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6 posts from February 2014

21 February 2014

‘This is the U.S.A’ – American Propaganda in Post-WWII Bahrain

Image 1

Detail from front cover of OWI-produced pamphlet This is the U.S.A. (IOR/R/15/1/377 f. 169A)

A guest post from Louis Allday, Gulf History and Arabic Specialist:

In June 1942, 'in recognition of the right of the American people and of all other peoples opposing the Axis aggressors to be truthfully informed about the common war effort', President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9182 and established the United States Government’s Office of War Information (OWI). Its job was to produce and disseminate wartime propaganda, both within the United States of America and abroad. The activities of the OWI were diverse and encompassed the production and distribution of radio broadcasts, films and posters as well as written publications including magazines, newspapers and leaflets. Internally, the OWI was focused on promoting patriotic sentiment, encouraging the recruitment of women into the workforce, warning of the dangers of foreign spies and justifying controversial government decisions related to the war (the mass internment of Japanese-Americans for instance). Externally, the OWI mass produced – and distributed – printed material that was intended to raise awareness of the United States as a global power and project an image of the country as a modern, democratic and powerful state that was fighting for the cause of liberty and freedom around the world. The OWI was disbanded in September 1945 but documents contained within the India Office Records (IOR) held at the British Library show that material it produced continued to be used in United States propaganda efforts after this date.  

In January 1946, a number of pamphlets produced by the OWI were sent via post to Shaikh Khalifa bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, the Chief of the Bahrain Police Force. At this time, the United States government wanted to establish a consulate in Bahrain and since 1942 had repeatedly asked for Britain’s permission to do so. The British, unwilling to allow any other foreign countries – even close allies – access to Bahrain, had refused the United States’s requests. The ruler of Bahrain, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa was also opposed to the idea, explaining to Arnold Crawshaw Galloway, Britain’s Political Agent in Bahrain, that “although the USA was a great and powerful ally, he did not desire that our [Britain’s] influence in the country should be shared with anyone”. The fact that Shaikh Khalifa’s response after receiving the OWI materials was to forward them to Galloway demonstrates the depth of Britain’s control over Bahrain during this period.

When Galloway reported the incident to Charles Geoffrey Prior, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf (the most senior British official in the region), he made it clear that he believed that the United States had not only targeted Shaikh Khalifa, speculating that 'in all probability similar packets have been addressed to the leading sheikhs of Bahrain and possibly also to merchants'. Galloway argued that it was likely that Parker T. Hart, the United States Consul in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia was involved in sending the packets and that the American oil company ARAMCO was probably responsible for delivering them. Prior responded to Galloway saying 'I think the only thing we can do at present is to show Hart that his efforts do not pass unnoticed, and that they are viewed without enthusiasm'. Prior had already made his attitude towards Hart clear in a letter in November 1944 in which he stated that 'we [Britain] are extremely fortunate in that Mr. Hart has no knowledge of the Arab world… so long as the United States are content to employ officers with these qualifications, the danger to our interests is minimised. When, however, they are able to post officers with experience of the Middle East and a fluent knowledge of Arabic the position will become entirely different'.

Although the USA's profile on the world stage grew dramatically as World War II progressed, during this period, the United States was not the globally recognized super-power and symbol of modernity par excellence that it later became. This was especially true in the Middle East, where the major European powers were more widely known than the United States. Therefore, a key aim of the OWI pamphlets sent to Shaikh Khalifa (and others) was simply to raise awareness of the United States in the region, especially amongst those who had been identified as key decision-makers or important in the formation of public opinion. The OWI material sent to Shaikh Khalifa – all of which is preserved in the India Office Records – consists of three pamphlets: one in Arabic entitled Child Care in the United States and two in English; The Story of the United States Government... How It Started... And How It Works and This is the U.S.A.

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Front cover of Childcare in the United States (IOR/R/15/1/377 f. 206)

The pamphlet concerning childcare, number nine in a series entitled Life in America, is of particular interest as it is an early example of United States government propaganda produced in Arabic and is clearly targeted at women. The pamphlet, published in Cairo, contains information regarding nutrition, hygiene and health care for young children including instructions on breast feeding and washing. The opening text of the pamphlet declares that ‘America is the land of smiling children and one of the reasons for their happiness is that they’re healthy’. It seeks to project an image of the United States as a modern, clean and scientifically advanced society which is the ideal environment in which to raise children.

