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4 posts from April 2013

26 April 2013

A Cuban directory

 Cuban directory 2
  Public Domain Mark    Nomenclator Comercial, Agricola, Industrial, Artes y Oficios, Directorio General para Mexico, Isla de Cuba y Principal Comercio de Nueva York Havana: Molina Y Juli, 1884 Shelfmark, RB.23.b.7347

This recently acquired directory of businesses is a fascinating resource on the interwoven economic and cultural histories of Mexico, Cuba and New York. It was published in Havana in 1884 just after the end of the Guerra Chiquita (or the Little War) - the second of three wars that resulted in Cuba’s independence. Cuba was ravaged by war and the directory was no doubt part of an effort to support trade and investment with neighbours across the Gulf and to the North. With historical hindsight the introduction to the book, which reads, ‘We have not forgotten, in light of our important links to our neighbour the United States, to include a general commercial guide to New York […]’ strangely forebodes the new imperial economic presence the U.S. will have in Cuba by the end of the 19th century.

 It is also important to note that this book was published two years prior to abolition of slavery in Cuba and offers insight into the ways slavery and capitalism articulate during the late 19th century.

 The majority of the directory is comprised of advertisements for businesses and drawings of city street scenes intended to help people find businesses. While the statistics and advertisements are of great use to economic historians, they also tell us a great deal about technology, the organisation of work, social life, food consumption, fashion, public space, and leisure.

Cuban directory

Something that immediately strikes a reader is how utterly diverse and thorough the directory is, with detailed information on everything from fruit vendors, candy makers, wine importers, insurance companies, hotels, bookshops, sugar mills, cigars, pharmacies, and military equipment. The directory also reveals the ‘trans-national’ facets of Cuban and Mexican life at the time – including the strong presence of English insurance companies and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Here at the British Library you will also find maps and charts of the shipping routes of that company in the Americas. See for example, Add MS 31981 N : 1840 and 8805.df.25.(1.)


12 April 2013

Picturing Canada: going live (gradually)

Miniature panorama of Parliament Hill, Ottawa [copyright number 22264, shelfmark: HS85/10]

Public Domain Mark
This work is free of known copyright restrictions.

So, the day is here when Andrew and I get to show the first fruit of the Picturing Canada project to the world. Friday sees us present the initial outputs from the project to attendees of the GLAM-WIKI 2013 conference and it only seemed right to share it with our Americas blog readers too.

Digitisation is almost complete, with just the largest images still to come (a nice treat to end the project with), and while a few things need putting in place before we can host the images on the Library's Digitised Manuscripts page they are being gradually uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. Here the collection has a dedicated area which will soon have an introductory blurb and you can browse the collection as it grows over coming weeks.

That said, what have we got to show you? I briefly described the history and content of the collection a few weeks ago on the Americas blog but here are some fun extra facts. First off, we have so far mapped the collection's contents to over 300 different locations in Canada and you can browse this on the map above. This time it's a vector map so you can zoom in and out, clicking on the buttons for details on the location, how many photographs there are from each area and what time period they cover. I'm afraid there's no direct link to the photographs yet, as we're still uploading, but it will be available in the coming months.

 Picturing Canada timeline (GLAM WIKI).001

I've also got back to thinking about how the collection reflects the history of Canada. It provides a dynamic (and sometimes irreverent) lens on the many significant events that occurred between 1895 and 1924, both inside and outside of Canada. The above is one of the slides from Friday's presentation and it gives a highly selective and somewhat hap-hazard view of Canada's history during the period - but hopefully it provides a sense of some of the significant and / or interesting events of the period.

Over the course of the project Andrew and I have worked hard to make the metadata attached to these photographs usefully available as well as refining it and putting it to new uses. Hopefully the result of this will be a collection of photographs of use to historians of Canada, historians of photography, the writers of myriad Wikipedia articles and - you never know - the creator of the next cat-based meme.

I can live in hope... That said, if you put the photographs to any interesting uses please let us know.

