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9 posts from May 2012

24 May 2012

Exploring Nouvelle-France: the voyages of Samuel de Champlain

 Nouvelle France (small)

A small chart of Nouvelle-France, printed in; 'Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain' (1613) [BL Shelfmark: C.32.h.9]

One of the perks of curating is occasionally having the time to put on displays of materials for visitors to the Library. Ahead of yesterday's Eccle's Lecture on Quebec, travel and the Jardins de Métis, I had one such opportunity and it would be a shame not to share some of the items displayed more widely. The selection looked at materials in the Library which relate to exploration and travel in Quebec from 1545 - 1900.

The Library holds a number of important works relating to the early history of Quebec, the most significant of which is Jacques Cartier's Brief recit & succincte narration de la navigation faicte es ysles de Canada [BL Shelfmark: G.7082]. Published in Paris in 1545, this rare work recounts the earliest exploration of North America. It also inspired the endeavours and accounts of Samuel de Champlain, the man who would later be known as the 'father' of New France.

Quebec (area chart)

Chart of Quebec's location, with notes on geographical surrounds and neighbouring settlements. Printed in; 'Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain'  (1613) [BL Shelfmark: C.32.h.9]

Of particular interest for this post, not least because of its incredible level of illustration, is de Champlain's Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain, a two volume work published in Paris in 1613 and 1632 [BL Shelfmark: C.32.h.9]. The work provides details on the geography of New France, the indigenous cultures encountered, as well as the economic possibilities and hazards to be found. All of this is recounted in great detail, both in text and maps. The work also includes detailed illustrations of Algonquin and Huron groups friendly to the French colonial project.

Algonquin individuals (de Champlain)

Illustration of Algonquin dress, printed in; 'Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain' (1632) [BL Shelfmark: C.32.h.9]

In many ways Cartier and de Champlain's texts can be seen as beginning a significant vein of publishing regarding exploration and travel in Quebec, one which would be well developed in the centuries to come. Other notable early texts in the Library's collection include, to name a very few: Francois Du Creux's Historiae Canadensis [1664, BL Shelfmark:], which is an illustrated translation into Latin of Paul Le Jeune's Brieve relation du voyage de la Nouvelle France [1632, BL Shelfmark: 867.c.1] and Lewis Hennepin's A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America… between New France and New Mexico [1699, BL Shelfmark: 979.l.23.].


22 May 2012

My dear Harold: discovering Carlos Fuentes in our archives

Wikimedia commons

When I first heard of the death of Carlos Fuentes last week I was filled with memories of the first time I read La Muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962). Fuentes’ astute and scathing critique of Mexican politics, and his masterful way of weaving stories through time and space left a huge impression on me as an adolescent. As I read the obituaries that came out over the course of the week, and watched the crowds gather around the world to honour Fuentes I began to wonder about his life and his relationships.

What might I find out digging around our collections here at the BL? It turns out Fuentes was a translator and friend of Harold Pinter.  And the British Library holds the Pinter archive, including correspondences between Pinter and Fuentes. It was one of those discoveries that surprises you but really shouldn’t. Their letters reveal shared creative and political commitments. Topics of discussion between the two included the translation of Party Time and Mountain Language for production in Mexico in 1992 (Add MS 88880/6/10), a speech by Pinter at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid on the effects of the cold war in the Americas that Fuentes wanted to publish in Mexico (Add MS 88880/6/60), and Pinter’s Nobel Prize speech given in 2005 in which he profoundly condemns the last 60 years of US foreign policy. Fuentes ended his admiring letter of Pinter’s speech with these words: “Believe me, my dear Harold, you have spoken for many, many, many of us. You were not alone that night.” (Add MS 88880/11/10).

My initial investigation into the traces of Fuentes’ life at the BL took me to Harold Pinter’s deep involvement in the political struggles of the Americas in the last half of the 20th century: from the Sandinistas in Central America, to the US trade embargo of Cuba, to the US invasion of Iraq. I can’t think of a better way to have marked the passing of Carlos Fuentes – whose own work never shied from the unknown or the unpredictable in the quest for the truth.

Wikimedia commons


17 May 2012

Taking a stroll on Sandymount Strand

BL Shelfmark: HS 74/1887

Matt has blogged about an American edition of Brighton Rock which features in our unmissable new exhibition Writing Britain, and I’m going to continue with this theme since I can cunningly combine it with the subject of a number of my previous blogs - artists’ books.

