Americas and Oceania Collections blog

4 posts from March 2022

30 March 2022

A welcome return for on-site Doctoral Open Days

It’s been a while since we’ve been able to do ‘in real life’ show and tells for students attending the Library’s Doctoral Open Days so the Americas and Oceania Collections Curatorial team and Eccles team were delighted to be able to discuss a selection of items from the collections with researchers at the latest on-site sessions.

On 4 and 7 March 2022, a number of students from all disciplines visited the Library’s site at St Pancras to get better acquainted with the services and collections available for their research, inspiration and enjoyment. Theses practical sessions were offered to all who attended our PhD webinars that took place earlier in the year.

The days give the chance to attend Reader Registration appointments, go on building tours, take advantage of drop-in sessions with Reference Services, see how collection items are handled and conserved, and come along to show and tells with curatorial teams across the Library to see and discuss items from different collections.

Photo of the collection items from across the Library on display at the show and tell sessions
Photo of the collection items from across the Library on display at the show and tell sessions

Asian and African Collections, British and European Collections, Music Collections, Digital Collections and Resources, Contemporary Society and Culture Collections, and Maps and Visual Arts Collections all took part. We love being part of these days; not only do we get to meet new researchers and discuss their work, but we also get the chance to see colleagues from other collection areas and chat with them about the items in their remit and beyond – both things that have been much-missed in-person activities over the past two years.

For those unable to attend, we thought we’d share a few things with you digitally instead! Here are a selection of items that the Americas and Oceania team displayed over the two days:

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
Text by Lewis Carroll; designed by Tara Bryan
Flatrock, Newfoundland, Canada: Walking Bird Press, 2016
RF.2019.a.126

Photos of down the rabbit hole (RF.2019.a.126) by Tara Bryan, showing the item as it’s stored and in its open form
Photos of down the rabbit hole (RF.2019.a.126) by Tara Bryan, showing the item as it’s stored and in its open form

Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript for Alice's Adventures Under Ground is housed at the British Library, so we are always excited to see how the tale has been re-imagined, re-interpreted and re-illustrated over the last 160 years. This item invites readers into the rabbit hole, with the words from Carroll tunnelling down and down… just as Alice did. This artists’ book was designed by Tara Bryan in her studio in Newfoundland. One of only 40 copies, it is made from delicate handmade Thai Bamboo paper and Japanese paper.

FOR HOME USE: A BOOK OF REFERENCE ON MANY SUBJECTS RELATIVE TO THE TABLE
Proprietors of Angostura Bitters
Trinidad: Angostura Bitters (Publication year unknown/Donated)
YD.2004.a.5928

Photos of For Home Use: A Book Of Reference On Many Subjects Relative To The Table (YD.2004.a.5928)
Photos of For Home Use: A Book Of Reference On Many Subjects Relative To The Table (YD.2004.a.5928)

This item speaks to culinary social history, especially concerning those deemed belonging to the middle and upper classes of Trinidad and Tobago. ‘Invaluable to the Host and Hostess’, this book of recipes by the makers of Angostura Bitters, is an example of great marketing from a bygone era.

SÃO FERNANDO BEIRA-MAR: CANTIGA DE ESCÁRNIO E MALDIZER
Antonio Miranda
São Paulo: Dulcinéia Catadora, 2007
RF.2019.a.285

LA MUJER DE LOS SUEÑOS DEL DOMADOR DE YAKARÉS
Amarildo Garcia
Asunción: Yiyi Jambo, 2008
RF.2019.a.356

TRIPLE FRONTERA DREAMS
Douglas Diegues
Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2012
RF.2019.a.361

CARTONERAS IN TRANSLATION = CARTONERAS EN TRADUCCIÓN = CARTONERAS EM TRADUÇÃO: ANTOLOGÍA
Lucy Bell et al., eds.
Cuernavaca: La Cartonera, 2018
RF.2019.a.311

Photo of cartoneras from Latin America (Top left, RF.2019.a.311; top right, RF.2019.a.285; bottom left, RF.2019.a.356; bottom right, RF.2019.a.361)
Photo of cartoneras from Latin America (Top left, RF.2019.a.311; top right, RF.2019.a.285; bottom left, RF.2019.a.356; bottom right, RF.2019.a.361)

Cartoneras are books of poetry, literature, and translations made with covers from salvaged cardboard with original illustrations in acrylic colours made by members of cartonera workshops. Their illustrated cardboard covers are often anonymous, even when created by famous artists, or signed by all members of the publishing group in a clear attempt to promote the community effort over the individual artist. The focus is on making books together and giving everyone access to reading and writing their stories.

