THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?

Introduction

Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

20 September 2017

‘Stealing Signs’: Baseball, Past and Present

Cheating in baseball is as old as the game itself. Whether a pitcher doctors the ball with saliva making it difficult to hit, a runner deliberately spikes an opposing fielder as he slides into base, or a batter uses a ‘corked’ bat to get extra propulsion on the ball, underhand practices are part and parcel of America’s national pastime. But recent allegations that the Boston Red Sox unlawfully used high-tech Apple watches to gain an advantage over their biggest rivals, the New York Yankees (New York Times, 5 September 2017), has reignited the debate about the blurred line between gamesmanship (bending the rules) and outright cheating.

The case against the Red Sox centres on allegations of ‘stealing signs’ from their opponents – spotting the coded gestures made by the fielding team which indicate what type of pitch is likely to be thrown - and relaying them to the batter via an Apple watch worn by one of the Red Sox coaches. In baseball’s complex code of honour ‘stealing signs’ is acceptable, but using electronic aids to help you do so is officially foul play.

While the baseball authorities ponder what punishment, if any, to impose on the Red Sox, they may find themselves considering a remarkably similar case of technology and cheating, which made headlines more than a century ago. The story involves a Philadelphia Phillies coach called Pearce ‘Petie’ Chiles and an electronic buzzer buried beneath his feet.

Pearce_Chiles

Pearce Chiles. Wikimedia Commons.

It is recalled in detail by Joe Dittmar in the 1991 edition of The Baseball Research Journal, one of multiple volumes of the annual Historical and Statistical Review of the Society for American Baseball Research held in the British Library’s Mike Ross Collection of baseball books and memorabilia.

The scheme to ‘steal signs’ deployed by Chiles back in 1900 was ingenious and surprisingly sophisticated: a co-conspirator sat in the stands equipped with a spyglass to spot the signs made by the opposing catcher. He then sent a signal to an electronic buzzer in a wooden box buried beneath the spot where Chiles stood to coach on the third base line. Each sequence of buzzes represented a certain type of pitch and Chiles would tell the Phillies batter what pitch to expect next. The subterfuge was only uncovered when an opposing fielder’s suspicions were aroused by the strange jerking movements made by Chiles each time the buzzer went off. The fielder dug up the ground with his spikes and struck the outside of the buried box, revealing a mass of wiring. The Phillies had been caught red-handed, but there was no admission of guilt and no official reprimand. Today’s Red Sox will be hoping for similar leniency.

Stories of deceit, dishonesty and playing fast-and-loose with the rules are woven into baseball folklore and recounted in numerous items held at the Library: from John McCallum’s account of the legendary Ty Cobb sharpening the spikes on his boots just to inflict injury on opponents in The Tiger Wore Spikes: An Informal Biography of Ty Cobb (New York,  1956; shelfmark General Reference Collection, Mike Ross 144) to Eliot Asinof’s classic narrative of the ‘fixed’ 1919 World Series, Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series (New York, 1963; shelf mark DSC W55/1273).

1919_blacksox

Chicago White Sox, 1919. Image in Wikimedia Commons. PD-US

While the Commissioner of Baseball and president of Yale, Bart Giamatti, loftily pronounced baseball ‘a living memory of what American culture at its best wishes to be,’ perhaps Dan Gutman’s compilation of stories about baseball’s shadier side captures the essence of the sport’s moral ambiguity rather better: It Ain’t Cheatin’ if You Don’t Get Caught (New York, 1990; shelfmark General Reference Collection, Mike Ross 304).

Baseball ain't cheatin

 Dan Gutman. It Ain't Cheatin' If You Don't Get Caught. New York: Penguin Books, 1990. Shelfmark: General Reference Collection, Mike Ross 304.

Chris Birkett is undertaking postgraduate research on the Clinton Presidency at King's College London, where he is a Professor Sir Richard Trainor Scholar, supported by the Eccles Centre at the British Library.

 

15 September 2017

LGBT activism and creativity in the Bay Area

This week marks the end of the Library's 'Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty' exhibition.  In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act which partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales, the exhibition reflects on gay history in the UK from the trial of Oscar Wilde to the current day.  It is both a sober reflection and an inspiring account of the creativity and activism of gay people in the UK, and has led to a substantial reflection across Library blogs such as this post from Asian and African studies on LGBT writing in the Middle East, the sound blog's posts about the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive, and this exploration of the literary aspects of the exhibition on the English and Drama blog.  As the exhibition drew to a close, it seemed timely to add the voice of the Americas to this.

A key concern of the exhibition is the UK gay rights movements, and the Gay Liberation Front's 1970 manifesto and collection of newsletters holds a particularly prominent position within this narrative.  The UK GLF was directly inspired by the US Gay Liberation Front which formed in the wake of the Stonewall Riots in New York.  Stonewall is rightly seen as a seminal moment in the worldwide Gay Rights movement, however it is best considered within a longer timeline of LGBT activism both on the East and West coast.

