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9 posts from March 2011

28 March 2011

Last week of Evolving English



Guerrila: the free newspaper of the streets [cup.653.a.20]

I popped into the Library on Sunday for a last proper look at the Evolving English exhibition (which closes at the end of the week).  As well as Beowulf, the King James Bible, and Viz, there are also a selection of US items.  I've mentioned the Milk and Honey Route before, but there's also a Strunk and White, and, strikingly, Guerilla: the free newspaper of the streets (there are others, if you want to make a game of it).  I was particularly pleased to see the latter, as it was one of the first things that I acquired for our collections when I moved to this post. Not so much a call for evolution, as revolution, there's a bit more about this radical publication on the learning team's site, 'Dreamers and Dissenters'.

You can also 'Map your Voice' on the website.  I think that they are still after American voices.


25 March 2011


More battles with the CMS for the online gallery for most of today (but we're getting there, thanks to the ever-helpful web services team), and a short outing to the music team's open day.

Music open day 
I pop over to the Foyle Room with Jamie (from English and Performance), and we are both made to feel old by looking at recent re-releases of 90s indie records.  There is also a smorgasbord of formats, from Kylie Minogue USB 'dolls', via eight tracks, mini-discs, and what looks to be a recent revival of vinyl.  On the next table are the earliest known manuscripts of Tallis's Spem in Alium (again, I'm reminded of Janet Cardiff's installation at MOMA a couple of years ago) and compositions connected to Henry VIII.  We are intrigued by Kenny Everett's Capital FM scripts (all highligher pens, notes to self, and doodles); they would make a great facsimile for BL publications.  We spend a bit of time looking at the Vaughan Williams collections, and then Nicolas points out the origins of the melody for the 'Star Spangled Banner'; he offers to bring it along to a show and tell on Monday. 

Now back to working on the Civil War Exhibition; the text is getting there, so it's now a matter of finding the best images.  So far, the Penny Illustrated News is proving to be the most useful.  And it's online via the 19th Century British Newspapers site.


24 March 2011


Less of a post about the collections today, more just a note on the day-to-day work of the section and where we are on the civil war project.

As I type, there is the sound of Aquiles talking to the our new Latin American curator as part of his handover before he joins the digital curation team full time; I catch the odd word about particular folders, the best dealers to work with, some of the interesting areas that he's built up.  Meanwhile, Carole had been drafted in as our own version of Eisenhower in advance of D-Day, helping to push through a similar logistical feat ahead of the curatorial office moves within St Pancras: not summoning up Mulberry harbours, but transit boxes and crates, and making sure that everyone lands on the right beaches.  I think I can hear the sound of Phil pondering items for the 2012 exhibition to tie in with the London Olympics, and it looks to me as though Nicholas and Jerry are quietly dealing with some enquiries.

Meanwhile, I've heard the the digitisation component of the Civil War programme has passed the second of its two approval committees, and the materials can now be looked at by colleagues in Conservation before they are sent to the photographic studios.  This approval process is not to be overlooked, and together with booking the studio time, it means that first bit of the project to go live will be an Online Gallery exhibition, to be launched in April.   Fully digitised items will follow later in early summer, thanks to Bill and Kay showing me how the two systems behind the live site work (it relies on a cataloguing system, to ensure we have the right metadata, and a 'digital image presentation system' to provide high-quality, zoomable images). 

I've spent the morning going through the list of items, adding shelfmarks, and also selecting some things for a 'show and tell' for some visitors next week.  As these are in a number of collection areas, I've been speaking to colleagues to arrange delivery of the items - maps, manuscripts, music - to the right room.  A small pile of post needs to be dealt with, and then I can return to the CMS (content management system) to finish building the online gallery in time for our external advisors to check the copy and make sure that I'm not playing fast and loose with the historical record. 12 April is not far away...



23 March 2011

Borders: Canada, the U. S. and a very important line

Victoria Parliament opening 
One way to firm up a border: the opening of the British Columbia parliament, photographed by J. W. Jones (February 10th, 1898). Shelfmark: HS85/10

Many people reading this blog will have an idea that borders matter in the Americas. However, while the importance of the Mexico-U.S. border or the disputes between Colombia and Venezuela may spring to mind, the important and sometimes testy history of the Canada-U.S. border may not be at the forefront of our historical awareness. After all, the most pressing concern today is often seen as being how to boost trade and mutual American-Canadian security at the border.

