THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

50 posts categorized "Exhibitions"

07 October 2016

Goodbye, and stay tuned for the Cold War symposium!

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The last three months of my PhD placement at the Eccles Centre here at the British Library have flown by. There is much I will miss about being here on a daily basis – and not just the very good, helpfully subsidised, staff canteen! Hopefully this blog post will shed some light on what I have been doing and prompt others to apply for the placement scheme in the future.

In all honesty, probably the greatest benefit of the placement has been working so closely with the Americas collections. Before coming to the British Library, I had what I thought was a good understanding of the collections. Having used them daily for three months, I now realise that I was only aware of a fraction of what exists. In particular, whilst I knew that there would be some useful American foreign policy documents available, it was only when I explored the Social Sciences Reading Room that I began to realise just how vast an archival collection was available. From Presidential papers through to specific primary collections on everything from Civil Rights to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there is a treasure trove of material for researchers and it’s all available without those costly flights to the United States!

Federal Surveillance of Afro-Americans

 [General Reference Collection OPL 973.0076]    

Index to the GW Papers

                  [General Reference Collection OPL 973.03]

Aside from archival collections, there wasn’t one secondary text which I searched for that I couldn’t gain access to in under 48 hours. Finally, the digital collections which the Library has access to are unparalleled compared to any of the university libraries’ I have used. In particular, the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) and Readex Congressional Records are invaluable resources and well worth a trip to the Library to access.

The vastness of the collections led to the first project I undertook during the placement. Realising that, like me, most researchers only knew of a few of the Americas collections available, I compiled two guides to make the collections more accessible for future researchers. The first guide is on the political archival collections the Library holds, such as Presidential papers, whilst the second is a guide dedicated to the Congressional documents available. As well as telling readers how to access the collections, the guides provide examples of what materials can be found in each collection to illustrate the utility of said collection. Hopefully these guides will help fellow researchers take as much from the collections as I have.

A second project I have undertaken involved the organisation of an academic symposium. One of the Eccles Centre’s key roles is to promote the Americas collections to the academic community; often this is done through the hosting of specific events, which are sometimes linked to the Library’s public exhibitions. The British Library’s next major exhibition, which opens on 4 November, is titled ‘Maps of the Twentieth Century: Drawing the Line.’ As the American-Soviet Cold War dominated the geography of the twentieth century, this offers an excellent opportunity to host an event focusing on the geography of the Cold War. The ‘Cold War Geographies’ symposium in January 2017 will bring together international academics to explore and assess how the Cold War changed boundaries, restructured terrain and redefined concepts of space and place.

Map

The placement at the British Library also exposed me to the practicalities of working in a large cultural institution. In particular, this occurred with a planned digital exhibition I was hoping to curate. The Library is going through some significant changes to improve its website and digital exhibitions. This meant that the three short months I was at the Library was not enough time to implement the project. The matter was also complicated by my desire to focus on twentieth century materials which brought in a whole raft of issues relating to copyright! Whilst the project did not materialise in the way I envisioned, I was able to gain access to excellent research material and develop a more practical understanding of the processes involved in curating an online exhibition within a large cultural institution

That said, I feel that the three month placement at the British Library has been an unqualified success. I have developed a far greater understanding of the collections, both for my own research and produced materials to assist others with their future research. Unexpected benefits also emerged in the form of using these blog pages to further disseminate my work, as well as taking part in Eccles Centre events which have greatly enhanced my academic networks. These new connections look likely to lead to positive future collaborations. Fortunately, the end of this placement is not the end of my affiliation with the Library. The symposium in January means that I will remain in contact for the foreseeable future, providing longer-term benefits of undertaking the placement.

From both a research and experience perspective, the PhD placement has been a highly rewarding and beneficial one. I hope that the outputs produced during this placement will be as beneficial to my fellow researchers.

Mark Eastwood

08 September 2015

Ted Hughes and Leonard Baskin

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If you’ve been to the Animal Tales exhibition (and if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat), you will have seen an edition of Crow, a collaboration between the poet, Ted Hughes, and the artist, Leonard Baskin. The two men were long-time friends and worked on numerous projects together, most of which can be found in the Library.