The Story of the United States Government is a 'picture story' that uses a cartoon depicting an American citizen named John to explain 'how a citizen of the United States participates in the election of the men who are to govern him, and of how his government serves him'. The pamphlet explains the structure of the United States government and the various rights and obligations that John has as a citizen of the country including the payment of taxes, military duty and jury service. It also contains a basic – and idealized – history of the United States and a summary of the constitution and its amendments. The concluding paragraph of the pamphlet states that the United States government 'permits freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to choose those who govern', and that John and 'millions like him all over the world are fighting to keep those freedoms alive'.

Image 3

'a people’s government requires certain obligations'. Excerpt from The Story of the United States Government... How It Started... And How It Works (IOR/R/15/1/377 f. 163v)

This is the U.S.A. is a larger pamphlet that is extensively illustrated with photos depicting the various regions of the United States and their inhabitants in a style reminiscent of a travel guide. It stresses the scale and natural beauty of the country as well as the diversity of its population and its abundance of natural resources. On the pamphlet’s final page opposite a dramatic image of the Statue of Liberty at night, the United States is described as 'a land of political, racial and religious freedom' that is currently joined together with 'people of the other United Nations in the great fight to restore liberty and justice to all conquered nations of the world'.

Image 4
Detail from the inside of the back cover of This is the U.S.A. (IOR/R/15/1/377 f.194)

The immediate impact that the distribution of this OWI material in Bahrain had upon the U.S.’s reputation and popularity in the country is not clear from the IOR files. The US and Bahrain are now close strategic allies and the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, yet whether or not the origins of this close relationship can be traced back to these early OWI-led propaganda efforts is debatable. No official U.S. diplomatic representation was established in Bahrain until it received independence from Britain in 1971 and evidence from 1951 suggests that several years after the OWI pamphlets were produced the U.S. still had much work to do in raising its profile in the Middle East. In that year, Columbia University carried out a survey regarding ‘Communications and Public Opinion in Jordan’. Responding to a question in the survey that mentioned the United States, it transpired – much to the shock of the researchers – that 15 of the 26 respondents surveyed had ‘literally never heard of the United States, and most of the remainder had only the most naïve notions concerning its nature, distance and peoples’[1].

These OWI pamphlets and the official letters that discuss them offer a fascinating insight into U.S. propaganda activities during the era in which it emerged as a global super-power. They also highlight the growing imperial rivalry that developed between the U.S. and Britain even as the two countries were fighting together as close allies during World War Two. More broadly, the preservation of the pamphlets in the India Office Records serves to demonstrate the richness and surprising diversity of the information contained within these records and illustrates the important role that they can play in facilitating innovative historical research.

Primary Source:

London, British Library, 'File 19/261 I (C 92) Proposed Establishment of a U.S.A Consulate at Bahrain', IOR/R/15/1/377

Secondary Sources:

James R. Vaughan, The Failure of American and British Propaganda in the Arab Middle East, 1945-1957 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)


- Louis Allday, Gulf History and Arabic Specialist, British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

Twitter - @Louis_Allday

[1] USNA, RG 59, Lot 53D47 Box 39, Study Prepared by Columbia University’s Bureau of Applied Social Research, ‘Communications and public opinion in Jordan’. August 1951. Quoted in James R. Vaughan, The Failure of American and British Propaganda in the Arab Middle East, 1945-1957 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) p.4

18 February 2014

Early American Women Writers

Frontispiece from Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, London 1773. BL Shelfmark: 992.a.34     


A few years ago I began exploring the Library’s holdings of women writers who’d had their first work published as a single volume, under their name alone, by 1850. Recalling the solitary woman featured on my early American literature syllabus in the mid-1980s, my guess was that I would find perhaps thirty women, or forty at most. Several years later, the tally had hit more than 130 and the picture painted by their lives was fascinating.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the women came from families which, although not necessarily wealthy, valued education and were highly literate: many of them could recite the works of Shakespeare, Milton and Pope from early age. It is interesting to note that among these women there are six pairs of sisters, and two pairs of mothers and daughters.

