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29 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

06 November 2012

Down to the wire: the U.S. election

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It appears that the 2012 U.S. election is going down to the wire.  There are obviously many reasons why the race is so close, but political commentators also always argue that a second term election is there to be lost by the incumbent.

 George Bush came a cropper in the 1992 election when his public approval ratings nose-dived due to (amongst other things) his apparent confusion over the pressing economic issues of the day. In 1980, the 39th President, Jimmy Carter, ran for a second term in what is often cited as the most disastrous campaign in US Presidential history. Carter had to fend off attacks from an effective campaign on the right by Ronald Reagan, the Republican nominee, whilst also defending his position against Edward (Ted) Kennedy, the Senator for Massachusetts, on the left of his own Democratic Party. Kennedy had refused to drop out of the Democratic Primary after the first vote, leading to a dirty and prolonged mud slinging match before Carter secured the nomination. Somewhat ironically Carter found himself running against his own economic record, with high inflation causing stagnation in economic growth and unemployment remaining stubbornly high.            

Many factors will play a part in influencing the outcome of this election - money and ‘Obamacare’ to name just two. Enormous campaign contributions have been amassed by both the Obama and Romney campaigns, and this has been made possible the Supreme Court decision which states that Federal Government cannot curtail independent expenditure for political purposes by groups, corporations and committees. The primary purpose of these political action committees or Super PACs, is to influence elections via corporations, unions or wealthy individuals. There is no limit on the amount of money they can raise as long as it is spent independently of the candidate’s campaign.

Obamacare, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been a particularly contentious and divisive piece of legislation. The Act became law in March 2010 and the Republicans have already raised no fewer than 33 Bills in an attempt to repeal it. Why would the Republicans continue to raise bills which seem doomed to failure? It could be argued that this strategy is less about having Obamacare repealed in the first instance (although that clearly is a goal), but more a case of using these continuous legislative attacks on the Act in order to keep the issue at the top of the political agenda (and thereby subvert the Democrats own campaign agenda).

I was planning to finish off this post with a few light-hearted remarks on much smaller factors which potentially could influence the vote  (- such as the latest incarnation of the Halo series computer game Halo: 4 which is due for release today). But following the devastation that Hurricane Sandy has inflicted on the eastern seaboard, it is clear that many Americans are now faced with huge issues which may well have an impact on a knife-edge election where every vote really does count.

Matt is still in Philadelphia, and our Eccles Centre Professor Davies is now in Boston for the election, so they will have front row seats. But I and the rest of Team Americas will be glued to our TVs tonight to see how things unfold. There will no doubt be a few sleepy curators in the office tomorrow.

And you might like to know that we have a number of databases relating to U.S. Official Publications.

[J.J.]

30 October 2012

Post the Post-Tropical Storm

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Apple Store in Philadelphia
An electronics the morning after Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully the sandbags were unnecessary. Photo: M. Shaw

Thankfully my fellow Fellows' predictions didn't come to pass, and we kept power during the storm (although some in south Philly lost theirs).  The cops came out to check some jerry cans left in a truck opposite the repository of some of the nation's most precious books and manuscripts, but deemed them safe.  A chunk of metal got blown down from somewhere, and then clattered about the street for the night.  The merlot was disappointing.  But, that, thankfully was it.  We were lucky.

It was another story for pretty much everything east of the Delaware (and, indeed, elsewhere). You will have seen the reports from New York that look like a slide from an Al Gore presentation.  Several million are still without power.  People have died.  The governor of New Jersey has proposed delaying Halloween, and absentee ballots have been extended in several of the worst-hit counties.  Long Island will have some tales as bad as 1938, if not worse.

Twitter, I think, told the most telling story, as the snark drained from people's timelines as news from the several feeds reporting on police scanners spread across the internet (the NYTimes's David Carr called it right).  Earnest debunking of rumours and hoaxes (a shark in New Jersey, anyone?), along with expressions of concern, verified reports, and official updates instead filled up the timeline.  Usually active friends and colleagues fell silent as power outages, server fails and iPhone batteries drained.  They'll be back soon enough; that's the American way, as politicians and governors have been keen to say.  And they are right.