Baskin’s life had many facets – he was a painter, sculptor, print-maker, illustrator, writer, teacher, book collector and book artist. He founded his own press in 1942 while a student at the Yale School of Art, naming it the Gehenna Press (from a line in John Milton’s Paradise Lost – ‘And black Gehenna call’d, the type of Hell.’). Gehenna became renown for its fine typography and superbly illustrated limited edition books, and it has a particular resonance for me in that the first fine press book I ever acquired for the Library was a Gehenna edition. And it was also a collaboration between Hughes and Baskin. Published in 1998, Howls & Whispers (BL shelfmark Cup.512.b.150) contains poems concerning Hughes’ life with Sylvia Plath. At the time, these poems were not available anywhere else, having been excluded from Birthday Letters (also published in 1998).

Baskin met Hughes in 1958 when Hughes was teaching at the University of Massachusetts; their creative relationship began in 1959 with the Gehenna Press broadside Pike (BL shelfmark HS.74/1074. In addition to Pike and Crow, numerous of their projects involved animals – A Primer of Birds for example (BL shelfmark Cup.510.nax.13, 1981). This was published during the period Baskin and his family lived in Devon (they moved there in 1975), close to Hughes. As Baskin describes it, 'Proximity [we lived twenty miles from one another] & renewed intensity in our friendship led inevitably to the manuscript of ‘A Primer of Birds’, a penetrating Hughesian incursion into avian disparity, splendor & fancy. I cut a number of concomitant woodcuts.'

Their final collaboration was Hughes’ version of The Oresteia of Aeschylus, a monumental three volume work, illustrated with woodcuts by Baskin. Hughes finished the Oresteia just shortly before his death in 1998 and Baskin had intended the Gehenna edition to be a memorial to his friend. However, he completed work on it only a few days before his own death in June 2000. Lisa Unger Baskin and Carol Hughes saw the edition through to publication in 2001, ensuring that it now stands as a memorial to both men. The Library was able to acquire a copy with the generous support of  The Friends of the British Library (BL shelfmark HS.74/2141).

In their various collaborations, Baskin’s drawings should not be seen as mere illustrations to Hughes’ text – in fact, in a number of instances the drawings preceded and inspired the poems.

The two men achieved a unique creative harmony, where poems and drawings combine to present a single, often terrifying vision. Their correspondence (also in the Library - Add MS 83684-83698) accordingly offers a very rich resource for research..

– Carole Holden

 #Animal Tales

  Animal-talesVisit Animal Tales – a free British Library exhibition open until Sunday 1 November 2015 

 

14 August 2015

Animal Tales exhibition list

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Animal Tales has been open for a week, and we're very pleased by the response so far.  We've had lots of requests for a list of what is on display, so here it is

1.       Looking at Animals

Gilbert White, The Natural history of Selborne and its antiquities, London, 1802. C.61.b.20 & Add. MSS 31852

Michel de Montaigne, Les Essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne. Paris, 1602. C.28.g.7

John Berger, draft of ‘About Looking: Why look at animals’, 1979–80. Add MS 88964/1/35 & John Berger, Why look at animals. London, 2009. Private collection

David Garnett, A Man in the zoo. London, 1924. 12631.h.14

Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. London, [1902]. Cup.402.a.4

Karen Bleitz, Dolly: edition unlimited. London, 1997. RF.2004.a.

2.       Traditional Tales

Esbatement moral des animaux. Anvers, [1578]. C.125.d.23

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Kinder-und Hausmärchen. Berlin, 1875. 12431.bbb.55

Ronald King & Roy Fisher, Anansi Company. London, 1992. C.193.c.8

Wu Cheng’en, Journey to the West. 15271.c.13

Antonia Barber, The Mousehole Cat. London, 1990. LB.31.b.4374a

Ted Hughes & Leonard Baskin, Crow: from the life and songs of the Crow.