Most of the women began their literary careers by submitting poems or short stories, often anonymously or under a pseudonym, to a local magazine or newspaper. They had little expectation of getting their work published, and even less of making a living from their writing, yet emboldened by seeing their work in print, they continued. 

Yet this thrill was probably their least important impetus. Instead, most pursued publication as a means to economic security: some were young adults who had lost a parent (Anne Lynch Botta, Phoebe and Alice Cary); others were widows with children to support (Sarah Josepha Hale, Elizabeth Cheves), or wives whose husbands were either bankrupt or ill (Harriet Beecher Stowe, Anna Cora Mowatt); and some were unmarried and had to support themselves (Catherine Sedgwick). In addition, many taught or even ran their own schools, and some became magazine editors.

Having established themselves as authors, several women established successful literary salons in New York (Ann Botta, Estelle Anna Lewis), while others used their positions to support causes such as women’s healthcare (Mary Grove Nichols), prison reform (Elizabeth Oakes Smith), women’s education and property rights (Sarah Josepha Hale), domestic economy and household management (Catherine Beecher), and the abolition of slavery (Lydia Maria Child).  All of the women, without exception, pushed at the boundaries traditionally prescribed for women. A bibliography of the Library’s holdings of their work, together with a selection of their biographies, can be found here


11 February 2014

Armistead Maupin Tells Tales

Callotype: Armistead Maupin &emdash;

Armistead Maupin at the British Library. Photo: M Shaw CC BY

When Amanda Palmer came to play she took great delight in the chance to swear in the British Library. Last night, Armistead Maupin also took advantage of the situation and similarly enjoyed the slight frission of the library setting: exclaiming at least twice, 'I can't believe I just said that in the august British Library!' after an explanation of a piece of slang or juicy anecdote.  But this was just one aspect of an evening that took in life in the round  love, death, humour, politics, religion, sports (yes, the Sochi Olympics). 

Maupin was in our particular city to talk about the latest and final volume of his Tales... series, The Days of Anna Madrigal (and which is currently top of the UK bestseller list).  Interviewed by salonniere and author of Maggie & Me, Damian Barr, Maupin talked about Burning Man, his road trip to P-Town, husband Chris, Californian governors, London socialites, realtors, Vertigo, Rock Hudson, and, perhaps most shockingly, his early years as a young Republican, during which he met Richard Nixon ('there's always the sound of a sharp intake of breath in the room when I tell people that').   We also heard more about the characters of the much-loved series of novels, the actors who inhabited them for the TV series, and the middle name of Laura Linney's child. Questions from the sold-out crowd revealed the affection in which Maupin is held - as well as the importance his books have to those growing up in the 80s.  The evening was rounded off with a concluding set of songs from Sarah Jane Morriss, ex-Communard and Maupin cousin.

We hope that there will be a podcast of the evening; if not, there is the possible promise of a one-man show, announced over Twitter by one of the audience.




Reflections on the 2012 Elections

US Ambassador

Ambassador Matthew Barzun at the British Library. Image: M Shaw CC BY

The US Ambassador to the UK, Matthew W. Barzun, visited the Library on Monday. As well as visiting our Business and Intellectual Property Centre, he kindly took the time to participate in a roundtable discussion on the 2012 elections, particularly on how the Democrats enthused and got their vote out.  The invitation noted that the 'Chatham House Rule' would be in place, which I think means I can't tell you what was said (or at least who said it; I've already revealed some of the people who were there). Suffice to say, it was interesting, and we had some great questions, particularly from the King's College, London students. I think I can also post a picture, so above is a shot of Prof. Phil Davies from the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, with the ambassador to his left. Behind is a reproduction of a slide from the campaign, which emphasised that although the Obama campaign made notable use of new media, at its heart it had some simple principles, and that being scrappy can be a strength.

We also made a note to bring white board markers next time.


