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67 posts categorized "Eccles Centre"

17 July 2018

Seeing Blindness: The Danish West Indies

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When you enter the British Library exhibition ‘Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land’, you are met by a fragment of Derek Walcott’s Nobel lecture. This fragment is about fragments: ‘Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.’  Walcott evoked these postcolonial ‘African and Asiatic fragments’ in Stockholm, delivering a riven Caribbean memory that may at first glance be thought unthreatening, perhaps exotic, to a modern literary society devoted to rewarding work of ‘greatest benefit to mankind’, and to a region that has ‘successfully maintained positions as champions of minority rights and mediators in global politics’ (Fur, 18). Look a little closer and you’ll find a long and complicated history of Scandinavian-Caribbean relations. We might stay with Walcott for another moment and his epic poetic biography of Camille Pissarro, Tiepolo’s Hound (YC.2001.a.13434), which begins:

They stroll on Sundays down Dronningens Street,

Passing the bank and the small island shops

quiet as drawings, keeping from the heat

through Danish arches until the street stops

at the blue, gusting harbour, where like commas

in a shop ledger gulls tick the lined waves.

Sea-light on the cod barrels writes: St. Thomas,

the salt breeze brings the sound of Mission slaves

chanting deliverance from all their sins

in tidal couplets of lament and answer,

the horizon underlines their origins—

Pissarros from the ghetto Braganza

who fled the white hoods of the Inquisition

for the bay’s whitecaps, for the folding cross

of a white herring gull over the Mission

droning its passages from Exodus.

Pissarro - St Thomas
Camille Pissarro, Deux femmes causant au bord de la mer, Saint Thomas, 1856. Wikimedia Commons

We are on St Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea, but at the same time we are not. Compressed into this dense image of island life are centuries of history and people—Danish, African, Creole, Sephardic Jew—so drenched in a rare sea-light that with each fresh and present vision history appears anew.  Indeed, Beatriz Llenín-Figueroa calls the poem a ‘sustained study of Caribbean light against History’ (p. 181), where History is a fixed discourse of the West wrought with uneven power dynamics. In contrast, Walcott’s focus on vision and a ‘blinding’ Caribbean light—hence the focus on painting—shows the ‘possibility for experiencing the Caribbean as if for the first time […] able to see otherwise, to find utter beauty, always in the present, in environments ravaged by “History”’ (p. 182).

Oldendorp view
A view on the Island of St. Thomas from the East, in C. G. A. Oldendorp’s Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder auf den Caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan (1777, BL 4745.c.10.)

It is perhaps no coincidence then that the Det Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen also chose to frame their 2017 exhibition on the centenary of the sale of the Danish West Indies to the U.S. in the language of light and vision. Blinde vinkler. Billeder af kolonien Dansk Vestindien (Blind Spots: Images of the Danish West Indies Colony) questions the neutrality of any Danish exhibition on its colonial past as the images produced and preserved in their collections ‘were [generally speaking] created by and for those in power’. A timely attempt to stage the partiality of colonial history, Blind Spots was accompanied by an online exhibition and a host of new digitized maps , images and newspapers.

Andersen sketch St Thomas
A 20th century view of colonial architecture on the island of St. Thomas, in Ib Andersen, Tegninger fra St. Thomas, St. Croix og St. Jan, LR.430.a.16

Denmark had a sustained presence in the Caribbean from the early 17th century and eventually the islands of St Thomas, St John and St Croix were colonised, the last island becoming part of the Danish realm in 1733.  A familiar story across the Caribbean, Danish profit was ‘extracted from fertile West Indian plantations of cotton and cane by the sweat of the negro’s brow’, in the words of an early 20th century historian (Westergaard, p.156). Hans West’s 1793 survey of the islands, Bidrag til beskrivelse over Ste. Croix, med en kort udsigt over St. Thomas, St. Jean, Tortola, Spanishtown og Crabeneiland (BL 979.g.28.), can be viewed online but perhaps of more interest is the report by Moravian missionary Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp originally published in 1770, Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder auf den Caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan (1777). The Moravians —otherwise known as the Evangelical Brethren amongst other names—did not view their task in the West Indies as one of enlightenment, the Black population being too “primitive” for understanding Christianity, and rather simply tried to get the Danish subjects to accept the grace of God. In this they were successful. In spite of such condescension, Oldendorp’s account contains significant “field work” including discussions with African-born slaves in order to understand the customs and traditions of the potentially convertible population.  [See A Map of the Danish Island St. Croix in the West Indies, Maps K.Top.123.74]