London, 1973. Hughes 11

The Very hungry lion: a folktale. Adapted by Gita Wolf. Chennai, 2000. YK.2004.b.224

3.       Tales for Children

Johann Amos Comenius, Orbis sensualium pictus. London, 1659. E.2116.(1.)

[Sally Sketch], An Alphabetical arrangement of animals for little naturalists.

London, 1821. 7207.a.11

History of the red-breast family: being an introduction to the Fabulous History written by S. Trimmer. London, 1793. C.193.a.126

Anna Sewell, Black Beauty: his grooms and companions: the autobiography of a horse. London, 1877. C.123.d.35

Anton Chekhov, Kashtanka. London, 1959. 12842.r.20

Anthony Browne, Gorilla. London, 1991. YK.1991.a.5346

Judith Kerr, The Tiger who came to tea. London, 2007. Private collection

John Agard, We animals would like a word with you. London, 1996. YK.1996.b.17152

SF Said, Varjak Paw. Oxford, 2003. Nov.2003/1912

T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s book of practical cats, illustrated by Nicolas Bentley. London, 1940. 11656.b.44 & Add. MS 71002, f. 53

Matthew Reinhart, The Jungle book: a pop-up adventure. London, 2006. YK.2011.a.15056

4.       Animal Allegories

Chinua Achebe and John Iroaganachi with Christopher Okigbo, How the leopard got his claws. Nairobi, 1976. X.990/9580

Mikhail Bulgakov, A Mongrel’s Heart, adapted by Stephen Mulrine, 1994. MPS 6265: 1994

Art Spiegelman, ‘Maus’ in Funny aminals. San Francisco, 1972. JB Rund Collection

Richard Church, A Squirrel called Rufus. London, 1941. 12825.dd.33

Munro Leaf, The Story of Ferdinand. London, 1937. 012802.cc.54

CS Lewis, The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. London, 1950. RF.2006.a.114

Laline Paull, The Bees. London, 2014. Nov.2015/1132

George Orwell, Animal Farm: a fairy story. London, 1995. YC.1995.b.7273

5.       Metamorphoses

Ovid, La Métamorphose d’Ovide figurée. Lyon, 1583. 11388.aa.24

Chris Ofili, Diana and Actaeon. London, 2012. LC.31.b.13013

Angela Carter, ‘Courtship of Mr Lyon’. Add. MS 88899/1/34, f. 14

John Keats, Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes & other poems. Waltham St. Lawrence, 1928. C.98.gg.16

Philip Pullman, I was a rat!...or The scarlet slippers. London, 1999. Nov.2000/93

David Garnett, Lady into fox. London, 1922. 12630.pp.12

6.       Call of the Wild

Jack London, The Call of the wild. London, 1903. 012628.cc.18

Henry Williamson, Tarka the otter: his joyful water-life and death in the country of the two rivers. London, 1932. 012614.d.27

Richard Adams, Watership Down. Harmondsworth, 1973. H.73/667

Jules Renard, Hunting with ‘The Fox’. With twenty-three lithographs by H. de Toulouse-Lautrec. Oxford, 1948. 12358.g.21

Barry Hines, A Kestrel for a knave. Harmondsworth, 1974. Private Collection

Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk. London, 2014. Nov.2015/1817

Ouida [Maria Louise Ramé], A Dog of Flanders: a photoplay. New York, [1924]. YD.2015.a.313

William Burroughs, The Cat inside. New York, 1986. RF.2008.b.7

Herman Melville, Moby Dick or The Whale. Chicago, 1930. L.R.50.b.1

Guillaume Apollinaire, Le bestiaire, ou Cortège d’Orphée. New York, 1977. LR.430.e.10

Pablo Neruda, Bestiary/Bestario. New York, 1965

Dave Eggers, The Wild Things: a novel. San Francisco, 2009. Cup.935/1546

Mark Doty & Darren Waterston, A Swarm, a flock, a host: a compendium of creatures. San Francisco, 2013

Ted Hughes, Cows. North Tawton, 1981. HS.74/2121

 Sound Points

Mole and Rat begin to mess around in boats in Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908), read by Alan Bennett (1989). 1CA0005431

Noël Coward reads ‘Elephant’ from Ogden Nash’s series of verses for Camille Saint-Saëns, Le Carnaval des animaux (recorded in 1949). 1CD0239907.

