THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

3 posts categorized "Humanities"

16 November 2016

American Studies Training Day in Boston Spa

Add comment

Have you visited the British Library in Boston Spa yet? Did you know that you can access millions of books, journals and newspapers from the Boston Spa Reading Room? If you live in the north of England, the British Library at Boston Spa may be the most convenient way to view our collections.

Last Friday the Americas Team and the Eccles Centre for American Studies joined forces for a special training session on resources for American Studies at the British Library at Boston Spa.

50 students from the universities of Leeds, Chester, Birmingham, York, Northumbria, Sunderland, Central Lancashire, Sheffield and Dundee, among others, joined us on a misty autumnal morning in North Yorkshire to explore the British Library’s North American holdings.

Aerial shot of Boston Spa site

The British Library at Boston Spa from the sky (we went by train)

The day began with an introduction to the British Library holdings and the history of the American collections within the Library. We had a look at the different catalogues for printed items, manuscripts, and the sound archive, as well as our collection of e-resources. This was followed by a virtual show and tell of highlights in our American collections (take a look at our American Revolution and American Literature in Europe sites to see a few of the items we discussed).

Our day continued with a fascinating presentation about the Boston Spa site and the UK newspaper collections by our colleagues Joanne Cox and David Clayforth, where we heard about how the Library’s different sites and collections have been reconfigured over time. The Eccles Centre’s Fran Fuentes illustrated how the newspaper collections holds vast potential for researchers working in the Americas, and guided students through a case study focussing on holdings of regional US newspapers. This was followed by two parallel sessions: one on resources for the study of American literature, where we looked at the research potential of comparing UK and US editions as well as our wonderful collection of fine press books, and one on US official publications, where Jennie Grimshaw helped students navigate our immense and sometimes challenging collection.

We are hoping to organise a similar training day in 2017 and we will advertise it widely on the blog and our twitter accounts @_Americas and @BL_EcclesCentre. Do let us know if there are any areas in the collections about which you would like to learn more!

26 October 2016

The private life of the Canadian beaver

Add comment

The beaver is famous as a grafter: hence his adoption as one of the symbols of that industrious people, the Canadians.

In the medieval Bestiary he was associated with castration, on the grounds of a false etymology: Latin castor looks like it should be connected to castrare, and the tradition was that the beaver’s testicles were much sought after as medicine. When threatened with death at the hands of the huntsman, the beaver bit off his own genitals and escaped.

When the Baron de Lahontan published the account of his travels in New France in 1703, he has happier tales to tell of the hard-working rodent.

He describes the dams which they make ‚Äėmuch more artistically than men‚Äô.  The Indians (‚Äėsauvages‚Äô) are convinced that their ‚Äėesprit‚Äô, ‚Äėcapacite‚Äô and ‚Äėjugement‚Äô show that they must have immortal souls.  (Various unflattering comparisons with Tartars,  Muscovites and Norwegians follow.) 

The beavers hold their assemblies, communicating in ‚Äėcertains tons plaintifs non articulez‚Äô. 

They work through the night, using their tails as rudders, their teeth as axes, their paws as hands, and their feet as oars.

He also has a long section describing how the Indians hunt them.

Beavers 2

Nouveaux Voyages de Mr. le Baron de Lahontan, dans l‚ÄôAm√©rique septentrionale, qui contiennent une r√©lation des diff√©rens peuples qui y habitent; la nature de leur gouvernement; leur commerce, leurs coutumes, leur religion, & leur mani√®re de faire la guerre.(The Hague, 1703)  [1052.a.27.]

But the glory is this plate, where we see (anti-clockwise from top): savage hunting beaver with rifle, savage hunting beaver with bow and arrow,  beaver dragging a tree on water, the beaver‚Äôs dray, beaver caught in nets, beaver‚Äôs lake, holes in the ice, savages harpooning a beaver, dog choking a beaver,  another dog choking a beaver, beavers going to work, beavers‚Äô dyke, beavers dragging a tree on water, beaver in a trap, beaver cutting down a tree.

Let the ingenious and dexterous beaver be an example to us all.

By Barry Taylor, Curator of Romance Collections

 

Further reading:

Rachel Poliquin, Beaver (London, 2015).  YK.2016.a.3542.

 

12 October 2016

Dorothy Livesay: Canada, the Spanish Civil War and the 1930s

Add comment

My dear, it’s years between; we’ve grown up fast

Each differently, each striving by itself.

I see you now a grey man without dreams

Without a living, or an overcoat:

But sealed in struggle now, we are more close

Than if our bodies still were sealed in love.

