THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

11 posts categorized "Americas"

08 March 2017

Marking International Women’s Day: The Lowell Offering

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To celebrate International Women’s Day we’re showcasing The Lowell Offering (1840-45), an extraordinary periodical that students from Royal Holloway asked to see when they attended a research training session here last week: and with good reason! In its short life this monthly periodical provided female textile workers in Lowell, Massachusetts – where women comprised 75% of the workforce – with a unique opportunity to see their poetry, ballads, songs, historical and religious essays or works of fiction in print.

Lowell first 12 

The Lowell Offering, Vol. 1, 1840; shelfmark P.P.6242

Perhaps surprisingly – given the ‘dark satanic mills’ of Victorian Britain – many women in New England initially regarded factory work as a well-paid alternative to teaching. The literacy rate amongst the operatives was high, and the creation of self-improvement societies was widespread; indeed, the Offering sprang from one such group. Writing about its origins, Harriet Farley – the Offering’s second editor – recalled that her group met fortnightly to read and listen to the written contributions of its members. Gradually the membership declined, yet the quality of the contributions kept improving and someone suggested compiling the contributions into ‘a little book’. This idea ‘was talked about in whispers’ but was soon supplanted by something even more audacious: a plan to publish a monthly periodical. Farley recalls:

We shall never forget our throb of pleasure when first we saw The Lowell Offering in a tangible form, with its bright yellow cover; nor our flutterings of delight as we perused its pages. True – we had seen or heard the articles before; but they seemed so much better in print. They appeared, to us, as good as any body’s writings. They sounded as if by people who never worked at all. The din and clatter of the mills had not confused the brains of the writers, and no cotton fuzz had obscured the brightness of their ideas… (The Lowell Offering, November 1842: shelfmark P.P.6242)

The Lowell Offering was funded through subscription and undoubtedly proved more successful than its contributors could ever have anticipated. In time, however, it was criticised both by mill-owners, who resented the way in which the women reflected (both directly and indirectly) upon life in the mills, as well as by reformers who believed it should take a far tougher stand against factory conditions. In 1845 it was discontinued, but two years later, Farley started The New England Offering – ‘Written by Females Who Are or Have Been Factory Operatives’ – which ran until 1850.

New england offering 12

The New England Offering, 1849; shelfmark P.P.6242

For nearly a decade, the Lowell and New England Offerings gave these women a singular creative outlet; for readers today, they provide a unique insight into the women’s inner and professional lives during a period of rapid industrialisation and social change.

References: The Lowell Offering, Lowell. Mass., 1840-45. Shelfmark: P.P.6242; The New England Offering. Lowell, Mass., 1847-1850. Shelfmark: P.P.6242

11 February 2017

The Flint Sit-down Strike, 1936-37

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Eighty years ago today – following a 44-day sit-down strike at their plant in Flint, Michigan – General Motors (GM) formally recognised the United Automobile Workers (UAW) as the sole bargaining authority for the striking workers.

Flint Wikimedia
Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration. LC-USF34-040028-D.

It is almost impossible to over-estimate the impact this recognition had upon both the unionisation of the American automobile industry and the labour movement across the United States.

In the early years of the Great Depression, increased workloads and cuts in pay were commonplace across the auto industry. In 1935, the average auto worker’s income was barely half that deemed by the government to be a minimum for a family of four. The following summer, hundreds of workers died in Michigan auto plants due to the heat wave and on-going poor working conditions. Theoretically, such conditions made these plants ripe for union organisation. However, strikes in 1930 and 1934 had been viciously broken up by the Flint police, aided by company informers; indeed, GM paid $839,000 for detective work in 1934 alone (1).

In 1935, the passage of the National Labor Relations Act – which legalised strikes – invigorated the Congress of Industrial Organizations' efforts to unionize industrial plants across the US. The following summer, UAW officials unaffiliated with existing (GM-infiltrated) locals began organising in Flint – an audacious plan, given it was essentially a company town; yet, they recognised the pay-off could be enormous. To avoid detection, they met with workers in their own homes and encouraged them to join; many did so. General Motors’ reaction was swift. On 29 December union leaders learned that over the New Year’s holiday the company planned to remove the huge and vital ‘dies’ used to make car bodies. If this happened, cars could be made elsewhere, thereby weakening the union’s strategic position. Recognising what was at stake, the workers refused to leave the plant.

