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35 posts categorized "Caribbean"

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

24 August 2015

Team Americas meets Reverend Jesse Jackson

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William Wells Brown (portrait)  Olaudah Equiano (portrait)

Above: portraits from the works of William Wells Brown [BL: 10880.a.6] and Olaudah Equiano [BL: 1489.g.50], two items displayed for the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Last week Team Americas had the pleasure of putting on a small show of collection items for Reverend Jesse Jackson, who visited the Library's Magna Carta show ahead of his event on Friday evening. I've done more than a few collection displays while I've been a curator and it's always entertaining to collate a selection of material, usually on a tight timescale, from the Library's vast collections and making a narrative that will interest the audience and illuminate the significance of the objects on show.

For Reverend Jackson's display I focussed on the long march to abolish slavery and attain racial equality in the Americas, which is extensively detailed in manuscript, book, newspaper and other collections held here. It was an opportunity to look at a number of items I know of but have not spent time with and also to show some of the notable interconnections between the items, collections and ideas that make up the wider Americas collections.

Spending time with material you've not read before is always fascinating and the Library's holdings of manuscript letters between King Henri Christophe of Haiti and Thomas Clarkson, written in 1816, are particularly so. Consisting mostly of a lengthy letter from Christophe to Clarkson there are two main threads to the message: Christophe explaining why the Haitian revolution was so necessary and also thanking Clarkson for dispatching some (reading between the lines) British teachers to support education in this new free state. The arrival of these teachers raises a question as to exactly what is going on here. Christophe is undoubtedly pleased with their arrival ('the greatest benefit' he calls them) but why, above all things, did Clarkson send teachers? Was he asked to? Did he decide they were an important part of, perhaps, shaping free Haiti into a recognisably European state? Or did he think educating free Afro-Caribbeans would make a useful case for his own abolitionist work?

Whatever the case, the letters remind us of a few important points: that the networks involved in promoting the end of slavery and subsequent racial equality in the Americas were international in nature; that they involved a large number of individuals with prodigious global contacts; that each party in these networks had their own aims and objectives; and that activism in these networks could spring up in the most unlikely of places. Another item on display was a copy of Olaudah Equiano's 'Interesting Narrative' and a glance at the subscribers in this work illustrates the above nicely. A recent blog post by our student Ellie Bird (whose research was also on display) illustrates the surprising locations involved, as authors promoting Underground Railroad publications found their way to the Lake District.

The only problem with these displays (as with these blogs) is that people are busy and there's never enough time to talk about absolutely everything that piques one's interests. Sadly, my time of doing these displays is coming to an end too as, at the beginning of September, I'll be taking up the post of Lead Curator, Digital Mapping, here at the Library. Given this will be one of my final displays I've decided to leave it on the blog for future reference and so the handout can be downloaded below. 

Download Freedom and Equality in the Americas (Rev Jackson display, final)

[PJH]

24 July 2015

Our ‘Young Gentleman’ Thomas Russell and the emerging ‘Problem’ of the Caribbean Language

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Etymologyjamaic00russgoog_0007Above: Thomas Russell’s Etymology of Jamaican Grammar [BL: DS qX24/5514], available online at archive.org

[Team Americas are pleased to bring you a guest blog from Oliver Jones (King's College London) on his recent work using the Library's collections- PJH]

I first came across The Etymology of Jamaican Grammar, the lone work of one Thomas Russell, within Voices in Exile, the beautiful compendium of sources assembled and analysed by Jean D’Costa and Barbara Lalla.  Written in 1868, Russell’s work moves through the linguistic landscape of the Jamaican Creole language as a clear imperial observer, bemusedly watching shop arguments and categorising what he sees as further proof of the racial stereotypes fermenting throughout the course of the 19th century. 

The life of Russell remains almost completely obscured to us.  The tone and structure of his work, written in a particularly tumultuous moment for Jamaican politics, suggests that he came from a good education, which in turn leads us to suppose that he was white or mostly white and belonged to the middling to upper classes.  In turn, Russell addresses himself as a ‘young gentleman’ in the title of his work.  His younger age can also be attributed to the swagger that his book occasionally possesses, enthusiastic but also arrogant.  However, aside from these general aspects of his social positioning, clues remain few and far between.  Published in Kingston, his book received scarce advertisement and a single newspaper review.  Thomas Russell never published again.

