American Collections blog

50 posts categorized "Caribbean"

09 July 2020

The Black and Indigenous presence in the story of how Breadfruit came to the Caribbean

This post by Nadine Chambers is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections. 

'As the heirs of two oceanic histories, we are conscious of the …challenges… the Atlantic and the Pacific represented to our respective ancestors. We are committed to nurturing and supporting the techniques of survivance that have led us to find each other.' Teresia Teaiwa1

How Breadfruit came to be loved in Xamayca/Jamaica became part of my Eccles Fellowship focusing on the North American and Caribbean collections at the British Library.  In my larger project, I chose to explore the ways in which existing historiography has erased (or occluded) the interrelationships between Black Caribbean and Indigenous peoples by reading in between the silences in colonial voyage narratives.  I contemplate the spaces between Black and Indigenous people’s parallel and intersecting histories of displacement, migration and decolonial struggles.  I seek stories of our encounters that have been ignored in academic texts or situated at a distance geographically or categorically in archived records.  My focus is on the traces of contested and still largely unwritten relationships as key to current discussions about Black freedom and Indigenous sovereignty if we “were not, even in the situations of the most extreme brutality, sealed off hermetically from one another”.2

In this essay, I offer a compass with which to navigate memories, geography, sacrifice, death through the entry point of Tahitian breadfruit brought by ship into the Caribbean.  I continue to be inspired by the late Teresia Teaiwa (African American and I-Kiribati), who embodies an Atlantic-Pacific connection reflected in much of her academic scholarship and poetic works; reminding us of the imposed amnesia and the need to undo its erasures.

so it’s easy to forget
that there’s life and love and learning
between
asia and america
there’s an ocean
and in this ocean
the stepping stones
are
getting real
Teaiwa, “AmneSIA”3

The first beloved place of breadfruit is in my maternal grandmother’s backyard in Constant Spring, Jamaica – a lone tree I remember while seated in carousel 333 of the British Library’s Rare Books and Music Room.  I find myself travelling back and forth, through space and time and through archival texts, seeking Teresia’s stepping stones and finding the footprints of two Ma’ohi (Tahitian) men who touched down from the HMS Providence after months of sailing from the Pacific to land in Jamaica in 1793.  I imagine them walking through the first place of contact – Port Henderson where my mother-line’s sea faring people still live.  Their second land fall was Port Morant to travel overland to Bath...

Section of a map of St Thomas, Jamaica, with many places and towns marked, both on the coast and inland.
Map of Jamaica, prepared for The Jamaica Handbook, under the direction of Thomas Harrison, Gov't Surveyor, by Colin Liddell, 1895. Digitized copy from National Library of Jamaica, Flickr. Also held at the British Library (Cartographic items: C.F.S.178)

... definitely passing through Airy Castle where my father’s people have landed history rooted by three Oteheite (ayyah) trees that bore deep purple-skinned fruit legendary in size and sweetness.  Raised in Jamaica on breadfruit and apples made possible by their Ma’ohi traditional knowledge that crossed into the Caribbean, I listen for echoes of these two men’s footfall as I read a copy of The Log of H.M.S Providence by W. Bligh in the Manuscripts room on the 2nd floor of the British Library.4

Bound copy of log with the spine presented brown with gold writing of title and author backgrounded by maroon squares
W. Bligh, The Log of the H.M.S. Providence, 1791- 1793. (British Library, MS Facsimile 832 (1976)).

Bligh – the celebrated naval captain of Bounty and Providence fame – instructed the crew to make sure that Tahitians were not to be told about the reason for the acquisition of the breadfruit.

Against this silence, I ask – so, to what purpose?

Within the library catalogue I found the oft overlooked work of an accomplished Jamaican botanist - the late Dulcie Powell and her careful attention to the plant genealogy of Jamaican botanical gardens, and the people behind it.  Powell’s work, 'The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, H.M.S. Providence, 1791-1793', gives the reader the economic context to understand what drove British captains’ military and commercial ventures, coded as “botany research” and “exploration” – each opened with devastating military violence towards Pacific Indigenous peoples, appropriated plants then brought Tahitians and their intellectual acumen to the Atlantic and into the Caribbean.5  She includes an extract from writing by the well-known planter Bryan Edwards of 15,000 deaths of Black people trapped between the violence of enslavement and environmental catastrophes:

THIS NUMBER WE FIRMLY BELIEVE TO HAVE PERISHED OF FAMINE, OR OF THE DISEASES CONTRACTED
BY SCANTY AND UNWHOLESOME DIET BETWEEN THE LATER END OF 1780 AND THE BEGINNING OF 1787.6

This key excerpt from Edwards shows that the bedrock of the introduction of breadfruit to Jamaica was part of the British global imperial project, and that the breadfruit’s purpose was to sustain the life of Black people in Jamaica – solely for reaping profit from slavery.

But what about introductions between people?

The two men Maititi (Mydidee, Mideedee) and Paupo (Bobbo, Pappo) are first introduced to the reader through Bligh’s logs: the former styled as a Tahitian emissary, the other as a Tahitian stowaway.  I note Captain Bligh’s first awareness of Paupo was part of a critical decision as to whether he lives or dies.

Page of the Providence log where the quotation is located.
W. Bligh, The Log of the H.M.S. Providence, 1791- 1793. (British Library MS Facsimile 832 (1976)).