While Denmark passed a law to end the slave trade in 1792, it did not come into effect until 1803, and even then the end of the trade did not stop slavery itself, which continued on the islands until all unfree were emancipated in 1848. So in 1833, we still find in the Dansk vestindisk regierings avis newspaper [BL MFM.MMISC419] advertisements for the sale of slaves. A curious publication that summarised European news in English and Danish while printing the everyday activities of the island administration, the Dansk vestindisk regierings avis could for example juxtapose, as we see in our 1833 issue, the sale of ‘Mulatto Man Johannes, a good House Servant and Coachman’ and the story of a Parisian man found dead in the Canal St Martin after having been outwitted by a cat he had indeed to drown in the same canal. The full issue can be read online courtesy of the above-mentioned digitisations.

 

Dansk Vestindisk Regerings Avis 1833 selections page 4
Selections from Dansk vestindisk regierings avis, 4 November 1833, downloaded from the Royal Danish Library Mediestream service

 Peter von Scholten, Governor General of the Danish West Indies from 1827, was sympathetic to the cause of the Black population and strove for emancipation in his years in charge, although his actions were somewhat motivated by keeping the peace, caught between a ferment of slave unrest and, equally, an agitated planter class concerned for future profits in a slave-free society. The Library has an English copy of von Scholten’s ‘Orders for the regulation of labour conditions’ from 7 May 1838 [1850.d.26.(58.)], which exemplifies this balancing act on the path towards universal freedom. It contains an order to regulate the length of the working day and a reduction of discretionary punishment, although its severity hardly amounts to a reduction at all.

Scholten Order
Orders for the regulation of labour conditions, 1838

The 19th century saw the sugar trade diversify while the yield from the Caribbean suffered at various points due to adverse conditions. The benefits of the colonies were gradually outweighed and Denmark sought to sell them on, which it eventually—after many decades of trying—did in 1917 to the U.S.A for 25 million dollars. In 1917 Waldemar Westergaard also published The Danish West Indies under Company Rule [9773.ee.1.], a historical survey of the colonies before they were absorbed by the Danish state in 1755. In it he describes the slave trade as ‘loathsome to the modern mind’ (p. 137) and African slaves as ‘the chief agency that furnished the wealth, for the control of which European nations were willing to throw down the gage of conflict and usher in titanic wars’ (p. 156).

Album_worker's home
A worker’s home on St. Croix around 1900. Photo from an album digitized by the Kongelige Bibliotek [http://www.kb.dk/images/billed/2010/okt/billeder/object300088/da/], CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0

With that description in mind, we find a notable absence of such requisite condemnation in the introduction to The Danish West Indies in Old Pictures / Dansk Vestindien I gamle billeder [W55/9366], published 50 years later for the anniversary of the sale. The curator of the exhibition of the same name, which took place on the U.S. Virgin Islands in Spring 1967, writes instead:

‘It is a fact that most Danes still have a very soft spot in their hearts for the West Indies. Perhaps it is the dream, of heat and sunshine, palm trees and exotic flowers, white coral beaches, wealthy planters and a picturesque black population which appeals to our imagination. But for the most of us it will remain a dream. Very few have the chance of making their wishes come true and visiting the paradise on earth, as it seems to use dwellers in the frozen north.’

Slaves, later in the introduction, become simply part of the mechanics of island society without much lip service being paid to the idea of exploitation. Fifty years later, with last year’s Blind Spots exhibition at the KB, it might still be the same idealized vision on show but its inherent blindness and problematic perspectival gaps are simultaneously on the pedestal, to be interrogated, complicated and decimated by alternative visions in flux.

