THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

6 posts categorized "Pacific Islands"

27 July 2016

Operation Crossroads: 70 Years on from the Bombs at Bikini

Add comment

Mark Eastwood is a PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham. He is currently undertaking a PhD placement with the Eccles Centre at the British Library. Mark will be producing a series of blogs which will explore aspects of the Cold War through the American Collections at the British Library.

July 2016 marks the 70th anniversary of the United States’ first atomic tests outside of World War Two. In July 1946, a joint U.S Army-Navy task force staged two atomic weapons tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The operation was designed to test the effects of an atomic bomb on naval vessels at sea. Consisting of tests Able and Baker, Operation Crossroads marked the first of over 1900 nuclear tests staged since the end of World War Two.

Seventy years on, what can we learn from Operation Crossroads?

 

Cold war1

Figure 1: "A Tree Grows in Bikini" Image of the Baker Bomb Test

Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p.199 (Shelf mark: W67/5211)

Cold war cover

Operation Crossroads, front cover

 

The US collections at the British Library house one of the UK’s only copies of the official photographic record of the operation. Official Pictorial Record of Operation Crossroads, published in 1946, contains a collection of more than 200 photographs documenting all stages of the operation. Not only does the collection offers a unique insight into the operation, but it demonstrates the emergence of the nuclear political culture which dominated the Cold War and can be felt even today.

The first lesson to draw from Operation Crossroads is to understand the sheer scale of the nuclear-industrial complex. The tests involved more than 200 ships, 42000 men and women and 150 aircraft gathered from both the Navy and Army Air Force. A significant number of civilian scientists from fifteen universities and many more individuals from private business and NGO’s also took part. The tests would mark pioneering breakthroughs in the use of remotely piloted boats and aircraft.

Coldwar2

Figure 2: "Radio Controlled Flying Fortress"

Operation Crossroads p.50

To ensure the operation was reported around the world, a huge legion of domestic and international press representatives were invited as observers. Many of the journalists were offered passage aboard the U.S. Navy vessel ‘Appalachian,’ dubbed, ‘the press ship.’ Technological innovation and cross-sector involvement, relayed globally by the press, underlined the significance of the nuclear-industrial complex which would come to dominate the Cold War years and beyond.

Coldwar3

Figure 3: "Gentlemen of the Press"

Operation Crossroads from top to bottom: p.41

The mass of cameras used at Bikini solidified the iconic imagery at the centre of today’s nuclear imaginary. More than 50000 still images and 1.5 million feet of film roll were taken during Operation Crossroads. For the global public, the images from Bikini offered their first engagement with the reality of the bomb. The photographs from Operation Crossroads demonstrated the awesome power of the atom which they could only read about previously. The image of the mushroom cloud rising high above the Bikini Lagoon became fixed in the public imaginary and in turn secured its status as the most potent and evocative image of the nuclear age.

ColdWar4

Figure 4: "Test Able Panorama"

Operation Crossroads: pp. 138-139

Operation Crossroads also marked the beginning of what we might call nuclear colonialism. Part of the preparation for Operation Crossroads involved the removal, or ‘evacuation’ as the U.S. government termed it, of 167 islanders from their ancestral home. They were relocated first to Rongerik Atoll and then some 250 miles away to the island of Kwajalein.

The islanders believed the relocation to be temporary but, seventy years later, the Bikini Atoll remains far too radioactive for their descendants to return to. The environmental conditions on Kwajalein were not the same as at Bikini and the islanders suffered from a lack of resources and fishing grounds once their U.S. supplied provisions ran out. The islanders are largely written out of the official pictorial record. Whilst reference is made to the beauty of Bikini itself, the inhabitants are largely an afterthought. Less than 1% of the photographs in the collection document the presence of indigenous inhabitants. Those which do exist focus on the ‘happy native,’ thankful to the kind and benevolent American colonialist. The treatment of the islanders and their almost complete erasure form the official record highlights the colonial trend in nuclear testing. From the islands of the Pacific to the Aboriginal lands of Australia, nuclear tests have ravaged indigenous lands around the globe.

Cold War 5

Figure 5: "At Home Abroad" King Juda (far left), of the Bikini islanders, pictured at Kwajalein enjoying the radio given to him as a gift by the U.S. Navy. One of the few photographs of the islanders contained in the record.

