American Collections blog

3 posts from December 2021

20 December 2021

Bibliographic E-resources: or, how to give up footnote-chasing forever...

This third - and deliberately brief - instalment of our e-resources blog series focuses on the Library's ‘bibliographic’ e-resources!

By and large, searching this kind of e-resource will not bring up the full-text of books and articles. Instead, you will be given a list of citations which you then need to track down elsewhere. For example, if your search brings up a journal article that looks interesting, you will need to see if the British Library or another institution subscribes to that journal in order to be able to read the article itself.

While this might at first glance seem disappointing, the unique and utterly brilliant selling point of these databases is their capacity to stop you from ever again needing to note down and follow-up footnotes as you attempt to uncover all the previous research on your topic.  Instead, in a matter of moments, you will be provided with accurate, up-to-date information about everything that has already been published in your field.

So, how do they work?

In brief, they are compiled by teams of highly-skilled indexers whose role it is to assign multiple index-terms to every article in a particular journal, thereby providing you with the greatest possible chance of retrieving citations that are relevant to your research.

All mainstream subjects – history, literature, politics, sociology, economics, art, music etc – have at least one dedicated bibliographic e-resource and these can be found by using the Subject search facility on the Library’s portal. These subject-specific e-resources include, for example:

  • America History and Life, which currently indexes articles in 1,648 journals covering United States and Canadian history and culture
  • MLA International Bibliography, which currently indexes 6000+ journals in literature, language and linguistics, literary theory and criticism, and folklore, and which adds over 66,000 citations every year
  • HAPI Online (Hispanic American Periodicals Index Online), which currently indexes 400+ journals and includes 335,000+ citations in total

Other bibliographic e-resources cover multiple subjects, for example: Humanities Index; Arts and Humanities Citation Index; and Social Sciences Full Text (selective full-text coverage since 1994).

And some bibliographic e-resources focus on a particular type of content, for example:

  • Proquest Dissertations and Theses and EThOS index, in different ways, doctoral dissertations and Master's theses 
  • Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, 1802-1906 offers digitized access to William Frederick Poole’s ground-breaking attempt to make accessible the vast amount of magazine and journal content published in the 19th century. 

Below are some of the bibliographic e-resources with Americas content that are currently offered by the British Library, but please take a look at the full range of these resources on the Library’s website as there will be at least one database that will make your literature search both quick and comprehensive; some of  these resources will include books as well as journal articles, and an increasing number of them are, happily, offering full-text access:

ABELL (Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature)
America: History and Life
Anthropological Index Online
Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts
Art Index
Arts and Humanities Citation Index
Book Review Digest Plus (1983- ) & Book Review Digest Retrospective, 1903-1982
Chicano Database
EconLit
EThOS
HAPI Online
Humanities and Social Sciences Index Retrospective, 1907-1984
Humanities Index, 1962 – present
International Political Science Abstracts
MLA International Bibliography
Music Index
PAIS International
Policy File Index
Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, 1802-1906 (Part of Eight Centuries)
Proquest Dissertations and Theses
RLIM Abstracts of Music Literature
SciELO Citation Index
Social Sciences Citation Index
Social Sciences Full Text

Wishing you a wonderful festive season and all the very best until 2022 when the next blog in this series will highlight everything you need to know about Americas-focused Women's Studies e-resources!

 

14 December 2021

Dystopian Fiction & Long Feminist Histories

This autumn the Eccles Centre has been hosting a series of events and activities for researchers interested in gender and US politics. The programme will conclude with two days of activities this week, including a public, online event exploring the process of communicating women’s history through exhibitions, Staging Women’s History, on Thursday 16 December at 17.00 GMT, which is free to attend and open to all.

In previous events, the group has explored different aspects of the British Library’s collections, including sheet music, poetry, and fiction, which network member, Dr Eir-Anne Edgar, explores in more detail in this post.

In October 2021, thousands came out to protest a restrictive new anti-abortion law in Texas, which allows individuals to sue anyone suspected in assisting in or receiving an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Images of the protests capture the scene – some women in bright pink pussy hats, many protestors armed with homemade signs and banners, and some wearing long red cloaks and large white wimples or bonnets that conceal much of the wearer’s face – the costume made famous by the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale and worn by the Handmaids of the novel’s title.

Mannequin wearing a black dress with red cape and white bonnet.
Homemade ‘handmaid’ Women’s March costume, featured in the British Library’s ‘Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights’ exhibition, 2020-21

Culturally, the costumes have come to be synonymous with the oppression of women by a Christian, patriarchal society that restricts women’s political and individual freedoms and punishes rule-breakers with physical and emotional violence. Even more significantly, the costumes represent the bravery and cunning exercised by women who have had enough and push back against oppression, as protagonist June/Offred does, rescuing children and women tormented in Gilead’s society.