                                         To my astonishment I found a man who had always been collecting with the botanists secreted between decks… and I had not the heart to make him jump overboard… I conceived he might be useful in Jamaica...therefore directed he should be under the care of the botanists... (July 18, 1792)7

Here, his name is not revealed on a long voyage that depended on many other racialized people who remained seen but also unnamed while assisting the survival of the floating Plant Nursery in safe harbours from storms and fresh water supplies as they sailed from the Pacific to the Caribbean.  However, my central quest is Maititi and Paupo’s moment of arrival and any evidence of their encounters with people of African descent in Jamaica.  Only some details are known to us, as we have to rely on 3rd Lieutenant Tobin, who observed Feb 5th, 1793 as the day Maititi and Paupo were on deck to see those “for which the benefit the voyage was chiefly promoted” – the Black people who “were loud in their praises and were constantly paddling around her [the Providence] in their canoes.”8

What might these Ma’ohi men’s thoughts have been about the excitement from the canoes or upon meeting the eyes of the paddlers?  Did the paddlers notice the two men?

My reading of eighteenth-century ship’s log and crew diaries is informed by these questions – questions hardly considered at the time.  In order to make visible Paupo’s landfall in Jamaica, I examine a few additional moments from Bligh’s log and find details that only relate to his relationship with the project through being listed as their ‘Otaheitian friend’ and an unpaid responsibility of Gardener Wiles who had agreed to stay on in Jamaica at Bath at £200 per annum.9  These logs render invisible and silent people of African descent who were the majority of the population: the records scarcely show any detail of these enslaved workers except in ledgers where their masters were paid for allowing them to be hired out for labour in the botanical garden.

However, finally a surprise encounter.

Somewhere in the months between landing in Jamaica and sailing for England to deliver the remainder of the botanical collection to Kew, Tobin writes this undated observation of Paupo in Jamaica:

...having many quarrels with an old negroe nurse who attended him – one day when she was oversolicitous [sic] for him to eat, after making several ineffectual attempts to explain to her that he required nothing, in rather an angry tone he said Aimak mad oboo peyak peyak “I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear telling her “she might perhaps find room in his head”.10

Seventeen months away from Tahiti, this singular encounter was retold by a third party as a partial exchange of words, strong feelings and touch between a young ailing Paupo and a senior Black healer.  I re-read the gesture and the translation and found myself move slowly from elation to unease.  In other fleeting moments Paupo is described as cheerful; yet here his exchange seems fraught.  The translation of his words is unreliable, the touch and exchange ascribed layered with complexity.

Nine months after Ma’ohi Paupo arrived to Xamayca –in the Caribbean Sea – Wiles reported Paupo’s death in The Royal Gazette printed 27th of October 1793 (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384) and that his last days he refused food, refused to speak before succumbing to ill health.  There is no known marker to signal his resting place as part of the land at Bath; far from his island which Powell described as “about as far south of the Equator as Jamaica is north…and their climates are therefore similar”.11  However, it was not similar, neither in area nor, more importantly, in social climate.

The pages of the newspaper reflect a snapshot of this climate – his obituary placed beside a report of trade business, a military report and lists of Black ancestors who are ill and enslaved or featured in runaway ads and workhouses.  This returns us to the question of what could Paupo’s relationship have been to the enslaved community, perhaps through being cared for by that nurse?  Would the cost of his keep have become associated with the ‘negro labour’ ledger lines for the garden?  Could one speculate he might have had a sense of being estranged from the system Black people surrounding him were chained within?

“I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear

What more could have been recorded?

Instead, it is easiest to know more about the thoughts of the leadership of the plantocracy behind the Providence project.  The Royal Gazette stated:

…In less than twenty years, the chief article of sustenance for our Negroes will be entirely changed; - plantains, yams, cocoa, and coffee, will be cultivated only as subsidiary, and used merely for change; whilst the breadfruit, gaining firm hold in the earth by the toughness and strength of its root, will bid defiance to storms.12

Official letters stating the plants did well came from Wiles who reported regularly to his patron Joseph Banks of their progress; in October 1793 they were “thriving with astonishing vigor” on the eastern side of the island.  Wiles found “everyone exceeding anxious to get plants of it,” although some “old conceited & prejudiced [enslaved] creoles” said they preferred plantains and yams.13

In truth, Breadfruit survived but took decades to become part of everyday people’s preferred local diet.14  I continue to wonder sometimes if by chance, in those brief months whether Paupo had time to personally introduce breadfruit preparation to the healer’s community?  What would that have looked like–practical trade or tentative trust-building?  Or like breadfruit; in the healer’s mind was Paupo separate and associated with a garden of unfamiliar plants and closer to the owners in an enslaved society?

The difficult purpose of this small essay is to reframe Paupo’s story within the context of the Black population.  Yes, slavery and hunger were the terrible impetus of our forgotten introduction to Tahitians who brought uru and other botanical riches of the Pacific.  The difficult social climate that structures his introduction to the healer I overcome by thinking about a Tahitian story in a time before time as we know it.  It is said a Ma’ohi family survived a famine when the father transformed himself - with hands becoming leaves; arms and body, the trunk and branches; his head – the breadfruit in the place known now as Tua’uru – the Place of Breadfruit.15  I think of this as I consider how this plant was transported in 1793 to deal with starvation in the Caribbean.  Today, uru lives – included when Jamaicans state the word ‘food’ defined as specific reference to the circle of beloved ground provisions our Black ancestors refused to abandon even in those hard times.

Breadfruit.

First in the Valley of Tua’uru then in Bath, St. Thomas with Paupo - a Ma’ohi stone within the Jamaican landscape. Māuruuru.

