Americas and Oceania Collections blog

3 posts from February 2022

24 February 2022

The Advent of a Newspaper

This is the first of a series of blogs looking at Cherokee language printing.

Whilst exploring the British Library’s North American Indigenous language materials as part of my PhD research, I came across Frank Brannon's Cherokee Phoenix, Advent of a Newspaper: the print shop of the Cherokee Nation 1828-1834 (Fig 1, below). The book tells the fascinating story of the first newspaper printed in an Indigenous language at the Cherokee Nation's capital of New Echota (near what is now Calhoun, Georgia). As a papermaker, printer and book artist from Knoxville in East Tennessee, Frank grew up not far from both the birthplace of Sequoyah (the Cherokee inventor of the syllabary that enabled printing in the Cherokee language) and the papermill that supplied the paper for the first edition of the Cherokee Phoenix.

Advent 1
Fig 1: Frank Brannon, Cherokee Phoenix, advent of a newspaper: the print shop of the Cherokee Nation 1828-1834, with a chronology, Tuscaloosa, Ala: Speakeasy Press, 2005 (British Library shelfmark: RF.2007.a.36)

In 1809 Cherokee speaker Sequoyah embarked on committing the Cherokee language to paper. He was fascinated by books (or 'talking leaves') and the power of the written word, but not all shared in this fascination. On the 18th of August 1828, the Cherokee Phoenix reported that Sequoyah had been 'strenuously opposed by all his friends and neighbours' in his task. In response, 'he would listen to the expostulations of his friends and then deliberately light his pipe, pull his spectacles over his eyes, and sit down to his work, without attempting to vindicate his conduct', an account that wonderfully evokes the famous image of him (Fig 2, below).

Advent 2
Fig 2. Image of Sequoyah taken from Grant Foreman, Sequoyah, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1938 (British Library shelfmark: W.P.14865/16).

Sequoyah initially created a character for every word in Cherokee. He may have been influenced by other alphabets and reportedly had an English spelling book in his possession. Finding that this yielded too many characters, he separated the words into parts and assigned a character to each component: hence, a syllabary (Fig 3, below).

Advent 3
Fig 3: Cherokee syllabary written out and signed by Sequoyah taken from The Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 17, Languages, Smithsonian Institute: Washington, 1996 (British library shelfmark: 98/10211)

Sequoyah listened, remembered and added, and in 1821 he completed his 86-character invention. It took some effort to convince Cherokee speakers to use it, but learning was quick once persuaded. This was because it was made by and for native speakers (unlike the Roman orthographies imposed by missionaries at the time), and once a speaker learnt 'the alphabet', they could read. Within seven years, Cherokee literacy had accelerated, and a national press had been established. Even before the characters appeared in print, they became a tangible part of life and the landscape. An observer in a later newspaper, the Cherokee Advocate, wrote that when travelling through the Cherokee Nation in 1828 'I frequently saw as I rode from place to place, Cherokee letters painted or cut on the trees by the roadside, on fences, houses and often on pieces of bark or board, lying about the houses.' Whilst Sequoyah was not directly involved with the Cherokee Phoenix, he would regularly travel to the Dwight Mission in Oklahoma to collect the latest issue sent to him from Georgia.

Advent 4
Cherokee Characters in Frank Brannon’s Cherokee Phoenix, advent of a newspaper

In Frank’s book, we follow printers John Foster Wheeler and Isaac Harris as they journeyed together in 1827 from Jasper, Tennessee to the printing office made of 'hewed logs' in New Echota. There, they met editor and Cherokee Elias Boudinot and missionary Samuel Worcester. The materials - the paper, typecast and press - arrived from Boston in early 1828 and the first edition appeared on 21st February 1828. A fifth of the four-page newspaper was printed in Cherokee, reflecting the difficulties of translating and printing between English and Cherokee.

The potential input of US type casters and Worcester in designing the typecast alters how the characters appear in print. Worcester also re-arranged Sequoyah’s characters to reflect the sounds expressed through Roman letters (Fig 4, see below). Despite this, the syllabary was a Cherokee initiative in its creation and use.

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Fig 4: Cherokee syllabary in Worcester ‘systematic arrangement’ from The Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 17, Languages

Frank writes that "the complexities in the purpose of the newspaper should connotate the difficulties of the era: a true crucible where no one purpose may be clearly stated". This captures the turbulent history the newspaper shared in, seen through its engagement with debates on forced removal and Cherokee sovereignty, and in the newspapers eventual demise. Frank’s quote also captures the complex context of print as a technology tied to the ‘civilising’ mantra of colonialism. Through the story of the Phoenix however, we can understand how print also existed (and exists) as a tool of Indigenous agency, used and expanded to meet Indigenous motives and intellectual traditions.