DBlrcnqXoAArsyP.jpg large

An earlier event in San Francisco has striking similarities with Stonewall: in August 1966, a riot broke out at Compton's Cafeteria after police tried to forcibly remove a transgender patron.  Some gay bars were tolerated in San Francisco following extensive negotiations by ‘homophile’ organisations with local police.  However, "cross-dressing" was still illegal and this provided a justification for police to raid and close establishments that transgender people frequented.  The Compton's riot was thus the culmination of years of harassment of drag queens, other trans and gay people.  The event has been called "the first known instance of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in United States history" by Susan Stryker, a historian and director of a documentary about the riot, Screaming Queens.[1]

Protest, resistance, and social justice movements were particularly well organised in the city and wider Bay Area, including gay rights’ groups.  For example, the Society for Individual Rights formed in 1964 which opened a community centre and organised sit-ins; the gay youth group Vanguard established in 1965 and joined forces with a local church to peacefully protest establishments that refused service to LGBT people.  While the groups were focussed on gay rights, individuals made connections with other civil rights issues and shared tactics, a particularly interesting example of which were the links drawn with the Black Power movement.

The Black Panther party headquarters were across the Bay in Oakland.  In August 1970, co-founder of the BPP, Huey Newton, delivered a speech in which he challenged homophobia and misogyny within the party. 

The Black Panther
The Black Panther: Black Community Newsletter, shelfmark LOU.A499

The speech reflects how Newton was developing his thinking on gay rights, nonetheless it was unequivocal in its call to BPP membership to align with LGBT and women’s movements.

“…we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most oppressed people in the society… we know that homosexuality is a fact that exists, and we must understand it in its purest form: that is, a person should have the freedom to use his body in whatever way he wants.

That is not endorsing things in homosexuality that we wouldn’t view as revolutionary. But there is nothing to say that a homosexual cannot also be a revolutionary. And maybe I’m now injecting some of my prejudice by saying that ‘even a homosexual can be a revolutionary.’ Quite the contrary, maybe a homosexual could be the most revolutionary.”[2]

The relationship between the various different Bay Area movements is here spelled out, and BPP’s militant tactics for challenging police brutality and organising radical community anti-poverty programmes struck a direct chord with some LGBT individuals.  One such person was the Rev. Ray Broshears who had been at the Compton’s Riot, ran the Helping Hands Gay Community Service Center, and was one of the founders of San Francisco’s first Gay Pride march.  After witnessing multiple acts of brutality that were ignored by police, and being heavily beaten himself in 1973, he formed the ‘vigilante’ group the Lavender Panthers.  Consisting of 21 members, they patrolled the streets of the city to ward off attacks on LGBT people.  In a press conference announcing the group’s formation, Broshears stated “We deplore violence, but we must meet force with force… Never again will a gay person be beaten without retaliation.”[3]

P1090725
Coast, April 1974, currently being processed

Needless to say, the Bay Area continued to be a centre for LGBTQ rights and creativity, which is reflected in our collections.  Moving on from the 1970's, and keeping in mind the Compton’s riot included transgender, multi-racial, and gay participants, I would like to flag up three collection items.  The first is a newsletter produced by the San Francisco Women’s Centre between 1982-4 called Black Lesbian Newsletter (later retitled Onyx).  Each issue has a beautifully illustrated cover and consists of essays, poems, and news.  The two depicted below highlight the recurring theme of police brutality, but also the joy found in companionship, community and racial heritage (this is a Kwanzaa celebration).

Onyx
Black Lesbian Newsletter / Onyx, shelfmark ZD.9.b.724

The second is an independently published magazine from the early 2000's.  Shellac aimed to meld critical commentary with artistic expression, ranging from poetry, photography, digital art, and essays.  Stating in its opening issue that it "is the production of new forms of knowledge and political alliances among queer(ious) people of color" the magazine was sadly short-lived, but contains some gems such as 'A Poem Upon My Hate' by Richard Branco who expounds on the challenges he faces living in an increasingly gentrified and unaffordable city as a Latino homosexual.

Shellac
Shellac, shelfmark ZD.9.d.150

Last but by no means least is an audio recording made at the Library last year by the musician Ezra Furman which you can listen to on the Library's soundcloud account.  Based in the Bay Area at various points throughout his career, Furman has spoken at length about his sexuality, gender-nonconformity, Jewishness, and how they inform his creativity.  The Bay Area forms the backdrop to the video for his song Restless Year.  In it he playfully moves around the city trying on different identities, absorbing cultural influences, participating in a queer dance-troupe/community.  The lyrics of the song reflect on the experience of feeling as though you do not fit into society, and striving for freedom through personal creative expression. 

Ezra-furman2-23jun

These are themes that run through his catalogue and Furman discusses them in detail in his talk at the Library.  Opening with the reminder of William Burrough’s comment that the word ‘punk’ used to be a term of abuse for “someone who take it up the ass… it was a queer thing”, Furman reflects on punk music and the influence of Lou Reed who he has previously called ‘radically free’.  In the interview, he identifies this as stemming as much from Reed’s sexuality as from his creativity, both of which were in a process of constant flux.  Reed, he points out, was not afraid of contradictions or being limited by other people’s ideas of him.

Not on the soundcloud which is edited for copyright reasons, but available to listen to in the Library’s reading rooms, is the solo performance Furman ended the night with.  Covering several Reed/Velvet Underground songs, he also includes an unreleased song of his own.  Titled either ‘Amateur’ or ‘I Wanna Be An Amateur’, the lyrics are true to these preoccupations:

“I wanna be an amateur

That’s what I would like to someday be

I wanna be an amateur

Back like I used to be

I wanna go down to the essence, down to the essence, down to my clumsy childish essence

I wanna be essentially unfiltered, free.

I don’t like power,

I don’t like hierarchy.