By Nadine Chambers, Eccles Fellow, 2018-20

References

1 Teaiwa, Teresia; Ojeya Banks, Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Courtney-Savali Leiloa Andrews, Alisha Lola Jones, and April K Henderson. ‘Black and Blue in the Pacific: Afro-Diasporic Women Artists on History and Blackness.’ Amerasia Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, (2017), pp. 145-193. (British Library shelfmarks: Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(1); Document Supply 0809.655000; )

2 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993, p. 2. (British Library shelfmark: YC.1994.b.3724.)

3 Teresia Teaiwa, ‘We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 19:2 (2017), p. 133-136. (British Library shelfmark: ZC.9.a.5571)

4 William Bligh, The Log of HMS Providence, 1791-1793 (British Library, MS Facsimile 832 (1976).

5 Dulcie Powell, ‘The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, HMS Providence, 1791-1793,’ Economic Botany, vol. 31.4 (1977): 387-431. (British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply 3651.700000; Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(10))

6 B. Edwards, The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies. Dublin, 1793, Vol. 2. Dublin, capitals in the original.(British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 44458])

7 Bligh, ibid. 

8 Journal of Lieutenant George Tobin on HMS Providence 1791 -1793, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/_transcript/2011/D04424/a1220.htm [accessed online July 2, 2020].

9 Bligh, ibid.

10 Journal of Lieutenant Tobin, ibid.

11 Dulcie Powell, ibid.

12 The Royal Gazette, Feb 9, 1792 – Misc section, unknown publisher Kingston, Jamaica. (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384)

13 Wiles quoted in Newell, Jennifer. Trading Nature: Tahitians, Europeans, and Ecological Exchange. University of Hawaii Press, 2010. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply m10/21589 )

14 Higman, Barry W. Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture. Kingston, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2008. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2009.b.918)

15 Henry, Teuira and John Muggridge Orsmond. Ancient Tahiti. Honolulu: B.P Bishop Museum, 1928. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6245/3.(48.))

24 April 2020

Poems from the edge of extinction (part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of our blog on poetry in endangered and lesser-known languages in collaboration with our European Studies colleaguesIn part 1 of this blog, we considered examples of poetry in Tongan and Yucatec Maya, and here in part 2 we look at examples in Patwa/Jamaican Creole and Yolngu Matha. If you've never heard of these languages, read on!

Patwa/Jamaican Creole

Front cover of book Miss Lou : Louise Bennett and Jamaican Culture by Mervyn Morris
Miss Lou : Louise Bennett and Jamaican Culture by Mervyn Morris. BL shelfmark YKL.2014.a.5466

Bun an Cheese by Louise Bennett-Coverley

Dem Bwoy dah jeer Miss Matty,
An a mock her an tease,
Dem a kill demself wid laugh mah
An a call her Bun an Cheese
 
Dem sey from Good Friday mawnin
Her jawbone no get ease
Mawnin  noon an night bedtime
She was nyamin Bun and Cheese
 
Fe breakfuss lunch an dinna
She got so-so bun and cheese
She kea it go a church an
Movin pictures if you please
 
She no count saltfish an ackee
Cut her y’eye pon rice an peas
Hear her “me put pot pon fire
When me got me Bun and Cheese!”
 
Easter time gwine come an go weh
Days an moment fly like breeze
But as long as Matty live dem bwoy
Gwine call her Bun and Cheese!

 

English translation

Those boys jeer Miss Matty
And Mock and tease her
They are killing themselves with laugh
And call her Bun and Cheese
 
They say from Good Friday morning
Her jawbone got no ease
Morning noon and nighttime
She was eating Bun and Cheese
 
For Breakfast lunch and dinner
She got only bun and cheese
She took it to church and
Moving pictures if you please
 
She does not count saltfish and ackee
Cut her eye on rice and peas
Hear her “I put my pot on the fire
When I got my Bun and Cheese!”
 
Easter time come and go away
Days and moment fly like breeze
But as long as Matty live those boys
Going to call her Bun and Cheese!

 

Coming off the heels of Easter, this is one of my favourite Louise Bennett-Coverley poems. “Miss Lou” as she was affectionately called is one of the most loved and highly respected Jamaican poets.  She uses the themes of food culture and local traditions in this timeless work. These themes highlight the love affair the protagonist “Miss Matty” has with the popular Jamaican Easter treat “bun and cheese”, closely associated with the popular English “hot cross buns”.  The use of the Jamaican dialect, Patois (Patwa) by Miss Lou makes this poem even more expressive and exciting. Regardless of the time of day, place and alternative food options Miss Matty is only interested in her tasty treat. This poem encapsulates the happy atmosphere that surrounds one of Jamaica’s most delightful Easter traditions.

Chantelle Richardson (Chevening Fellow at the British Library and Special Collections Librarian at the National Library of Jamaica)

 

Yolngu Matha  (Australia)

*Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that these pages may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.*

Illustration of four kangaroos grazing
British Library Image taken from page 360 of 'New Homes for the Old Country. A personal experience of the political and domestic life, the industries, and the natural history of Australia and New Zealand. ... With ... illustrations' (BL shelfmark HMNTS 10492.g.19.)

 When a list of 200 Aboriginal Australian words was recorded in the north of Australia during James Cook’s voyage in 1770, it was assumed that these words would be spoken by all the Indigenous people in the country. One of the words on this list was ‘kangaroo’ (kanguru or gangurru), which was provided by the Guugu Yimidhirr people in what is now known as Far North Queensland. Yet, when European settlers arrived in 1788, in what would become Sydney, and tried to make use of the list, the word 'kangaroo’ was met with confusion by the local Aboriginal people who believed this to be an English word. Only later did the Europeans realise that the First people of Australia spoke more than 250 different languages, including 800 dialectal varieties, at the time of European settlement. For a visual representation of this language distribution, see the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia which attempts to represent all the language, tribal or nation groups of the First peoples of Australia. Of the 160 varieties still spoken, only 13 are spoken by children and 90% of Indigenous Australian languages are in danger of dying out.  

