American Collections blog

9 posts from June 2012

29 June 2012

Notes on the Beginning of a Rivalry: England vs Australia

 England 11 (1861-62)

First England Eleven in Australia, from ‘Seventy-One Not Out’ [Shelfmark: 07905.g.30]

Ok, we'll come clean. Team Americas is actually Team Americas AND Australasia but there aren't enough of us to keep a regular blog going on Australasian topics. Since Dr Phil is now having to cover the area due to Nicholas's departure to pastures new (literally - he's gone off to farm in France!), he's sneaking in this post on one of his favourite subjects. And if you're interested in things Australasian, we do have a Twitter account @BL_Australasia.

Given today is the beginning of Australia’s One Day International Series in England it seems appropriate to interrupt the blog’s usual service for some notes on Australia and England’s cricket heritage.

The focus here is very much on beginnings as the Library holds works relating to both the first England tour of Australia and vice versa. The first England touring eleven to visit Australia did so in 1861-62 and their matches are recounted later, in 1899, by William Caffyn in ‘Seventy-One Not Out’ [Shelfmark: 07905.g.30]. This wasn’t quite the England tours we are used to seeing; the team was gathered by a commercial sponsor (Messrs Spiers and Pond), the team itself was not exactly ‘all-England’ (most of the North declined to tour) and they played Australia teams of eighteen and twenty-two players.

The tour was a success as it drew large, enthusiastic crowds to every game and it proved that subsequent tours would both be of enjoyable quality and financially viable. Caffyn seems pleased with the quality of the matches but devotes an awful lot of his narrative to the activities of Australia’s mosquitoes – it would seem they plagued him more than the opposing bowlers. Subsequent England tours to Australia would follow, although the fractious relationship which has defined this rivalry was soon to develop.

Sydney Cricket Ground (1898)
Sydney Cricket Ground, 1898, from ‘Seventy-One Not Out’ [Shelfmark: 07905.g.30]

Australian teams would soon be visiting England too, although the first tour (that of the Australian Aboriginal Cricket Team) is only recorded in Library holdings such as Wisden (Shelfmark: RH.9.X.1553) and the cricket-minded newspapers. The 1878 tour of England, which was captained by D. W. Gregory and also played in the United States during these travels (and is thus the best link to this blog’s usual content I could make) has marginally better representation, including a lengthy discussion of the impending tour in the Melbourne-published Conway’s Australian Cricketers’ Annual [Shelfmark: P.P.2638.fa].

Of course, the 1878 tour saw a strong Australian team begin to build the reputation and legacy which stands today. While this post merely charts some beginnings the Library’s collections of cricket publications, newspapers and other materials tell the history of what was to come; Ashes, Dons, Bodylines and all.


25 June 2012

Politics, Plantations and Camels: early publishing about Barbados

Barbados (Lingon Map)
'A Topographical Description and Measurement of the Island of Barbados', in Richard Ligon's (1657) 'A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados' [Shelfmark: 455.a.18]

The British Library holds a significant collection of published material relating to the history of Barbados, some of it dating back to the mid-seventeenth century, and the above map inspired me to post about some of it here. Ligon's 'A True and Exact History' is one of the earliest publications the Library holds relating to Barbados (there are a couple of earlier works about English Civil War related strife in the 1650s) and it contains a number of interesting details about an island which was only settled by the English in 1627.

Ligon's account places a significant emphasis on the flora and fauna of Barbados as well as the fish and mammals encountered on his journey to the island. Of particular interest here is the long section given to the description of sharks and the animosity felt towards them by the ship's crew, who reserved gruesome fates for any of these predators that they caught (pp. 5-6). The other thing that jumps out to the reader from amongst the wealth of botanical and zoological information is a note on p. 58 about the presence and use of camels on the island. It would seem they were highly valued for their durability and use for carrying heavy loads, it also illustrates how quickly Barbados became part of a global exchange mechanism.

