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3 posts from September 2016

21 September 2016

Cricket, Marching Bands, and Empire

Cricket, Marching Bands and Empire

Of late, I have been scouring newspapers, travel accounts, photos and prints in search of the public performative and recreational life of the West India Regiment – in particular cricket and military bands - as part of an Arts and Humanities research Council collaborative project with the University of Warwick: Africa's Sons Under Arms.

The raising and activity of the West India Regiment coincided with the evolution of Caribbean cricket and incipient nationalist movements. Indeed, by the end of 19th century cricket became one of the most significant expressions of Caribbean popular culture. As Rex Nettleford has argued, “Cricket culture is the vehicle on which West Indians journeyed deepest into modernity,” (As quoted in Hilary Beckles, The Development of West Indies of Cricket Vol.1.  British Library Shelfmark YC.2001.a.9399).

It is thought that the first public cricket game held in the Caribbean was in 1806 at the St. Ann’s Garrison in Barbados – and the 4th West India Regiment had a role in the game (interestingly only 4 years after the 1802 mutiny of the WIR).

I am also looking for evidence of the role of disbanded soldiers and officers of the West India Regiment in the rise of cricket across the region. Bridget Berenton has noted in Trinidad that disbanded members of the WIR after 1815 played a key role in the emerging middle class.

The only known depiction of a slave playing cricket, and the oldest image of cricket played outside of the British Isles, is from Barbados. The image appears on a belt buckle and, though little is certain about the provenance of the buckle, it is thought to be linked to 1st Baron Hotham who was Governor of Barbados in the late 18th century.

19th century newspapers in Barbados consistently advertised the sale of cricket bats and balls. As well as cricket matches held at the St. Ann’s Garrison in Bridgetown. One description of a match at the Garrison involving the 4th West India Regiment in August of 1868 states, “The match attracted a large number of visitors, all of whom were met with the utmost hospitality at the hands of the military,” (Barbados Agricultural Reporter, August 18, 1868).

Sources on the WIR bands thus far have revealed a consistent and significant presence in Caribbean daily life. The bands would drill, march and play for a wide range of events – not only military campaigns – including funerals, religious masses, as well as political rallies. Photographs and post cards also reveal that the marching bands were a key element of colonial imagination and myth.


"Band of the West India Regiment Playing on the Park", illustration of article "Cast-away in Jamaica" by W.E. Sewell, Harper's Monthly Magazine, Vol. XXII, p. 179, January 1861.

The military bands were iconic images of empire that combined both the idea of colonial subjection and order, with the spread of British culture across the world.


(Image from author’s personal collection)

One of the arguments put forth for the raising of the West India Regiment was that it would serve as a civilising force among enslaved and free Africans in the Caribbean. And the coverage of the WIR bands in the great exhibits of the 19th century sheds light on one way the ‘work’ of empire was promoted.

The press both in the UK and the Caribbean gave extensive coverage of the bands’ performances. The 1st West India Regiment band performed at the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition of 1851. A caption to a photo of the band taken after their performance reads, “The Band of the 1st West India Regiment. Whose excellent performances proved such an attraction at the Crystal Palace” (Black Cultural Archives, Photos/105).

In 1868 the Barbados Globe reported that the Band of the 4th West India Regiment played and marched to mark the return of “White Troops” to the Garrison after having been removed due to a yellow fever outbreak. (Barbados Globe, January 9, 1868, page 2).

The Pictorial World of London published images and descriptions of the West India Regiment Band performing at the “Colonial and India Exhibition” of South Kensington in 1886 (British Library Shelfmark LOU.LON91 [1886]). It was noted in particular that members of the band were “all Christians” and “all spoke English.” The description of the event includes a discussion of the military successes of the WIR, in particular the campaign against the Ashanti in 1872-3.

Yet, if cricket and marching bands have proven to be pillars of post-colonial Caribbean popular culture – and, moreover, embody the social tensions of colonialism and post-colonial society – what, if any, ‘proto-nationalist’ connections can be drawn between the WIR and these fundamental cultural elements of Caribbean society?

My search for evidence and historical surprises continue!


08 September 2016

Cabin Fever: Deconstructing the Log-Cabin Myth of Appalachia

Kevan Manwaring is an Eccles Centre Postgraduate Fellow and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is currently undertaking a Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester. His practice-based research is a novel set in Appalachia & Scotland.