Cartonera books are not only visually beautiful, but also make a critical intervention in publishing and reading cultures in Latin America starting in the wake of the financial crisis in Argentina with Eloísa Cartonera in 2003. This type of cheap community publishing spread quickly across the region and allowed other Latin American countries plagued by economic and social inequality to appropriate reading and book-making practices creatively and in a community-based way.

LIP MAGAZINE ISSUE 1
Frances (Budden) Phoenix (featured artist)
Melbourne, Australia: Women in the Visual Arts Collective, 1976
RF.2019.b.172

Photo of Lip magazine with artwork using paper doily by Phoenix on centerfold (RF.2019.b.172)
Photo of Lip magazine with artwork using paper doily by Phoenix on centerfold (RF.2019.b.172)

Lip was an Australian feminist journal self-published by a collective of women in Melbourne between 1976 and 1984. The art and politics expressed in the journal provide a fascinating record of the Women’s Liberation era in Australia. The inaugural issue seen here includes articles on writer Dorothy Hewett, Australian embroidery, and Australian feminist art, film and performing arts, as well as a double page removable centerfold: a doily vulva artwork called ‘Soft Aggression’ by artist Frances (Budden) Phoenix. Phoenix was an Australian feminist artist who helped to establish the Women’s Domestic Needlework Group, and known for her provocative textile and needlework which subverted traditional notions of women’s domestic crafts. In her centerfold here, she revisits the tradition of women inscribing messages into their work and includes the directive to readers: “female culture is in the minds, hearts and secret dialogues of women. Use your culture in your own defence: use soft aggression.”

THE LITERARY VOYAGER OR MUZZENIEGUN
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, edited with an introduction by Philip P. Mason
[East Lansing]: Michigan State University Press, 1962.
X.800/1125.

ALGIC RESEARCHES, COMPRISING INQUIRIES RESPECTING THE MENTAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS: FIRST SERIES: INDIAN TALES AND LEGENDS
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft
New York, 1839.
12430.e.20.

The Literary Voyager Or Muzzeniegun (X.800/1125.)
The Literary Voyager Or Muzzeniegun (X.800/1125.)

In 1962, scholar Philip P. Mason collected and republished the entirety of the manuscript magazine The Literary Voyager. Originally produced between December 1826 and April 1827 by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, it is considered to be the first periodical related to Native American culture. Its alternative title, Muzzeniegun is Ojibwe for ‘book’.

Schoolcraft, an ethnologist and Indian Agent in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, handwrote a few copies of each issue which were posted to friends and family. Schoolcraft was married to Bamewawagezhikaquay, also known as Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, who was of Ojibwa and Scots-Irish ancestry. She is considered to be the first known Native American woman writer. Notably she wrote in both English and Ojibwe. Many of her poems and traditional stories were included in The Literary Voyager, however she does not receive credit for her work. Her mother, from whom Schoolcraft also collected traditional stories and cultural knowledge, is also not named. It has taken considerable efforts by Native American literary scholars to correct this historical omission, and to bring attention to this important Ojibwe voice.

Some of Bamewawagezhikaquay’s stories were later published in Algic Researches, also compiled by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. This Library copy is an original edition from 1839.

Algic Researches, Comprising Inquiries Respecting the Mental Characteristics of the North American Indians: First Series: Indian Tales And Legends (12430.e.20.)
Algic Researches, Comprising Inquiries Respecting the Mental Characteristics of the North American Indians: First Series: Indian Tales And Legends (12430.e.20.)

