THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

5 posts categorized "Research collaboration"

17 August 2018

Canada and Its Literature: A Tale of More Than Two Cultures 2/2

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Language has inevitably played a significant role in Canada’s immigration patterns. Reflecting the country’s colonial history and occupation by both the French and the English, the two most commonly-spoken languages in Canada remain English (the mother tongue of 56% of Canadians) and French (that of 21% of Canadians). Of course, other factors influence human relocation, but it is easy to see the attraction of such a linguistic context for immigrants from former colonies. The Haitian-Canadian community is an especially good illustration. According to the 2011 Census, 97% of Haitian immigrants live in Quebec – the second most populous region of Canada, but more crucially, home to the largest French-speaking community in the country, and with French as the official language. The attraction is clear for people from Haiti, a former French colony that has retained French as the language of education and bureaucracy. And the Haitian community in Quebec has produced a significant amount of prominent migrant writers, such as Emile Ollivier, Marie-Célie Agnant, Gérard Etienne, Joël des Rosiers, Gary Klang and Anthony Phelps, many of whom are published by Mémoire d’encrier.

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Dany Laferrière. Wikimedia Commons. 2014.

 

But the best-known of them worldwide is Dany Laferrière, a political refugee of the Duvalier regime who has lived in North America since the 1970s. Born to a politician and an archivist, Laferrière worked as a journalist before fleeing Haiti soon after a colleague and friend of his was found murdered on a beach – most probably by the government. His autobiographical novel, Le Cri des Oiseaux Fous (2000) [The Cry of Mad Birds] narrates this event, its impact on him and the horrors of the Duvalier dictatorship in more detail. After moving to Montreal as a 23-year-old, he spent several years scraping a living from insecure jobs, living in cheap flats and reading novels. His first novel, provocatively entitled Comment faire l’amour à un nègre sans se fatiguer (1985) [How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired] was a resounding international success. The story followed the lives of two Haitians sharing a flat in Montreal, and satirically engaged with racist stereotypes. A film adaptation followed four years after but was censured in the U.S, revealing the country’s continuing discomfort with racial issues. Over thirty years on, and with over thirty books to his name, Laferrière will be honoring the Institut Français of London with a visit on 24/09/2018 as part of the British Library’s French Caribbean Study Day.

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Kim Thúy at the Salon international du livre de Québec 2011. Wikimedia Commons.

 

Another important migrant writer from Quebec is Kim Thuy. Born in Vietnam, her family escaped the communist regime in her homeland when she was ten years old and she spent several months in a refugee camp in Malaysia before being relocated to Quebec where she had to learn French, the language in which she now writes. First working as a translator and later as a lawyer, Thuy never severed her links with her homeland. As a lawyer for example, she went on an advisory assignment to Vietnam with a group of Canadian experts. Back in Montreal, she also opened a Vietnamese restaurant called Ru de Nam. She then turned to writing and explored themes such as Vietnamese immigrant women, the culture shocks of immigration, the mother-daughter relationship and Vietnamese food. Her latest publication, Le Secret des Vietnamiennes (2017) [Vietnamese Women’s Secret] is actually a cookbook of Vietnamese recipes handed down from mothers to daughters. Her first novel, Ru (2009) was a bestseller in Quebec and France, won prestigious awards worldwide and was translated into over twenty-five languages. It tells the story of a family’s journey from Vietnam to Quebec and their difficult adaptation to Canada. Loosely based on her experiences, it tackles the Vietnamese “boat people” refugee crisis involving dangerous escapes from Vietnam on over-crowded boats to refugee camps. Significantly, more than 50% of the Southeast Asian boat people came to Canada as a result of a government program.

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A small selection of our holdings by French-language Canadian migrant writers (from left to right): Mona Latif-Ghattas (from Egypt), Abla Farhoud (from Lebanon), Hedi Bouraoui (from Tunisia), Ying Chen (from Shanghai), Naim Kattan (from Iraq), Régine Robin (from France), Sergio Kokis (from Bresil), Kim Thuy (from Vietnam), Blaise Ndala (from Congo), Marco Micone (from Italy), Dany Laferriere (from Haiti) and Aki Shimazaki (from Japan).

