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36 posts categorized "Caribbean"

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]

26 April 2013

A Cuban directory

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 Cuban directory 2
  Public Domain Mark    Nomenclator Comercial, Agricola, Industrial, Artes y Oficios, Directorio General para Mexico, Isla de Cuba y Principal Comercio de Nueva York Havana: Molina Y Juli, 1884 Shelfmark, RB.23.b.7347

This recently acquired directory of businesses is a fascinating resource on the interwoven economic and cultural histories of Mexico, Cuba and New York. It was published in Havana in 1884 just after the end of the Guerra Chiquita (or the Little War) - the second of three wars that resulted in Cuba’s independence. Cuba was ravaged by war and the directory was no doubt part of an effort to support trade and investment with neighbours across the Gulf and to the North. With historical hindsight the introduction to the book, which reads, ‘We have not forgotten, in light of our important links to our neighbour the United States, to include a general commercial guide to New York […]’ strangely forebodes the new imperial economic presence the U.S. will have in Cuba by the end of the 19th century.

 It is also important to note that this book was published two years prior to abolition of slavery in Cuba and offers insight into the ways slavery and capitalism articulate during the late 19th century.

 The majority of the directory is comprised of advertisements for businesses and drawings of city street scenes intended to help people find businesses. While the statistics and advertisements are of great use to economic historians, they also tell us a great deal about technology, the organisation of work, social life, food consumption, fashion, public space, and leisure.

Cuban directory

Something that immediately strikes a reader is how utterly diverse and thorough the directory is, with detailed information on everything from fruit vendors, candy makers, wine importers, insurance companies, hotels, bookshops, sugar mills, cigars, pharmacies, and military equipment. The directory also reveals the ‘trans-national’ facets of Cuban and Mexican life at the time – including the strong presence of English insurance companies and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Here at the British Library you will also find maps and charts of the shipping routes of that company in the Americas. See for example, Add MS 31981 N : 1840 and 8805.df.25.(1.)

[E.N.C.]

11 January 2013

From the collections: Mary Seacole

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Hotel in the Crimea
'Mrs. Seacole's Hotel in the Crimea', insert from, 'The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands' [BL Shelfmark: 12601.h.20]

When something from the news catches my eye I occasionally have time to pull some relevant items up from the Library's collections. The recent stories about Mary Seacole's place in the curriculum pointed out to me, someone who didn't have the privilege of learning about Mrs. Seacole at school, that I didn't know enough about someone who had an important place in British military history.

The major work we hold on Seacole is her autobiography, 'The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands' [1853, BL Shelfmark: 12601.h.20]. It is a fascinating little book and many things about it caught my eye, not least the introduction from W. H. Russell (correspondent for the Times in the Crimea, he also covered the US Civil War). This glows about Seacole and notes, 'If singleness of heart, true charity, and Christian works; if trials and sufferings, dangers and perils, encountered bodily by a helpless woman on her errand of mercy in the camp and in the battle-field, can excite sympathy or move curiosity, Mary Seacole will have many friends and many readers.' (p.vii)

Adventures of Mrs Seacole
Cover of, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands' [BL Shelfmark: 12601.h.20]

I have always taken an interest in such dedications as they illustrate something of who took an interest in such books and perhaps say something of the underlying purpose of the publication. As an aside, in earlier works I find subscriber lists to be equally interesting, showing who took an interest in the contents of historically significant works. A good example here is Olaudah Equiano's, 'Interesting Narrative' which counts the Prince of Wales, Duke of York and entrepreneurs such as Josiah Wedgwood among its 9 pages of subscribers [1789, 1st edition; BL Shelfmark: 615.d.8]. I would suggest then that the dedications and subscribers found in these works speak to the importance of these individuals and their publications in their own time, even if we have since forgotten.

Both Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano have had much written about them in the intervening centuries and many of these works can be consulted here at the Library. However, for anyone wishing to become aquianted with Mary Seacole, Olaudah Equiano and other historical figures currently being discussed in the news I would recommend viewing their history from their own perspective as a first port of call.

[PJH]

08 January 2013

Slavery and Abolition in the Caribbean: a new UK Web Archive Special Collection

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Phil has been helping our office neighbours in the UK Web Archive team by putting put together a collection of websites on slavery and abolition. Since we know these are subjects of interest to our readers, we thought we'd flag up his latest blogpost. You can read his thoughts on web archiving and the selection process here, and you can go straight to the selected sites here.