The last edition of the Phoenix appeared on the 31st of May 1834. In the following year the printers moved westward, the State of Georgia, at the behest of the US Federal Government, seized the printing press and the editor of the newspaper, Elias Boudinot, signed the controversial 1835 Treaty of New Echota - the precursor to the mass forced removal of Cherokees in the 1838 Trail of Tears.

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Map of land taken from the Cherokee Nation in Daniel Justice Heath, Our Fires Survive the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History. Minn: University of Minnesota Press, 2006 (British Library shelfmark: YC.2006.a.19286)

In 1954, the typecast was excavated from a well nearby to the original printing office. Frank’s work includes reproductions of hand impressions of this type which he uses to make conclusions on printing activities at New Echota in the early nineteenth century (Fig 5, see below).

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Fig 5: Reproductions of Hand Impressions in Frank Brannon’s Cherokee Phoenix, advent of a newspaper

Frank’s book brings together the history of the materials and people joined in the creation of the Cherokee Phoenix and uses those historic materials within its own creation. Through it, we encounter a handmade letterpress book that both emulates and extends the story of the historical materials used to print the Cherokee Phoenix. It is form and content connecting and reaching back through time, speaking to the afterlives of those materials and extending the story of Cherokee language printing.

 

- Rebecca Slatcher, Collaborative Doctoral Student (British Library & The University of Hull)

 

09 February 2022

The Value of Libraries: a report from the Hay Festival, Cartagena, Colombia

Catherine Eccles is an international literary scout and council member of the Eccles Centre.

'Every library is a journey; every book is a passport without an expiry date.'
Irene Vallejo

It was through the good fortune of my involvement with the Eccles Centre that last month I found myself sitting in the arcaded courtyard of the Santa Clara Hotel – originally built as a convent in 1621 - in Cartagena, Colombia. Tall palm trees and an array of the healthiest tropical plants crowded the central space, while a variety of birdsong reminded me that I was in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.

I was there to attend the Hay Festival, which through the year holds three Latin American book festivals – one in this fortressed former colonial port town on the Caribbean coast, the others in Peru and Mexico. More specifically, I was there to talk about the Eccles Centre Hay Festival Writer’s Award.

Signage for the Hay Festival at Cartagena, Colombia.
Signage for the Hay Festival, Cartagena, Colombia, 2022. Image, author's own.

The award was established ten years ago, set up for authors whose works-in-progress would benefit from research in the British Library’s American collections. Initially the focus was on the North American and Caribbean collections. Then, three years ago, we journeyed south - heralded, as it turned out, by previous winner Andrea Wulf’s prize-winning biography of Alexander Humboldt - to include Spanish language writers and research in the library’s Latin American collections.1 Along with running the Writer’s Award, the Eccles Centre sponsors an event at each Latin American Hay Festival. This year the topic across the Eccles’ sponsored festivals is ‘The Value of Libraries’ - in a time when libraries have never been more relevant across the world.

Four people sitting on a stage, with an audience listening to them.
'The Value of Libraries' - the Eccles sponsored event at the Hay Festival, Cartagena, Colombia, 2022. Image, author's own.

The event in Cartagena took place just outside the walls of the old town of narrow streets and whitewashed houses with colourful balconies drooping with bougainvillea, in the Sala Barahona at the Centro de Convención. Cartagena is known as a party town, but at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning the room was full. Many in the audience were librarians, keen to hear from the panellists: Irene Vallejo, author of El infinito en un junco (Infinity in a Reed), and librarians and campaigners Martín Murillo, Silvia Castrillon and Luis Bernado Yepes. Murillo is a cult figure in Colombia, famous for taking books to the people in the streets in a cart similar to those used by the country’s fruit sellers. Yepes grew up in a large family in the barrios of Medellin and says books saved him from a life of crime and violence; and Castrillon creates book clubs to transform how people read. The discussion was moderated by famous children’s author and journalist, Yolanda Reyes.

A yellow and black hand-push cart full of books.
Colombian book-cart. Image, author's own.

