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13 posts categorized "Americas"

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?

 

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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

22 March 2016

Langston Hughes translates Nicolás Guillén

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Langston Hughes is well known as one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance, primarily for his poetry. However, there is a side to his work which has received comparatively less attention: his literary translations.

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Langston Hughes in 1936, by Carl Van Vechten

Hughes was not a professional translator, and indeed most of his translations did not do very well commercially. His translations were driven by his interest in writers with whom he felt a connection, particularly authors who explored the representation of black identity beyond European literary models. Hughes felt a kinship with writers of the African diaspora in the Americas, whom he saw as linked by a similar cultural heritage and history of racial oppression. These included the Haitian writer Jacques Roumain, whose posthumous novel Masters of the Dew (Gouverneurs de la Rosée) was translated by Hughes circa 1947.

In 1948, Hughes (together with Ben Frederic Carruthers) translated a selection of poems by the Cuban writer and activist Nicolás Guillén. They were published under the title of Cuba Libre by the American Ward Ritchie Press, in a beautiful limited edition of 500 with illustrations by Gar Gilbert.

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Cover and title page of Cuba Libre (1948)

Hughes met the poet Nicolas Guillén in 1930 in Cuba and they soon developed a friendship. Both men travelled together to Spain during the country’s civil war as war correspondents, an episode that Hughes narrated in his autobiography I Wonder as I Wander (1956). While the extent to which Hughes influenced Guillén’s style is still up for debate, their works have many aspects in common. Their poetry is a celebration of black folk culture, music and use of language. Often described as ‘poets of the people’, both men were concerned with representing class inequality and racial injustice.

Below is an extract from Guillén’s well-known poem ‘Tu no sabe inglé’, translated by Hughes as ‘You don’t speak no English’. Hughes’s translation used the African American vernacular to reproduce Guillén’s experimentation with the Cuban criollo (Creole) dialect in his poetry:

Con tanto inglé que tú sabía,

Bito Manué,

con tanto inglé, no sabe ahora

desí ye.

La mericana te buca,

y tú le tiene que huí:

tu inglé era de etrái guan,

de etrái guan y guan tu tri.

        Nicolás Guillen, Motivos de son (1930)

 

All dat English you used to know,

Li’l Manuel,

all dat English, now can’t even

say: Yes.

‘Merican gal comes lookin’ fo’ you

an’ you jes’ runs away

Yo’ English is jes’ strike one!

strike one and one-two-three.

Langston Hughes’s translation, published in Cuba Libre (1948)

 

Further Reading

Guillén, Nicolás. Cuba Libre, translated by Langston Hughes and Ben Frederic Carruthers (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1948) [Cup.510.naz.3.]

Kutzinski, Vera M., The Worlds of Langston Hughes: Modernism and Translation in the Americas (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012) [YC.2013.a.1917]

Martin-Ogunsola, Dellita, ‘Introduction’. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol 16: The Translations: Federico Garcia Lorca, Nicolas Guillen, and Jacques Roumain, ed. by Arnold Ra``mpersad (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2003) [YC.2005.A.3285]

Scott, William, ‘Motivos of Translation: Nicolas Guillen and Langston Hughes’. CR: The New Centennial Review, 5:2 (2005): 35-71. [3486.443000]

 

 —Mercedes Aguirre

26 January 2016

An Irish Account of the First Days of the American Civil War

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'It is not in the nature of an Irishman to fight with four or five pounds of boiled pork and biscuit banging at his hip' – so beings the third and final part of the short, thirteen page account of The Last Days of the 69th in Virginia: A Narrative in the Three Parts (General Reference Collection 9604.aaa.10.), written by then-Captain Thomas Francis Meagher in 1861 during the early days of the American Civil War. It is one of a number of archive holdings the British Library has relating to the conflict and the involvement of Irish American men and women in the fight for the survival of a United States between 1861-1865, an area which forms the foundation of my doctoral research, with the generous fellowship support of the Eccles Centre for American Studies.

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Thomas Francis Meagher, The Last Days of the 69th in Virginia: A Narrative in Three Parts (New York, 1861), title page. Image in the public domain.