All we know in certainty is that a copy eventually found its way into the library of progressive academic Alpheus Crosby, who published anti-racist literature under the mysterious pseudonym of ‘Quintus.’  Unfortunately, his cover was eventually blown and his position as classics professor at Harvard was revoked in the late 19th century.  Indeed, we might presume that Russell’s work resonated with Crosby’s tolerant ways in two vital respects.  The first is his attempt to structure the Jamaican language.  By claiming that Jamaican Creole exhibits rules, Russell raises its status from that of dialect to that of language. Russell’s various observations and small anecdotes could have manifested themselves in another work of Caribbean fiction from the 19th century.  He could easily have produced another Captain Clutterbuck’s Champagne, a work of satire in which the author William George Hamley depicts his Creole servant character as behaving ‘as a parrot does when listening.’  Instead, he approached it from a more academic perspective.

Jamaica Pottery (AN00732550_001_l)

Above: Tea Pot, roughly dated 1820-40, from Jamaica depicting the ‘Quaco Sam’ poem, the origins of which Russell briefly touches on in his work. (used under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license from the British Museum)

The second note that must have resonated with Crosby relates to the submerged culture that Russell glimpsed beneath his own imperial veranda. Russell’s work begins with the contention that ‘surely deserves some further notice, save that of an occasional pilfering of its rich and expressive construction and idioms.’  It is dismissive, he continues, to use it to simply ‘wring out a laugh or to brighten social gatherings, when “dry” English fails.’ Coffee-shop politics or not, the simple structure of Russell’s work engages with Jamaican Creole on an unprecedented level in the Caribbean.   Russell might not have agreed wholeheartedly with Paul Keens-Douglas’ frustration that ‘dialect cool/but not for school’ but his engagement with Creole led him to contest the language’s position as a mere distraction in a similar way.

Despite the promise of Russell’s work, I was initially disappointed by it.  Russell is quick to dismiss Jamaican Creole as a corruption and explains some fascinating aspects of this language as signs of apathy.  However, I began to realise that Russell’s book wasn’t the watershed I initially presumed it to be, it was something far more interesting instead.  What Russell depicts is the lens of a coloniser through which a unique Caribbean product of unique intellectualism.  I began to notice that Russell rapidly retreats into racial stereotype in simple explanation of these politics from below, perfectly symbolising the typical imperial trait regarding fear of what lay outside the coloniser’s control. 

Only one year later, the incredible Trinidadian intellectual and schoolteacher John Jacob Thomas would claim the aliveness of the Creole languages and their inheritance of African linguistic traits in his work The Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar.  This assertion is one that would be supported by academics almost exactly one hundred years after this publication as the discipline of Creole linguistics exploded into existence.  However, Russell’s work offers us a highly intriguing early angle on this linguistic development.  Not only does it demonstrate these Creole linguistic traits in a heavily diluted form.  It also depicts the challenge that they posed not only to an imperial way of thinking but to European intellectual thought as a whole. 

Russell’s struggle with Jamaican Creole ends with a mock warning.  He states that those who study it for too long be careful in case they lose their minds trying to understand it, playing on the humour that Creole language was frequently observed with in 19th century literature.  I like to think that he was giving away more than he thought here, trapped as he was within European frameworks of interpretation that he would be required to reconfigure in order to fully appreciate the nuanced power of the Jamaican language.

Further reading:

Kamau Brathwaite – The History of the Voice

Barbara Lalla & Jean D’Costa – Language in Exile: 300 years of Jamaican Creole

“                                              - Voices in Exile: Voices in Exile: Jamaican Texts of the 18th and 19th Centuries

Mimi Sheller – Democracy After Slavery: Black Publics and Peasant Radicalism in Haiti and Jamaica

[OJ]

20 March 2015

Symposium: Alaska, the Arctic and the US Imagination

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Above: illustration from 'Alaska, its history and resources...' [BL: 10460.dd.17].