The next 44 days were unprecedented in the history of American labour. Inside the plant, the workers organised themselves into committees for cleaning, defence, entertainment and exercise, while supporters outside brought them food and supplies.

  Flint wikimedia meal

Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration (LC-USF34-040031-D).

Finally, on 11 February 1937, GM signed an agreement recognising the UAW, and agreeing not to discriminate against those workers who had struck. The following year, nearly one-hundred sit-down strikes took place in auto plants across the country; UAW membership rose from 50,000 to 300,000; and auto worker wages rose by as much as 300%. This historic sit-down strike presaged a decade of intense union activity across American industry, and an extraordinary improvement in the lives of ordinary workers.

The British Library holds a wide variety of materials documenting the labour movement within the United States, including: reports, newspapers and recruiting pamphlets by individual unions, the CIO and the American Federation of Labor (AFL); Congressional hearings, reports, and federal legislation; publications by political parties, including the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of America; and reports by civil rights organisations. Additionally, the rise and activity of the unions may also be documented through our extensive collection of American newspapers, secondary sources, and electronic databases.

 Witch hunt CIO

George E. Novack, Witch-hunt in Minnesota: the federal prosecution of the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544, CIO. New York: Civil Defense Committee, [1941?]. Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.6863; The CIO: what it is and how it came to be. Washington, DC: Committee for Industrial Organization, 1937. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1501

AFL Communist party

Communist Party of the United States. For a Powerful, United A.F. of L. New York: Workers Library, 1936. Shelfmark: YD.2007.a.1654; Communist Party of the United States. Greetings to the American Working People on the Occasion of the First Anniversary of the Great Labor Merger, AFL-CIO! New York: Labor Committee, Communist Party, USA, [195?]. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1322

  UAW local

John G. Kruchko, The Birth of a Union Local: the history of UAW Local 674, Norwood, Ohio, 1933 to 1940. Ithaca, NY: New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, 1972. Shelfmark: q72/20497

1. "The 1936 - 37 Flint, Michigan Sit-Down Strike," BBC, Retrieved May 18, 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-london/A672310 

Jean Petrovic

10 January 2017

Buffalo Bill, 1846-1917

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Today - 10 January 2017 - marks 100 years since the death of William Frederick ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, who perhaps more than any other figure shaped British perceptions of the American West.

Born in Scott County, Iowa, in 1846, Cody apparently got his first frontier job at 10 years of age, riding a mule and carrying messages between wagons for a party travelling to Utah. He later rode for the Pony Express, hunted buffalo, fought for the Union (in 1854 his father had been stabbed while speaking out against slavery), and worked as a civilian scout for the US Army.

On 22 May 1872 Congress awarded Cody the Medal of Honor for gallantry as an Army scout in the Indian Wars. Later that same year – following endless hectoring by publicist Ned Buntline – he agreed to play himself on stage. Arriving in Chicago on 12 December, he learned that with less than a week before opening the play had not been written and the cast has not been chosen. Nevertheless, six days later Scouts of the Prairie opened at Nixon’s amphitheatre. As Cody froze in front of two thousand punters, Buntline (who was also on stage), apparently asked Cody: ‘Where have you been, Bill? What has kept you so long?’ (1). Cody took the cue, wowed the audience with his (sometimes tall) tales of life in the Wild West, and his stage persona was born.

In 1883, after a decade combining scouting and performing, Cody founded Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Four years later this extravaganza crossed the Atlantic for its first tour of Great Britain.

Buffalobillprogramme

John M. Burke. Buffalo Bill's Wild West: America's National Entertainment. [1887]. Shelfmark 10408.g.25

For Cody, the show was always about entertainment and education. It celebrated the skills of hunters, horseback riders and sharp shooters (including Annie Oakley) through demonstrations and sometimes hair-raising re-enactments. Yet for many the highlight was the inclusion of nearly 100 Lakota Sioux men, women and children. Inevitably, they starred in scenes such as ‘Attack on a Settler’s Cabin’ or ‘Attack on an Emigrant Train’. Yet in ‘Phases of Indian Life’ they showcased aspects of their own culture. Indeed, some later shows highlighted them being ejected from their homeland, and apparently Cody always insisted they were the first group to enter the stadium after him. Astonishingly, more than 2.5 million people are believed to have attended the show’s first run at Earl’s Court, including Queen Victoria who was celebrating her Golden Jubilee and was given two command performances.