This was not always the case though. The history of the Canada-U.S. border is actually one of geopolitical struggle, reservations, trade wrangling, colonial politics, bail jumping and draft dodging. British Columbia’s early history is an example of how contested the U.S. and Canada’s border spaces were even in the late nineteenth century. The Klondike gold rush created conditions through which the province became increasingly Americanised, leading to Canadian fears that the territory would move beyond their control. As a result many state building exercises were conducted, such as the construction of the impressive Victoria parliament buildings (above), in order to affirm the cultural identity of the state and in turn strengthen the province’s Canadian status. This, of course, came after the initial wrangling through which the border was defined at the 1846 Oregon Treaty. Given the opening of the Victoria parliament happened over fifty years after the Oregon Treaty was formalised the border between British Columbia and Washington State illustrates the constant efforts nations feel is required to maintain and assert their own borders.

For anyone interested in the complex history of this significant border the Library’s collections provide all sorts of insights. Documents on the Oregon Treaty are prevalent, with items such as, Lewis Cass’s ‘Substance of a Speech… Delivered in a secret session of the Senate… on the ratification of the Oregon Treaty’ (1846, Shelfmark: 8177.d.18.) and our Early Canadian Microfiche materials at Mic.F.232, providing perspectives from both sides of the border. Similarly, publications such as, R. C. Harris (ed.) ‘Historical Atlas of Canada: Volume 1’ (Toronto, University of Toronto Press. Shelfmark: f87/0428 DSC) provide perspectives on the evolution of the border as a whole; considering not just the American-Canadian context but also wider colonial and Native American aspects.


17 March 2011

Miles O'Reilly and Irish Americans in the Civil War

Something for St Patrick's Day (as well as the tasty Viennese [sic] biscuits that Jerry has kindly brought in):

It's the fancy Edward F. Mullen cover of Miles O'Reilly: His Book (New York: Carleton, 1864), composed by Charles Graham Halpin (styled Halpine after his move to New York), a journalist born in Co. Meath in 1829 to Anglican parents.  He studied medicine and law at Trinity College Dublin and emigrated to Boston 1851, whereupon he became an assistant editor of the Boston Post.  He moved to New York, where he worked for the Times and Herald, covering Walker's Nicaraguan Filibuster War of 1855-6. 

In 1861, he responded to Lincoln's call to arms, and enlisted in the New York Sixty-ninth Regiment of Irish volunteers, serving in Missouri and at Hilton Head.  In 1863, a series of anti-draft riots led to the first of his stories and poems of the exploits of Miles O'Reilly in the New York Herald as an attempt to drum up support for the military among the New York Irish. Fiercely egalitarian, O'Reilly rarely refuses the opportunity to tell his superiors how to win the war; the tales were a great success, and were widely reprinted.  And, as the American National Biography puts it: 'he helped change the image of the Irish in the North and gave the Irish themselves a sense that they had a future in the United States, that the country was worth fighting for'. 

Overwork and insomnia led to overdose of chloroform in 1868, not far from the Herald offices.  For a photo of him, visit the Pageant of America in the NYPL Digital Library.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.


15 March 2011

Commonwealth Listening: aka, the Queen Mother’s record collection

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth 
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the Canada Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair, 1939. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Library and Archives Canada 

The Guardian has published a fun piece for audiophiles (and pretty much everyone else) today regarding the Queen Mother’s record collection. What grabbed my attention was the inclusion of Wilf Carter (the Canadian Country and Western singer), the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra (the Trinidadian calypso steel band) and a general Commonwealth presence.

Given the fondness the Queen Mother expressed for Canada and the times she spent in the Caribbean we should not be surprised to find this affected her musical taste and collection. Apparently, it was visits to Jamaica which resulted in the Queen Mother developing a taste for Ska, illustrating this point quite neatly. Personally, I would love to know what the Queen Mother thought of some of the musical ‘heirs’ to the above, such as Canada’s Stan Rogers or the Ska influenced No Doubt. I suspect, however, the record collection will provide few clues to this.

If you want to find out more about the Royal family the British Library collections are a great resource, as suggested by my previous post on King Edward VIII. In parallel, the British Library Sound Archive provides a rich resource for music from across the globe, as well as interesting oral histories about the spoken word and music in the Caribbean. Needless to say, our monographs on this subject would be well worth a look too. 