But, let’s finish where Walcott does, returning home from literal and figurative European and painterly explorations,

‘I shall finish in a place whose only power

is the exploding spray along its coast,

its rotting asphalt and cantankerous poor

numb beyond resignation and its cost,

[…]’

And,

‘Let this last page catch the last light of Becune Point,

lengthen the arched shadows of Charlotte Amalie,

[…]’

  • - Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator, Germanic Collections

References and further reading

Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp, Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder auf den Caraibischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan (Barby: 1777)

Id., A Caribbean Mission (ed. Johann Jakob Bossard) (Ann Arbor: 1987) – translation of above.

Hans West, Bidrag til beskrivelse over Ste. Croix, med en kort udsigt over St. Thomas, St. Jean, Tortola, Spanishtown og Crabeneiland (Copenhagen: 1793)

Dansk Vestindisk Regerings Avis (Christiansted: 1833), BL MFM.MMISC419

[Peter v. Scholten], [Orders for the regulation of labour conditions] (St. Croix: 1838)

Waldemar Westergaard, The Danish West Indies under Company Rule (New York: 1917)

The Danish West Indies in Old Pictures / Dansk Vestindien I gamle billeder (U. S. Virgin Islands: 1967)

Isaac Dookhan, A History of the Virgin Islands of the United States (St. Thomas: 1974), BL X.800/25025

Ib Andersen, Tegninger fra St. Thomas, St. Croix og St. Jan (Copenhagen: 1976)

Neville A. T. Hall, Slave Society in the Danish West Indies (Mona; Cave Hill; St. Augustine: 1992/1994), 96/16886

Derek Walcott, Tiepolo’s Hound (London: 2000)

Beatriz Llenín-Figueroa, ‘“The Island Blazed”: A Blinding Light and Tiepolo's Hound’, Journal of Latin American cultural studies, vol. 23:2, pp. 173-191, 2014

12 July 2018

Summer reading: Canada in the Frame

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Above: 'The Globe Kittens' (1902), E. J. Rowley (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Those of you who have followed the Americas blog for a long time may remember the Library’s ‘Picturing Canada’ project, where the Library and Wikimedia Commons digitised and released into the public domain the photographs from the Canadian Colonial Copyright Collection. The keen eyed will also have spotted that this project has continued to evolve, as we worked on new ways to talk about the collection and won a BL Labs runner-up prize for our work in mapping the collection last year. I think, finally, we are coming to the end of our long work on this collection and that end is in the form of an open access monograph published with UCL Press.

Why open access? This seemed like the best fit for talking at length about a collection that now has such a wide-ranging life on the web, after all if the images are available to everyone then an analysis of the collection can be too. To mark the release of, Canada in the Frame: Copyright, Collections and the Image of Canada, 1895-1924 I have been going back through the images from the book to pull out a few that I have always found particularly interesting and that speak to the collection as a whole. The cats at the top did not quite make the cut but they tell us two interesting things; that much of the collection was produced and copyrighted to cater to a growing economy of frivolous photographic consumption in Canada and that cute cats predate the Internet by more than 60 years.

Above: 'Opening of the British Columbia Parliament buildings' (1898), J. W. Jones.

J. W. Jones’s photographs of the opening of the provincial parliament buildings in Victoria, British Columbia, are part of a common trope in the collection, where civic development and pride are celebrated through the work of the photographer. Jones is also one of the few photographers who we can see actively enforced the copyright he claimed on his images, taking a photographic competitor to court for copyright infringement in the early twentieth century.

 File:Canadian patriotic Indian Chiefs (HS85-10-30605).jpg

Above: Tom Longboat (1907), by C. Aylett and 'Patriotic Indian Chiefs' (1915), by R. R. Mumford.

The next two images highlight the complex ways in which individuals from First Peoples groups were photographed at this time. In both photographs the focus is on using First Peoples to perform different aspects of colonial nationalism, with Tom Longboat (Cogwagee, of the Onondaga Nation) posed and styled as ‘a Canadian’ after his victory in the 1907 Boston Marathon while the ‘Patriotic Indian Chiefs’ are here framed in a piece of First World War Propaganda. In both instances, complex indigenous identities are reconfigured by White photographers to communicate patriotic messages to urban consumers. That Longboat was only regarded as Canadian in victory (when losing he became ‘an Indian’ again to press commentators) also highlights the cynicism underpinning these images.