The Library has a sizeable collection of fine press and artists books but the non-British titles have always been acquired selectively. These days the often significant cost of such items can make it difficult for us to buy very much at all.  But these type of books always pop up at exhibition time since they’re, well, great to look at as well as offering all sorts of other pleasures. So I was delighted to spot Sandymount Strand on display in Writing Britain since it was produced by one of my favourite book artists – Gunnar Kaldewey.

Kaldewey (who in fact started life as an antiquarian bookseller in Germany) has been running The Kaldewey Press from his Poestenkill studio in New York since 1985, and I remember reading last year that he had just produced his 75th book. Sadly we only have a few of them, but we were very fortunate to be given Sandymount Strand as a donation via The Art Fund.

Kaldewey produces books that are unconventional in every sense – from shape to binding, to paper and typography. Pushing the book to the limits of its physical form, structure and materials are as essential elements as the combination of text and image. Kaldewey Press imprints are written, illustrated and printed by Kaldewey himself, whilst Editions Kaldewey are collaborations with writers and artists. Taking the literature from many countries and time periods for his subject matter, Kaldewey's output encompasses writers as diverse as Confucius, Ovid, Ashbery, Neruda, Pound, Beckett, and Burroughs, just to name a few. Similarly, the various materials used in the production of the books are sourced from all over the world – content and material a reflection of Kaldewey’s love of language and passion for global culture.

And to Sandymount Strand. This has to be one of the most famous beaches in Irish literature since it features in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce’s descriptions of Sandymount are indeed the main focus of the book, but contemporary Irish culture is also incorporated and celebrated by the addition of 2 haiku-like poems written especially for the book by Seamus Heaney and etchings by the artist Felim Egan, both of whom have a long association with Sandymount. Kaldewey has presented the book in a circular shape, representing the form of that particular stretch of beach on Dublin Bay - a perfect conjunction of form and subject. The Joyce and Heaney texts clearly make Sandymount Strand an ideal exhibit for Writing Britain, but I hope that Kaldewey would be pleased to find the book in such an exhibition too as it is also a reflection of his own obsession with the language of place.


16 May 2012

The Hull is a Boundary: on cricket, ships and empire

Campo Grande
Cricket on the Campo Grande, from Wild (1878), 'At Anchor' [Shelfmark: 1786.a.6]

Tomorrow is the beginning of a few weeks of divided loyalties for me, as England take on the West Indies in the first summer series. In honour of the occasion I thought I'd post a nugget from a paper I've written for the Library's 'Sourcing Sport' event on 21st May.

That paper is on cricket in the Americas and while I was researching it a particular detail caught my eye, that is the insights British colonial shipping can give to the spread of the game. Two non-Americas examples are the earliest record of a game of cricket being played in India (Port of Cambay, 1721. Recorded in Downing (1737), 'A Compendious History of the Indian Wars' [Shelfmark: 800.c.16]) and Darwin's relatively well known Beagle voyage diary entry about cricket being played in New Zealand (December 1895, 'Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries visited during the Voyage of HMS Beagle Round the World' [Shelfmark: X.319/3182]).

Arctic Cricket
Cricket on the Arctic ice, from Parry (1824), 'Journal of a second voyage for the discovery of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific' [Shelfmark: G.7394]

Because of similar circumstances there was opportunity for the etching at the top of this piece to be made. It depicts a match between expatriate Britons and the crew of HMS Challenger on the Campo Grande, San Salvador, and is an example of cricket being spread into the informal British empire (as the expatriates and sailors were all there as a result of British investment in the building of a local tramway).

However, as interesting as the Campo Grande illustration is, the depiction of cricket being played on the Arctic ice (from William Parry's account of a voyage to chart the Northwest Passage) takes the award for 'most striking ground' - although it might also win 'worst wicket'. These references and others in the Library's collections attest to how much the spread of cricket owes to the enthusiasm of British sailors; they also represent a useful source to further question the relationship between sport and empire

There is a great deal the Library's collections can tell us about sport and society, as previous posts here and next week's 'Sourcing Sport' will show. As to the rest of what makes cricket special, hopefully Sammy, Strauss, et al will furnish that argument.