07 March 2011

Dusting off the DeLorean: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian

We now have over a hundred posts on this blog, and many thousands of visits; thank you all for stopping by. Team Americas will still be posting regularly, but it seems to make sense to revisit some earlier, popular posts for those who are new to the blog.  First up, a post from Carole on Edward Curtis and the North American Indian from 2010, lightly edited to avoid temporal confusion of the flux capacitor.


I came across a piece in the North Shore News last week on The Edward Curtis Project. It's a multi-disciplinary theatre performance and photographic exhibit by Métis/Dene playwright Marie Clements and photojournalist Rita Leistner, which premiered at the 2010 Cultural Olympiad and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. I was struck by the enduring interest in, diverse opinions on, and responses to Curtis’s own project – that extraordinary, collaborative endeavour to document Indian cultures, which resulted in the 20 volumes of ethnographic text and photographs, and 20 portfolios of photogravures, published between 1907 and 1930, which make up The North American Indian. The project was supported by Theodore Roosevelt and part-funded by J. Pierpont Morgan. And it was thanks to the latter, and then, after his death, his son, that the Library received a full set of the publication. 

I also read not too long ago about work at Rutgers to restore Curtis’s 1914 silent film In the land of the head hunters, which features Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) communities in British Columbia, and this project has also spawned numerous performances, events and conferences.

And of course, academic debate on Curtis and his work continues. Of the many books on the subject, I would pick out Mick Gidley’s Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), and his edited volume Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian Project in the Field (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), both of which are held in the BL. I would also mention Shamoon Zamir’s work on native agency in Curtis's project. Whilst we await his book on the subject, you can read "Native Agency and the Making of the North American Indian: Alexander B. Upshaw and Edward S. Curtis" in The American Indian Quarterly Vol.31 (4), 2007, pp. 613-653 (available electronically in our reading rooms).

The entire contents of The North American Indian have been digitised by Northwestern and can be viewed online. The images are also available via the Library of Congress's American Memory website, where you will also find a useful special presentation Edward S. Curtis in context. But there's nothing like seeing the real thing, and a photogravure from one of the portfolios was featured in our Points of View exhibition. It is a portrait of Bear’s Belly (Arikara), who was born in 1847 in Fort Clark (in present day North Dakota). And speaking of a warrior of the plains, I'm reminded of the BM's recent exhibition Warriors of the Plains: 200 years of Native North American honour and ritual.


02 March 2011

California doodling: Figueroa, Zamorano and the Manifesto

Yesterday was a day of odd jobs.  One of them was checking a sales catalogue, which drew my attention to Jose Figueroa's defense of his explusion of the leaders of the Mexican Californian colony: his Manifesto (1835).   This title also has the distinction of being the first book-length item to emerge from the pioneer press of Agustin Zamorano (his sixteen-page pamphlet, Reglamento Provicional of 1834 also lays claim to this title).


Our catalogue revealed a copy of this extremely rare title at (only 9 institutional copies are listed on OCLC).  Up it came from the basements, and down I went to collect it from the Rare Books and Music reading room.  Sadly, the catalogue entry was not quite complete: the imprint was the San Francisco Herald Office, 1855, and the Manifesto, which we acquired in 1872, was moved from the pile marked 'North American Treasures' and added to the day's catalogue corrections (this record has now been amended).  I will also request some conservation work. 

In reality, I wasn't too surprised: the catalogue entry did note that the item had been 'translated from the Spanish', and this pointed to the 1855 edition.  And, truth be told, the San Francisco Herald is scarce enough.  This, the first English translation, is the only copy held in the UK, according to; and only five copies are listed in the U.S.  It also has this delightful doodle on one of the pages at the back.  Optimistically, perhaps a Californian reader's imagining of Figueroa?


Meanwhile, no discussion of Californian printing would be complete without a visit to The Zamorano Club.

On the Manifesto, see C. Alan Hutchinson, trans. and introduced by, Manifesto..., University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles, London, 1978, [X.802/10681].  As well as a balanced account of what Figueroa was about and a better translation than the 1855 version, this also includes a facsimile of the copy held at the Bancroft Library, University of California.  A copy of a letter from Figueroa is held at Add. MS.


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