One of the 13 languages still spoken by children, and in somewhat less danger, is the language group known as Yolngu Matha (or Yolŋu Matha). Yolngu Matha, has around 2,000 speakers and is a member of the Pama-Nyungan family of languages. It is spoken by the Yolngu people in the north-eastern part of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. There are a dozen dialects of Yolngu Matha, each with its own name and with significant variation between them, though there is some mutual understanding between the dialects. During the 1930s, missionaries developed various ways of writing Yolngu Matha, which are still used today, though there is no standard spelling system. This linguistic complexity of variant spellings, and clan and dialect distinctions in Yolngu Matha (as with all the Indigenous Australian languages), has now been mapped to a great extent in the AUSTLANG database. This landmark project by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) provides the means for institutions to begin the process of attributing the correct language to bibliographic records, as is being done through crowd sourcing at the National Library of Australia.

Front cover of Nganajungu yagu by Charmaine Papertalk Green
Papertalk-Green, C. (2019). Nganajungu yagu. Victoria, Australia : Cordite Books. BL shelfmark YD.2019.a.5930

When we look at the British Library records for poetry by Indigenous Australians, although we can find recent examples written in English (see Ellen van Neerven, Alison Whittaker, or Lionel Fogarty), those written in Indigenous Australian languages are far scarcer (although a welcome example is Nganajungu yagu by Charmaine Papertalk-Green which mixes Wajarri, Badimaya, and English - shelfmark YD.2019.a.5930). And while we can attribute this partly to historical collection practices which favoured non-Indigenous languages (and similar discrimination in the publishing industry), this is also due to the history in Indigenous cultures of spoken word over written language. 

Front cover of Song spirals
Gay'wu Group of Women (2019). Songspirals: Sharing women's wisdom of Country through songlines. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. (awaiting shelfmark)

A particularly rich poetic oral tradition in Indigenous Australian culture can be seen in songlines. Also known song spirals or song cycles, these living archives of cultural knowledge and wisdom are preserved and passed on through song. Using cues from the land, sky and sea to navigate through space and time, songlines are handed down through generations. A member of the community acts as the custodian of the songline and these are rarely shared with outsiders. For this blog, I have chosen to highlight a 2019 Yolngu Matha collection, Songspirals: Sharing women's wisdom of Country through songlines  by the Gay'wu Group of Women (Allen and Unwin 2019 - awaiting cataloguing at the British Library). Here women’s roles in songlines are explored and the authors share five song spirals in Gumatj, a dialect of Dhuwal (also Dual, Duala), one of the Yolngu Matha languages.  

Below is an excerpt from Wuymirri, the Whale 
 
Nguruku miyamanarawu Dhangaḻa aaaaaaaa... 
Waṉa nyerrpu miyaman ngunha marrtji Bangupanngu. 
Miyaman marrtji Balwarri Nepaway, Maywuṉdjiwuy. 
 
Bawaywuyngu miyamara Dhuḻuḻwuynguru; 
Bawaywuyngu miyamara Rrawuḻuḻwuynguru; 
Nguruku miyaman ngarra marrtji Rrawuḻuḻwuynguru. 
 
Of that body of water I sing, I sing of the body of water. 
The arm of the paddler is knowledgeable, over there is Bangupanngu. 
I am singing about Balwarri, the whale, Nepaway, the open sea. 
Of the place between sunrise and sunset I sing, 
 
Where the whales swim with open mouths, scooping water,  
   filtering fish; 
A pod of whales, flipping and jumping, playing and roaming; 
A gathering of many people; 
For that I sing Rrawuḻuḻ, the place where the whales 
   are feeding.  
I sing for those people, the ones far away. 

 

In Indigenous Australian culture, languages with few or no speakers are described as ‘sleeping’, and there are some welcome initiatives to re-awaken these sleeping languages. These include the formation of the AIATSIS foundation to record languages and songlines and publish 15 dictionaries of languages a year over the next decade. An exciting effort to re-awaken language through poetry has been developed through the Poetry in First Languages project, devised by Gunai poet, Kirli Saunders. In this program, Indigenous poets, Elders and Language Custodians work directly with Indigenous students to write poetry in their cultural language. 


To hear Yolngu Matha in a musical context, take a listen to the award-winning Yolngu rapper Baker Boy who seamlessly mixes this language with English in his performances such as 'Marryuna' (Let's Dance) below.

 

 

Lucy Rowland, Curator of Oceania Published Collections post-1850

 

Further reading:

General

Chris McCabe (ed.), Poems from the Edge of Extinction (London, 2019), [BL shelfmark: ELD.DS.463137] 

Read more about the Endangered Poetry Project

Patwa/Jamaican creole

Morris, M. (2014). Miss Lou : Louise Bennett and Jamaican Culture. BL shelfmark YKL.2014.a.5466

Bennett, L., & Morris, M. (2003). Auntie Roachy seh. Kingston: Sangster's Book Stores. BL shelfmark YD.2005.a.1825

Bennett, L (1983) Selected Poems. Kingston, Jm. : Sangster's Book Stores. BL shelfmark X.958/29332

Bennett, L (1949) Jamaican dialect poems. Kingston , Jm : printed by the Gleaner Co. BL shelfmark X.909/29896

Yolngu Matha  

Dyungayan, G., & Cooke, S. (2014). George Dyungayan's Bulu Line : A West Kimberley song cycle. Glebe, NSW: Puncher & Wattmann. BL shelfmark YD.2017.a.916 


