Americas and Oceania Collections blog

Exploring the Library’s collections from the Americas and Oceania

Introduction

The Americas and Oceania Collections blog promotes our collections relating to North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Oceania by providing new readings of our historical holdings, highlighting recent acquisitions, and showcasing new research on our collections. It is written by our curators and collection specialists across the Library, with guest posts from Eccles Centre staff and fellows. Read more about this blog

31 January 2023

PhD Placement Opportunity – The Pacific Islands in print: surveying the British Library collections

Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the Americas and Oceania team. Under the title The Pacific Islands in print: surveying the British Library collections, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or the part-time equivalent) surveying the collection of post-1850 printed books, journals and magazines from the Pacific Islands. The British Library's collection of material documenting the Pacific Islands through the lens of early European exploration and colonisation has been extensively researched and surveyed, culminating in a major exhibition in 2018. However, much less is known about the Library’s holdings in terms of publications featuring voices from the Pacific: those which speak to the diverse histories of the region. The placement will build on preliminary research undertaken by the Curator, Oceania Published Collections (post-1850) to survey the printed collection for works by Pacific and diaspora researchers, authors, poets, playwrights, artists, and publishers, and produce a bibliography. The placement student may choose to identify specific themes as part of the survey, for example:

  • Literary and creative works
  • Climate change and sustainability
  • Politics (e.g. migration or Independence movements)
  • Publications in languages from the Pacific Islands.

 

Front covers of the Kovave journal and Aia book
Examples of 20th century literary publications from the University of Papua New Guinea. From left to right: Kovave journal (P.901/798.) and Aia Mekeo songs - No.7 in the Papua Pocket Poets series (X.0908/660.(7.))

The project will increase the visibility and accessibility of this material for researchers and the wider public, demonstrating traditions of printed knowledge production in the Pacific region. The survey will also help to identify any gaps which can be addressed by the Oceania curator through future collection development activities. While the project can be shaped by the student's interests and strengths, the placement will involve the following:

  • Researching and building a checklist of likely search terms (e.g. places of publication, publishers, or subject headings)
  • Using this checklist to conduct a comprehensive search of the Library’s holdings via the catalogue, calling up material and making visual checks
  • Identifying collection gaps by cross-referencing Library holdings with available bibliographies and publisher lists
  • Developing a selective bibliography. The focus of which will be dependent on the findings and themes identified by the student
  • Noting visually interesting material for use in future Oceania collection promotional activities.

Expected outcomes:

  • A finding aid for users in the form of a bibliography or collection guide
  • A list of suggested titles for the Oceania curator to acquire
  • To develop a promotional activity. This might be writing a post for the Americas and Oceania blog, a staff talk, or a show and tell for staff in conjunction with the Oceania curator.

As well as developing the skills involved in managing a discrete project, the student will gain skills in searching for materials that are hard to identify within Library collections, and skills in developing a means of making this material more discoverable and accessible to users. The placement also offers the opportunity for the student to develop their knowledge of current and historical publishing in the Pacific Islands and become familiar with the literature, authors and artists from this region.

By working with the Oceania curator within the Americas and Oceania Team, the student will receive a hands-on introduction to the role of a curator at a national library, including the processes involved in acquiring and stewarding of material, promoting the collections and engaging with audiences through finding aids, blogs and talks. The student will also have the opportunity to build their professional networks and develop their research interests through introductions to Library staff from other departments such as the International Office, Endangered Archives Project, and Digital Scholarship, and is encouraged to make the most of access to the Library’s programme of staff talks, events and reading groups during their placement.

This placement project offers an opportunity for a PhD student to put their bibliographic skills and book history and publishing knowledge into practice at a major cultural institution to help make a discrete but fascinating collection more accessible. PhD students in all areas of the humanities and social sciences are invited to apply, and we would especially like to hear from students with an academic or professional interest in publishing and book history, and the histories and cultures of the Pacific Islands.

Further information on eligibility, conditions and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is 5pm on Monday 20 February 2023.


