American Collections blog

« March 2010 | Main | May 2010»

8 posts from April 2010

23 April 2010

Little Red Book

Charlottesville, VA, can boast one of the lowest ratios of restaurants per head in the USA; the same must surely be true of the number of bookstores.  Despite Virgin Atlantic lowering the baggage weight limit, several titles made their way back across the Atlantic after a recent trip.  The haul included this slim volume, Josephine Cleary Wimsatt, Recollections (1926), which I picked up at Blue Whale Books and have added to the collections:

RedbookOCLC lists twelve copies, none of which are in the UK (or even Europe).  It is a memoir of Wimsatt's 'career as a war wanderer' during the Civil War (25), written up during her time in China (it was printed by North China Star Press, Tientsin).  As a young girl of five, she 'thoroughly enjoyed' the adventures caused by her flight from Washington, D.C. (her family were Confederate sympathisers - they had a pet Mexican monkey that they named 'Abe'), but concluded that 'as I look back at those far off times I think that the War of the Rebellion, like all other wars, was unnecessary, selfish, and cruel' (11).  The volume captures some of the Southern views of the 'Yankees', and offers historians all sorts of glimpses of the past: details of the nursing of the wounded,  a vignette of a breakfast with General Lee, an account of the diphtheria outbreak in Charlottesville, and stories of entertainments ('Starvation Parties') near the University of Virginia 'which was not in operation during the war, as all the students who were old enough to carry arms had become soldiers.' 

Wimsatt also took part in a play, representing one of the Southern States (she was Maryland),but 'as I reached the Goddess [of Liberty], Abe Lincoln, acted by Bob Maupin, one of the large boys, stepped forward and threw a chain over my shoulders, to indicate I was captured by the Union.  I buried my face in my hands and burst into tears, a bit of acting that was not in the program, but which was highly applauded by the audience'. (24)  She concludes her memoir: 'Although I am an old woman now, I am still at heart, I think, a Little Rebel.'


19 April 2010


The U.S. is often credited for at least three unique C20th art forms: Jazz, Comic Books, and Rock and Roll. I'm sure I'll get round to the first two at some point (especially underground comics), but there have been a clutch of rock-related British Library (and library) news stories that I can't resist linking to.

Firstly, the Libertines reunion was partly inspired by a visit to the Library's Treasures Gallery, reveals Carl Barat:

Where were you when you got the call about reforming the band?

I was at the British Library. I was pottering around, looking for the John Lennon lyrics but they seemed to have moved them, so I found myself looking at old, vellum-y Bibles. 

(The lyrics are still there.)

Secondly, reveals The Star, Kate Moss's 'fella... Jamie [Hince], 40, wants to take the 36-year-old on a trip to the British Library'.  Hince has an A-Level in English Lit.  At the moment they could take in the Chopin exhibition, and shortly, the great-looking Maps exhibition.  I'm sure Tom, one of the curators who is now blogging, could be induced to do a tour.

And, thirdly, Keith Richards has revealed that he dreamed of being a librarian before finding some success in the music business.  The Sun quotes Richards as saying, 'When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you.' The Times offers some further bibliographic detail on what does sound like a genuinely interesting collection: 'The guitarist started to arrange the volumes, including rare histories of early American rock music and the second world war, by the librarian’s standard Dewey Decimal classification system but gave up on that as “too much hassle.''

Meanwhile, our very own Aquiles can be seen on, talking about the Brazilian collections (in Portuguese).



16 April 2010

Volcanic Ash and "Cruise Control"

We Londoners are enjoying quiet skies at the moment, as the Continent (and the rest of the world, except for a few spots that can be reached from Glasgow) are cut off in Iceland's Vulcanian revenge on the UK.  This will no doubt cause some problems for scholars, librarians, and curators coming to London, or heading, say, to New York.  However, there is a silver lining, and that may be the ocean liner.

A recent column in the New Yorker by Ben McGrath ('Here to There Dept.: Cruise Control', 22 March 2010) carried a short interview with Bill Miller, the curator of the South Street Seaport Museum (and one of the world's great authorities on ocean-going liners).  Miller has written seventy-five books on the subject; McGrath notes: ' Transatlantic passengers tend more towards the bookish and scholarly... while tropical passengers prefer bingo.'

However you travel, bon voyage from Team Americas.


15 April 2010

Mexican Poets on tour

Photo copyright crispin hughes 
Víctor Terán with David Shook, Photo credit: Crispin Hughes

Last night Aquiles and I went to the Photographers' Gallery. I often stop off there at weekends but this time I was going for poetry rather than photography (although I did manage to have a quick look at some of the photos of the winner of this year’s Deutsche Börse prize, Sophie Ristelhueber). The gallery was hosting the launch party for the Mexican Poets' Tour, which has been organised by the Poetry Translation Centre. Apart from having some very nice Mexican nibbles and the opportunity to chat with our friends from the Mexican Embassy, we were treated to readings of poems by David Huerta, Coral Bracho and Víctor Terán, together with English versions by their poet-translators Jamie McKendrick, Katherine Pierpoint and David Shook. David and Coral both write in Spanish, but Víctor writes in Zapotec (mainly spoken in the south of Oaxaca), and reminded us that Mexico still has over 60 indigenous languages.