Over the four-day festival I learnt there cannot be a discussion on any subject without taking into account the legacy of decades of violence suffered by the Colombian people and the sociopolitical landscape that has emerged since peace agreement was signed in 2016. Books might be seen as a privilege, but the panel at Cartagena discussed them as something essential: a tool to save the world, a reminder of humanity especially in a time of violence and a gateway to knowledge that will help close the inequality gap. There was a suggestion that access to books and libraries should be a human right and there have been attempts to legislate for this in Colombia, so far unsuccessful. The work of libraries is an ethical as well as a political responsibility. Revolution is not always dramatic. It can be slow and writers and libraries can play a part in that, gradually changing the world. Libraries hold and keep knowledge safe, persevering history and memory and serving to thwart the circle of violence. Another event I attended at the festival was a discussion about the degradation of war and the importance of breaking silence and bearing witness in order to move on without forgetting for communities caught in the crossfire of warring factions. This is at the centre of a reconciliation process that in Colombia remains fragile

While I was there I read two books to help me understand this captivating but troubled country, one fiction and one non-fiction. The first was Evelio Rosero’s hallucinatory novel Los ejércitos (The Armies).2 This is set in a community beset by violence and is narrated by an old man whose grip on the horrific reality being played out on the streets of his town is slipping. The other was honorary Colombian Wade Davis’ Magdalena: River of Dreams, a journey down the great river that runs from south to north of the country.3 The book encompasses a history from pre-Colombian times, through Spanish occupation, independence and recent times. If there is one book to read to comprehend Colombia, Magdalena is a very good bet, but it was the searing ending of Los ejércitos that reminded me of how vital fiction can be in exploring difficult subjects in a way non-fiction cannot. Each has its essential role, which is reflected in the fact that the Writer’s Award is open to both. Writers and librarians are the custodians of narratives and testimony as well as ideas for the future across the world. Books indeed can save and transform lives.

Endnotes

1.  Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: the adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the lost hero of science. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection DRT.ELD.DS.39324.

2.  Evelio Rosero, Los Ejércitos. México, D.F.: Tusquets Editores México, 2007. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection YF.2009.a.34322; The Armies. London: MacLehose, 2010. Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection DRT.ELD.DS.10242

3.  Wade Davis, Magdalena: River of Dreams. London: Vintage Digital, 2020.  British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection DRT.ELD.DS.495199.

07 February 2022

E-resources for Women in the United States

This fourth instalment of our Americas e-resources blog series focuses on women in the US, both historic and contemporary, but may also prove a useful starting point for exploring women’s lives and experiences in other parts of the Americas and Oceania.1 

Having recently curated a large exhibition on women’s rights in the UK at the British Library, we are well aware of the challenges involved in organising a topic as varied, contested and capacious as ‘women.’ It has been interesting to see, therefore, how some of the major digital recourses have been organised into different thematic strands.

On Adams Matthews's Gender: Identity and Social Change, for instance, themes include women’s suffrage, feminism and the men’s movement as well as employment and labour, education and the body.

Image of a woman in dungarees driving an old-fashioned harvesting machine. Other agricultural labourers and haystacks are in the background.
'Gender: Identity and Social Change'; an e-resource available at the British Library.

Drawing from collections in the US, Canada, UK and Australia, the resource offers full text access to monographs, periodicals and archives from the early nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. Among other riches is the archive of Betty Friedan, feminist activist and co-founder of both the National Organisation for Women and the National Abortion Rights League (digitised from the Schlesinger Library). The archive includes Friedan's survey and accompanying notes about the satisfaction of female graduates in 1957, a piece of work which informed her seminal 1963 publication The Feminine Mystique. As letters sent to Freidan shortly after the book’s publication reveal, some readers objected strongly to the notion of ‘the problem which has no name’, the existence of women’s malaise which The Feminine Mystique identified.

A type written letter to Betty Friedan from a reader opposed to these thesis she put forward in The Feminine Mystique.
Letters from original readers of The Feminine Mystique, 5 January - 24 December 1967, © Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Betty Friedan. Republished by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'Gender: Identity and Social Change'.

 

A yellow programme for the 6th Conference on Men & Masculinity; it is typewritten with two columns of text in the bottom half.
Programme for the 6th Men and Masculinity Conference, 17 September - 25 October 1979. Content compilation © 2017, by the MSU Library. All rights reserved. Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'Gender: Identity and Social Change'.