For informal enquiries, please contact lucy.rowland@bl.uk

 

25 January 2023

The World According to Monty Wedd: Philatelic Comics, Cartoons and Caricatures

Philatelic comics, cartoons and caricatures comprise an important research resource in assessing public response to postage stamp design. Published globally from the nineteenth century to the present era, examples of this genre are in the thousands. Significant cartoonists, writers and illustrators had a hand in their creation, as exemplified by the life and work of the Australian historian, artist and writer Montague Thomas Archibald Wedd.

Born on 5 January 1921 in Glebe, New South Wales, Wedd worked as a junior poster artist for a printing firm, then as a designer and illustrator for a furniture manufacturer. Serving in the Australian Armed Forces during the Second World War temporarily interrupted his studies at the East Sydney Technical College in commercial art. Upon completing his studies on the restoration of peace, he produced his first comic strip under the moniker ‘Monty Wedd’ titled ‘Sword and Sabre.

Front cover of the Captain Justice comic
Figure 1.

Following its commercial success, Wedd developed several other important Australian comics including ‘Bert & Ned,’ ‘Captain Justice’ (Figure 1) and ‘Kirk Raven.’ In 1954, he created his best-selling strip ‘The Scorpion’ and became a prolific cover designer for various pulp fiction novels during the 1950s. In 1963, Wedd turned his hand to animation producing ‘Marco Polo Junior versus the Red Dragon’ and the ‘Lone Ranger.’

Wedd also used his amazing talents of art and narration for didactic purposes. In 1966, he created the cartoon mascot ‘Dollar Bill’ to educate the public about Australia’s imminent switch to decimal currency. Later, he produced artwork for the Captain Cook Bicentenary celebrations in addition to a pioneering biographical comic strip chronicling the life of iconic nineteenth century bushranger, Ned Kelly. 

Figure 2
Figure 2.
Figure 3
Figure 3.

Retiring from comics in 1977, Wedd established a museum dedicated to the Australian army with his wife’s support and published a richly illustrated, informative monograph ‘Australian Military Uniforms 1800-1982’ just five years later in 1982 (Figures 2-3). Returning to comics in 1988, Wedd created the long running historic comic strip ‘The Birth of a Nation’ chronicling Australia’s history published in various newspapers. Given this prodigious output, Wedd received the Order of Australia in 1993 for his services as an author, illustrator and historian. Sadly, he passed away on 4 May 2012 in New South Wales aged ninety.

From its launch in 1954, Wedd provided regular contributions to the important new Australian philatelic magazine ‘Stamp News,’ submitting over two hundred comics and illustrations to the editor, which became one of the publication’s most popular features. In their totality, this corpus of material provides a potted cultural history of the world narrated through the lens of stamps, postal history and collecting.

Wedd’s Stamp News work comprises of three distinct categories. First, ‘Postmen in other lands’ being a potted global history of postal communication from ancient times to modernity. Each instalment comprises a single illustration accompanied with a short body of text as illustrated by shown by these two instalments on the Sleigh Posts of North West Canada and Pony Express of the U.S. Mail (Figures 4-5).

Figures 4-5
Figures 4-5.

His second, longer-lasting series ‘Stamp Oddities’ developed on the previous format, each one devoted to a particular stamp design or historical vignettes from postal history as well as stamp collecting. These generally comprised several connected or independent illustrations, accompanied with a short paragraph of relevant information. This ‘The Inca Post’ strip takes inspiration from the six-peseta stamp depicting an ‘El Chasqui’ issued as part of Spain’s 1966 ‘Explorers and Colonisers of America’ issue (Figure 6).

Figure 6
Figure 6.

Another example, ‘Long Legged Lady’ provides a description of a popular masquerade character performed by the Mother Sally Dance Troupe depicted upon Guyana’s 1969 ‘Christmas’ stamp (Figure 7).

Figure 7
Figure 7.

In ‘Fake Signature’ Wedd recalls the public uproar occasioned by the US Post Office’s announcement that it amended George Washington’s signature on the design on the USA 1960 4c stamp of its ‘American Credo’ issue to make it more legible (Figure 8).

