THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

29 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

11 September 2014

Finding Franklin

Add comment Comments (1)

Franklin overland camp

Above: a camping scene from one of Franklin's earlier overland expeditions [G.7397]

With 'Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage' coming up in November it would be remiss not to pass a few comments on Canada's locating one of Sir John Franklin's ships. When news of this year's search came through I must confess I hoped they would find something (perhaps a spoon?) but I was doubtful something as significant as a ship would be found.

A few *spoilers* for 'Lines in the Ice' are in the following but rest assured there will be plenty more to see when it opens. So, for those reading on, a potted history of why Sir John Franklin found himself in the Arctic as executive officer of the ships Erebus and Terror. Leaving Britain in 1845 this was Franklin's third time in charge of an Arctic expedition and his fourth aboard one of the many voyages of exploration championed by Sir John Barrow. His previous two Arctic expedition commands had seen some success but also great hardship and starvation (leading to he and his men, famously, eating their boots).

Franklin artefacts

Above: Previously found Franklin artefacts (including a spoon) [Shelfmark: 1781.a.6].

In all these expeditions Franklin was searching for the Northwest Passage, a new trade route to Asia that would dramatically cut journey times for British sailors. English and, later, British sailors had been searching for the route at least since the time of the Tudors, largely hoping to break Spanish and Portuguese trade monopolies with the Asia. By Franklin's time, however, the aim was more broadly political, as much a way of expressing British power over the seas as it was an attempt to find a trade route that may, or may not, be practically viable. Indeed, while we think of this story as being one of Arctic exploration (and of Franklin as an Arctic explorer) it's perhaps worth thinking about the broader context at play here.

After all, Franklin was not just a polar explorer. He was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, deafened by the roar of conflict but otherwise unscathed, and in between Arctic journeys he served in the Greek war of independence and was Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land. Further, by 1845 he was a fixture of Lincolnshire and London society. In short, his career spanned the globe and he was as much a citizen-officer of the British Empire as he was anything else.

So, when Franklin went missing with his ships (which had also seen a diverse and international series of duties) this was not a disappearance of an Arctic specialist on the edge of the world; instead a British officer vanished trying to bring a space into the service of the globe-spanning British Empire. While the distinction is subtle it helps explain the significance of this event, why we remember it so strongly and why such bad-feeling ensued when Dr. John Rae announced the grim fate of Franklin's crew.

Investigator sledge party

Above: a man-hauling party from HMS Investigator. Dragging huge weights across the ice was a fate awaiting a number of Franklin's crew, as well as those searching for them [Shelfmark: 1259.d.11]

Parks Canada's locating of a Franklin ship also operates in a wider context than the narrow geography of the Northwest Passage. It allows Canada to perform geopolitical sovereignty, display technical expertise and set a media agenda on a global scale - this story is being read far and wide beyond Canada and the U.K. For 'Lines in the Ice' this is quite a happy development as it is a further example of the exhibition's main point, that the Northwest Passage and Arctic Ocean exploration in general are areas of global significance. Embedded in all of this are complex networks of cause and effect, especially considering that the Arctic is not an unpopulated space for Europeans and Americans to express their desire for exploration.

Indeed, Inuit who lived in what is today Canada have played an integral role in other nation's exploration of the Northwest Passage - and paid a heavy price for it. A great Franklin search example of this was sketched out by Ken McGoogan in the Globe and Mail and there are many more such stories to tell; but that is for another blog post and the exhibition itself.

[PJH]

26 August 2013

Celebrating: World Dog Day

Add comment Comments (0)

Pelorus Jack Mascot of HMS New Zealand (HS85-10-29327)

Above: Pelorus Jack of HMS New Zealand. Looks like he loved his job. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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

At Team Americas we like to give opportunities to all and our canine friends might have felt they had a 'ruff' deal on World Cat Day. But do not fear, we bring you Canada's finest historical pooches for World Dog Day! Unfortunately, it seems early twentieth century Canada was less fond of dogs and so they make fewer appearances in the collection than our feline friends. That said there's not a single cat with a Union Flag in the rest of the photographs...

Squidge Regimental pet of the 24th Battalion (HS85-10-29943)

Above: 'Squidge', proud to sit wherever you tell him. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

An English Setter of the breed coming from the kennel of PL Llewellyn and sometimes termed the Llewellyn Setter photograph of a drawing (HS85-10-14981)

Above: 'Squirrel!' Image from Wikimedia Commons.

So, with that, enjoy World Dog Day everyone - Team Americas will, it's a bank holiday over here!

[PJH]

01 July 2013

Happy Canada Day!

Add comment Comments (0)

 721px-Opening_of_new_Parliament_buildings_at_Victoria,_B_C,_February_10th_1898_2_(HS85-10-9752)

Above: the opening of the Victoria parliament buildings, 1898. From Wikimedia Commons, copyright number 9752 

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

Many happy returns, Canada, and congratulations on your 146th year. Team Americas has made a habit of marking the occasion but this year is a little different - this year we have arranged a little present.

