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8 posts from December 2012

24 December 2012

Season's Greetings from Team Americas

Palace Bears
'The Palace Bears' by Jennie Walsh (1916). Held at Shelfmark: HS 85/10, copyright deposit number 32282.

Public Domain Mark
This work, identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

The weather's not be very festive in the UK so here are some wintry highlights from the Colonial Copyright Collection to interest and amuse you. While there is no real reason for selecting these photos I've always had a soft spot for some of them, including the rather natty 'sleigh motorcycle'.

Illecillewaet Glacier Ice Cave
'Ice Cave, Illecillewaet Glacier' by Bryon Harmon (1908). Held at Shelfmark: HS 85/10, copyright deposit number 19328.

Rotary Snow Plow
'Rotary Snow Plow' by Byron Harmon (1910). Held at Shelfmark: HS 85/10, copyright deposit number 22138. 

Sleigh Motorcycle (Dickson)
'A Sleigh Motorcycle' by John G. Dickson (1914). Held at Shelfmark: HS 85/10, copyright deposit number 28387.

Public Domain Mark
These works, identified by British Library, are free of known copyright restrictions.

This might be the last Team Americas post of 2012, so have a very merry Christmas and a great start to 2013.

[Team Americas]

20 December 2012

Cold Comfort: Royalty and Polar sovereignty

Queen Elizabeth II (BAT 3d deep blue)

Artwork for the British Antarctic Territory: 1963-69 3d deep blue. From the Crown Agents Philatelic and Security Printing Archive held at the British Library [copyright restrictions apply] 

Wednesday was a busy news day but most will have seen the announcement that part of Antarctica is to be renamed Queen Elizabeth Land in order to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. In a year where tributes have ranged from river pageants to daring entrances to the Olympic Opening Ceremony this perhaps seems an odd or remote decision, but its geopolitical significance is already being noted.

The naming of territory has always been an important part of underscoring sovereignty claims. The history of the Americas, for example, is populated with many instances of names being applied to places in order to stake or sure up colonial ambitions. Within the name game Royal monikers have always resembled top trumps, with the British and other nations using monarchic associations to back up claims.

Such a heritage means that areas of the Arctic and Antarctic named after British monarchs are fairly common. During the nineteenth century search for the Northwest Passage, Victoria Island was named by Dease and Simpson in 1839 and Prince of Wales Island was named in 1851 by Captain T. H. Austin during his search for Franklin. The etching of these names onto the map of the Arctic took place at a time when the geopolitics of the area were intense and the potential gains from locating a Northwest Passage thought to be huge. As a result you can also find many items from these expeditions in the Library’s collections; Simpson  writes about the work he and Dease conducted between 1836 and 1839 in a work held at Shelfmark 1424.h.2, and a map of Austin’s discoveries can be found at Maps.982.(48).

Continuing this theme, Queen Elizabeth II also has the honour of providing a name to an Arctic territory with the Queen Elizabeth Islands being re-named to mark the coronation in 1953. These islands had been noted by William Baffin in 1616 and were rediscovered in 1818 by Sir John Ross. Again, books and maps relating to these expeditions can be found in the collections. It is worth noting that the 1953 re-naming of these islands coincided not just with the coronation but with a resurgence of Canadian interest in the Arctic as a result of its status as a theatre of the Cold War.

Going back to the Antarctic, we should also note that Queen Elizabeth II is not the only British monarch to have part of the continent in her name. In 1841 Captain Ross took a break from splashing his name (and that of his ships) across the land and named a large part of the continent Victoria Land. Published works by Ross are also held here, with his 1847 ‘A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions’ [Shelfmark: 2374.f.6] and other works available for consultation in the reading rooms.

 Ross Frontispiece

 Public Domain Mark This work (Frontispiece from J. Ross, A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions, 1847) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions. [BL Shelfmark: 2374.f.6]

Needless to say, I will be trying to acquire anything relevant to the naming of Queen Elizabeth Land - and our new Broadcast News service in the reading rooms will have already picked up the news reports.  


19 December 2012

Thomas Nast and the birth of Santa Claus

Thomas Nast Christmas Drawings 12330m12

Public Domain Mark
This work (Thomas Nast's Christmas Drawings, by Thomas Nast), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Just as startling as the (surely untrue) revelation that there is no Santa Claus is the revelation that he apparently wasn't always fond of red in sartorial matters, but rather favoured green before a soft drink manufacturer claimed the jolly green (and now red) bearded gent as one of their own.  I've always been doubtful about this.  Mr Christmas's popularity was aided greatly by the burin of Thomas Nast, the superlative, if somewhat saccharine illustrator of the popular press in the nineteenth century, and who can also claim to have given Santa his scarlet hue before the fizzy drinks got to him.  Reproduced here, in an 1890 book with the title Thomas Nast's Christmas Drawings for the Human Race (shelfmark 12330.m.12) is his famous 'Christmas in Camp' illustration from the U.S. Civil War.  Drawing for Harper's Weekly, and drawing on Nast's German background, here we can witness the birth of the American Santa.  The festive 'U' and 'S' brings home the Union message, while the red coat would follow later.