We’d like to thank our colleagues in the Library’s Research Development Team for organising the webinars and in-person sessions, and to our friends in the Eccles Centre for American Studies for their support in helping the days run smoothly.

As the Library continues to working hard at both our sites to make sure everyone can visit us safely, we are looking forward to the opportunity to run similar sessions and meet more of you in person over the coming year.

10 March 2022

Electronic Resources for Literary Research

How can electronic resources help with literary research? In this brief blog I consider a number of electronic databases to which the Library subscribes, and look at the ways in which they can be of use for literature scholars and any Library reader looking for information on authors, movements and texts. All resources can be accessed from our Electronic Resources page, and some are available remotely once you get your free Reader Pass.

Databases of digitised periodicals are often the most rewarding electronic resources. While nothing compares to spending an afternoon immersed in magazines in the reading room, these databases enable you to search across a large number of issues and titles for articles by or about an author. If you are studying the reception of a literary work, digitised periodicals make searching for reviews across several titles much easier. Digitised newspapers and magazines are helpful to track down uncollected publications by a writer, and to study the context in which their short stories, poems or articles were originally published. In the case of authors who had longstanding relationships with a specific publication, research on these databases can yield rich results. For instance, a reader interested in the American writer Langston Hughes who searches the digital archive of the Baltimore Afro-American will be able to read his articles and war reporting, his poetry and reviews of his published collections, reports of readings and lectures he gave, news about the staging of his plays, and even his autobiography The Big Sea, which was serialised in the newspaper.

The Big Sea Langston Hughes
Fig 1: The Big Sea by Langston Hughes serialised in The Baltimore Afro-American, issue dated 3 August 1940. (Accessible at the British Library and remotely on the e-resource ''The Baltimore Afro-American'.)

 

The Library’s databases of periodicals range from little magazines connected to literary movements to middlebrow publications and periodicals for children. Among other titles, the database Interwar Culture provides access to the influential American literary magazine The Dial, edited by Scofield Thayer and Marian Moore in the 1920s. Those inspired by the centenary of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land this year will be able to read the poem in The Dial, where it was first published in America in November 1922.

The Dial
Fig 2: The November 1922 issue of The Dial, containing T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'Interwar Cultures'.

 

A popular resource in the reading rooms is the US Vogue Archive, which my colleague Polly Russell mentions in an earlier blog in relation to its relevance to women’s studies. Researchers focusing on the history of literary journalism are likely to find articles of interest. Joan Didion, who worked for Vogue from 1956 to 1964 and became an assistant features editor for the magazine, published her influential essay “Self-respect: Its Source, Its Power,” in the August 1961 issue.

Didion
Fig 3: "Self-Respect: Its source, its power" by Joan Didion, Vogue August 1961 issue. Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'Vogue Archive'

 

In addition to periodical databases, the Library subscribes to other resources that can facilitate literary research. Bibliographic databases Book Review Digest Retrospective: 1903-1982 and Book Review Digest Plus (which covers 1983 to date), contain excerpts of reviews of English language adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction.

The Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro–Latin American Biography, edited by Franklin W. Knight and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., provides a comprehensive overview of the lives of Caribbeans and Afro-Latin Americans of historical significance, including speakers of Creole, Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. An extremely valuable resource for any scholar studying the African Diaspora, it contains concise entries that explore individuals’ lives and their major contributions, in addition to a brief bibliography for further research. Writers Paulette Poujol-Oriol, Nancy Morejon, and Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro are some of the names featured in the Dictionary.

Finally, if you are researching an Australian author or movement, AusLit, published by the University of Queensland, will be of help. It contains biographical and bibliographic information about Australian writers and their works. Helpfully for those who don’t have access to a physical library, AusLit also lists full-text works, including poetry, prose and criticism freely available online. Those studying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers will be interested in their site BlackWords, which records information about authors, their works, and the traditions that influenced them, as well as teaching materials and other resources.

AusLit Blackwords
Fig 4: BlackWords: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Writing and Storytelling website.  Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'AusLit'.