The British Library holds a wide variety of contemporary items detailing the show’s British and American tours, including national and local newspaper reports, posters, programmes and sheet music. It also holds Cody’s autobiography, scores of biographies (including one by Buntline), and dime novels either written under Cody’s name or inspired by his exploits.

Buffalobillnovel

Buffalo Bill. The Redskin Detective: or, the gold buzzards of Colorado. London: J. Henderson & Sons, 1903. Shelfmark 12604.i.

   Buffalobillpolka

May Ostlere. Buffalo Bill Polka. London: Metzler & Co., [1887]. Shelfmark: Music collections h.3645.(3.)

For more images relating to the American West, see the Eccles Centre’s The American West through British Eyes, 1865-1900.

1. Ronald A. Reis, Buffalo Bill Cody. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2010, p. 53.

26 October 2016

The private life of the Canadian beaver

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The beaver is famous as a grafter: hence his adoption as one of the symbols of that industrious people, the Canadians.

In the medieval Bestiary he was associated with castration, on the grounds of a false etymology: Latin castor looks like it should be connected to castrare, and the tradition was that the beaver’s testicles were much sought after as medicine. When threatened with death at the hands of the huntsman, the beaver bit off his own genitals and escaped.

When the Baron de Lahontan published the account of his travels in New France in 1703, he has happier tales to tell of the hard-working rodent.

He describes the dams which they make ‘much more artistically than men’.  The Indians (‘sauvages’) are convinced that their ‘esprit’, ‘capacite’ and ‘jugement’ show that they must have immortal souls.  (Various unflattering comparisons with Tartars,  Muscovites and Norwegians follow.) 

The beavers hold their assemblies, communicating in ‘certains tons plaintifs non articulez’. 

They work through the night, using their tails as rudders, their teeth as axes, their paws as hands, and their feet as oars.

He also has a long section describing how the Indians hunt them.

Beavers 2

Nouveaux Voyages de Mr. le Baron de Lahontan, dans l’Amérique septentrionale, qui contiennent une rélation des différens peuples qui y habitent; la nature de leur gouvernement; leur commerce, leurs coutumes, leur religion, & leur manière de faire la guerre.(The Hague, 1703)  [1052.a.27.]

But the glory is this plate, where we see (anti-clockwise from top): savage hunting beaver with rifle, savage hunting beaver with bow and arrow,  beaver dragging a tree on water, the beaver’s dray, beaver caught in nets, beaver’s lake, holes in the ice, savages harpooning a beaver, dog choking a beaver,  another dog choking a beaver, beavers going to work, beavers’ dyke, beavers dragging a tree on water, beaver in a trap, beaver cutting down a tree.

Let the ingenious and dexterous beaver be an example to us all.

By Barry Taylor, Curator of Romance Collections

 

Further reading:

Rachel Poliquin, Beaver (London, 2015).  YK.2016.a.3542.

 

08 September 2016

Cabin Fever: Deconstructing the Log-Cabin Myth of Appalachia

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Kevan Manwaring is an Eccles Centre Postgraduate Fellow and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is currently undertaking a Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester. His practice-based research is a novel set in Appalachia & Scotland.

As an historical artifact and as a cultural meme I set out to explore the phenomenon of that quintessential icon of American pioneering spirit, the log cabin.