Gay'wu Group of Women (2019). Songspirals: Sharing women's wisdom of Country through songlines. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. (awaiting shelfmark) 


Papertalk-Green, C. (2019). Nganajungu yagu. Victoria, Australia : Cordite Books. BL shelfmark YD.2019.a.5930 

 

10 February 2020

Edward Kamau Brathwaite (1930-2020) – a mind of many talents

Blog by Dr Philip Abraham, Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library

Edward Kamau Brathwaite, poet, activist and historian, was one of the towering figures of modern Caribbean literary and intellectual history, and a writer whose versatility and vigour was quite awe-inspiring. I first encountered Brathwaite the historian, reading his path-breaking study of The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820 (Shelfmark: X.809/11084.) when I was writing my PhD on a not completely dissimilar topic. It is a brilliant book, blending richly textured social history with a conceptually vigorous approach to the specificities of Caribbean (in this case, Jamaican) cultural formations. The Preface revealed that this was a lightly revised version of his own Sussex University doctoral thesis. “I’ll never write anything this good,” I thought. And looking at his original dissertation in EThoS, it’s very clear to me that I didn’t.

Eventually I connected Edward Brathwaite the historian with Kamau Brathwaite, a poet I’d heard of but didn’t know much about, and as I learned more about his life, it became clear why I’d found his work so humbling and impressive. Brathwaite is part of a tradition of academically trained historians from and of the colonial West Indies, whose energy and intelligence exploded beyond the confines of the dusty scholarship in which they were trained. Indeed, such historians as C.L.R. James, Eric Williams, Elsa Goveia and Walter Rodney, reframed historical research and writing as an urgent political and artistic act, as each not only made a substantial intellectual impact outside their discipline, but also enduring social, cultural and political legacies far beyond the academy.

In Brathwaite’s case, he was a cultural organiser and poet of the first importance. In 1966, whilst studying at Sussex, he founded the Caribbean Artists Movement with John La Rose and Andrew Salkey in London. As artist Errol Lloyd recalls, CAM was important for being “the first organised collaboration of artists from the Caribbean with the aim of celebrating a new sense of shared Caribbean ‘nationhood’.” Brathwaite was already a published poet at this time, Rights of Passage (Shelfmark: X.909/8978.) having appeared with Oxford University Press in 1967. He went on to publish dozens of volumes of his own poetry over the next fifty years, as well as championing other poets through anthologies, essays and teaching.

 

Edward Brathwaite  Rights of Passage. OUP  1967
Title page of Edward Brathwaite's 'Rights of Passage' (OUP, 1967)

The British Library is a great place to learn more about Kamau Brathwaite, and Anglo-Caribbean writing more generally. For instance, there are over a dozen recordings of Brathwaite reading his own poetry in our Sound Archive, as well as interviews and collaborations with other poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson. In our Manuscripts and Archives department, there are uncorrected proofs of some of his early volumes of poetry and publicity photographs in the Poetry Book Society archive. More significantly, in the archive of Andrew Salkey there are many letters and photographs illuminating their artistic and personal friendship, including the setting up of CAM. Those interested more broadly in Anglo-Caribbean writing will also find much of interest in the archives of James Berry and the recently acquired archive of Andrea Levy, which will be available to consult in late 2021.

And then there are the books themselves. From Rights of Passage in 1967 to the Lazarus poems (Shelfmark: YKL.2018.a.19802) in 2017, his full poetic career can be surveyed in the British Library’s collections, as well as his historical and literary writings (1974’s Contradictory Omens [Shelfmark: X:519/30919] is another must-read) and many books about him. One of the distinguishing aspects of Brathwaite’s later poetry is its embrace of the visuality of digital culture as a poetic strategy, creating some highly complex, experimental, and vibrantly contemporary work. It is thus fitting that a writer of Brathwaite’s versatility and imagination should have inhabited a career that was both deeply immersed in the past, and so keenly attuned to the forms and practices that are transforming today into tomorrow.

Kamau Brathwaite  Dream Haiti. Savacou North  1995. Cover
Cover for Brathwaite's 'Dream Haiti' (Savacou North, 1995)



Kamau Brathwaite  Dream Haiti. Savacou North  1995. Excerpt 1
Inside 'Dream Haiti' (Savacou North, 1995)



Kamau Brathwaite  Born to Slow Horses. WUP  2005.
Cover of 'Born to Slow Horses' (WUP, 2005 )



Kamau Brathwaite  The Lazarus Poems. WUC  2017. A Slave Ship Beloved
Inside 'The Lazarus Poems: A Slave Ship Beloved' (WUC, 2017)



Kamau Brathwaite  Middle Passages. Bloodaxe  1992. Cover
Cover for 'Middle Passages' (Bloodaxe, 1992)

Further reading:
Stuart B. Schwarz (ed.), West Indian Intellectuals in Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003) (Shelfmark: YC.2006.a.16834) – a guide to the milieu of the Caribbean intelligentsia in mid-twentieth century Britain, which did much to shape Brathwaite’s early intellectual and poetic achievements

Verene A. Shepherd and Glen L. Richards (eds.), Questioning Creole: Creolisation Discourses in Caribbean Culture (Kingston, JA: Ian Randle Publishers, 2002) (Shelfmark: YC.2002.a.6565) – a stimulating collection of essays taking Brathwaite’s historical and conceptual investigations of ‘creole’ as their starting point

Annie Paul (ed.), Caribbean Culture: Soundings on Kamau Brathwaite (Kingston, Jamaica University of the West Indies Press, 2007) (Shelfmark: YD.2008.a.8461) – another collection of essays on the author’s poetic and cultural leagacy