I don’t worship human power,

And the idea of an elite is not for me.

I’m an American,

And I like to think that means real democracy”[4]

While the term ‘identity politics’ is often misused and at times can feel as though it is a hollow cliché, Furman’s work challenges us to take it seriously.  When considered alongside the above history of activism in the Bay Area, we can see the echoes of radicalism running alongside insinuations of Furman's religious thought woven into the song.  All of this lends the line ‘I’m an American’ a tone of defiance, it is an assertion of a vision of a more equitable and inclusive society.

 

[1] Nicola Pasulka, Ladies in the Street: Transgender Uprising Changed Lives, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/05/05/404459634/ladies-in-the-streets-before-stonewall-transgender-uprising-changed-lives

[2] The full text of the speech is published in Huey Newton, The Huey P. Newton Reader, shelfmark m04/12950.

[3] Bob Calhoun, Yesterday’s Crimes, The Lavender Panthers, San Francisco’s LGBT Vigilantes https://archives.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2016/06/16/yesterdays-crimes-the-lavender-panthers-san-franciscos-lgbt-vigilantes

[4] The full recording can be found at shelfmark C927/1530

12 September 2017

Coronela Zapatista

Our post of 21 August, Soldaderas y Revolucionarias, discussed our new profile picture of a Mexican soldadera that is held in the Casasola archive.  At the time of posting, we had no further information about the woman's identity.  However, following a twitter intervention from one of our readers, we were pointed toward John Mraz’s book Photographing the Mexican Revolution.  His work with the Fototeca Nacional at the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia has uncovered a tentative identity for the sitter: Carmen Robles, who was a Zapatista colonel.  

Little is known about Robles, but another image taken in Guerrero and thought to be of the same woman exists.  It was via this second image, printed in Gustavo Casasola's Historia Gráfica de la Revolucion and in which she is named in an accompanying caption, that she was identified (you can see this in our copy of the later abridged publication Anales Gráficos de la Historia Militar de Mexico, p.333).  However, the process of identifying historical actors is always a nebulous one and must be approached with care.  Racial categories in Latin America have often challenged black/white or indigenous/European binary thinking and raise important interrogations into the complex societies that colonialism and slavery produced in the Americas.  As B. Christine Arce has recently stated, "identities of women - both soldaderas and mulatas - have been obscured through misnaming, resulting in an historical odyssey of discovery, neglect, and recovery."  As such, this identification will no doubt continue to be debated.  However, one thing is clear: the photograph provides concrete evidence of the participation of Mexicanas mestizas in the Revolution who actively sought to shape their destinies and creatively adopted the guise of masculinity to do so.

- F.D. Fuentes Rettig

B. Christine Arce, Mexico's Nobodies: The cultural legacy of the soldadera and Afro-Mexican women.  New York: 2017, SUNY Press.  On order.

Gustavo Casasola, Anales Gráficos de la Historia Militar de Mexico 1810 – 1970.  Mexico: 1973, Editorial Gustavo Casasola.  BL shelfmark X.802/3798

John Mraz, Photographing the Mexican Revolution: Commitments, testimonies, icons.  Austin: 2012, University of Texas Press.  On order.

04 September 2017

Resources for engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contemporary culture and politics.

Trees

 

Greetings from Darwin! I am currently very fortunate in that I am travelling around Australia for PhD research and learning about life and culture directly from the Aboriginal designers in the Northern Territory that I am interviewing. Prior to coming out to Australia I had to conduct most of my research online. In this post I have put together a list of websites that I recommend to anyone who is interested in gaining further understanding of Indigenous Australia. I have also included a list of books from the British Library that I found useful.

There are several hundred different Indigenous language groups with differing cultures and beliefs. In my list below I have tried to provide more general information, rather than represent each group. If you are interested in a specific community, many do have their own websites which will provide information on their beliefs and history.

I welcome any suggestions of other online and offline resources that are helpful for educating unknowing outsiders, I am sure there will be many I do not know about yet. I hope to put together a similar list for Maori culture and politics so would appreciate any recommendations for that. Just tweet me - @JoannePilcher1

 

Websites

The Guardian Online, Indigenous Australians:

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/indigenous-australians

This page provides a range of articles on different issues related to Indigenous politics and culture. There are exhibition reviews, personal essays and commentary on current affairs.

@Indigenous X:

http://indigenousx.com.au/

A blog run and written by Indigenous Australians covering anything from current affairs to a history of Indigenous representation in comic books. They also have a twitter account (@IndigenousX) where different Indigenous Australians are invited to host and run the account and tweet about things related to their expertise.

Creative Spirits:

https://www.creativespirits.info/#axzz4ptAGtpCS

This site is run by Jens Korff, a German who moved to Australia and took an active interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. This website approaches Indigenous cultures as an outsider and explains them in a way that people who have had no contact with Indigenous Australia can understand.

NITV:

http://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/

National Indigenous TV is a channel on SBS that is made by and for Indigenous Australians. While the channel may not be available internationally, their website and Facebook page share lots of information on current affairs.

Menzies Centre For Australian Studies:

https://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/ahri/centres/menzies/index.aspx

Part of King’s College London, The Menzies Centre does not focus specifically on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia but does have a range of interesting talks and events that sometimes relate to this area, such as a recent talk by Marcia Langton on Indigenous art. They also have a twitter (@menziescentre) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AusNetwork/) that regularly have information shared on them.