We had a great evening and would urge you to catch one of the readings that are scheduled between now and the end of the month in various parts of the country. Tonight you can hear them at the Instituto Cervantes.


13 April 2010

Thomas Jefferson's Birthday [updated]

If you follow the Gregorian Calendar then today marks the 267th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's birthday (13 April 1743).  The Library is fortunate enough to hold a contemporary copy of his Notes on the State of Virginia, which Jefferson inscribed to Col. Smith (most likely John Adam's inept son-in-law), and I was perhaps even more fortunate to have a visit to Montalto, overlooking Jefferson's beloved Monticello just before Easter.  Not only does the visitor witness a panorama of the Blue Mountains in the distance, but also enjoys a bird's-eye view of the house and gardens, planted not only with Jefferson's favourite vegetable, peas, but also more exotic produce like wormwood.  The vines now also produce grapes for wine, something that Jefferson aspired to, but never achieved.  Here's a photo:

View of Monticello, VA
And the plants:


Elsewhere on the web, the NYPL has tweeted a link to its digitized Jeffersonian material. And Jefferson's papers are being put online at UVA's Rotunda project.  The manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia is online at the Massachusetts Historical Society's brilliant website.


10 April 2010

American Studies in Norwich (II)

Another day in Norwich.  And what have I learnt? Well, a good panel on US TV series, including a subversive reading of Dexter and a revisionist view of 1970s/80s Slasher flics (yes, the Hollywood studios aimed them at young women as well as men, just look at the marketing material for Friday the 13th as well as Carrie), a trio of papers on the role of women in the antebellum south, and another set of papers on southern honour, absentee landlords and drinking among slave societies.  I also got the chance to chat a little about the BL's holdings of early American official papers, newspapers (always in demand) and journals and letters by C17th settlers.  

There was also Professor David Reynold's Eccles lecture on popular history, which engagingly talked about his experiences of writing and presenting Radio 4's 'America: Empire of Liberty'.  He talked about the process of writing and rewriting, and how the production team would ask him what he meant - when he thought it was perfectly clear (he was very happy to rewrite).  It reminded me, on a much smaller scale, of producing labels and texts for exhibitions at the Library.  Here's a photo of Prof. Reynolds taking some questions:


This was followed by a meal, and a host of BAAS awards (best book, travel awards and so on), as well as a bunch of Eccles Fellowships (we were able to sit on the same table as several recipients, and begin to talk about some of the BL resources that may be of use).  A picture of one of the recipients (a bit blurred, I'm afraid):


(and, yes, I did track down some food last night.)



09 April 2010

American Studies in Norwich

As Carole mentioned in her latest post, Team Americas are on the road.  The 55th British Association for American Studies conference is underway at the University of East Anglia, and we have just returned to the dorms after a reception and talk at the Civic Centre at The Forum.  It offered a chance to chat with some other delegates, admire the Lord Mayor of Norwich's chain (and listen to her tales of being a war baby), and a remarkable lecture by Professor Wai-Chee Dimock (Yale) entitled 'Who's Irish? Henry James, Colm Toibin, James Joyce, Gish Jen'.  The Forum was rather open plan, so the professor gamely spoke on as Pizza Express eaters were treated to an exploration of how identities are made, and often as not made through language.  Here's a photo:


The Forum also has some very impressive projection equipment.  This was used to show off a some images produced as part of UEA's School of American Studies outreach project - a collection of schoolchildren's responses to and thoughts on the USA.  We also received a copy of their work in a book in the conference pack.  Another photo:


I am now trying to find something for supper.  More papers tomorrow...


06 April 2010

Team America on the road

April is conference season for Team America. Phil is on his way to Cambridge for the British Association for Canadian Studies annual conference; Matthew and I will be heading to Norwich and the University of East Anglia on Thursday for the British Association of American Studies conference, and on Friday, Aquiles will be off to Bristol for the Society for Latin American Studies conference. For some reason, the Society for Caribbean Studies has its conference in July – but that’s just as well or we probably wouldn’t be able to fit it in. So, it’s a busy time, but apart from enjoying seeing old friends (and making new ones), the conferences are a great opportunity for us to do what we all love doing – telling people about our collections and pointing them in the direction of material that they might not have thought about. The range of papers on offer also provide us with a good pointer on trends in research, always invaluable when we have to anticipate what materials people might want, both now and in the future. Matthew and I are also looking forward to celebrating the official opening of the Thomas Paine Study Centre at UEA. And as usual, our Eccles Centre for American Studies will be sponsoring a lecture at both BACS and BAAS. Tomorrow, Dr Danielle Fuller will be delivering “Citizen Reader: Canadian literature, mass reading events and the promise of belonging” at BACS, and on Saturday 10th at BAAS, Professor David Reynolds will speak on “America, Empire of Liberty: the challenges of ‘popular’ history.”


American Collections blog recent posts



Other British Library blogs