American Collections blog

17 posts categorized "Publishing"

12 March 2013

New acquisitions: 2 early Mexican imprints

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  Our colleague Dr Barry Taylor reports:

Although the British Library has important collections of books from colonial Latin America, including the earliest extant book printed in the Americas, Zumárraga’s Dotrina breve de las cosas que pertenecen a la fe catholica (Mexico, 1543/44, BL shelfmark C.37.e.8), such books are now all too often prohibitively expensive for us to acquire.  The recent acquisition of two seventeenth-century Mexican imprints is therefore particularly noteworthy.


Public Domain Mark Esteban García, El máximo limosnero, mayor padre de pobres, grande arçobispo de Valencia, provincial de la Andaluzia, Castilla, y Nueva-España, de la orden de san Augustin, S. Thomas de Villanueva…  (México: por la viuda de Bernardo Calderón, 1657).  [8], 95 leaves.  BL shelfmark  RB.23.a.35577. 

St Thomas of Vilanova (1487 or 88 – 1555) was beatified in 1618 and  canonised on 1 November 1658.  His hagiographer seems to have anticipated this by calling him ‘Saint’ in 1657.  It was not uncommon for the supporters of candidates for sainthood to anticipate the official canonisation: Duarte Pacheco’s Epitome da vida apostolica, e milagres de S. Thomas de Villa Nova appeared in 1629 (BL shelfmark: 1578/1091). 

St Thomas was a notable professor of theology and preacher in Spain.  He seems never to have visited America but sent friars of his order to evangelise in Mexico in 1533 and in 1547 he ordained Luis Beltrán, the future American missionary.

A further interest of both these new acquisitions is that it they are the work of  women printers.  Most women who became printers at this period, in Europe and in the Americas, did so by taking over their husband’s business on his death.  Paula de Benavides and her husband Bernardo Calderón founded a press in Mexico City in 1631; widowed with six children, she took over the business in 1641 and died in 1684.

García’s book was also read by women, as it once belonged to the ‘Convento Antiguo de Carmelitas Descalsa [sic]  de Nuestro Padre Señor San Joseph’ in Mexico City (inscription on reverse of title page).  Saints’ lives were the recommended reading of the godly, and were contrasted with the romances of chivalry.

If we might see García’s book as aimed at the reader at home, our second acquisition, like so many of the books printed in the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is a reference work for clerics spreading the faith. 


Public Domain Mark Clemente de Ledesma, Compendio del Despertador de noticias de los Santos Sacramentos (México: por Doña María de Benavides, 1695).  [24], 368, 32 pages.  BL shelfmark  RB.23.a.35576.

This is one of a series of manuals by the Franciscan Ledesma.  He published his Despertador de noticias de los Santos Sacramentos in 1695.  The present work was published in the same year.  The Despertador de noticias theologicas morales followed in 1698; and in 1699 the Despertador republicano, que por las letras del A.B.C. compendia los dos compendios del primero, y segundo tomo del despertador de noticias theologicas morales.  (The BL has the second edition: Mexico: por Doña Maria de Benavides Viuda de Juan de Ribera, 1700; BL, 4402.n.32).  Each of these works claims to be a compendium of its predecessors.

Heiress of  Paula Benavides and widow of the printer Juan de Ribera, María de Benavides began her printing career in 1685 and is recorded as late as 1700. 

See: Barry Taylor and Geoffrey West, ‘Libros religiosos coloniales de la British Library: libros impresos en México, Perú, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador y Guatemala, 1543/4-1800’, Redial, 8-9 (1997-98 [2001]), 69-92. Also available on the British Library’s website here.


07 September 2012

Not Just Anne of Green Gables: Canadian Literature and the Library

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Wrong Room
'The Wrong Room', an illustration from Thomas Hutchinson's, The Clockmaker [1838, Second London Edition; BL Shelfmark 12654.c.6]

I’ve been reading Reingard Nischik’s, History of Literature in Canada and, with the Giller Prize Longlist also just announced, thought I would try and inspire a few of you to come and use the Library’s collection of Canadian literature. Team Americas have written about early Canadian writings before, although these were published in France rather than the country with which they were concerned. Whether published in Europe or Canada Francophone Canadian writing features strongly in the collections in the form of newspapers, periodicals and books, the below, Une de Perdue, being just one example.

Une de Perdue
Front cover from an early Francophone Canadian adventure novel, George de Boucherville's, Une de Perdue... [1874 edition' BL Shelfmark: 1509/3550]

Despite this depth of Francophone material the Anglophone collections are stronger historically, largely due to the possibility of obtaining English language publications via copyright deposit. That said, the Library’s Anglophone Canadian materials display the same format strengths as the Francophone materials, with newspapers (dating back to the eighteenth century), periodicals (such as the Acadian Recorder) and books being the main sources.