As an historical artifact and as a cultural meme I set out to explore the phenomenon of that quintessential icon of American pioneering spirit, the log cabin.


Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site. Photograph by Daniel Schwen [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

The homely shack hacked out of the primal wilderness, or so the myth goes, the log-cabin has been called ‘a symbol of democracy’ (Shurtleff: 5). Synonymous with self-reliance, hard-work, and grit the cabin has a taken on a metaphorical dimension. How has it become the crucible of the American Creation Myth? Every state seems to have at least one of these iconic structures where their most famous son or daughter started out. Perhaps the most hallowed of these was at Walden Pond, in Massachusetts, where, on the 4th July, 1845, Henry David Thoreau went to build a cabin. And live there he did, for a couple of years, cultivating his legumes and legend; but the nature of his dwelling – now enshrined in American culture and replicated countless times across the nation – is not exactly what it seems. It needs interrogating and deconstructing somewhat – but not to undermine Thoreau’s achievement or legacy – but to examine the foundations of this most enduring and beloved icon.

This ‘log-cabin myth’ (as Harold R. Shurtleff defined it in his 1939 Study of the Early Dwellings of the English Colonists in North America) is ‘an American belief that is both deep-seated and tenacious’ (Shurtleff: 5).

Let us look at the history of the Log-Cabin. At the risk of seeming disingenuous, I think it’s necessary to remind ourselves of what a log cabin is defined as: ‘a small house made from tree trunks’ (Cambridge Dictionary online). This is important, especially when considering Walden (it was not). It is a term that is often bandied about and misapplied.


But when was the log cabin first seen in the New World?

From current evidence we can deduce that the first dwellings built of round or square logs was raised by the earliest Scandinavian settlers in 1638 – primarily Swedes, but also Eastern Finnish, bringing with them the skill-set of the Savo-Karelian culture (Jordan; Kaups, 1992). German immigrants constructed their own variants, independently, from about 1710. The Scots-Irish arriving in large numbers after 1718, took up this new opportunity (having been unable to build timber-houses at home due to the lingering restrictions of that Norman construct, ‘forest’, and the financial cost) and ran with it. It seems likely they invented the term ‘log cabin’ (one belonging to a James McGavock is identified in an Irish community, Virginia, 1770). Before that, the most common one was ‘log house’ (Maine, 1662; Maryland, 1669; Massachusetts, 1678; North Carolina, 1680; New Hampshire, 1699). Via this new wave of migrants, the log cabin went ‘viral’: ‘From and through the Germans and Scotch-Irish it spread rapidly through the English colonies and by the American Revolution had become the typical American frontier dwelling from Maine to Tennessee.’  (Shurtleff: 4), to the point that, as John Alexander Williams observed: ‘The log house is the most enduring symbol of Appalachia’ (2002: 5). Cheap, convenient and quick to construct from readily available materials, with only an axe, a pair of hands, a mouthful of nails, some cussing and a lot of elbow grease, it is small wonder the log cabin or house flourished.

In summary it seems likely, that whoever got there first (and the degradable nature of the material means we will never know for certain), that ‘each group of European colonist in the seventeenth century erected the sort of dwellings they were accustomed to at home.’ (Shurtleff, 209).

Yet were they bringing coals to Newcastle, for it is noted by William Byrd in 1728 how he found ‘Indians’ in Virginia and North Carolina in the traditional lodges of their ancestors, what he called ‘Bark Cabanes’, wooden dwellings. This suggests the possibility of cross-fertilisation – that the ‘log cabin’ was the product of syncretism.

And so we can see how the notion of the ‘log-cabin’ is a constructed one, one with several influences. As a metaphor for the quintessential hybridity and Old/New World recycling of America, it is fit-for-purpose.


As a cultural meme, the log-cabin has extended its influence far beyond its humble parameters. It has been taken up by politicians, writers, singers, film-makers, eco-campaigners, artists and architects…

A seminal example of this is the ‘Lincoln Log Cabin’ – the humble family home of the 16th President of the USA. At Knob Creek Farm, La Rue County, Kentucky, a neighbour’s farm was relocated to the approximate spot and turned into a heritage ‘shrine’, evidence of the Lincoln myth, and by extension, the dramatic arc of the American dream – from log cabin to the white-house.