Operation Crossroads p.17

Finally, one may argue that Operation Crossroads picked up where Hiroshima and Nagasaki left off in fuelling the arms race which came to dominate the Cold War. The original idea for the operation grew out of a militarised mind-set and fear over the vulnerability of the naval fleet to a nuclear attack. The tests were designed to study the effects of the atom bomb and also to provide studies in how to defend against it.

 

Cold war 6

Figure 6: "General Damage on Stern Deck, Nevada"

Operation Crossroads p.167

Opposition to the tests did manifest, largely from the Manhattan Project scientific community who warned that the local Pacific waters were likely to become a ‘witch's brew’ of radioactivity. Ignoring such warnings, which turned out to be extremely accurate, the government pressed ahead. In demonstrating their commitment to continued atomic testing in the post-war era, it could be argued that the United States threw down the atomic gauntlet to the rest of the world. Furthermore, alongside U.S. vessels, Operation Crossroads included Japanese and German ships which had been surrendered after the War. The symbolic destruction of these ‘prizes’ did little to undermine the perception of U.S. imperialistic power.

Cold war 7

Figure 7: "Bomb vs Metropolis" A composite comparing the size of the explosion of the Baker test with the Manhattan skyline

Operation Crossroads p.215

Seventy years and nearly 2000 tests on from Operation Crossroads, whilst the Bikini Atoll still feels the ecological impact of nuclear testing, the cultural and political ramifications of the first post-war tests remain rather potent.

P.S. Did you know that the tests at the Bikini Atoll were responsible for the introduction of the word ‘bikini’ into the common lexicon? It was adopted to describe the invention of the new two-piece bathing suit and was derived “from the comparison of the effects wrought by a scantily clad woman to the effects of an atomic bomb.”[1]

 

[1] Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994, p. 4

21 May 2015

Stories Weaved in Cloth

Add comment Comments (0)

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]

15 November 2012

From the Collections: Captain Cook and the Nuu-Chah-Nulth

Add comment Comments (0)

 View of Habitations in Nootka Sound

‘A View of the Habitations in Nootka Sound’ plate held at BL: 456.h.24

Public Domain Mark 
This work (A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean...,London: W & A Strahan, etc., 1784), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

 Once again I’ve been calling up some of the many works of Captain James Cook from the Library's storage areas, this time to look at his notes and illustrations relating to his searches for the fabled 'great southern land' and the North-West Passage. While my reason for calling the items up was more concerned with the frozen seas of the Arctic and the Antarctic, as usual I was waylaid by some other writings and illustrations that I came across.

In October I was able to take something off my long ‘to-do’ list when I visited UBC's Museum of Anthropology. The collections held there, together with the various economic and political issues affecting today’s inhabitants of British Columbia made me think of the dramatic changes that have happened subsequent to Cook’s contact with the area. With this in mind I let myself wander to a series of plates dedicated to the people and material culture of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth.

Various Articles at Nootka Sound
‘Various Articles at Nootka Sound’ plate held at BL: 456.h.24

The illustrations of the area (I think done around Yuquot), its people and material culture, are both interesting and useful records. But, as with many travel accounts of the period, they (together with the notes and images which document all of Cook’s three voyages), are indicative of an imperial way of seeing the various peoples encountered, an emphasis being placed on their 'Otherness' to European eyes.

Indie of a Hippah
‘The Indie of a Hippah in New Zeeland’ plate held at BL: 456.h.24

The materials relating to Cook’s voyages have been published in many forms, including the exhaustive ‘A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean…’ [BL Shelfmark: 454.h.9 -11], with which these plates are associated [but stored separately at BL Shelfmark: 456.h.24]. The Library also holds various accounts of Nuu-Chah-Nulth culture and post-contact history, although many of these need to be searched for using the term Nootka (as used in the works’ titles).

[PJH]

20 August 2012

Breadfruit, Rum and Mutinies: the career of William Bligh

Add comment Comments (0)


Breadfruit [store]

 Plant accommodation on HMS Bounty [BL Shelfmark: RB.31.c.503(1)].

