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13 posts categorized "Politics"

06 November 2012

Down to the wire: the U.S. election

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It appears that the 2012 U.S. election is going down to the wire.  There are obviously many reasons why the race is so close, but political commentators also always argue that a second term election is there to be lost by the incumbent.

 George Bush came a cropper in the 1992 election when his public approval ratings nose-dived due to (amongst other things) his apparent confusion over the pressing economic issues of the day. In 1980, the 39th President, Jimmy Carter, ran for a second term in what is often cited as the most disastrous campaign in US Presidential history. Carter had to fend off attacks from an effective campaign on the right by Ronald Reagan, the Republican nominee, whilst also defending his position against Edward (Ted) Kennedy, the Senator for Massachusetts, on the left of his own Democratic Party. Kennedy had refused to drop out of the Democratic Primary after the first vote, leading to a dirty and prolonged mud slinging match before Carter secured the nomination. Somewhat ironically Carter found himself running against his own economic record, with high inflation causing stagnation in economic growth and unemployment remaining stubbornly high.            

Many factors will play a part in influencing the outcome of this election - money and ‘Obamacare’ to name just two. Enormous campaign contributions have been amassed by both the Obama and Romney campaigns, and this has been made possible the Supreme Court decision which states that Federal Government cannot curtail independent expenditure for political purposes by groups, corporations and committees. The primary purpose of these political action committees or Super PACs, is to influence elections via corporations, unions or wealthy individuals. There is no limit on the amount of money they can raise as long as it is spent independently of the candidate’s campaign.

Obamacare, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been a particularly contentious and divisive piece of legislation. The Act became law in March 2010 and the Republicans have already raised no fewer than 33 Bills in an attempt to repeal it. Why would the Republicans continue to raise bills which seem doomed to failure? It could be argued that this strategy is less about having Obamacare repealed in the first instance (although that clearly is a goal), but more a case of using these continuous legislative attacks on the Act in order to keep the issue at the top of the political agenda (and thereby subvert the Democrats own campaign agenda).

I was planning to finish off this post with a few light-hearted remarks on much smaller factors which potentially could influence the vote  (- such as the latest incarnation of the Halo series computer game Halo: 4 which is due for release today). But following the devastation that Hurricane Sandy has inflicted on the eastern seaboard, it is clear that many Americans are now faced with huge issues which may well have an impact on a knife-edge election where every vote really does count.

Matt is still in Philadelphia, and our Eccles Centre Professor Davies is now in Boston for the election, so they will have front row seats. But I and the rest of Team Americas will be glued to our TVs tonight to see how things unfold. There will no doubt be a few sleepy curators in the office tomorrow.

And you might like to know that we have a number of databases relating to U.S. Official Publications.

[J.J.]

31 August 2012

The radical life of Moncure Daniel Conway

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Eccles Centre Writer in Residence, Sheila Rowbotham, writes,

I really should have known more about the life of the American anti-slavery  campaigner and freethinker, Moncure Daniel Conway. I have  been going to meetings in Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London since the 1960s. I have the historian’s habit of wondering where the names of places and buildings come from, yet I failed to make the connection.

Because I am currently writing about two women who, in the 1880s, were members of Bristol Women’s Liberal Association , after all these years I started to investigate after finding a reference to him speaking in  the Victoria Rooms on ‘Women and Evolution’ on March 26th 1885.

The Bristol women were radical; they had links to the Garrisonian wing of  anti-slavery, inclined towards Irish Home Rule and were staunch supporters of women’s suffrage as well as being opposed to  the Contagious Diseases  Acts whereby women could be forcibly examined  for venereal diseases and confined in ‘lock’ hospitals. However as I read about Moncure Conway I wondered how much his audience knew of his extraordinary life.

From a wealthy Virginian slave-holding family, he began to ask questions after reading Emerson. In 1854, while he was studying at Harvard , a runaway slave was arrested in Boston and, after failing to obtain his release legally, abolitionists attacked the jail. A deputy sheriff was killed and with polite Boston reeling in shock, a defiant William Lloyd Garrison burned a copy of the U. S Constitution in protest. These startling events affected the young son of a slave-owner deeply. He turned against his father and brothers, siding with his mother and sisters who opposed slavery. In 1862, during the Civil War, he helped some of his father’s former slaves to escape to Ohio  where they  established the Conway Colony.