John Agard reads his poem, ‘Woodpecker’ (recording published in 1981). 1CA0014306

Benjamin Zephaniah reads his poem, ‘Talking Turkeys’ (recorded in 1998). 1CA0006901

TS. Eliot reads his verse, ‘Macavity the Mystery Cat’ from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. 1LP0054600

Ted Hughes discusses the ‘Crow’ poems on Poetry Now (BBC3, 1970). 1CD0286783

Art Spiegelman discusses Maus at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1987). C95/302

Ron King discusses the creation of the Anansi artist’s book (recorded in 1996) C466/47/01-21

Sound Scape

Atmosphere with Goshawk

Rain with Red Fox

Blackbird

Frog atmosphere

Cattle with cowherd

Waves & Sperm Whale

Exhibition list for Animal Tales

A British Library Entrance Hall Exhibition

7 August – 1 November 2015

Exhibition Design by NortonAllison

Curators: Matthew Shaw, Alison Bailey, Barbara Hawes 

 

03 August 2015

Call of the Wild: Animal Tales

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Logo

British Library Animal Tales exhibition

We're in the middle of the dog days of summer: school's out, there's a bit of heat in the air in London at least, and the press is doing its best with the current crop of 'man bites dog' stories: pink pigeons, owls with library cards, and the more serious commentary on the death of Cecil the Zimbabwean lion.

With all this in mind, it's fitting that our latest exhibition, Animal Tales, opens on Friday (7 Aug), offering a menagerie of wild beasts, companionable pets, and the sounds of aerial and aquatic creatures set among a mini-forest of trees, all nestling under the Grade I-listed King's Library Tower.  

  CLfIjBNWwAE5Su3

(The exhibition space gets a lick of paint... and some longer ears)

As well as the refreshing cool of the Library's air-conditioning, we hope that the exhibition is a slightly bracing antidote to the languor of this time of year; offering what we think are the pick of best-loved animal stories mixed in with some surprising selections, all of which suggests some of the ways that we look at animals in the modern world. The cover of Beatrix Potter's 1902 edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit on display in Animal Tales at the British Library

Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Cup.402.a.4. Image in the public domain.

In curating the exhibition, we've selected almost sixty items from across the Library's collections, as well as a brace of sound recordings. The exhibition is organised in six sections, starting with a section that asks how we've looked and written about animals over time, and ending with an area that looks at works that try and engage with the wildness that animals can represent, from Moby-Dick to Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk. Along the way, we look at stories for children including Peter the Rabbit and Black Beauty, traditional tales from around the world, the use of animals as allegory or metaphor from Animal Farm to Maus and why writers from Ovid to Kafka have been fascinated by the possibility of transformation from human into beast, and vice versa.

The title page from Sally Sketch's 1821 edition of 'An Alphabetical arrangement of animals for little naturalists' on display in Animal Tales at the British Library

Sally Sketch, pseud., An Alphabetical Arrangement of Animals for Little Naturalists (London, 1821). 7207.a.11. Image in the public domain.

It's been a treat and a privilege to draw on the Library's collections to put the show together. As always in curating an exhibition, there wasn't room for everything, and some of the things we really wanted to put on display either didn't quite fit with the shape of the show or had conservation issues: we couldn't, for example, display items on parchment: the only sheep on display is an artist's book, Karen Bleitz' Dolly: edition unlimited, which is made of card.

