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

27 January 2017

Founding Mothers (I): Postage Stamps depicting women’s contributions towards the formation of the United States of America

As state sponsored government art, stamps offer an incredibly rich visual resource for gender studies, a fact most apparent when looking at how women have been commemorated on postage stamps issued by the United States of America. This first article will illustrate some of the stamps depicting women from the earliest British colonial settlements up until the American Revolutionary War. What immediately becomes apparent is that during the course of the twentieth century, the American Postal Authority recognised and honoured the central role women played in the nation’s formative history.

From the very first waves of British migration to the New World during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women accompanied their husbands and families to form settlements. Some settlements were successful, others less so. The first English child born in the United States was a girl named Virginia Dare, born in August 1587 at the ill-fated “lost” colony of Roanoke in modern Dare County, North Carolina.  Since the colony mysteriously vanished soon after her birth, Virginia’s fate is unknown.  However, she subsequently became an icon in American folklore and politics being referred to in poems, books, comics and films. Although little is known about Virginia besides her historic birth, she has become famous enough to warrant her own commemorative postage stamp, depicted in Image 1. The stamp portrays Virginia as a baby being cradled by her mother Eleanor with her father Ananias standing close by.

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Image 1: United States of America, 18 August 1937 Anniversary of Birth of Virginia Dare, 5c stamp

 

Women also played a key role in the debates and military campaigns surrounding the American Revolutionary Wars (1775-1783) which resulted in the independence of Britain’s thirteen American settlements from colonial rule and the birth of the United States of America.  The founding mother of the United States, Abigail Adams (1744-1818) depicted on the United States Postage stamp in Image 2 was the wife and closest advisor of John Adams (1735-1826), a founding father and Second President of the United States. Her son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) became the Sixth President of the United States.  A member of one of America’s first political dynasties, Abigail was also politically active corresponding on a variety of issues including women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.

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Image 2: United States of America, 14 June 1985 Abigail Adams Commemorative, 22c stamp

 

The first American flag, one of the most iconic symbols of America’s independence and national identity, is also credited to having been made by a woman named Elizabeth Griscom “Betsy” Ross (1752-1836), who presented it to General George Washington in 1776. The presentation of Betsy’s flag to George Washington has been depicted on the United States Postage Stamp issued for the bicentenary of her birth depicted in Image 3

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Image 3: United States of America, 2 January 1952, Birth Bicentenary of Betsy Ross (maker of the first American flag), and 3c stamp

 

Women’s contribution to the supply and production of essential military equipment during the American Revolutionary Wars has also been commemorated on the United States Postage stamp. Image 4 depicts a female seamstress producing military uniforms for Washington’s Continental Army.

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Image 4: United States of America, 4 July 1977 American Revolution Bicentennial “Skilled Hands for Independence” issue, 13c stamp

 

Finally the United States Postage Stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER” depicted in Image 5 was issued in 1928 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. The overprint “Molly Pitcher” refers to a nickname given to Mary Ludwig Hays (1754-1832), she was purported to have provided much needed supplies of water to help keep American cannon from overheating, in addition to loading cannon herself during the battle’s height under heavy enemy fire. Now regarded more as folklore than history, the nom-de-guerre is widely regarded as a symbol representing the brave and selfless acts of heroism and patriotism conducted by countless women during the American Revolutionary War.

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Image 5: United States of America, 20 October 1928 2c., carmine stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER.”

 

Richard Scott Morel

Curator, Philatelic Collections

 

Source: Images from the British Library, Philatelic Collections UPU Collection

10 January 2017

Buffalo Bill, 1846-1917

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.

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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.

16 November 2016

American Studies Training Day in Boston Spa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 October 2016

American Pamphlets 1920-1945: Call for academic partners

The British Library is currently looking for academic partners for our AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships programme to work on a project which will focus on the Library’s collection of American political pamphlets published between 1920 and 1945. The application deadline is 25 November 2016.

AHRC CDPs provide funding for PhD research drawing on our collections, resources and expertise that is co-supervised by the Library and a selected academic partner at a UK university or Higher Education Institute (HEI).

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The project will draw on the Library’s extensive holdings of American political pamphlets to study and contextualise the writing, printing, distribution and dissemination of pamphlets in the years preceding and during the Second World War.

