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4 posts from July 2017

27 July 2017

Indian into Scotsman

Outside the Segar & Snuff Parlour in London’s Covent Garden you can see a Scotsman advertising tobacco.

Segar and snuff
Credit: Segar & Snuff

Not very suitable?

The inscription says that a Highlander sculpture was traditionally used by tobacconists to indicate that they had Scottish snuff.  An act of 1762  forbade signs overhead because of damage to passing traffic, hence the use of such figures.  It says the Highlander went out of use around 1845.

I wonder if he’s a Europeanised version of the Indian, sporting a headdress and skirt of tobacco leaves.

As we see in Joannes de Laet’s Novus orbus seu Descriptiones Indiae Occidentalis (Leiden, 1633) (BL, 146.g.10).  This belongs to a time when the Dutch were building an empire in Brazil.

Indian 2

Here we see a personified Hollandia receiving tribute from an Indian, accompanied by his armadillo and dressed in tobacco leaves.  He greets the Dutch: ‘Veniste tandem’ (You’re here at last).

The Portuguese defeated the Dutch at the Second Battle of Guarapes in 1649; Holland held on to Surinam until it gained full independence in 1975.

The iconography of the tobacco-wearing Indian goes back to the early days of the Portuguese in Brazil.  Indians are pressed into service as devils in a painting in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon.

And in York he’s employed in selling tobacco.

Indian 3
Tobacconist sign on Petergate, York Credit: York Civic Trust http://yorkcivictrust.co.uk

His tobacco skirt was easily transformed into a kilt.

 

- Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

 

Further reading

Yobenj Aucardo Chicangana-Bayona, ‘Os Tupis e os Tapuias de Eckhout: o declĂ­nio da imagem renascentista do Ă­ndio’, Varia historia,  vol. 24, no.40 (Belo Horizonte July/Dec. 2008)

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0104-87752008000200016 

13 July 2017

Russia, Brazil and Concrete?

Our current Russian Revolution Exhibition and today’s conference focused on Russia in American literature got me thinking about the ‘50s and what a bad rep the decade has suffered from in many ways. Rather than the stereotypical white nuclear family image that has so long dominated mainstream narratives about the 1950s it is clear that the 1950s in the U.S. were actually dynamic times, filled with civil rights struggles, and musical and artistic experimentation. Significantly this is not just true for the U.S. but many other countries in the Americas, take Cuba for example whose revolution in 1959 changed the political and social landscape of the globe forever. And in Brazil artistic experimentation reached new heights just as the U.S. attempted to strengthen its grip on the region in the post WWII era. One movement in particular that has had a lasting and far reaching impact on the world of poetry, social criticism and the visual arts is the “Concrete Poetry” movement of Brazil. One of the fundamental tenets of the movement was that revolutionary poetry must also revolutionise the form of poetry.

De campos

 (BL Shelfmark X.909/5645)

 The British Library has a strong collection of concrete poetry materials from Brazil, including original publications by Augusto de Campos. The below example of de Campos’ work was an entry in the very first Brighton Arts Festival held in 1967.

 

De campos david 2

(BL Shelfmark YD.2006.a.9165)

To come full circle, you can see echoes/traces/ghosts of the radical and experimental Russian poets of the early 20th century, such as Vasily Kamensky, in the works of Augusto de Campos and others. The concrete poets were part of a long line of artists who asked the world and themselves about the relationship among form, content and social critique. And these questions live on of course, perhaps now more than ever, in the age of social media.

 Elizabeth Cooper

10 July 2017

Australasia in the Americas blog

The Americas blog is delighted to host the first of series of posts on our Australian collections by Joanne Pilcher, who is currently carrying out a PhD placement project at the British Library, exploring contemporary publishing in Australia. If you would like to know more about placement opportunities at the Library for doctoral students please click here.

I am in the second year of my PhD in the School of Architecture and Design at University of Brighton. My research is into textile design and printing conducted by Aboriginal Australians in the Northern Territory from 1988 to present.[1] Some Aboriginal art centres have been producing printed or woven textile designs since the 1940s, yet these textiles are often overshadowed by the more widely publicised (and stereotyped by outsiders) Western Desert Style paintings by Aboriginal artists. I am interested in how textile design and production provides a different opportunity for exploration of culture and identity in comparison to the paintings; this is particularly interesting in relation to how the textiles are increasingly turned into clothing. Clothing is often the first signifier of an individual’s identity. As Aboriginal textiles increasingly become wearable expressions of identity accessible to all races and nationalities, I am interested to learn how (or if) this sharing of visual culture can provide the designers with agency either through monetary gain, growing cultural awareness or political representation. This is important as there is still a significant gap in wealth and political representation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians verses settler Australians.