Dolly edition unlimited on display in Animal Tales at the British Library -® Karen Bleitz

Image Dolly: edition unlimited Â© Karen Bleitz

We had to lose some of our favourite items along the way, as always happens in curating an exhibition, and there are great swathes of the history of human/animal relations that are missed.  It's also testament to the current scholarly 'call of the wild' in terms of the 'animal turn' in the humanities, the interest in eco-criticism and history, animal geography, food studies, neuroscience or a whole range of sociological animal studies, not to mention animal ethics, that we had to be ruthless in our curatorial focus. Natural history as a genre gets a look in, particularly how  amateur naturalists influenced writers of their day, but the focus is more on imaginative writing. 

This said, the blog and events programme give us the chance to open up some of these questions. As it is, the exhibition space is also filled to the gills: where else will you see Samuel Taylor Coleridge's annotations on Gilbert White's Natural History of Selburne (1802), bound in dress fabric by Mrs Wordsworth alongside John Berger's notes for 'Why Look At Animals' (1970s), David Garnett's Lady into Fox (1922), and Waterston's compelling aquatints for the modern bestiary, A Swarm, a Flock, A Host (2013)?

Doty & Waterson's aquatint etching & letterpress edition of A Swarm, A Flock, A Host on display in Animal Tales. Courtesy of the artist & DC Moore Gallery, New York (2)

Courtesy of the artist, Darren Waterston, and the Achenbach Graphic Arts Council, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Playful, curious, and a little bit mysterious, we hope that adults will find the exhibition stimulating, as will younger visitors, who have their own reading area and a specially commissioned family trail and leaflet,  There is also at least one children's book to spot in each case. Maybe it's time to get a little bit wild in the Library?

The cover of Jack London's 1903 edition of The Call of the Wild on display in Animal Tales at the British Library

Jack London, Call of the Wild (New York, 1903).012628.cc.18. Image in the public domain.

Finally, what would a blog post be without a picture of a cat:

IMG_1490

Montaigne’s Essais (Paris, 1602) C.28.g.7 'when I play with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?'; marginal illustration by Pieter van Veen. Image in the public domain.

Animal Tales is free, and runs from 7 August to 1 November.

You can hear more about the exhibition at Second Home on 12 August as part of their Biophilia season.

And, following a preview, the Independent looks at beast in literature.

#animaltales

 

-- Matthew Shaw

21 May 2015

Stories Weaved in Cloth

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Cloth Catalogue (inner)

Above: cloth sample with text description [BL: C.112.e.1, restricted item]

If you have been through the Entrance Hall Gallery recently you will note that our own Lines in the Ice has given way to a wonderful new work by Cornelia Parker. Designed to capture the process of collective memory (and history) making that underpins our ideas about the Magna Carta and its legacy the work is a multi-authored depiction of Wikipedia's entry on the Magna Carta. At first glance, the idea of craft, needlework and textiles in the national library might seem a little odd, but this isn't the only place you'll find such materials in the Library. 

1215-magna-carta-detail-an-embroidery-cornelia-parker-british-library

Above: one part of the Magna Carta embroidery. From the Library's press release.

As Lines in the Ice showed, the Library holds a number of unusual items and accounts relating to the efforts of explorers from the 18th and 19th centuries, not least those accumulated as a result of the voyages of Captain Cook. Amongst the materials relating to Australasia is a book snappily titled, 'A Catalogue of the Different Specimens of Cloth collected in the Three Voyages of Captain Cook, to the Southern Hemisphere; with a particular account of the manner of the manufacturing the same in the various islands of the South Seas; partly extracted from Mr. Anderson and Reinhold Forster's observations, and the verbal account of some of the most knowing of the navigators: with some anecdotes that happened to them among the natives. [With 39 specimens of cloth, restricted item held at C.112.e.1]' - lest we forget it was published in 1787.

Cloth Catalogue (sample 1)  Cloth Catalogue (sample 2)
Above: two samples of cloth from the catalogue [BL: C.112.e.1, restricted item]

There's a lot to say about this book and it has recently been the focus of research at the University of Otago (you can read the outputs here) but what struck me today was, like Cornelia Parker's piece in the Entrance Hall gallery, this is fundamentally a collaborative effort with a large number of individual stories bound into it. As the title alludes, the collection and publication of these samples of textile are endeavours awash with stories, as are the textiles themselves; and today we are much more aware that the stories of the cloth makers, not just the collectors, need recording too. They communicate, history, heritage and culture in their weave. As a result, the book represents a fascinating and complex historical object, as does the embroidery on display in the Entrance Hall Gallery.