Atwood’s follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, the highly anticipated 2019 novel, The Testaments, captures the zeitgeist of the Trump presidency. Without revealing too many spoilers, readers see Offred’s legacy via the brave actions of a few young women – some in Gilead, some across the border in Canada – as well as a surprising twist from characters familiar to readers from The Handmaid’s Tale. Told in alternating perspectives from three different women, it seems that Atwood is underscoring the way in which women must work together to implement societal change. In particular, The Testaments illustrates the power that narrative has. A secret library, tucked deep in the recesses of Gilead, contains forbidden books that portray “problematic women” who deviate from their social norms. “Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Paradise Lost, Lives of Girls and Women – what a moral panic each one of them would cause if set loose among the Supplicants!” (Atwood, 35).

Inside back cover showing envelop and extra content
Special edition of The Testaments (2019) from Pelee Island Bird Observatory. Inside back cover showing envelop for bonus material.

 

Handwritten list on lined notepaper
Special edition of The Testaments (2019) from Pelee Island Bird Observatory, featuring bonus content, including ‘Aunt Lydia’s Reading List’

These books, like 'The Testaments' itself, have the power to impact culture and society. As Atwood herself has noted, the Trump administration’s attempts to limit the rights of immigrants, women, LGBTQI people, and other members of marginalized groups have inspired her work.

In my research, I examine how dystopian fiction such as Atwood’s novels addresses contemporary feminist political issues and movements, including the #metoo movement and the fourth wave feminist movement’s drive for reproductive justice. Although my project focuses on recent iterations of women’s writing and their corresponding political issues, it is important to note that there is a much longer history of feminist dystopian novels that imaginatively reframe contemporaneous social and political issues. We can also see this in the work of authors such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose utopian trilogy (written in 1909, 1915, and 1916 – yet not published until the 1970’s) portrays a world without men, one in which women are breadwinners and are able to procreate without men, and emphasizes the necessity of community, education, and the malleability of gender roles. 

Three paperback books on a table
Selected editions of Gilman’s work, left to right: Herland (London: Woman's Press, 1979) General Reference Collection X.909/44756; Herland, The Yellow Wall-paper, and Selected Writings (New York : Penguin Books, 1999) Document Supply m03/42037; The Yellow Wallpaper (London: Virago Press, 2009) General Reference Collection H.2013/.5096

Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” arguably her most well-known story, was re-printed in 1973 by Feminist Press. Originally written in 1892 and, like her utopian trilogy, first published in her periodical The Forerunner, Gilman’s work was “rediscovered” by second wave feminists and struck a chord with a new generation of readers. The Yellow Wallpaper illustrates many 19th century women’s issues, such as the limitations of the domestic sphere, medical treatment for women’s mental and physical health issues, the pressures of motherhood and marriage, and more. For second wave feminist readers, the worlds that Gilman portrays in her work, imagined and real, resonate from the 19th century and into the 70’s, much in the same way that the Reagan-era issues captured in The Handmaid’s Tale reverberate in 2021.

The “Gender and US Politics” group discussed Gilman’s short story and Atwood’s latest novel during a meeting that focused on fiction. Given my current research project, I was very excited to discuss these materials with others. I am one of just a few literature scholars in the group, which is also composed of historians, political scientists, and members of diverse disciplines. Listening to those outside of my expertise was one of the most interesting (and inspiring) aspects of the meeting. For instance, several scholars research suffragism in the US and abroad, and their contributions shed light on new ways of thinking about the literature, particularly in considering Gilman’s work. The opportunity to be part of a transdisciplinary group of scholars with intersecting research interests has helped me “see” the literature I work with in new ways, such as making connections between Atwood’s novels and television adaptation with Gilman’s writing, first published almost one hundred years before. It has also helped me to see how literature resonates over time with readers and how political issues can morph or remain the same, despite the political progress women have made.

****

Dr Eir-Anne Edgar is Associate Professor of Literature in ILU at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. She is currently at work on her research project, Women in the Wastelands: The World-Making of Feminist Critical Dystopian Fiction, which explores the recent explosion of transnational, feminist dystopian novels and the ways in which they “re-make” or “re-see” real-world issues. Though the Wasteland may seem like a strange place to locate hope, this project finds that women authors have long located frustrations with the limitations placed against gender and sexuality within the pages of dystopian and utopian novels.

The Gender and US Politics project, coordinated by Cara Rodway (Eccles Centre) and Robert Mason (University of Edinburgh) is supported by the British Association for American Studies and the US Embassy London.

[Posted by Cara Rodway, Eccles Centre]

 

12 December 2021

Celebrating Viola Desmond, Carrie Best and a new philatelic acquisition

Today’s blog does three things!

It commemorates the 75th anniversary of Viola Desmond’s refusal to leave a whites-only section of a Nova Scotian movie theatre - an action that galvanised the modern civil rights movement in Canada. It celebrates the British Library's acquisition of a stamp commemorating the Canadian journalist and social activist Carrie Best. And it illuminates how these two wonderful women are connected.

A postage stamp showing an image of a Carrie Best in her later years; an image of her in her youth while reading a copy of The Clarion, the news paper she had founded; her signature; and her Order of Canada medal.
Fig 1: 59c stamp by Canada Post commemorating Canadian journalist and social activist Carrie Best. The British Library's Philatelic Collections: General Collection.