The Library’s collection of American pamphlets from the interwar period contains publications by different anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and pacifist societies. These include the Socialist Party of America, the Young People’s Socialist League, the American League Against War and Fascism, the Jewish People's Committee, the War Resisters League, the World Peace Foundation, as well as anti-imperialist societies such as the United Aid for Peoples of African Descent, among many others. The researcher will also benefit from access to the extensive collection of US political pamphlets at the Marx Memorial Library, who is a partner in the project. 

Please find more information on how to apply here, and do not hesitate to email us at Americas@bl.uk with any questions.

26 October 2016

The private life of the Canadian beaver

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

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

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

He describes the dams which they make ‘much more artistically than men’.  The Indians (‘sauvages’) are convinced that their ‘esprit’, ‘capacite’ and ‘jugement’ show that they must have immortal souls.  (Various unflattering comparisons with Tartars,  Muscovites and Norwegians follow.) 

The beavers hold their assemblies, communicating in ‘certains tons plaintifs non articulez’. 

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

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

Beavers 2

Nouveaux Voyages de Mr. le Baron de Lahontan, dans l’Amérique septentrionale, qui contiennent une rélation des différens peuples qui y habitent; la nature de leur gouvernement; leur commerce, leurs coutumes, leur religion, & leur manière de faire la guerre.(The Hague, 1703)  [1052.a.27.]

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

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

By Barry Taylor, Curator of Romance Collections

 

Further reading:

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

 

24 October 2016

Canada and slavery in literature

Ahead of her talk for the British Library’s Feed the Mind lunchtime lecture series (31 October, 12.30-13.30), Collaborative PhD student Ellie Bird delves into the Americas collections to discuss her research into the complicated relationship between Canada and slavery. Tickets for Ellie’s talk can be purchased online, or at the box office.

As a PhD student in English Literature at the University of Sheffield, with a collaborative doctoral award with the British Library, I get to work closely with the Library’s collections in my research.

My PhD research looks at Canada and its relationship to slavery. There is a dominant national narrative for Canadians today that Canada was an anti-slavery haven for American slaves in the mid nineteenth century. This reflects a part of Canada’s history in that thousands of former American slaves escaped to Canada in the nineteenth century. However, the privileging of this history is also problematic as Canada has an earlier history of enslavement of individuals from Indian nations and of African origin slaves until at least the early nineteenth century. What literary works can we examine to find out more about Canada’s history of slavery and slaveholding? What collection items does the British Library have for exploring Canada’s relationship to American slavery?

Looking at Solomon Northup’s slave narrative Twelve Years a Slave [10881.b.38.] we get one version of Canada’s relationship to American slavery. The Canadian carpenter Bass engages in a verbal spar with plantation owner Epps about American slavery in which Bass argues that American slavery is ‘an iniquity and ought to be abolished’ (268). By Solomon’s own admission the Canadian plays a key role in helping him secure his liberty ‘Only for him, in all probability I should have ended my days in slavery.’

Canada plays an important role in the first conversation between Solomon and the Canadian carpenter Bass. This dialogue is significant because it is a turning point in the plot that ultimately results in Solomon securing his freedom. By the end of this conversation Solomon has revealed his true identity as a free man to Bass, and Bass has agreed to help him send letters to Saratoga to ask for his free papers. Solomon begins by questioning Bass about the country of his birth, and what follows is a dialogue through which Solomon demonstrates his knowledge of Canadian places, which makes Bass start to ask questions about how Solomon came to be at Epps’ plantation. When Solomon claims he has been to Canada Bass laughs ‘incredulously’ (270), and he anticipates that Solomon would not know of Canada: 'You wouldn't know if I should tell you', but Solomon lists the places he has been in Canada:

I have been there. I have been in Montreal and Kingston, and Queenston, and a great many places in Canada, and I have been in York State, too—in Buffalo, and Rochester, and Albany, and can tell you the names of the villages on the Erie canal and the Champlain canal.

Bass’s response to this, related by Solomon in the narrative, reflects that Solomon’s knowledge of Canada has ignited his interest in Solomon’s story:

 Bass turned round and gazed at me a long time without uttering a syllable.

"How came you here?" he inquired, at length,

[…]

"Well, how's this?" said he. "Who are you? You have been in Canada sure enough; I know all the places you mention. How did you happen to get here? Come, tell me all about it."

In this exchange, Solomon, who has already heard the Canadian Bass making arguments that American slavery is morally wrong, brings up the topic of Canada and this provides him a way to develop a rapport and trusting relationship with Bass as he asks him to help him to secure his liberty. The exchange functions as a way for Solomon to lead Bass to enquire after his story and to question his status as an enslaved man on the plantation. Following this opening, Bass believes Solomon’s account that he is a free man and offers to help him secure his freedom. Earlier in the narrative Solomon underscores the role that his time spent in Canada has had in helping him secure his freedom: noting that it has given him ‘a knowledge of localities which was also of service to me afterwards’ (23).