 

As you can see, Laferrière and Thuy are just two of the many French-language Canadian writers and the British Library holds books many more Canadian multicultural writers than I can even allude to in this post. Now let’s have a quick look at what we hold in terms of English-language migrant writing:

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A small selection of our holdings by English-language Canadian migrant writers (from left to right): Kim Fu (of Chinese descent), Esi Edugyan (of Ghanaian descent), Austin Clarke (from Barbadia), M.G Vassanji (from Kenya, of Asian descent), Shani Mootoo (from Trinidad), Michael Ondaatje (from Sri Lanka), Madeleine Thien (of Chinese descent), Shauna Singh Baldwin (of Indian descent), Dionne Brand (from Trinidad and Tobago), Olive Senior (from Jamaica) and Neil Bissoondath (from Trinidad).

 

Although technically speaking still a newcomer to the international literary scene, Lebanese-born writer and photographer Rawi Hage has been particularly in vogue since the publication of his first novel in 2006.  Hage witnessed the civil war in his homeland and moved to Canada in the early 1990s where he had to work as a security guard and taxi driver to pay his way through university. Hage wasn’t the only person to relocate because of the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990). In fact, as the war dragged on, Canada and Australia were the only Western countries to set up special programs to welcome Lebanese refugees. The 2011 census shows that Lebanese-Canadians still form the largest Arabic-speaking group in Canada. Language certainly had a role in this too, as 45% of Lebanese nationals can speak French. While Hage writes in English – his third language – up to quite recently he lived in Francophone Montreal, like about half of the Lebanese-Canadian population. His award-winning debut novel, De Niro’s Game (2006), tackles the hard choices that young Lebanese people faced during the civil war. His second novel, Cockroach (2008), charts the trials of an impoverished Middle Eastern immigrant in Montreal through his sessions with his therapist after a failed suicide attempt, leading the reader to question the success of Canada’s multiculturalism ambitions.

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Rawi Hage at Quebec Writers Federation, 2012. Vimeo.

 

Hage’s colleague writer and common-law partner Madeleine Thien has rightly argued that the Canadian literary prize-awarding establishment generally prioritizes white writers over nonwhite ones). And when “multicultural”/minority writers are included, they generally tend to be men. Evoking the prestigious Giller Prize, she remarks that only 12 nonwhite writers were shortlisted over a ten-year period, and that “this number includes twice each for Rawi Hage, M.G. Vassanji, and Michael Ondaatje”. Thien’s point is all the more significant considering the extent of nonwhite and multicultural women’s writing in Canada’s literary history. The Caribbean feminist and/or queer women writers Dionne Brand, M. Nourbese Philip, Olive Senior, Lorna Goodison, Shani Mootoo, Makeda Silvera and Nalo Hopkinson are only a few examples.

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Esi Edugyan. A portrait by Johann Wall, reproduced with his kind permission.

 

But in 2011, Esi Edugyan made history by being the first black woman to win the Giller Prize. Her novel, Half-Blood Blues, followed the lives of Afro-German and African-American jazz musicians fleeing the Gestapo in 1930s Berlin and Nazi-occupied Paris. Edugyan’s parents left Ghana in the 1970s, during a period of drastic change and political unrest following independence. Like many of their compatriots, they moved to Canada, where Ghanaians became the second-largest African immigrant group. Her family’s first-hand experiences of racism and difficulties adapting to life in Canada has inspired much of her writing. Her first novel for example, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2004), shows the disillusionment of a Ghanaian immigrant living in Alberta in the late 20th century, a character loosely based on her father. In the past few weeks, Edugyan has made the news again, by being long-listed (for the second time!) alongside Ondaatje for the Man Booker Prize. Her competing novel, Washington Black (2018), is an unconventional slave narrative which charts the life of a twelve-year-old slave working in a Barbados sugar plantation before fleeing an unjust execution in the 1830s, travelling to America, Canada, England, the Netherlands and Morocco. Good luck to her!

Laura Gallon.


Laura Gallon is a PhD placement student at the British Library where she is working on a project assessing holdings of migrant narratives in the North American collections. She is in the second year of her PhD at the University of Sussex which is looking at contemporary American short fiction by immigrant women writers. Her placement is supported by the Eccles Centre for American Studies.


15 February 2018

Researching American political pamphlets

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Pamphlets have for centuries been an important medium for disseminating news and ideas and rallying public opinion, but their typically subversive nature made them a thorn in the side of rulers in Early Modern Europe. Pamphlets were notoriously vulgar and unreliable, and as such, the term ‘pamphlet’ and ‘pamphleteer’ were often used in a pejorative sense –– at one point even used as a synonym for a prostitute.1 But what of the pamphlet in 20th century America? How did new and improved technology and a radical, modern political landscape alter the nature of the pamphlet?

