THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

6 posts categorized "Online resources"

10 January 2017

Buffalo Bill, 1846-1917

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Today - 10 January 2017 - marks 100 years since the death of William Frederick ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, who perhaps more than any other figure shaped British perceptions of the American West.

Born in Scott County, Iowa, in 1846, Cody apparently got his first frontier job at 10 years of age, riding a mule and carrying messages between wagons for a party travelling to Utah. He later rode for the Pony Express, hunted buffalo, fought for the Union (in 1854 his father had been stabbed while speaking out against slavery), and worked as a civilian scout for the US Army.

On 22 May 1872 Congress awarded Cody the Medal of Honor for gallantry as an Army scout in the Indian Wars. Later that same year – following endless hectoring by publicist Ned Buntline – he agreed to play himself on stage. Arriving in Chicago on 12 December, he learned that with less than a week before opening the play had not been written and the cast has not been chosen. Nevertheless, six days later Scouts of the Prairie opened at Nixon’s amphitheatre. As Cody froze in front of two thousand punters, Buntline (who was also on stage), apparently asked Cody: ‘Where have you been, Bill? What has kept you so long?’ (1). Cody took the cue, wowed the audience with his (sometimes tall) tales of life in the Wild West, and his stage persona was born.

In 1883, after a decade combining scouting and performing, Cody founded Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Four years later this extravaganza crossed the Atlantic for its first tour of Great Britain.

Buffalobillprogramme

John M. Burke. Buffalo Bill's Wild West: America's National Entertainment. [1887]. Shelfmark 10408.g.25

For Cody, the show was always about entertainment and education. It celebrated the skills of hunters, horseback riders and sharp shooters (including Annie Oakley) through demonstrations and sometimes hair-raising re-enactments. Yet for many the highlight was the inclusion of nearly 100 Lakota Sioux men, women and children. Inevitably, they starred in scenes such as ‘Attack on a Settler’s Cabin’ or ‘Attack on an Emigrant Train’. Yet in ‘Phases of Indian Life’ they showcased aspects of their own culture. Indeed, some later shows highlighted them being ejected from their homeland, and apparently Cody always insisted they were the first group to enter the stadium after him. Astonishingly, more than 2.5 million people are believed to have attended the show’s first run at Earl’s Court, including Queen Victoria who was celebrating her Golden Jubilee and was given two command performances.

The British Library holds a wide variety of contemporary items detailing the show’s British and American tours, including national and local newspaper reports, posters, programmes and sheet music. It also holds Cody’s autobiography, scores of biographies (including one by Buntline), and dime novels either written under Cody’s name or inspired by his exploits.

Buffalobillnovel

Buffalo Bill. The Redskin Detective: or, the gold buzzards of Colorado. London: J. Henderson & Sons, 1903. Shelfmark 12604.i.

   Buffalobillpolka

May Ostlere. Buffalo Bill Polka. London: Metzler & Co., [1887]. Shelfmark: Music collections h.3645.(3.)

For more images relating to the American West, see the Eccles Centre’s The American West through British Eyes, 1865-1900.

1. Ronald A. Reis, Buffalo Bill Cody. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2010, p. 53.

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 2016

Cabin Fever: Deconstructing the Log-Cabin Myth of Appalachia

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Kevan Manwaring is an Eccles Centre Postgraduate Fellow and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is currently undertaking a Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester. His practice-based research is a novel set in Appalachia & Scotland.

As an historical artifact and as a cultural meme I set out to explore the phenomenon of that quintessential icon of American pioneering spirit, the log cabin.