The collection also reflects the development of Canadian literature’s international scope as the copies held of important early works such as Goldsmith’s, The Rising Village [BL Shelfmark: 11644.bbb.40(2.)] and Haliburton’s The Clockmaker [BL Shelfmark: G.17989] are London rather than Canadian editions. Further, because of the linguistic scope and historical depth of the collection you can also perceive how Canadian literature develops, positions itself in relation to prevailing trends and reacts to the winds of national and international politics.

Such things are still true today as the Library continues to collect (by copyright deposit and purchase) Canadian work in a variety of languages – which now stretches far beyond a simple Anglophone / Francophone split. I’m also pleased to say we occasionally manage to be part of the CanLit scene, something illustrated by the fact that Giller Prize winner Elizabeth Hay is speaking here next Wednesday lunchtime. If you are interested the event is free (with hot drinks and biscuits provided) and there are more details here.


19 March 2012

Published in Paris

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We're dusting off the Delorean again. Following on from Naomi's post on Martha Gellhorn and her research on Hemingway's wives, we thought we'd revive a (slightly tweaked) post on publishing in Paris
and Hemingway's first collection of short stories.

Having worked with our Americas collections for some time now, I like to think that I know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. The internet has made it much easier to fill gaps than in the past, in the days when we had to compile lists of desiderata without too much hope of ever finding a wanted title. And the amount of material now available digitally has obviously also impacted on whether or not we decide to buy a print version of a missing title. But over the years, I’ve been struck by just how good some of the curators of previous generations were at spotting items and getting them in to the collections.

A case in point is the writing of American authors in Paris in the twenties and thirties, that golden era of literary publishing when many of the giant figures of both British and American literature first got their work into print. These were often the ‘difficult’ books that had been rejected by more established publishers. The little Paris private presses were not only prescient in their championing of relatively unknown authors, but their owners often risked censorship and prosecution. The Library’s holdings from this period are excellent, the curators of the time being equally prescient in their selection. So, if you want to immerse yourself in the output of presses such as the Contact Publishing Company (e.g. Mina Loy’s Lunar Baedecker, 1923), Three Mountains (e.g. William Carlos Williams's Great American Novel, 1923), Obelisk (Henry Miller’s Black Spring, 1936), Black Sun, and a host of others, the BL is the place to come.

The rather sad looking copy of Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, shown at the top of the blog, was published by Three Mountains in 1924, in a limited edition of only 170 copies (you may have seen it in our exhibition Breaking the Rules: the printed face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937). It contains a collection of 18 short untitled chapters (6 of which had appeared in The Little Review). I don’t think you could really call Hemingway avant-garde (discuss) but William Bird, the Three Mountains proprietor, decided that a Dada-esque cover was required. The collage included a map and newspaper articles, in both English and French, pasted together, and is meant to reflect both the journalistic prose of the work and the chaos of the First World War and its aftermath, an underlying theme of the collection. And incidently, a copy of In our Time came up for sale a couple of years ago with a price that would make your eyes water.

Hemingway, along with Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Fitzgerald and Pound, not to mention James Joyce et al, were frequent visitors to Sylvia Beach’s little bookshop Shakespeare and Company, which first opened its doors in 1919. It was Beach, of course, who first published Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922, and The Letters of Sylvia Beach, edited by Keri Walsh and published by Columbia University Press a year or so ago can be found in the BL.

For those of you who are particularly interested in the presses mentioned, I would recommend Hugh Ford’s Published in Paris: American and British Writers, Printers, and Publishers in Paris, 1920-1939, published in 1975, but still indispensable (BL shelfmark: x981/10131).

And finally, you might want to check out Dorian’s web feature on American Literature in Europe, which has a little section on the Lost Generation.


21 November 2011

Narrating Slavery and Freedom in Canada

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'Off for Canada'
['Off for Canada', an illustration from, Glenelg [pseud.] (1889), Broken Shackles, Toronto: William Briggs]

As with the United States, slavery is part of Canada's heritage. This heritage is complex, including the enslavement of native peoples, participation in the African slave trade and Canada's role as an Underground Railroad safe haven (to provide a simple sketch). As these examples suggest it is also an interconnected heritage, involving the United States, Britain and various Caribbean territories, as well as Canada itself. The British Library's collections, therefore, provide a unique resource for the consideration of this history. Information and accounts are contained in many elements of the collections, with monographs, newspapers, pamphlets, journals and various other materials all providing insight into slavery in Canada and its associated connections with the rest of the Americas.

My motivation in sketching this out is to promote a collaborative studentship being offered by Sheffield University in partnership with the British Library. 'Narratives and Depictions of Slaves and Former Slaves in Canada: 1800 - 1900' is an opportunity to conduct PhD research into the Canadian collections of the British Library, investigating how the experiences of slaves and former slaves in Canada are represented therein. It is also an opportunity to contribute to understandings of the richness of the collections here, drawing out the significance of the works held and illustrating their connections to materials and individuals from other parts of the Americas and the British Empire.

The link in the previous paragraph contains more information on the project, eligibility and the application process. There are also contact details for Dr. Jane Hodson (studentship supervisor at Sheffield University's School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics) and myself should you wish to discuss the project further.