IChristmas in Camp

Public Domain Mark
This work (Thomas Nast's Christmas Drawings, by Thomas Nast), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.


14 December 2012

Valhalla of Famous Army Pigeons

As a brief addendum to last week’s post for the Social Sciences blog to coincide with my selection of the RAF Pigeon Service Manual as the Library’s 'item of the week', I felt it would be worth reporting briefly on some issues of The New Yorker that Matthew recently acquired to fill some early gaps in our collection. 

In the issue for 10 November 1934 there is a short article entitled 'War Birds' in the 'Talk of the Town' section about a weekend spent at Camp Monmouth, New Jersey - the headquarters of the pigeon branch of U.S. Signal Corps. The purpose of the visit was an Armistice Day piece on two ageing war veterans: namely, two pigeons Mocker and Spike, both of whom could boast citations from the War Department for heroic work in France during the First World War.

Despite seeing active service in France, this pair of birds managed to live to almost double the normal life expectancy for pigeons, Mocker reported as aged seventeen years old, and Spike not far behind at sixteen-and-a-half. It appears Mocker and Spike had spent a portion of the intervening years adding to the Signal Corps pigeon populations, laying claim to at least ten generations of offspring.

After their passing, the Signal Corps intended to send them to the Smithsonian Institution; as the correspondent put it, the 'Valhalla of famous army pigeons', and the resting place of feathery comrades President Wilson and Cher Ami. Indeed, the latter’s story is the subject of a children’s book by Robert Burleigh Fly, Cher Ami, fly!: The pigeon who saved the lost battalion,New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2008 [BL. Shelfmark: YK.2009.b.6433]. 

The Library’s Collection of print copies of The New Yorker are held at BL. Shelfmark: P.903/858 and are consultable in our Reading Rooms, and soon the new acquisitions will also be available for consultation. Until then, the microfilm surrogate can be used at BL. Shelfmark: Mic.B.64/1-45.  

12 December 2012

Exploring the Yucatán and Mayan Culture


 Public Domain Mark This work (Jean Frederic Maximilien de Waldeck, Voyage Pittoresque et Archeologique dans le Province d’Yucatán, Paris, 1838) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions. [BL Shelfmark: 650.c.4.)

Matt’s blog post on the aftermath of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and a recent piece on 'Yucatan cool' in the New York Times, along with all the recent buzz about the Mayan calendar, has left me lost in thoughts about the shifts in political power and Mayan culture in the mid-nineteenth century and today.  

As Matt’s blog showed, the early to mid-nineteenth century was a crucial period in the history of Mexico and the United States. Mexico had only recently gained its independence from Spain in 1821 when tensions and violence surrounding the annexation of Texas heated up in the north – leading to the eventual U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846. At the same time, Mexico, in general, and Mayan society in particular, attracted the attention of anthropologists and naturalists from the U.S. and Europe. The most important Mayan sites that fixated their imaginations were Uxmal, Copan, Palenque and Chichen Itza.

This milieu of anthropologists, naturalists, and artists – such as John Lloyd Stephens, Frederick Catherwood, Jean Louis Berlandier, Jean Frederic Maximilien de Waldeck, and Claude-Joseph Désiré Charnay – are well represented in the British Library’s collections. Many of these men were financially supported by rich industrialists or on missions for their respective governments. And often the lines between their scholarship and politics were blurry at best.

In our historical manuscripts you will find a collection of philological and ethnographic papers by Jean Louis Berlandier relating to his work in Mexico from the late 1820s through the late 1850s, including an examination of the Mayan language and descriptions of his travels through the Yucatán (BL shelfmark: Add MS 41684). Alongside his ethnographic work, Berlandier served as a captain at the outbreak of the war between the United States and Mexico in the spring of 1846. Berlandier was also part of the ‘Comision de Limites’ or the Mexican boundary commission, a special Mexican government commission set up to study and report on the northern border with the U.S. prior to and after the war. We hold a copy of the commission’s report, authored in part by Berlandier and published in Mexico City in 1850 (BL shelfmark:10481.g.28). Though the report’s explicit focus was the physical and natural features of northern Mexico, it is filled with detailed observations regarding the local economies and cultures.