05 February 2020

Walter Rodney's Enduring Legacy Through Archival Collaboration

Black and white photo of Walter Rodney standing in front of a door or window
Walter Rodney; image courtesy of the Huntley Archives, London Metropolitan Archives, LMA 4463 series

Nearly forty years ago, on 13 June 1980, Guyanese historian, political activist and academic Walter Rodney was assassinated.  Family, friends and fans across the world mourned the loss of Rodney.  This grief expressed itself privately and publicly – through poetry, letters and protest.  Traces can be found in the British Library, particularly in the archive of Andrew Salkey.  P.D. Sharma – a Guyanese comrade – wrote to Salkey shortly after hearing the news.  He wrote of being ‘paralyzed with grief, shock and disbelief’ as expressed in the poem below; such moving remembrances of Rodney’s continue to this day: 

WALTER RODNEY IS DEAD (13th June 1980)
Weep people, cry Jesus
And drown the earth above us
Flood the oceans
Liquidify the mountains
Sink heaven.
The Eastern star is blown
No more the fairest of twinkles
Done the kingdom and the king.
Now the sun will never catch the night
The falcon god soars
And shadows we be
Our world is out.
How infinite was so brief
Too much and only but few
Except that grey men
With infants on their laps
Shall tell to eternity
Of the light that once,
Breathless and bedamned
Questioning the open
But if, what might …

(Letter from P.D. Sharma (LA) to Salkey (Massachusetts), June 1980, Walter Rodney File, Box 21, Andrew Salkey collection, The British Library)

Walter Rodney’s intellectual energy, praxis and commitment lives on.  It lives on through Black liberation struggles across the world and the action and commitment of the Friends of the Huntley Archives at LMA  (FHALMA). Housed at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), the Huntley Archives is made up of Jessica and Eric Huntley’s documents, photographs and recordings.  It also holds the files of Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications (one of Britain’s earliest black publishing houses) that they collectively founded in 1968, following the banning of Walter Rodney from Jamaica.   

On Saturday 22 February, the 15th Annual Huntley Conference: Rodney's Enduring Legacy will offer a space for activists, scholars, students and families to engage with this legacy through a day of discussion, film, lectures and archive tours.  Supported by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, the LMA and the Museum of London, it brings together some of London’s key cultural heritage institutions.  It also builds on an ongoing collaboration between the British Library, LMA and FHALMA as part of the mass sound digitisation project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Volunteering for FHALMA and helping to organise this conference has offered a brilliant opportunity to extend my Collaborative Doctoral Partnership beyond the British Library and UCL by connecting with archives and community groups across London.  Related to ongoing research on Caribbean publishing as activism, the conference provides an important space to discuss the history and legacy of Caribbean intellectual thought.

Black and white photo of Walter Rodney sitting at a typewriter on a table covered with papers; a woman stands behind him
Walter Rodney; image courtesy of the Huntley Archives, London Metropolitan Archives, LMA 4463 series

Notably, the conference will include roundtable sessions called 'Groundings' which are modelled on and inspired by Rodney’s practice of talking plainly about human rights, identity and Black history directly with grassroots communities.  These intergenerational conversations will explore themes of Black liberation, solidarity and class, whilst considering the role of youth, academics, communities and creative producers within historic and contemporary struggles.

Professor Patricia Daley's keynote, 'Walter Rodney: The Black Academic and the Importance of the Study of Africa for Global Black Emancipation', will reflect on Rodney's impressive contribution to radical scholarship on Africa and consider his understanding of ‘groundings’ as a form of academic and political practice, central to black emancipation globally.

The frontispiece of Walter Rodney Speaks - black print on a green cover
Walter Rodney, Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1990. (British Library shelfmark: YA.1992.a.9118)

Walter Rodney continues to challenge us through our archives.  You can find Rodney in the British Library’s Andrew Salkey collection, from recordings of memorial lectures to Bogle-L'Ouverture book launches.  Rodney also speaks to us through his many texts - published both when he was alive and posthumously - including: The Groundings with My Brothers (1969), A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800 (1970), How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) and Walter Rodney Speaks: the making of an African Intellectual (1990).

Suggested further reading/listening:

  • Bogle book launch (1985), Andrew Salkey collection, C1839/62.
  • Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney: 1968 Revisited.  Barbados: Canoe Press, UWI, 1998. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2005.a.8199).
  • Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney’s Intellectual and Political Thought. Mona: University of the West Indies, 1998. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 99/13124). 
  • Manning Marable lecture (1987), Andrew Salkey Collection, C1839/45.
  • Colin Prescod, ‘Guyana’s socialism: an interview with Walter Rodney’, Race & Class, 18 (1976), 109- 128. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6236.a). 
  • Kate Quinn (eds.), Black Power in the Caribbean. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014.  (British Library shelfmark: YC.2014.a.16051) 
  • Researching Walter Rodney in the Huntley Archives, London Metropolitan Archive.

Works by Walter Rodney:

  • The Groundings with My Brothers. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1970. (British Library shelfmark: X.709/10382) 
  • A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 72/14824)
  • How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1976. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 82/24897) 
  • Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1990. (British Library shelfmark: YA.1992.a.9118) 

Naomi Oppenheim is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library and UCL researching Caribbean print cultures and the politics of history in post-war Britain. Follow her on Twitter @naomioppenheim

 

22 January 2020

One more step along the road I go: Tracking the first three months of my Chevening Fellowship

My first day in the UK saw me meeting with some individuals at the British Library who are integral parts of my one-year journey. I met with Jody Butterworth, curator for Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), Phil Hatfield (Head Eccles Centre for American Studies), James Perkins (Former Research & PG Development Manager British Library), Kola Tubosun (Chevening Fellow from Nigeria) and Mark Ashe (Chevening Programme officer).  I was given a detailed programme overview and a warm welcome to both the British Library and the UK by everyone.