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It is with this background that I have approached my three month placement at the British Library. As with most PhD projects, my work is rather specific in that is only discusses textile design and only in relation to Aboriginal groups in one specific area of Australia. This placement has provided me with the opportunity to ‘widen my horizon’ and engage with the cultural outputs and representations of knowledges of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups across Australia. Generally, I have been surprised at how comprehensive the British Library’s collection on Indigenous Australian writing is. I have learnt about an array of talented Indigenous Australian novelists, playwrights and poets, such as Andrea James, Daisy Utemorrah and Oodgeroo Noonuccal.[2] I have also learnt a lot about the challenges of collecting and writing about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges, a topic I hope to write about in a future blog post. I am now constantly on the look out for exciting new publications in this field that I can add to my growing list of suggestions of books for the library to collect. I am particularly interested in activist or grass roots publications such as zines that relate to current discussions on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups in Australian politics.[3]

As a non-Indigenous dual nationality British/Australian scholar, I have taken the role as an ‘informed outsider’ in both my PhD research and the British Library placement. In my PhD work I hope to use oral history interviews in order to put the voices and experiences of Aboriginal Australian textile designers and printers at the centre of my research. I have reflected upon this during the British Library placement where I have focused on written material created by, or in collaboration with, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori people of Australia and New Zealand. I have paid most attention to attempts to share cultures and histories with a wider audience; one area I have been particularly interested in is children’s stories and comic books as they provide visually stimulating texts that can be widely disseminated. From the 1980s onwards, there have been quite a few Aboriginal comic book characters but, as Luke Pearson outlines in his article for Indigenous X, ‘very few [characters] have been designed by Aboriginal artists, or written by Aboriginal authors.’ Some of these are represented in the British Library collections, such as the Reg Saunders comic by Hugh Donlan and Adrian Threlfal which depicts the true story of the Indigenous war hero Reg Saunders.[4] I hope to compliment this existing collection with other comics, such as the newly released Cleverman comic which accompanies the television series of the same name by Ryan Griffen who created it so his son could have Aboriginal super heroes to look up to.

After spending four weeks of the placement looking at the Australian collections, I have now turned my attention to the New Zealand collections. This is a new area of research for me and I am excited to learn more about postcolonial politics and culture within Māori groups in New Zealand. I will be interested to compare how the representations of the Indigenous groups of Australia and New Zealand differ in a contemporary context. I welcome any feedback and advice on this project, please feel free to tweet me: @JoannePilcher1

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All of the works I have been looking at are available on the British Library  Explore Catalogue

I would like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Design Star Student Development Fund whose financial support has enabled me to undertake this placement.

DSC_0231

 

By Joanne Pilcher 

[1] As my research focuses on Indigenous Australian groups in the Northern Territory, I have used only ‘Aboriginal’, when I am referring to Indigenous Australians across Australia I will use ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’.

[2] James, A., Playbox Theatre Company, & Melbourne Workers Theatre. (2003). Yanagai! Yanagai! (Current theatre series). Sydney: Currency Press in association with Playbox Theatre, Melbourne. [Shelfmark: Asia, Pacific & Africa YD.2004.a.5544]

Utemorrah, D., & Torres, Pat. (1992). Do Not go Around The Edges Broome: Magabala. [Shelfmark: General Reference Collection LB.31.a.4409 General Reference Collection LB.31.a.4409]

Oodgeroo Noonuccal. (2008). My People. (4th ed.). Milton, Qld.: John Wiley & Sons Australia. [Shelfmark General Reference Collection: YK.2012.a.29602 General Reference Collection YK.2012.a.29602]

[3] This article from the Guardian’s Indigenous Australians blog gives some of the context behind recognition. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/may/25/constitutional-recognition-and-why-the-uluru-talks-matter-explainer

[4] Dolan, H., & Threlfall, Adrian. (2015). Reg Saunders : An Indigenous War Hero. Sydney, Newsouth Publishing [Shelfmark: General Reference Collection YKL.2017.b.766]

04 July 2017

Franklin and Jefferson – An Understanding that Crossed the Generations

I was fortunate that April was the chosen month for my recent Fellowship at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, because 13 April is the day when Mr Jefferson’s birthday is warmly celebrated at his home at Monticello. There are speeches, awards, a marching band and even a vast birthday cake.  Monticello is open every day of the year bar Christmas Day and runs a host of public events.  Two days though are particularly special: 13 April, known as Founder’s Day as it also marks Jefferson’s foundation of the University of Virginia; and, twelve weeks’ later, the Independence Day celebration of 4 July.  

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Marching band at Monticello celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, 13 April 2017

Jefferson has long been recognised as the chief and near total author of the Declaration of Independence. It was not always thus. The committee given responsibility for drafting the Declaration was one of five people: John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut.  The resulting Declaration was deemed, at the time, to be a collaborative effort of the five men and Jefferson’s true role was not recognised until the 1790s. It was then revealed that the other four  had delegated the drafting to Jefferson and that Adams and Franklin had only seen his work at its final stage. As to their comments, Adams later wrote that ‘I do not now remember that I made or suggested a single alteration’[1] and  Franklin proposed the substitution of  just a few alternative words and phrases, although one of these was to prove extremely consequential.     

