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41 posts categorized "Events"

12 May 2015

The Many Uses of Whiskey: a Bryant Lecture roundup

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Whiskey and Wather (LC23c5 57)Above: a poetic tribute to Captain John Palliser, who explored the (admittedly, Canadian) Rockies. The spelling of water suggests it was for reciting in a Lancashire dialect [BL: LC.23.c.5(57)]

The utility of whiskey is impressive, it can function as an enjoyable beverage, social facilitator, medicinal syrup and, as of last night, an impressive metaphor about the evolving significance of Magna Carta. Monday saw this year's Douglas W. Bryant Lecture celebrated at the Library, the 20th in all, and we were fortunate to be host the US Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, Matthew Barzun, for the evening.

Womens War on Whiskey (cover 8435b55)  Womens War on Whisky (internal 8435b55)
Above: one of the few American tracts on whiskey turns out to be a temperance tract [BL: 8435.b.55]

The Ambassador's talk, titled, 'Magna Carta, 1776 and All That', hinged on the metaphorical relationship between whiskey and the Magna Carta - more on which in a moment. On the way home a thought occurred to me, 'what do we have in the collection regarding whiskey and the Americas?' Turns out the answer is, 'not a great deal that's interesting' (meaning rare and insightful historic publications) but, spread across the Library's manuscripts, newspapers, microfilms and printed books there is a smattering of items.

BarzunspeechAbove: Ambassador Barzun giving his lecture (image copyright Ander McIntyre)

Admittedly, a lot of it is temperance material but, as the wonderful poem in the first image shows, there are also items defending the drink's virtues. For Ambassador Barzun, the link between the Magna Carta and whiskey is based on the method by which the drink is made. A complex process, with deceptively simple ingredients, whiskey takes time to mature and produces strikingly different results depending upon the raw materials used and the geography within which it is produced. The Ambassador argued that Magna Carta and its legacy, in the rule of law and political freedom, can be viewed the same way; just look at how it has influenced the UK and the US. If this piques your interest, the lecture has been posted online by the US Embassy and can be read in full here.

AudienceAbove: audience questions for Ambassador Barzun (image copyright Ander McIntyre)

While the Library may not be the best place to find unique resources pertaining to whiskey in the Americas we are well placed to facilitate research and interest in the Magna Carta. Our exhibition runs until September, we have a whole series of events coming up (including another on Magna Carta in America) and there's a good deal of material in the collections too.

[PJH]

07 May 2015

Inventing The Great Gatsby

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Careless People (cover)

Above: The cover for Careless People, by Prof. Sarah Churchwell (2013).

[As a prelude to an upcoming Eccles Centre event, Prof. Sarah Churchwell writes for us on 'The Great Gatsby'. You can hear more at her talk, 'Inventing the Great Gatsby: 1922 - 1925' on May 18th]

The Great Gatsby has made countless readers feel as if the Jazz Age were a party to which they have not been invited. Like the party-goers at Gatsby’s revels, the reader of Gatsby is drawn there by word of mouth, looking for glamour and personality, in search of celebrated and interesting people. We want to know F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom we have met through his books: we want to meet his wife, and know whether she was really mad, or destroyed him, or whether he destroyed her. We want to know how much she made herself up, or he made her up, or we've made them both up. Although many literary critics still insist that this impulse is unworthy, a deplorable preference for gossip over art, it is also true that our social personality is a creation of the minds of others, as Proust observed. Scott Fitzgerald understood that better than most, and it is one of the themes of The Great Gatsby. 

Many people respond by throwing their own Gatsby-themed parties, a response with which I sympathize. But because I am an academic (i.e., a professional geek), my idea of throwing a Gatsby party is not to mix a few tasty cocktails and suggest that people put on a pretty dress that approximates one that might have been worn in the 1920s. No, my response is to spend years and years intensively researching what life would have been like in 1922, what Scott Fitzgerald could have known when he was sat down to write the novel, what he guessed—and what he had no way of knowing.