 

Mercedes Aguirre, Lead Curator, Americas

09 March 2022

Cherokee language printing at the British Library

This is the final blog looking at Cherokee language printing. Previous posts introduced the topic of Sequoyah’s syllabary and the Cherokee Phoenix through Frank Brannon’s work- Cherokee Phoenix, advent of a newspaper: the print shop of the Cherokee Nation 1828-1834- and spoke to Frank about his experiences of printing in the Cherokee language.

Frank’s book led me to the wider holdings of Cherokee language materials at the British Library and helped me understand and follow the printing networks found across the materials. In his book on Sequoyah, Grant Foreman writes that ‘the most nearly complete file of this newspaper in existence is one of the prized possessions of the British Museum, in London’ and the British Library holds almost the entirety of this newspaper in microform. However, the library also holds materials tangential to the story of the Cherokee Phoenix.

It seems appropriate to begin with Sequoyah, the Cherokee inventor who completed his syllabary in 1821 and committed the Cherokee language to writing (see first blog). Whilst Sequoyah was driven by a fascination for the written word he was also an enchanting and powerful orator, a skill that never diminished in commitment to writing. In 1840, author and playwright John Howard Payne interviewed Sequoyah for his ‘true history’ of the Cherokees. The translator- so captivated by Sequoyah’s retelling- refused to interrupt and eventually forgot to translate anything. Sat in the corner with his ink, pen and paper, Payne was ‘entirely forgotten by the rest of the audience’. Payne (albeit briefly) features in events after the demise of the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper. On November 7th 1835, Payne was accidentally caught up in the arrest of Chief John Ross during a visit that was deemed suspicious. Payne’s name and interest can be found in the library’s copy of The Gospel of Jesus Christ According to John: Translated into the Cherokee Language (1838). The owner- a William Wrixon Leycester- writes in the front: ‘given to me on the 10th of Jan 1843 by my esteemed friend John Howard Payne’ (Fig 1, below).

BL Cherokee holdings 1

BL Cherokee holdings 2

Fig 1: The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to John. Translated into the Cherokee language by S. A. Worcester & E. Boudinot, printed by John Wheeler at Park Hill: Mission Press, 1838 (British Library shelfmark: 3070.de.13)

In 1834, the last Cherokee Phoenix was printed at New Echota. The printer for the newspaper, John Wheeler, moved westward, followed in 1835 by the missionary, Samuel Worcester and the printing apprentice John Candy. A new press was set up in Park Hill, where Wheeler, Worcester and Candy continued to work together. Boudinot arrived at Park Hill in 1837, but Worcester was wary of collaborating with him due to Boudinot’s support of the Treaty of New Echota.

BL Cherokee holdings 3
BL Cherokee holdings 3

BL Cherokee holdings 5

Fig 2: The Gospel of Matthew (1832), The Acts of the Apostles (1883) and a book of Cherokee Hymns (1833) by S. A. Worcester & E. Boudinot printed by John Wheeler and John Candy at New Echota (British Library shelfmark: 3068.a.64)

The movement of the printing networks can be easily read across the collections. The library’s holdings of the earlier output from New Echota attributed to Worcester, Boudinot and Wheeler are bound together and include a second edition of The Gospel According to Matthew (1832), The Acts of the Apostles translated into the Cherokee Language (1833) and a fourth edition of Cherokee Hymns (1833) (Fig 2, above) The stamps indicate that the British Museum Library acquired these materials on the 2nd of August 1892. The library’s later holdings reflect the move to Park Hill and consist of later reprints of Boudinot and Worcester’s works as well as other outputs, such as a Cherokee Primer (1846) and the Swiss Peasant by Rev. Caesar Malan in Cherokee (1848) (Fig 3, below). The stamps indicate that the library acquired these materials in August and September of 1889, a few years before the New Echota materials.