[PJH & AG]

05 April 2013

Team Americas On the Road: a busy spring

No, nothing to do with Kerouac this time. It’s conference season again and we’ve been busy sorting ourselves out in an effort to get to the major annual gatherings.

The British Association for Canadian Studies conference Crediting Canada: Canada as an economic world leader? has already kicked off at Canada House. Sadly Phil is unable to get to all of it but he will be putting in an appearance today, when the conference transfers to the British Library. And Professor Phil Davies, Director of our Eccles Centre, will also be around and will introduce Professor Rosemary Chapman’s Eccles-sponsored Lecture From Cannons to Canon: Writing the Literary History of Francophone Canada

Next up it’s the Society for Latin American Studies conference at the University of Manchester, and we’re pleased to report that it's luckily happening just before Beth goes off on maternity leave! She will be attending on Friday 12th April and has convened (and will be chairing) the panel Peasants, Liberalism and Race in the Americas, which will feature speakers from Chile, Peru, Mexico, the U.S. and the University of Zurich.

And finally, Matt, Carole and Phil Davies will be 'Heading West' for the 58th annual conference of the British Association for American Studies, to be held at the University of Exeter, April 18-21.  As usual, Matt and Carole will have to arrive promptly as the BAAS Library and Resources Subcommittee session is up first, with Jane Rawson (Bodleian Library) on “A resource for American Studies students@: simply delicious,” and Martin Eve (University of Lincoln) on 'Issues Surrounding Open Access.' The rest of the programme is as packed and diverse as ever (with no doubt the inevitable infuriating panel clashes), but we’re particularly looking forward to the Eccles Centre lecture by Professor Paul Gilroy on Race and Racism in the ‘age of Obama,’ not to mention the Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony, which will include the announcement of all the Eccles Fellowships.

So, if you're attending any of the above, look out for us and come and say hello. We’re happy to talk to you about your research and how the British Library’s collections might help you.

We should also flag up that there are a lot of Eccles events coming up over the next couple of months. Immediately after the BAAS conference we have an exciting one day film-related conference Movies for Hard Times: Hollywood and the Great Depression, which is organised in collaboration with UCL's Institute of the Americas, but there's also much more to look forward to. You can find the full listing of Eccles events here.


03 April 2013

Looking Forward: Congress to Campus, Party politics, and election prospects

 Us politics panel

Photo © Alexander McIntyre

Professor Philip Davies, Director of our Eccles Centre for American Studies writes:

In March of this year the Eccles Centre hosted its most recent week of Congress to Campus UK events. Twice yearly, in co-operation with the US Association of Former Members of Congress, the Centre masterminds a week of events featuring former Democratic and Republican Members of Congress. This year I was joined by Cliff Stearns (Republican-Florida) and Bob Carr (Democrat-Michigan) for a range of conferences, discussions and seminars with students, office holders, researchers and members of the public. We met more than 500 people, and among the many topics discussed the 2012 election results, and the parties’ future prospects, featured prominently.

The re-election of Barack Obama was followed by much speculation about demographic change in the USA, and the implied inevitable decline of the Republican Party in a country where, for example, projections suggest that one-third of the population will be defined as Hispanic/Latino by 2050.

This figure is especially telling. Latino voters made up 10% of the 2012 electorate. They voted 71% for Obama. This group of voters has increased as a proportion of the electorate steadily in recent elections, and has swung increasingly to back the Democratic presidential candidates. In 2004 the Latino vote for Democrat John Kerry was equivalent to 3.7% of the electorate. In 2008 Obama’s Latino vote made up 6% of the electorate, and in 2012, 7.1%. If this Democratic grip continues, the argument goes, as the Hispanic/Latino vote grows, then by mid-century the Democrats could have a bloc vote from this group alone amounting to 25% of the electorate.

There are other startling aspects of this demographic shift. In 1980 Ronald Reagan began his influential period as president with a clear victory over incumbent Jimmy Carter. At the core of this overwhelming result was the support of 56% of the white vote. Mitt Romney had the support of 59% of the white vote, and still lost. Almost 9 out of 10 American voters in 1988 were white, by 2012 this had fallen to about 7 out of 10.