On Monday the Library hosted scholars from the US, Canada and Europe for a day-long discussion on the significance of Alaska and the Arctic to the United States. As you'll see from the programme (at the bottom of this post), the day covered a lot of ground, with discussion ranging from Alaska in film, to the artwork of William Bradford, the USS Nautilus and much more in-between.

The diversity of the day was drawn together by our keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Robinson, who provided a fascinating overview of American interest in the Arctic, charting its growth through the Alaska purchase, the press mania of the search for Franklin and the Cold War geopolitics of the DEW Line. The talk also intersected with some of the Library's wider work, most notably our Digital Curators' innovative research in the digital humanities. Dr. Robinson charted the rising use of the term 'Arctic' in nineteenth century publications, with early results showing how events, such as the search for Franklin, caused imaginative interest (in the form of writing and publishing) in the area to spike.

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Above: illustration from 'Alaska, its history and resources'. Courtesy of the BL Flickr pool.

The day was inspired by the change of Chair for the Arctic Council, coming later this year, as Canada hands over to the United States. Lines in the Ice has been lucky in the amount of relevant events that have fallen around its time in the Entrance Hall Gallery, what with HMS Erebus being found in the summer of 2014, and we were keen to draw connections to this event in Arctic politics too. As a result, we wound up the day with a public panel called, 'The Future of the Arctic', which hosted representatives from the Canadian High Commission, the Lords Select Committee for the Arctic, the US Embassy and the scientist Dr. Gabrielle Walker in conversation with the public, all chaired by Professor Klaus Dodds.

Excellent audience questions and thoughtful answers from the panel made this an engaging and insightful event. It also drew together the strands of the day. Mention of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station tied in with a paper by Team Americas' own Rosanna White while discussions about the agency of Arctic indigenous peoples in global politics connected to an earlier paper on the Harriman Expedition by Jen Smith

Overall the day articulated a core point similar to that of Lines in the Ice, that our contemporary interest in and experience of the Arctic does not exist in isolation of the area's history. At a time when the challenges facing the area are immense we must not be bound to this history but learn from it to create a viable future for all of those who live in Alaska and the wider Arctic regions.

Thanks to all our participants who took the time and effort to be part of this discussion, Team Americas hopes to keep in touch with you in the future.

[PJH]

Symposium programme:  

ALASKA, THE ARCTIC AND THE US IMAGINATION
Monday 16 March 2015
The British Library Conference Centre

Session 1: Emerging research on the Polar Regions

  • Claire Warrior (Cambridge and National Maritime Museum), ‘Museums, families and the continued creation of Arctic histories in Britain’
  • Michaela Pokorná (University of Tromsø - The Arctic University of Norway), ‘The Old Frontier in a New Garment: The Last American Frontier in Charles Brower’s Fifty Years Below Zero (1942)’
  • Rosanna White (Royal Holloway, University of London/Eccles Centre), ‘Ceremonies of Possession: Performing sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic’
  • Johanna Feier (TU Dortmund University, Germany), ‘North to a Greener Future: The Filmic Construction of Alaska’s Far North’
  • Kim Salmons (St Mary’s University, Twickenham), ‘The Greely Arctic Expedition: A New Source for Joseph Conrad’s short story “Falk”’


Keynote:

  • Michael Robinson (Hillyer College, University of Hartford), ‘American Visions of the Arctic, 1815-2015’

Session 2: Bringing the Arctic home

  • Judith Ann Schiff (Chief Research Archivist, Yale University Library), ‘Yale’s Arctic Archives’
  • George Philip LeBourdais (Stanford University), ‘An Aesthetics of Ice: William Bradford’s Arctic Regions and America’s New Ecology’
  • Susan Eberhard (University of California, Berkeley), ‘Panther Adrift: Loss, Commemoration and William Bradford’s Arctic Landscapes’
  • Jen Smith (University of California, Berkeley), ‘(Re)imagining Race, Nature, and the Colonial Frontier in Northern Spaces through the Harriman Alaska Expedition Archive, and the Harriman Retraced of 2001’


