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10 posts from July 2012

29 July 2012

The Long and Winding Road to the Olympics


Dove Bikes outside the Olympic Stadium. Photo: M. Shaw

I dropped a few hints on Thursday, but now the dove bikes have flown the coop, I think that I can post the image above from the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Quite some time ago, in a windswept industrial park in Dagenham, Danny Boyle said he didn't want to repeat the unfortunate dove roasting at the Seoul Olympics, so was going to use volunteers instead. I was one.  And Friday, just after Team GB were led into the stadium to the sound of David Bowie and Arctic Monkeys blasted through their first, great hit, I turned on my lights, began to flap and set off around the 'M25' of the Olympic Stadium along with my fellow doves (a more pleasant flock of people would be hard to imagine).

It turned out that there were a series of American links, hence this post. The inspiration for the dove bikes came from the American naturalist, Louis J. Helle, who wrote that, 'Bicycling is the nearest approximation I know to the flight of birds. The airplane simply carries a man on its back like an obedient Pegasus; it gives him no wings of his own'.

The New York costume designer, Suttirat Larlarb, came up with plans for wings that moved as we bobbed up and down, threaded lights along their span, and chose materials that glowed under the stadium UV lights. As she said to the press, 'the bit I’m most proud of is the dove bikes. We had to make incredibly delicate wings that could move very fluidly out of flexible plastic sheet lined with layers of white mesh fabric with fibre-optics laced into it' . Arctic Monkeys also played The Beatles' Come Together, which John Lennon had originally composed during Timothy Leary's abortive gubernatorial run against Ronald Reagan in 1969. Leary had to drop out of the race after his arrest for possession of marijuana. The slogan had been 'Come together, join the party'.

But, perhaps best of all, the whole sequence was set up by Bob Haro, the BMX innovator who took part in the stunt bike scenes in E.T.: the Extraterrestrial. The flying dove bike may have had some Hollywood antecendents. You can catch his new design for an Olympic BMX bike at the Design Museum exhibition, 'Designed to Win', until 18 November. And, in the Library's Entrance Hall and Piazza, there's our Olympex: Collecting the Olympics exhibition.







27 July 2012

The Siege of Atlanta


Public Domain Mark 
This work (Map illustrating the Siege of Atlanta, by the U.S. Forces under command of Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman) [Maps 72580.(4)], identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

A slightly tenuous link for this week's Civil War map, which is a plan of the Siege of Atlanta in 1864.  It's a few days after the 148th anniversary of the start of the campaign, the eventual success of which proved to be a great morale boost for the north, and helped to seal Lincoln's 1864 electoral success.  We wouldn't like to suggest that London is under seige (indeed, your correspondent is doing his best to welcome the world to the UK during the opening ceremony this evening), but simply note that Atlanta, like London, is an Olympic city.

Maps 72580.(4) (detail).  Gone with the Wind comments welcome...

And on the Olympic theme, don't miss the British Library's official (and free) Olympex: Collecting the Olympic Games exhibition or the brilliant Writing Britain exhibition, which is part of the simultaneous Cultural Olympiad, if you are in town during the next few weeks.  And if you are in front of a TV this evening, keep an eye out for a curator rather out of his comfort zone after the Parade of the Athletes.


26 July 2012

Olympians in the collections: Tom Longboat

Tom Longboat (1907)
Tom Longboat, photographed in 1907 by Charles Aylett (BL Shelfmark: HS85.10)

It’s a baking hot day, the Olympics are upon us, and I've been reminded of an event in the 1908 London Olympics which also occurred on an oppressively hot day. The 1908 marathon was the height of drama - half the field failed to finish and the initial winner was disqualified.

One of the many runners who collapsed before the end was Canada’s Tom Longboat, a bright new athletics prospect and member of the Onondaga. The photo above was taken after Longboat stunned many in North America by winning the 1907 Boston Marathon with no real form under his belt; this success meant he arrived at the Olympic Games with high expectations heaped upon him. Longboat was exposed to a potent mix of nationalist expectation, racial predjudice and a voracious media, something I’ve written about for the Library’s Sport and Society pages.

There are many views on what undid Longboat on the day of the 1908 marathon and the heat must certainly have contributed. Hopefully the weather will be kind to London 2012 and all its competitors.

And a reminder that we have a great exhibition on in our entrance hall: Olympex 2012: collecting the Olympic games


23 July 2012

Colonel Wiggins

An American didn't win the Tour de France this year (although the exceptional Tejay van Garderen came fifth and put down quite a marker by winning the white jersey for the best young rider).  However, we do have a fine set of broadsheets printed by the U.S. press Lead Grafitti from the 2011 Tour.  Here's the plate for that year's Stage 7, 'nothing and then all hell breaks loose'.  What a difference a year makes.


We should probably do a post on Wiggo and Gen. Ambrose Burnsides at some point, but in the meantime, chapeau to all the riders, and Le Gentleman in particular.


19 July 2012

Know Your (Union) Generals


Public Domain Mark 
This work (The Field of Battle and Prominent Union Generals, Creator: Ensign & Bridgman, New York; Producer: The British Library), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

I promised some more maps from the U.S. Civil War project, so here's another one, The Field of Battle and Prominent Union Generals [1864?].  And Mr Sherman, it's time for your close-up:



13 July 2012

Only Connect: the secret lives of Hemingway's wives


Ernest Hemingway sits in between Pauline and Hadley on a holiday in Spain in 1926. Pauline would become his wife the following year. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston (Wikimedia Commons)

All the best betrayals start in friendship.  And an eerie effect of researching the lives of the Hemingway women is discovering how deep these friendships went between wives and mistresses.

Hemingway had four wives: Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. At a superficial level, the connections are intriguing. Martha’s father was Hadley’s gynaecologist (eat your heart out, Mr Freud). Mary worked for Hadley’s second husband’s brother in Europe during the Second World War.