BL Cherokee holdings 6

Fig 3: Cherokee Primer (1846) printed by John Candy at Park Hill: Mission Press (British Library shelfmark: (884.a.13)

The Gospel of Matthew was one of the earliest printed materials in Cherokee. Translated by Major George Lowry and corrected by Worcester and Boudinot, two chapters were published each week in the Cherokee Phoenix. In 1829, the Cherokee Phoenix also reported that 200 copies were requested for the Cherokee Brainerd Book Society and Worcester sent a copy of The Gospel of Matthew to Georgia Governor Gilmour as proof of the ‘good work’ being done among the Cherokee. The library holds multiple editions. Most striking however, is a later fourth edition printed in 1844 at Park Hill by John Candy (fig 3, see below) which can be digitally accessed. The book is inscribed with Cherokee characters by Richard Taylor who was at one time Assistant Chief and delegate to Washington. It reads:

Presented, through Henry Stevens Esquire of Boston, to the Library of the British Museum London, by Richard Taylor of the Cherokee Nation. Washington, April 15th, 1848. The above is a translation of the Cherokee written on the opposite page by Mr Taylor.

Henry Stevens was book agent to the British Museum Library.

BL Cherokee holdings 8BL Cherokee holdings 8

Fig 3: The Gospel According to Matthew. Translated into the Cherokee Language, Park Hill: Mission Press, 1844 (BL shelfmark 3070.a.15)

 

This blog includes a snapshot of the library’s holdings of Cherokee language materials. My hope is to keep exploring these collections.

 

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

02 March 2022

In conversation with Frank Brannon

This is the second blog looking at Cherokee language printing through the work of book artist and papermaker Frank Brannon. A previous post introduced Frank’s work, Cherokee Phoenix, advent of a newspaper: the print shop of the Cherokee Nation 1828-1834: a handmade letterpress book that tells the history of the first newspaper printed in an Indigenous language. After becoming interested in the materiality and creation of Frank’s book, he kindly spoke to me about his experience of printing in Cherokee as well as complex questions about what it means to have Indigenous language materials at the British Library.

Initially, Frank explained to me some of the technical difficulties of printing in Cherokee, such as ensuring the right spacing is on the type and watching for typos. We also spoke about the differences between Sequoyah’s syllabary, and the type-cast-

“To other eyes through time, just as you and I will see Roman letters, others will see Cyrillic if they have that background, or they might see Greek. They tend to look like other things. But Sequoyah’s original letters look nothing like the type-cast."

Frank Bannon 1
Fig 1: Binding of Frank Brannon’s, 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 creating the book, Frank also described how he visited the University of Alabama special collections library to model the book on those of the 1820s:

"I wanted to put the person in the time. The 1820’s is a time of transition from handmade to machine-made books. Books would be encased in a cheap cover, and they weren't really meant to last long in the publisher’s binding before they became something else. At the special collection's library, you would open the books and the backs would be breaking. So, The Cherokee Phoenix book really wants to fall apart- it was made for a better binding" (Fig. 1 above)

In speaking to Frank, what is notable is the book’s grounding in materials and place. On asking him what drew him to the topic, he replied that “it was the papermill and it was Sequoyah”. The historic materials used to print the Cherokee Phoenix were excavated from the site of the original printing office in New Echota (now Calhoun, Georgia) and those materials extend into the narrative and creation of Frank’s book. Given the (sometimes) difficult history of printing in Cherokee and the current endangerment of the language, I asked Frank if he felt a sense of responsibility in the work today. In his response he recalls returning to New Echota-

"I felt early that we had a responsibility to get it right, and I still feel that responsibility today. I was able to take some of the printing type and print at the historic site of New Echota in what is now North Georgia, and I actually taught a class in the reconstructed print shop there. When my friend- who was a member of the tribe- and I, would go and print in New Echota you could just kind of feel the weight of that event. It was almost like a dream. It's prescient, it's superseding your regular day, and I would have to admit there are not that many times in life it happens. It was the reality and the depth of that experience. The manager of what is now a Georgia state historic site understood the importance of us coming there and doing that work, also. And as a white person trying to support the revitalization the Cherokee language, you have to try a little bit harder."