Breaking even with the broad and tolerant tenets of Unitarianism, he moved towards humanism and free thought. But Moncure Conway went  further.

When I read his Autobiography, Memories and Experiences in the British Library I was intrigued to find him embracing the dangerous French woman novelist George Sand who had supported the 1848 revolution and was associated with free love. Emerson had given him Sand’s Lelia to read when Moncure Conway went to lecture in Britain in 1863, but  it was not until several years later  that he met her, experiencing ‘awe’ at being in her presence..

His tribute is remarkable: ‘Margaret Fuller and Mrs Browning were both in this brain of George Sand; nay, all the aspiring and discontented women known to me in America – poets, orators, reformers – were all the offspring of George Sand, endeavouring to build in the New World a palace for Woman ..’

He admired the radical suffrage agitators Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ernestine Rose. In Britain he made contact with the Bright- Priestman  family nexus who were early campaigners for suffrage. Sandra Holton has written  with  scholarship and sensibility about their influence which was marked in Bristol.

An inveterate networker, friend of Oliver Wendell Holmes as well as Emerson in the U.S., Moncure Conway recounts how he collected European dissidents of every hue. He knew the most diverse radicals; the Cambridge Republican mathematician, W.K. Clifford and the utopian Scot, Thomas Davidson who inspired  the Fellowship of the  New Life from which the Fabians grew.

His autobiography enables us to glimpse how individuals transcend assumed  boundaries. After the defeat of the French Commune, the anarchist anthropologist, Elie Reclus, took him ‘to a room in Bloomsbury where the Communards were wont to gather – a poor place; but I was impressed by their intelligent and benevolent countenances’.

Conway Hall, of course, would not be accepting any spirits into its rationalist premises, but still I can imagine how those Communards might well waft discretely through the gallery from time to time, hob-nobbing with George Sand, Margaret Fuller, Tom Paine, the Bristol Women’s Liberal Association , and, the sociable Moncure Daniel Conway himself.

[S.R.]

14 August 2012

Team Americas looks forward to a great Fall events programme

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We've been feeling decidedly down in the mouth after the Olympics - we’ve all enjoyed the last couple of weeks so much that it was inevitable that things would suddenly feel a bit flat. But we’ve now perked up considerably since we find ourselves not only very busy but with a lot to look forward to over the next couple of months. Matt and Carole are wearing their Beat hats as they prepare for the arrival of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road manuscript scroll in early October - how exciting is that! And then there is the accompanying programme of events, featuring a preview screening of Walter Salles’ new film of On the Road, and an evening with Amiri Baraka to mention just two. The full programme can be found on the BL’s website under events (check under each month), and details of the exhibition will be up very soon.

In addition to supporting some of the On the Road events/exhibition, our wonderful Eccles Centre for American Studies is sponsoring a fantastic range of autumn talks, including our Summer Scholars series (featuring e.g. Naomi Wood and Sheila Rowbotham, our 2 Eccles Writers in Residence), as well as events with Liza Klaussman (who, incidentally, happens to be Herman Melville’s great-great-great granddaughter!), Andrea Wulf, and Lord Putnam to pick out just a few. And how could we forget that there happens to be a big election coming up in the U.S. in November, and we of course have that covered too. For the full range of Eccles events see http://www.bl.uk/eccles/events.html/.

And as if that wasn’t enough, we’ll be showcasing some of our artists’ books on 4 September at Inspired by Artists' Books, we have David H.Treece speaking about The Meanings of Music in Brazilian Culture for Brazil World Music Day on September 7, and we'll be celebrating Jamaican Independence on October 5th . Finally, the Olympics are still in our thoughts as we look forward not only to Rio, but to our conference Social Change and the Sporting Mega-event on November 5, organised in collaboration with our Brazilian colleagues.

Whew! Hopefully, you’ll find at least some of these events of interest and we hope to see you at the Library in the near future.

