American Collections blog

« June 2013 | Main | August 2013»

14 posts from July 2013

30 July 2013

John Burnside: Lost Brother

Mountain wind
Image (c) John Burnside

For as long as I don’t know the name of a character, I don’t really know that character. This might sound obvious, but the obvious can be as useful as the subtler points while a novel is taking form. Over the last few months, I have become quite closely acquainted with several of the characters in the novel that, having begun with a crude working title, (‘Good’), I now think of as something along the lines of ‘American Salamander’, (working title) or some variant of this that includes the words Salamander and Fire, (though, of course, the salamander species one finds in the United States are distinct from the Fire Salamander of European myth). I have been particularly engaged with Jennifer, the daughter of a military officer (Jeremy) who begins her student career as a botanist, but abandons her studies to work as an activist with SDS and later The Weather Underground. Until recently, however, what I knew about her brother was not enough to see him clearly: it was like gazing at a stranger across a smoky room without my glasses.

Research takes us to odd places, but research and happenstance combined are where the real nuggets of inspiration are found, (more stumbled upon than mined, perhaps, but the end result is equally heartening). Thinking about what to call this brother – a Vietnam enlistee who goes AWOL two thirds of the way through the novel – I finally came to the obvious: he is called Martin, after the Roman soldier who cut his cloak in half so he could share it with a beggar, who would otherwise have died of cold – and then, because I was kindly offered refuge to write and research at the Spycher-Leuk residency in Switzerland over June and July, I got to spend the last month and a half walking in the mountains, during breaks from researching and drafting. Gradually, this strange boy began to emerge: he is high-minded, he believes hard in his country’s stated values, but he is also a little wild, a boy who loves motor cycles and mountains. Here I seem to have the makings of the man who later goes AWOL, not because he is afraid of battle, or even for specific political motives, but for reasons of individual pride. Quite simply, he comes to believe that the Vietcong are better soldiers than the US Army, not because he doubts the individual courage or ability of his fellow Americans, but for reasons that can only be called systemic. He still believes the US will win the war, but he believes that victory will be a cheat, and he wants no part of it. If he could go over to the other side and fight with the VC, he would, if that didn’t mean betraying his values, so he is caught between a rock and hard place, where withdrawal is his only chance at Good, (the book’s central idea, though in his case, old Roman notions of virtue is more appropriate). In this, he is the very opposite of his sister, who is committed, at home, to engagement.

This is some way down the line, however. Right now, what matters is what Martin feels about the mountains and ‘research’, for now, consists as much of walks in high alpine meadows as reading radical ephemera of the American 60s and 70s, or studying the works of early botanists in the Southern states. To assuage my lingering work ethic, I’m thinking of this as fieldwork.

John Burnside is an Eccles Centre Writer in Residence for 2013.

29 July 2013

A Special Relationship? Winston Churchill and Anglo-America Revisited

Image (c) Ander McIntyre

A portrait of the distinguished historian Sir David Cannadine at the British Library before he delivered the 61st anniversary Fulbright Commission Lecture. Sir David's lecture was entitled, 'A Special Relationship? Winston Churchill and Anglo-America Revisited.'

Sir David Cannadine is a Fulbright alumnus himself. The lecture is available from the National Sound Archive, and was co-presented by the Eccles Centre for American Studies and The Fulbright Commission.

 Ander McIntyre is a Fellow of the Eccles Centre and and occasional contributor to this blog.

25 July 2013

The New York Cosmos

Leyton Orient

'The last football match I saw was Everton versus Wembley.'...

I don't often go to football matches, and this was my best effort to blend in on Wednesday, when I headed to watch Leyton Orient in east London for a friend's birthday. Once it was suggested that Wimbledon was a more likely match (and it was suggested that I saw Vinny Jones [not Vince]), I realised that I really was out of my depth and kept my mouth shut.

My companions, though, had noticed, and suggested that they explain the offside rule to me (although years of hanging around goal as a 'defender' at school chatting to the keeper had already impressed this regulation on me).  How, they asked, could they put it in terms of the American Revolution? Quick as a flash, another Orient supporter in the seats in front turned round:

'It's like Washington crossing the Delaware too early.'

It was very apt, because we were watching the O's inflict a 2-1 defeat on their visitors: the New York Cosmos.