Lincoln_Log_Cabin

Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site. Photograph by Daniel Schwen [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The homely shack hacked out of the primal wilderness, or so the myth goes, the log-cabin has been called ‘a symbol of democracy’ (Shurtleff: 5). Synonymous with self-reliance, hard-work, and grit the cabin has a taken on a metaphorical dimension. How has it become the crucible of the American Creation Myth? Every state seems to have at least one of these iconic structures where their most famous son or daughter started out. Perhaps the most hallowed of these was at Walden Pond, in Massachusetts, where, on the 4th July, 1845, Henry David Thoreau went to build a cabin. And live there he did, for a couple of years, cultivating his legumes and legend; but the nature of his dwelling – now enshrined in American culture and replicated countless times across the nation – is not exactly what it seems. It needs interrogating and deconstructing somewhat – but not to undermine Thoreau’s achievement or legacy – but to examine the foundations of this most enduring and beloved icon.

This ‘log-cabin myth’ (as Harold R. Shurtleff defined it in his 1939 Study of the Early Dwellings of the English Colonists in North America) is ‘an American belief that is both deep-seated and tenacious’ (Shurtleff: 5).

Let us look at the history of the Log-Cabin. At the risk of seeming disingenuous, I think it’s necessary to remind ourselves of what a log cabin is defined as: ‘a small house made from tree trunks’ (Cambridge Dictionary online). This is important, especially when considering Walden (it was not). It is a term that is often bandied about and misapplied.

 

But when was the log cabin first seen in the New World?

From current evidence we can deduce that the first dwellings built of round or square logs was raised by the earliest Scandinavian settlers in 1638 – primarily Swedes, but also Eastern Finnish, bringing with them the skill-set of the Savo-Karelian culture (Jordan; Kaups, 1992). German immigrants constructed their own variants, independently, from about 1710. The Scots-Irish arriving in large numbers after 1718, took up this new opportunity (having been unable to build timber-houses at home due to the lingering restrictions of that Norman construct, ‘forest’, and the financial cost) and ran with it. It seems likely they invented the term ‘log cabin’ (one belonging to a James McGavock is identified in an Irish community, Virginia, 1770). Before that, the most common one was ‘log house’ (Maine, 1662; Maryland, 1669; Massachusetts, 1678; North Carolina, 1680; New Hampshire, 1699). Via this new wave of migrants, the log cabin went ‘viral’: ‘From and through the Germans and Scotch-Irish it spread rapidly through the English colonies and by the American Revolution had become the typical American frontier dwelling from Maine to Tennessee.’  (Shurtleff: 4), to the point that, as John Alexander Williams observed: ‘The log house is the most enduring symbol of Appalachia’ (2002: 5). Cheap, convenient and quick to construct from readily available materials, with only an axe, a pair of hands, a mouthful of nails, some cussing and a lot of elbow grease, it is small wonder the log cabin or house flourished.

In summary it seems likely, that whoever got there first (and the degradable nature of the material means we will never know for certain), that ‘each group of European colonist in the seventeenth century erected the sort of dwellings they were accustomed to at home.’ (Shurtleff, 209).

Yet were they bringing coals to Newcastle, for it is noted by William Byrd in 1728 how he found ‘Indians’ in Virginia and North Carolina in the traditional lodges of their ancestors, what he called ‘Bark Cabanes’, wooden dwellings. This suggests the possibility of cross-fertilisation – that the ‘log cabin’ was the product of syncretism.

And so we can see how the notion of the ‘log-cabin’ is a constructed one, one with several influences. As a metaphor for the quintessential hybridity and Old/New World recycling of America, it is fit-for-purpose.

 

As a cultural meme, the log-cabin has extended its influence far beyond its humble parameters. It has been taken up by politicians, writers, singers, film-makers, eco-campaigners, artists and architects…

A seminal example of this is the ‘Lincoln Log Cabin’ – the humble family home of the 16th President of the USA. At Knob Creek Farm, La Rue County, Kentucky, a neighbour’s farm was relocated to the approximate spot and turned into a heritage ‘shrine’, evidence of the Lincoln myth, and by extension, the dramatic arc of the American dream – from log cabin to the white-house.

Such ‘repackaging’ has precedent, which can be seen if we dial-back to the 14th Presidential Election Campaign. In what became known as the Log Cabin campaign of William Henry Harrison, we can see the repurposing of the log cabin for political capital. Evoking an American Arcadia, the log cabin symbolized a return to good, simple virtues, to an uncomplicated, uncorrupted way of life.