Here's just one tweet from the night. I like the screen grab. 

And, the last word from Joshua Lyman.  

14 August 2012

Team Americas looks forward to a great Fall events programme

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We've been feeling decidedly down in the mouth after the Olympics - we’ve all enjoyed the last couple of weeks so much that it was inevitable that things would suddenly feel a bit flat. But we’ve now perked up considerably since we find ourselves not only very busy but with a lot to look forward to over the next couple of months. Matt and Carole are wearing their Beat hats as they prepare for the arrival of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road manuscript scroll in early October - how exciting is that! And then there is the accompanying programme of events, featuring a preview screening of Walter Salles’ new film of On the Road, and an evening with Amiri Baraka to mention just two. The full programme can be found on the BL’s website under events (check under each month), and details of the exhibition will be up very soon.

In addition to supporting some of the On the Road events/exhibition, our wonderful Eccles Centre for American Studies is sponsoring a fantastic range of autumn talks, including our Summer Scholars series (featuring e.g. Naomi Wood and Sheila Rowbotham, our 2 Eccles Writers in Residence), as well as events with Liza Klaussman (who, incidentally, happens to be Herman Melville’s great-great-great granddaughter!), Andrea Wulf, and Lord Putnam to pick out just a few. And how could we forget that there happens to be a big election coming up in the U.S. in November, and we of course have that covered too. For the full range of Eccles events see http://www.bl.uk/eccles/events.html/.

And as if that wasn’t enough, we’ll be showcasing some of our artists’ books on 4 September at Inspired by Artists' Books, we have David H.Treece speaking about The Meanings of Music in Brazilian Culture for Brazil World Music Day on September 7, and we'll be celebrating Jamaican Independence on October 5th . Finally, the Olympics are still in our thoughts as we look forward not only to Rio, but to our conference Social Change and the Sporting Mega-event on November 5, organised in collaboration with our Brazilian colleagues.

Whew! Hopefully, you’ll find at least some of these events of interest and we hope to see you at the Library in the near future.

13 February 2012

At the BAFTAs

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Brad Pitt at the Baftas

Team Americas got the red-carpet treatment at the weekend, and here's our new friend, Mr Pitt (to be less disingenuous, we were behind a barrier along with the other gawpers). But, it may serve as a reminder of the film collections in the Library, including access to American Film Scripts Online.

There has, of course, been less happy news from the world of entertainment at the weekend: the death of Whitney Houston. Our (this time, real) friends at UEA blog, Containing Multitudes, have added some comments from an American Studies perspective.

[MJS]

26 January 2012

Picturing the Great Alone: photography and the Antarctic

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Robert Falcon Scott (by Herbert Ponting)
Robert Falcon Scott on the 'Terra Nova' expedition, by Herbert Ponting. Image from Wikipedia.

Last year was a busy one for Team Americas and one of the many things we managed to do was take on some responsibilities for materials relating to Antarctica, thus adding a whole extra continent to our domain. This being the case, when an opportunity to view 'The Heart of the Great Alone' at The Queen's Gallery came up a couple of us jumped at the chance.

'The Heart of the Great Alone' covers various early twentieth century expeditions to the Antarctic, including that of the 'Terra Nova' during which Scott and his team perished. The main exhibition focus is the photography of Frank Hurley, photographer for Shackleton's 'Endurance' expedition, and Herbert Ponting, who produced the official photographs for the 'Terra Nova' expedition. I could write a lot here about these photographers and the expedition but the best thing to do would be to recommend a visit the exhibition itself or the e-gallery.

 Icebergs (by Herbert Ponting)
'Midnight in the Antarctic Summer', by Herbert Ponting. Image from Wikipedia.