You see today is the official 'go live' day of the Picturing Canada project. Since I last posted on the blog about it we have completed the digitisation, uploaded over 2,000 new files to Wikimedia Commons and started hosting the images on the Library's Digitised Manuscripts viewer as well. As we mentioned before, the files uploaded onto Commons have all been released under a public domain license and it's great to see that some have already been used in various new contexts.

722px-Dan_Patch_Photo_B_(HS85-10-16532)
Above: Dan Patch in one of the collection's many photographs of animals and sports (not always combined...). From Wikimedia Commons, copyright number 16532

For those of you who missed the previous posts, the Picturing Canada project has sought to digitise the Library's collection of colonial copyright photographs. These were accumulated between the years 1895 and 1924 with over 4,000 photographs being part of the final collection. The photographs come from across Canada and the collection covers a dynamic time in Canada's history through the lens of amateurs, as well as some of Canada's more well-known photographers.

689px-The_Lieutenant_Governor_and_first_cabinet_of_the_province_of_Alberta_(HS85-10-16448)
Above: composite portrait marking the first cabinet of the Province of Alberta. From Wikimedia Commons, copyright number 16448. 

To illustrate the point, the collection holds photographs of Wilfrid Laurier, the opening of the parliament buildings in Victoria, commemorative photographs marking Alberta and Saskatchewan joining the Confederation, as well as many other photographs of Canadian politics in action.  Canada Day related politics are not the only theme though, expanding lines of communication, wars, migration, growing cities, major sporting events, notable foreign visitors and many other subjects are covered (often from multiple angles) in the collection.

So, with celebrations to attend to (do catch the annual Trafalgar Square party if you have time) I'll sign off with a reminder that you can find and use the images from Wikimedia Commons or browse and view them in fantastic detail on the Library's Digitised Manuscripts viewer (just type 'hs85/10' in the manuscripts search bar). One quick disclaimer on the latter, we're still in the process of getting the photographs onto this so do keep checking back and you'll see more everytime.

800px-Topsey's_curiosity_(HS85-10-20757)
Above: one more cat picture! From Wikimedia Commons, copyright number 20757

With all that said, enjoy the day and the photos - and if you do anything exciting with them be sure to let us know!

[PJH]



04 June 2013

The Secretary: a journey with Hillary Clinton

Add comment Comments (0)

Kim Ghattas (the secretary front cover)
Above: the cover of Ghattas' book, 'The Secretary: a journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the heart of American power'

As the sun bathes central London it seems like the best possible time to start this year's Summer Scholars programme. On Friday Kim Ghattas, BBC State Department Radio and TV Correspondent, will open the season with a talk drawing from her new book, 'The Secretary'.

Ghattas, who grew up in Beirut during the civil war, has worked as the BBC's State Department Correspondent since 2008 and has drawn on her earlier personal experiences as well what she has seen from the front row of U.S. diplomacy to open up this world to a new audience. With Hillary Clinton as the main focus the book looks at how she handled a range of issues in the first Obama administration, from the relationship with Asia, to the Arab uprisings, to crisis spurred by the diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks. Friday's talk will provide an introduction to the book, as well as a Q&A session and a chance to discuss the issues raised with other attendees over a tea or coffee at the end.

For Team Americas this is a timely talk to be hosting as our intern, Catherine, wades through political letters relating to the Civil War, part of the final steps of the Civil War digitisation programme. If you would like to attend the talk is this Friday lunchtime, places are free and you can find full details here.

[PJH]

01 May 2013

Getting our skates on: Team Americas gets playoff fever

Add comment Comments (0)

Stanley Cup holders 1911, Ottawa (HS8510 23753)
The 1911 Stanley Cup holders, Ottawa. Photographed by A. G. Pittaway [shelfmark HS85/10, copy. num. 23753]

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

After a dramatic season on and off the ice the NHL playoffs start tonight. Since long before I was a curator I've taken an interest in most North American team sports and so I'm the one in the office who's been losing sleep to the NBA playoffs and, from tonight, the NHL.

The impending playoffs also reminded me that the Picturing Canada project has digitised a number of hockey photographs I should share on the blog. Included in this are photographs of the 1909 and 1911 winning teams from Ottawa, taken by local photographer Alfred George Pittaway who it would seem specialised in sports-related photography.

Stanley Cup holders 1909, Ottawa (HS8510 20618)
The 1909 Stanley Cup holders, Ottawa. Photographed by A. G. Pittaway [shelfmark HS85/10, copy. num. 20618]

Sports feature quite heavily in the collection, with everything from lacrosse and hockey to rugby and football photographed (alas, no cricket). Hockey though is unusual as a number of the photographs in the collection have more joviality in them than the usual photos of games in process or deeply serious team photos. It's also the only sport in the collection represented by women, as seen below (although I bet that assertion comes back to bite me). As with many sports the Library holds a surprising amount of material relating to hockey and its various influencing games, although that's a post for another time.

