American Collections blog

25 posts categorized "Sports"

01 May 2013

Getting our skates on: Team Americas gets playoff fever

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Stanley Cup holders 1911, Ottawa (HS8510 23753)
The 1911 Stanley Cup holders, Ottawa. Photographed by A. G. Pittaway [shelfmark HS85/10, copy. num. 23753]

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

After a dramatic season on and off the ice the NHL playoffs start tonight. Since long before I was a curator I've taken an interest in most North American team sports and so I'm the one in the office who's been losing sleep to the NBA playoffs and, from tonight, the NHL.

The impending playoffs also reminded me that the Picturing Canada project has digitised a number of hockey photographs I should share on the blog. Included in this are photographs of the 1909 and 1911 winning teams from Ottawa, taken by local photographer Alfred George Pittaway who it would seem specialised in sports-related photography.

Stanley Cup holders 1909, Ottawa (HS8510 20618)
The 1909 Stanley Cup holders, Ottawa. Photographed by A. G. Pittaway [shelfmark HS85/10, copy. num. 20618]

Sports feature quite heavily in the collection, with everything from lacrosse and hockey to rugby and football photographed (alas, no cricket). Hockey though is unusual as a number of the photographs in the collection have more joviality in them than the usual photos of games in process or deeply serious team photos. It's also the only sport in the collection represented by women, as seen below (although I bet that assertion comes back to bite me). As with many sports the Library holds a surprising amount of material relating to hockey and its various influencing games, although that's a post for another time.

Canadian Hockey Girl, Benched (HS8510 15498)
'Canadian Hockey Girl, Benched'. Photographed by W. E. Maw [shelfmark HS85/10, copy. num. 15498]

While all of this is very interesting I'd be surprised if any hockey fans reading this will be too concerned with researching the history of the sport in coming weeks. That said, there are historically significant notes dotted through this year, not least with two Original Six members facing off when Boston and Toronto meet. So, good luck to all your teams, enjoy the end of season spectacle and I hope you've enjoyed these glimpses into hockey's past.


18 January 2013

George Catlin's 'Indian Ball'

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Catlin 003
'Ball Players', by G. Catlin [plate 21, shelfmark: 74/651.b.8]

Public Domain Mark
This work is free of known copyright restrictions.

Lacrosse was something of an unknown to me until my student days, but given my fondness for most things with an origin in the Americas I've maintained a passive interest in it since. I'm often struck by the fact that many UK-based Lacrosse players are unaware of its origins as a sport played, under various names, by many Native American communities prior to contact with Europeans.

However, I must confess I was somewhat vague on the exact style and form the sport took in Native American communities until I was enlightened earlier this week by George Catlin's, 'North American Indian Portfolio' [1844, BL Shelfmark: 74/651.b.8]. Catlin's work contains a wonderful plate of a game of 'Indian Ball' (to use the author's terminology) in full swing and with hundreds of participants competing on the field of play.

It comes as little surprise that Lacrosse has been much adapted to fit the norms and values of the community it was appropriated to and much of Catlin's account of the games he witnessed illustrates the scale of change. As well as the volume of players the game was also much greater in length (often lasting up to a day) and higher in score (most games ran up to at least 100 goals).

Catlin 002
'Ball Play' by G. Catlin [plate 23, shelfmark 74/651.b.8]

Public Domain Mark
This work is free of known copyright restrictions.

Catlin also notes that the games were an important way for communities to compete with one another and, as a result, individuals were known to find as much fame for their exploits on the sporting field as others found at war (the illustration at the top of the post is a testament to this). Another unique by-product of this import was that wives were also allowed onto the field of play in order to 'encourage' their husbands to defend the honor and possessions of their community more effectively.

I won't claim to know that the Library's collections are a fantastic resource on the history of Lacrosse but Catlin's work provides extensive notes on its Native American heritage. There are also supplementary materials, such as writings by Jean de BrĂ©beuf who is attributed with using the term 'la crosse' when describing the Native American game. An 1877 reprint of 'Hurons et Iroquois' is available at shelfmark 4864.bbb.6 while the work of the Jesuits in Canada is recorded in various items, including a French digest at shelfmark G.4260.


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

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.

08 August 2012


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Where are You? Some USA supporters at Stratford.  Photo: M. Shaw

Team Americas has been spending some time watching the Olympics; this included a trip to see the basketball, which was as near-as-dammit the full-on U.S. experience, with a Jumbotron kiss cam, cheerleaders (from the Ukraine) and lots of loud music.  The only thing missing was the hotdogs. Oh, and a U.