Having nothing to do with Jerry Seinfeld's neighbour, the Cosmos are a revivified version of the team that snagged Pelé in 1971 for nearly 5 million dollars, and also signed Franz 'Der Kaiser' Beckenbauer (who led West Germany to World Cup victory in 1974), Giorgio Chinaglia and Carlos Alberto during Warner Bros period of ownership. For a while, the Cosmos were 'the hottest ticket in town, with politicians and movie stars attending games. Cosmos players became mainstays of the hedonistic club scene at Studio 54' (from the blurb of Gavin Newsham, Once in a Lifetime: the extraordinary story of the New York Cosmos (2006), Shelfmark YK.2008.a.455; there is also a documentary film by the same name). It didn't last, and the glamour and turnstile takings faded after Pelé left the team in 1977. It disbanded in 1985.

But now they are back (and can boast a number of Brazilian, or Brazilian-born players on their roster, including the 28-times-capped-for-Spain Senna). A new 25,000-seat stadium is billed for Long Island.

Read more in Gary Hopkins, Star-Spangled Soccer: the selling, marketing and management of soccer in the USA (2010) Shelfmark YK.2012.a.8506, or visit our football pages.


Prince George - British Columbia

J.Simonson, Prince George, B.C. (HS85-10-35684)
Prince George, BC., May 1, 1919  Available from Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain Mark 

Continuing our theme of a Canadian photo for every occasion, we couldn't resist providing this image of Prince George, British Columbia, taken in May 1919. The city may not come up first in Google searches any longer, but the mayor doesn't seem too bothered, judging by this piece in the Huffington Post! The photo is part of our Picturing Canada project.



23 July 2013

The Royal Baby and Photos for Every Occasion

Courtship and wedding Photo 11 The stork's visit stereoscopic view (HS85-10-17208)

Above: 'The Stork's Visit'. Available from Wikimedia Commons.

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

Here in Team Americas we've been rather swept up by our own new arrival, Beth's son Camilo, but we couldn't help but notice the House of Windsor's most recent addition too. Also, given Canada's enthusiasm for the Prince of Cambridge we thought it appropriate to roll out a few Canadian photographs that match the mood.

HMS Virago firing in honour of the King (HS85-10-11979)

Above: HMS Virago firing in honour of the King. From Wikimedia Commons.

Needless to say there really is a photograph for every occasion in the collection generated from Picturing Canada, to the extent that some of them even come in 3D (with the right glasses or .gif). On a more serious note, the collection also reflects Canada's historical enthusiasm for the Royal Family, not least in the photographic tributes to Victoria and celebrations of the coronation of Edward VII contained in the collection.

Historical notes aside, enjoy the photographs and congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge from Team Americas (and Australasia).


21 July 2013

Ay, if I know the letters and the language: The Elements of Style

At last, dear reader, we can announce the end of the inconsistencies that have plagued this blog since the early, exploratory days. BL or British Library; 'digitize', 'digitise' or 'digitalise'; to Oxford Comma, or not; Vampire Weekend or 'Vampire Weekend'; The New Yorker-esque coöperate or the plainer co-operate; 11, eleven or XI. Pipping to the post the Times Literary Supplement's long-awaited and updated style guide, which still remains in their basement, we are working on applying some in-house suggestions that have been drawn up. (It's British Library and 11 from the list above.  'It's-es' can flourish – but we can say farewell to 'digitize' and its longer cousin, while also shouting a welcoming 'hey!' to the en-dash).

There is a very American tradition of this sort of thing.  Noah Webster did his best to reinvigorate the language in the republican United States with his dictionary of 1806. This was a land that had need for 'squash' and 'skunk', and no truck for fancy, tyrannical (and complicated) vowels in 'color'. The MLA and Chicago Manual of Style continue to dominate the scholarly apparatus of student essays and academic monographs (as well as causing fearsome programing (or is it programming) in citation management tools such as Endnote or Zotero). But the big beast in the land of the style guide – and one that is as much loved as Big Bird or Liberty Enlightening the World – is that perennial publication: The Elements of Style, also known as 'Strunk and White' after its two authors/editors. 

