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7 posts from February 2010

22 February 2010

¡Viva La Libertad!

Cover by Rolando Estévez
José Martí, Bolívar. Matanzas (Cuba): Ediciones Vigía, 2002. 

En este momento estoy dedicando gran parte de mi tiempo en la preparación de una exposición programada para Mayo de 2010 en la galería del Folio Society de la British Library sobre la independencia de los países hispanoamericanos. Seguramente tendremos muchas festividades, tanto en la BL como en otros sítios, para celebrar el bicentenario de los movimientos independentistas que comenzaron en 1810 y siguieron hasta finales del siglo XIX.

Estos movimientos de independencia no pretendian simplemente obtener la emancipación política y económica de España. Ellos buscaron, de hecho, revolucionar y sustituir el sistema colonial que había perdurado en el continente durante más de 300 años. Las nuevas repúblicas que se formaron a partir de los movimientos de independencia abrazaban los principios iluministas de libertad, igualdad y justicia social y procuraban erradicar el retraso socioeconómico de la región a través de constituciones progresivas que defendían, entre otras cosas, la educación popular, incluyendo la educación para mujeres, la abolición de esclavitud y la mejora de las condiciones sociales y económicas de la población indígena. Estas eran las cuestiones centrales defendidas por líderes como Simón Bolívar, que comprendieron que ninguna revolución social podría ser llevada a cabo sin el cambio radical del poder oligárquico heredado del régimen colonial. Lamentablemente, el proyecto del Bolívar de una América unida y democrática se mostró imposible de implementación en una sociedad todavía dividida por conflictos regionales, intereses económicos privados y un rígido sistema de división de clases.

La exposición presentará una variedad de materiales de nuestros acervos, enfatizando el desarrollo de los movimientos de independencia y su repercusión en los varios países latinoamericanos en este período tumultuoso. El sueño de Bolívar de un continente americano libre de la opresión colonial y la explotación económica sigue vivo en el continente como lo atestan la revolución mexicana de 1910, la implementación del gobierno socialista en Cuba en 1959 y la corriente revolución bolivariana en Venezuela. Para obtener una idea anticipada de la exposición visiten nuestra galeria en línea.

Need the English version?  Download Independence


Through the stereoscope: the past in three dimensions

B Harmon Ice Cave
Byron Harmon, 'Ice cave, Illecillewaet Glacier,' British Columbia, 1908

Last friday I had another opportunity to browse around our Points of View exhibition as part of a tour for Royal Holloway MA students. During the tour the exhibition’s display of stereoscopic photographs and the support the Library has received from a certain Brian May were mentioned, and I remembered a small assortment of stereoscopic images that we have from British Columbia.

In case you don’t know, stereoscopic images are early three dimensional pictures produced through a camera. The process works by using two separate photographic images (like the above) and a calibrated viewer to encourage the brain to visualise a three dimensional image. It is actually a surprisingly simple technique, unlike the processes gone through to create contemporary three dimensional cinema.

One of the really interesting things about stereoscopic images is that they now provide an opportunity to view the past in 3-D. Fancy feeling like you are standing inside the glaciers of the Canadian Rockies at the turn of the twentieth century? Look no further than the above. Byron Harmon, who produced this view, was a prolific photographer of the British Columbian landscape and the Library has a significant store of his stereoscopic images. Today, these images are a unique view of an area that has seen significant changes  to its landscape through climate change in the twentieth century.

So, in many ways, while we increasingly think of 3-D as a modern technology to be found in the cinema it is worth noting that over a hundred years ago you could have experienced it in a relative’s front room as part of a holiday slide show. If you fancy having a look for yourself I’d suggest getting to St. Pancras sooner rather than later, Points of View closes on the 7th March.


18 February 2010

Revolt against the English

Yesterday, I did a short 'show and tell' for a visitor from Rhode Island.  This included some early Providence printing, Thomas Jefferson's inscribed copy of Notes on Virginia (which was also owned by Henry Stevens, the nineteenth century book dealer and gunpowder merchant, who bought for both the British Museum and John Carter Brown), and a collection of colonial female printers to tie in with a recent acquisition of a letterpress facsimile of the Declaration of Independence.

We also looked at some of the large collection of pamphlets dating from the American Revolution, many of which were printed in several editions - in New York, Pennsylvania, Boston, but also by sympathetic printers in Britain, such as J. Almon in London, and also in Edinburgh.

One of these particularly caught our eye.  To some extent, it may be counted as an official publication - Abstract of the Resolutions of the General Congress Assembled at Philadelphia (New York, reprinted Edinburgh 1775) [8176.a.38]. It begins thus

THE CONGRESS RESOLVES to acknowledge the King,

But not to obey him in any one thing...

We sometimes wish all government documents were as iambic and rhyming.  This, however, originated in the New York Gazette, and is a tory account of the Continental Congress in verse - or 'Dogrel Metre, for the help of weak memories' (p. 1). 


17 February 2010

Declassified Documents

The end of last year saw the release of Presidential Executive Order 13526, which signified a major overhaul of the US Government’s document classification system. This redefining of the system presents an exciting opportunity for researchers with the prospect of some 400 million previously classified documents being made public by the end of 2013.  The changes will allow the declassification of files that have been closed since the Second World War. Additionally, the Memorandum of Implementation which accompanies the Executive Order specifically requests the US Archivist to provide six monthly progress reports on the status of the backlog. One of the central planks of Executive Order 13526 is the creation of the National Declassification Center which has a responsibility to ensure streamlined “declassification processes, facilitate quality-assurance measures, and implement standardized training regarding the declassification of records determined to have permanent historical value.”