Meagher, a former Young Irelander who had escaped exile in Van Diemen’s Land and migrated to America in the early 1850s, was one of the most prominent Irish-born soldiers during the war. He rose from a captain attached to the 69th New York State Infantry Regiment to founder and commanding general of the Irish Brigade, the bastion of Irish American military service, with its constituent regiments present at every major battle of the brutal conflict. The 69th New York formed the Brigade’s foundation. They were born from a state militia regiment whose pre-war fame originated after the refusal of their commander Colonel Michael Corcoran (also Irish-born and later himself a prominent Union general) to march the past Edward, Prince of Wales during the future king’s visit to New York City in 1860. The exploits of Meagher, Corcoran, the 69th New York and the Irish Brigade’s military service during the Civil War were widely known in contemporary Union and Confederate societies and were recounted in several of the memoirs, accounts, newspaper records and ballads. Some of the songs relating to the Irish experience of the conflict can be seen in the Library’s online gallery collection of digitized American Civil War archives.

Meagher’s Last Days of the 69th in Virginia details events the 69th New York Infantry participated in from 12-18 July 1861 – the days leading up to the First Battle of Bull Run at Manassas, Virginia, the first major battle of the Civil War. It thus gives a fascinating and unique insight into the mobilisation and immediate experiences of thousands of soldiers rallying to the impending front-line, completely unaware of the battle and the subsequent four long tortuous years of war that would soon be upon them. Meagher chose to focus on the days preceding the battle fought on 21st July because its “incidents and events, the world, by this time, has heard enough… the battle, the [Union] retreat, the alarm and confusion of the Federal troops, columns and volumes have been filled”. Instead, Meagher’s writing reveals the journey of the 69th New York from their base at Fort Corcoran on Arlington Heights outside of Washington D.C., to the fields around Manassas, travelling through the Virginian town of Centreville, made famous in a wartime photograph taken by Timothy H. O’Sullivan showing its use as a Confederate supply depot and war’s scarring on the land. The image was published in Alexander Gardener’s collection of Civil War photography, of which the Library holds a copy (General Reference Collection 1784.a.13.). Meagher was not particularly complementary about Centreville, describing is as a 'dingy, aged little village' with a 'miserable little handful of houses. It is the coldest picture conceivable of municipal smallness and decrepitude…One is astounded on entering it, to find that a molehill has been magnified into a mountain.'

Captain Thomas Francis Meagher

Captain Thomas Francis Meagher, later General Meagher, commander of the Union Army’s Irish Brigade (1861).

Someone else turned into a mountain in Civil War histories is 'our Brigadier, Colonel Sherman, a rude and envenomed martinet' who, for 'whatever his reasons for it were…exhibited the sourest malignity towards the 69th'. Meagher spoke here of William Tecumseh Sherman, more famous as the general who led the Union advance through the southern states in the final years of the Civil War. A colonel at the First Battle of Bull Run, Sherman’s continual ordering of the Irish soldiers to bivouac on “the dampest and rankest” of ground led Meagher to state that the then-colonel 'was hated by the regiment'. Despite no love being lost between Meagher and Sherman, the former unwittingly included a rather pointed note of historical irony about the latter. He described how advancing Union soldiers passing by farmsteads on the road to Manassas were 'forbade' to touch the 'cocks of hay and stacks of corn'. The people of Georgia would have surely wished that this version of Sherman had marched through their state in 1864.

Alongside derogatory descriptions of southern towns and fellow Union Army officers, Meagher detailed the exhausting march and Confederate skirmishes through the Virginian countryside in the July heat. Bivouacking subjected the men to night-time humidity, which caused the Stars and Stripes to become 'damp with the heavy night dews'. In the day the men of the 69th New York dealt with 'heat and dust and thirst'. His account paints a sensory portrait of the Union Army mustering to face the Confederacy; a visual 'splendid panorama, those four miles of armed men – the sun multiplying, it seemed to me, the lines of flashing steel, bringing out plume and epaulette and sword, and all the finery of war, into a keener radiance, and heightening the vision of that vast throng with all its glory'. He spoke similarly about aural imagery: 'the jingling of the bayonets, as the stacked muskets tumbled one after another… The sound was so like that of sabres slapping against the heels and spurs of charging troopers'. Amongst those on the march was the 79th New York Infantry Regiment looking 'stanch and splendid'. Led by Colonel James Cameron, the regiment were nicknamed 'The Highlanders' in honour of their connection to New York Scottish fraternity organisations.