Barbados (Sloane Map)
Late 17th Century map of Barbados from a volume of ink wash on paper maps [Shelfmark: Sloane 2441]

Within these notes on the bounty of Barbados is the ever-present detail of the darker side of the island, its economy and politics. That slavery quickly became a brutal part of the island economy is illustrated by the two hunted runaways seen on the top map, as well as extensive notes found in the text. While Ligon makes little direct mention of the effects the English Civil War had on the island shortly before his work was published the tensions which existed are hinted at by the informal punishment allotted to the mention of the words 'Roundhead' or 'Cavalier' (p. 57).

While Ligon skirts around most details of the conflict in Barbados other writers see it as a significant incident related to wider problems with the island's administration. As such, one of the first books printed on the island, 'Some Memoirs of the First Settlement of Barbados' [published in 1741. Shelfmark: G.14967], notes the events that led to the Civil War playing out in Barbados and highlights key events in this conflict. It also concludes with a lengthy treatise on fairer government and the benefits this would bring to the island, a hot topic in the Americas at the time and one that would be debated in various forms during the history of the colonial Caribbean.


19 June 2012

Martha Gellhorn, pursued and in pursuit


Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway on assignment in China. Image:

An exciting new acquisition for the British Library’s North American collections comes in the form of Martha Gellhorn’s first novel, What Mad Pursuit. I have been in pursuit of this rather costly book for a while, so it was delightful to finally have the book in my hands.

The rest of Martha Gellhorn’s work is easy to come by, so why is this book so elusive, and so expensive? Published in 1934 when Gellhorn was only twenty-five, the novel attracted lukewarm criticism at best. Gellhorn consigned her debut to the past: she never listed it in her published works, and, once it had become out of print, it stayed there.

But reading the first and only edition of What Mad Pursuit has been a real pleasure. Crude as it is, the novel races though the tender years of protagonist Charis Day from her job as a cub reporter to her love affairs that abruptly – and syphilitically – end. (Four publishers had previously turned it down on the basis that it was altogether ‘too bold’ for a young female novelist.)

Bold it is; and brave too, even as the melodrama skates. Charis, the innocent chasing after justice and happiness, is a standalone protagonist, very different from Gellhorn’s later characters. One reviewer called What Mad Pursuit ‘palpable juvenilia’ – and that’s precisely why it’s interesting: it helps tell the story of Gellhorn before she became the feted war reporter, and before she became the second half of a very famous literary marriage.

Gellhorn chose to preface her first novel with an epigram from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway was Gellhorn’s literary idol: it was his prose which she held up as the perfect model; his photograph that was pinned against her college wall while she wrote.

On the novel’s publication, Gellhorn was two years away from meeting her hero; six years away from marrying him. What tickles me most as I look over Hemingway’s pontifical epigram – Nothing ever happens to the brave – is trying to puzzle out to what degree Gellhorn intentionally began her own mad pursuit of her author-hero.

History has it that the Gellhorn family encountered Hemingway on an unplanned detour to Key West during a Florida vacation in 1936. Was Martha’s plan merely to meet her hero? Or to seduce him and make him her husband?

Biographer Caroline Moorehead’s account of the meeting seems innocent enough. ‘They didn’t much care for Miami, and so they caught a bus to Key West… One evening they went for a drink in a bar called Sloppy Joe’s. Sitting at one end was Ernest Hemingway… reading his mail.’ But in Hemingway’s Boat, Paul Hendrickson casts it quite differently, arguing Martha was as much the ‘shameless’ pursuant as his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer had been a decade ago.

The questions over Gellhorn’s intentionality gives me ample room to explore in fiction what went on in those few juicy weeks Martha Gellhorn spent in the company of Mr and Mrs Hemingway. I wonder if Mrs Hemingway had seen the epigram to Gellhorn’s book; whether she noticed how glad-eyed Ernest became whenever Martha was near; whether it was difficult to watch Ernest in hot pursuit of the young woman as the author followed her on a train to Jacksonville. It strikes me now that perhaps it wasn’t so much the mentor who was in mad pursuit of the tutor, but the other way around. 

Naomi Wood is one of the 2012 Eccles Centre Writers in Residence at the British Library. 