This work, now used and held in affection by students and writers for a couple of generations, may be said to have had two lives, a lifecyle charted in Mark Garvey, Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style (2009).* In 1957, the New Yorker published a piece by EB White about a textbook he had used at Cornell as a student, known as the 'little book': a 'forty-three page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English'. Written by William Strunk, it had been privately printed in 1918 and reprinted and revised a few times, the last of which was published in 1935. According to the essay, Strunk had been White's 'friend and teacher' at Cornell, and the book had always made an impression on him.   White had been sent a copy of the 'little book' by a former classmate, Howard Stevenson (editor of the Cornell Alumni News), after the two had reminisced about it the previous summer. (Stevenson obtained a copy from the university library – not, as White put it, 'filched from the library', but with the permission of the librarians (Garvey: 57-59)). The New Yorker essay, published in the 2 July 1957 issue under the title 'Letter from the East', reflected on White's move from a mosquito-plagued apartment in Turtle Bay to a farm in Maine, and the need to 'simplify my life... burning my books behind me, selling the occasional chair, discarding the accumulated miscellany'. He could not, however, part with Stevenson's recent gift, in part because of his memories of the eccentric and confident Professor White, and in part because of 'its sharp advice'. Jack Case, an editor at the Macmillan Company, was struck by the piece, found the textbook, and reissued it, along with the essay and revisions and additions by White as The Elements of Style in 1959. Within a year, 200,000 copies had sold; and the injunction 'omit needless words' was drummed into the popular consciousness.

White, the author, of course, of Charlotte's Web (1952) and Stuart Little (1945) (as well as Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do with James Thurber (1929), has his biographers in Scott Elledge, E. B. White: A Biography (New York, 1984) and Isabel Russell, Katharine and E. B. White (1988) and has had many of his letters and essays republished; his papers are at the Cornell University Library. Strunk, on the other hand, only has 'a small number of letters to him by William Dean Howells' in Cornell (American National Biography). Neither is he similarly remembered in print if we put aside The Elements of Style and White's final version of his essay in The Points of My Compass (1962).   

This is a shame. But we will do what we can in this post. In our office, fresh from the stacks, is a copy of J Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, published as a Chambers Standard Authors  in 1911.  Strunk had edited it 'for school use'. The temptation, of course, is to search Strunk's prose for evidence of his stylistic advice, and more particularly transgressions of them.* This is a little cruel; instead, there is evidence of his lively awareness of language and the effects of style.  From the first page of preface we find this: 'with this preliminary explanation of his reasons for introducing so many unintelligble words in the very threshold of his undertaking...'. A proto-'omit unnecessary words'! But, alas, this is not Strunk, but Cooper.  For the professor, we must turn to the notes at the back. Ballston gets it in the neck: 'watering-places.  Saratoga and Ballston. The latter has long lost its former prominence'. He helpfully explains to the student: 'In Coooper's day, the old practice of prefixing quotations to essays and to chapters of novels was still in voyue.' We like this efficient, and allusive, explanation: 'Horican... nearly all of their appellations were descriptive of the object. Thus, a literal translation of the name of this beautiful sheet of water, used by the tribe that dwelt on its banks, would be "The Tail of the Lake"'. Elements of the 'little book': 'children which. "Which" was formerly often used where we now say "who,W, but in other passages Cooper shows that he was careless in his use of relatives'; 'admiration. Wonder.  Now obsolete in this sense'; 'should know. Note the form'; 'they moved.  Note the unfortunate result of the carelessness in the use of the pronoun'; 'On the contrary, etc. Badly constructed sentence' [see, again, the note for p. 427].

We now jump forward from 1911 to 1936, and MGM's vision of the Italian Rennaissance: 'Romeo and Juliet', a no-expense-spared prestige adaptation of Shakespeare during Hollywood's Golden Era. Produced by Irving Thalberg, directed by George Cukor (and staring John Barrymore, Leslie Howard, Violet Kemple Cooper, Basil Rathbone and C. Aubrey Smith – and, with above the title billing, Norma Shearer, the director's wife), and with costumes by the young English designer Oliver Messel, the film made much of its attempts at authenticity, with special study guides prepared for schools.*** In order to present a genuine vision of Renaissance Verona, Jacob Burckhardt-reading researchers were employed, and genuine ducats  were even used as props. For Thalberg, it would be the play Shakespeare would have made if he had access to film, MGM's coffers and south Californian sunlight  (See Russell Jackson, Shakespeare Films in the Making: Vision, Production and Reception (Camdridge, 2007). The script was by Talbot Jennings, who had recently written Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and went on to write The Good Earth. And, William Strunk Jr, of Cornell University, as the credits at the start of the film proudly proclaimed, acted as 'literary advisor'. Strunk, who went to Hollywood for six weeks and stayed for a year (and where he was fondly known as 'the Professor'), offered up notes on Renaissance Italian customs, and even 'additional dialogue', following Jenning's departure (quoted in Jackson: 130).  Each set is 'crammed with period detail' (Jackson: 133), suggesting that the director paid attention to the suggestions of the researchers, including Strunk. We are sad to note that the dove-house suggested for the Capulet garden did not make it into the final set. 