Lincoln_Log_Cabin

Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site. Photograph by Daniel Schwen [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The homely shack hacked out of the primal wilderness, or so the myth goes, the log-cabin has been called ‘a symbol of democracy’ (Shurtleff: 5). Synonymous with self-reliance, hard-work, and grit the cabin has a taken on a metaphorical dimension. How has it become the crucible of the American Creation Myth? Every state seems to have at least one of these iconic structures where their most famous son or daughter started out. Perhaps the most hallowed of these was at Walden Pond, in Massachusetts, where, on the 4th July, 1845, Henry David Thoreau went to build a cabin. And live there he did, for a couple of years, cultivating his legumes and legend; but the nature of his dwelling – now enshrined in American culture and replicated countless times across the nation – is not exactly what it seems. It needs interrogating and deconstructing somewhat – but not to undermine Thoreau’s achievement or legacy – but to examine the foundations of this most enduring and beloved icon.

This ‘log-cabin myth’ (as Harold R. Shurtleff defined it in his 1939 Study of the Early Dwellings of the English Colonists in North America) is ‘an American belief that is both deep-seated and tenacious’ (Shurtleff: 5).

Let us look at the history of the Log-Cabin. At the risk of seeming disingenuous, I think it’s necessary to remind ourselves of what a log cabin is defined as: ‘a small house made from tree trunks’ (Cambridge Dictionary online). This is important, especially when considering Walden (it was not). It is a term that is often bandied about and misapplied.

 

But when was the log cabin first seen in the New World?

From current evidence we can deduce that the first dwellings built of round or square logs was raised by the earliest Scandinavian settlers in 1638 – primarily Swedes, but also Eastern Finnish, bringing with them the skill-set of the Savo-Karelian culture (Jordan; Kaups, 1992). German immigrants constructed their own variants, independently, from about 1710. The Scots-Irish arriving in large numbers after 1718, took up this new opportunity (having been unable to build timber-houses at home due to the lingering restrictions of that Norman construct, ‘forest’, and the financial cost) and ran with it. It seems likely they invented the term ‘log cabin’ (one belonging to a James McGavock is identified in an Irish community, Virginia, 1770). Before that, the most common one was ‘log house’ (Maine, 1662; Maryland, 1669; Massachusetts, 1678; North Carolina, 1680; New Hampshire, 1699). Via this new wave of migrants, the log cabin went ‘viral’: ‘From and through the Germans and Scotch-Irish it spread rapidly through the English colonies and by the American Revolution had become the typical American frontier dwelling from Maine to Tennessee.’  (Shurtleff: 4), to the point that, as John Alexander Williams observed: ‘The log house is the most enduring symbol of Appalachia’ (2002: 5). Cheap, convenient and quick to construct from readily available materials, with only an axe, a pair of hands, a mouthful of nails, some cussing and a lot of elbow grease, it is small wonder the log cabin or house flourished.

In summary it seems likely, that whoever got there first (and the degradable nature of the material means we will never know for certain), that ‘each group of European colonist in the seventeenth century erected the sort of dwellings they were accustomed to at home.’ (Shurtleff, 209).

Yet were they bringing coals to Newcastle, for it is noted by William Byrd in 1728 how he found ‘Indians’ in Virginia and North Carolina in the traditional lodges of their ancestors, what he called ‘Bark Cabanes’, wooden dwellings. This suggests the possibility of cross-fertilisation – that the ‘log cabin’ was the product of syncretism.

And so we can see how the notion of the ‘log-cabin’ is a constructed one, one with several influences. As a metaphor for the quintessential hybridity and Old/New World recycling of America, it is fit-for-purpose.

 

As a cultural meme, the log-cabin has extended its influence far beyond its humble parameters. It has been taken up by politicians, writers, singers, film-makers, eco-campaigners, artists and architects…

A seminal example of this is the ‘Lincoln Log Cabin’ – the humble family home of the 16th President of the USA. At Knob Creek Farm, La Rue County, Kentucky, a neighbour’s farm was relocated to the approximate spot and turned into a heritage ‘shrine’, evidence of the Lincoln myth, and by extension, the dramatic arc of the American dream – from log cabin to the white-house.

Such ‘repackaging’ has precedent, which can be seen if we dial-back to the 14th Presidential Election Campaign. In what became known as the Log Cabin campaign of William Henry Harrison, we can see the repurposing of the log cabin for political capital. Evoking an American Arcadia, the log cabin symbolized a return to good, simple virtues, to an uncomplicated, uncorrupted way of life.