18 June 2012

Cree in the Library

  The first page of the ‘Gospel According to Saint Matthew’ from an 1862 Cree edition of the New Testament

`The first page of the ‘Gospel According to Saint Matthew’ from an 1862 Cree edition of the New Testament [BL Shelfmark: W90-9576].

This updated blog post was originally posted to the Americas Collections Blog in 2012, at the end of a short work experience placement at the British Library:

It became a running joke in my family that I had travelled all the way across the Atlantic to study printed resources related to the history of Canada (and the United States) in the UK. As it happens, exploring North American and Indigenous histories through the scope of the BL’s collections allows for an interesting examination of colonial exchange and the appropriation of language into European systems of power.

On the theme of exploring my neck of the woods from across the pond, I ventured into the main catalogue in search of documents relating to my home region of northern Ontario, with a focus on the James Bay community of Moose Factory (the oldest English settlement in the province and once, the regional centre of trade for the Hudson’s Bay Company). I began researching the Moose Cree dialect, which is spoken by local members of the Moose Cree First Nation and is related to the Cree spoken by other groups throughout northern and central Canada. I discovered that the Library houses one of the largest Indigenous languages collections in the world. My search yielded some interesting resources relating to the use of Cree by European settlers (especially religious figures) during the second half of the nineteenth century. I also found a number of volumes in other languages including Algonquin and Iroquoian. Interestingly, the Library houses the first Bible printed in North America, which happens to be in the Massachusett Algonquian language [BL Shelfmark G.12176].

One book that piqued my interest was an 1862 edition of the ‘New Testament’ [BL Shelfmark: W90-9576], which is printed entirely in the syllabic system developed by Methodist minister James Evans (1801-1846). Evans had worked on creating an Ojibwa syllabary previously in his career, but upon arrival in Norway House (now in northern Manitoba), he turned his attention to Cree, busying himself with translating and printing religious and educational materials from homemade typeface. Up until Evans’ system, the Cree had shared their history in an oral tradition of communication, so there was no need for European-style written language among these groups. However, a rapidly changing world forced a dramatic shift in communication and language-use, dictated largely by European settlers.

Another noteworthy book, directly related to Moose Factory, entitled A Grammar of the Cree Language, as Spoken By the Cree Indians of North America [BL Shelfmark: X22-6409], contains a thorough examination of the structure, orthography and vocabulary of the dialect, this time without the use of syllabics for ease of use by European religious men and women. Throughout the text, Reverend John Horden (1828-1893), then the Bishop of nearby Moosonee, provided practical examples of the language for use by the missionaries working in the region. Like many books of its kind, Horden’s grammar includes a list of useful words and phrases aimed at engaging local Indigenous peoples in order to facilitate religious conversion and assimilation into European systems of commerce and education. Horden expanded his book beyond the basic model of a syllabary, also providing a detailed analysis of the conjugation patterns and rules of syntax.

When one examines who was producing and publishing these linguistic studies, it becomes clear that in the nineteenth century, the language was no longer solely operating within the traditional cultural realm of the James Bay Cree but was being employed by settlers in their own way.  It is important to acknowledge the effect that European settlement had on Indigenous language and culture. These texts highlight a shifting world in which the use of and interest in Cree by the aforementioned European settler authors signalled the beginning of a struggle to maintain traditional knowledge and beliefs. Following the production of these early Cree-language studies, the language itself has suffered ill effects of colonial education, which prohibited Indigenous children enrolled in residential schools throughout Canada from speaking their mother tongues. Cree is just one example of the many languages and regional dialects affected by the imposition of colonial systems of power. Recently, and especially following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on residential schools in Canada, there is a push to reclaim the Indigenous languages and oral traditions. Perhaps the significant collection of Indigenous language texts at the British Library might allow for a deeper examination of the significance of Indigenous communication within complicated historical contexts?

Written by Brendan Cull, PhD Student at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

15 June 2012

The World of Jorge Amado


Roberto DaMatta. Photograph by Ronaldo Pelli

Last Friday the British Library hosted an international conference in honour of the Brazilian writer Jorge Amado. The event was a unique gathering of historians, novelists, film makers, anthropologists, diplomats, curators, students, and journalists from all over the world – a crowd that only an author such as Amado could inspire.