04 January 2013

Map of Nevis and St. Christopher: an evolving object

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Nevis and St Christopher (Sloane 1684)
Map of Nevis and St. Christopher (St. Kitts), 1684 [Sloane MS 45] 

Public Domain Mark 
This work is free of known copyright restrictions.

There are two reasons for sharing the above with you, firstly that it is a rather beautiful and interesting old map. Secondly, that it's an example of how digital objects created by the Library in the last few years continue to evolve.

I was looking over the Caribbean Views collection, which hosts this map and a short text about it, when I noticed that its page now has a shiny 'View in Google Earth' button. Intrigued, I clicked it; only to find I don't have the plug-in installed here at the office. However, I gave it a whirl at home and rather enjoyed what I saw.

If you'd like to do the same head on over to the map's Caribbean Views page and give it a whirl. This piece of geotagging is part of the continuing BL Georeferencer project which you can find out more about here and see some of the results of here. Enjoy!

[PJH]

10 December 2012

Caribbean Gothic: colonial and postcolonial views

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My reading list is all a bit dark and Gothic at the moment, something that has only a little to do with having moved near to Strawberry Hill House. As well as being a change from my normal tastes, it has also nudged me to remember a lengthy conversation I had about a housemate’s lecture, back in my student days, concerning the Caribbean and Gothic literature.

Not long after Horace Walpole, author of ‘The Castle of Otranto,' advocated attempts to “blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern,” [p. 9, 1765 edition, Shelfmark: C.40.c.24] authors of Gothic fiction frequently looked to the spaces of Britain’s colonies for frightening and surreal inspiration. In the Caribbean this could be found in the horrors and social conflicts that were an ever-present part of slavery and the plantation system; race, landscape, social order and sexual desire, overt concerns of many British and Caribbean colonials, were used as narrative drivers. The Library holds a significant collection of works which use Caribbean locations or people to create the above effect, including, Charlotte Smith’s, ‘The Story of Henrietta’ [in ‘The Letters of a Solitary Wanderer…,' 1800, Shelfmark: RB.23.a.31619], Cynric Williams’ ‘Hamel, the Obeah Man’ [1827, Shelfmark: N.470] and many others.

The relationship between Gothic literature and the Caribbean is not one-note, however. The Caribbean was used to highlight metropolitan anxieties but Gothic styles were also used to illustrate the horrors of the plantation economy. For example, ‘The History of Mary Prince' [Shelfmark: 8157.bbb.30] uses Gothic stylistic conventions to expose the horrors of slavery; although it is noted by critics that the essence of Gothic writing can mean that the power of such writing is also reduced and sanitised through the use of these conventions.

 Plantation methods of punishment

 Public Domain Mark 
This work (James Mursell Phillippo, Jamaica, its past and present state, 1843identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions. [Shelfmark: 1304.h.4.]

The dynamic between place and literature also changes over time, with postcolonial novels such as ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ [Shelfmark: X.908/15430] not only commenting on the postcolonial Caribbean but reinterpreting works which used the Caribbean to drive part of their narrative [in this case ‘Jane Eyre’, Shelfmark: 12619.g.10]. Such work is not restricted to the Anglophone Caribbean, however - Francophone and Hispanic authors have also attempted to grapple with postcolonial realities through Gothicised abstractions, with works such as ‘La cathédrale du mois d’août’ [1980, Shelfmark: X.958/8996; trans. 1987, Shelfmark: Nov.1988/249] and ‘Del rojo de su sombra’ [1992, Shelfmark: YF.2008.a.11557; trans. 2001, Shelfmark: H.2003.3535] tackling aspects of politics, religion and culture in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

This is a taster of a large collection and area of study, with much left unmentioned – including, since you’re probably thinking of it, Zombies. I can recommend digging around on Explore the British Library, and reading Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert’s contribution to ‘The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction’ [2002, Shelfmark: YC.2002.a.14753] if you want to know more.

[PJH]

05 December 2012

Ernest vs Martha vs War

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Ernest_Hemingway_at_the_Finca_Vigia,_Cuba_1946
Ernest Hemingway relaxing in Cuba in the 1940s, sans Martha. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/JFK Library, Boston.