Speaking of complex and contested artistic histories, Team Americas and Australasia are heading over to the British Museum's new exhibition, 'Indigenous Australia, Enduring Civilisation' later this week - so a bonus exhibition / collection items cross over for this post.

[PJH]

29 April 2015

Magna Carta's Americas Adventure

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Us-bill-of-rights-magna-carta-british-library-law-legacy-liberty (cr Clare Kendall)

Above: The Delaware copy of the US Bill of Rights being installed in Magna Carta [photo by Clare Kendall]

Those of you who have visited the Magna Carta exhibition already will note the attention given to how the document influenced the development of global legal frameworks, perhaps most notably in the US. As a result, this document has not just had a profound effect upon the development of the UK but on the growth of many other states around the world.

Indeed, the effect of Magna Carta not just on the US but the Americas more broadly is worth noting. One of the aims of the Magna Carta was to strengthen traditional English customs against the tyranny of King John, the most notable being the right to Habeas Corpus (essentially, protection against illegal detention). The mutually beneficial relationship between Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus (which is not just legal but also rhetorical - a powerful imaginative force) was used to great effect in the protection of former slaves who had made it to England from the Caribbean in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano (portrait)

Above: frontispiece from Equiano's 'Interesting Narrative' [BL: 1489.g.50] 

One particularly famous example is recounted by Olaudah Equiano in his 'Interesting Narrative' [BL: 1489.g.50]. Here a man named John Annis is protected from the machinations of a St. Kitts trader by the granting of Habeas Corpus and, while not all received Annis' protection, the law was an important part of maintaining the freedom of those formerly enslaved who made it to London.

In Canada the Magna Carta has, perhaps, had structural legal impacts on a par with the US (without the revolution). The early governor John Graves Simcoe arrived in Canada with a strong belief in Magna Carta and the possibility of founding an ideal colony in Upper Canada. From Fort York Simcoe set up some of Canada's earliest democratic structures and also attempted to ban slavery in the colony. You can find out more about Simcoe at the British Library as we hold various manuscript papers and illustrations belonging to him and his family.

After the Seven Years War the Royal Proclamation of 1763 sought to extend Magna Carta-like protections to the First Peoples of North America. The Proclamation enfranchised right to land and secured other legal freedoms in the face of settler encroachment but also sowed dissent among colonists and was a significant contributor to the subsequent rebellion. However, the Proclamation is, arguably, still legally valid in Canada and remains an important link between many First Peoples communities and the British Crown. For many Canadians the Magna Carta is also still relevant as it directly informed the 1982 'Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms'. This, in turn, has been argued to resemble how a common law charter would look if it were drawn up today.

BL shop (Magna Carta)

Above: goodies in the BL shop - note the baseballs [photo by PJH]

For all of this the most profound global example of the influence of Magna Carta remains its role in the US. Whether it's the writings of men such as William Penn, the invocation of the Magna Carta by the Founding Fathers or the famous visit of the document to the New York World's Fair in 1939 (all of which are detailed in the exhibition), the gathering at Runnymede looms large in American history. The Eccles Centre will be hosting a discussion about the link between Magna Carta and the U.S. on 1st June and it promises to be an enlightening addition to the exhibition, which runs until 1st September. You can also see the continuing relationship between Magna Carta and the U.S. in our shop - my favourites are the Declaration of Independence baseballs...

[PJH]

13 April 2015

Discovering the Northwest Passage

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Gallery image

Above: a lightbox from Lines in the Ice [image by PJH]

Two things you won't find in 'Lines in the Ice: seeking the Northwest Passage' are a map showing the route of the Passage and an authoritative statement as to who, in the end, discovered this fabled path. As for the map, this is because there is no one route that can be rightly called the Northwest Passage, instead there are myriad channels scattered throughout the archipelago of northern Canada. Similarly, discerning exactly who discovered the Passage is akin to navigating a path through an archipelago of competing claims and achievements.