Considered the pre-eminent Bahian writer, Amado has had his novels translated into more than 40 languages. Friday’s conference was a rare opportunity to analyse the at once local and universal themes of Amado’s stories.

Over the course of the day topics discussed in relation to Amado’s novels ranged from immigration and the European Community, feminism and sexuality, the evolution of the Brazilian ‘povo’ as a historical and literary protagonist in the 20th century, and the struggle for racial justice. All of which highlighted not only that Amado’s legacy is one to be reckoned with, but also that his writing continues to articulate with struggles for social equality and freedom in today’s world.


13 June 2012

From the Collections: Seneca Snakeroot

Team Americas' intern, Brendan, has been using the Library's early American science materials, here's what he found:

Seneca Snakeroot (illustration)
A botanical illustration of Seneca Rattlesnake Root printed in ‘An Epistle to Dr. R. Mead Concerning the Epidemical Diseases of Virginia …’ (1738) [BL Shelfmark 1170.f.13]

Every once in a while, you stumble across something that really catches your attention.  Perhaps it stirs up a memory, excites a childhood interest or fulfils a passing curiosity.  For me, it was a combination of all of the above.  I had the pleasure of coming across a rather nondescript book in a long list of early American science-related materials that the Library houses, which contained fascinating primary medical research for a wonder-drug that found its way into the hands of an American physician via the Seneca First Nations.

In ‘An Epistle to Dr. R. Mead Concerning the Epidemical Diseases of Virginia …’ [BL Shelfmark: 1170.f.13], published in 1738, Dr. John Tennant set out to demonstrate the real and potential benefits of providing preparations of Seneca Rattlesnake Root to patients suffering from diseases of the lung.  While the Seneca First Nations have used the root as a cure for venomous rattlesnake bites for centuries, Dr. Tennant, having seen the treatment in action, noted similarities between some of the symptoms of a snakebite and the respiratory diseases which plagued Virginians (namely pleurisy and peripneumony).  As a result, he predicted that an infusion of the root might yield positive outcomes in both cases.  He tested his hypothesis directly on his patients with careful consideration of their well-being and was met with some spectacular results.  Some of the stories that he includes are exciting to say the least, with near misses and great triumphs! 

This book provides a wonderful, and fairly easy-to read, snapshot of European medical practice in the Americas at the beginning of the eighteenth century.  Along with the application of the root infusions, Dr. Tennant explains how this new treatment fit into contemporary medical theory, discussing it in combination with bloodletting and taking the cardinal humours into consideration.  This document and others like it in the Library’s collections not only provide us with a window into eighteenth century science, but also serve as an ethnobotanical record outlining the uses of exotic plants and their relation to indigenous knowledge.  It highlights the First Nation’s willingness to share ancient information and collaborate with the settlers.  This book can be seen as a bridge between cultures, linking Europe to the Seneca and other First Nations groups.

At around the time that this book was published, Seneca Rattlesnake Root was arriving in Europe for the first time.  It would later become a mainstay of the nineteenth century pharmacist’s cabinet as a treatment for pneumonia.  Today, it is harvested in North America by the First Nations and sold all over the world to ease the symptoms of respiratory ailments.  It regularly appears as an ingredient in cough medicines and in drugs produced to treat bronchitis and asthma.  For additional information visit the Government of Canada’s ‘Seneca Snakeroot’ information page here.


12 June 2012

Travel, Landscapes and Kodaks: Picturing Jamaica

Bananas (Golden Vale Jamaica)
'Bananas at Golden Vale, Portland' from, 'Picturesque Jamaica' by V. P. Parkhurst [Shelfmark: 1790.b.9]

Some of us here at Team Americas have been trying to find time to look over our collection of photographically illustrated books relating to the Caribbean. Sadly, this has not happened as quickly as we would like,but our intern, Brendan, has just started the ball rolling by looking for Caribbean-focussed works published between 1840 and 1950. So, to mark the occasion, I thought I would blog about some Jamaican items I already know about.

