THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

6 posts categorized "Bibliography"

07 October 2016

Goodbye, and stay tuned for the Cold War symposium!

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The last three months of my PhD placement at the Eccles Centre here at the British Library have flown by. There is much I will miss about being here on a daily basis – and not just the very good, helpfully subsidised, staff canteen! Hopefully this blog post will shed some light on what I have been doing and prompt others to apply for the placement scheme in the future.

In all honesty, probably the greatest benefit of the placement has been working so closely with the Americas collections. Before coming to the British Library, I had what I thought was a good understanding of the collections. Having used them daily for three months, I now realise that I was only aware of a fraction of what exists. In particular, whilst I knew that there would be some useful American foreign policy documents available, it was only when I explored the Social Sciences Reading Room that I began to realise just how vast an archival collection was available. From Presidential papers through to specific primary collections on everything from Civil Rights to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there is a treasure trove of material for researchers and it’s all available without those costly flights to the United States!

Federal Surveillance of Afro-Americans

 [General Reference Collection OPL 973.0076]    

Index to the GW Papers

                  [General Reference Collection OPL 973.03]

Aside from archival collections, there wasn’t one secondary text which I searched for that I couldn’t gain access to in under 48 hours. Finally, the digital collections which the Library has access to are unparalleled compared to any of the university libraries’ I have used. In particular, the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) and Readex Congressional Records are invaluable resources and well worth a trip to the Library to access.

The vastness of the collections led to the first project I undertook during the placement. Realising that, like me, most researchers only knew of a few of the Americas collections available, I compiled two guides to make the collections more accessible for future researchers. The first guide is on the political archival collections the Library holds, such as Presidential papers, whilst the second is a guide dedicated to the Congressional documents available. As well as telling readers how to access the collections, the guides provide examples of what materials can be found in each collection to illustrate the utility of said collection. Hopefully these guides will help fellow researchers take as much from the collections as I have.

A second project I have undertaken involved the organisation of an academic symposium. One of the Eccles Centre’s key roles is to promote the Americas collections to the academic community; often this is done through the hosting of specific events, which are sometimes linked to the Library’s public exhibitions. The British Library’s next major exhibition, which opens on 4 November, is titled ‘Maps of the Twentieth Century: Drawing the Line.’ As the American-Soviet Cold War dominated the geography of the twentieth century, this offers an excellent opportunity to host an event focusing on the geography of the Cold War. The ‘Cold War Geographies’ symposium in January 2017 will bring together international academics to explore and assess how the Cold War changed boundaries, restructured terrain and redefined concepts of space and place.

Map

The placement at the British Library also exposed me to the practicalities of working in a large cultural institution. In particular, this occurred with a planned digital exhibition I was hoping to curate. The Library is going through some significant changes to improve its website and digital exhibitions. This meant that the three short months I was at the Library was not enough time to implement the project. The matter was also complicated by my desire to focus on twentieth century materials which brought in a whole raft of issues relating to copyright! Whilst the project did not materialise in the way I envisioned, I was able to gain access to excellent research material and develop a more practical understanding of the processes involved in curating an online exhibition within a large cultural institution

That said, I feel that the three month placement at the British Library has been an unqualified success. I have developed a far greater understanding of the collections, both for my own research and produced materials to assist others with their future research. Unexpected benefits also emerged in the form of using these blog pages to further disseminate my work, as well as taking part in Eccles Centre events which have greatly enhanced my academic networks. These new connections look likely to lead to positive future collaborations. Fortunately, the end of this placement is not the end of my affiliation with the Library. The symposium in January means that I will remain in contact for the foreseeable future, providing longer-term benefits of undertaking the placement.

From both a research and experience perspective, the PhD placement has been a highly rewarding and beneficial one. I hope that the outputs produced during this placement will be as beneficial to my fellow researchers.

Mark Eastwood

25 March 2014

Early American science

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Inoculation of the Smallpox (1174 d 46) (2)
William Douglass, Boston, 1730. BL shelfmark: 1174.d.46 (3)  Public Domain Mark  

By the early 18th century the American colonies were well established along the eastern seaboard; indeed, their political, economic and cultural development had been remarkable. Yet without the libraries, universities and endowed institutions of Europe their capacity to participate in the new scientific thinking was distinctly disadvantaged. Nevertheless, the ideas of the Enlightenment enthused many throughout the colonies, and their observations and descriptions of natural phenomena – including earthquakes, meteors, comets and the 1761 and 1769 transits of Venus – supported the greater scientific community.

The cause, prevention (for example, by inoculation) and cure of a wide variety of diseases also received much attention in colonial and early American scientific tracts, particularly the Boston smallpox epidemic in 1721 and the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic in 1793. Other topics of special interest included the climate and the natural environment, with observations about the unfamiliar weather and the challenging landscape appearing in the earliest colonial writings and being frequently linked to implications for human health and the ability to develop the land.

  Voyage from Boston to Newfoundland (8561 bb 19) (2)
Boston, 1761. BL shelfmark: 8561.bb.19  Public Domain Mark  

 A bibliography of our holdings of early American scientific writing on these and other topics may be found here.