Figure 8
Figure 8.

‘Women Pirates!!’ was inspired by two stamps from Grenada’s 1970 ‘Pirates’ issue to raise awareness of famous female pirates once active in the Caribbean (Figure 9).

Figure 9
Figure 9.

However, Wedd’s most developed contributions comprised single-page comic strips, narrating the cultural contexts of particular stamps or philatelic themes. ‘First Born’ recounts the story of the first baby of English parentage born in America via the United States of America’s 18 August 1937 ‘Virginia Dare’ 5-cent stamp (Figure 10).

Figure 10
Figure 10.

‘The Pitch Lake’ based on Trinidad and Tobago’s 1953-1959 ‘Definitive’ issue 6-pence stamp looks into the historic, geological and economic background of this world famous geological landmark (Figure 11).

Figure 11
Figure 11.

The Legend of Toivita Tapaivita’ was part of of a series commemorating myths and legends of Papua New Guinea (Figure 12). This particular instalment was based on 60-cent stamp of Papua New Guinea’s, 8 June 1966 ‘Folklore, Elema Art’ (1st Series) issue.

Figure 12
Figure 12.

The story of how Tierra Del Fuego issued a set of local stamps in 1891 forms the crux of the narrative in ‘Tierra Del Fuego: Land of Fire’ (Figure 13).

Figure 13
Figure 13.

Finally, ‘The First Fleet’ focuses on the establishment of Britain’s penal colony in Botany Bay as seen through a couple of Australia’s commemorative postage stamps from 1938 (Figure 14).

Figure 14
Figure 14.

Inspired by various texts and illustrations as well as postage stamps, the intertextual nature of Wedd’s work effectively culminated in the generation of creative new cultural meanings. Influencing mid-twentieth century western worldviews, Wedd’s work provides a powerful example of response to postage stamp design from a highly talented artist and influencer.

By Richard Scott Morel, FRPSL
Curator, British Library’s Philatelic Collections

 

Sources

The British Library’s Philatelic Collections: Stamp News Australia.

Toby Burrows and Grant Stone. Comics in Australia and New Zealand. Routledge, 1994.

Monty Wedd. Australian Military Uniforms 1800-1982. Kangaroo Press, 1982.

Monty Wedd. Captain Justice. Sydney, Australia: New Currency Press.

24 January 2023

Into the Crucible of Revolution: Hindu Anticolonialism and Radicalism in Early Twentieth Century America

Christopher Chacon is a PhD candidate in History at the University of California, Irvine, and was a 2022 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, amid the rise and fall of global empires and transnational movement, Hindu anticolonialists like Lajpat Rai and Bhai Parmanand arrived on American shores in hopes of stoking the embers of anti-imperial revolution once again in the American imagination. They counted among their allies Indian labourers in the fields of Central California and the urban streets of New York, American civil rights activists, Indophiles, and internationalist union members. Socialism, democratic nationalism, and anarchism wafted throughout the political air and the scene hungered for action. Out of the birth pangs of the twentieth century emerged Rai and Parmanand, figures draped in nineteenth century nationalism and Hindu revivalism and capable of leadership among the extreme factions of Indian anticolonialism.

For Rai, public fame and organizational support provided the foundation for his agenda in America. An ardent believer in education reform and social advancement, Rai built coalitions that strengthened his call for Indian independence. By engaging with the social and racial tensions that made America, Rai established a presence amongst the minds of the civil rights movement and helped gather support for independence through the Indian Home Rule League of America and through his works such as the Young India journal and The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions and a Study.1

Parmanand, by contrast, arrived in America not to bring about a social movement but instead to nurture a global revolutionary army that would topple the British regime in India. Under the guise of pursuing a master’s degree in pharmacy at Berkeley, Parmanand networked with other student radicals both in California and Oregon in order to procure weapons and cash for an anticolonial rebellion born simultaneously in the homeland and the global diasporic community.2 Already a prominent name in nationalist circles for his travels as an envoy for the Hindu revival organization, the Arya Samaj, Parmanand wielded the gravitas – and the imperial notoriety – required to move people in the direction towards open rebellion. It is for the latter that Parmanand’s mission failed. British imperial intelligence quickly identified his actions as a threat to their dominion over the Punjab and, upon his return to India, incarcerated him on the grounds that he possessed illicit materials and espoused seditious rhetoric.3