 

Official Chantelle's portrait as Chevening Fellowship awardee. Chantelle Richardson 2019 Chevening Scholar - Jamaica
Official Chevening photo

 

My current role

My journey in libraries began over four year ago. I entered the Library world somewhat by chance. I can safely say that this profession chose me. When I graduated from the University of the West Indies Mona, I was given my first Job at the National Library of Jamaica. I worked as a cataloguer for a year, where I managed serials and legal deposit publications. I later moved up to Special Collections.  

Since working in Special Collections, I have had the great pleasure of expanding my skillsets. I not only catalogue but do reference and research work as well. My daily tasks involves me working with manuscripts, maps, photographs, postcards and newspapers. I also help to interface with researchers from all walks of life, which is the very best part of my job.

 

Why I applied?

I was always looking for ways to make progress both personally and professionally.  During a general staff meeting at the NLJ our CEO, Miss Beverly Lashley spoke about the Chevening British Library Fellowship. She spoke briefly on the requirements and stated that the Library would give support to any staff member who applied. After the announcement I logged into my Chevening application portal and looked on the Fellowship option that was in my profile. Prior to Miss Lashley’s announcement I was well on my way in applying for a Chevening scholarship to study in the UK. Ever since I graduated from the UWI I aspired to continue my studies aboard. I had researched many opportunities for studies, however none was as comprehensive as the Chevening awards.

After many weeks of perfecting my essays I submitted two applications one for a Chevening Scholarship and the other for a Chevening Fellowship. Months passed and my anxiety was high, I was however mindful that whatever was for me would always be at the right time.  After receiving numerous emails, meetings and interviews I got the life changing news. I was selected as one of 19 Chevening awardees from Jamaica and was the only Fellow.

After receiving the good news I began my preparations to live and work in one of the world’s most diverse countries.

 

Selected as one of the 19 Chevening awardees from Jamaica, and as the only Fellow, Chantelle joyfully celebrates her Chevening Fellowship award
Celebrating my award

 

 

Chantelle in a group portrait together with the other Jamaican 2019/2020 Chevening scholars. From an article published by the “Jamaican Observer reporting the success of the nineteen Jamaican awardees
Jamaica Observer article photo of all Jamaican 2019/20 Chevening scholars

 

Fellowship Focus

My Fellowship involves working with the Eccles Centre for American Studies and EAP departments. I will be doing research on digitized archives from Latin America and the Caribbean, engaging with local and international archival partners, organising, and promoting the activities of both departments.

Additionally towards the end or immediately after my fellowship I will Identify and liaise with a local partner institution in the Latin America and or Caribbean region to manage an Eccles funded conference.

 

“26-year-old determined to preserve Jamaica’s cultural heritage”. Chantelle’s Chevening Fellowship project told in an article published by the ‘Jamaica Gleaner’
Newspaper article on the focus of the fellowship

 

EAP and Eccles centre Energetic Synergy

One of the most gratifying experiences about my fellowship is that I get the unique opportunity to work with two of the British Library’s best departments. The Endangered Archives programme (EAP) facilitates the digitisation of archives around the world that are in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration. Funding comes from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. Since its inception, EAP has provided grants to more than 400 projects in 90 countries worldwide, in over 100 languages and scripts (Endangered Archives Programme).

The Eccles Centre connects users to the British Library’s Americas collections.  They facilitate a wide range of programmes and events. Some of which include visiting Fellowships, Writer’s Award and Congress to Campus programme. The centre also compiles study resources designed to help exploration of the British Library's Canadian, American and Caribbean collections. 

Both teams have ensured I have the best experience to date. They have facilitated meetings, talks, internal and external events which add to my personal and professional development. For the first time both departments have a common synergy, me.

 

My work so far

Currently I have two major projects I’m working on. My main project involves an in depth data visualisation of past and present projects in Latin America and the Caribbean undertaken by EAP. I have so far completed the data compilation and will continue to work on the project in the coming year.

The second major project I am working is a Bibliography of Latin America and Caribbean non-book sources before 1950 at the British Library for the centre. This project is enabling me to explore the vast Latin American collections held at the British Library.

While working on the main projects I have also learnt about other gems in the collections. The Cartonera: Latin American cardboard books, the proposition to establish the West India Company in the Stowe manuscript collection and manuscripts related to Texcoco in Mexico are just a few interesting collection items I have explored.  

 

Colourful image of a few Cartonera books, handmade books with hand painted cardboard covers, from the British Library’s Latin American collection.  While working on the project, Chantelle has also the opportunity to learn about various gems in the collection
Cartoneras from the Americas collection at the British Library

 

Chevening experience

Undoubtedly none of this would be possible without the Chevening secretariat. The Chevening team namely my programme office Mark Ashe, have been my constant guide. One of the most memorable moments on my fellowship so far was at the recent Chevening Orientation. The session had 1,750 scholars from 141 countries and territories around the world. It was truly a remarkable event.