Image1

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1935). Illustrated by Helen Sewell [20054.d.28.]

We see this representation of the log-cabin in classics of American literature such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 reformist novel; Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884); Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel! (1929); the ‘Little House’ books of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932-1943); Woody Guthrie’s recently rediscovered House of Earth (1947); Wilma Dykeman’s Appalachian trilogy, The Tall Woman (1962); The Far Family (1966); Return the Innocent Earth (1973); and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (1997). These and many others create a sub-genre of what could be called ‘Log Lit’. 

Extending its influence far beyond Appalachia, the log-cabin offers us a place of renewal, a taste of a more authentic, embodied, embedded and sustainable life.

 

Kevan Manwaring

NOTES: 

Davis, Donald E., Homeplace Geography: essays for Appalachia, Mercer University Press, 2002

Lee, Hannah Farnham Sawyer, The Log Cabin: or, the world before you, Appleton, 1844

Grant, Richard E., Ghost Riders: travels with American nomads, London: Abacus, 2003.

Jordan, Terry G. & Matti E. Kaups, The American Backwoods Frontier: an ethical and ecological interpretation (creating the North American Landscape), John Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Shurtleff, Harold R., The Log-Cabin Myth: a study of the early dwellings of the English colonists in North America, Harvard, 1939

Teale, Edwin Way (ed.), The Wilderness World of John Muir, , Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1954

Thoreau, Henry David, Walden, or a Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1854

Weslager, C.A., The Log Cabin in America: from pioneers to the present (1909-1994), New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press, 1969

Williams, John Alexande,  Appalachia: a history, The University of North Carolina Press, 2002

 

Eccles Centre resources:

Imagining the West: a guide to the literature of the American West

 

23 August 2016

New Gods and Old

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In some ways, the “discovery” of America opened the mental horizons of Europeans: Montaigne’s essay “On Cannibals” (1580) was a landmark in relativism.

In others, the discoveries confirmed what Europeans had long thought but not actually been able to prove.

Pliny was full of tall tales of dog-headed men and men with one huge foot. When the explorers arrived in the Americas, they “found” what they always knew: the name of Patagonia derives from these monsters. The Amazon was populated by warrior women.

Fantastic beings Cosmographia 1297m6

Monstrous beings from distant land. From Sebastian Münster, Cosmographia (Basel, 1545) [British Library 1297.m.6.]

It’s well known that the Spaniards applied the names of European fauna to American animals: tigre (in Spain, tiger) became the jaguar, león (lion in Europe, puma in America), zorro (fox in Spain, skunk in the New World).

Early modern authors viewed America through Pliny (see Lacarra and Cacho Blecua). But Urdapilleta shows that writers who actually lived in the Indies soon cast off these old ideas and relied much more on the evidence of witnesses or indeed their own eyes.

Now, iconographical handbooks originated in the Middle Ages, and derived their pictures largely not from extant works of visual art but from verbal literary descriptions. 44 of these are reproduced in facsimile in the series The Renaissance and the Gods ((London, 1976-; X.425/5375).

The most famous is probably Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (first edition 1593; first illustrated edition 1603). Writers and painters alike drew on such sources (see Rosa López Torrijos). In this tradition was Vincenzo Cartari, Le imagini de i Dei degli antichi. The first edition (1556) stuck to the gods and allegories of Greece and Rome.

Imagini de i Dei 704.d.10

Title page of Vincenzo Cartari/Lorenzo Pignoria, Le Vere e noue imagini de gli dei delli antichi ... (Padua 1615) [704.d.10].

But in 1615 a Second Part was added by Lorenzo Pignoria, with gods of the Indians and Chinese. His source for the American gods was the Mexican Codex Vaticanus 3738. In his prologue, Pignoria follows the argument that paganism alias idolatry (whether Greco-Roman or contemporary) is a foreshadowing of Christianity, because these false religions derived from the Christian truth. He was not a believer in polygenesis: 350 years before Thor Heyerdahl, he maintained that the Egyptians had the seafaring skills to reach Mexico: after all, many accounts of America were thought mere fables until Columbus went there and proved them true.

Quetzalcoatl 704.d.10.

