Chomsky and Propaganda

Noamchomsky
Noam Chomsky at the British Library, 2013 © Ander McIntyre

Ander McIntyre is a photographer and a Fellow at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.  He is an occasional contributor to this blog:

A portrait of Noam Chomsky just before he delivered a lecture at the British Library on 19 March this year, as part of the series of events under the banner of the Library's new exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion.

In 1988, Professor Chomsky wrote, in Language and Problems of Knowledge: The Managua Lectures (MIT Press),

Work of true aesthetic value follows canons and principles that are only in part subject to human choice; in part, they reflect our fundamental nature. The result is that we can experience deep emotion - pleasure, pain, excitement, and so on - from certain creative work, though how and why remains largely unknown. But the very capacities of mind that open these possibilities to us exclude other possibilities forever. The limits of artistic creativity should, again, be a matter of joy, not sorrow, because they follow from the fact that there is a rich domain of aesthetic experience to which we have access.

A film of Chomsky's conversation at the Library with Jonathan Freedland is on our YouTube channel.

[A.M.]

14 May 2013

On Acadie: thoughts from the 18th Bryant Lecture

Acadie (KTop 119 56)
 Above: Map of Acadie, c. 1740. Shelfmark Maps K.Top119.56 

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

Last night's 18th Annual Douglas W. Bryant Lecture saw Lyse Doucet, BBC World News Chief International Correspondent, present, 'From Acadie to the Arab Spring: reflections on America's place in the world'. I won't fill the post with a synopsis of Lyse's talk other than to say it was excellent and wonderfully delivered - for the real detail you will have to wait for the Eccles Centre to post the podcast and pamphlet.

I will dwell on one of the main features though as Acadie and the expulsion of the Acadians by the British loomed large in the talk. In the spirit of honesty, this is not my strongest area of Canadian history but in recent years and as a result of talks like Lyse's my interest to know more has developed. One of the perks of being a British Library curator is the ability to go and find out more the very next day; as Lyse said during the lecture, the Library invariably has something on everything.

Acadie Chart (J Chabert)
Above: Chart from the end of J. B. Chabert's, 'Voyage Fait par ordre du Roi en 1750 et 1751 dans l'Amerique Septentrionale'. Shelfmark: G. 14609

There are some cases where the volume of 'something' is greater than in others and a quick search for 'Acadie' in Explore brings up some fascinating results. First and foremost are the maps, with the King's Topographical Collection (K.Top) holding some beautiful items (although there are noticeably less than for other parts of the French Americas) and a number of printed books also containing striking maps and charts.

I suspect the presence of maps of Acadie in collections such as K.Top speaks to the colonial and imperial geopolitics its population found itself being pulled into and other items in the printed books collection bear this out. None perhaps more so than the 1756 published, 'A Fair Representation of His Majesty's Right to Nova-Scotia or Acadie' (Shelfmark: 1093.e.49) - a forceful title accompanied by the rather drawn-out subtitle, 'briefly stated from the memorials of the English Commissaries; with an answer to the objections contained in the French memorials and in a treatise entitled, Discussion Sommaire sur les anciennes limites de l'Acadie' (a microfiche copy of this treatise can be found at Mic.f.232, number 37790).

Evangeline (covers)
Above: Two editions of Evangeline; 'Évangéline; traduit et Imité de l'Anglais' (left, shelfmark: 11687.k.13); second Boston edition, 'Evangeline: a tale of Acadie' (right, shelfmark: 11689.aaa.49)

Evangeline (internal)

Above: Internal illustration from, 'Évangéline; traduit et Imité de l'Anglais' (shelfmark: 11687.k.13)

This is just one example of the many eighteenth and nineteenth century Anglophone and Francophone titles in the collection that discuss Acadie. The Library also holds numerous examples of the famous tale of dispossession in Acadie, 'Evangeline'; including translations in a wide range of languages beyond English and French. Above you can see two examples, an illustrated French version from later in the nineteenth century and a second Boston edition that also contains a dedication to 'The Lady Ashburton'.

All of this is a whistle-stop tour of some interesting items from the collections that tie into last night's talk but I hope it illustrates the depth of history invoked in Lyse's lecture and shows that, should you find yourself at a loose end in the Reading Rooms, 'Acadie' is not a bad random search to try out.

[PJH]



10 May 2013

Changing Scenes: Canadian landscape views

Rideau Locks (Hunter's Scenery)

Above: 'View of Locks' in 'Hunter's Ottawa Scenery' [Shelfmark: RB.31.c.502]

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

After ducks took over the blog earlier in the week a change of tone - although our feathered / mechanical friend will be pleased water is still involved. I've been digging through a few of the Library's printed books on 19th-century Canadian scenery and I thought I'd share some of the examples of subtle and striking change I've come across. The above illustration is a view of the Rideau Canal locks that sit below the parliament buildings in Ottawa, taken from 'Hunter's Ottawa Scenery' [Ottawa City, 1855. Shelfmark: RB.31.c.502]. It shows the city around the time of its incorporation but prior to its installation as capital of the Province of Canada.

Parliament and locks (Copy 22830)

Above: 'Rideau Canal Locks and the Parliament Buildings', by the Canadian Photographic Company [Shelfmark: HS85/10, Copy. 22830]

The above photograph was copyrighted in 1910 by the Canadian Photographic Company, less than 60 years after the plate in Hunter's 'Scenery' was produced. It illustrates quite nicely the changes brought to the area and its development as a national capital, although the scale of change is not as dramatic as in other examples from the collection. A good example here is an illustration of Toronto taken from Willis', 'Canadian Scenery' (London, 1842. Shelfmark: 789.e.18).

Toronto Fish Market (Canadian Scenery)

Above: 'Fish Market, Toronto' in, 'Canadian Scenery' [Shelfmark: 789.e.18]

According to the Toronto Public Library the area shown is at the foot of today's Jarvis St., downtown Toronto. By 1903 the view looking across this area was strikingly different, as the below photograph by William Thompson Freeland shows. The photograph is taken across the road from Toronto's government buildings, looking across Younge St. and Jarvis St. out towards the lake and the islands. While it doesn't show the area from 'Canadian Scenery' directly it does illustrate the dramatic change Toronto has undergone.

Toronto Panorama pt 4 (Copy 14481)

Above: 'Toronto Panorama, pt 4' by William Thompson Freeland [Shelfmark: HS85/10, Copy. 14481]

These are just a few examples from the collection depicting the changing Canadian environment and relevant items are not just found in printed books and photographs. For example, the topographical views and maps that make up the King's Topographical collection also contain myriad views which help illuminate the developing landscape of Canada.

For more on the scale and scope of the Library's Canadian collections, visit our Help for researchers pages.

[PJH]