Australian Government:

http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-indigenous-cultural-heritage

The Australian government website has an overview of the heritage of Australian Indigenous culture.

 

Facebook Groups

Many of the above websites have Facebook pages that are worth following. The two listed below do not have websites.

Blackfulla Revolution:

https://www.facebook.com/ourcountryourchoice/?hc_ref=ARSENjrSyYj8gYEUr-tttpgbQIJ1tVh8SqARY7pMiX7uM4Am_TR-vTz7x7bOCpvw2w8

This group shares a wide range of posts and articles related to life as an Indigenous Australian.

Aboriginal News – Australia:

https://www.facebook.com/AboriginalNewsAustralia/

This page regularly posts articles related to Indigenous Australian current affairs. They collect articles from a range of sources.

 

Podcasts

It’s Not a Race:

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/itsnotarace/

This podcast covers a variety of topics surrounding racial identity within Australia and discusses issues Indigenous Australians face in several episodes.

 

Books

There is a wealth of information available within the British Library on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia. There are too many topics to go into specific areas on this list so I have selected ones that give a ‘whistle-stop tour’ of Indigenous Australian culture and history. All of the below are available in the British Library collections and I have included their shelfmarks.

Rachel Perkins and Marcia Langton, First Australians: An Illustrated History, Carlton, Vic.: Miegunyah, 2008, [Asia, Pacific & Africa LD.31.b.2662]

This book was produced as an accompaniment to a nine part series on the history of Indigenous Australia. I have selected this as it gives a general overview but anything by Marcia Langton is worth reading, she is considered to be one of Australia’s most important Indigenous historians and is the Foundation Chair in Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne.

Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Melbourne, 1983 –

[General Reference Collection X.0525/685, General Reference Collection ZD.9.a.1762, Document Supply 1796.654990]

Some printed copies of this journal are in the British Library collections, the rest are available online through the library database.

Stephen Mueche and Adam Shoemaker, Aboriginal Australians: First Nations of an Ancient Continent, Thames and Hudson, London, 2004. [General Reference Collection YK.2011.a.3122]

This short book gives a general introduction to different beliefs and histories across various communities within Australia.

David Unaipon, ed by Stephen Muecke and Adam Shoemaker, Legendary tales of the Australian aborigines, Melbourne University Press, 2001 [General Reference Collection YC.2002.a.21382]

Unaipon is credited with being the first published Aboriginal Australian author and appears on the fifty-dollar note. He toured Australia collecting the local stories of various communities and translating them into English in the 1920s; initially his publishers sold his work to an English man who published it in his name instead. Unaipon’s original manuscript was found and republished in his name in 2001 by Muecke and Shoemaker

Pauline E.McLeod, Francis Firebrace Jones, June E. Barker Gadi Mirrabooka: Australian Aboriginal Tales from the Dreaming, Englewood,Colo. [Great Britain] : Libraries Unlimited, 2001

 [General Reference Collection YK.2003.b.2308]

Many compilations of Indigenous Australian stories can be considered as exploitative as they are sharing stories that could be sacred without permission from the communities the stories are from. This compilation has been produced by the story custodians themselves who have permission to share them. 

By Joanne Pilcher

 

Joanne Pilcher is currently carrying out a PhD placement project at the British Library, exploring contemporary publishing in Australia. If you would like to know more about placement opportunities at the Library for doctoral students please click here.

 

25 August 2017

Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part two

From 18th century to our days

Undoubtedly philosophers are in right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison… [1].

A detail from the book Gulliver’s Travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 87 [Shelfmark: C.100.l.14.]

 

As I continued my research on miniature books, I felt as Gulliver arriving at Brobdingnag, a little creature discovering a gigantic world, and assuming that the books world itself is a vice-versa dimension depending on how you look at it: what is a book but a tiny object in comparison to what it can actually contain?

In the first part of the journey, the leitmotif of the narration was to investigate the origins and meaning of the miniature books world, discovering that they were not only as old as their standard size counterpart, but were also responding to practical necessities.

Coming closer to our times, there has been a decisive peak in the production chart of Lilliputian books between the 18th and 19th century, when a profound love for small books is registered amid American and European publishers.

Some of the most prolific printers and publisher, for example, were Mein and Fleming in Boston, Isaiah Thomas in Worcester, Mass., Mahlon Day and Samuel Wood in New York, with a substantial counterpart in United Kingdom with Elizabeth Newbery and her successors and imitators in London, and in France with the Parisian J. B. Fournier. During this period, miniature books became increasingly popular in America, a historical moment also known as the “Golden Age” of minute print production [2], particularly thanks to a fruitful market demand of miniature chapbooks and almanacs [3]. The invention of lithography, the industrial revolution, and the improvement of railways and postal services have played a decisive role in increasing the production and distribution of miniature books [4].

The American Ladies & Gentlemens Pocket Almanac and Belles Lettres Repository for 1802 (New York: David Longworth, 1801), measures 4 5/8” x 2 3/4” [in cataloguing process]

 

The same rise in circulation is ascribable to the many series editions of Children’s books. At the end of the 18th century, the editorial production for children was strongly fuelled by the theories of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who argued that the main aim of education was to develop the natural man, which promoted the study of natural science. Therefore a proliferation of miniature books dedicated to biology, astronomy, geography, ethnology, and political economy, is recorded in the last quarter of the century.