 

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The 1823 William Stone Facsimile version of the Declaration of Independence and the full-size statue of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello (photographed on Jefferson’s birthday)

The multi-talented Benjamin Franklin liked to describe himself as, first and foremost, a printer.  That description preceded all others in his last will and testament.[2]   Part of Franklin’s success as a printer was that he was his own, brilliant, writer and editor.  That brilliance was common  knowledge and thus, when Common Sense was first published, it was assumed – as Thomas Jefferson  later attested – that ‘Thomas Paine’ was a pseudonym for Benjamin Franklin. Some might therefore wonder why the authorial role for the Declaration was not given to the prestigious Dr Franklin, bearing in mind that he was then the most famous American in the world and a man of extraordinary intellectual ability.  It certainly was not because he was debarred from writing the Declaration because others feared he might include a joke!  That asinine schoolboy ‘myth’ was not ‘created’ until 1896 and was the result of a humorous article in Harper’s magazine. Franklin himself chose not to take the lead,  partly because Jefferson was a Virginian and Franklin believed that a representative from that colony should take charge, but also, more mundanely, because Franklin was not in the best of health. Most importantly, though, it was because Franklin had already seen the quality of Jefferson’s writing in publications such as A Summary View of the Rights of British America.

Like Franklin, Jefferson was not an orator but a master of the written word.  Franklin, recognising this, merely suggested a few deft editorial tweaks to the Declaration.  One of these small changes was, however, to prove exceptionally significant.  Franklin proposed  that ‘We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable’ should be replaced by ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’, and with a remarkable sleight of hand he instantly created the Declaration’s most important and best-known element. This substitution neatly took God out of the equation and created the basis for a secular state based on rationalism rather than religious justification.[3]   It was a fundamental change with immediate consequence for America and with future ramifications for the entire world.

Jefferson did not hesitate to take up Franklin’s suggestion.   There was a great deal of respect between the two men who had much in common.  The age gap of thirty-seven years was easily bridged. Their written reflections of each other show that their mutual admiration was bolstered by affection.[4]   Each was an autodidact who had been fascinated from an early age by philosophy and science.  As well as being men who had a brilliant command of the written word, they were both inventors, with Franklin, in particular, renowned for the electrical experiments and invention of the lightning conductor that had led Immanuel Kant to describe him as ‘The Prometheus of Modern Times’.  Amongst the greatest influences on the young Franklin were Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and John Locke and he took inspiration from them into his adult life.  Indeed, such was Franklin’s respect for Newton that the bust in David Martin’s 1766/7 portrait of Franklin (below) is of Newton.

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Benjamin Franklin by David Martin, 1766/7 (White House Art Collection)

Bacon, Newton and Locke  were also extremely important  influences on Jefferson.  The evidence for this can be seen in one glance in the parlour at Monticello.  There, in pride of place on one side of the door are portraits of these three great men.  They are balanced on the other side by another person who inspired Thomas Jefferson  and who deserved to be among  such exalted company -- that someone being, of course,  none other than Benjamin Franklin.

 

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© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.  Photograph by Bill Moretz

 

By George Goodwin, 2017 Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library

George Goodwin MA FRHistS FRSA, 2017 Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library, is a 2017 Peter Nicolaisen International Fellow at the Robert H. Smith Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.  He is the author of  Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father  and  Author in Residence at Benjamin Franklin House in London   

Further Reading at the British Library

David Armitage, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History  (Cambridge, Mass. & London : Harvard University Press, c2007) [YC.2007.a.7862]

Lester J. Cappon, editor, The Adams-Jefferson Letters / the complete correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (Chapel Hill & London,  University of North Carolina Press, c1988) [YH.1989.b.258]

Jefferson Looney, editor , [et al],  The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Retirement series / J. Jefferson Looney, editor  (Princeton & Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2014--) [YC.2005.a.1851 vol. 1 etc.]. See also 

Peter S. Onuf,  The Mind of Thomas Jefferson  (Charlottesville & London , University of Virginia Press, 2007) [YC.2007.a.10052]

Andrew O’Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America: British Command during the Revolutionary War and the preservation of the empire (London, One World, 2013) [YC.2013.a.14413]  

See also ‘Founders Online’ 

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[1].  “From John Adams to Timothy Pickering, 6 August 1822,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-7674. 

[2] The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Albert Henry Smyth, X: 493 (New York, Haskell House, 1970) [BL Document Supply A71/4290 vol. 10]

[3] See the 1823 William Stone Facsimile version here

[4]  e.g.  Jefferson’s amusement at the story of AbbĂ© Raynal, Benjamin Franklin and Miss Polly Baker’.  See:  “The Speech of Miss Polly Baker, 15 April 1747,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-03-02-0057. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 3, January 1, 1745, through June 30, 1750, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961, pp. 120–125]