File:The wreck of the artillery train at Enterprise, Ontario, June 9, 1903 (HS85-10-14100-10).jpg

Above: The wreck of the artillery train at Enterprise, Ontario, June 9, 1903' (1903), H. A. May.

Trains were a popular subject for photographers in this period and images of train wrecks had an eager market of buyers. Notable among the photographs of wrecks found in the collection are those of Harriet Amelia May who took a series of photographs of the scenes after an artillery train derailed in the small town of Enterprise. Within a set of fairly standard photographs of the scene, capturing the derailed train, men looking industrious while trying to clear up, May also produced this image of a family with the ruin of the train invading their back garden. As a result, May left us with a unique image of how modernity could disrupt people’s lives in Canada at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Homesteaders

Above: 'Homesteaders trekking from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan' (1909), L. Rice.

Finally, the collection covers the period of ‘The Last Best West’ and Canadian photographers devoted considerable effort to documenting the settlement of Canada’s plains provinces. many, like that of Rice (above) illustrate the efforts settlers went to in order to claim land and establish a home while others focused on the many new peoples, often from eastern Europe, who were making the west their home and becoming part of Canadian society. These are just a few examples of the topics covered in the book and the over 100 images that accompany the account, if you would like to know more, you can download a copy of Canada in the Frame from UCL Press by clicking here.

Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies

10 July 2018

Call for Applicants: Eccles British Library Writer’s Award

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North America (John Rocque)

Above: John Rocque's, 'A General Map of North America' [Maps K.Top.118.32]

The summer marches on and while we are all tempted to kick-back and enjoy this unusual spell of consistent sunshine the writers in our audience may, nonetheless, want to have an eye on their plans for next year. The Eccles Centre’s call for applicants to the 2019 Writer’s Award is currently open and you have until the end of August to apply. For those of you who don’t know, the Award amounts to £20,000 for a twelve month residency at the British Library. Applicants should be working on a non-fiction or fiction full-length book, written in the English Language, the research for which requires that they make substantial use of the British Library’s collections relating to any part of the Americas (North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean). We are very excited to be broadening the horizons of the Award for this year and hope authors using the wider Americas collections will apply.

Wulf ander's choice C12682-03 (lo-res)

Above: Andrea Wulf (bhoto by Ander McIntyre) and an illustration of a monkey created by Humboldt for the account of his voyage (149.h.5.(1), from BL Images Online)

Previous awardees include Benjamin Markovits, Will Atkins, Andrea Wulf and many others. Each of our Award holders has used the Americas collections of the British Library to add extra depth to their research. For example, Will Atkins used the collections to research the history of exploration of deserts in the US as well as the history of events like the Burning Man festival. Meanwhile, Andrea Wulf drew from the Library’s collections, especially our printed book and maps collections, to conduct her research into the life and travels of Alexander von Humbolt. The Americas collections are broad in scope and potentially useful items can be found in the form of printed books, manuscripts, newspapers, government documents, photographs, maps, pamphlets and many more materials types. As a result, a wide world of inspiration awaits our 2019 Award holder.

If this has inspired you to leave the sun lounger and consider putting in an application, we would love to hear from you. For more information about applying for the Award, as well as insights into the work of previous winners, please visit our website. If you have any questions or would like to talk to someone about the award you can also get in touch with us at: eccles-centre@bl.uk.

Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre

02 July 2018

Beyond the Spectacle: Native North American Presence in Britain

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One of the British Library’s primary principles is to support research.  A key way in which we do this is to support research conducted externally, which relates to our collections.  In this vein, the Americas, Contemporary British and Eccles Centre teams are supporting a fascinating project on North American indigenous presence in Britain- “Beyond the Spectacle”.

“Beyond the Spectacle” is a collaborative three-year AHRC funded project investigating the cultural, economic, and political impacts and legacies of five centuries’ of travel by Native North Americans to Britain, whether it resulted in return trips, onward movement into Europe, or even long-term residence in Britain.  