25 June 2012

Politics, Plantations and Camels: early publishing about Barbados

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Barbados (Lingon Map)
'A Topographical Description and Measurement of the Island of Barbados', in Richard Ligon's (1657) 'A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados' [Shelfmark: 455.a.18]

The British Library holds a significant collection of published material relating to the history of Barbados, some of it dating back to the mid-seventeenth century, and the above map inspired me to post about some of it here. Ligon's 'A True and Exact History' is one of the earliest publications the Library holds relating to Barbados (there are a couple of earlier works about English Civil War related strife in the 1650s) and it contains a number of interesting details about an island which was only settled by the English in 1627.

Ligon's account places a significant emphasis on the flora and fauna of Barbados as well as the fish and mammals encountered on his journey to the island. Of particular interest here is the long section given to the description of sharks and the animosity felt towards them by the ship's crew, who reserved gruesome fates for any of these predators that they caught (pp. 5-6). The other thing that jumps out to the reader from amongst the wealth of botanical and zoological information is a note on p. 58 about the presence and use of camels on the island. It would seem they were highly valued for their durability and use for carrying heavy loads, it also illustrates how quickly Barbados became part of a global exchange mechanism.

Barbados (Sloane Map)
Late 17th Century map of Barbados from a volume of ink wash on paper maps [Shelfmark: Sloane 2441]

Within these notes on the bounty of Barbados is the ever-present detail of the darker side of the island, its economy and politics. That slavery quickly became a brutal part of the island economy is illustrated by the two hunted runaways seen on the top map, as well as extensive notes found in the text. While Ligon makes little direct mention of the effects the English Civil War had on the island shortly before his work was published the tensions which existed are hinted at by the informal punishment allotted to the mention of the words 'Roundhead' or 'Cavalier' (p. 57).

While Ligon skirts around most details of the conflict in Barbados other writers see it as a significant incident related to wider problems with the island's administration. As such, one of the first books printed on the island, 'Some Memoirs of the First Settlement of Barbados' [published in 1741. Shelfmark: G.14967], notes the events that led to the Civil War playing out in Barbados and highlights key events in this conflict. It also concludes with a lengthy treatise on fairer government and the benefits this would bring to the island, a hot topic in the Americas at the time and one that would be debated in various forms during the history of the colonial Caribbean.

[PJH]

22 May 2012

My dear Harold: discovering Carlos Fuentes in our archives

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Carlos_Fuentes
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When I first heard of the death of Carlos Fuentes last week I was filled with memories of the first time I read La Muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962). Fuentes’ astute and scathing critique of Mexican politics, and his masterful way of weaving stories through time and space left a huge impression on me as an adolescent. As I read the obituaries that came out over the course of the week, and watched the crowds gather around the world to honour Fuentes I began to wonder about his life and his relationships.

What might I find out digging around our collections here at the BL? It turns out Fuentes was a translator and friend of Harold Pinter.  And the British Library holds the Pinter archive, including correspondences between Pinter and Fuentes. It was one of those discoveries that surprises you but really shouldn’t. Their letters reveal shared creative and political commitments. Topics of discussion between the two included the translation of Party Time and Mountain Language for production in Mexico in 1992 (Add MS 88880/6/10), a speech by Pinter at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid on the effects of the cold war in the Americas that Fuentes wanted to publish in Mexico (Add MS 88880/6/60), and Pinter’s Nobel Prize speech given in 2005 in which he profoundly condemns the last 60 years of US foreign policy. Fuentes ended his admiring letter of Pinter’s speech with these words: “Believe me, my dear Harold, you have spoken for many, many, many of us. You were not alone that night.” (Add MS 88880/11/10).

My initial investigation into the traces of Fuentes’ life at the BL took me to Harold Pinter’s deep involvement in the political struggles of the Americas in the last half of the 20th century: from the Sandinistas in Central America, to the US trade embargo of Cuba, to the US invasion of Iraq. I can’t think of a better way to have marked the passing of Carlos Fuentes – whose own work never shied from the unknown or the unpredictable in the quest for the truth.

Harold-pinter-atp
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 [ENC]