In the mid-1940s, Viola Desmond was a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur. As a young Black woman, she had been unable to train as a beautician in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After honing her craft elsewhere – including at Madame C.J. Walker’s beauty school in New York City – she had returned to Halifax and established a beauty salon, her own line of beauty products, and the Desmond School of Beauty Culture, which she hoped would prevent other Black women from facing similar obstacles to their training.

On 8 November 1946, Desmond was travelling on business when her car broke down in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Forced to stay overnight, she decided to see a movie. At that time, racial segregation in Canada varied according to place and context. After taking a seat in the Roseland Theatre’s 'Main' section, Desmond was informed that she could not remain there. Returning to the kiosk, she was told she could not purchase a ticket for this whites-only section. Rather than heading to the Blacks-only Balcony, however, Desmond chose to return to the Main section. She was then forcibly removed by a policeman and sent to jail overnight. The following morning, without being offered legal representation, she was tried and fined $20 for defrauding the government of one penny; the difference in Entertainment tax between the Main and Balcony sections. With the support of prominent members of Halifax’s Black community, Desmond fought this decision. Yet several months later, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court upheld the original verdict.

The front page of The Clarion newspaper, with three columns of text and an image of Viola Desmond smiling and with an upswept 1940s hair-do.
Fig. 2: Vol. 1 Issue 1 of The Clarion, 1946; image courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives.

One of those who supported Desmond was Carrie Best. Three years earlier, Best – a life-long Black resident of New Glasgow – had bought tickets for the Roseland’s Main section for herself and her son. Like Desmond, they were arrested for attempting to watch a movie. They fought the charge in order to challenge the legal justification for the theatre's segregation, but their lawsuit was also unsuccessful. Best responded by establishing The Clarion, the first Black owned and published newspaper in Nova Scotia, which has now has been digitised by the Nova Scotia Archives. With its by-line 'Published in the Interest of Colored Nova Scotians', it was the very first issue of The Clarion that broke Viola Desmond’s story (Fig. 2).

Interest in Desmond’s case soon spread not only across Canada but also the United States; the article below, for example, was published in the Baltimore Afro-American on 1 February 1947:

A short report on Viola Desmond's case along with a head-shot of her smiling and with an upswept 1940s hair-do.
Fig. 3: Article about Viola Desmond's case in The Baltimore Afro-American, 1 February 1947; this newspaper is available digitally to British Library Readers.

Interestingly, A. Ritchie Low, a reporter for the Baltimore Afro-American, had interviewed Carrie Best in the summer of 1946 while investigating the lives of Black Canadians in the Maritime Provinces (Fig. 4, below):

An extract from a newspaper showing headlines in various fonts, four columns of text and a map showing the relationship between the Canadian maritime provinces and the United States.
Fig. 4: Extract of an article from The Baltimore Afro-American, 14 September 1946; this newspaper is available digitally to British Library Readers.

Best had made it clear to Low that things were far from perfect for the Black community and had shared with him her experience at the Roseland as well as her plans for her newspaper. Low was clearly impressed with her, writing (in language somewhat of its time): 

Mrs Carrie Best is a dynamic personality. It didn't take me long to discern that. She is a young, small, wiry, up-and-coming little body who doesn't allow the grass to grow under her feet. By no means. Nor does she, like most of us, wait for something to turn up. Instead, Mrs Best goes ahead and turns up something! For example, one of the local theaters forbade colored people to enter its downstairs section; they must go upstairs, insisted the manager. They didn't like it, but did nothing to express their disapproval, that is to say, all except Carrie Best.  She went in, sat downstairs and made a test case. She didn't win out, because of some technicality of the law, but she still has hopes of doing something. "I must show you a little paper I'm editing," she told me, excusing herself to go and fetch it. (Baltimore Afro-American, 14 September 1946)

Subsequently, Best started a radio show in 1952 which ran for twelve years, and between 1968-75 she was a columnist for The Pictou Advocate. Sadly, Desmond did not fulfil her dreams of opening a chain of beauty salons and would move away from Halifax. Yet her courageous actions are now credited with kickstarting the modern movement for civil rights and racial equality in Canada.  

In recent decades, both women have been recognised and honoured. In an historic first, Viola Desmond was posthumously pardoned in 2010. The Crown-in-Right of Nova Scotia also apologised for prosecuting her for tax evasion and acknowledged that she was rightfully resisting racial discrimination. In 2018 she became the first Canadian woman to appear alone on a bank note. 

Carrie Best was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1979 and posthumously awarded the Order of Nova Scotia in 2002. The 59c stamp commemorating Best (Fig. 1) was issued to mark Canada’s Black History Month in February 2011.1  We are hugely grateful to our Philatelic colleagues for acquiring this significant stamp on behalf of the British Library.

References

1. The stamp was designed by Laura Minja and manufactured by Lowe-Martin using a lithographic printing process.