The research team, headed by Prof David Stirrup and Prof Jacqueline Fear-Segal and based at the Universities of Kent and East Anglia, will draw upon a diverse range of source material. Much of this has never previously examined -- archival holdings, museum collections, and oral histories—and the British Library’s holdings will be a vital resource.

In the Library, you can see the documents such as deeds of conveyance of lands, and covenants and agreements in our manuscripts collections.  For example, the following document with the mark of three sachem of the Iroquois confederacy, who visited London in 1710 to meet with Queen Anne.

 

Lansdowne MS 1052
Lansdowne MS 1052

You may also be interested to read about the diplomatic visit by three Cherokee representatives in 1765 following the Anglo Cherokee war, as related by Lieut. Henry Timberlake’s in his memoirs.  Timberlake acted as emissary from the British Colonies to the Overhill Cherokee, and accompanied the representatives on their visit. 

The Memoirs of Lieut. Henry Timberlake
Shelfmark 1418.h.2

The British Library also holds a pamphlet published in 1848 by the first Native American to organise and lead his own dance troupe around Britain, Maungwudaus (George Henry). 

Maungwudaus Account of the Chippewa Indians
Shelfmark 10413.h.1.

Writer, entertainer, entrepreneur, preacher and herbalist, this gifted Mississaugian man mixed in European high society while representing his own people. He is a key figure in the explorations of ‘Beyond the Spectacle.  His descriptions of his experiences are wonderfully vivid, providing a valuable insight into how he perceived British society, its customs, and how he and his troupe were received as the below passage attests.

Maungwudaus 2

“Beyond the Spectacle” aims to uncover such materials elsewhere in the UK, and enrich our understanding of these complex and fascinating encounters.  To find out more visit the project website, where you can stay updated with the latest uncovered traces of Native American visitors to Britain via the blog and map:

https://research.kent.ac.uk/beyondthespectacle

 

- Jacqueline Fear Segal & F.D. Fuentes Rettig

27 June 2018

Founding Greatness: Migration on United States Postages Stamps, 1869-1987

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The central role of Migration in the development of the United States ensures it is a theme well represented upon the nation’s postage stamps. The first to tackle the subject was the United States 1869 Issue 15 cent stamp containing James Smillie’s vignette engraving depicting the landing of Columbus in the Americas on 12th October 1492. Based upon John Vanderlyn’s famous painting now displayed inside the Capitol’s Rotunda in Washington, this event is widely recognised to be a turning point in the history of migration to the Americas. Furthermore this stamp and succeeding issues all provide clear allusions to the economic, military and religious incentives behind the waves of migration to the American Continent since the closing years of the fifteenth century to the present day.

Image 1

The main objective of Columbus’ voyages was to establish maritime trading routes to the East Indies; instead he discovered the New World. The wealth accrued by consequent Spanish colonial, military and economic in the Americas in turn encouraged mercantile classes from rival European nation states to try and emulate such economic success. The French, English, Swedish, Dutch and others all established colonial settlements within North America from the sixteenth century onwards. The United States 13 July 1984 20 cent stamp commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the First Raleigh Expedition to Roanoke Island depicts the Elizabeth Galleon, one of the vessels involved in establishing the famous Roanoke Colony which vanished under mysterious circumstances.

Image 2

More successful was the establishment of England’s first successful permanent Colony established at Jamestown, Virginia by the Virginia Company in 1607, an event commemorated on the United States 1907 Jamestown Exposition Issue 2 cent stamp.

  Image 3

 The United States 27 June 1938 Issue 3 cent stamp commemorating the tercentenary of Scandinavian Settlement in America depicts the establishment of a colonial settlement by Swedes and Finns on the lower reaches of the Delaware River in present day Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1638.

Image 4

Religious and political persecution in Europe during the early seventeenth century also led to migrants settling in various parts of America. The United States 18 December 1920 Issue 2 cents stamp commemorates the tercentenary of the migration of a group of religious dissenters known as the Pilgrim Fathers who established Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts in 1620.

