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8 posts from April 2011

28 April 2011

"A monument to the faith and energy which have created the Empire": Canada and the Royal Family

Prince of Wales (Montreal) 
Prince Edward visits Montreal during his 1919 tour of Canada. Image by Herbert Black. BL shelfmark: HS/85.10

Friday’s royal wedding is not just a big deal here in the UK but also across the world. Canada in particular has long had a fond relationship with the Royal Family, as illustrated by the above (abbreviated) quote given by King George VI on a visit in 1939. The quote actually addresses Winnipeg as a testament to the achievements of Empire, but the King’s meaning could be extended to Canada as a whole.  Seen in this light, the current enthusiasm of Canadian politicians and broadcasters for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (even with the impending election) can be seen as an extension of a trend with deep historical roots.

As for the Library’s collections, the photographs in our Canadian Colonial Copright collection offer a lens on this enthusiasm through the visit of Prince Edward in 1919. I have blogged on this previously and the image above depicts part of this visit, but I want to note here that the volume of images in the collection is intriguing. As a copyright collection the number of photographs speaks to the perceived value of the images of the Prince as well as public interest in him, making them a notable cache within the collection. And Edward is not the only member of the Royal Family present in these photographs, Victoria is mourned and George V celebrated during the span of the collection’s life (1895 – 1924).

Of course, these images are not the only source of information about the Royal Family in North America in the Library, with various trips by a variety of Family members well documented in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of particular note, the 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada and the United States is covered in some interesting literature, such as George Young’s Voyage of State (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1939, Shelfmark: 010470.k.5), and Keith Gordon’s North America sees our King and Queen (London: Hutchinson and Co., 1939, Shelfmark: 10805.g.46) which provide some contemporary insights into this particular piece of pre-war relationship building. Lastly, with Canada’s enthusiasm for tomorrow’s wedding and the forthcoming visit of Prince William and the Princess Katherine to be, the relationship between the Royal Family and Canada is something that will continue to be evidenced through the materials in the British Library.

19 April 2011

On the Road: BAAS II


Back from BAAS, but I can't resist posting the image above, which was one of a collection produced for the conference by local schoolchildren.

Saturday and Sunday included more high-quality papers, and Heidi MacPherson's plenary on the transnational in literature - a concept that appears in a lot of other presentations as well.  For a does of pop culture, I attended the comics session, which looked at the 'dreamspace' might work as a way of interpreting graphic novels, Superman's colonisation of key moments of American history (and hence the American collective imagination), and ethnic cartoons in the early twentieth century.  It also gave me a chance to plug the Library's new acquisition, Underground and Independent Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels, available in our St Pancras, Colindale and Boston Spa reading rooms.

The conference wound up by Sunday lunchtime, but Alan Rice had organised a tour of places related to Lancaster's slave-trade history, including a visit to the grave of a cabin boy near Sunderland Point.


15 April 2011

On the Road: British Association for American Studies, Preston, 2011


'The mental riches you may here acquire will abide with you always'

I'm in Preston for the annual British Association for American Studies conference.  We've heard about the politics of attacks on 'black homophobia', the current state of American Studies in India, Roosevelt's decision to run for a third term (reached in 1939, rather than 1940 as generally held), Truman's use of the rhetoric of the founding fathers, the use of Web 2.0 in teaching and mentoring students overseas, and - in the Eccles Centre lecture by Nigel Bowles - a bracing run through the recent banking crisis and the consequences and prospects for public policy.  And it's only the third session.

We also had a drinks reception this evening, which was a chance to hear about what people are working on in an informal setting, and what they want from a library to support their work (resources for student dissertations, visual materials, remote access, newspapers, newspapers, newspapers), as well as learning a little more about American Studies in China.

The reception, which was sponsored by Manchester University, next year's host, took place in Preston's Harris Library, a photo of which is above.  The inscription is wonderful.

Here's a short account of last year's conference.  And Phil, of course, has just been to BACS.


All the Presidents' Musings

Bill Boarman, the Public Printer of the United States (what a great title!), recently presented President Obama with a copy of the first volume for 2009 of Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Barack Obama.  

Presidential writings, addresses etc. are compiled into these annual volumes of the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States by the Office of the Federal Register, the National Archives and Records Administration. The series has been published by the U.S. Government Printing Office since 1957, commencing with the presidency of Harry S. Truman and covering 1945 onwards. The BL's print collections of the Public Papers series can be found at shelfmark: AS.288/34.  

Both Herbert Hoover, the 31st President, and his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had their papers privately published and these are located separately -Hoover’s papers are at shelfmark: 012295.c.6 and FDR’s are at shelfmark: 012296.e.4.

The GPO’s digital document archive FDSys provides online access to the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States from 1991 onwards, starting with the final two years of George Bush’s Presidency. Digital editions of the series from Hoover to Clinton are also available online via the University of Michigan Digital Library.