Such ‘repackaging’ has precedent, which can be seen if we dial-back to the 14th Presidential Election Campaign. In what became known as the Log Cabin campaign of William Henry Harrison, we can see the repurposing of the log cabin for political capital. Evoking an American Arcadia, the log cabin symbolized a return to good, simple virtues, to an uncomplicated, uncorrupted way of life.


Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1935). Illustrated by Helen Sewell [20054.d.28.]

We see this representation of the log-cabin in classics of American literature such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 reformist novel; Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884); Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel! (1929); the ‘Little House’ books of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932-1943); Woody Guthrie’s recently rediscovered House of Earth (1947); Wilma Dykeman’s Appalachian trilogy, The Tall Woman (1962); The Far Family (1966); Return the Innocent Earth (1973); and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (1997). These and many others create a sub-genre of what could be called ‘Log Lit’. 

Extending its influence far beyond Appalachia, the log-cabin offers us a place of renewal, a taste of a more authentic, embodied, embedded and sustainable life.


Kevan Manwaring


Davis, Donald E., Homeplace Geography: essays for Appalachia, Mercer University Press, 2002

Lee, Hannah Farnham Sawyer, The Log Cabin: or, the world before you, Appleton, 1844

Grant, Richard E., Ghost Riders: travels with American nomads, London: Abacus, 2003.

Jordan, Terry G. & Matti E. Kaups, The American Backwoods Frontier: an ethical and ecological interpretation (creating the North American Landscape), John Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Shurtleff, Harold R., The Log-Cabin Myth: a study of the early dwellings of the English colonists in North America, Harvard, 1939

Teale, Edwin Way (ed.), The Wilderness World of John Muir, , Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1954

Thoreau, Henry David, Walden, or a Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1854

Weslager, C.A., The Log Cabin in America: from pioneers to the present (1909-1994), New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press, 1969

Williams, John Alexande,  Appalachia: a history, The University of North Carolina Press, 2002


Eccles Centre resources:

Imagining the West: a guide to the literature of the American West


02 September 2016

Stranger Things at the British Library

If Netflix’s smash hit Stranger Things has taught us one thing this summer, it’s that even in 2016 we have serious nostalgia for all things 1980s. From Toto’s Africa to Dungeons & Dragons the show celebrates all that was great about the 80s. But there’s one reference most cultural commentators have missed – microfilm.

In Episode 3 Police Chief Jim Hawkins visits his local Library and makes full use of the Library’s microfilm collection to research the LSD mind-control experiments of the creepy Dr. Brenner. It’s a triumphant moment and one which celebrates a technology most modern researchers overlook.


Figure 1:© Netflix

The British Library has an extensive microform collection relating to the American government and so if you fancy yourself as a bit of a modern day Chief Hopper then the Social Sciences Reading Room is the place to start. And don’t worry if you haven’t used microform before, our reading room staff are on hand to guide you through the simple process and that eighties technology is much more robust than today’s!

So what collections do we have available?

Well, we can’t promise you’ll find things on LSD mind-control but the British Library has an extensive collection of U.S. government documents and archive materials available on microform. As a federal government depository library, the Library holds a vast set of U.S. Government Printing Office documents, including Congressional reports, committee hearings and bills. These can be accessed via the CIS Indexes on the shelves in the Social Sciences Reading Room.


Figure 2: Example of some of the CIS Indexes in the Social Sciences Reading Room

The Library also holds a significant number of NARA documents, including Presidential Papers. The full collection is listed by subject in the Social Sciences Reading Room card catalogue and most collections have indexes available on the reading room shelves. Some of the collections we hold include, Nixon’s Presidential Papers relating to China-Vietnam negotiations and the Department of Justice’s Classified Subject Files on Civil Rights.



3a  3b

Figure 3: Examples of some of the microform collection subject guides available

If Stranger Things has prompted you to revisit your favourite books, films and songs from the 1980’s, why not hop on your BMX? and come down to the British Library and get hands on with the microform collections to boost your research project?



Figure 4: © Netflix.

A detailed description of the collections is available in our ‘Guide to United States Official Publications in the British Library’ (PDF format). - See more at:


Mark Eastwood


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