29 July 2012

The Long and Winding Road to the Olympics

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Dove Bikes outside the Olympic Stadium. Photo: M. Shaw

I dropped a few hints on Thursday, but now the dove bikes have flown the coop, I think that I can post the image above from the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Quite some time ago, in a windswept industrial park in Dagenham, Danny Boyle said he didn't want to repeat the unfortunate dove roasting at the Seoul Olympics, so was going to use volunteers instead. I was one.  And Friday, just after Team GB were led into the stadium to the sound of David Bowie and Arctic Monkeys blasted through their first, great hit, I turned on my lights, began to flap and set off around the 'M25' of the Olympic Stadium along with my fellow doves (a more pleasant flock of people would be hard to imagine).

It turned out that there were a series of American links, hence this post. The inspiration for the dove bikes came from the American naturalist, Louis J. Helle, who wrote that, 'Bicycling is the nearest approximation I know to the flight of birds. The airplane simply carries a man on its back like an obedient Pegasus; it gives him no wings of his own'.

The New York costume designer, Suttirat Larlarb, came up with plans for wings that moved as we bobbed up and down, threaded lights along their span, and chose materials that glowed under the stadium UV lights. As she said to the press, 'the bit I’m most proud of is the dove bikes. We had to make incredibly delicate wings that could move very fluidly out of flexible plastic sheet lined with layers of white mesh fabric with fibre-optics laced into it' . Arctic Monkeys also played The Beatles' Come Together, which John Lennon had originally composed during Timothy Leary's abortive gubernatorial run against Ronald Reagan in 1969. Leary had to drop out of the race after his arrest for possession of marijuana. The slogan had been 'Come together, join the party'.

But, perhaps best of all, the whole sequence was set up by Bob Haro, the BMX innovator who took part in the stunt bike scenes in E.T.: the Extraterrestrial. The flying dove bike may have had some Hollywood antecendents. You can catch his new design for an Olympic BMX bike at the Design Museum exhibition, 'Designed to Win', until 18 November. And, in the Library's Entrance Hall and Piazza, there's our Olympex: Collecting the Olympics exhibition.







27 July 2012

The Siege of Atlanta

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Public Domain Mark 
This work (Map illustrating the Siege of Atlanta, by the U.S. Forces under command of Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman) [Maps 72580.(4)], identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

A slightly tenuous link for this week's Civil War map, which is a plan of the Siege of Atlanta in 1864.  It's a few days after the 148th anniversary of the start of the campaign, the eventual success of which proved to be a great morale boost for the north, and helped to seal Lincoln's 1864 electoral success.  We wouldn't like to suggest that London is under seige (indeed, your correspondent is doing his best to welcome the world to the UK during the opening ceremony this evening), but simply note that Atlanta, like London, is an Olympic city.

Maps 72580.(4) (detail).  Gone with the Wind comments welcome...

And on the Olympic theme, don't miss the British Library's official (and free) Olympex: Collecting the Olympic Games exhibition or the brilliant Writing Britain exhibition, which is part of the simultaneous Cultural Olympiad, if you are in town during the next few weeks.  And if you are in front of a TV this evening, keep an eye out for a curator rather out of his comfort zone after the Parade of the Athletes.


26 July 2012

Olympians in the collections: Tom Longboat

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Tom Longboat (1907)
Tom Longboat, photographed in 1907 by Charles Aylett (BL Shelfmark: HS85.10)

It’s a baking hot day, the Olympics are upon us, and I've been reminded of an event in the 1908 London Olympics which also occurred on an oppressively hot day. The 1908 marathon was the height of drama - half the field failed to finish and the initial winner was disqualified.

One of the many runners who collapsed before the end was Canada’s Tom Longboat, a bright new athletics prospect and member of the Onondaga. The photo above was taken after Longboat stunned many in North America by winning the 1907 Boston Marathon with no real form under his belt; this success meant he arrived at the Olympic Games with high expectations heaped upon him. Longboat was exposed to a potent mix of nationalist expectation, racial predjudice and a voracious media, something I’ve written about for the Library’s Sport and Society pages.

There are many views on what undid Longboat on the day of the 1908 marathon and the heat must certainly have contributed. Hopefully the weather will be kind to London 2012 and all its competitors.

And a reminder that we have a great exhibition on in our entrance hall: Olympex 2012: collecting the Olympic games


23 July 2012

Colonel Wiggins

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An American didn't win the Tour de France this year (although the exceptional Tejay van Garderen came fifth and put down quite a marker by winning the white jersey for the best young rider).  However, we do have a fine set of broadsheets printed by the U.S. press Lead Grafitti from the 2011 Tour.  Here's the plate for that year's Stage 7, 'nothing and then all hell breaks loose'.  What a difference a year makes.


We should probably do a post on Wiggo and Gen. Ambrose Burnsides at some point, but in the meantime, chapeau to all the riders, and Le Gentleman in particular.