Is it surprising that Canada plays an important role in this pivotal exchange between Solomon and Bass? I would answer no; as even a quick scout at the US slave narratives in the Library’s collections attests, the geography of Canada is very much part of the African American slave narrative. Its use in the passage I examined above as a short hand for freedom (it encourages Bass to question Solomon’s history and how he has arrived at the plantation as a slave because of the strong association of Canada in this period with anti-slavery) reflects how Canada is presented in many slave narratives in this period:

Canada was so associated with freedom for American slaves within literature in this period that it was described as having no ‘footprint of a slave’ (51) in former slave Henry Bibb’s slave narrative first published in New York in 1849 [YC.2002.a.13700].

Slave narratives by American slaves were also written and circulated in Canada, although this has been overlooked in Canadian anthologies of its literature (Clarke, 2006, 14 and 7-9). In slave narratives in the 1850s Canada is often a part of the story as many former slaves reflect on their experiences of slavery and as free black men and women living in Canada. The British Library holds rare copies of several of these narratives, and examples are: The Life of Josiah Henson [10882.a.21.3.], A Narrative of Thomas Smallwood (Mic.F.232 [no. 64728], and Samuel Ringgold Ward’s Autobiography [10881.b.40.] These narratives all contain accounts of former slaves living as free men in Canada.

Other items in the Library collections present an earlier history of enslavement in Canada which problematises Bibb’s suggestion that Canada has no ‘footprint’ of a slave: The Quebec newspapers published in the eighteenth century contain many runaway slave notices. Two such newspapers are the Quebec Gazette and the Montreal Gazette [MFM.MC271B] and [MFM.MC270]. Slavery in Quebec existed under French colonial rule and later, after 1760, under the British. Indeed, the 47th article of the 1763 Treaty in which the French ceded Canada to the British stated that French Canadians could maintain their property rights in their black and indigenous slaves.

QUEBEC GAZETTE-001

The Quebec Gazette, 26 June, 1788, p.2

The runaway slave notices in the bilingual Quebec newspapers often appear in both English and French, and this makes them quite distinctive compared to those elsewhere in the Americas. During this period there was at least one enslaved man working at the Quebec Gazette, a man called Joe who was owned by the newspaper editor William Brown.

By Eleanor Lucy Bird

Notes

Clarke, George Elliott, ‘This is no hearsay: Reading the Canadian Slave Narratives’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, 43.1 (2005)

Cooper, Afua, The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal, Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2007

Rushforth, Brett, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012

Winks, Robin W., The Blacks in Canada: A History, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997

14 October 2016

Shakespeare, Montaigne and Rio de Janeiro.

On the heals of the recent Shakespear exhibit here at the British Library and just before the opening of our new exhibit on maps, this week’s blog is from a guest blogger: Ricardo Cardoso. Ricardo Cardoso is a Brazilian Historian that studies international diplomacy in Shakespeare’s works, his research studies in the University of São Paulo (USP) and Shakespeare Institute/ University of Birmingham were funded by FAPESP.

 

Shakespeare’s character Caliban, from “The Tempest”, has been the focus of critical discussion, by presumably representing partly the Modern Age colonization process. In this debate, the character has been considered as an allegory for different people, such as the North African, Caribbean Indians, Irish, and even the British. Without ruling out any of these interpretative possibilities, an element can help to illuminate an important and quite likely layer of meaning in its writing. Regarding the source used by Shakespeare for his creation, we can agree that it would have been a well-known essay wrote by Montaigne entitled "Of the Cannibals". From the French text, even the name Caliban could have emerged as a possible anagram for "cannibal". This possibility brings us to formulate an important question: Who are these cannibals that Montaigne had in mind? The Brazilian’s Tupinambás. More specifically, those natives that lived in the Guanabara Bay, where it was later established the city known as Rio de Janeiro.

Montaigne wrote this essay by 1580, using as a starting point his conversations with his servant, a former member of the attempt of French colonization at the Guanabara Bay, called France Antarctique. At that time the Brazilian Tupinambás was becoming famous by narrations and engravings as the travel reports of André Thevet and Jean de Lery, illustrations of Théodore de Bry, Hans Staden’s report, and, of course, later by Montaigne’s essay.