Obama faced re-election as a president whose first term legislative achievements had provoked controversy, in a poor economic climate, facing a united Republican Party opposition. Republicans were confident of victory, but while there was a modest voter swing away from the president, the Republicans failed to erode his electoral appeal very much, and certain key groups, especially young voters, cast the majority of their votes for Obama. Pundits pointed to the Democrats’ more skilled use of social media – for fund-raising as well as messaging – and to a ‘ground game’ that amalgamated the latest data analysis with dogged door-to-door canvassing.

There was some schadenfreude that the hundreds of millions invested in the campaign by Republican supporter Sheldon Adelson, by Karl Rove on behalf of teams of Republican supporters and by other wealthy backers of Romney and Republican candidates had failed to achieve its aims. How could these investors save their party, it was asked, if the demographic imperative is against them.

This is all very plausible, but the decline of the Republicans is not a done deal, and those Republican political investors have plenty of opportunity if they remain interested. Certainly the potential for political investment remains strong if the appetite for it remains. Adelson’s losses in 2012 amount to tens of millions, but his estimated worth approaches $25 billion. Others are not so fortunate, but the Republicans could accumulate a considerable war chest. But do they have places to invest?

Of course they do. In 2012 the Republican presidential campaign was unsuccessful against the USA’s first African-American incumbent, and lessons need to be learned about modern campaigning. The Republicans’ campaigns for Senate seats were an exercise in failure and farce, as candidates who had been selected by deeply conservative primary electorates made statements extreme enough to alienate the general electorate not just in their home states, but via mass media, throughout the nation. Again, lessons must be learned. But the great Republican success in 2012 was in the US House of Representatives, where they retained control in spite of the Democrats receiving almost 1.4 million more votes.

The US House is gerrymandered. In most states the design of constituency boundaries is a political exercise, seen as a spoil of victory. The exercise is usually performed by some combination of the state governor and legislature. Republicans have been very successful in many state elections. After 2012 30 of the nation’s 50 governors were Republicans, and in 24 states the Republicans controlled the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature – the Democrats had similar one-party domination in only 14 states. The federal nature of US politics gives these states victories particular value. Most domestic policy spending is done at the state and local level. Political groups at state level can use ballot initiatives and referenda to influence the political agenda. A substantial rise in spending on state judicial elections in 2012 suggests an increasing awareness of the political potential at this level. The combination of these and other factors presents the Republican Party with substantial electoral opportunities in 2014 and 2016.

2014 will see the second midterm elections of Obama’s administration. The presidential party usually does not do well in midterm elections, especially in second midterms. The Democrats’ gain of four seats in 1998 is only example of a presidential party gaining House seats in a second midterm in well over a century. Turnout declines at midterms, and it may be that elements of the Obama electoral coalition that performed so well for the party in 2012 will be less enthusiastic without Obama on the ballot. In the Senate 21 of the seats up for election are held by Democrats, 14 by Republicans, and about one-third of the Democrat seats are in states that voted for Romney – the Democrats again present a large target.

In 2016, especially if there are not strong signs of recovery, the administration will face a disappointed electorate. And the American electorate has shown an inclination to change its presidency regularly. Since 1952 only once has a party held on to the presidency for more than two terms. President Obama will not be on the 2016 ticket, and while Democrat Hillary Clinton may be the best known potential candidate, the Republican stable – including Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio – looks healthy.

The Republicans have opportunities in the short term to maintain their strength at state level and in the House, to make gains in Senate, and to make a credible challenge for the presidency. They have to adapt their policies and their strategies to the changing demographics of the electorate. And while voting loyalties tend to remain influential over time, in the long term though a group’s political allegiances cannot be guaranteed. When I look at my US Latino grandchildren I am not sure whether either will be Republican or Democrat as adults, but I look forward to their campaigns for office.



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