THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

14 posts categorized "Geography"

20 December 2012

Cold Comfort: Royalty and Polar sovereignty

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Queen Elizabeth II (BAT 3d deep blue)

Artwork for the British Antarctic Territory: 1963-69 3d deep blue. From the Crown Agents Philatelic and Security Printing Archive held at the British Library [copyright restrictions apply] 

Wednesday was a busy news day but most will have seen the announcement that part of Antarctica is to be renamed Queen Elizabeth Land in order to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. In a year where tributes have ranged from river pageants to daring entrances to the Olympic Opening Ceremony this perhaps seems an odd or remote decision, but its geopolitical significance is already being noted.

The naming of territory has always been an important part of underscoring sovereignty claims. The history of the Americas, for example, is populated with many instances of names being applied to places in order to stake or sure up colonial ambitions. Within the name game Royal monikers have always resembled top trumps, with the British and other nations using monarchic associations to back up claims.

Such a heritage means that areas of the Arctic and Antarctic named after British monarchs are fairly common. During the nineteenth century search for the Northwest Passage, Victoria Island was named by Dease and Simpson in 1839 and Prince of Wales Island was named in 1851 by Captain T. H. Austin during his search for Franklin. The etching of these names onto the map of the Arctic took place at a time when the geopolitics of the area were intense and the potential gains from locating a Northwest Passage thought to be huge. As a result you can also find many items from these expeditions in the Library’s collections; Simpson  writes about the work he and Dease conducted between 1836 and 1839 in a work held at Shelfmark 1424.h.2, and a map of Austin’s discoveries can be found at Maps.982.(48).

Continuing this theme, Queen Elizabeth II also has the honour of providing a name to an Arctic territory with the Queen Elizabeth Islands being re-named to mark the coronation in 1953. These islands had been noted by William Baffin in 1616 and were rediscovered in 1818 by Sir John Ross. Again, books and maps relating to these expeditions can be found in the collections. It is worth noting that the 1953 re-naming of these islands coincided not just with the coronation but with a resurgence of Canadian interest in the Arctic as a result of its status as a theatre of the Cold War.

Going back to the Antarctic, we should also note that Queen Elizabeth II is not the only British monarch to have part of the continent in her name. In 1841 Captain Ross took a break from splashing his name (and that of his ships) across the land and named a large part of the continent Victoria Land. Published works by Ross are also held here, with his 1847 ‘A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions’ [Shelfmark: 2374.f.6] and other works available for consultation in the reading rooms.

 Ross Frontispiece

 Public Domain Mark This work (Frontispiece from J. Ross, A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions, 1847) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions. [BL Shelfmark: 2374.f.6]

Needless to say, I will be trying to acquire anything relevant to the naming of Queen Elizabeth Land - and our new Broadcast News service in the reading rooms will have already picked up the news reports.  

[PJH]

22 November 2012

Mapping risk: Goad's Fire Insurance Plan of Québec

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Goad plan Quebec (cover)

Public Domain Mark 
This work (Charles E. Goad, Fire Insurance Plan, City of Québec, 1910) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

One of my current projects at home has been to find the first OS map that shows the development of the street I live on from a track to a row of houses. Seeing the area around the street develop and change over time is fascinating and explains some of the road’s current quirks – it also illustrates why we have a fascination with old maps.

Hopefully the illustrations for today’s blog will have the same effect for some. While not the oldest map of Québec the Library holds (see here and here for some of those), the Charles E. Goad ‘Insurance Plan of the City of Quebec’ [BL Shelfmark: Maps 147.b.24(1)] is a fascinating depiction of the city in the early twentieth century.  

Goad was a British migrant to Canada who started producing fire insurance plans in 1875 before opening a highly successful branch of his business back in London in 1885. The function of his plans was to show companies the fire risk in different areas or buildings in urban locations; and this resulted in a unique visual illustration of the city.

 Goad plan Quebec (sheet 2)

 Public Domain Mark 
This work (Charles E. Goad, Fire Insurance Plan, City of Québec, 1910) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

The above sheets are an overview of the city, showing which areas are covered by particular parts of the plan. The detail sheets, operating at 1:600 scale, are a mix of vividly coloured blocks. This design helps the different materials of each building stand out and means fire risks can be easily identified. Today they are also a record of what has changed in the city and what remains the same – and for those buildings which remain unchanged, the maps provide a wonderful insight into the construction of urban landmarks.

