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5 posts from November 2011

24 November 2011

Civil War Project: the Emancipation Proclamation

Happy Thanksgiving. As a holiday treat, here's a link to the Library's copy of the Leland-Boker Authorized Edition of the Emancipation Proclamation (1864), recently released as part of our US Civil War digitisation project.  The signatures at the foot are in the hands of Abraham Lincoln, John Nicolay (Private Secretary to the President) and William Seward (Secretary of State).

There's more about the Proclamation on our Americas Collections Highlights pages, and it's available on Images Online.  The Smithsonian also provides an introduction.


21 November 2011

Narrating Slavery and Freedom in Canada

'Off for Canada'
['Off for Canada', an illustration from, Glenelg [pseud.] (1889), Broken Shackles, Toronto: William Briggs]

As with the United States, slavery is part of Canada's heritage. This heritage is complex, including the enslavement of native peoples, participation in the African slave trade and Canada's role as an Underground Railroad safe haven (to provide a simple sketch). As these examples suggest it is also an interconnected heritage, involving the United States, Britain and various Caribbean territories, as well as Canada itself. The British Library's collections, therefore, provide a unique resource for the consideration of this history. Information and accounts are contained in many elements of the collections, with monographs, newspapers, pamphlets, journals and various other materials all providing insight into slavery in Canada and its associated connections with the rest of the Americas.

My motivation in sketching this out is to promote a collaborative studentship being offered by Sheffield University in partnership with the British Library. 'Narratives and Depictions of Slaves and Former Slaves in Canada: 1800 - 1900' is an opportunity to conduct PhD research into the Canadian collections of the British Library, investigating how the experiences of slaves and former slaves in Canada are represented therein. It is also an opportunity to contribute to understandings of the richness of the collections here, drawing out the significance of the works held and illustrating their connections to materials and individuals from other parts of the Americas and the British Empire.

The link in the previous paragraph contains more information on the project, eligibility and the application process. There are also contact details for Dr. Jane Hodson (studentship supervisor at Sheffield University's School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics) and myself should you wish to discuss the project further.


10 November 2011

'the most elegant Thing I ever saw': royal libraries and republicans

In the autumn of 1783, following the signing of the definitive treaty of peace with Britain, John Adams and his son, Quincy, visited London. After spending several years apart from his wife, Abigail, he resolved to tempt her over to Europe.  In November 1783, he wrote,

'Come to Europe with Nabby [Abigail, Adam's firsborn daughter] as soon as possible, and Satisfy your Curiosity, and improve your Taste, by viewing these magnificent Sceenes. Go to the Play -- see the Paintings and Buildings -- visit the Manufactures for a few Months -- and then, if Congress pleases return to America with me to reflect upon them.'

These scenes, the letter reveals, included a visit arranged by the painter Benjamin West to Buckingham House, which contained an 'inestimable Collection of Paintings'.  But, he continued, even considering the collections of Rubens, Van Dykes, Wests, etc.,  'The Library is the most elegant Thing I ever saw.'  And here, Adams was best pleased — and in this he probably shared the tastes of George III — by the 'Collection of Plans', which is now largely housed in the British Library and can be seen on the Online Gallery.

Perhaps it worked: Abigail (to whom he signed the letter, 'with Tenderness unutterable') and Nabby joined him in 1784.

Many of Adam's papers are currently available via the University of Virginia 'Founders Early Access Programme', but the November letter itself is held, along with a wealth of other materials, by the Massachusetts Historical Society.  It is available online as part of their Adams Electronic Archive.

You can read more about the contents and history of the George III collection here.  As well, of course, as enjoying the sight of the King's Library Tower in the heart of the Library's St Pancras building.

And, from tomorrow you can 'Satisfy your Curiosity' about earlier royal libraries, when the exhibition, 'Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination', opens.

[Matthew Shaw]

09 November 2011

Printing Money

Confederate States of America, Fifty dollar bill, Add. MS. 44511, f. 23.

The last few weeks (well, years, if truth be told) have been a crash course in economics.  Thanks to the news, 'bonds', 'quantitative easing', 'sovereign debt', and the rest, have a more common... currency. 

The American Civil War, like most conflicts, was also a financial clash, in which the Treasuries of the two sides constituted one further weapons of war.  In the South, a new system of currency was issued, often with the promise that the Confederate States of America would pay the bearer after the cessation of hostilities.   Around $1.7 billion in confederate dollars was issued. Widespread counterfeiting and inflation soon made such notes near worthless, and the rise in the worth of gold led to rumours of stashes of Southern bullion, stories that continue to this day.

Above is an example of a fifty dollar bill, from the Library's manuscript collections.   Once the images and catalogue data has been processed, it should join other Civil War materials on

  • Chase, Philip Hartley, Confederate Treasury Notes. The paper money of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865 [A catalogue. With illustrations.] (Philip H. Chase: Philadelphia, 1947)
  • Criswell, Grover C., Comprehensive catalog of Confederate paper money(Port Clinton, Ohio: BNR Press, 1996)
  • Slabaugh, Arlie R, Confederate States paper money(Iola: Krause Publications, 1993)
  • Tremmel, George B., Counterfeit currency of the Confederate States of America (Jefferson, N.C.; London: McFarland & Co, 2003)

[Matthew Shaw]

02 November 2011

The Group of Seven comes to Dulwich

 Lake O'Hara (MacDonald)

[J. E. H. MacDonald, 'Lake O'Hara', 1929, oil on canvas, 53.6 x 66.5 cm, The Thomson Collection, Copyright Art Gallery of Ontario. Currently displayed as part of 'Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven'', Dulwich Picture Gallery] 

On Saturday I had time to pop over to the Dulwich Picture Gallery and view the recently opened, 'Painting Canada' exhibition. Subtitled, 'Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven', the exhibition displays work from a group of artists who are credited with conceiving how to depict the uniqueness of the Canadian landscape. Wilderness is very much the focus of the exhibition and the works on display evoke both the majesty of the scenes depicted and the facination of this group of men with Canada's wild spaces.

While this wilderness is a dominant theme in the group's work they were prolific and covered many subjects,  from portraits, to rural landscapes and even attempting to capture the modernist beauty of the aircraft after it arrived in Canada. The Group of Seven travelled far and wide, covering a broad span of Canada in their work, and some members also produced art in Europe, notably during the First World War.

Camouflaged Huts (A Y Jackson)

[Lieut. A. Y. Jackson, "Camouflaged Huts, Villers-au-Bois" in, Art and War: Canadian War Memorials (1919), London: Canadian War Records Office]


In fact, I remembered during the exhibition a collection item from the Canadian War Memorial Commission which contained contributions from some of the Group. (Lieutenant) A. Y. Jackson and (Captain) F. H. Varley were both involved in the war and produced art about it. The publication Art and War: Canadian War Memorials (1919, London: Canadian War Records Office; BL Shelfmark: J/7859.i.15) was produced, "to form a record of Canada's part in the Great War and a memorial to those Canadians who have made the Great Sacrifice" and Jackson and Varley contributed four works to it.

The Group of Seven had a significant impact upon the imagination of Canada and, as 'Painting Canada' shows, continue to today. If you are interested to know more our collections hold various materials relating to Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, including notable items such as, Art and War. There are also useful reference works such as, Housser, F. B. (1974), A Canadian Art Movement: the story of the Group of Seven, Toronto: Macmillan Co. (Shelfmark: X.429/10637); Murray, J. (1994), Tom Thomson: the Last Spring, Toronto: Dundurn Press (Shelfmark: q95/02542 DSC); and, Town, H. and Silcox, D. (1982), Tom Thomson: the Silence and the Storm, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart (Shelfmark: L.42/3735).


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