07 February 2014

Brazil: treasures from a fascinating New World

Our colleague Aquiles, one of our digital curators and good friend of Team Americas, has been lending a much needed helping hand whilst Beth is on maternity leave. Last week were were pleased to host a visit for Minister Joaquim Barbosa, Chief Justice of Brazil, and Aquiles notes some of the items that we showed to the Minister:

 Apart from seeing some of the Library's treasures, including the Magna Carta, our visitor was also pleased to be shown some of our collections relating to Brazil. Among the items selected for the occasion was the Queen Mary Atlas, which includes one of the first manuscript maps to show Brazil in such great and colourful detail. We also showed a range of European books published between 1550 and 1900, dealing with various aspects of Brazilian culture, society and natural history. Of particular note is the Historiae  Rerum Naturalium Brasiliae (Leiden, 1648), written by the Dutch scientists George Margrave and Wilhelm Pisonis. This was the first scholarly study on Brazilian fauna and flora and was considered the most important reference book on the subject until the nineteenth century. The copy shown to the Minister was part of King George III’s library, and is particularly interesting (and beautiful) as it is the only known hand-coloured copy. 

Historia-Naturalis-Brasiliae (2)

Historiae  Rerum Naturalium Brasiliae, Leiden, 1648. BL Shelfmark: 443.k.7


Other items selected included the Constituiçoens Primeyras do Arcebispado da Bahia, published in 1707 in Coimbra, and the Projecto de Constituição para o Império do Brasil, published in Rio de Janeiro in 1824. The former, written by Bahia’s archbishop Dom Sebastião Monteiro da Vide, is a famous historic document which regulated for the first time some basic rights for African slaves in colonial Brazil, including their right to marry without the need to obtain a formal consent from their owners. The Projecto de Constituição was the constitutional document which promulgated the official government structure for the new Brazilian Empire, formalising the country’s independence from Portugal. 

The Minister was clearly impressed with our Brazilian holdings and was particularly moved to hold in his hands our fine edition of Gonçalves de Magalhães’ A Confederação dos Tamoyos, published by the Impressão Régia in 1856 under the auspice of Emperor Dom Pedro II. The copy, autographed by D. Pedro II himself, bears a fascinating dedication to his sister Francesca: 'To my dear sister, from the brother who loves you, Pedro.'  This dedication illustrates the close proximity between D. Pedro II and Princess Francesca, especially their mutual interest in the literature produced in their country.


04 February 2014

Federal Writers' Project publications

Wikimedia Commons, provided by the National Archives and Records Administration

The Federal Writers’ Project was established by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1935 – six years into the Great Depression. At its peak it provided employment for more than 7,500 writers, editors, historians and other white collar workers.

Yet while its primary aim was to provide economic relief, the Project’s highly ambitious first Director, Henry Alsberg, regarded it as a means by which to vividly document America’s rapidly changing cultural landscape.

Today, the Project is perhaps best known for its American Guide Series – a set of travel guides to the 48 states, plus Alaska territory, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Unlike traditional guides, these included not only driving tours documenting what could be found at every stop, but long photographic essays detailing the economic, cultural and historical resources of each state. All but a few of these are held by the British Library, as are many of the regional, county, city and town guides that were also produced.

Festivals in San Francisco

Festivals of San Francisco,  James Ladd Delkin [in association with] Stanford University, 1939. Printed at the Grabhorn Press. This particularly fine edition was part of a gift of 90 American imprints to the Eccles Centre in 2002 from Princeton University Library to celebrate the 90th birthday of Lady Eccles.

In addition to the guides, the Project produced ethnic studies such as The Italians of New York (shelfmark: L.70/641) and The Armenians of Massachusetts (shelfmark: YA.1991.a.15502); urban and rural folklore collections, including Nebraska Folklore (shelfmark: X.700/21082) and Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies among the Georgia Coastal Negroes (shelfmark: 010007.h.70); and nature studies.

The Project also collected the narratives of more than 2,300 former slaves in seventeen states, although most of these remained unseen until the multi-volume The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography was published in the 1970s (refer to guide below).

The Library’s extensive holdings are listed in The Federal Writers' Project: a guide to material held at the British Library.


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