In April 1925, when Gatsby was published, it was a contemporary novel. It had been written in 1924 and set in 1922: so it would work in exact parallel if we imagine a novel published this year, that was written in 2014, and set in 2012. It would be a contemporary novel: we would understand all of its references, without need of translation, explanation, or glossary. The Great Gatsby was certainly a “modern” novel—so modern that its first readers could not see any meanings beyond the ones that were entirely manifest in 1925. Most of these meanings are entirely lost upon us now—but it turns out that they are not entirely lost to us. They are there, waiting to be found, if we’re patient, or dogged, or both. And it is those meanings—the meanings that would have been available to Fitzgerald, and his readers, in 1925—that I set out to recover in researching my book about Gatsby, if I could. The analogy, to my mind, is like trying to do an historically sympathetic renovation of a beautiful old art deco house. Of course you can cover it over with all kinds of layers from other eras, and there are arguments to be made in favor of updating (just as few of us would want to actually live with an historically authentic bathroom from 1925, so few of us would want to return to an historically authentic 1925 attitude toward, for example, anti-Semitism). But there are also arguments to be made in favor of creating something historically sympathetic, and aesthetically consonant, and that’s what I tried to do in the book I eventually wrote, called Careless People.

Gatsby 1925 (CUP406I13)

Above: first pages of the 1925 New York edition of The Great Gatsby [BL:Cup.406.I.13]

One of the unexpected results of this research project was that I came to see much more clearly than I’d ever predicted why The Great Gatsby was not a great critical or commercial success when it was published in 1925; it didn’t flop, but its sales were sluggish, its reviews largely uncomprehending. Along the way I learned a great deal about what New Yorkers in 1922, when Gatsby is set, actually wore (skirts were much longer than we think), what they drank (bathtub gin and bootleg gin are not the same thing), what they danced (not the Charleston), what they listened to, what they ate, even what perfumes were available. (The great French house of Caron produced both Narcisse Blanc and Nuit de Noël in 1922, for example; both are still available for any historical die-hards who do not have to survive on an academic salary.)

Such a critical, and I hope creative, endeavor necessarily raises a series of question about what it might mean to try to recover the past. And as fate would have it, this is the great question asked by the great Gatsby, and by The Great Gatsby. “You can't repeat the past,” Nick Carraway warns Jay Gatsby. “Can't repeat the past?” Gatsby responds, incredulously. “Why of course you can!” And then Fitzgerald adds, with one of the hundreds of touches of mordant humor that pepper the novel, that Gatsby “looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.”

Is the past just out of reach of our hand? For Nick, as for Fitzgerald, this is a facetious remark—and yet the idea that it might be is just the response that the novel has inspired in thousands of readers since Fitzgerald’s death in 1940. But in 1925, as I’ve said, Gatsby was a purely contemporary novel: its ideas about the past were negligible, and its vision of the future was indiscernible, undetectable to jazz-age eyes, as blind as the eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg, pointlessly lording it over the ashes of history.

What past we have is an invention. There was a past, and we certainly did not invent it, although other people did; but that past has made its exit and it will not return. Our myths, our legends, our false memories and mistaken historical assumptions, our anachronisms, our egotistical projections of our own values—these are the invented past.

What I discovered is that the hectic absurdity of the past takes us by surprise; we are accustomed to invent only that past that seems useful to us, by and large: rare is the effort to accommodate the present to the past, rather than the other way around. We may not believe that we can repeat the past, but we do tend to believe that we can recover it, although God knows what havoc we would wreak if we found ourselves accidentally grasping it.

Gatsby 1925 cover (CUP406I13)

Above: cover and modern preservation box for the 1925 edition of The Great Gatsby [BL: Cup.406.I.13]

I think most of us expect history to display a certain dignity, as befits its age; but what I learned is that the past is not a venerable old man, an eminence grise: it is an unabashed adolescent, with no understanding or fear of the consequences of its own idiotic behavior. Its carelessness proves, in the end, rather winning, but we should not mistake a survivor’s instinct for sanity.

The history of 1922 reads not like history, but like a rather madcap novel—and that novel is by Scott Fitzgerald, because it was his novel that taught us how to read this story. The sources turn out to have a tremendous story to tell themselves: but we would not know what it was about if Fitzgerald had not told us how to read it in the first place.

Memory is an imaginative reconstruction of the facts. So is history. So is The Great Gatsby. They are not the same things, of course, memory, history, fiction. But they have more in common than we like to think. They’re all a story about the art of exhilaration, about a glittering, gin-drenched, time-drenched world, whether we are dealing with fiction or with history. In either case the theme is the peril and brevity of such vision—that is the theme of Gatsby, and it is the starting point for any serious conversation about it.