[J.P.]

 

 

18 February 2014

Early American Women Writers

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Philliswheatley
Frontispiece from Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, London 1773. BL Shelfmark: 992.a.34     

  

A few years ago I began exploring the Library’s holdings of women writers who’d had their first work published as a single volume, under their name alone, by 1850. Recalling the solitary woman featured on my early American literature syllabus in the mid-1980s, my guess was that I would find perhaps thirty women, or forty at most. Several years later, the tally had hit more than 130 and the picture painted by their lives was fascinating.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the women came from families which, although not necessarily wealthy, valued education and were highly literate: many of them could recite the works of Shakespeare, Milton and Pope from early age. It is interesting to note that among these women there are six pairs of sisters, and two pairs of mothers and daughters.

Most of the women began their literary careers by submitting poems or short stories, often anonymously or under a pseudonym, to a local magazine or newspaper. They had little expectation of getting their work published, and even less of making a living from their writing, yet emboldened by seeing their work in print, they continued. 

Yet this thrill was probably their least important impetus. Instead, most pursued publication as a means to economic security: some were young adults who had lost a parent (Anne Lynch Botta, Phoebe and Alice Cary); others were widows with children to support (Sarah Josepha Hale, Elizabeth Cheves), or wives whose husbands were either bankrupt or ill (Harriet Beecher Stowe, Anna Cora Mowatt); and some were unmarried and had to support themselves (Catherine Sedgwick). In addition, many taught or even ran their own schools, and some became magazine editors.

Having established themselves as authors, several women established successful literary salons in New York (Ann Botta, Estelle Anna Lewis), while others used their positions to support causes such as women’s healthcare (Mary Grove Nichols), prison reform (Elizabeth Oakes Smith), women’s education and property rights (Sarah Josepha Hale), domestic economy and household management (Catherine Beecher), and the abolition of slavery (Lydia Maria Child).  All of the women, without exception, pushed at the boundaries traditionally prescribed for women. A bibliography of the Library’s holdings of their work, together with a selection of their biographies, can be found here

[J.P.]

04 February 2014

Federal Writers' Project publications

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  Photograph,_California_no__8,_Oakland_May_23,_1940,_Writers_Project,_and_centers_for_other_P_&_S_projects_____-_NARA_-_296093
Wikimedia Commons, provided by the National Archives and Records Administration

The Federal Writers’ Project was established by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1935 – six years into the Great Depression. At its peak it provided employment for more than 7,500 writers, editors, historians and other white collar workers.

Yet while its primary aim was to provide economic relief, the Project’s highly ambitious first Director, Henry Alsberg, regarded it as a means by which to vividly document America’s rapidly changing cultural landscape.

Today, the Project is perhaps best known for its American Guide Series – a set of travel guides to the 48 states, plus Alaska territory, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Unlike traditional guides, these included not only driving tours documenting what could be found at every stop, but long photographic essays detailing the economic, cultural and historical resources of each state. All but a few of these are held by the British Library, as are many of the regional, county, city and town guides that were also produced.

Festivals in San Francisco

Festivals of San Francisco,  James Ladd Delkin [in association with] Stanford University, 1939. Printed at the Grabhorn Press. This particularly fine edition was part of a gift of 90 American imprints to the Eccles Centre in 2002 from Princeton University Library to celebrate the 90th birthday of Lady Eccles.

In addition to the guides, the Project produced ethnic studies such as The Italians of New York (shelfmark: L.70/641) and The Armenians of Massachusetts (shelfmark: YA.1991.a.15502); urban and rural folklore collections, including Nebraska Folklore (shelfmark: X.700/21082) and Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies among the Georgia Coastal Negroes (shelfmark: 010007.h.70); and nature studies.

The Project also collected the narratives of more than 2,300 former slaves in seventeen states, although most of these remained unseen until the multi-volume The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography was published in the 1970s (refer to guide below).

The Library’s extensive holdings are listed in The Federal Writers' Project: a guide to material held at the British Library.

 [J.P.]

16 January 2014

Slavery in America: slave narratives

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We've enlisted our Eccles Centre colleague, Jean, as a new, regular contributor to the blog. Here, in the first of a series of posts on slavery in the U.S., she takes a look at some of the slave narratives to be found in our collections:

 

As Phil mentioned in his post last week, Twelve Years a Slave, the Narrative of Solomon Northup (1853; BL shelfmark 10881.b.38), is one of many American slave narratives held by the British Library. In the mid-nineteenth century, the narratives of runaway slaves provided the antislavery movement with a highly effective weapon and after the Civil War many more narratives were published, as were reminiscences by those who had spoken with slaves.  These narratives provide a rich insight into the lives of the slaves, their work and relationship with their owners, their families and life in the slave quarters.

Not surprisingly, descriptions of the cruelty endured by the slaves – whipping, ear-cropping, the wearing of iron collars and extended isolation – feature prominently in these works. Whilst some of those who escaped this brutal existence did so alone, others were helped by the ‘Underground Railroad’, an extraordinary network involving thousands of individuals, including many former slaves, who were willing to break the law and/or endanger their own lives by feeding, hiding and disguising slaves en route to freedom.