14 May 2012

Writing Britain: An Entertainment

The Library's contribution to the Olympic Festival is now off the starting blocks: Writing Britain - from Watstelands to Wonderlands.  Those used to having a sick note on sports days can explore how the British landscape has been written, from medieval chronicles to graphic novels (and To Kill A Mockingbird makes an oblique appearance; can you spot it?).  And it's not just British: we've got a good proportion of U.S. titles in the show, some of which we'll be mentioning over the next few months.

The exhibition is particularly strong on the seaside and other watery parts of these damp isles.  Following a trip to Brighton last week, Graham Greene's Brighton Rock almost jumped out of the case.  Like several titles on display, although the book is British, the U.S. edition has been chosen for display. 

Brighton Rock
Brighton Rock (that white spot is a light, not a flash)

I've writen here about this edition before, and noted the rather pulpy US cover:

Before the 2011 film (and the 1947 film before that) was the book (and a radio dramatisation and a musical).  And before the book (published in London and Toronto) was the first edition: the 1938 New York publication of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, published, I'm told, slightly before the British edition.  It is held at shelfmark 012604.l.23.

I recently ordered it up to the Rare Books Reading Room, and was pleased to note that it's been conserved as part of the Adopt-A-Book programme - by the listeners of BBC Southern Counties in 2003.  Clearly marketed by Viking as a thriller, it brought to mind the notes on the early blurbs to Greene novels in America, making him out as something of a pulpy English Raymond Chandler, a writer of 'entertainments' rather than serious novelist.  (Sadly, our copy is not housed with the Salter dust jacket.)

The reuniting of book and jacket is just one small testament to the work the curators have done on the show.  It runs until 25 September.  Team Americas approves.


11 May 2012

Read, Ride & Be Happy: Collection Development with the Bike Snob NYC

Yesterday, between giving a talk at the Brighton Museum on Magna Carta and watching a two-handed Shona performance of Two Gentlemen of Verona at Shakespeare's Globe (brilliant, despite only catching the word for 'dog' (imbwa)), I needed some food.  Thankfully, the London cafe Look Mum No Hands was at the apex of the relevant railway lines.  But not only were they serving up some tasty food, they were also hosting a book-related appearance of the blogger and writer, Bike Snob NYC.



The Snob's blog hit critical mass during the late-naughties' hipster boom in Brooklyn and NY, a time that also saw a marked increase in cycling and bike 'culture' (with a consequent boom in periodicals, zines, blogs and books, such as this one published by the University of Oregon press and reviewed by the non-car-owning David Byrne). So much so, that the identity of the Snob became News That's Fit to Print, and was eventually 'unmasked' by the New York Times.


The Bike Snob enlightens cyclists

The Snob was in town talking about his second book, The Enlightened Cyclist, which reminds us that the daily commute is perhaps one of the only remaining contacts with have with our primeval state, and then takes the riff from there, bringing together some lame jokes, salient advice, acute observation about bike 'culture' (and some of the best writing I've read about 9/11) in well-designed book that reminds us of why the codex form can work so well.

After an illustrated talk about the indignities of commuting, there was the chance to buy copies, and to have then inscribed by Sharpie (and once again wonder what happens when and if all books are electronic).



Fortified by my supper, I stood in line, and explained that the British Library was something like the New York Public (without the lions), and that I would add the Snob's first work, Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling to the collections.  Would he care to add a message for the British people, and indeed to future generations of readers.  Here it is:

 Snob sig
Read, Ride & Be Happy (and Return on Time)

Good advice, especially for a Friday (although, clearly, this will have to be added to Document Supply, rather than reference, stock).

N.B., An earlier blog post talked about some of the resources we have on cycling; the Library's Sports Study Day is also looming (21 May). 


08 May 2012

Sheila Rowbotham: Joseph Ishill, Free Vistas

A secret delight of being in a great library is the arrival  on one’s desk of a book which is not really what you are looking for, but proves completely fascinating.

I was pursuing J. William Lloyd an American anarchist-socialist who believed in free love and drugless medicine, when I ordered Joseph Ishill’s, Free Vistas: An Anthology of Life and Letters, Oriole Press, 1933.

I had come across Lloyd while writing my biography of Edward Carpenter. He visited Carpenter’s home at Millthorpe near Sheffield in 1913 while on a knapsack tour of Britain, dropping in on the Bolton followers of Walt Whitman en route.

Left politics and the many varieties of love were causes Lloyd embraced with enthusiasm , so he arrived as a pilgrim at the home of the advocate of homosexual freedom. He was, however, shocked to find Edward Carpenter smoking a cigarette!