First things first, a rhetorical question; who do you think discovered the Northwest Passage? If you're British you probably think of Franklin himself, lost in the twilight years of his career in an attempt to fill in the last few blanks on the map of the Canadian Arctic. The evidence for what Franklin did or didn't discover is patchy but by reaching the north of King William Island Franklin did connect the exploration done in the Melville Sound with that done on the north Canadian coast (in which he too was involved). As a result, Lady Jane Franklin felt able to argue he and his crew should receive the honour. However, this is not the whole picture and, indeed, a story lies behind Lady Franklin's motivations.

Simpson and Dease (map)

Above: the work done by Simpson and Dease for the hudson's Bay Co. up until 1839 [BL: 1424.h.2]

Before we discuss this, mention must be made of an oft-forgot expedition instigated not by the Navy but by the Hudson's Bay Company. The expedition of Simpson and Dease was an attempt to fill in the blanks on Canada's north coast and it did so very differently from the Navy's standard practice; meaning they travelled overland and lightly in small teams. Thomas Simpson, cousin of the director of the Hudson’s' Bay Company, Sir George Simpson, made great strides in completing the charting of Canada's north coast and also claimed, after an expedition in 1839, to have, 'secured for our ... Company the indisputable honour of discovering the north-west passage...'. Closer analysis suggests Simpson may have been referring, peculiarly, to the completion of the western part of the passage, especially as he wished later to finally complete the survey of the Passage over land. Ultimately Simpson was denied the chance as he died in mysterious circumstances but his and Dease's work, which came so close to completing a charting of the Passage, reminds us how many endeavours were involved in the completion of this work of centuries. 

Investigator (Banks Island)

Above: HMS Investigator to the north of Banks Land, from where McClure would spot the Melville Island [BL: 10460.e.10]

Two other names of note in the final chapters of the discovery of the Northwest Passage are those of Captain Robert McClure and Dr. John Rae. McClure, at this time a Commander, was involved in the search for Franklin and ended up being the first commanding officer to complete the Passage. Having entered from the Pacific and reached Banks Island (before being frozen into the ice) McClure could see Melville Island and the site of Parry's furthest west of 1819. By travelling overland McClure linked the two points of exploration in 1851 and his expedition was the first to connect together a complete Northwest Passage. As a result, on his return home, overlooking having lost a ship and disobeyed the orders of his superior officer, McClure was given a hero's welcome and awarded £10,000 by Parliament.

Rae (map)

Above: a map from the account of Rae's 1848 and 1849 voyage. The blank area to the east of 'King William Land' would be charted as sea by Rae in 1854 [BL: 2370.e.4]

Despite the efforts of McClure and his crew, the Northwest Passage discovered in 1851 was, for all intents and purposes, useless due to the amount of ice found there each summer. An ice free route was discovered by Dr. John Rae in 1854, the same year as he discerned the fate of Franklin and his crew from the accounts of Inuit he encountered. Rae discovered that 'King William Land' was actually King William Island. Franklin had become stuck in the ice attempting to navigate the western side of this landmass but the strait discovered by Rae is frequently free of ice and was used by Amundsen during his navigation of the Passage from 1903-1906

Amundsen route

Above: the route of Amundsen's navigation between 1903 and 1906, using the areas charted by Rae, Franklin, Simpson and Dease [BL: 2352.f.4]

Both McClure and Rae's discoveries can be regarded as phenomenal achievements and each are regarded, by various historians, as being the true pioneers of the Northwest Passage. And yet, their names are less well-known than Franklin's. This is, in part, because of the political and popular agency of Lady Jane Franklin who, after McClure's award and Rae's return with a story involving death and cannibalism, sought to salvage what she could of her husband's reputation. While discrediting McClure and Rae, Lady Franklin also set about developing the popular idea that Franklin perhaps navigated the Passage first or at the very least connected together its few remaining dots through his overwintering at King William Island.