Canadian Hockey Girl, Benched (HS8510 15498)
'Canadian Hockey Girl, Benched'. Photographed by W. E. Maw [shelfmark HS85/10, copy. num. 15498]

While all of this is very interesting I'd be surprised if any hockey fans reading this will be too concerned with researching the history of the sport in coming weeks. That said, there are historically significant notes dotted through this year, not least with two Original Six members facing off when Boston and Toronto meet. So, good luck to all your teams, enjoy the end of season spectacle and I hope you've enjoyed these glimpses into hockey's past.

[PJH]

20 February 2013

Democratic Brazil at the British Library

Add comment Comments (0)

Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlet 002
Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlets [BL shlefmark X.0520/785]

I recently had the privilege to attend a talk by the Brazilian Minister of External Relations at King’s College London. During his talk the Minister discussed among other things how the process of democratisation in Brazil has informed its domestic and foreign policy. In particular, how the transition from military dictatorship (Brazil’s current president Dilma Roussef was herself a victim of torture under the dictatorship) has shaped the country’s emphasis on multi-lateral and peaceful diplomacy, reduction of social inequality, and democratic reform of international organisations such as the UN security council.

The minister’s talk plus the upcoming conference ‘Democratic Brazil Ascendant’ and seminar on affirmative action in Brazilian universities inspired me to take another look at some of the Brazilian political pamphlets and ephemera that we hold from the 1980s onwards, when Brazil began its transition from military dictatorship to electoral democracy.

Taking a look at the collections we have here at the BL you immediately appreciate the popular groundswell that brought an end to the dictatorship in Brazil and the social goals that are still coming into fruition today.  The collection includes pamphlets promoting gay rights, affordable housing, agrarian reform, full employment, and an end to poverty and racial discrimination. The various collections of pamphlets and ephemera cover national and municipal elections as well as organising campaigns. They date from the early 1980s through the late 1990s.

Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlet 001
Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlets [BL shlefmark X.0520/785]

The collection also includes items from Lula’s 1982 campaign for governor of São Paulo, the work of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (which Lula help to found) and the Direitas Já! campaign for direct popular presidential elections in Brazil. In addition to political ephemera we also hold fascinating publications by the Brazilian trade unions (Miscellaneous collection of publications on trade unions – BL shelfmark ZL.9.d.3). As well as a special microfilm collection of documents and ephemera on the origins and evolution of the PT that you will find at shelfmark SPR.Mic.A.287.

[ENC]

11 January 2013

From the collections: Mary Seacole

Add comment Comments (0)

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]

06 November 2012

US Presidential Election: Bill Clinton at Penn

Add comment Comments (0)

 

PB060304
Bill Clinton at the Penn rally (photo: E. Gee)

The University of Penn runs a great series of seminars on 'Material Texts'. Yesterday, I left the Library Company early and headed across the Schuylkill to University City, with the plan of doing some writing, and then hearing Dan Hobbins (Notre Dame) discuss the early history of the colophon.  

But, on the way towards the Van Pelt library, we spotted a bunch of TV crews, and thought we'd take a look.  There were long lines of people, and lots of young people with clipboards and Obama badges.  I asked what was up.  The answer:

"Bill Clinton"

The 42nd President of the United States was doing a rally in a couple of hours.  This was at once exciting, and troubling, as it underlined how much Pennsylvania is a swing state (apologies if this reveals my political bias).  We followed the line (there are no queues in America).  It swept around the sports stadium.  There were thousands of people.  Taking a punt, we decided to see if we could get in before the colophon talk started.  An hour later, and we were in, as participant observers.

As expected, we got political razzmatazz.  I was disappointed by the lack of straw boaters and puzzled by the oddly low-key security, but there was a band, sousaphones, banners, a huge US flag (Philly is the home of Betsy Ross after all), and lots of call-and-response shouting.  We were whooped into action by a couple of congressmen, the governor, Mayor Nutter, swore allegiance to the flag, got a stunning rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, and were urged to go 'Forward!'.  Then, Bill arrived, and delivered a masterful half-hour of political wonkery and homely homilies.    

 

PB060171
Bill Clinton (Photo: M. Shaw)

A few people drifted out before the end. Perhaps they had trains to catch.  But the buzz was real enough afterwards, as people mobbed Clinton, asking for autographs, photographs and to sign their placards (one guy delightedly showed us his afterwards).

We walked back across the Market Street Bridge, and spotted the 'Beast' waiting to whisk the ex-President away, on to the next engagement, next to a pile of snow cleared from the Class of 1923 Ice Rink.  Some pumpkin beer, onion rings, and a quarter of the Philly 76ers, and it was a very American night.  The colophon talk, by all accounts, was great, too. 

[@_MattShaw]