De Bry Brasil

 

Chorographia nobilis & opulentæ Peruanæ Provinciæ, atque Brasiliæ, Theodor de Bry, 1593 (British Library shelfmark: 10003.e.18).

Another intriguing question, referring to the use that the playwright did of the French essayist’s text is related to the description of an ideal government made by the character Gonzalo in relation to the island in which Caliban live. Gonzalo says that He would collonize that island without: “kind of traffic”; “magistrates”; “letters”; “riches”, “poverty”, “use of service”; “contract”; “gun”; “sword”; “bound of land”; “tilth”; “use of metal”; “wine”; “occupation”; “sovereignty” etc. All things would be “in common nature”. What intrigues us is the fact that Shakespeare for this passage adapted another from "Of the Cannibals" in which an amazed Montaigne describes exactly what he thought as the real – not an imaginary or fictional – Tupinambá’s social system at the Guanabara Bay, for purposes of comparison to early modern French system, predicting that the settlers would destroy such an ideal society.

Therefore, the transposition of the French text to Gonzalo’s speech can reveal more about Shakespeare's thoughts on colonization process. It is like that The Tempest is speculating about Montaigne essay, because if the French text ends comparing the Tupinambá society with French society, greatly in favour of the Brazilians, then Shakespeare shows that European contact with that so-called "Cannibal" could turn it into "Caliban", a disillusioned primitive man robbed from his own government in his ideal island. Shakespeare takes Montaigne’s description and transforms it into an ideal far from realization in the Gonzalo’s verses. Thus, we see that the Tupinambá social system becomes a properly colonizing utopia, possible only existent in the speech of a dreamy character in a play. Not only the cannibal becomes Caliban, but its social system, according to Montaigne, was about to disappear thanks to colonization, also becomes an ideal aimed at the occupation and government of the fictional island.

The public theatre built by Shakespeare's company, The Globe, had at one entrance Hercules’ badge carrying the globe, it could symbolize the diversity of cultures that populated the world. In this indirect representation, it remains curious that the rising Brazil has been contemplated by the poet through one of its most interesting characters. Caliban may be an oblique reference to a specific group of Brazilian natives and an indirect reference – drawn from Montaigne and recalling aspects of European imaginary about ‘Americans indians’ and the ‘discussion on colonization’ – to Guanabara Bay in the city of Rio de Janeiro, a place recently hosted the whole world - or Globe.

- Ricardo Cardoso

12 October 2016

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

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

Each differently, each striving by itself.

I see you now a grey man without dreams

Without a living, or an overcoat:

But sealed in struggle now, we are more close

Than if our bodies still were sealed in love.

                              Dorothy Livesay, “Comrade”

 

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

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

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

Cary Nelson uses the term “poetry chorus” to emphasize “community and continuity in the collective enterprise of progressive poetry” (3). In Right Hand Left Hand, Livesay curates a similar chorus—a collection of fiercely political voices, real or fictional, who bring their energy and passion to their communities. Livesay offers many versions of what resistance and community building look like. Livesay catalogues hundreds of political gestures that interfere in the status quo and that work towards a better world: a woman reaches across class divides to comfort a neighbour; labourers contribute their meagre income to support striking comrades; artists craft narratives that expose state violence. People resist locally and internationally, with their money, their time, their imaginations, and sometimes their lives. Solidarity is made visible, is questioned, doubted, and ultimately, affirmed. The end result is that the war in Spain doesn’t seem so remote or futile. Is there a difference between supporting your neighbour down the street, across the mountains, or across the sea? Is it worthwhile to make these distinctions?

Right Hand Left Hand ends with a photograph of Jean Watts, one of Livesay’s closest friends. The photo, captioned “Jean Watts Lawson marching off to war,” shows Watts in uniform—she enlisted in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the Second World War. It wasn’t her first war; Watts participated in the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, radio broadcaster, censor, ambulance driver, and with Norman Bethune’s blood transfusion unit. Before the war, she was an active member of Canada’s Workers’ Theatre, and funded New Frontier, the leftist magazine where much of the poetry of the Spanish Civil War first appeared. Her image sums up this ambitious book: she was central in Livesay’s personal life, in Canada’s cultural scene, in leftist politics, and in the Canadian war effort. She fought fascism on so many fronts. She built communities and cultural infrastructure.

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

--Kaarina Mikalson

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

 

NOTES:

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

 ---. “Comrade.” Right Hand Left Hand. Erin, ON: Press Porcépic, 1977. 262.

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