This reminds us also of the gap between language on the page and language in the world as lived, happenstance and imperfect. Frank retells how when teaching at the Southeastern community college in western North Carolina, he labelled drawers of coloured paper with their Cherokee names. There is a sense of immediacy, in a place where all understand the importance of language revitalization-

“It was immediate for people from that community who did not know the language at the time to start using those words. I never told anyone in the class that I would like for them to use the names, but they did, every time. It’s not like you have to teach them, its osmosis, it’s in them.”

When considering the poignancy of printing in New Echota, we spoke about different sense of place presented by the British Library. What does it mean for Frank’s work and wider Indigenous language materials to be in the British Library? Much of the library’s holdings - and its history as an institution - speak to a North American context whereby Indigenous languages were taken, classified and denied to peoples in service of historic and ongoing settler colonial projects that sought to eradicate languages and cultures. These contexts have legacies in the ways languages are misrepresented and accessed in library systems today -

“The idea that one might need to verify who they are to access the language of their own people, things that they have been denied the ability to speak or say themselves, in a boarding school for example. The indignity of being pressed to follow someone else’s rules, to access their own knowledge”

Frank Bannon 2

“It’s hard to think in general about doing a fine letterpress book and having anyone upon it. There are a lot of questions here, and it has to with ownership, and it has to do with possession.”

This brought us to a discussion on the issues with the label of ‘Indigenous languages collection’ and the narratives those collections claim to tell -

“That’s the key - that process of ‘collecting’ them, ‘acquiring’ them. The parallel for me as an artist is that question of - when looking at the larger picture of European history - whose books are in those libraries? It’s mainly male, it’s mainly Anglo. Is that the entire history of the European experience? Well, we know that the answer is no. My artists’ statement says that I wish to tell the story of those that are less told, and to ask: what is the library of 500 years and what will it look like?"

I found the Frank drew between languages and institutional approaches to curating books very insightful in reflecting on some of these questions. In many contexts, Indigenous languages were viewed as ‘exotic’ objects and brought into an institutional setting, to collect and to study or observe. Such a view can persist in the ways people may approach or ask questions about the subject today. As Frank says, ‘it’s just a group of people who have their own language and they would like to use it, it’s as simple as that’. Some of these ideas inform Frank’s work as a book artist-

“For one of the art projects me and my friend Jeff Marley did in Cherokee, I wanted to do an outdoor installation- an exhibition for everything other than people. I did no advertising, and we documented through photography and film. That’s a larger response to the bigger questions you’re asking, because many days I’m not sure if I want to put it in ‘that’ library. A lot of artists books, or book arts, are now shown in a very display like manner. They’re fetish objects and it’s very much ‘over there’. I always struggle when they are behind glass."

By extension, Frank’s artistic process challenges and expands how we interact with books-

“With an artists’ book, you know immediately from the cover that something is different. I would love for the person to recognise that something different is going on long before they even get to the book, and so with the idea of installation or performance artwork to surround the object I am trying to expand the epi-text of the book. All those little things that go with the book, I want them to come out and be alive and blow through the cover. To think of the book as an epi-textual environment that best represents the thoughts and ideas of the individuals or group”

Perhaps in the context of the British Library, this approach can be used to think about how language materials are there, how they have been decontextualised and how Indigenous creators and representation has been written out of the record-

Frank Bannon 3
Image: North American Indian (Other) from British Library catalogue record

“How you describe books, that is part of that epi-textual environment. The stuff that floats around it, is about it, is of it. And how is that presented.”

As a result of Frank’s work, the printing type is out in the world and the story continues. It’s clear that Frank misses this work, and I am incredibly grateful to him for talking to me. The conversation made me think on the importance of place and ask important questions of collecting practices: what are we trying to preserve, and for who? Above all I love the materiality of the book, and its layers and relationship to the historic materials and contemporary questions. There is something poignant in the 1820’s style book that ‘wants to fall apart’ as the used and accessible artists’ book (as opposed to the displayed and distant artists’ book), and the used, imperfect and grounded use of the Cherokee language (as opposed to the collected and exotic ‘Cherokee language’ materials). Additionally, it begins a very crucial questioning of the difficult ‘epi-text’ of the British Library.

 

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