You will also find in our historical manuscripts the journal of Jean Frederic Maximilien de Waldeck (Add MS 38720). The journal is a piece of personal writing on his research and travels that makes an interesting companion to his 1838 publication: Voyage Pittoresque et Archeologique dans le Province d’Yucatán (BL shelfmark: 650.c.4.) a compendium of vocabularies of indigenous languages, images of local people and detailed drawings of Mayan archaeological sites. Many of Waldeck’s early lithographs were used in an 1827 publication by the Mexican National Museum on their collections (BL shelfmark: 557*.h.23)

Among our rare books collections are several works by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, including the latter's Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and the Yucatán (BL shelfmark Cup.652.m.68). Stephens was sent from the U.S. as the Special Ambassador to Central America in 1839. His writing on Mayan Central America and Mexico was central to the so called ‘rediscovery’ of Mayan society. Stephens was accompanied on most of his travels by the British architect and artist Frederick Catherwood. Catherwood’s drawings and lithographs of Mayan archaeological sites are still considered some of the best studies of Mayan society.  Stephens became an official in the Ocean Steam Navigation Company, which led him to meet Alexander von Humboldt. And as president of the Panama Railroad Company, he oversaw the construction of the railroad across the isthmus until his death in 1852.


 Public Domain Mark This work (Frederick Catherwood, Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and the Yucatán, London, 1844) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions. [BL shelfmark Cup.652.m.68]

The French photographer Claude-Joseph Désiré Charnay, famous for his photographs of the Yucatán, was strongly influenced by the work of Stephens and Catherwood. He was commissioned to travel in Mexico by the French Ministry of Education between 1857-1861 – just before the invasion of Mexico by Napolean III. We have a significant collection of Désiré Charnay’s photographs of Mayan and Zapotec archaeological sites taken during this time. Needless to say, our collection of works on Mayan culture, and Mexico, doesn’t stop there. 

The refashioning of American and European power in the middle of the 19th century coincided, and often went hand in hand, with a new fascination with Mayan culture. I'm not sure what this tells us about current day interest in the Mayans, but I have a feeling we have a few books that may shed some light on the subject.


10 December 2012

Caribbean Gothic: colonial and postcolonial views

My reading list is all a bit dark and Gothic at the moment, something that has only a little to do with having moved near to Strawberry Hill House. As well as being a change from my normal tastes, it has also nudged me to remember a lengthy conversation I had about a housemate’s lecture, back in my student days, concerning the Caribbean and Gothic literature.

Not long after Horace Walpole, author of ‘The Castle of Otranto,' advocated attempts to “blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern,” [p. 9, 1765 edition, Shelfmark: C.40.c.24] authors of Gothic fiction frequently looked to the spaces of Britain’s colonies for frightening and surreal inspiration. In the Caribbean this could be found in the horrors and social conflicts that were an ever-present part of slavery and the plantation system; race, landscape, social order and sexual desire, overt concerns of many British and Caribbean colonials, were used as narrative drivers. The Library holds a significant collection of works which use Caribbean locations or people to create the above effect, including, Charlotte Smith’s, ‘The Story of Henrietta’ [in ‘The Letters of a Solitary Wanderer…,' 1800, Shelfmark: RB.23.a.31619], Cynric Williams’ ‘Hamel, the Obeah Man’ [1827, Shelfmark: N.470] and many others.

The relationship between Gothic literature and the Caribbean is not one-note, however. The Caribbean was used to highlight metropolitan anxieties but Gothic styles were also used to illustrate the horrors of the plantation economy. For example, ‘The History of Mary Prince' [Shelfmark: 8157.bbb.30] uses Gothic stylistic conventions to expose the horrors of slavery; although it is noted by critics that the essence of Gothic writing can mean that the power of such writing is also reduced and sanitised through the use of these conventions.

 Plantation methods of punishment

 Public Domain Mark 
This work (James Mursell Phillippo, Jamaica, its past and present state, 1843identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions. [Shelfmark: 1304.h.4.]

The dynamic between place and literature also changes over time, with postcolonial novels such as ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ [Shelfmark: X.908/15430] not only commenting on the postcolonial Caribbean but reinterpreting works which used the Caribbean to drive part of their narrative [in this case ‘Jane Eyre’, Shelfmark: 12619.g.10]. Such work is not restricted to the Anglophone Caribbean, however - Francophone and Hispanic authors have also attempted to grapple with postcolonial realities through Gothicised abstractions, with works such as ‘La cathédrale du mois d’août’ [1980, Shelfmark: X.958/8996; trans. 1987, Shelfmark: Nov.1988/249] and ‘Del rojo de su sombra’ [1992, Shelfmark: YF.2008.a.11557; trans. 2001, Shelfmark: H.2003.3535] tackling aspects of politics, religion and culture in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

This is a taster of a large collection and area of study, with much left unmentioned – including, since you’re probably thinking of it, Zombies. I can recommend digging around on Explore the British Library, and reading Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert’s contribution to ‘The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction’ [2002, Shelfmark: YC.2002.a.14753] if you want to know more.