Franklin (statue)

Above: Franklin's statue in Waterloo Place [image by PJH]

Such ideas would subsequently be set down in print and memorialised in statues. Franklin's statue today stands tall in Waterloo Place, a site of memorialisation for some of the British Empire's most notable apostles and martyrs, where the accompanying plaque reads, 'They forged the last link [of the Passage] with their lives'. While the inscription does not explicitly state that Franklin and his crew discovered the passage that could instead be interpreted as a testament to the efforts of both Franklins and the many other individuals who, in these last years, navigated the archipelago and charted, 'a Northwest Passage to the sea'.

‘Lines in the Ice’ is, sadly, now in its last week. To see more items from the expeditions of Franklin, McClure and Rae, not to mention myriad rare maps and unique historical accounts, be sure to visit the Library before closing on April 19th.

[PJH]

08 April 2015

The Man Who Ate His Boots

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Franklin overland camp

 Above: A winter camp during Franklin's famously hungry first expedition [BL: 10460.c.34]

When we first pitched Lines in the Ice as an exhibition idea one thing was clear from the start, this could only ever hope to be an introduction to the Library's polar and even Northwest Passage related collections. As a result all the individual stories that form the whole of the exhibition are notes in wider narratives which could be further expanded by looking deeper into the Library's collections. Even Franklin, who receives so much attention on the gallery floor and was one of the drivers for putting on the exhibition, has a larger story to tell through the Library's collections.

As the exhibition draws to a close (we've now got less than a fortnight to run) I'm thinking about Franklin again and all that the collections here can tell us about his role in the search for the Northwest Passage. As a result of his fate and the humorous sound bites about his overland expeditions Franklin is often popularly remembered as a failure. Lines in the Ice has sought to raise questions about this perspective and my recent work on our materials relating to Franklin has only affirmed my opinion that a man (and a team) of such determination and who achieved such monumental feats of endurance cannot be so easily dismissed.

Inuit boats (Franklin Second Journey)

Above: Franklin's team are approached by Inuit kayaks during his second overland voyage [BL: G.7398]

The appendices to Franklin's published accounts illustrate the fact. Not only did he and his team chart large tracts of the Arctic coast of North America while enduring some of the worst weather on record they also recorded the climate, geological observations and the flora and fauna of the areas they crossed. The result is a detailed record not just of the expedition but of the ecology and climate of northern Canada in the early nineteenth century. On top of this, other members of the expedition left behind records of the individuals and cultures they encountered on the journey, most notably in the form of Lieutenant Back's translation of voyageur songs, 'Canadian Airs'.

Sabine appendices (flower)  Sabine appendices (lichen)
Above: some of the illustrations from the zoological appendix to Franklin's first account, compiled by Joseph Sabine [BL: 569.f.16]

In the context of the first expedition all of this was achieved in the face of not only extremely bad weather but an ongoing feud between the North West and Hudson's Bay companies that all but deprived Franklin and his team of the required support. While the expedition was a disaster and this led to a high rate of death (and unsavory incidents) amongst the men the significance of factors originating outside of the expedition must be noted, as should the achievements the expedition managed to make. That men survived and produced an insightful record of the journey makes it less easy to dismiss Franklin's overland expeditions just as poorly-conceived follies. Instead, we should perhaps view them within the context of Franklin's life as a whole, one marked by distinguished service, postings around the world and an ability to survive the worst war and exploration could throw at him. At least until his later, fateful, journey.

Canadian Airs (Back)

Above: Frontispiece of 'Canadian Airs' produced from songs compiled and translated by Lieut. George Back during Franklin's first overland expedition [BL: G. 416]

With this in mind, why not pop on your boots and come to see Lines in the Ice before it closes on April 19th? You'll not only learn more about Franklin and the search for the Northwest Passage, you'll hopefully get a taste to find out more in our reading rooms too.

[PJH]