[SC]

[Prof. Sarah Churchwell will be speaking about 'The Great Gatsby' at the British Library on May 18th, you can find more information here]

20 March 2015

Symposium: Alaska, the Arctic and the US Imagination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[PJH]

Symposium programme:  

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

Session 1: Emerging research on the Polar Regions

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


Keynote:

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

Session 2: Bringing the Arctic home

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


Session 3: The Arctic and US politics

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

11 February 2014

Armistead Maupin Tells Tales

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Callotype: Armistead Maupin &emdash;

Armistead Maupin at the British Library. Photo: M Shaw CC BY

When Amanda Palmer came to play she took great delight in the chance to swear in the British Library. Last night, Armistead Maupin also took advantage of the situation and similarly enjoyed the slight frission of the library setting: exclaiming at least twice, 'I can't believe I just said that in the august British Library!' after an explanation of a piece of slang or juicy anecdote.  But this was just one aspect of an evening that took in life in the round  love, death, humour, politics, religion, sports (yes, the Sochi Olympics). 

Maupin was in our particular city to talk about the latest and final volume of his Tales... series, The Days of Anna Madrigal (and which is currently top of the UK bestseller list).  Interviewed by salonniere and author of Maggie & Me, Damian Barr, Maupin talked about Burning Man, his road trip to P-Town, husband Chris, Californian governors, London socialites, realtors, Vertigo, Rock Hudson, and, perhaps most shockingly, his early years as a young Republican, during which he met Richard Nixon ('there's always the sound of a sharp intake of breath in the room when I tell people that').   We also heard more about the characters of the much-loved series of novels, the actors who inhabited them for the TV series, and the middle name of Laura Linney's child. Questions from the sold-out crowd revealed the affection in which Maupin is held - as well as the importance his books have to those growing up in the 80s.  The evening was rounded off with a concluding set of songs from Sarah Jane Morriss, ex-Communard and Maupin cousin.

We hope that there will be a podcast of the evening; if not, there is the possible promise of a one-man show, announced over Twitter by one of the audience.

[M.S.]

 

 

26 June 2013

From the Collections: Native Americans visit London

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Totems (Queen Anne visitors)
Above: Totems drawn by three of the visitors to the court of Queen Anne [Add MS 61647]

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

Team Americas were happy to host scholars from Oxford University, UCL and Yale this morning, part of a tour looking at the history of Native Americans visiting London. Carole and I put together a small selection of items loosely related to the theme and it seemed a shame not to share some of them with our readers.

Tee Yee Neen Ho Ga Row (Sloane vol)
Above: a depiction of Tee Yee Neen Ho Ga Row, one of the 'Four Indian Kings' [Add MS 5253]

The bulk of the display revolved around the 'Four Indian Kings' who came to England in 1710, during the reign of Queen Anne. The above illustration is from a volume formerly belonging to Sir Hans Sloane while the totem signatures on the top are on documents relating to the business of the Privy Council.

French territories map
Above: 'A New Map of the Parts of North America Claimed by France' [Maps 69917.(29)]

While researching the display a few other items of marginal relevance caught my eye and it seemed a shame not to include them. The above is a map from the 1720s detailing the French colonies of North America, what is particularly interesting though is the demarcation of Iroquois territory on the map and the notes about the importance of this group to the protection of British colonial interests.

I suspect this is a display that will come out again, so there are possibly more blogs to follow. In the meantime, if you would like any more information just get in touch.

[PJH]

04 June 2013

The Secretary: a journey with Hillary Clinton

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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]

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]

27 May 2013

Lyse Doucet at the British Library

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Lysedoucet
Lyse Doucet at the British Library. Image (c) Ander McIntyre

A portrait of Lyse Doucet, just before she delivered the 18th Annual Douglas W. Bryant Lecture at the British Library, entitled From Acadie to Arab Spring: Reflections on America's Place in the World, on 13 May 2013.  The Lecture was sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies.

See also Phil Hatfield's reflections on the Lecture, which will be published in due course.

[Ander McIntyre is a photographer and a Fellow at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.  He is an occasional contributor to this blog.]