Through the generosity of the Eccles Centre, this research project acquired invaluable materials related to Parmanand’s involvement in the Ghadr Party of San Francisco as well as the movement at large. Among the collection gathered on American sources at the British Library, two specific pieces stand out as definitively exceptional: a ten-page report on Bhai Parmanand and a Ghadr Party poster that encompassed the spirit and reality of global intellectual movements. In the case of the former, most secondary literature on Parmanand assures the reader that he participated in the Ghadr Party movement – despite his autobiographical claims that he merely was at the wrong place at the wrong time. However, these same materials often omit how he functioned in the organization and what roles he fulfilled by its conclusion.4 With the incorporation of this report and other documents related to his roles as nationalist and revolutionary, a clearer picture emerges that resolves both questions about his imprisonment as well as inquiries into his future as a diehard spin master of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1930s and 1940s.

As for the Ghadr Party poster, this masterpiece connects the dream of socialist revolutionaries with the vision of global Hindutva ideologues. The name 'The United States of India' resides over the idealized map of an independent and unbroken India signifying its place of prominence in Asia. The open border with the Indian Ocean lays claim to the seas. However, the text that surrounds the image speaks to its special relationship to the US. 'In Union There Is Strength' and 'Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God' borrow from the American Revolution and contextualize the American war of independence against the British as the preamble for the Indian war to come. Finally, the reader comes to its zenith, the clarion call to arms: 'What Are YOU Doing to Liberate India?'5 This question does not discriminate based on nationality or appearance. Rather it divides the world into two camps: freedom fighters and imperialists. Visual materials such as this poster elevate the historical conversation and provide insight into the psychology of Rai and Parmanand in the 1910s. Without it – and the financial support of the Eccles Centre – this project would lack these vital pieces to the story of global Hindutva and its revolutionary phase in the 1910s.

A poster made of yellow paper with a map of India in the centre and wording around it.
Mss Eur C228 -- Ghadr Party papers. 1920. `Flag of the H G Party': a map of `The United States of India', surrounded by party slogans. Published by the Hindustan Gadar Party, San Francisco, c1920.

Notes

1. Lajpat Rai, The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions and a Study. Calcutta: R. Chatterjee, 1916. For more on this subject, I recommend: Manan Desai, The United States of India: Anticolonial Literature and Transnational Refraction. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2020; Vivek Bald, Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013; and Dohra Ahmad, Landscapes of Hope: Anti-Colonial Utopianism in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

2. See the autobiography, Bhai Parmanand, The Story of My Life. New Delhi: Ocean Books Pvt. Ltd., 2003[1934]. To further the conversation, see, Maia Ramnath, Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011; Seema Sohi, Echoes of Mutiny: Race Surveillance & Indian Anticolonialism in North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014; and Harold A. Gould, Sikhs, Swamis, Students, and Spies: The Indian Lobby in the United States, 1900-1946. New Delhi: Safe Publications, 2006.

3. For more on the subject, see, Richard J. Popplewell, Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British Intelligence and the Defence of the Indian Empire 1904-1924. Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1995.

4. IOR/L/PJ/6/1405, File 4095 – Lahore Conspiracy Case and the Lahore Supplementary Conspiracy Case. Sep 1915-Dec 1916. Number 56 in the list of the accused, “Bhai Parma Nand” is given a lengthy 10-page backstory which provides much context for both his ventures prior to and following his San Francisco and Portland interlude.

5. Mss Eur C228 -- Ghadr Party papers. 1920. `Flag of the H G Party': a map of `The United States of India', surrounded by party slogans. Published by the Hindustan Gadar Party, San Francisco, c1920.