Here, Strunk was perhaps ahead of the game. He suggested, 'with some hesitation', whether the famous prologue might be delivered 'from the stage of the Elizabethan theatre (The Swan),' anticipating, Jackson suggests, Olivier's famous opening to 'Henry V' (1944).

The film opened in the autumn, with the press relieved that 'there is nothing deep, or classic, or highbrow about it. Nothing to frighten you away.' (New York American, 21 August; Jackson: 156).****  The film, despite a good turn of phrase, lacked what Variety liked to call 'box-office socko'.

Strunk went on to omit needless scenes elsewhere: cutting Anthony and Cleopatra to a two-act Broadway play in 1937. Theatre-goers missed Enobarbus's suicide, among other things, and the show went dark early.



* 'For an Elements of Style disciple, [the typescript of the 1959 edition] is an inspiring sight, imparting something like the electric thrill of proximity to history I felt when leaning over the Magna Carta in the subdued lighting of the British Library.'  (Garvey: 77)  [N .B., surely 'leaning over Magna Carta?' - ed]

** Do not apply this approach to this blog

*** See Romeo and Juliet.  With designs by Oliver Messel (London, 1936).  The colour plate edition is at shelfmark 11767.d.15

**** The age of the two principals caused some comment, not least by Joan Crawford: 'Christ, I couldn't wait for those two old turkeys to die, could you?' (Jackson: 160).

19 July 2013

Digitised Collections: more Arctic journeys

Royal North West Mounted Police barracks and Churchill River, Churchill, 1907 (HS85-10-18547)

Above: barracks on the Churchill River. Geraldine Moodie, 1907. From Wikimedia Commons.

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

Following on from last week's blog about Arctic journeys here are some more recent collection items that connect to the theme of exploration and geopolitics. They also happen to have been part of the recent Picturing Canada project, once again showing the diversity of the Canadian colonial copyright photograph collection.

The photographs shown here are the work of Geraldine Moodie, a photographer originally from Toronto who moved around Canada extensively with her family and husband, North-West Mounted Police officer John Douglas Moodie. One of John Moodie's most significant postings was as part of the Dominion Government expedition to the eastern Arctic and Geraldine accompanied him for part of this trip.

John Moodie and others who made up the official expedition (such as Albert Low) had a very specific mission, to use surveys, science and other forms of evidence gathering (not least photography) to assert Canada's sovereignty over the far north. While Geralinde Moodie had worked on official government projects before in the context of this expedition she was present as a civilian and the photographs she took were part of her own portfolio of work.

Group of Esquimaux women and children Fullerton, 1906 (HS85-10-18546)

Above: portrait of women and children at Fullerton. Geraldine Moodie, 1906. From Wikimedia Commons.

As a result the photographs provide a view of the spaces and communities she found herself in proximity to that is somewhat different from the images produced by John Moodie and Albert Low. None-the-less they still represent a record of an expedition to the Arctic where exploration, science and technology all combined to assert the continuing sovereignty of Canada over the Arctic north.

The collections held at the British Library, therefore, are not just a window onto the early history of exploration and statecraft in the Arctic, instead these collections carry the story through to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Photographs, maps, newspapers, official publications, scientific journals and academic monographs are all part of telling this later history, a rich set of resources we look forward to the next Team Americas PhD student digging into.

One final thing, the photographs above are part of the Picturing Canada project and therefore in the public domain, with higher resolution images available from Wikimedia Commons. Other photographs by Geraldine Moodie can be found on the British Museum catalogue while work by Albert Low is available from Library and Archives Canada.


18 July 2013

William Gibson

William Gibson.  Image © Ander McIntyre

A portrait of William Gibson in the British Library before taking part in a seminar entitled 'Who owns the story of the Future?' organised by the Eccles Centre for American Studies, on 24 May 2011.

William Gibson's first novel was Neuromancer (1984), and his fiction since then has dealt with virtual environments, the internet and steampunk dystopia. He was the first to use the word cyberspace in its current form.

Ander McIntyre is a Fellow of the Eccles Centre and an occasional contributor to this blog.

American Collections blog recent posts



Other British Library blogs