Session 3: The Arctic and US politics

  • Matthew Kahn (Northwestern University), ‘The North Hope: Energy Development, Environmental Protection, and Competing Visions for Alaska’s North Slope’
  • Charlotte Hille (University of Amsterdam) and Ruud Janssens (University of Amsterdam), ‘National Security and Polar Profits: United States government perceptions of the Arctic from USS Nautilus to NSPD 66’
  • Dawn Alexandrea Berry (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, HI), ‘Greenlandic Resources and the Future of American Security Policies in the Arctic’
  • Klaus Dodds (Royal Holloway, University of London), ‘Re-imagining Alaska: Building scientific bridges with Beringia (c.1967-2014)’

05 March 2015

Pais de maravillas: Cuba on the mind…

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Leonardo Abaroa, Pais De Maravillas (Havana: Ediciones Extramuros, 1992) BL
Shelfmark RF.2015.a.23

 

The recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba has brought new attention to Cuba, and in particular the challenges for Cuban society under the pressure of the American trade embargo since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union caused massive shortages of fuel, food, medicine and income from exports. Known as the ‘periodo especial,’ or the ‘special period,’ the crisis lasted for most of the 1990s and was a profound and transformative experience. Indeed, contemporary Cuban society cannot be understood without reference to this period. Most Cubans will share stories and pictures of how they survived. Havana’s famous ‘camello’ bus was introduced during the special period, as were the urban organic gardens known as ‘organoponicos.’ Not surprisingly, together with all of the significant socio-structural changes that followed the collapse of the USSR, Cubans’ self-understanding and vision for the future underwent deep re-evaluation. This was evidenced, in among other things, the art and literature produced at the time.

Here at the BL we recently acquired a collection of Cuban poetry and short stories written during the special period, the majority of which received the prestigious Luis Rogelio Nogueras prize.

One of my favourites is the collection of short poems calle Tablero de Ifa by Frank Upierre. The title is a reference to a divination table from the Yoruba based Cuban religion of Santeria.

The author writes, “We all have a legend, a poem, or a song that forms part of our life and, without knowing how, directs us.”

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Frank Upierre, Tablero de Ifa  (Havana: Ediciones Extramuros, 1994) BL shelfmark RF.2015.a.16

The poems are full of metaphors drawn from the natural world, water, rain, dust, and stars, as well as the pilgrim and the traveller. They explore the constant tension between the permanent and the ephemeral, the spiritual and the material, history and the future. Reading them now in 2015 they leave me with both an awe inspired and eerie feeling. They reveal both the soul searching and the hardship of Cuban society, as well as its strength and it momentum.

[B.C.]

 

 

 

09 October 2014

Olaudah Equiano and the draw of the Arctic

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Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano (portrait)

Above: frontispiece portrait from, 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano' [BL: 1489.g.50]

When I started planning 'Lines in the Ice' there were certain stories I already had in my mind, events from history I thought would surprise the viewer and grab attention in the exhibition space. Alas, not all of these pieces of the narrative make it into the final cut for various reasons including space, the shape of the narrative or because another item tells a similar story better. One such event I wanted to discuss but has recently fallen victim to the hard decisions of exhibition planning is the Arctic expedition on which Olaudah Equiano travelled.

I must confess, before starting work as a curator, at no point had I ever sat down and read all of Equiano's 'Interesting Narrative'. Previously I'd read and discussed key sections but had never made time to digest the account cover to cover. That was until I held the Library's first edition copy and its details began to jump out, the portrait at the front, the extensive list of subscribers (filled with names sure to catch any historian's eye), etc. From then on I was hooked and Equiano's narrative has been one of my favourite items to talk to visitors about (the BL holds quite a few copies).

Equiano is well known to many as the author of 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano' and, as a result, prominent figure in the campaign against the slave trade. Fewer people realise that Equiano's life was underpinned by travel across the British Empire and beyond, as a slave, an indentured person and an independent businessman at different times. Indeed Equiano's travels were long, complex and varied - as evidenced by his presence on the 1773 journey of Captain Constantine John Phipps to Spitzbergen, part of an attempt to find a passage to Asia via the North Pole.