However, as always with these trips, I had a mind to mull over the Library's materials relating to the Antarctic when I got back. The Library's collections from this area are not the largest in the world, with institutions such as the Scott Polar Research Institute and the Royal Geographical Society (to name a few) holding a wealth of material, but there is a noteworthy body of material which is well supported by the wider collection of Official Publications and Newspapers (especially in the case of an expedition such as the 'Terra Nova').

That said, there are some stand out items and a notable collection of miscellaneous materials held here. Captain Scott's diary is one of the Library's star collection items and the journal 'The South Polar Times' (shelfmark: Tab.444.d.6.) was the first publication printed on the Antarctic continent. Publications by Frank Hurley and Herbert Ponting also feature, including Ponting's 'The Great White South' (1921, shelfmark: 010460.g.1). These items contribute to a wealth of published material relating to the Antarctic and explorers such as Scott and Roald Amundsen.

As well as holding materials relating to the initial exploration of Antarctica, the Library has a significant collection regarding the continent in the later twentieth century; where scientific progress and international co-operation become the order of the day. Materials arising from events such as the Antarctic Treaty or organisations such as the British Antarctic Survey, as well as many academic texts and articles regarding the continent, are insightful on their own but also suggest an evolving relationship between global society and the frozen continent.

[PJH]

19 January 2012

Kodak: framing the last 120 years

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Harrow Kodak Factory (British Library Kodak Archive)
'Kodak factory at Harrow, 1890s'. Photographer unknown. British Library Kodak Archive A.1787

The news that Kodak is formally filing for bankruptcy protection has been coming for some time but it still represents a significant moment in the history of photography. Ever since George Eastman marketed his company's first camera in 1888 Kodak has framed the personal, family, social and political histories not just of the Americas but of a significant portion of the world.

As such, I decided to dig around and see the mark Kodak has left on the British Library's collections. In short, it's a big one. Some of the earliest materials we hold relating to Kodak were published by the company itself, for example the Kodak Press publication, 'Picture Taking and Picture Making' (1898, Shelfmark: YA.1998.a.14770). This body of material is quite large and covers various subjects, from 'Motion Picture Laboratory Practice, and Characteristics of Eastman Motion Picture Films' (1936, Shelfmark: 778.1258 DSC) to the journal, 'Dental Radiography and Photography'.

Far larger is the body of material which owes a debt to Kodak equipment in its production, including a number of our photobooks, travelogues, newspapers, journals, and so on. Some early examples here include the Countess of Aberdeen's, 'Through Canada with a Kodak' (1893, Shelfmark: 10470.b.35) and Alfred Leader's, 'Through Jamaica with a Kodak' (1907, Shelfmark: 010470.e.5). Both also illustrate how quickly Kodak developed an intimate relationship with the international traveller and the travelogues many of them produced.

Shrimp Fisher (British Library)
'Shrimp Fisher (September 1908)', entry for Eastman Plate Competition by L. Hillier. British Library Kodak Archive A.1997 

The Library's Kodak related collections do not end with published material, however. Two collections of particular note are, 'The Oral History of British Photography' and the 'Kodak Ltd. Archive'. Kodak receives multiple mentions in 'The Oral History of British Photography', often as a reminiscence but also because of the interviewing of people such as Robert Lassam (former curator of the Kodak Gallery). The Kodak Archive held here was donated in 2009 and is the corporate archive of Kodak's UK arm, providing access to photographs and documents which illustrate the development of photography in the UK as well as the company's history.

Kodak's global reach and legacy is borne out by how pervasive materials relating to or facilitated by the company are in the collections of the British Library and libraries across the world. This, therefore, is one of the many ways in which the significance of today can be impressed upon us.

[PJH]

16 January 2012

War, Struggle and Equality: the Tuskegee Airmen

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Tuskegee airman (poster)
War bonds poster featuring an unnamed Tuskegee airman (displayed on Wikipedia's Tuskegee Airmen entry)

On January 10th the Institute for the Study of the Americas hosted a screening of the documentary, 'Double Victory', an account of the Tuskegee Airmen and their exploits in World War Two. These pilots of the 332nd Figther Group and 477th Bomber Group of the U. S. Army Air Corps were the first African American aviators of the U.S. Armed Forces but they faced a struggle against institutionalised racism in order to fly, fight and be treated as equals during and after the war.

'Double Victory' is a documentary account of this struggle, narrated by Cuba Gooding Jr. and produced to be viewed alongside the film 'Red Tails' (both productions are Lucas Film projects). The high point of the evening, however, was the attendence of two Tuskegee Airmen, Le Roy Gillead and Alexander Jefferson. Gillead and Jefferson's recollections added a great deal to the evening, with Jefferson talking about the struggle for African American men to be allowed to fly and his experiences as a German POW and Gillead highlighting the struggle for equality undertaken by officers who did not see front line service.

Both men also talked about their pride at being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, along with roughly 300 other Tuskegee Airmen. During the award ceremony, President George W. Bush paid tribute to the airmen, saying, "The Tuskegee Airmen helped win a war, and you helped change our nation for the better. Yours is the story of the human spirit, and it ends like all great stories do – with wisdom and lessons and hope for tomorrow." A copy of the act bestowing the medals can be found here and Library holds a number of resources relating to the Tuskegee Airmen, their forces service and the relationship their actions had to the subsequent Civil Rights Movement.

The Library's collection of American newspapers contain a number of insights, with articles such as the Chicago Defender's, '332nd Flies Its 200th Mission Without a Loss' and many accounts of how the Freedman Field Mutiny and other incidents regarding racial equality were reported. There are also published service accounts, Alexander Jefferson's, 'Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free' (shelfmark: YC.2005.a.5960) is a good example, and various journal articles on the exploits and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen in Europe and the US.

[JJ and PJH]

14 December 2011

Canada walks away from Kyoto: another Official Publications post

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Global Health Check (Durban)
Publicity photograph from Durban 2011, courtesy of 'UNclimatechange' 

Canada's intention to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol has been a badly kept secret for some time, as the BBC have pointed out. However, questions as to why and what the impact will be still arise; institutions such as the British Library and electronic repositories of official publications can provide a wealth of useful material to furnish answers. 

There are several online repositories that offer useful resources on the Protocol in particular and on the nature and impact of climate change more widely.  Much of this information can be found via the UN Climate Change Portal, which provides useful statistical overviews and links to more detailed reports and numbers from other branches of the United Nations. Information can also be found on UN Data, such as this Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data chart which illustrates output from 41 countries between 1990 and 2008.

The UN also makes available a wide range of materials from the recent Durban Climate Change Conference, these can be found here and provide a large amount of data on a complex and still evolving political event. Canada's withdrawal came subsequent to the Environment Minister, Peter Kent, attending the Durban conference and confirming that the protocol, 'does not represent the way forward for Canada'. Canada's significance as a carbon dioxide emitter is summed up by this graph, perhaps most importantly it also shows how much an economy dominated by oil exports also contributes in relative terms.

The Alberta Oil Sands (which have been on this blog before) have been suggested as a reason for Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol despite not being mentioned directly by the government. This is perhaps appropriate as such decisions rarely come down to a single issue, instead being the result of a complex assortment of social, economic and political pressures. As such, it may be worthwhile also paying attention to Canada's overall status as a pollutor, projected trade interests, demographic pressures and domestic energy needs, all of which could cause Canada trouble in adhering to the conditions set by the protocol and its potential successor.

The British Library holds a significant amount of material relating to climate change and the Kyoto Protocol produced in various countries and from myriad research backgrounds. In particular the Science, Technology and Medicine collections contain English language journals and academic monographs from around the world. There are also publications relating specifically to Canada, including Rodney White, 'Climate Change in Canada' (2010: YK.2011.a.16488) or the previous government's 'Moving Forward on Climate Change: a plan for honouring our Kyoto agreement' (2005, shelfmark: OPF.2006.x.35).

[PJH and JJ]

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