At the start of the 19th century, there is a marked decrease of publications following this didactic trend, with a move towards works influenced by the theories of Friedrich Fröbel, a German pedagogue who claimed that the education of tender minds also needs to contemplate imagination and daydream. As a result, fairy tales and fables were produced for young public in the miniature form [5].

An example of this latest educational trend is offered by two miniature chapbooks belonging to the American Collection. The first, Pretty Stories for Pretty Children is one of the fruits of the long life stationary store in Newark, New Jersey, of Benjamin Olds. Active from 1816 to 1865, Olds’ workshop published three series of the twelve-book set Cobb’s Toys (8, 10, 11), making the 1835 edition the first miniature series produced in New Jersey, followed by a successful second series [6].

Lyman Cobb, Pretty Stories for Pretty Children (Newark, N. J.: Benjamin Olds, 1835), measures 3 3/4” x 2 1/4” [in cataloguing process]

 

The second sample, The Christmas Dream of Little Charles, is the product of the Kiggings and Kellog’s stationary, a very well established firm specialised in children’s books with two prolific printing presses active in New York from 1849 to 1866 at 88 John Street, and at 123 and 125 William Street [7].

The Christmas Dream of Little Charles (New York: Kiggins & Kellogg, 1860), measures 3 5/8” x 2 1/4” [in cataloguing process]

 

In the early years of the 20th, century the interest in miniature books has continued, offering new available subjects for renewed demands. The Bible, the Child’s Bible and the Koran were generously printed by Americans and Europeans to be spread all around the world. However, the new trend was surely a mass distribution of travel books and dictionaries. For example the edition of thousands of tiny dictionaries, in all possible combinations of European languages, published by Schmidt and Gunther of Leipzig in the series Lilliput-Dictionaries, or their prolific Lilliput Bibliothek, proposing a complete reading of German classics such as Heine, Lessing, Goethe, Schiller and others. Both editions measure only 2 x 1 ¼ inches [8].

The mid-20th century continued on the track of the accurate production of proclamations, addresses, and presidential campaigns of the previous century. In this respect, particularly touching has been learning of the history of the Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation miniature edition. A million copies of the first complete book were produced with the intent to be distributed to Union soldiers and Southern slaves. Declaring freedom from slavery, it also invited “the free colored inhabitants of Louisiana” to join the Armed Forces against the Southern States [9].

Abraham Lincoln, The Proclamation of Emancipation by the President of the United States (Boston: John Murray Forbes, 1863), measures 3 1/4 x 2 1/8. Photographic reproduction of an illustration taken from Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, by Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison (New York: Abrams; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), p. 156 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071]

 

Acclaimed as one of the most outstanding contributors and dedicated amateur, Achille J. St. Onge has been a prolific producer of this refined genre. Starting his career as publisher of sophisticated editions of the inaugural addresses of American Presidents, beginning with Thomas Jefferson in 1943, he has also dedicated beautiful editions to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II [10].

The American Collection holds a very prestigious St. Onge sample edition, and one of his last creations. The addresses of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, delivered at Westminster Hall and Guildhall on the occasion of Her Silver Jubilee 1952-1977 (Worcester, Mass.: Achile J. St. Onge, 1977).

The addresses of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, delivered at Westminster Hall and Guildhall on the occasion of Her Silver Jubilee 1952-1977 (Worcester, Mass.: Achile J. St. Onge, 1977). “One special copy illuminated by Margaret Adams for presentation to Her Majesty the Queen”--Colophon. Measures 2 3/4 x 1 7/8 [in cataloguing process]

 

As we get more close to our days, the small but significant collection I am working on within the North American Collections, has also offered the occasion to explore modern manufacturing processes of the minute prints. Starting from the 1870s, the definition of miniature artists’ books began to have wider recognition. The art of book crafting together with poetry and design masterfully flow into a miniature container [11].

A Dog’s Tail, printed by Anicka and Gaylor Schanilec, (United States: Midnight Paper Sales & Flaming Cat Press, 2004), measures 1 1/2” x 1 1/8” [in cataloguing process]

 

The latest decades are definitely witnessing a revival of the ancient art of book craft. A brilliant example of the art of making books by hand is offered by two of the most important contemporary miniature book-artists [12]. Peter and Donna Thomas met each other at an Elizabethan-themed market town in California where they were crafting books following the late Middle Ages typographical techniques, from handmade paper preparation to illustrations and bindings. Since the 1970s, the couple has documented the art of papermaking, and book crafting producing exquisite artist’s books containing fascinating historical topics [13].



Peter Thomas, Donna Thomas, Train Depots (Santa Cruz: Peter and Donna Thomas, 2008), measures 3” x 2 1/8” [in cataloguing process]

 

Very few other private presses have accomplished to the challenge of putting together the whole process of book creation (writing the text, preparing the colour illustrations, hand cutting and setting the types, hand making the paper, letterpress printing, and binding), “none have published more books that the Thomases”, which described their first years of art working as a learning experience involving a lot of practice [14].



Donna Thomas, Bathed in Such Beauty: A pictorial Ramble on the John Muir Trail; with a quote by John Muir (Santa Cruz : Peter & Donna Thomas, 2016), measures 4 x 3 1/4 [in cataloguing process]



Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part one


Annalisa Ricciardi is currently working as Cataloguer of the American Studies Collections. She is working on a heterogeneous collection of extraordinary interest and artistic value of American fine press and artists’ books, such as limited, numbered, and rare editions chronologically placed between 18th and 21st century.