The God Quetzalcoatl from Le Vere e noue imagini de gli dei delli antichi [704.d.10]

 

Here is a case in point: the god Quetzalcoatl. His attributes parallel those of the ancients: on his head he bears the pointed stone, related to the knife used by the Devil in the rites of Cybele; in his right hand the lituus (curved wand) as used by the augurs; at his feet the cornucopia; and (the clincher) the Christian Cross on his cloak and on the cornucopia.

What better proof that all religions were one?

 

Barry Taylor, Curator of Romance Collections

References/further reading:

Sonia Maffei, ‘Le imagini de i Dei degli antichi di Vincenzo Cartari: Dalla poesia all’archeologia’ http://dinamico2.unibg.it/cartari/leimaginideiDei.html

Marco Urdapilleta Muñoz, ‘El bestiario medieval en las crónicas de Indias (siglos XV y XVI)’, Latino América, Revista de Estudios Latinoamericanos, 58 (2014), 237-70. 5160.235500

Miguel A. Rojas Mix, América imaginaria (Barcelona, 1992) LB.31.b.10858

Rosa López Torrijos, La mitología en la pintura española del Siglo de Oro (Madrid, 1985). YV.1988.b.1010 María Jesús Lacarra, Juan Manuel Cacho Blecua, Lo imaginario en la conquista de América (Zaragoza, 1990). YA.1997.a.7376

27 July 2016

Operation Crossroads: 70 Years on from the Bombs at Bikini

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Mark Eastwood is a PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham. He is currently undertaking a PhD placement with the Eccles Centre at the British Library. Mark will be producing a series of blogs which will explore aspects of the Cold War through the American Collections at the British Library.

July 2016 marks the 70th anniversary of the United States’ first atomic tests outside of World War Two. In July 1946, a joint U.S Army-Navy task force staged two atomic weapons tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The operation was designed to test the effects of an atomic bomb on naval vessels at sea. Consisting of tests Able and Baker, Operation Crossroads marked the first of over 1900 nuclear tests staged since the end of World War Two.

Seventy years on, what can we learn from Operation Crossroads?

 

Cold war1

Figure 1: "A Tree Grows in Bikini" Image of the Baker Bomb Test

Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p.199 (Shelf mark: W67/5211)

Cold war cover

Operation Crossroads, front cover

 

The US collections at the British Library house one of the UK’s only copies of the official photographic record of the operation. Official Pictorial Record of Operation Crossroads, published in 1946, contains a collection of more than 200 photographs documenting all stages of the operation. Not only does the collection offers a unique insight into the operation, but it demonstrates the emergence of the nuclear political culture which dominated the Cold War and can be felt even today.

The first lesson to draw from Operation Crossroads is to understand the sheer scale of the nuclear-industrial complex. The tests involved more than 200 ships, 42000 men and women and 150 aircraft gathered from both the Navy and Army Air Force. A significant number of civilian scientists from fifteen universities and many more individuals from private business and NGO’s also took part. The tests would mark pioneering breakthroughs in the use of remotely piloted boats and aircraft.

Coldwar2

Figure 2: "Radio Controlled Flying Fortress"

Operation Crossroads p.50

To ensure the operation was reported around the world, a huge legion of domestic and international press representatives were invited as observers. Many of the journalists were offered passage aboard the U.S. Navy vessel ‘Appalachian,’ dubbed, ‘the press ship.’ Technological innovation and cross-sector involvement, relayed globally by the press, underlined the significance of the nuclear-industrial complex which would come to dominate the Cold War years and beyond.

Coldwar3

Figure 3: "Gentlemen of the Press"

Operation Crossroads from top to bottom: p.41

The mass of cameras used at Bikini solidified the iconic imagery at the centre of today’s nuclear imaginary. More than 50000 still images and 1.5 million feet of film roll were taken during Operation Crossroads. For the global public, the images from Bikini offered their first engagement with the reality of the bomb. The photographs from Operation Crossroads demonstrated the awesome power of the atom which they could only read about previously. The image of the mushroom cloud rising high above the Bikini Lagoon became fixed in the public imaginary and in turn secured its status as the most potent and evocative image of the nuclear age.