Having carried on much previous research on the radical politics of the interwar period, I was very excited at the prospect of exploring American political pamphlets from 1920-1945. This project is an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Partnership between the British Library and the University of Sussex, which makes use of the extensive collection of American political pamphlets held at the Library. The full scope of the pamphlets available is not yet known, and one of the major aims of the project is to produce a coherent and comprehensive digital database of the pamphlets for the Library, making them more accessible for both researchers and the public.

I feel extremely privileged to be given the opportunity to work with these pamphlets, many of which feature wonderful illustrations and photography. For example, this pamphlet issued by the Friends of the Soviet Union is filled with photos of working life in the Soviet Union, intended to display the ‘tremendous achievements’ of the first Five Year Plan.

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Page from Soviet Pictorial: Forging Ahead, published by the Friends of the Soviet Union in 1931. Shelfmark YD.2007.a.2167

 

This pamphlet by Pioneer Publishers (publishing house of the Socialist Workers Party, formerly the Communist League of America) is just one example of the some of the striking, politically-charged artwork to be found within many of these publications. This example features work by Laura Gray, who often produced illustrations for the Socialist Workers Party. Other notable radical illustrators to be found in the collection include Hugo Gellert, Robert Minor and William Gropper.

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American Workers Need a Labor Party, Pioneer Publishers (1944). Shelfmark 8287.cc.106.

  The history of pamphlets is not a topic that has been researched extensively, and what has been written focuses more on their uses in early modern Europe. This project hopes to bring to light the significance of the political pamphlet in modern America, eventually contributing to a more comprehensive history of the pamphlet overall. Some of the questions I will be asking include:

  • Where were the centres of pamphlet production, and how did changes in press restrictions impact the production of pamphlets and the radical publishing house in general?
  • Likewise, where were the main distribution centres for political pamphlets?
  • How many of these American political pamphlets found themselves in the hands of groups across the Atlantic? If so, how, and what kind of influence did they have?

With regards to the content of the pamphlets, I am especially interested in exploring the interaction through pamphlets between the Left and conservative and fascist anti-communist groups and organisations. For example, how either side dealt with the other as a respective threat. The interwar period was marked by increasing ideological polarisation across the world, and America was no exception. On the one hand, this period saw the creation of the Communist Party of America along with many other left-wing organisations that had been inspired and strengthened by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and on the other hand new fascist-inspired groups were formed while older far-right groups such as the Ku Klux Klan saw its membership reach its peak of 4 million in the 1920s. The raison d’être for the majority of the far-right became fighting the supposed international threat of Jews and Communists. At the same time, political repression on federal, state and local levels was overwhelmingly justified on anti-communist grounds. I want to explain how pamphlets were used by the Left and civil liberties groups to counter these threats, and how successful they were in doing so.


To be a PhD student with the British Library is an invaluable experience – from the extensive access to important resources, the support and expertise of staff, and the many opportunities available. I have enjoyed every moment and I am excited to unlock all the potential of this project.

 

[1] Joad Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 8, 9.

 

By Jodie Collins,

AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library and University of Sussex

 

12 January 2018

Resources for engaging Māori contemporary culture and politics

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Following on from my last post were I outlined some resources I have found useful for learning about contemporary Indigenous Australian issues; I have turned my attention to Māori resources in this post. As with the previous post, I have tried to provide resources that are written by Māori people, in some cases this is easier said than done as it is certainly not up to me to decide who is Māori and who is not. I am an outsider to Māori culture and this collection of resources is only intended to skim the surface in order to provide a few avenues for further research. If you think there is anything I have overlooked in this post or have other suggestions for me, I encourage you to tweet me: @JoannePilcher1

 

Carving
"The tools of the masters" #nzmaci #TeWānangaWhakairoRākauoAotearoa’. A carving from the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute shared on their Facebook page. They post many beautiful examples of Māori art and design.