[1] Gulliver’s Travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 91 [Shelfmark: C.100.l.14.]
[2] Doris V. Welsh, The history of miniature books (Albany, New York: Fort Orange Press, 1987), pp. 41, and 41-45 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.1550].
[3] Robert C. Bradbury, Antique United States miniature books, 1690-1900 (No. Clarendon, Vermont, The Microbibliophile, 2001), pp. 3-7, and 7-14 [Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.4829]. For a complete reading, see by the same author also: Twentieth century United States miniature books (No. Clarendon, Vermont, The Microbibliophile, 2000) [Shelfmark: YD.2006.a2436], and Miniature Almanac, in Welsh, The history of miniature books, pp. 77-81; English Almanacs and calendars of the 18th and 19th centuries, and French, German, Austrian, and other European almanacs, in Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day (London: Sheppard Press, 1981), pp. 39-47; 48-56 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
[4] The 19th century, the supreme age of miniature books, in Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 57-58 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
[5] Welsh, The history of miniature books, pp. 74.
[6] Bradbury, Antique United States miniature books, pp.123-124.
[7] Ibidem, pp. 159-161.
[8] Welsh, The history of miniature books, pp. 47, and Newsletter of the LXIVmos, no. 11 (October 15, 1928), pp. 3-4 [Shelfmark: P.P.6491.cae.].
[9] Presidents, politics, and propaganda, in Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison, Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures (New York: Abrams; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), p. 156 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071].
[10] The miniature books of today and tomorrow, in Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 169-171, and Presidents, politics, and propaganda, in Bromer and Edison, Miniature books, pp. 156-158.
[11] On the consolidation of the artist's books as an autonomous genre, see: Stefan Klima, Artists books: a critical survey of the literature (New York: Granary Book, 1997) [Shelfmark: YD.2015.a.1556].
[12] On the art of making miniature books, see: Peter and Donna Thomas, More making books by hand: exploring miniature books, alternative structures and found objects (Hove: Apple Press, 2004) [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.3315].
[13] The art of the book, in Bromer and Edison, Miniature books, pp. 42-43, 196-197; Twentieth century United States miniature books, pp. 302-308.
[14] Twentieth century United States miniature books, pp. 302-303.

 

21 August 2017

Soldaderas y Revolucionarias

The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that we recently updated our blog image and twitter profile picture.  When we were asked by the Library's web team to provide a fresh image, we thought long and hard about what would suitably represent the pan-continental remit of the blog, the strengths of the collections, and make for a striking image.  We finally settled on this wonderful photograph by Mexican photographer Agustín Víctor Casasola titled 'Soldadera'.

 

Blog cropped soldadera l_f_31_b_696_p186
'Soldadera', in 'Mirada y Memoria: Archivo Fotográfico Casasola. México: 1900-1940', Shelfmark LF.31.b.696

Casasola's work is a striking record of a country undergoing the social, political, and cultural transformations of modernity in the first half of the twentieth century.  Taken circa 1915, in the midst of the Mexican Revolution, this portrait particularly stood out as encapsulating these historical markers while also touching on contemporary concerns.

 

Mitin Obrero
Mítin Obrero (worker's meeting), circa 1920

 

 

Accordingly, and given the Revolution's continental impact (which included direct foreign interference) and historic legacies, it was unanimously agreed that this selection touches on many of the historical shifts taking place aross the Americas at the turn of the century.  The photograph also flags the collections' strengths in the humanities and social sciences, which is reflected in the thematic political and social focus of the photobooks and artists' books in our holdings of which Mirada y Memoria is one.

Of course, the 'soldadera' is a popular figure who, while representative of the Mexican Revolution, was also a figure of defiance.  Women participated in the Revolution in various capacities and many soldaderas had prominent leadership positions, records show that many chose to take on a male persona.  While we do not know any more about this particular woman, what we can tell from the image is that she is likely indígena.  Further, from the stocky shoes, tailored trousers, and loosely buttoned shirt, to the slight man-spread, slight crook in the hanging arm that is all too ready to reach for that hip revolver, and her steady gaze and stern facial expression, Casasola's subject has claimed the external signifiers of masculinity for her own revolutionary purposes.  One is left wondering how content she was to be photographed with an earring, and jauntily tilted sombrero with prettifying political ribbons.   The book positions this image opposite a portrait of Venustiano Carranzo taken in 1914, who was later to become president. 

Venustiano
Venustiana Carranzo, 1914

The two figures couldn't make for a more marked contrast; yet they are also comparable in their assertion of a masculinised military identity.  Our soldadera thus presented a historical challenge but also addresses a contemporary audience with her defiant assertion of female indigenous agency.  It is a message that is also germane for our work as curators with oversight of a national collection.

- F.D. Fuentes Rettig,

Curator North American Published Collections

 

For further reading on female revolutionaries in Mexican history in the Library's collections see:

Carballido, Elivira Hernández, Mujeres Independientes Mujeres Revolucionarias, shelfmark YF.2014.a.3139

Sanchez, Evelyne et al, Revolucionarias Fueron Todas, shelfmark YF.2016.a.11361

Poniatowska, Elena, Las Soldaderas, shelfmark YA.2003.a.22974

Valdés, José Yurrieta, ¿Una Revolucionaria Zapatisa? Chona, la Tequerra, shelfmark YF.2014.a.20977

14 August 2017

Black Power: Reading, Roots, and Rhythm in the British Library

Rowan Hartland is a 2017 Eccles Centre Visiting Postgraduate Fellow and a doctoral candidate at Northumbria University. He will participate in the Eccles Centre Summer Scholars seminar series on 14 August, with a paper titled 'Black Power Culture in the American South 1967-1975'.