ColdWar4

Figure 4: "Test Able Panorama"

Operation Crossroads: pp. 138-139

Operation Crossroads also marked the beginning of what we might call nuclear colonialism. Part of the preparation for Operation Crossroads involved the removal, or ‘evacuation’ as the U.S. government termed it, of 167 islanders from their ancestral home. They were relocated first to Rongerik Atoll and then some 250 miles away to the island of Kwajalein.

The islanders believed the relocation to be temporary but, seventy years later, the Bikini Atoll remains far too radioactive for their descendants to return to. The environmental conditions on Kwajalein were not the same as at Bikini and the islanders suffered from a lack of resources and fishing grounds once their U.S. supplied provisions ran out. The islanders are largely written out of the official pictorial record. Whilst reference is made to the beauty of Bikini itself, the inhabitants are largely an afterthought. Less than 1% of the photographs in the collection document the presence of indigenous inhabitants. Those which do exist focus on the ‘happy native,’ thankful to the kind and benevolent American colonialist. The treatment of the islanders and their almost complete erasure form the official record highlights the colonial trend in nuclear testing. From the islands of the Pacific to the Aboriginal lands of Australia, nuclear tests have ravaged indigenous lands around the globe.

Cold War 5

Figure 5: "At Home Abroad" King Juda (far left), of the Bikini islanders, pictured at Kwajalein enjoying the radio given to him as a gift by the U.S. Navy. One of the few photographs of the islanders contained in the record.

Operation Crossroads p.17

Finally, one may argue that Operation Crossroads picked up where Hiroshima and Nagasaki left off in fuelling the arms race which came to dominate the Cold War. The original idea for the operation grew out of a militarised mind-set and fear over the vulnerability of the naval fleet to a nuclear attack. The tests were designed to study the effects of the atom bomb and also to provide studies in how to defend against it.

 

Cold war 6

Figure 6: "General Damage on Stern Deck, Nevada"

Operation Crossroads p.167

Opposition to the tests did manifest, largely from the Manhattan Project scientific community who warned that the local Pacific waters were likely to become a ‘witch's brew’ of radioactivity. Ignoring such warnings, which turned out to be extremely accurate, the government pressed ahead. In demonstrating their commitment to continued atomic testing in the post-war era, it could be argued that the United States threw down the atomic gauntlet to the rest of the world. Furthermore, alongside U.S. vessels, Operation Crossroads included Japanese and German ships which had been surrendered after the War. The symbolic destruction of these ‘prizes’ did little to undermine the perception of U.S. imperialistic power.

Cold war 7

Figure 7: "Bomb vs Metropolis" A composite comparing the size of the explosion of the Baker test with the Manhattan skyline

Operation Crossroads p.215

Seventy years and nearly 2000 tests on from Operation Crossroads, whilst the Bikini Atoll still feels the ecological impact of nuclear testing, the cultural and political ramifications of the first post-war tests remain rather potent.

P.S. Did you know that the tests at the Bikini Atoll were responsible for the introduction of the word ‘bikini’ into the common lexicon? It was adopted to describe the invention of the new two-piece bathing suit and was derived “from the comparison of the effects wrought by a scantily clad woman to the effects of an atomic bomb.”[1]

 

[1] Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994, p. 4

18 July 2016

Join us for the Eccles Centre Summer Scholars series

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Each year, the Eccles Centre for American Studies supports numerous fellows to conduct research in the Library's North American collections. Over the years, the Centre has supported over 140 Fellows.  As part of this, they run an annual Summer Scholars series which gives Fellows an opportunity to present the findings of their research to a public audience. 

The talks run throughout July and August on Monday and Friday lunchtimes, between 12.30-14.00 and are free for all to attend with no booking required.

Final Eccles Centre Summer Scholars Seminar Series 2016-1

 

The 2016 series opened with a talk by author Gaiutra Bahadur on her book Coolie Woman.  Working from the starting point of her grandmother's history, Gaiutra spoke about her strategies for overcoming elisions and biases in the archives that document the migration of bonded labourers from the Indian subcontinent to the West Indies.