 

Websites

Te Ara – The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand has been an invaluable resource for me, the website splits into themes that contexualise contemporary Māori life such as The Bush, The Settled Landscape and Economy and the City. It is possible to browse around topics based on these themes or it is an excellent place to go to read up on a specific issue but simply searching key words. They also feature stories and articles, for example this week’s featured story is Deep-sea Creatureshttps://teara.govt.nz/en

Maori.org.nz – This website provides useful summaries of elements of contemporary Māori culture and their historical context. I particularly enjoyed looking at the section on Korero O Nehera (Stories of Old), which is a collection of traditional Māori stories written by Māori authors. It also includes a selection of further links to learn more about each of the themes it addresses. http://www.maori.org.nz/

Māori Television has a news section on their website that covers current affairs from a Māori perspective. The Headlines section gave an interesting overview all news and I found the Politics section really useful for understanding how Māori issues are represented within the political structures in New Zealand. http://www.maoritelevision.com/news/headlines

While New Zealand History is not a specifically Māori focused website, it has been recommended by other Māori sites as a useful resource for providing historical context on Māori culture. It provides a Brief pre-history of how Māori peoples came to settle in New Zealand as well as going into a lot of detail on key dates in Māori history. It also has a really useful section on the various wars that took place between different Māori tribes and the Pākehā (non-Māori New Zealanders) and how this shaped the treatment of Māori peoples in New Zealand today. http://history-nz.org/maori.html

Online Journals

Mai Journal website, http://www.journal.mai.ac.nz/

He Pukenga Korero – A Journal of Māori Studies website http://www.hepukengakorero.com/

Facebook Pages

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s page discusses equality and human agency more broadly and often shares information relating to Māori issues.  https://www.facebook.com/NZHumanRightsCommission/

New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute shares a wide array of Māori art and design for anyone interested in learning more about traditional Māori visual culture. https://www.facebook.com/nzmaci/?ref=br_rs

Māori Rights in NZ shares a range of posts, from more political think pieces to more community-based information. https://www.facebook.com/MaoriRightsInNz/?ref=br_rs

Podcasts

Te Ahi Kaa – this podcast provides a bilingual discussion of various Māori experiences from the past, present and future. https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/teahikaa

Books

There is a very wide selection of books on Māori New Zealand in the British Library collections. In this list I have outlined ones that provide a more general context of Māori beliefs and culture, I will be revisiting some of these titles in future blog posts.

Rawinia Higgins, Poia Rewi and Vincent Olsen-Reeder eds, The value of the Māori language /Te hua o te reo Māori, Wellington : Huia Publishers, 2014, [shelfmark: Asia, Pacific & Africa YP.2014.a.6419] A  bilingual collection of essays in Te Reo and English that discuss the importance of preventing the Māori language from dying out.

Tracey McIntosh and Malcolm Mulholland ed, Māori and social issues, Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Pub., 2011 [shelfmark: Asia, Pacific & Africa YD.2012.a.4357] This book is part of the same series as The value of the Māori language, it aims to highlight social issues faced by Māori people from their perspective and suggests solutions that are Māori-centred.

Cleve Barlow, Tikanga Whakaaro : key concepts in Maori culture, Auckland : Oxford University Press, 1991 [General Reference Collection YC.1991.a.5030] Written by a Māori man who comments that his combination of Māori upbringing and western style education has inspired the book's structure. He focuses in on key Māori themes, selecting ones that are most relevant to contemporary Māori life. Each entry is bilingual.

Tania Ka'ai, Ki te whaiao : an introduction to Māori culture and society, Auckland, N.Z. : Pearson Longman, 2004 [shelfmark: Document Supply m04/30485] This book is structured so that the first part focuses on the Māori world, Te Ao Māori, and the second, Ngā Ao e Rua (The Two Worlds), looks at how the worlds of the Māori and Pākehā have interacted and existed alongside each other throughout time.

Auckland Art Gallery, Pūrangiaho: seeing clearly: casting light on the legacy of tradition in contemporary Māori art, Auckland, N.Z. : Auckland Art Gallery, c2001 [shelfmark: General Reference Collection YA.2002.a.20895]. There is often a risk of associating the traditional art of First Peoples of any country as historical or anthropological objects. While they can be both historical and anthropological (like all artworks) they can also be considered as great pieces of contemporary art. This exhibition catalogue looks at how contemporary Māori artists have utilised traditional techniques in their work.

 

By Joanne Pilcher

PhD Placement Student

British Library and Brighton University

10 July 2017

Australasia in the Americas blog

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The Americas blog is delighted to host the first of series of posts on our Australian collections by Joanne Pilcher, who 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.

I am in the second year of my PhD in the School of Architecture and Design at University of Brighton. My research is into textile design and printing conducted by Aboriginal Australians in the Northern Territory from 1988 to present.[1] Some Aboriginal art centres have been producing printed or woven textile designs since the 1940s, yet these textiles are often overshadowed by the more widely publicised (and stereotyped by outsiders) Western Desert Style paintings by Aboriginal artists. I am interested in how textile design and production provides a different opportunity for exploration of culture and identity in comparison to the paintings; this is particularly interesting in relation to how the textiles are increasingly turned into clothing. Clothing is often the first signifier of an individual’s identity. As Aboriginal textiles increasingly become wearable expressions of identity accessible to all races and nationalities, I am interested to learn how (or if) this sharing of visual culture can provide the designers with agency either through monetary gain, growing cultural awareness or political representation. This is important as there is still a significant gap in wealth and political representation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians verses settler Australians.