19 September 2011

Tweet Tweet: John James Audubon's Birds of America

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John James Audubon's Birds of America is undoubtedly a treasure but, it must be said, a bit unwieldy, especially in its double-elephantine folio.  Much handier is this new iPad version, which I spotted being announced on Twitter this morning.  It can be seen in its new habitat in two formats: the full, 'complete version', and the lesser-spotted 'highlights version'.  Both can be purcashed via eBook Treasures (along with other tomes, such as Blake's notebook).

More birds from the blog's backlist.


14 September 2011

Jackie O

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Camelot still casts its spell, and the press has been full of reports of the recently released Jacqueline Kennedy recordings to tie in with Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F Kennedy, which is published today.  Much of the interest is to do with the gossip and occasional revelation contained in the text, but there is also, at least for many Americans (and many others), the continuing fascination with Jackie O.  As the New Yorker's Amy Davidson noted on the recordings and the current discussions,

Her comments here seem so striking because of the many paper-doll versions of her we’ve played with for so long. How many people have been the object of so much fetishization, of so many kinds—fashion, political, tabloid?

There are many items in the collections, of course, but here's one from the Sound Archive, recording the First Lady's more public utterances:

Biographical highlights of Jacqueline Kennedy - her speeches in the United States and abroad (Almanack, 1964).  disc 2 sides 30 cm 33 rpm.


11 September 2011

Remembering 9/11 again (or What you won't be reading on your Kindle, part 3)

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Image © Gaylord Schanilec

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is being marked by a steady stream of newspaper features, documentaries on TV, and an ever growing number of books on the subject. In my blog on last year’s anniversary I mentioned Michael Katakis’s Troubled Land series of photographs. Michael’s response to 9/11 was to set out on a trip across America, taking the photos which now make up the aforementioned series.* 

A recent issue of The New York Times carried an article on another type of response. New Yorker Richard Goodman rode his bicycle from the Upper West Side down to Ground Zero nearly every day for three months. His experiences during those cycling trips through Manhattan now make up the book The Bicycle Diaries: one New Yorker’s Journey Through 9/11, which is published in a limited edition by Midnight Paper Sales, the press of poet, wood engraver and printer Gaylord Schanilec. The book is illustrated by Gaylord’s distinctive coloured wood engravings and represents the answer to the question he asked himself on the morning of the 9/11 attacks, ‘what can I do?’ Last autumn he accompanied Richard Goodman on a bike ride, re-visiting the same Manhattan streets of Goodman's earlier cycling expeditions down to the One World Trade Center construction site. The engravings in the book are based on the photographs that Gaylord took during that ride. Text and image combine to provide a view of past and present, referencing both the horrors of the original events, and the hope arising from restoration and renewal in the city.

The blending of word and image has always been an important aspect of Gaylord’s work, as has a strong sense of place, so The Bicycle Diaries seems a perfect project for Midnight Paper Sales. To some it might appear anachronistic in these digital days to produce a limited edition fine press book, using traditional letter press printing and laborious multi-colour wood engraving processes, but books can be so much more than just carriers of information. As e-books become increasingly popular, paradoxically, the number and variety of fine press and artists' books that are appearing also seem to be on the rise. Great, we can have the best of both worlds. I'm looking forward to the arrival of the BL’s copy of The Bicycle Diaries and to holding it in my hands. I have no doubt that, to quote from the NYTimes article,  ‘It has the weight of a small thing done with great care to honor a huge loss.’


 *We’ll be displaying a few of these photographs in the forthcoming Folio Gallery exhibition which opens on 10 October. The exhibition ties in with the publication of Michael’s new book Photographs and Words, which will appear under the British Library imprint later this month.


17 December 2010

What the #?~!?

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Two of the things that happened this week were: (1) A Celebration of Swearing and Profanity, with participants from Viz and In the Thick of It, as part of our Evolving English exhibition; and (2) the launch of the Google Books Ngam Viewer Beta.  Important, sensible research has taken place on this corpus of words, as the New York Times has noticed, but I did what I suspect many others did and combined (1) and (2).

What did I learn?  Well, there is steady increase in the proportion of a word beginning with S, starting in the '60s, and plateauing in 1980s, before rising in the '90s.


A similar pattern is revealed by [f***]:

Except, there is more of a pronounced lull in the '80s, and its rise starts a little later.

Now for the C-word:


A little more random, a later start, but more of a backlash in the 1980s.  As a control, here's [Apple Pie]:


What explains this?  Can we tie it into a narrative of progressive easing up in censorship (or a decline in literary standards), followed by a backlash, perhaps lead by Reagan-era cultural politics and embodied by Tipper Gore's explicit lyrics stickers?  Does the line of the C-word graph point to the extra-layers of profanity attached to that epithet?  And what does it mean in terms of gender politics? I'm sure we'll here a lot more about this sort of research, not least as a starting off point for more in-depth enquiry and for raising questions.  That's my excuse.

Update: more in the Grauniad.