What further complements these maps and others like them in our collections are the Canadian photographs that were collected between 1895 and 1924 (you can read a bit more about them here. These can provide views of the streets and businesses depicted on Goad’s (and other) maps, creating a useful hybrid view. This is one of the reasons we are currently working on digitising the photographs, a sneak preview of which you can see here, courtesy of the Europeana WWI project (Europeana Collections 1914-18)

[PJH]

16 May 2012

The Hull is a Boundary: on cricket, ships and empire

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Campo Grande
Cricket on the Campo Grande, from Wild (1878), 'At Anchor' [Shelfmark: 1786.a.6]

Tomorrow is the beginning of a few weeks of divided loyalties for me, as England take on the West Indies in the first summer series. In honour of the occasion I thought I'd post a nugget from a paper I've written for the Library's 'Sourcing Sport' event on 21st May.

That paper is on cricket in the Americas and while I was researching it a particular detail caught my eye, that is the insights British colonial shipping can give to the spread of the game. Two non-Americas examples are the earliest record of a game of cricket being played in India (Port of Cambay, 1721. Recorded in Downing (1737), 'A Compendious History of the Indian Wars' [Shelfmark: 800.c.16]) and Darwin's relatively well known Beagle voyage diary entry about cricket being played in New Zealand (December 1895, 'Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries visited during the Voyage of HMS Beagle Round the World' [Shelfmark: X.319/3182]).

Arctic Cricket
Cricket on the Arctic ice, from Parry (1824), 'Journal of a second voyage for the discovery of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific' [Shelfmark: G.7394]

Because of similar circumstances there was opportunity for the etching at the top of this piece to be made. It depicts a match between expatriate Britons and the crew of HMS Challenger on the Campo Grande, San Salvador, and is an example of cricket being spread into the informal British empire (as the expatriates and sailors were all there as a result of British investment in the building of a local tramway).

However, as interesting as the Campo Grande illustration is, the depiction of cricket being played on the Arctic ice (from William Parry's account of a voyage to chart the Northwest Passage) takes the award for 'most striking ground' - although it might also win 'worst wicket'. These references and others in the Library's collections attest to how much the spread of cricket owes to the enthusiasm of British sailors; they also represent a useful source to further question the relationship between sport and empire

There is a great deal the Library's collections can tell us about sport and society, as previous posts here and next week's 'Sourcing Sport' will show. As to the rest of what makes cricket special, hopefully Sammy, Strauss, et al will furnish that argument.

[PJH]

25 April 2012

Malaria in Ontario: a World Malaria Day post

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Rideau Canal (route)
Route of the Rideau Canal, insert from the map, Map of the District of Montreal, Lower Canada [Shelfmark: Maps 70715.(2.)]

Today is World Malaria Day so it seemed appropriate to do a short post related to one of the world's most prevalent diseases. Regarding the collections, there are a number of items which could drive interesting narratives here but this piece focuses on malaria in Canada. This might seem odd but malaria is not solely a tropical disease, coming in two main strains one of which is tolerant of temperate climates. Indeed the P. vivax strain of malaria was long endemic in parts of England, as this blog post from the Wellcome Library points out.

Scientific evidence illustrates that malaria in all its forms was introduced to the Americas subsequent to Columbian contact. Malaria was established in many parts of North America before the nineteenth century and Canada was no exception, but the construction sites of the Rideau Canal provided a particularly strong foothold. The construction of the canal led to the creation of semi-drained, marshy areas into which dense populations of workers were added, an ideal environment for mosquitoes and malaria transmission.