  Image 5

In 1624 Huguenot-Walloon migrants also migrated to the United States to escape religious persecution forming the first permanent Dutch Settlement known as Fort Orange or New Netherland in present day Albany an event celebrated on the United States 1 May 1924 Issue 2 cent stamp.

Image 6

Missionary activity also resulted in migrants settling within America, individuals like a major the French Jesuit Missionary Father Jacques Marquette (1637-1675) established settlements at Michigan and was one of the first Europeans to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River. His exploits commemorated on both the United States 10 June 1898 issue 1 cent and 20 September 1968 Issue 6 cent stamps.

 

Image 7

Image 8

After the War of Independence, the territorial extent of the fledgling United States was largely confined to the eastern seaboard of America. As an independent nation the government initiated a continued policy of westward expansion into the hinterland of North America. This expansion extended the Nation’s boundaries to the Pacific coastline. One of the earliest of such migrations into the North-West Territories now known as Ohio, Indiana and Illinois conducted by veterans of the War of Independence and the Ohio Company has been commemorated on the United States 15 July 1938 Issue 3 cent stamp.

Image 9

Further South, Daniel Boone’s famous explorations in Virginia resulting in the establishment of the Kentucky Settlement in 1792 has also been depicted on the United States 1 June 1942 Issue 3 cent stamp to commemorate Kentucky’s 150th Anniversary.

Image 10

The United States Government also acquired territory for settlement via diplomacy and financial transactions with foreign colonial powers. A good example is the acquisition of lands acquired from the Spanish and French which formed parts of the Mississippi Territory, a precursor to the State of Mississippi established in 1798. The various stages of this expansion are depicted on the United States 8th April 1948 Issue 3 cent stamp commemorating the Territory’s 150th Anniversary.

Image 11

Pioneers and settlers involved in such migration and settlement faced significant dangers and hardships in the form of starvation, disease and violence. Such conditions are alluded to in the United States 10 June 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha Issue, 8 cent stamp depicting troops guarding a pioneer train from attacks whilst the 10 cent  depicts a dead horse on a pioneer wagon.

Image 13

With such privation in mind, the Government introduced financial incentives for westward migration in the form of various Government Acts offering land parcels at favourable prices or for free. The United States 20 May 1962 Issue 4 cent stamp commemorates the 1852 Homestead Act passed by Abraham Lincoln offering public land in the west to any US citizen, including free slaves, who was willing to settle, farm and improve the land over a period of five years.

Image 14

The forced migration of African slaves to America is unrepresented on the library’s United States philatelic holdings. Nevertheless one particular issue which demonstrates its importance in shaping America is the United States 20 February 1987 Black Heritage Issue 22 cent stamp depicting an idealised portrait of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable and some of his property and lands during the late eighteenth century which helped found modern day Chicago.

Image 15
 

Richard Scott Morel

Curator, Philatelic Collections

 

Images from the British Library, Philatelic Collections:  The Tapling Collection and UPU Collection material for the  United States of America.

 

 

14 June 2018

Call for Applicants: Fulbright-British Library Eccles Centre Scholar Award

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Above: Klondiker's buying mining licenses in Victoria, BC. J. W. Jones, 1898 [Picturing Canada project on Wiki Commons]

Summertime is always exciting for the Eccles Centre as we announce new calls for our various awards and fellowships. Keep an eye on the Americas blog for news of our various award schemes over the coming months but today I wanted to write about our US-UK Fulbright Commission Scholarship. This is a relatively new part of our programme and is a partnership with Fulbright to bring a US-based scholar to the Library so they can work on the North American collections held here. Work can be on any area of the collections relating to Canada, the Caribbean and / or the United States and applications connected to the Centre’s research priorities are encouraged.

The Fulbright-Eccles Scholarship is a unique opportunity for a US-based scholar as it provides a significant award (£12,000) to cover a dedicated research trip of twelve months. As well as using the collections of the Library our Scholars are encouraged to take part in our events programme, including our evening lectures and Summer Scholars season, and present about their work with partner institutions outside of the Library, such as the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford. This provides a rich set of opportunities to develop ideas and discuss them with a variety of audiences during the scholarship. We are also happy to facilitate a Scholar in conducting wider work with the Library and helping them get to know other parts of the Library’s operation, such as our innovative Learning Team, British Library Publishing and others.