I’ve been doing further reading on Australian history this week and you can’t cover early nineteenth- century Australia without coming across William Bligh. Bligh became Governor of New South Wales in 1806 but prior to this he had already undertaken a number of missions for the British Government in European, Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific waters. One of these missions provides Team Americas with another blog on the links between Australasia and the Americas.

While in Tahiti as part of Cook’s first Pacific voyage, Joseph Banks noted that the local Uru, or breadfruit, had potential as a source of cheap, high energy food that could be cultivated in British colonies. Banks successfully promoted his idea after returning to London, and Bligh was dispatched with HMS Bounty to acquire plants for use in the Caribbean. After one mutiny, a trip back to London (via Koupang) and two trips to Tahiti for specimens, Bligh finally delivered the breadfruit plants to Jamaica.

Breadfruit [illus]
Illustration of breadfruit in Bligh’s A Voyage to the South Sea [BL Shelfmark: : RB.31.c.503(1)]

Following success as a Naval captain in Europe, and having earned Nelson’s favour at the Battle of Copenhagen, Bligh was appointed Governor of New South Wales. Arriving in 1806 Bligh immediately had to deal with the New South Wales Corps, the standing regiment for the colony which had set up a decent sideline in profiteering illegal trade items – namely, rum. Eventually this led to the 'Rum Rebellion' of 1808 and Bligh was forced to take another ignominious trip on the sea (this time to Hobart).

Breadfruit [map]
Map of Bligh’s journey, in A Voyage to the South Sea [BL Shelfmark: : RB.31.c.503(1)].

While mutinies grab popular attention, Bligh's career offers a good example of the way in which many individuals in the British Navy helped to developed global networks of exchange and control which underpinned the British Empire. He’s also a case study of what binds Team Americas and Australasia together.

I’ve noted in an earlier blog the Library’s collections on Cook and his expedition, and there is also a significant collection on the expeditions of Bligh; for starters see, A Voyage to the South Sea, 1792 [BL Shelfmark: RB.31.c.503(1)] and A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board His Majesty’s Ship Bounty, 1790 [BL Shelfmark: G.3066].

[PJH]

13 March 2012

The Voyage of HMS Beagle: zoological views

Add comment Comments (0)

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]

15 February 2012

Guest Post: a side of Australasian studies

Add comment Comments (0)

A General Chart of New Holland
'A General Chart of New Holland, including New South Wales & Botany Bay', in 'An Historical Narrative of the Discovery of New Holland and New South Wales'

As I mentioned in a previous post on the Terra Nova expedition, 2011 was a busy year for the Americas section of the Library and one of the other developments was being joined by our colleague responsible for Australasian Studies. Unfortunately, Nicholas has now left the Library to enjoy the warmer climes of southern France and so the rest of us from Americas Studies are doing our best to direct readers interested in researching the area for the time being. This being the case, we thought we'd start the best way we know how - blogging.

The Library has a notable collection of materials relating to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and we aim to show a selection of the historical works we have as 'guest posts' on the Americas blog. For today's post I happened to be looking at the voyage of Captain Cook to the west coast of Canada and thought the Australian materials included in the same volumes would make a good first Australasian post.

A Man of Van Diemen's Land
'A Man of Van Diemen's Land', contained in the supplementary plates to 'A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean'

Edited by John Douglas, 'A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean' (shelfmark: 10025.bbb.22) has a supplementary volume of plates and charts compiled during the journey, held at shelfmark, C.180.h.11. These charts and plates cover various parts of Cook's expedition and therefore range from Australia to Nootka Sound and illustrate the landscape, fauna and peoples encountered. The above, 'A Man from Van Diemen's Land' is an example of the illustrations included in the volume which charts the diversity of societies and environments encountered.

The Library's collections contain many materials relating to Cook's voyages, including books, maps and manuscripts. Another item I called up was the 1786 publication, 'An Historical Narrative of the Discovery of New Holland and New South Wales' (shelfmark: 1446.c.19). The piece is a much smaller, highly edited account of Cook's expedition which happens to contain the rather nice map seen at the top of this post. Given the amount of material the Library holds relating to Cook's expeditions it is tempting to keep posting highlights from the myriad publications and manuscripts in coming weeks, but rest assured a host of notable collection items on various subjects will be on display in subsequent guest posts.

[PJH]