Rideau Canal (Locks)
Rideau Canal significant works, plate from, Papers on Subjects Connected with the Duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers [Shelfmark: P.P.4050.i]

As a result parts of the canal's construction were dogged by significant malarial sickness, as described by the engineer John MacTaggart in 1829, “In the summer of 1828 the sickness in Upper Canada raged like a plague; all along the banks of the lakes, nothing but languid fevers; and at the Rideau Canal few could work with fever and ague; at Jones Falls and Kingston Mills, no one was able to carry a draught of water to a friend; doctors and all were laid down together.” [from Three Years in Canada, Vol. II, p. 21, Shelfmark: 792.f.8]. While today malaria is almost unheard of in this part of North America, these nineteenth century outbreaks resulted in many deaths in the project's labour camps.

Away from Canada, malaria is still a source of misery for millions around the world. The Library contains a significant amount of published material relating to malaria, largely as a result of the significant twentieth century developments in understanding how the disease was transmitted and could be treated. There is also a large amount of material online, especially because the drive to reduce the incidence of malaria is one of the Millennium Development Goals.

[PJH]

13 March 2012

The Voyage of HMS Beagle: zoological views

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Beagle zoology (birds)
Illustration from the birds focussed volume of, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle'

A couple of weeks ago I spent a Sunday afternoon at Down House, where Charles Darwin lived and wrote his famous works. Many things struck me that afternoon but the map of the Beagle's voyage reminded me that Darwin's journey is a piece of history which provides a link between all of us here in the Americas and Australasian Studies department. Duly motivated, I decided to do a short blog on the Beagle's presence in the Library's collections.

The British Library holds a lot of material which refers to or resulted from the work conducted by Darwin and others during the voyage of HMS Beagle. Not only are there many copies of, 'On the Origin of Species' but there are also less popularly know publications, such as Darwin's paper, 'The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, etc.' (shelfmark: 07109.i.13). Amongst all of this, my favourite publication related to the expedition is, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle' (which I also saw on display at Down House).

Beagle zoology (mammals)
Illustration of Australia's Mus Fuscipes, from the mammals volume of, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle'

'Zoology' is a detailed account of the animals and fossils encountered and collected during the voyage of the Beagle with each volume being drawn together by various authorities of the time. Between them, the five volumes provide accounts of the various specimens collected and are richly illustrated with examples from various parts of the voyage (although the lithographs of Galapagos finches are understandably the most eye catching).

The account also underlines the scope and scale of the Beagle's voyage and Darwin's collecting, neither of which were necessarily unique to the time but they do illustrate a globalised scientific process. Unfortunately, it's becoming something of a trend for me to blog about restricted items and once again the library's original 'Zoology' (shelfmark: 791.I.17,18) is on this list. However, there are also some very good reproductions available in the reading rooms, not least the Royal Geographical Society's 1994 commemorative edition (shelfmark: Cup.410.g.500).

[PJH]

07 March 2012

The Arctic Regions: William Bradford's ambitious book

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Arctic regions (cover)
Front cover from William Bradford's, 'The Arctic Regions'. Shelfmark: 1785.d.7 (restricted item)

Here at Team Americas and Australasian Studies we've been poring over a few acquisition catalogues recently, not to buy anything but to see what is happening on the antiquarian book market. During this process some items that we already hold jump out and make you think, 'I'd like to have a look at that'.

One such item can be seen above, William Bradford's publication, 'The Arctic Regions'. I was intrigued as I had not heard of the work before, so I thought I'd have a look at what makes it so special. Bradford was an artist who assembled an expedition to Greenland in order to photograph the area (although he actually used two Boston photographers, George Crichterson and John L. Dunmore) and produce a photographically illustrated book upon their return.

Arctic regions (Inuit)
Mounted internal photograph from, 'The Arctic Regions'

Bradford's publication idea was novel for the time and the end product is still stunning, the volume is very large and contains over 100 mounted photographs of various scenes from Arctic Greenland and North America. The depiction of the Arctic presented is romantic in tone and sometimes patronising to the people who were photographed (there is at least one disparaging comment regarding the appearance of local Inuit) but it is a notable early photographic view of the Arctic regions.

Unfortunately, due to the size of the item and the delicate nature of the mounted photographs the item is on the Library's restricted list and not easy to view. However, if you would like to know more and see more of the book's contents there are a couple of useful galleries online. There is a short selection on this wider gallery on the North West Passage while this gallery from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute provides a more detailed look and context.

[PJH]