Image1

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1935). Illustrated by Helen Sewell [20054.d.28.]

We see this representation of the log-cabin in classics of American literature such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 reformist novel; Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884); Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel! (1929); the ‘Little House’ books of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932-1943); Woody Guthrie’s recently rediscovered House of Earth (1947); Wilma Dykeman’s Appalachian trilogy, The Tall Woman (1962); The Far Family (1966); Return the Innocent Earth (1973); and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (1997). These and many others create a sub-genre of what could be called ‘Log Lit’. 

Extending its influence far beyond Appalachia, the log-cabin offers us a place of renewal, a taste of a more authentic, embodied, embedded and sustainable life.

 

Kevan Manwaring

NOTES: 

Davis, Donald E., Homeplace Geography: essays for Appalachia, Mercer University Press, 2002

Lee, Hannah Farnham Sawyer, The Log Cabin: or, the world before you, Appleton, 1844

Grant, Richard E., Ghost Riders: travels with American nomads, London: Abacus, 2003.

Jordan, Terry G. & Matti E. Kaups, The American Backwoods Frontier: an ethical and ecological interpretation (creating the North American Landscape), John Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Shurtleff, Harold R., The Log-Cabin Myth: a study of the early dwellings of the English colonists in North America, Harvard, 1939

Teale, Edwin Way (ed.), The Wilderness World of John Muir, , Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1954

Thoreau, Henry David, Walden, or a Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1854

Weslager, C.A., The Log Cabin in America: from pioneers to the present (1909-1994), New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press, 1969

Williams, John Alexande,  Appalachia: a history, The University of North Carolina Press, 2002

 

Eccles Centre resources:

Imagining the West: a guide to the literature of the American West

 

02 September 2016

Stranger Things at the British Library

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If Netflix’s smash hit Stranger Things has taught us one thing this summer, it’s that even in 2016 we have serious nostalgia for all things 1980s. From Toto’s Africa to Dungeons & Dragons the show celebrates all that was great about the 80s. But there’s one reference most cultural commentators have missed – microfilm.

In Episode 3 Police Chief Jim Hawkins visits his local Library and makes full use of the Library’s microfilm collection to research the LSD mind-control experiments of the creepy Dr. Brenner. It’s a triumphant moment and one which celebrates a technology most modern researchers overlook.

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Figure 1:© Netflix

The British Library has an extensive microform collection relating to the American government and so if you fancy yourself as a bit of a modern day Chief Hopper then the Social Sciences Reading Room is the place to start. And don’t worry if you haven’t used microform before, our reading room staff are on hand to guide you through the simple process and that eighties technology is much more robust than today’s!

So what collections do we have available?

Well, we can’t promise you’ll find things on LSD mind-control but the British Library has an extensive collection of U.S. government documents and archive materials available on microform. As a federal government depository library, the Library holds a vast set of U.S. Government Printing Office documents, including Congressional reports, committee hearings and bills. These can be accessed via the CIS Indexes on the shelves in the Social Sciences Reading Room.

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Figure 2: Example of some of the CIS Indexes in the Social Sciences Reading Room

The Library also holds a significant number of NARA documents, including Presidential Papers. The full collection is listed by subject in the Social Sciences Reading Room card catalogue and most collections have indexes available on the reading room shelves. Some of the collections we hold include, Nixon’s Presidential Papers relating to China-Vietnam negotiations and the Department of Justice’s Classified Subject Files on Civil Rights.

 

 

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Figure 3: Examples of some of the microform collection subject guides available

If Stranger Things has prompted you to revisit your favourite books, films and songs from the 1980’s, why not hop on your BMX? and come down to the British Library and get hands on with the microform collections to boost your research project?

 

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Figure 4: © Netflix.