A useful way of keeping abreast of developments relating to past events in US foreign policy is to read the National Security Archive blog Unredacted. In addition to highlighting interesting newly declassified material on its Document Friday postings, it also provides useful research tips on requesting documents under the Freedom of Information Act to help improve chances of a successful freedom of information request. While selective declassified documents will be made available online via the National Security Archive website, for a more exhaustive collection, it maybe necessary to consult the Digital national Security Archive, which is available in the BL reading rooms.

And finally, it’s probably worth mentioning that I traced Executive Order 13526 using the US Government Printing Office new documents database Federal Data System (FDSYS), which allows access to an array of government documents from the 1990s in PDF format, complete with an authentication stamp. Particularly useful are the various expandable indexes included, which allow you to narrow your search by selecting a specific year, agency, subject or even person. At present there is an ongoing process of migrating government publications to FDSYS from the previous online system GPO Access

[J. J.]   

15 February 2010

Happy Washington's Birthday (or is that Presidents Day?)

Still a few hours left of Presidents Day 2010.  If you've time, why not find out five things about one of the more confusing  U.S. holidays thanks to the Christian Science Monitor (though it doesn't note the rather fun sounding Congressional Banquet in honour of George Washington and the principles of Washington held by the British Library at shelfmark 12301.g.58.(35.))?


10 February 2010

Celebrating snow: Canada in the winter

Montreal Curling (Notman and Son) 
Wm. Notman & Son, “Montreal Curling group” (1905)

Friday sees the start of the 21st Winter Olympics, jointly hosted by British Columbia and the four Host Nations of the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh. This celebration of all things sporting and wintry made me think of the Canadian relationship to winter in general and prompted this post.

Winter in most of Canada has always been a hard, unforgiving time of year, but the peoples who live there have often treated it as something to be made the best of, celebrated, and even enjoyed.  Among the First Nations, winter encouraged the development of Snowshoeing (fun fact: not an Olympic sport, despite lobbying) and Tobogganing as tools and sports and these have endured to become part of Canadian identity and culture. In cities too sport has flourished, not least pastimes such as ice hockey and curling. The British Library has an interesting collection regarding Canadian sports, including a 1904 piece by David Hanbury entitled Sport and Travel in the Northland of Canada (BL Shelfmark: Although, you might not find many Olympic sports in there.

Of course when you talk about Canada in winter a name that comes to mind is that of William Notman, whose representations of the Canadian winter speak to generations of Canadians. Some lovely examples are in Portrait of a Period: A Selection of Notman Photographs, McGill University Press; BL Shelfmark L.R.412.d.8. Notman’s images illustrate a nation defined by its weather, and his lens often focussed on the grand spectacle of the season and the celebrations that went with it. The British Library is lucky to hold a limited number of images from the Notman and Son studio (run by his son, William McFarlane Notman), including the particularly striking image above, of the Montreal Caledonian Curling Club, and the one below. The images comprise part of our Canadian Colonial Copyright Collection, which was deposited between 1895 and 1924.

Ski Jump (Notman and Son) 
Wm. Notman & Son, “Ski Jumping” (1905)

The images contrast the joy and freedom of individualised sports and the grandeur and potential of large, organised events, while also illustrating the importance of sport within Canadian culture as a whole and the place of sport as a celebration of winter. In short they drive home to me the Canadian preoccupation with enjoying all that winter can throw at you – although hopefully this year’s Games won’t have to count a dearth of snow among the season’s problems.

I should close by noting one thing you may have already perceived; in these images (and most other sports images in the Colonial Copyright Collection here) there are not many people depicted who are not white men. So, it is good to see through this year’s Games that this is a situation that continues to change in sport.


08 February 2010

Am Lit 101

I often seem to miss things on the radio so I was pleased to be alerted to a new 8 part series Capturing America: Mark Lawson's history of modern American literature by a piece by Lawson in this week’s Radio Times, and then, just in case I’d missed that, by another longer piece in Saturday's Guardian Review 'The Sense of an Ending'.

The series will focus on some of the great names of ‘Am lit’ (as Lawson likes to call it) from the post-World War II period onwards, and it was only after reading through the article that it dawned on me how influenced I had been in my youth by the likes of Roth, Heller, Vonnegut, Mailer et al (but where were the women I would ask now). The article’s title is a reference to the recent death of J.D. Salinger, which, along with the deaths of Updike, Mailer and Vonnegut over the past few years, Lawson sees as signalling the end of a remarkable era of American literature (although Philip Roth, of course, is still with us). So, I for one am looking forward to a timely new series in which we can re-assess and re-acquaint ourselves with some of the old giants, but also look at some of the exciting new writing from the younger generations, still very much American, but these days coming from a multiplicity of backgrounds.

And I can’t miss this opportunity to give the holdings of our Sound Archive a plug since they contain many recordings of interviews, readings and drama performances by American writers and poets. You can also buy a CD: American Writers - the spoken word.

And finally, regarding 'where were the women?’, well Elaine Showalter has answered that very well in her book A Jury of her peers: American women writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proux, New York: Knopf, 2009 (BL shelfmark YD.2009.a.1993).


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