13 April 2011

Major Robert Anderson, Hero of Fort Sumter

[detail, Maps.71495.(54)]

Many people's sympathies were divided by secession in 1861.  Major Anderson, who had served as an artillery officer in the Black Hawk, Seminole and Mexican wars, was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky, and owned a few enslaved African Americans in his wife's state of Georgia.  Believing that secession was ultimately inevitable, he wrote that, 'In this controversy between the North and the South, my sympathies are entirely with the South.'  Nonetheless, his commitment to the Union and the constitution of the United States ensured he remained loyal to Washington, and he was placed in command of the three federal forts at Charleston, South Carolina.  When that state seceded on 20 December, he realised that only Fort Sumter, an island in Charleston Harbor, was defensible, and secretly moved there during the night of 26 December. 

There then began a long blockade by confederate forces, in which Anderson faced dwindling supplies and the worry that he might be responsible for starting a war.   Soon, the entire, but divided, nation, was watching the standoff.

On 11 April, his former student, the confederate brigadier general Pierre Beauragard demanded his surrender. Anderson refused, at at 4:30 a.m. on 12 April, bombardment of the fort began.  The barrage continued for 34 hours.  Along with 127 officers and men, and 43 civilians, Anderson defended the fort until he they were finally forced to surrender on 13 April, and the banner was lowered on April 14. 

His defence made him the Union's first war hero, celebrated in portraits such as the one above, taken from a contemporary map, which placed him alongside images of Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln.  After serving in Kentucky and Tennessee, he returned to Fort Sumter on 14 April 1865, where he once again raised the Union flag.

He died in Nice, in 1871.  His letters to his wife during the Mexican War are published in An Artillery Officer in the Mexican War, 1846-7. Letters of Robert Anderson ... (G. P. Putnam's Sons: New York & London, 1911) [9555.v.2]


12 April 2011



As if by clockwork, the first bunch of US Civil War maps arrive for the sesquicentennial (although we got a jump start yesterday, with an Eccles Centre conference on the war, featuring my rambling thoughts on the early oil industry during the war years, and the very brilliant Amanda Foreman talking about The World on Fire).  Lot's more to follow.  Meanwhile, here's Fort Sumter for you.


Guest Post: Finn's work experience reflections

Last week, Finn Mactaggart, currently studying history at Exeter University, interned with Team Americas.  Here are some of his reflections: 

As the largest collection of Americana outside of the United States itself, learning how to access the collection took time; but I now feel well-equipped to tackle future research projects.

As a strapped-for-cash student, the range of freely-accessible materials is refreshing. I was initially drawn to the Early American Encounters catalogue; full of stunning visual sources of the novel flora and fauna encountered in the New World, it provides a great entry-point for fledgling historians. Taking advantage of some time for independent research, I browsed the Digital National Security Archive for some documents related to the United States’ relationship with Suharto and the Indonesian annexation of East Timor. My research revealed a sinister character to the annexation:

SECRETARY KISSINGER: There are no moral lessons to be learned from this?
MR HABIB: Yes. The moral lesson is that we have the guns to go in. (Laughter.)

I began also to understand some of the lack of attention the issue received at the time when I read Kissinger’s secretary suggest that 'keeping our mouth shut about the thing'  would be the right course of action; Kissinger instead opted that the White House 'influence the reaction'. Meanwhile, Indonesia, would 'try to mask its continuing military presence'.

Establishing an unmediated relationship with these sources was liberating. History students often rely on established opinions without doing their own research and with modern technological innovations personal research has become so easy. A trip to the ‘Growing Knowledge’ exhibit showed me just how many new ways individuals can interrogate sources that go beyond a cursory glance at a free user-generated encyclopaedia.


05 April 2011

Team Americas on the Road 2011: news from Birmingham

The British Association for Canadian Studies conference is held each year in one of a number of universities with a reputation in the discipline. This year the conference is in Birmingham and I find myself feeling deeply comfortable wandering around the mill-inspired, red-brick buildings between sessions.

For me the conference is an opportunity to make sure I am up to speed with the currents of research in Canadian studies, make new acquaintances and talk to people about how the British Library can help them with their research. It is also an opportunity to listen to some very interesting papers. The whole session devoted to the shorter works of Margaret Atwood was an enjoyable discussion of the intimate details of her portfolio. It also reminded me how significant our collections of Atwood’s work (which cover her many early pieces and international editions) are to researchers across the U. K. and Europe.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how much attention has been paid to Canada’s borders in the conference so far, especially in light of my recent post for the Americas Blog. There has been a lot of discussion about Canada’s relationship to international law, with a focus on cases involving Canadian nationals committing offences abroad. This, in turn, has led to a lot of interest in the Library’s legal studies materials and official publications, meaning it might be a busy time for Jerry when I get back!

The day’s papers were brought to a close with a lecture sponsored by the British Library Eccles Centre. I have to confess this was my highlight for the day, not because I’m being partisan but because the lecture was on the geopolitics and history of Vancouver Island – an interest of mine over the last few years. Professor Stephen Royle, who researched part of this work as an Eccles Centre Fellow, drew out the fractious peace which existed between the British Government, the United States and the administration of Vancouver Island during the mid-nineteenth century. The papers of James Douglas, governor on the island at the time, are part of the British Library’s collections and if you would like to know more about this part of British colonial history, Royle’s Company Crown and Colony is a good place to start.


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