A detailed description of the collections is available in our ‘Guide to United States Official Publications in the British Library’ (PDF format). - See more at: http://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/united-states-federal-government-publications#sthash.uMGqFc21.dpuf

 

Mark Eastwood

 

09 June 2015

Searching for Saul Bellow

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SaulBellowAndKeithBotsford

Above: a photograph of Saul Bellow with Keith Botsford, at Boston University, c. 1992. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

To commemorate the centenary of Saul Bellow’s birth – on 10 June 1915 – we thought we’d highlight two excellent sources of information about the life and work of this Canadian-born American writer: first, the world’s best database for tracking down works by and about Bellow (and every other American author); and second, recordings in the Library’s Sound Archive that either feature Bellow himself or take him as their main subject.

The database in question is MLA International Bibliography which can be accessed on the PCs in any of the Library’s Reading Rooms. Having begun life more than a century ago as a hard-copy periodical index, this extraordinary resource now indexes books, journals, dissertations and websites covering modern literature, literary theory and criticism, linguistics and folklore. It holds more than two million records, adds more than 66,000 items a year and is an indispensable tool for anyone working in American literature.

DanglingMan

Above: first edition cover for Saul Bellow's 'Dangling Man' [BL: X.950/3239]. Image from Wikipedia.

A simple MLA search for Saul Bellow currently retrieves over 1500 items. These can then be narrowed down into: works by the author; works about the author; source type (books, dissertations, articles, edited volumes); source title (including Saul Bellow Journal (251 items), Studies in Jewish American Literature (35) and dissertations (69)); and publication date. There is also a graph indicating how many items have been written every decade: the 1980s wins with 392. While most citations need to be cross-referenced in ‘Explore the British Library’ to see whether or not we hold them, the full-text of some items can be accessed immediately online. 

Our second source – the Library’s Sound Archive – holds numerous substantial interviews and discussions with Bellow as well as items about him. Highlights include: a PEN Writers Day conversation with critic Francis King, ‘American Writers and their Public – The American Public and its Writers’ (1986); a 30 minute interview by Jonathan Raban on BBC Radio 4 (1989); a 1970 interview about Mr Sammlers Planet; a 25 minute interview on BBC Radio 4 focusing on his depiction of  the 1960s (1997); a BBC Two Bookmark profile of his life and work (1998); a Royal Society of Literature lecture by James Wood, ‘Saul Bellow: English Influences, American Rhythms’ (2004); and a BBC Radio 3 feature, ‘Saul Bellow and the Latter-Day Lean-To’, which includes contributions by John Updike and Alfred Kazin (1982).   

[JP]

15 August 2013

Literally, a blog post

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A friend emails, angry with rage, with the news that the Oxford English Dictionary has updated its definition of 'literally' (in 2011) to include the sense of ‘used for emphasis rather than being actually true’. This slippery slope began  c. 1769, when Frances Brooke penned the following line for Emily Montague: 'He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies', as the online OED reveals.  (It also points out that this sense is colloq.*)  In 1876, Mark Twain took up the empathic baton in  Adventures Tom Sawyer: 'And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.'  More recently (2008), a warning shot was fired in The Herald-Times (Bloomington, Indiana): '"OMG, I literally died when I found out!" No, you figuratively died. Otherwise, you would not be around to relay your pointless anecdote.'

Fired up by access to some of our online resources, I visited Early American Fiction 1789-1850 and, literally, stumbled across this from Emerson Bennett, in his Leni-Leoti; or, Adventures in the Far West (1849)

In a few minutes I had completely recovered
from my swoon; but it was a long
time before either of us could master his
emotion sufficient to hold conversation.
We looked at each other, pressed each
other by the hand, mingled our tears together,
and felt, in this strange meeting,
what no pen can describe, no language
portray. We had literally been dead to
each other---we who had loved from childhood
with that ardent love which cements
two souls in one---and now we had come
to life, as it were, to feel more intensely
our friendship for the long separation.

It is true: they have great doctors in the Far West. [MJS]

* It also includes the advice, belt-and-braces style: 'Now one of the most common uses, although often considered irregular in standard English since it reverses the original sense of literally (‘not figuratively or metaphorically’)'