The Library’s copy of The Last Days of the 69th in Virginia was 'published at the office of the '"Irish-American"' in New York City by Lynch and Cole, publishers of the Irish-American newspaper, the foremost Irish organ for the largest community of Irish men and women in America. It was subsequently circulated in other Irish newspapers in the country, namely the Boston Pilot. The account is in three parts, leading to the suggestion the publishers serialised Meagher’s writings before producing a book form sometime in the last summer/early autumn of 1861. It is possible that it was used as part of Meagher’s promotion tour of Irish American communities in New York, Boston and Philadelphia while he was galvanising support for the formation of the Irish Brigade. Very few copies of the account in this book form exists today and although it appears in the bibliographies of Irish American, wartime and Meagher histories, it is rarely quoted from, with scholars choosing newspaper accounts of his numerous wartime speeches and Michael Cavanagh’s Memoirs of General Thomas Francis Meagher (General Reference Collection 10882.g.1.) as their primary source focus. With limited personal wartime writings of Thomas Francis Meagher available, The Last Days of the 69th in Virginia provides a revealing insight into one prominent Irish American’s contemporary account of the initial days of the American Civil War. It helps show how the Irishman’s gift of rhetorical skill transposed itself to his writing, despite his friend Captain W.F. Lyons stating in his book Brigadier-General Thomas Francis Meagher (General Reference Collection 10882.aaa.29.) that 'journalism was, in fact, not Meagher’s best field of action…[which] he had abandoned…for the stormy life of the soldier'.

What The Last Days of the 69th in Virginia demonstrates is that Meagher’s writing of the actual field of action was extremely eloquent. He could switch from the humorous – describing how Corcoran’s horse 'was greedily eating newspapers' on the morning of the First Battle of Bull Run – to the patriotic fervour that became commonplace amongst lyrical expressions of Irish American dual identity in the nineteenth century. He also provides a perfect description of why such a source is important for American Civil War scholars. Meagher’s account created 'a picture far more striking and exciting than any I had ever seen. War, assuredly, has its fascinations as well as its horrors…and so emboldens and spurs the tamest into heroism.'

Catherine Bateson

24 December 2015

Tun Tun: a Venezuelan Christmas carol

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Aguinaldo is a popular type of Christmas song sung in many Latin American countries at this time of year, thought to have derived from the villancicos imported from the Iberian Peninsula during the second half of the sixteenth century. Perhaps the most celebrated composer of villancicos is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, whose words were set to music by Antonio de Salazar in the late 17th century. Although villancicos often made reference to secular themes, they were encouraged – or at least tolerated – by the Church hierarchy as far as they were seen as useful tool in the drive to convert the native populations to Catholicism.

As the popularity of villancicos declined from the 19th century onwards, aguinaldo – a much more folk-inflected art form – began to take their place. Today, aguinaldo are performed by people in groups called parrandas, who wander from door-to-door sharing their songs in much the same way as carollers do in the UK. This wonderful recording of an aguinaldo from Venezuela is a far cry from the baroque villancicos of the 17th century, though it does illustrate how the form mixes the sacred with the everyday, as we hear the celebration of the birth of Christ played out as an commentary on neighbourly relations.

Listen to Tun Tun (performed by Federico Reyna and family)

As far as we have been able to identify, this recording of Tun Tun was performed by Federico Reyna and his family for a BBC radio programme entitled Folk Music of Venezuela. It was broadcast on the Third Programme on 2 September 1962, and introduced by A.L. Lloyd, with production by Douglas Cleverdon.

Like many good folk-songs Tun Tun is a self-satirising comment on the form itself. In the song the parranderos pay a visit to their neighbour to share their goodwill, though he becomes increasingly exasperated and eventually demands to be left alone: “Que el diablo se los lleve a mí dejenme en paz!”

Folk songs of the Americas

The recording is part of the A.L. Lloyd collection, which contains material collected by the folklorist throughout his life. Lloyd also edited Folk Songs of the Americas (shelfmark: HUS 789.202242), a great resource for those interested in folk-music from across the continent.

More sound recordings from the British Library’s collections can heard at BL Sounds.

– Laurence Byrne