For an analysis of women and popular, commercial culture, Proquest’s Vogue Archive is hugely illuminating. With full of coverage of American Vogue from the magazine’s first issue in 1892 to the current month, the archive showcases evolving fashions, photography and design as well as being a record of culture, society and aspiration over more than a century. The subject search engine allows for close analysis and the outline statistics for coverage across years provides both a snapshot of topics and their popularity at any given time. A search for ‘abortion', for instance, reveals a peak of 158 mentions between 1990 and 1999, compared to 74 between 1970 and 1979, and 9 from 1960 to 1969. Careful indexing and high-resolution colour page images render the magazine accurately and allow for detailed searches as well as providing evidence of the frequency fashion, style, photography.

A magazine cover featuring a headshot of an African American woman smiling at the camera; on the left of the page are written hints about the articles within the magazine.
Beverly Johnson, the first African American woman to be photographed on the cover of Vogue. Vogue; New York Volume 164, Issue 2, (1 August, 1974): C1. Copyright Conde Nast Publications. Accessible at the British Library on the 'Vogue Archive' e-resource.

Everyday Life & Women in America is published by Adam Matthews and supports the study of American social, cultural and popular history. Offering access to rare primary source material from both the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History at Duke University and The New York Public Library, it includes fully searchable monographs, pamphlets, periodicals and broadsides addressing 19th and early 20th century political, social and gender issues, religion, race, education, employment, marriage, sexuality, home and family life, health, and pastimes. One of the periodicals on offer is Town Topics: The Journal of Society (1887 – 1923). In its day, this was an essential source of articles and commentary on art, music, literature, society, gossip and scandal not only for the socially ambitious, but also for established families like the Vanderbilts and Astors. Today, this full-run of issues provides a unique insight into the Gilded Age.

Everyday Life & Women in America is also rich in guides to social conduct and domestic management literature. One example from a vast selection is American Ladies' Memorial; an indispensable home-book for the wife, mother, sister; In fact, useful to every lady throughout the Unites States (1850). This covers topics such as embroidery and painting as well as etiquette and behavioural advice. In ‘A few Rules for the Wise’ the author advises ‘ladies’ should ‘Control the temper’ as well as ‘use but little ceremony, else your guests will not feel at ease.’

An elaborately decorated black and white cover for a women's periodical.
American Ladies' Memorial; an indispensable home-book for the wife; mother; sister; In fact; useful to every lady throughout the Unites States. Boston, MA. Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'Everyday Life & Women in America'.

For the records pertaining to suffrage and women’s rights organisations as well as women at work during the World War II, a good place to start is the History Vault women’s study module Struggle for Women's Rights: 1880-1990, Organizational Records. This includes financial records, letters, papers, diaries and scrapbooks and more taken from the University Publications of America Collections. Records include those from the National Women’s Party, League of Women Voters and the Women’s Action Alliance, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor and the correspondence of the director of the Women’s Army Corps. A recent addition are the birth control campaigner, sex educator and nurse Margaret Sanger’s papers.

Three platforms worth exploring, despite being somewhat challenging to navigate, are The Gerritsen Collection, Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History, and North American Women’s Letters and Diaries. The latter contains the first-person experiences of 1,325 women through 150,000 pages of diaries and letters, while Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History brings together hundreds of accounts by women of their travels across the globe from the early 19th century to the late 20th century. A wide variety of forms of travel writing are included, from unique manuscripts, diaries and correspondence to drawings, guidebooks and photographs. The resource includes a slideshow with hundreds of items of visual material, including postcards, sketches and photographs.

Spanning four centuries, The Gerritson Collection draws together content from Europe, the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. This archive of books, pamphlets and periodicals on suffrage, women’s consciousness and feminism was originally collected by the nineteenth century Dutch physician and feminist Aletta Jacobs Gerritsen and her husband. Today, the collection contains more than 4,700 publications including a substantive body of material pertaining to anti-suffrage, for example Carrie Chapman Catt's Ought Women to Have Votes for Members of Parliament? (1879) and Anti-Suffrage Essays by Massachusetts Women (1916).

The black and white front cover of The Anti-Suffragist; under the title is the index of contents.
Anonymous : Front Cover; Anti suffragist, devoted to placing before the public the reasons why it is inexpedient to extend the ballot to women. Volume 4, Issue 2 (1912) pg. 0_1. Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'The Gerritson Collection'.

This is the tiniest snapshot of the material available via the Library’s electronic resources pertaining to women in the US, but hopefully it demonstrates the wealth of primary and secondary source material that have been collated from archives and libraries around the world and made available through single-access platforms.

Later this month, we will look at the Library's Americas literary e-resources!

Polly Russell, Head, The Eccles Centre

Endnotes:

1. All of the databases referred to here are full-text and need to be consulted on-site at the Library.