It was David Sachs, a profoundly knowledgable second hand book dealer in Oakland,  who told me that one of the women I am currently researching, Helena Born, was in contact with Lloyd after she migrated from Bristol to Boston in the 1890s. Helena ,along with her friend Helen Tufts, went to meetings of Lloyd’s Comradeship of Free Socialists in Boston.

Initially an anarchist, Lloyd became convinced that both anarchism and socialism were needed in society.  Liberty, and individual variation needed to combine with ‘cooperation, sympathy and solidarity’ (Anarchist Socialism).

In his novel, The Dwellers in Vale Sunrise, Lloyd’s dwellers are ‘simplicists’ who dress in brilliant colours and wear strange barbaric jewellery, growing their hair long. They are early twentieth century hippies who live Lloyd’s ideal  of free socialism.

Well there was no sign of Lloyd in the 1933 edition of Ishill’s, Free Vistas. There were, however, fascinating traces of Carpenter’s networks: the vegetarian Henry Salt who influenced Gandhi, the radical journalist, Henry Nevinson, the French novelist Romain Rolland as well as his friend who translated Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass into French, Leon Bazalgette.

Ishill gathered together a series of pamphlets, all of differing shapes and sizes and all lovingly crafted. So it was a magical experience to turn the pages decorated with woodcuts by John Buckland Wright as well as drawings by Bernard Sleigh and Lucienne Bloch, not to mention linoleum cuts and drypoint.

I found myself pausing to marvel that I could sit in a library and be able touch such a book. William J.Lloyd may not have been in that particular edition but his Free Socialism was there nonetheless in spirit.


Sheila Rowbotham is an Eccles Centre for American Studies Writer in Residence at the British Library.  Selections from most of Ishill's major works published by the Oriole Press can be seen online via the University of Michigan library.  Read Sheila's first post here.

03 May 2012

The Best Jackets this Side of The Flying Burrito Brothers

The Sadies.  Photo: R. Bowdler.

It's been a good ten days for Americana in London.  Last week, we had the lachrymose but mercurial alt-country singer Ryan Adams playing his acoustic set at the London Palladium (and apologizing to anyone who expected to see the Wizard of Oz musical which is running on that stage); the first Sundance London festival was running at the former Millennium Dome - and there was a showing of the 90% indie comedy/10% 1980s SF tribute film, Safety Not Guaranteed supported by the U.S. Embassy; and last night, the Jazz Cafe hosted a gig from the Canadian band, The Sadies.

The Sadies' Good brothers display their guitar skills at the Jazz Cafe, May, 2012.

The Sadies serve up a pleasantly sour and addictive mix of country, garage rock, psychedelia and surf, tearing their way through American traditional music, offering murder ballads, instrumentals, and virtuoso musicianship.  They also have neat line in psychedelic suits, in the fashion of the Flying Burrito Brothers (as seen on the cover of The Gilded Palace of Sin album).  As such they are a something of a tribute to a tribute, a visit to an idea.

Dallas Good and his suit. Photo: E. Gee.

Pop and rock, of course, feeds on itself, but there's also something that reminded me of American Studies, at least as it's practiced in the UK (and seemed to appeal also to the audience at the Jazz Cafe).  Jackson Turner's Frontier may be long gone, if it ever existed, but the desire to escape somewhere vast, other and often strange may account for some of the attractions of studying, visiting, imagining and writing about the USA, from the Colonial Period to the Harlem Renaissance, the borders of Mexico to the constructs of Las Vegas and Disneyland.  This year's Eccles Centre for American Studies plenary lecturer, Professor Peter Coates, touched on this during some comments during his talk 'Red and Gray: Toward a Natural History of Anti-Americanism in Britain'.  He mentioned his sense of personal shock at finding himself researching at Kew in The National Archives.  He never wanted to go to Kew.  He wanted to beyond, away, escaping provincial, narrower concerns.

The Sadies (with Andre Williams) are represented in the collections by 'Pardon Me (I've Got Someone to Kill)' from the Red Dirt album.  Those wanting to plan their own scholarly escapes, perhaps with an MA thesis, may want to start with Grant Alden, No Depression: an introduction to alternative country music (Dowling Press, 1998) [YK.2009.a.7499) and a run of No Depression (Seattle), issues from 1998-2008 at ZD.9.b.752.



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