Our 2018-19 Scholar will be Professor Andrew Hartman who will be using the British Library’s collections to conduct further research on the influence of Karl Marx on American political thought. The research will form part of Professor Hartman’s upcoming book, Karl Marx in America, which is contracted to University of Chicago Press. The Fulbright-Eccles Scholar is one of over 800 U.S. citizens who will teach and conduct research abroad for the 2018-2019 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program; if you would like to apply to be our Scholar in the 2019-20 academic year please do see our website for further information and get in touch with us.

Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre

16 May 2018

Over There, All Over Again: American Sheet Music, World War 1 and Nostalgic Musicals

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It is always a great pleasure when you find your research coinciding with that of your colleagues. There has been a recent spike in discussions around American music and World War I in the Eccles Centre as Jean Petrovic is currently developing an online exhibition showcasing the British Library’s excellent collection of American sheet music, whilst I am researching American musicals of the early 1940s which looked back at World War I and vaudeville. 

As part of her project, Jean has been focusing on World War I, which saw an explosion in printed music. At the turn of the twentieth century – prior to the rise of radio and the phonograph – pianos were still the main source of home entertainment. Recent innovations in production had bought about a sharp decline in prices and an inevitable rise in demand. Not surprisingly, this was a boom-time for song-writers and music publishers. Print runs of top-selling songs frequently exceeded hundreds of thousands and between 1900 and 1910 more than 100 songs sold over one million copies.

More than 10,000 songs about World War I were published in the United States during 1914-18. In the early days, many of these songs echoed the non-interventionist stance of President Woodrow Wilson and most Americans.

Within days of the US declaration of war in 1917, George M Cohan, already one of the country’s most successful songwriters, penned ‘Over There’. With its patriotic call to arms, its optimism and its references to liberty and the American flag it went on to become the nation’s favourite war song. It was performed and recorded by many artists and eventually sold more than two million copies.

Over There - LOC photo

Above: George Michael Cohan. Over There. New York: Wm Jerome Publishing Corp., c1917.  British Library shelfmark a.318.(5) (other versions, h.3825.z.(52); h.1562; H.1860.i.(8); h.3825.ff.(7)); image courtesy of the Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.100010518

In 1936, President Franklin D Roosevelt presented Cohan with the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his contribution to US morale during World War I.  He was the first person in an artistic field to receive this honour.

And this is where I come in. During America’s participation in World War II, a notable body of musical films were produced which reflected on the current crisis through the historical metaphor of America’s role in World War I. By binding these wartime stories with settings concerned with vaudeville and performance, these films conveyed patriotic messages and made entertainment culture central to American values. 

Yankee_Doodle_Dandy_poster

Above: promotional poster for Yankee Doodle Dandy (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942, Warner Brothers)

In 1942, director Michael Curtiz made Yankee Doodle Dandy, a biopic about Cohan’s life. The narrative is framed by Cohan, in the present day, going to visit President Roosevelt at the White House where he discusses his career and receives the Congressional Gold Medal (despite the award actually being made 6 years previously). In the urgent context of World War II the film places Cohan (but also by extension Hollywood itself) as vital agents in America’s cultural mythmaking: the inclusion of his famous, popular songs (‘Over There’, ‘Give My Regards to Broadway’, ‘The Yankee Doodle Boy’ and ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag’) and production numbers involving a lot (and I mean A LOT) of flags, allow the fictional President Roosevelt to comment to Cohan that “your songs were weapons as strong as cannons and rifles in World War I."

Interesting, whilst the film was certainly an important part of Warner Brothers Studio’s commitment to the war effort, aimed partially at legitimizing their own work in the context of the war, the unashamedly patriotic film also served an interesting purpose for its star, James Cagney, who had personally struggled to deny Communist links.