06 December 2012

The Aura of the Object: Jack Kerouac's manuscript scroll

 It won’t be too long before Jim ‘Keeper of the scroll’ returns to roll up On the Road and take it back home to Indiana. I’ve no idea how many visitors have come to see it while it’s been on display at the Library but it’s A LOT. And it’s been a real pleasure to see so many people, of all ages, carefully scrutinising the scroll.

When he was over in October, Jim told me that the scroll had recently been scanned -once he had managed to source a big enough scanner! This was an important step for the future preservation of the manuscript and is a demonstration of the careful stewardship of its owner. But scanning had also enabled Jim to locate particular passages more easily and to generally become even more familiar with the scroll, whilst also reducing wear and tear at the same time.

Digitisation is, of course, great – I love the way that we’re starting to open up our collections and make them more accessible, particularly to those who will never get the chance to come here to use them. But, to state the obvious, digitisation doesn’t make the original redundant. It can make something more accessible (both in terms of audience and also in revealing ‘hidden’ content);  it can help preserve a frail or incredibly valuable original; and we’re only really just beginning to get our heads round the potential of digitisation for new modes of scholarship and research. But never underestimate the power of the object.

When Jim started to unroll the scroll in its specially built case, I was surprised at the wave of emotion that hit me. It’s a really amazing textual object, and for a moment I felt like I was in that apartment in Chelsea, standing at the shoulder of Kerouac and watching him pound the keys of his typewriter in that manic burst of creativity.

For someone who really only cared about being considered as a writer but who was destined to be forever burdened with the tag of King of the Beats during his short life, Kerouac couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams that thousands of people would take the time to come to look at his manuscript, - not only here, but in numerous exhibitions across the U.S. and Europe (and by the way, let’s hear it for the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, also owner of the scroll, who has allowed it to travel and not kept it locked in a private vault). So, whatever the wonders that digitisation can bring us, would getting up close to a digital version of the scroll bring a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye? I doubt it. You only have until 27 December to come and see it for yourself.


05 December 2012

Ernest vs Martha vs War

Ernest Hemingway relaxing in Cuba in the 1940s, sans Martha. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/JFK Library, Boston.

I wonder whether Ernest Hemingway, as he chewed his meal of moose after marriage to Martha Gellhorn in November 1940, hadn’t quite understood his new wife's taste for war. He may also not have fully understood how his third wife's taste for combat probably far surpassed her taste for him. Such a thought might have made the wedding moose all the chewier.  

Both Ernest and Martha had been war correspondents during the Spanish Civil War from 1937-39. In honeyed wartime, they seemed happy: Martha discovered the joys of war-reportage; Ernest, the joys of playing away from his second wife, Pauline.

Martha’s return to peaceful Cuba appeared a difficult transition. Surrounded by a fat crop of alligator pears and creeping bougainvillea, her desire to return to war strafes the page like a machinegun: ‘Only a fool would prefer to be actively achingly dangerously unhappy, rather than bored,’ she wrote, concluding: ‘I am that class of fool.’ Cuba, she complained, was drowning her in ‘flowers and martinis.’ 

As Ernest kept up the home front, and Martha finally found a job reporting on the European theatre of war from London, the marriage foundered. When Ernest cabled ARE YOU A WAR CORRESPONDENT OR A WIFE IN MY BED? one doesn’t need much imagination to know which of these identities Martha had already chosen. When Ernest finally did arrive in London, a fellow correspondent, Mary Welsh, caught his eye. She was to become his fourth wife a year later in 1946. 

Though for a time Martha was heartsick about the separation from Hemingway, what is remarkable in her letters is war’s totally energizing effect on her. ‘Maybe the reason one is so very gay in a war is that the mind, convulsed with horror, simply shuts out the war and is fiercely concentrated on every good thing left in the world. A doorway, a flower stall, the sun, someone to laugh with, and the wonderful fact of being alive.’

Ernest wondered, after their divorce, whether Martha wasn’t a little ‘war-crazy’. But Martha’s war reportage, it seemed, just made her sane.

Naomi Wood is one of the 2012 Eccles Centre Writers in Residence at the British Library. Her second book, Mrs Hemingway, is a historical novel that explores Ernest Hemingway’s four marriages to Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Excerpts from the letters are from The Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn (ed. Caroline Moorehead). Martha’s war-reportage can be found in The Face of War. 

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