One of the earliest relevant items is a series of illustrations created from the Daguerreotypes of Adolphe Duperly and published in 1840. Moving more firmly into the realm of the photographically illustrated, we have the Mezzotypesof V. P. Parkhurst published in 1887 in Picturesque Jamaica[Shelfmark: 1790.b.9]. Parkhurst's work depicts many Jamaican landscape scenes, although emphasis is placed on wild, dreamy spaces and scenes of the managed or built environment are eerily devoid of life. In many ways, his work sets a tone for the tourist photography which would later be so prevalent in Jamaica.

Jamaica with a Kodak (cover)
Cover of, 'Through Jamaica with a Kodak' [Shelfmark: 010470.e.5]

Parkhurst's romanticised visual imagination of Jamaica is not a unique one, indeed his framing of the island is one seen repeatedly in the various illustrated travelogues which would follow this work; and they were many, thanks in part to the technical advances in photography and the work of Eastman Kodak. These same advances meant cameras were increasingly able to photograph people and every day scenes in reasonable clarity, meaning Jamaica's populace could now be bound into the same romantic and objectified imagination of the place.

One of the most notable examples here is the work of Alfred Leader and the book, Through Jamaica with a Kodak[010470.e.5]. Leader's cover (above) is something of a statement of intent, the camera looking like one of H. G. Wells' tripods and reminding the viewer of Susan Sontag's thesis that photography is an inherently aggressive act. These works are not unique in terms of the photographically illustrated books I know from the collection, with A Glimpse of the Tropics[Shelfmark:] and, another, Picturesque Jamaica [Shelfmark: L.49/233] producing similar tropical paradise imaginations. What the rest of our photographically illustrated books hold I don't yet know but will keep you posted.


07 June 2012

Framing Canada: the work of William Notman

Victoria Bridge (Notman)
'Construction of the Victoria Bridge, Montreal: dredging machine', William Notman, 1858 [Shelmark: C.161.g.2]. Displayed as part of the British Library's Points of View exhibition.

Keeping my recent Quebec run going, I'm going to jump a few centuries ahead from Samuel de Champlain's work and into the realm of nineteenth century photographers; in particular, Montreal's William Notman. Notman has been cropping up quite a bit in my work recently, I used some of his photographs in the display mentioned in my last post and CBC Radio have recently posted a very good documentary about his work on their website.

Notman, for want of a better way of describing him, was one of those canny individuals with an excess of talent and a knack for being in the right place at the right time (overlooking his suspected bankruptcy in Scotland, a possible reason he settled in Montreal). His photographs were of a very high quality and his savvy for branding and promotion allowed him to develop an international reputation for himself. An example of this is his decision to create an ornate Maple box of stereoviews which was presented to the Royal Family at the opening of the Victoria Bridge, an action which would eventually allow him to call himself 'photographer to the Queen'.

Ski Jump (Notman and Son)
'Ski Jump, Montreal', copyrighted by William Notman and Son, 1905. Part of the Library's Canadian Colonial Copyright Photographs collection [Shelfmark: HS.85/10]

The technical skill and photographic flair of Notman led to him creating some of Canada's iconic photographic images, such as 'Caribou Hunting, the Chance Shot' which is held in the Notman collection of the McCord Museum. Indeed, Notman's skill and reputation was such that by the 1860s he was known as Canada's great portrait photographer and a fixture on the British colonial traveller's list. By the time of his death in 1891 the reputation of the Notman brand was such that his descendants could maintain a successful photographic business using the family name.

The British Library has a surprising collection of Notman related photography, largely as a result his work being used to illustrate books or his successors depositing 'William Notman and Son' work for copyright deposit. As a brief illustration, 'Portraits of British Americans' is a three volume work containing many Notman photographic portraits [Shelfmark: 010803.f.1], while 'The Canadian Handbook and Tourist's Guide' by H. B. Small is illustrated by some striking Notman landscapes [Shelfmark: 10470.e.31]. Finally, the Library also holds copyright deposit photographs from William Notman and Son, with the volumes of 'Notman's Photographic Selections of Canada' containing photographs from Quebec, British Columbia and the rest of Canada [Shelfmark: Maps]