Cagney had initially been opposed to making a Cohan biopic as he’d disliked Cohan since the Actor’s Equity Strike in 1919 when Cohan had sided with the producers. However, during the late 1930s and early 1940s Cagney had run-ins with the Dies Committee (the House Un-American Activities Committee): in 1940 he was named along with 15 other Hollywood figures in the testimony of John R Leech (an LA Communist Party leader) and the New York Times printed the allegation that Cagney was a Communist on its front page (August 15, 1940).

Although Cagney refuted the allegations and Martin Dies made a statement to the press clearing him, his brother, William Cagney, who managed his business affairs is reported to have said that “we’re going to have to make the [most] goddamndest patriotic picture that’s ever been made. I think it’s the Cohan story.”[1] The film certainly achieves this aim: Cagney went on to win an Oscar for the role (and the film was a huge box office success for Warners).

For those interested in learning more about the American sheet music collection at the British Library, Jean’s web exhibition will go live later this summer.  In the meantime, an older incarnation of the project can be found here.

I will be discussing ‘American Film Musicals and the Reimagining of World War I’ as part of the British Library’s Feed the Mind series on Monday 21 May at 12.30 in the Knowledge Centre. I can promise clips of Gene Kelly, which must rate as one of the best ways to pass a lunch break. I hope you’ll be able to join me.

By: Dr Cara Rodway, Deputy Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies, with thanks to Jean Petrovic, Bibliographical Editor.

 

[1] Patrick McGilligan, Cagney: The Actor as Auteur (New York & London: Tantivy Press, 1975), pp145-8 [shelfmark: General Reference Collection X.981/20794]

09 May 2018

Spring news from the Eccles Centre

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North America (John Rocque)

Above: John Rocque's, 'A General Map of North America' [Maps K.Top.118.32]

Our colleagues from the Americas Collections have kindly allowed us a slot on the blog, so we thought we would let you know about some changes that are coming to the Eccles Centre. Spring is a particularly exciting time of year for the Eccles Centre as we welcome our new Visiting Fellows. Our Fellows are drawn from across the UK, Europe and North America and the Centre provides them with a financial award to support research using the North American collections of the British Library, plus a one-year membership of the Library.

Our Visiting Fellowships announcement marks the end of our 2018 awards and so our attention is now turning to calls for applications for our 2019 cohort. An invitation to apply for the Centre’s Fulbright Scholarship is now available on the Fulbright website and we will soon be advertising the next round of our Writer’s Award. Those of you who read The Bookseller will have seen Catherine Eccles’s recent piece about the award and noted that the scope of works eligible will stretch across the whole Americas during 2019. Watch this space for more details.

Further changes to our awards will be obvious when our call for 2019 Fellows comes out this summer. We are keen to help applicants see the potential of the Library’s collections more clearly and so from 2019 there will be a series of research priorities championed by the Centre. These are not meant to be exclusive, we still want to hear about all research the Library’s North American collections can support, and instead provide a window into areas where the collections are particularly strong. The priorities will also shape the Centre’s events schedule for the coming year and, hopefully, create a cohort of fellows working in similar areas. With this in mind the priorities for April 2018 – April 2019 will be:

  • North American and Caribbean Indigenous Studies
  • Literary, theatrical and artistic connections in Canada, the Caribbean and the US
  • Book history and arts in North America
  • Pacific politics and geopolitics
  • Migration in/from/through Canada, the Caribbean and the US
  • LGBTQ histories and culture in Canada, the Caribbean and the US

Should anyone wish to discuss possible research projects, collaborations or events that tie in with these priority areas please get in touch with us at eccles-centre@bl.uk.

Evidence of our research priorities can be seen in the Centre’s upcoming events for the spring and summer, with ‘Buffalo Bill Goes to China’ and ‘The Death of Captain Cook’ speaking directly to our new priorities. So too does the Centre’s support of the British Library’s, ‘Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land’ and the season of events that accompanies the exhibition. We are also excited to be supporting an, 'In Conversation' with The Last Poets; Sarah Churchwell’s critical history of ‘America First’; and our two Black Lives Matter events, ‘From Black Lives Matter to White Power Presidency’ and ‘Black Lives Matter in the US and UK Today’, amongst our packed schedule

We hope the changes to the Centre excite you as much as they do us and we look forward to seeing you at one of our events soon.

Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies