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8 posts from February 2012

27 February 2012

Civil War Manuscripts: Foliation Slip

Foliation slip

Soon after starting at the Library (in the former Department of Manuscripts) during the early days of the junior Bush presidency, I was given my first task. This was to number the pages (that is, the folios) of the Bowood House Papers, a large collection of the paper of the Marquesses of Lansdowne which had been purchased a few years before.  Since historical archives in those days were intended to be bound into volumes for reasons of ease of delivery to the reading room and for security, they had to be divided into volumes of roughly 200 folios.  Too many, and the volume could barely open; too few, and the volume was too thin.  A double-century was the Goldilocks point of manuscript foliation.  But, of course, series of correspondence never quite ran to that exact amount, so the art was to find a natural break in the run of papers and find a harmonious organisation to effect this, in an attempt to give a volume some sort of natural unity.  The Bowood House papers, like many archives, already came with their pre-existing arrangement, and a history of citation, and reorganisation.  Students of manuscripts will be familiar with the series of numbers usually pencilled at the top right hand side of folios, sometimes erased, sometimes crossed out; a palimpsest speaking of the attempt to apply order to the historical record.

I was never much good at it.  The volumes were checked after you had foliated them, and someone always kindly pointed out that 127 came after 126, and not 125, or whatever blunder of numeration I had committed.  It is possible that my mind had wandered during the process.  Once this had all been sorted out, a slip was countersigned added to the back of the volume, and the number of folios settled on for future generations to refer to: 'Add. MS. 70200, f.211', and so on.  There are also a whole set of complications; is a blank leaf foliated?  What about folds of paper? Is a stamp on an envelope another folio?  And what about notebooks in which the author has started at the front, but has another series of notes starting at the back? The rules of cricket and LBW pale in comparison.

I mention all this, as some of the sharper-eyed readers of this blog and visiters to the site may have noticed a discrepancy in the recent volume of Layard Papers (which are full of material on the British view of the Civil War, since Layard was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs).  All is fine until you reach folio 48; thereafter, all hell breaks out in terms of foliation. 

I receive digital images of the manuscripts (in Tiff format) from the library's imaging studio.  These are numbered from 001.tif to 800.tif (for example), but foliation reflects rectos and versos of manuscripts, so these have to be renamed 001r.tif to 400v.tif before they are tuned into zoomable images and added to  The image number also has to match the folio number in the drop down box on the right of the viewer, and, in so doing, matching the way that that the manuscript has always been cited.

There are two ways of doing this; manually renaming the files, which opens the door to a number of potential errors; and venturing into the world of batch renaming, which still leaves the door ajar, but in my book is a bit safer, and certainly faster.  Bindings, flyleaves and other idiosyncratic parts of the volume are renamed by hand (waiting for the  Tiffs to open, then using F2 to rename the file), then I separate out all the odd numbered files, and use a piece of software called AntRenamer to renumber and rename them: 001.tif to 001r.tif and 003.tif to 002r.tif and so on. The evens are renumbered and renamed 001v.tif, 002v.tif etc.  Once I've done this, checked every ten or so, I recombine them into one folder, check them again, and send them on their way to be turned into zoomable images (.dzi at the moment, but perhaps Jpeg2000s in the future), and thence to be linked to the Manuscript Catalogue record and viewable on

So far, the process has been fine, if somewhat time consuming. But last night, I noticed the foliation errors in Add. MS 38988.  Three hours later, and they've been refoliated, in a digital fashion, and should be filtering their way onto the site.  Clearly, I need to figure out a modern-day equivalent of the countersigned slip to be found in the back of the volume.


24 February 2012

Civil War Project: Maps - Birds Eye View of the Seat of War (Prang, 1861)

Maps 71495 (69) Birds Eye View of the Seat of War, arranged after the latest surveys (Prang: Boston & London, 1861)

Some more US Civil War materials have been added to the website today, including one of the print and map publisher, Louis Prang's more interesting efforts.  To access the maps, visit and enter [maps] in the Manuscripts search box.  The system was designed to be used to display Greek Manuscripts, which accounts for some of the current design and UX choices.



23 February 2012

Civil War Project: The Great Seal of the Republic Redux

Dips seal
(The Great Seal of the Republic, shown on the British Library digitised manuscripts website)

You may recall an earlier post about the Confederate Seal of the Republic, which was supplied to the Southern States by a British firm ("That symbol - the Great Seal of the infant Confederacy - sent to it by its nurse, England").  Well, we've now added it to the Library's digital items site: Digitised Manuscripts, which lets you explore the seal's case, provenance and zoom in on the seal itself.  More to follow.



20 February 2012



Facebook logo from Wikicommons

Team Americas now has a rough-and-ready Facebook page. 'Like' us, if you like, and receive the odd update on British Library events, things we spot on the web, and news of when we've posted to the blog, as well as ask us questions via the 'Wall'.  Let us know what you think of it.


15 February 2012

Guest Post: a side of Australasian studies

A General Chart of New Holland
'A General Chart of New Holland, including New South Wales & Botany Bay', in 'An Historical Narrative of the Discovery of New Holland and New South Wales'

As I mentioned in a previous post on the Terra Nova expedition, 2011 was a busy year for the Americas section of the Library and one of the other developments was being joined by our colleague responsible for Australasian Studies. Unfortunately, Nicholas has now left the Library to enjoy the warmer climes of southern France and so the rest of us from Americas Studies are doing our best to direct readers interested in researching the area for the time being. This being the case, we thought we'd start the best way we know how - blogging.

The Library has a notable collection of materials relating to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and we aim to show a selection of the historical works we have as 'guest posts' on the Americas blog. For today's post I happened to be looking at the voyage of Captain Cook to the west coast of Canada and thought the Australian materials included in the same volumes would make a good first Australasian post.

A Man of Van Diemen's Land
'A Man of Van Diemen's Land', contained in the supplementary plates to 'A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean'

Edited by John Douglas, 'A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean' (shelfmark: 10025.bbb.22) has a supplementary volume of plates and charts compiled during the journey, held at shelfmark, C.180.h.11. These charts and plates cover various parts of Cook's expedition and therefore range from Australia to Nootka Sound and illustrate the landscape, fauna and peoples encountered. The above, 'A Man from Van Diemen's Land' is an example of the illustrations included in the volume which charts the diversity of societies and environments encountered.

The Library's collections contain many materials relating to Cook's voyages, including books, maps and manuscripts. Another item I called up was the 1786 publication, 'An Historical Narrative of the Discovery of New Holland and New South Wales' (shelfmark: 1446.c.19). The piece is a much smaller, highly edited account of Cook's expedition which happens to contain the rather nice map seen at the top of this post. Given the amount of material the Library holds relating to Cook's expeditions it is tempting to keep posting highlights from the myriad publications and manuscripts in coming weeks, but rest assured a host of notable collection items on various subjects will be on display in subsequent guest posts.


14 February 2012

St. Valentine’s Roses and Massacres

Chicago gangland

Map of Chicago showing areas in which the alleged gangsters and racketeers operate, National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, vol. IV.

With the feast of St Valentine upon us, with the thought that I am being fleeced by chocolatiers and flower sellers, my mind turns to events in Chicago in 1929. In what became known as the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, associates of the Chicago South Side Italian gang gunned down seven rivals members of the Moran Gang in the alley behind a garage on North Clark Street.

While these events are well established, some may be interested to explore the FBI file on the subject.  It contains over 100 pages of press articles, FBI memos and other material related to the Justice Department investigation.  Central to the massacre was an effort of Al Capone’s South Side Gang to gain control over the underworld in Chicago and the racketeering activities supplying black market alcohol during prohibition. An indication of the scale of racketeering in the prohibition era can be gleaned from the 1929 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Prohibition (A.S. 495), which claimed that in Illinois alone prohibition agents seized and destroyed over six million dollars of property in the crusade against illegal distilling and bootlegging. In addition to the financial ramifications of prohibition, another useful resource is the Report of the Wickersham Commission or National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (A.S.10/4), which documents criminal activity across the U.S.  The Commission’s five volumes offer an insight into the inextricable connections between crime and prohibition in the period, as well as providing an in-depth analysis of organized crime around the U.S. in enormous detail. 

Mexican stand off
Victims of the St Valentine’s Day Shooting, National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, vol. IV.

The human cost is addressed in a number of sections. One, intriguingly entitled “Reforming America With A Shotgun" (a pamphlet produced by the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment), offers a study of prohibition killings that estimates 286 officers and civilians lost their lives in the enforcement of prohibition laws. A further noteworthy element are the evidence statements of witnesses to the Commission, which provide a window into other aspects of the time such as the testimony of John B. Haggerty, president of the International Brotherhood of Bookbinders, who stated in 1920 that a journeyman bookbinder could expect to earn $25 or $26 for a six day week; by 1930 this had risen to $42 for a 44-hour week. An increase in earnings, he wanted to note, could not be attributed to prohibition.


13 February 2012

At the BAFTAs

Brad Pitt at the Baftas

Team Americas got the red-carpet treatment at the weekend, and here's our new friend, Mr Pitt (to be less disingenuous, we were behind a barrier along with the other gawpers). But, it may serve as a reminder of the film collections in the Library, including access to American Film Scripts Online.

There has, of course, been less happy news from the world of entertainment at the weekend: the death of Whitney Houston. Our (this time, real) friends at UEA blog, Containing Multitudes, have added some comments from an American Studies perspective.


01 February 2012

Mapping 1812

Battle of New Orleans
Royal United Services Institute maps: Battle of New Orleans, 1815

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) collection of maps at the British Library reveals the importance of mapping to the work of the Institute, which was founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington to encourage the study of naval and military science.  Yesterday, Phil and I visited Tom Harper, the curator of antiquarian mapping, to see what the collections might possessfor our War of 1812 digitization project.   He had kindly pulled from the shelves the very heavy two-volume catalogue to the collection, which is handwritten in leather-bound volumes purchased from the Army & Navy Stores by an Edwardian predecessor.  The collection is catalogued by region and by topic (e.g., Naval, Battlefield, and even Aviation).  We focussed on the United States of America and Canada, passing the numerous maps of the Punic Wars or the Second Carpathian Campaign (and noting details in the catalogue, such as 'to accompany Col. –––––'s lecture'.  Some references noted, we descended below the Northern Line and made our way to the secure 'cage' that houses these particular maps.

We weren't disappointed.  The Battle of New Orleans – tragically fought after news of the ending of the war by the Treaty of Ghent – was clearly an important event for military pedagogy: no fewer than three maps showing the movements of General Edward Pakenham's troops and the defenders under Major General Andrew Jackson are present.  (There was no mention of the forgotten ladders, but a relief drawing of the American defences was present.)  Phil was also pleased to see a number of other maps focussing on the Canadian/US border, with a marked emphasis on defensive forts.  We'll be gathering other materials, and hope to have some proper images on the blog soon.


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