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It is with this background that I have approached my three month placement at the British Library. As with most PhD projects, my work is rather specific in that is only discusses textile design and only in relation to Aboriginal groups in one specific area of Australia. This placement has provided me with the opportunity to ‘widen my horizon’ and engage with the cultural outputs and representations of knowledges of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups across Australia. Generally, I have been surprised at how comprehensive the British Library’s collection on Indigenous Australian writing is. I have learnt about an array of talented Indigenous Australian novelists, playwrights and poets, such as Andrea James, Daisy Utemorrah and Oodgeroo Noonuccal.[2] I have also learnt a lot about the challenges of collecting and writing about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges, a topic I hope to write about in a future blog post. I am now constantly on the look out for exciting new publications in this field that I can add to my growing list of suggestions of books for the library to collect. I am particularly interested in activist or grass roots publications such as zines that relate to current discussions on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups in Australian politics.[3]

As a non-Indigenous dual nationality British/Australian scholar, I have taken the role as an ‘informed outsider’ in both my PhD research and the British Library placement. In my PhD work I hope to use oral history interviews in order to put the voices and experiences of Aboriginal Australian textile designers and printers at the centre of my research. I have reflected upon this during the British Library placement where I have focused on written material created by, or in collaboration with, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori people of Australia and New Zealand. I have paid most attention to attempts to share cultures and histories with a wider audience; one area I have been particularly interested in is children’s stories and comic books as they provide visually stimulating texts that can be widely disseminated. From the 1980s onwards, there have been quite a few Aboriginal comic book characters but, as Luke Pearson outlines in his article for Indigenous X, ‘very few [characters] have been designed by Aboriginal artists, or written by Aboriginal authors.’ Some of these are represented in the British Library collections, such as the Reg Saunders comic by Hugh Donlan and Adrian Threlfal which depicts the true story of the Indigenous war hero Reg Saunders.[4] I hope to compliment this existing collection with other comics, such as the newly released Cleverman comic which accompanies the television series of the same name by Ryan Griffen who created it so his son could have Aboriginal super heroes to look up to.

After spending four weeks of the placement looking at the Australian collections, I have now turned my attention to the New Zealand collections. This is a new area of research for me and I am excited to learn more about postcolonial politics and culture within Māori groups in New Zealand. I will be interested to compare how the representations of the Indigenous groups of Australia and New Zealand differ in a contemporary context. I welcome any feedback and advice on this project, please feel free to tweet me: @JoannePilcher1

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All of the works I have been looking at are available on the British Library  Explore Catalogue

I would like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Design Star Student Development Fund whose financial support has enabled me to undertake this placement.

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By Joanne Pilcher 

[1] As my research focuses on Indigenous Australian groups in the Northern Territory, I have used only ‘Aboriginal’, when I am referring to Indigenous Australians across Australia I will use ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’.

[2] James, A., Playbox Theatre Company, & Melbourne Workers Theatre. (2003). Yanagai! Yanagai! (Current theatre series). Sydney: Currency Press in association with Playbox Theatre, Melbourne. [Shelfmark: Asia, Pacific & Africa YD.2004.a.5544]

Utemorrah, D., & Torres, Pat. (1992). Do Not go Around The Edges Broome: Magabala. [Shelfmark: General Reference Collection LB.31.a.4409 General Reference Collection LB.31.a.4409]

Oodgeroo Noonuccal. (2008). My People. (4th ed.). Milton, Qld.: John Wiley & Sons Australia. [Shelfmark General Reference Collection: YK.2012.a.29602 General Reference Collection YK.2012.a.29602]

[3] This article from the Guardian’s Indigenous Australians blog gives some of the context behind recognition. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/may/25/constitutional-recognition-and-why-the-uluru-talks-matter-explainer

[4] Dolan, H., & Threlfall, Adrian. (2015). Reg Saunders : An Indigenous War Hero. Sydney, Newsouth Publishing [Shelfmark: General Reference Collection YKL.2017.b.766]

28 October 2016

American Pamphlets 1920-1945: Call for academic partners

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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).

Pamphlets2

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.