                              Dorothy Livesay, ‚ÄúComrade‚ÄĚ

 

Dorothy Livesay‚Äôs 1977 book Right Hand Left Hand is best described as a collage of Canada during the 1930s. It is at once a memoir, a scrapbook, and an anthology that includes personal letters, visual art, poetry, short stories, articles and photographs‚ÄĒall framed by Livesay‚Äôs reminiscences. As co-editor of the new scholarly edition of Right Hand Left Hand, I‚Äôve been working closely with the book for more than four years, but still I can hardly grasp it. It is ambitious and scattered, compelling and confusing. Its flawed form attempts to do justice to the chaos, excitement, and adversity of Canada during the Great Depression.

 
Thumbnail
 

Image1

Dorothy Livesay. Right Hand Left Hand (Erin, Ont. : Press Porcepic, 1977) [X.950/20211]

Right Hand Left Hand offers countless paths into Canada’s social, political, and cultural history. The Spanish Civil War claims its own chapter, disrupting the pattern of chapters themed around Livesay’s own travels (Montreal, New Jersey, the West). This chapter does not provide a historical account of the war. Instead, it offers a series of voices, representing the Canadians involved in the Republican Front during the conflict. Volunteers, medical staff, poets, fundraisers, and journalists all speak to the urgency of the Spanish conflict and why it resonated across the ocean: famous Dr. Norman Bethune describes the innovative process of blood transfusion; La Pasionaria cries out Spain’s needs to eager Canadian advocates; poets speak of Spain as a metaphor for Canada’s depressed and oppressed. For those new to the subject matter, Canadians’ engagement with the war raises questions. Faced with the economic crisis and the impending Second World War, what would compel Canadians to commit themselves to Spain? Livesay argues for the Spanish Civil War’s significance in Canadian history, first through the textual space of the chapter, and then through the polyvocality of its contents.

Cary Nelson uses the term ‚Äúpoetry chorus‚ÄĚ to emphasize ‚Äúcommunity and continuity in the collective enterprise of progressive poetry‚ÄĚ (3). In Right Hand Left Hand, Livesay curates a similar chorus‚ÄĒa collection of fiercely political voices, real or fictional, who bring their energy and passion to their communities. Livesay offers many versions of what resistance and community building look like. Livesay catalogues hundreds of political gestures that interfere in the status quo and that work towards a better world: a woman reaches across class divides to comfort a neighbour; labourers contribute their meagre income to support striking comrades; artists craft narratives that expose state violence. People resist locally and internationally, with their money, their time, their imaginations, and sometimes their lives. Solidarity is made visible, is questioned, doubted, and ultimately, affirmed. The end result is that the war in Spain doesn‚Äôt seem so remote or futile. Is there a difference between supporting your neighbour down the street, across the mountains, or across the sea? Is it worthwhile to make these distinctions?

Right Hand Left Hand ends with a photograph of Jean Watts, one of Livesay‚Äôs closest friends. The photo, captioned ‚ÄúJean Watts Lawson marching off to war,‚ÄĚ shows Watts in uniform‚ÄĒshe enlisted in the Canadian Women‚Äôs Army Corps during the Second World War. It wasn‚Äôt her first war; Watts participated in the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, radio broadcaster, censor, ambulance driver, and with Norman Bethune‚Äôs blood transfusion unit. Before the war, she was an active member of Canada‚Äôs Workers‚Äô Theatre, and funded New Frontier, the leftist magazine where much of the poetry of the Spanish Civil War first appeared. Her image sums up this ambitious book: she was central in Livesay‚Äôs personal life, in Canada‚Äôs cultural scene, in leftist politics, and in the Canadian war effort. She fought fascism on so many fronts. She built communities and cultural infrastructure.

Thumbnail

Her determined figure provides a hopeful counterpoint to Livesay‚Äôs text, which ends on a heart-wrenching reminiscence of the bombing of Hiroshima. In recovering Right Hand Left Hand, I strive to recover the Canada that cared so deeply about the people of Spain, and the Canada that worked and wrote and fought towards alternatives to capitalism and fascism. I strive to recover Livesay and Watts together‚ÄĒtwo fierce women who contributed to their communities in very different but equally necessary ways.

--Kaarina Mikalson

Kaarina Mikalson is Project Manager for Canada and the Spanish Civil War and a PhD student in English in Dalhousie University

 

NOTES:

Livesay, Dorothy. Right Hand Left Hand. Erin, ON: Press Porcépic, 1977.

 ---. ‚ÄúComrade.‚ÄĚ Right Hand Left Hand. Erin, ON: Press Porc√©pic, 1977. 262.

Nelson, Cary. Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left. New York: Routledge, 2003.