THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

5 posts from September 2013

27 September 2013

Before the Avatar, the Mugshot

Photo

In this digital age, it is hard to escape the semiotics of the avatar; even at work we get to chose one for the staff directory or our internal social network. A recent acquisition, Defenders and Offenders (New York, 1888) offers a chance to peek at earlier versions of this artform: the mugshot.  In this title, the Defenders – the lawmen of Brooklyn and New York – are given a page of biography and a large, elegant side portrait. The Offenders are presented face on (rarely entirely flattering), and squeezed into a grid of four.  All are rendered in very compelling and understated chromolithography. We leave you, the reader, to decide which is most appropriate for us.  . 

Historians, particularly the historian of photography and science, have long paid attention to the cultural meanings of the mugshot. There is also surely something to be made of the rather mean text that accompanies each portrait: 'Mrs Hattie Connelly is an adventuress and swindler, and also known by the names of Carroll, Styles, Bruce and canal boat Hattie.  Her latest adventure was in June, 1888, when she swindled an old man of 68 years of age, in Jersey City, out of over $2,000.  Mrs. Connelly is fair, fat, and 40, and the way the old man was taken in by this clever confidence woman is something remarkable'. (There is an account of her case in The New York Times, 28 April 1888.) Law & Order: 1888, we await you. 

 

[MJS]

25 September 2013

In remembrance of Carolyn Cassady 1923-2013

This time last year Matt and I were frantically trying to get our labels done in advance of the opening of our On the Road exhibition, not to mention eagerly awaiting the arrival of Jim "keeper of the scroll." We were really pleased that the exhibition proved to be so popular over the following three months, although it’s perhaps not too surprising with such a star item on display. But we were also pleased with the "look" of the exhibition, much of which was down to our great designer of course, but also to the fact that we were given permission to use some wonderful photographs by both Allen Ginsberg’s Estate and Carolyn Cassady. In our view, Carolyn took the best photo of Kerouac and Neal Cassady together (though she often doesn’t seem to get credited) and we were delighted to have a big reproduction of it in the exhibition (it now lives in our office). In fact, she was hugely supportive throughout our preparation for the exhibition, as she had been with another Kerouac event we had held a few years earlier to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road.  She had been on great form that evening (a recording “An evening for Jack Kerouac” was made and is available in the reading rooms) and she had also donated to us a tape made in the Cassady’s home in San José in 1952, of Neal and Jack in conversation (an excerpt of Neal Cassady reading Proust featured on the soundpoint in the exhibition). So we were really looking forward to seeing her again at the opening of On the Road, but unfortunately, Carolyn was unable to make it as she had been having problems with her leg and the journey up to London from Berkshire would have been too taxing. And now we won’t have another chance to see her – we were really saddened to hear the news of her death last Friday. Of course she was 90 years old, but some people you expect to live forever. We’ll all miss her.

For more on her eventful and extraordinary life, here are the obits from The New York Times; The Los Angeles Times, and The Guardian; a lovely, much more personal tribute from Brian Hassett; and an interview with Carolyn by Polina Mackay from July 2011. And we of course have her books in the collections, in particular, Off the Road.

And if you’ve noticed that we’re not blogging as much usual – I’m afraid it’s because we’re a bit thin on the ground at the moment. Beth is on maternity leave, poor Phil had a cycling accident and has broken his arm and hand, and Matt is very preoccupied with Europeana Collections 1914-1918. Oh, and we have a massive office move too. But stick with us – we’ll be back!

P.S. You can still read all our On the Road exhibition and other Beat-related blogposts here.

[C.H.]

 

 

20 September 2013

Want therefore shall not I: The Whole Book of Psalmes

Psalms
Image: The Whole Book of Psalmes, 1647, held by the British Library.Public Domain Mark

The Bay Psalm Book (1640) was not the first book to be printed in America, and this is not it.  In terms of printing in North America, Juan de Zumárraga, Bishop of Mexico, imported a press from Seville, along with an Italian printer Juan Pablos in 1539. The image above is of the second edition of The Whole Book of Psalmes, as The Bay Psalm Book is formally titled, also printed and published in Cambridge in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1647.

Like Zumárraga, the puritan colonists had felt the need to import a printer and press to support their experiment in what was to them the New World.  The printer, Rev. Josse Glover, did not survive the journey, so another passenger, Stephen Daye (also spelled Day), took on the task.

The first book, as opposed to printed item (such as the long-lost Oath of a Freeman (1639) and an almanac), to emerge from the press resulted from the deliberations of 'thirty pious ministers'. It was a new translation of the Book of Psalms, based on the Hebrew texts they had available and, in the words of George Parker Winship, a 'work whose outstanding quality is the unbroken uniformity of phrasing and metrical character'.  It did, however, possess 'one undeniable virtue' for the puritans: 'there was not a line in it that could remind any worshiper of the superb cadences of the versions that had become embalmed in the ritual of the Established English Church, the Book of Common Prayer'.

This virtue aside, the churches of Salem and Newbury had declined to recommend The Bay Psalm Book's use (perhaps out of suspicion of their overbearing Boston neighbour).  In consequence, in June 1647, the Synod invited the President of Harvard College, Henry Dunster, to revise the translation.  Dunster largely passed this task on to Richard Lyon. The Synod approved the manuscript in 1648, and it was sent to England to be printed in Cambridge.  In the meantime, a second edition of the original Bay Psalm Book had been issued in 1647.*  This is now held by the British Library at shelfmark C.36.a.17, and three photographs of that volume illustrate this blog post.  The English Short Title Catologue lists two other copies: one at the New York Public Library, and the other in Rhode Island at the John Carter Brown Libary, Brown University.  For those with access to Early English Books Online (EEBO), the John Carter Brown copy is available digitally.