I have just finished a successful research trip to the British Library supported by an Eccles Centre Fellowship. The project, Black Power Culture in the American South 1966-1975, examines Black Power organising and activism in the under-researched and often marginalised regions in the American South. Black Power culture, rather than politics in the South, is largely excluded from historiography despite its national and international legacies. I have been able to solidify my argument and conduct research from a range of databases, catalogues, microfilm collections, and magazines at the British Library. Here is a snippet from my week.

Monday 14 August (2)

Free Southern Theater publicity image, c. 1970.

 

My first point of reference were two bibliographical booklets; the invaluable resource created by Jean Petrovic from the Eccles centre, United States and Canadian holdings in the British Library Newspaper Library [2719.k.1795]; and the online resource also created by Petrovic, African American History and Life: 1877-1954 [m02/16735]. The latter resource did expand chronologically to include early 1960s works, which were useful for a framework for my Black Power study, and also provided a geographical index of published works- useful for my work on the South. The United States and Canadian Holdings resource led me to the Mississippi Free Press and Inside New Orleans newspapers (located in the ‘African American Newspaper Series 1827-1998’ section on the e-resources) which I delved into whilst on the computers in the Reading Rooms. For anyone working on African American history pre-1966 or post-1978, these collections will provide fruitful material; and I hope to utilize these in the future.

Second, the vast Tuskegee Institute News Clippings File [MFM.MA410] spanning the turn of the twentieth century to 1966 (reference book in the Newsroom). This microfilm collection provided a range of themes and locations for research- prolific in 1930s and 40s material, as well as Civil Rights material and introductory Black Power news reports. The themes, ranging from Race Relations and Organisations, to Juvenile Delinquency and Riots, cover the whole of the US and are rich in Southern material. I spent close to two days glancing through these slides and found dozens of articles portraying the roots and articulations of Black Power culture (N.B. ask the folks in the Newsroom- they are super helpful).

After engaging with sources on race riots, southern police brutality, armed defence, and Black Power ideology a lot earlier than 1966, I moved into some research of magazines and ephemera. Whilst trundling through the main catalogue can be both daunting and arduous, it can provide some gems (advice- do all the sifting before you come to the BL!). Using the online databases to build a framework of search terms, then using the multi-functional filters on the sidebars makes life a lot easier. One magazine, which has left me with more questions about Black Power in the South than answers, is Rhythm. Whilst the BL only retains one volume (I am sourcing more), it is a rich piece of history with spasms of visual delight. It tells the story of the commitment of ‘revolutionary Pan-Africanism’ in the South whilst looking eagerly towards a new Africa of the twenty-first century. It is truly the personification of the heights of Black Power Culture in the South- ‘Rhythm sees African people as having no moral or legal responsibility to the west except to oversee its destruction.’ There are many newspaper and magazine titles available for those interested in mainstream and Northern Civil rights and Black Power, to name a few- Negro Digest, The Crusader, and The Menard Times (an interesting collection of prison newspapers).

The ‘Archive of Americana’, ‘History and Life’ online databases, and ‘African American Newspaper Series’ have provided an abundance of material for my project, from Black Power’s violence and rioting, to singing, poetry, performance and art. I intend to further delve into magazines and newspapers including Life, Billboard, The Chicago Defender, and Amsterdam News on my next trip for more mainstream perceptions, in addition to well-planned catalogue trawling and possible examinations of the databases ‘Underground and Independent Comics Collection’ (online) and ‘HAPI’ (online). The first-hand accounts provided in the magazines, newspapers, and records are invaluable evidence of Black Power in the South. This initial research has provided foundations for my research in the US and further research at the BL, and has provided sources for my Summer Series talk at the BL in August. Finally, a special thank you to Mercedes Aguirre and those at the Eccles Centre. I would not be able to research so efficiently and proficiently without their support and wonderful insights.

Rowan Hartland

09 August 2017

Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part one

Since when and why

In a little time I felt something alive moving on my left leg, which advancing gently forward over my breast, came almost up to my chin; when, bending my eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands, and quiver at his back… [1].


A particular from the book: Gulliver’s travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 15 [Shelfmark: C.100.I.14]

 

I like to report on my first encounter with the miniature books world as a moment that was like waking up from my ordinary library day of submersion in beautiful American artists’ books, and discovering an exciting alternative reality made of miniature items. I perceived that these objects almost animated, approximately three or four inches tall, kindly throwing darts of curiosity at me with their bows loaded with charm. I immediately fell enamoured with them, and it did not take long before my desk was busy with library materials on miniature books.

“For those of us who have been bitten by this particular bug” [2] there is nothing left to follow the appeal of the beauty offered by the small miniature art masterpieces.