We've also seen talks from Emily Trafford who examined how Progressive era World's Fairs became key sites of battle over the representation of the Chinese in America, and Hannah-Rose Murray whose work in the digital newspaper archives has uncovered a fascinating and lively history of African American abolitionists in the UK. 

Forthcoming talks in the series cover a broad range of topics, from Appalachian log cabins, Emily Dickinson, the Ladies' Home Journal, US foreign policy and Pakistan's nuclear programme, discourses of domestic hygience in turn of the century periodicals, the great American desert, and many more.

MONDAY 25 JULY, The British Library Conference Centre Cabin-Fever: deconstructing the log-cabin myth of Appalachia Kevan Manwaring explores the iconic ‘log-cabin’, synonymous with the pioneering spirit of North America. Tracing influences back to Scots-Irish and Scandinavian settlers, this illustrated talk will show log-cabins in a new light.

MONDAY 1 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation The Poetics of Reticence: Emily Dickinson and Her Contemporaries Eve Grubin discusses Emily Dickinson’s poems and their characteristic style against the backdrop of poetry written by other American women during Dickinson’s time.

The Modern Consuming Housewife From feminine vice to essential feminine interest, Rachael Alexander explores changing attitudes to makeup and fashion as seen in, and encouraged by, the Ladies' Home Journal and Canadian Home Journal of the 1920s.

FRIDAY 5 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation America, Britain, and the 'Islamic Bomb' Malcolm Craig explores the intersections between America, Britain, Pakistan's nuclear programme, and political Islam's rise in the 1970s. Was Pakistan building an 'Islamic bomb' or was it all just a media scare?

MONDAY 8 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation

‘What Irish Boys Can Do’ Catherine Bateson analyses more than two-dozen American Civil War songs held in the British Library’s U.S. archives, and explores how ballads sung the story of Irish involvement in the conflict. Dreaming of the Orient during the War on Germs Bianca Scoti discusses oriental rugs in middle class homes and discourses on domestic hygiene in American magazines and periodicals at the turn of the twentieth century.

FRIDAY 12 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation Selling Black History: from Margins to Mainstream James West examines the content of EBONY magazine as a case study into the production, dissemination and marketisation of popular black history during the second half of the twentieth century.

About Trauma - Constructing Medical Narratives of the Vietnam War Nicole Cassie examines how medical Vietnam veterans have engaged with the evolving psychological and social understanding of post-war trauma. It also explores why they often identify as 'resilient' as opposed to 'traumatised,' despite having experienced some of the worst of the war.

MONDAY 15 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation American Genre Painting and Magazine Illustration In 1910 Leila Mechlin argued that Edmund Tarbell’s paintings controvert the fallacy that “all American genre painters have become illustrators.” John Fagg explores the fluid boundary between these artforms.

FRIDAY 19 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation How to Blow Up an Oil Rig... Harry Whitehead’s third novel concerns the oil business. Big subject, overwhelming research. So when to go ‘shallow’, when ‘deep’? And just how do you blow…? Reading Don DeLillo in the Archives Rebecca Harding shares how the materials in the British Library’s collections have helped her to see beyond common critical frameworks in her research, a study of the role of the body in the fiction of Don DeLillo.

MONDAY 22 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation 'Put all to fire and sword' Nicola Martin compares and contrasts the experiences and encounters of various groups of ‘others’, and considers pacification in the eighteenth-century British Empire from Culloden to Quebec.

Britain and the Anglo-American War of 1812 The 1812 Anglo-American War may be the most overlooked conflict in British history. Peter O’Connor explores the domestic impact of the war with a particular focus on the response of radical democrats within Britain who had held up the USA as a model political system since the Revolution.

FRIDAY 26 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation The Great American Desert Eccles Centre Writer in Residence William Atkins is working on a cultural history and travel book about the world’s deserts, with a particular focus on the US southwest. He discusses his use of the America’s collections in researching the evolution of the US’s perception of its desert regions, from John C. Frémont’s account of his exploration of the Great Basin in 1843, to the development of an American ‘desert aesthetic’ in the seminal writings of John C. Van Dyke, Mary Austin and Edward Abbey in the twentieth century.

 

Dr Fran Fuentes

Assistant Head - Eccles Centre