The Narrative of Henry Box Brown ([1849]; shelfmark: 10882.b.35.(3)) outlines the journey of one of those helped by the Railroad. So-called because he escaped from Richmond, Virginia, to Philadelphia in a box measuring three feet one inch long, two feet wide and two feet six inches deep, Brown chose to escape from his master not because he was physically abused but because, after his wife and children were sold to another owner, ‘slavery now had no mitigating circumstances, to lessen the bitterness of its cup of woe.’ It has been estimated that more than a third of slave families were broken up by the sale of one or more family member as a result of their masters’ debts, bankruptcy, relocation or death. Many slave narratives echo Brown’s assertion that these separations ‘were more dreadful to all of us than a large number of lashes inflicted on us daily’.

Narrative of Henry Box Brown (Front)
The Narrative of Henry Box Brown [1849]; shelfmark: 10882.b.35.(3)

Public Domain Mark 

Until 1850, fugitive slaves who successfully made it to the northern states were relatively secure. Yet the Fugitive Slave Law changed all this. In his narrative, Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years A Freeman (1859; shelfmark: 10880.bb.15), Austin Steward describes how he witnessed the dreadful consequences of this Law: as he travelled by steamship down the Hudson River, a runaway slave who had been recaptured by ‘a human blood hound’ and returned to his ‘avaricious and tyrannical master’ attempted suicide in front of Steward, rather than face returning home to his former life.

22 Years a Slave (Illustration)
 Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years A Freeman, 1859; shelfmark: 10880.bb.15 Public Domain Mark 

While many fugitive slaves later helped facilitate the escape of others, a large number played a crucial role as abolitionist agents and orators. The most famous of these undoubtedly is Frederick Douglass whose first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (shelfmark: 1452.b.32), was published in 1845.  

The powerful contemporary insight into the ‘peculiar institution’ provided by these narratives is supplemented by that of journals and tracts published by abolitionist societies, as well as religious sermons, political speeches, newspaper articles and advertisements, travellers reports and works of fiction and these will be highlighted in my next two blogposts. All blogs are based on 'Slavery and Antislavery in the United States of America'The British Library Journal, Vol.23 (1), Spring, 1997. Sixty slave narratives published before 1866 can be found in American Slavery: Pre-1866 Imprints (print copy also at shelfmark: 2725.e.2858).

[J.P.]

25 September 2012

Waiting for the scroll: On the Road is coming

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It’s been a busy month for all of Team Americas, with much of my and Matt’s time in particular taken up with activities relating to our forthcoming exhibition On the Road: Jack Kerouac's manuscript scroll. Yes, we’re excited at the prospect of the arrival next week of Jim ('keeper of the scroll') with the typed manuscript, which will exhibited from 4 October until 27 December in our newly re-launched Folio Society Gallery in the Library's Front Hall.

The scroll will be taking centre stage in a specially designed 16 metre case so we decided that the accompanying BL material should focus on our sound recordings and Steve has put together a great ‘soundtrack’ to the scroll and the Beat Generation. You will be able to hear several contributions from Kerouac, including an excerpt of On the Road, jazz recordings which echo references in the novel, plus Allen Ginsberg reads Howl, and there are contributions by William Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Joyce Johnson, Carolyn Cassady et al. Oh, and there’s Neal Cassady reading Proust too!

And the exhibition should look great, thanks to Fiona’s design and the generosity of Carolyn Cassady, the Allen Ginsberg Estate and the Kerouac Estate in letting us reproduce some wonderful images. So, schedule your visit now. The exhibition is free and there’s also an excellent events programme, including a preview screening of Walter Salles’ new movie.

Regular readers of the blog will know that we’ve highlighted our sound recordings relating to the beats before, but if you’re a new reader, here’s the link to a bibliography Steve put together some years ago. We also have really strong printed collections, and here’s a bibliography of those (be warned, it’s BIG). Picking just a few of these books to put in the exhibition was very difficult so we’ve opted for the holy trinity of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, with just a couple of others.

Apart from writing Kerouac labels, I was also involved in our Inspired by Artists’ Books event on 4 September, at which we showcased some of our wonderful artists’ books and fine press holdings (here’s Fran’s blog on the event).  I suppose it was inevitable that my brain would end up connecting the 2 themes so I started to think about whether we had any beat-related books which fall in to this category. Of course we do, and I featured Bill Burroughs and David Bradshaw’s Propagation Hazard at the event. But for this blog, I’ve chosen a Kerouac title. It’s by Mark McMurray, a colleague who is Curator of Special Collections and University Archivist at St. Lawrence University, teaches courses on the history of the book and printing, and who set up his own Caliban Press in 1985 - how he finds the time I don’t know! Anyway, Mark has made a couple of jazz-related titles, small, but perfectly formed and lovingly made, and here is an image of his History of Bop by Jack Kerouac.

History of bop
Caliban Press, 1993