Some of the books consulted for my research, and on top the little: A dog’s tail, printed by Anicka and Gaylor Schanilec, (United States: Midnight Paper Sales & Flaming Cat Press, 2004), measures 1 1/2” x 1 1/8” [in cataloguing process]

 

Wondering ‘why’, and ‘since when’ have been the guideline of my innocent journey into the history of the little items. One of the first things I learned is that as old as the discovering of the written world is its counterpart in the miniature form. Secondly, I acknowledged that this world is regulated by laws, and for that, you will define as miniature books only those which respect the standard of being possibly even less than three inches but no more than four, and almost as it was heresy, five.

Defecting from the established rules in fact, an item of four inches or little more would only be a pain for a purist, and a joke for all artisans involved, printers, binders, papermakers, illustrators, illuminators, and engravers who would give all the very best of their art under more challenging and extreme circumstances from one to three inches.

It is said that to reach the completion of the 1878 Dante’s Divina Commedia edition (Padua: Salmin), also known as the “Dantino”, many artisans were injured: the necessary operations of preparing and cutting the types caused a serious injury “to the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector. It took one month to print thirty pages, and new types were necessary for every new form.”. Around the 70’s of the 19th century, two brothers from Padua, Italy, together with a small team of professionals such as casters, compositors, and correctors, developed an unprecedented minuscule typefaces, which they named carattere a occhio di mosca (fly’s eye type), and that was firstly used for the micro Dante’s masterpiece. The measures of the book are 1 1/4” x 1 3/4”, and it is only readable trough a magnifying glass [3].






The book of the world, by Irene Chan (Baltimore?: Ch'An Press, 2000), measures 1” x 1” (box). The text of this miniature book consists of an excerpt of John Dalton's 1808 Atomic Theory. The illustration is an image of Dalton's elastic fluids drawing that looks like the eye [in cataloguing process]

 

Indulging in more technical details, you would call a miniature book a 64mo. A single leaf of paper folded 64 times, originally printed with 64 pages on each side of it, and then scrupulously folded in order to bring up the correct sequence of the pages. The size of the pages are obviously determined by the size of the original master sheet, but a 64mo would inevitable be around 3 to 5 inches [4].

The purpose of creating, producing and collecting miniature books is two-fold: firstly, the practicality and secondly, personal pleasure, and the sense of beauty in small objects. Before Gutenberg, for matters European, miniature manuscripts were periodically produced completed with illuminations. Subsequently, the production of miniature books has continued to reflect the latest progresses of print machines and processes. There were miniature books printed in early Gothic and incunabula type characters, or in the earliest Greek types, Hebrew and so on. As in a shrinking mirror they were reflecting all new type acquisitions and binding progress [5].

Little books were simultaneously produced in the centuries alongside regular standard, so that men and women of faith could easily bring with them their collection of psalms and devotional books, students could carry their small library in a pocket, smugglers of ideas could easily hide tiny booklets in a secret bottom of their cape, merchants could quickly retrieve from their belt a tiny but complete guide on the equivalence of grains prices, scales, measures and conversion, and foreign currencies value meanwhile closing a deal, or that sharp businessmen could brilliantly define a legal contract.

It has been for that purpose that some of the earliest examples of books on miniature support were produced during the Babylonian Empire, as for the case of two small cuneiform tablets of Ancient Mesopotamia which preserve an antique writing system and concern trade and administrative issues. One of them, a clay tablet dated back to the 7th year of the reign of Bur-Sin, circa 2325 B.C., comes from the region of Ur, today Iraq, and measure only 1 5/8” x 1 1/2”. It contains extremely useful information while dealing with barley and bran for sheep (1), and the other, a Babylonian clay tablet from Senkereh, now Iraq, is dated 2200 B.C., and measure 1 7/8” x 1 1/4”, it was also used in the trading of animals and provisions (2).


(1), and (2). Photographic reproduction of an illustration taken from Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, by Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison (New York: Abrams ; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), pp. 11-12 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071]

 

Another beautiful miniature object is the world’s first printing on paper. A very tiny scroll 23/8” tall obtained from wood blocks, is dated back to 770 A. D. and is well known as the D’harani prayer. Only the story of its origins is as enchanting as the scroll itself. With the aim of spreading awareness on Buddhism, the Japanese Empress Shotoku, gave order to print a million copy of these prayer-scrolls encased in charming wooden pagodas, then asked they be distributed all over the country divided among ten Japanese temples, a project which required over six years of continuous work [6].


A rare example of the D’harani prayer (23/8” tall) as illustrate by the Library of Congress Asian Collection



Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part two


Annalisa Ricciardi is currently working as Cataloguer of the American Studies Collections. She is working on a heterogeneous collection of extraordinary interest and artistic value of American fine press and artists’ books, such as limited, numbered, and rare editions chronologically placed between 18th and 21st century.


[1] Gulliver’s travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 18 [Shelfmark: C.100.I.14].
[2] Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day (London: Sheppard Press, 1981), p. 3 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
[3] Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 93-95; and Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison, Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, (New York: Abrams ; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), pp. 47-49, 114 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071].
[4] Doris V. Welsh, The history of miniature books (Albany, New York: Fort Orange Press, 1987), pp. 5-11 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.1550].
[5] Welsh, The history of miniature books, p. 2.
[6] Miniature books from the collection of Julian I. Edison (St. Louis, Missouri: Washington University), pp. 1-2 [Shelfmark: Cup.406.j.11]. See a rare example of the D’harani prayer as illustrate by the Library of Congress Asian Collection page: https://www.loc.gov/rr/asian/guide/guide-japanese.html