I wonder whether Ernest Hemingway, as he chewed his meal of moose after marriage to Martha Gellhorn in November 1940, hadn’t quite understood his new wife's taste for war. He may also not have fully understood how his third wife's taste for combat probably far surpassed her taste for him. Such a thought might have made the wedding moose all the chewier.  

Both Ernest and Martha had been war correspondents during the Spanish Civil War from 1937-39. In honeyed wartime, they seemed happy: Martha discovered the joys of war-reportage; Ernest, the joys of playing away from his second wife, Pauline.

Martha’s return to peaceful Cuba appeared a difficult transition. Surrounded by a fat crop of alligator pears and creeping bougainvillea, her desire to return to war strafes the page like a machinegun: ‘Only a fool would prefer to be actively achingly dangerously unhappy, rather than bored,’ she wrote, concluding: ‘I am that class of fool.’ Cuba, she complained, was drowning her in ‘flowers and martinis.’ 

As Ernest kept up the home front, and Martha finally found a job reporting on the European theatre of war from London, the marriage foundered. When Ernest cabled ARE YOU A WAR CORRESPONDENT OR A WIFE IN MY BED? one doesn’t need much imagination to know which of these identities Martha had already chosen. When Ernest finally did arrive in London, a fellow correspondent, Mary Welsh, caught his eye. She was to become his fourth wife a year later in 1946. 

Though for a time Martha was heartsick about the separation from Hemingway, what is remarkable in her letters is war’s totally energizing effect on her. ‘Maybe the reason one is so very gay in a war is that the mind, convulsed with horror, simply shuts out the war and is fiercely concentrated on every good thing left in the world. A doorway, a flower stall, the sun, someone to laugh with, and the wonderful fact of being alive.’

Ernest wondered, after their divorce, whether Martha wasn’t a little ‘war-crazy’. But Martha’s war reportage, it seemed, just made her sane.

Naomi Wood is one of the 2012 Eccles Centre Writers in Residence at the British Library. Her second book, Mrs Hemingway, is a historical novel that explores Ernest Hemingway’s four marriages to Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Excerpts from the letters are from The Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn (ed. Caroline Moorehead). Martha’s war-reportage can be found in The Face of War. 

13 November 2012

Exploring Cuba - from St Pancras

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It has been 110 years since the United States ended its official occupation of Cuba in 1902, which began in 1898 at the end of the so-called ‘Spanish-American War.’ Digging around our manuscripts collections I recently discovered that we hold the papers of a certain Melville Preston Troy, who worked in the customs office of U.S. occupied Havana (Add MS 71718). On the face of it one may think detailed accounts of tariffs and customs checks hardly qualify as stimulating reading. However, the papers are a truly fascinating collection, comprised predominantly of letters and reports that shed light on the increased role of the U.S. in Cuba’s economy in the 20th century. One report in particular goes into great detail regarding the importance of lowering tariffs on sugar, cattle and tobacco imports from Cuba- as these would prove to be major areas of investment for U.S. companies. The papers also reveal the ways the Caribbean and Latin America figured significantly in the lives and consciousness of Americans in the 19th century. Incredible historical sources, the papers are also unique biographical documents that offer a window on to how one man from North Carolina found himself in involved in one of the great anti-colonial conflicts, and then later came to London as an executive in a tobacco company – which is how his papers eventually ended up at the British Library. 

The long and devastating struggle for Cuban independence from Spain started long before the United States became involved in 1898 and was comprised of three conflicts: the Ten years War 1868-78, the Little War (La Guerra Chiquita) 1879-80 and the Cuban War of Independence 1895-98. Students of Cuba’s protracted fight for independence will be interested to know that the Library has a copy of Album Histórico Fotografico de la Guerra de Cuba desde su principio hasta el reinado de Amadeo I., etc. (BL shelfmark 9771.h.7). Published in Havana in 1872 the book contains rare photographs from the Ten Years War such as this one of the pro-Spanish 1st Battalion of Volunteers of Havana:

 Cuba

Public Domain Mark
This work (Album Histórico Fotografico de la Guerra de Cuba desde su principio hasta el reinado de Amadeo I., etc.), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Reaching back to nearly a century earlier, the Library has another interesting set of papers on occupied Havana when the British took the city in 1762.  The Keppel Papers consist of papers of and collected by Sir George Keppel, including port permits, trade licences, and Keppel’s personal correspondences. Our Cuban holdings don’t stop there, though. Which is just another reason to come and dig around for yourself!

[E.N.C.]