The connection between Equiano and this particular attempt on the North Pole was Dr Charles Irving, a scientist renowned for his work on water purification to whom Equiano was contracted. Equiano's opinion of the voyage is a wonderful critique of the deluded idea a passage existed via the Pole, stating the journey was, 'to find, towards the north pole, what our Creator never intended we should, a passage to India'. 

Nelson in conflict with a bear

Above: a dramatised depiction of Nelson's encounter with a bear. From, 'The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson' [BL: 1859.c.5]

It is a shame Equiano's role in this journey is little known today, especially given the frank opinions he expresses in his Narrative. Instead the journey is more often remembered for the presence of one Horatio Nelson, who attracted considerable attention with his ill-conceived hunting trip. That being said, the presence of both individuals underlines a point I made in a recent post about Franklin, which is how important these potential routes have been at various points in the histoy of the British Empire and Europe in general. Indeed, so notable were these journeys of exploration that they drew some of the greatest writers, thinkers and explorers of the time.

That Equiano did not make it into 'Lines in the Ice' is the fault of Phipps's destination; British attempts on the North Pole and Northeast Passage are not a focus of the early part of the exhibition. That being said, given the restricted length of exhibition labels, maybe Equiano's interesting journey is better suited to the extended space of a blog post. For those of you who'd like to read more about Equiano you can find copies of 'The Interesting Narrative' as well as Vincent Carreta's biography, 'Equiano, the African' [BL: m05/39533] here at the British Library.

[PJH]

03 June 2014

Africa's Sons Under Arms: the British West India Regiments

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Up Park Camp

Above: 'Up Park Camp, Jamaica' from One Hundred Years' History of the 2nd Battalion, West India Regiment (Shelfmark: 8841.t.1)

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

Starting in October 2014, Team Americas will be part of a very exciting research project led by the Department of History at the University of Warwick. 'Africa's Sons Under Arms: Race, Military Bodies and the British West India Regiments in the Atlantic World, 1795-1914' is an AHRC funded project that will be looking at many aspects of the history of the British West India Regiments.

In the short term though we wanted to draw attention to two PhD studentships being offered at the University of Warwick as part of the project. 'Fear of the Armed Black Man in the Antebellum South' and 'Picturing the West India Regiments in an Age of Unrest, Civil War and Tourism, 1850 - 1914' are both open to applications, the closing date is Friday 20th June.

1st WIR                     2nd WIR
Above: WIR crests from (l), The History of the First West India Regiment (Shelfmark: 8829.cc.11) and (r), One Hundred Years' History of the 2nd Battalion, West India Regiment (Shelfmark: 8841.t.1)

Both these projects will require the use of a number of different library, archive and museum collections but the British Library's book, map, newspaper and manuscript collections provide a deep range of contextual materials for research. And, as has happened with PhD students working with Team Americas previously, there's always the chance you'll find something we didn't know about...

[PJH]

30 May 2013

Connected histories: the East India Company and the Caribbean

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View of Kingston and Port Royal
Above: View of Kingston and Port Royal from Windsor Farm. From the Caribbean Views Online Gallery

It might not feel like it today but summer really is just around the corner, which means Summer Scholars 2013 is too. One of this year's talks stems from an AHRC funded collaboration between the British Library and UCL that seeks to explore the connections between the East India Company and the Caribbean, particularly through family networks that spanned Britain, the Caribbean and India.

Chris Jeppesen, the speaker for this talk, will show the intricate connections between the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds that facilitated the transfer of people, capital and goods during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He will also talk about his experience of working with the Library's collections, providing insights into researching family histories, global networks and other subjects relevant to his research. The talk is one of our later Scholars events, happening during lunch on the 3rd July. If you'd like to book a free place full details can be found here

So far we have four Summer Scholars events scheduled with a few more to be announced in coming weeks. Other events you can book right now include, Kim Ghattas  on Hillary Clinton, Travis Elborough on London Bridge in America and Joe Banks on Rorschach Audio. All these talks are free and sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies, which means you get a free coffee and some biscuits too.

[PJH]