These surface connections suggest a global cultural elite. Knowing your husband’s mistress, then, was highly likely. Whether you chose to befriend her was of your own doing.

The archives that exist for Hadley (no.1) and Pauline (no.2) document the women’s friendship in their letters from 1926. I love reading these letters, trying to read between the lines for Pauline’s betrayal but also Hadley’s connivance.

‘I’ve seen your husband E. Hemingway several times – sandwiched in like good red meat between thick slices of soggy bread. I think he looks swell, and he has been splendid to me,’ Pauline wrote to the first Mrs Hemingway in March 1926. How calling Ernest ‘good red meat’ might have provided any reassurance to Hadley, I have no idea, but they carried on being friends. Abruptly, at the end of 1926, the letters end, as well they might when one man transfers himself to his wife’s best friend’s bed.

While I knew about Hadley and Pauline’s friendship, I was surprised to find out about the friendship between Mary and Pauline (no.4 and no.2). Pauline often came to the Cuban house, the Finca Vigia, in the early 1950s, and likewise Mary made the crossing back to Key West several times. It’s thrilling to think of the ex-wife and the current wife’s choice words for their predecessors and successors; not to mention Ernest. 

Which leaves me with Martha Gellhorn (no.3). Martha was the only wife to leave Hemingway rather than be left. Although Martha and Mary (Biblical sisters they were not) were in Paris at the same time during the city’s liberation in August 1944, that’s probably the closest they came to meeting.

To my mind, Martha was the outlier in the ex-wife confederacy. After the divorce, it’s silence that characterizes her relationship with the Hemingway clan. Martha refused to be interviewed about her life with him. Unlike Hadley and Pauline, she wouldn’t be part of the ex-wife club.

There is, however, one surviving letter to her predecessor. She wrote it after her first meeting with the Hemingways in Key West in 1937. To my mind, the swinging cadences immediately evoke Pauline’s letters from Paris in 1926, when she was calling Ernest Hemingway a chunk of ‘good red meat’.

‘Pauline, cutie’ it begins - and here I can just imagine Pauline positively bristling - and ends, ‘In passing perhaps it would be as well to tell you that his collected works are pretty hot stuff not to say tops…. What I am trying to tell you in my halting way is that you are a fine girl and it was good of you not to mind my becoming a fixture, like a kudu head, in your home... Devotedly, Marty.’ None-too devotedly: four months later Martha would be in Spain covering the civil war with Ernest  – avoiding getting blown up by jumping into bed together. Hot stuff, red meat; how did the wives not see the writing on the wall?

When I first began my research I envisioned Mrs Hemingway to be a series of interlocking triangles, representing Ernest, wife and mistress, in any given decade. Now, in the midst of these letters and telegrams, it seems much more of a tangled web indeed.


Naomi Wood is one of the Eccles Centre Writers in Residence for 2012. She is the author of The Godless Boys (Picador, 2012).




11 July 2012

US Civil War Project: What time is this place?


Public Domain Mark 
This work (History of the Civil War in the United States, 1860-1865, Toronto, 1897 [Shelmark Maps.71492(39)], by Comparative Synoptical Chart Co., Limited), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

I mentioned the maps in my last Civil War post.  Most of them are as one would expect: campaign maps or overviews of the territory produced for an eager public in Britain and the States.  Some, however, are a little different, such as Prang's bird's eye-view maps.  And some are very different, such as the one above.  You can see a little more of what is going on in this enlargement:

Maps 71492 (39) [detail]

In this large-scale map, the history of the war in the major states is charted, and mapped against contributing factors, such as the stength of the army, the relationship between gold and paper money, and national and international events, such as the Trent Affair. It was published by the Comparative Synoptical Chart Co., and is a particularly fine example of the nineteenth-century vogue for representing historical events visually: an early educational example of the infographic.  (The Co. also drummed up interest in its products through newspaper quizzes, offering Century bicycles as prizes).   There's more on this sort of thing in Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton, Cartographies of Time (New York, 2010) and also on Stephen Boyd Davis's blog,  Those flumuxed by the chart above could also resort to an Index with 'Introductory Notes'; today, you can also read it online.

A larger, downloadable version of the chart is currently available via the Library of Congress.


09 July 2012

Civil War Project: Abraham Lincoln in Black and White


The end is in sight for the US Civil War project.  Most of the materials have been digitally photographed or scanned.  These have been renamed to try and reflect the pagination or foliation of the items, and then converted into 'zoomable' images before they are added to (and, if they are printed materials, added to the catalogue driving the system that we are piggybacking on).  I've just received a wonderful batch of maps, which I hope to share shortly, and was able to put online the Library's copy of Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, vols. 1 and 2 (let me know your thoughts on the lack of blank recto pages in the viewer).  The online gallery 'feature' on Britain and the U.S. Civil War is also almost ready to go once there is a critical mass of digitized materials online.

This said, like any campaign, there are the occasional setbacks.  We recently acquired a collection of a printer's proofs of Civil War song sheets [RB.23.b.7019].  I was particularly looking forward to seeing the images of these, as they are often colourful, as well as capture something of the everyday life of the war from all sides of the conflict.  They are individually catalogued on, so the collection also raised a few issues about how to catalogue them for, a process that promised to be a useful experiment for the system. 

I've just collected the images from the studio, but it looks as though I've collected greyscale jpegs, rather than getting colour tiffs as is usual (even the proofs weren't originally coloured, there is something about the quality of the paper and print that only colour images record).  A small hiccup, which will easily be remedied.  Meanwhile, here's one of the jpegs (top) lamenting the loss of Abraham Lincoln (which, in any case, isn't coloured).  As I said, more to follow.


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