Psalms-2
The Whole Book of Psalmes, 1647. Public Domain Mark

It could almost have been shelved next to its predecessor.  In 1859, the American bookman-extraordinaire Henry Stevens tracked down a copy of the 1640 edition as part of the sale of Edwin Crowninshield's library and offered it to the British Museum for the sum of £150.  But, these were austere times, and, after waiting five years, the Keeper of Printed Books felt that he could not put the invoice before the Trustees to authorise its purchase.  Stevens had it rebound, and sold it on.  It is now held by Yale University Library.

Lord-to-me
Psalm 23: 'The Lord to me a shepheard is'. Public Domain Mark

You could have your own copy, too.  Later this year (26 November 2013), Sotherby's are auctioning a copy for the first time since 1947.  It is being sold by the Old South Church, whose building is in urgent want of repair, and it is currently on tour around the USA.  There are ten other known copies.  (Daye originally printed 1,700.)

For more on The Bay Psalm Book, the starting point is George Parker Winship, The Cambridge Press 1638-1692 (Philadelphia, 1945).  Winship also attempts to unpick exactly what Glover and Daye's plans were in Boston.

The Winship quotation above is taken from his An Odd Lot of New England Puritan Personalities (Portland, Maine, 1942).

And, on how those 1,700 copies were actually used (and sung), as well as their wider cultural meaning, see Joanne van Woude, "'How Shall We Sing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land?': A Translatlantic Study of the Bay Psalm Book", in Linda Phyllis Austern, Kari Boyd McBride & David L. Orvis, eds., Psalms in the Early Modern World (Farnham, 2011), pp. 115-134.

* But where was it printed? The ESTC notes: 'It may have been printed by Stephen Daye or perhaps by Matthew Daye, or printed in England. The doubt supports the latter belief. Trumbull was of the opinion that there can be no reasonable doubt that the edition was printed in England. Cf. Evans 20'.

[MJS]

11 September 2013

Rebuilding after 9/11

399px-Spire_installed_at_the_top_of_One_World_Trade_Center_-_2_May_2013

Spire installed at the top of One World Trade Center by Alec Perkins Some Rights Reserved

 

It hardly seems possible that it’s 12 years since the horrors of 9/11. As usual, over the last week or so the TV networks have been showing numerous programmes relating to the events of that day but it’s been good to also see some stories which focus on post 9/11 developments in New York. I would recommend in particular that you try to catch Belfast-born artist and film-maker Marcus Robinson's Rebuilding The World Trade Center, an artistic project "about reconstruction, ambition and humanity."

In 2006, when Ground Zero had finally been cleared and the numerous disputes around the rebuilding resolved, Robinson was given permission to document (through film, photography, drawing and painting) construction on the  World Trade Center site, which must be one of the most scrutinised building projects in the world. Through time-lapse photography (with 13 cameras taking a frame once every 30 minutes), we get to see exactly what goes in to the construction of  a skyscraper (the focus is on Tower One), as beautifully edited sequences distill over 7 years work to almost the blink of an eye. Interspersed with the time-lapse photography are numerous interviews with the army of people who are needed for such a massive building project – surveyors, site managers, engineers, construction workers and a whole host of others, many of whom wanted to be involved in the project for very personal reasons.  And although the photography is stunning, it is the construction workers and riggers who are the real stars (and heart) of this story of epic architecture and engineering (they are aptly described as a kind of Greek chorus by one reviewer). In particular, it’s amazing to watch the legendary iron workers as they walk across open girders hundreds of feet in the air in the world's most dangerous circus. "I see a lot of things up there, I get chills, see shadows. I don’t know if you call them ghosts or whatever, but you feel stuff. They’re trying to tell you something." comments Joe “Flo” McComber, one of a long line of Mohawks who have been involved in building New York’s skyscrapers since the early twentieth century.  And look out for the wonderful Chantelle Campbell, an ex-secretary but now concrete carpenter, who isn’t content with doing "light work" but says “I want to be seen on the same level as the men… I don’t have the type of personality where I’m going to back down. That gets me a lot of respect." And you really can’t imagine anyone arguing with her.

Ending (well almost, but not quite) with a joyful party on the roof, Rebuilding the World Trade Center is an uplifting film in every sense.  The actual end and final stage of the build was in fact the incredibly complex and dangerous crowning of Tower One with a huge metal spire earlier this year. The Tower, standing at a symbolic 1,776 feet, is now the tallest building in the U.S. But it was never just going to be about building a new skyscraper - for the crew, or New York. As Marcus Robinson says, "They are healing a scar in the bedrock of the city, in its skyline, and in many ways what they are doing is part of a much greater act of rebuilding and healing."

The documentary is currently still available on the Channel 4OD website and we’ll acquire a copy on dvd for the collections when it becomes available.

 [C.H.]

05 September 2013

An Incident in the Retreat at the Battle of Manassas (21 July 1861)

Manassas
Public Domain Mark
Image is free of known copyright restrictions.

A steel engraving from Bartlett Mackay's History of the United States of America (1861).  From the text: 'The Battle of the Bull Run [aka the Battle of Manassas] may be said to be the first repulse of the army of the Potomac...'.

I guess we all have days that remind us of the chap guiding the horse on the bottom right.

[M.J.S.}