 

Chevening Orientation Day. Chantelle in a joyful group portrait with some of the 1,750 scholars from 141 countries and territories cheering each other and showing flags from their countries
Some scholars at the 2019 Chevening orientation

 

Chevening also facilitates smaller networking sessions through its tailored events. I had the privilege of attending one such event in Manchester under the theme Cottonpolis: Fashioning the Future. Myself and over 20 scholars received a guided tour of the city of Manchester and had a very engaging session on sustainable fashion at the University of Manchester

 

Chantelle and other scholars attending the event “Cottonpolis: Fashioning the Future” at Manchester University
Scholars on tour of Manchester city

 

Hopes for 2020

It is my hope that throughout the rest of my fellowship I will produce blog posts, articles and multimedia content that will track and highlight the work I am doing. I am also looking forward to the many people I will meet and new places I will visit.

                                                     

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Chantelle Richardson

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Chevening Fellowship Awardee - Jamaica 2019/2020

 

 

 

30 July 2019

James Knight’s “History of Jamaica”

We are delighted to share the following blog by Jamie Gemmell. Jamie is a third year undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh and was awarded a Carnegie Vacation Scholarship to produce a partial digital edition of James Knight’s “History of Jamaica”, focussing on its account of the social and cultural aspects of enslaved Africans. He recently presented his work at the British Library as part of the Eccles Centre's Summer Scholars season.

Here is the blog:

When I first came across James Knight’s “History of Jamaica” (1742) I was unsure what I would find. Historians have often neglected British Jamaica during the early eighteenth century. Instead, they have focused on the later seventeenth century, when the British conquered and established themselves on the island, or the later eighteenth century, when the slavocracy was at its peak. This meant it was difficult to have any expectations about Knight’s manuscripts, although it did provide an opportunity to develop new insights.

Part of the hand-written title page of James Knight's work
James Knight, "History of Jamaica". Vol. 1, title page. (Add MS12415)

My primary concern was to see whether Knight could provide new information on the debate surrounding the origins of enslaved people’s cultures. Following a first read, I was disappointed. Like most European planter-historians, Knight’s primary focus was on the political debates between the metropole and colony or great acts of piracy committed by the likes of John Davis or Henry Morgan. I began to realise why most historians of Atlantic slavery begin their analyses by discussing the fragmentary nature of the evidence.

However, whilst Knight was by no means concerned with enslaved people, they appear throughout the manuscript. In the first volume, predominantly a narrative history of the island dating from the Spanish discovery, Knight described several rebellions by enslaved people as well as a relatively detailed account of the Maroons, communities of people who had escaped slavery. For Knight, the leader of the Leeward Maroons, Cudjoe, was a “very sensible fellow,” whilst the enslaved people who rebelled at Guanaboa in 1685 were “desperate Villains.”

The closing lines of a letter by James Knight to Edward Long
Edward Long's letter collection. (Add MS 22677)

The second volume takes the form of an ethnography, covering subjects ranging from the climate to the legal system in Jamaica. Knight dedicates a significant portion to his views on enslaved people within the chapter describing the inhabitants of Jamaica. He discusses enslaved physicians, and advices Europeans to learn their “many secrets.” He embarks on a long discussion of slavery, fighting accusations of the “Inhumanity of and Cruelty of the planters,” which may prove useful to scholarship in the way that it deals with early criticisms of slavery. For my own research, Knight’s description of the traits of the various African ethnic groups proved most pertinent.

Despite not being Knight’s primary focus, his manuscript raises new questions about enslaved cultures. Currently, the historiography has been primarily concerned with tracing cultural connections between enslaved groups in the Americas and specific regions of Africa. Over time significant research has been undertaken, such as James Sweet’s work on Portuguese Brazil.[1] After reading Knight’s manuscripts, I believe new questions can be raised. It seems inappropriate to accept Knight’s links between ethnicity and behaviour. Instead, further work must be done to understand the origins of these stereotypes and how they functioned in the European worldview. If we can grasp why Knight thought it pertinent to associate “particularly Eboes” with suicide or “Angolas” with the consumption of human “flesh,” we may come to a greater understanding of how the system of Atlantic slavery maintained itself.

Jamie Gemmell

Reference and further information:

[1] Sweet, Recreating Africa (2003).

http://www.jamesknightjamaica.com/

 

 

22 May 2019

The Power of Memoir

Where does the personal reside in our understanding of history, social issues and human experience? And what does the form of the memoir distinctively illuminate?

In 2018 novelist Tessa McWatt used her residency as an Eccles British Library Writer’s Award holder to work on a memoir on race and story-telling which traced the hybridity of her genetic make-up and the issues of racism she has faced on both sides of the ‘divide’. Her practice-based research is engaged in issues of colonialism and the historical and structural underpinnings of the creation of race and how her personal experience has been embedded in those structures.

On 3 June, Tessa will be speaking at the British Library in conversation with two historians, Sarah Knott and Norma Clarke, chaired by Erica Wagner, to talk about how embracing their own experiences and investing in the memoir form has enabled them to develop and extend their work as scholars and writers.  In preparation for their event, we asked them to given an example of how an historical item from the archive helped inform their projects: Sarah on maternity, Norma on family and Tessa on race.

Sarah Knott:

Black and white text of two adjacent pages from An Interesting Condition
Abigail Lewis [Otis Burger], An Interesting Condition (London: Odhams Press Ltd, 1951), pp. 180-181. Shelfmark 8417.cc.29.

1949 New York. Otis Burger wanted to stop each contraction and see what it felt like. It was odd having an entirely new sensation inside. She had been reading the English doctor Grantly Dick-Read, who thought childbirth should be painless ‒ disliking his determination to reduce women to their biology, but appreciating his tenderness. Her fear was the hospital feeling of being naked, and at the mercy of strangers, like a specimen of some sort. Male doctors were condescending; they seemed to think the difficulty was all in the mother’s mind and that birth was too much of a commonplace for the mother to make such a silly fuss.

Otis Burger wrote her remarkable maternal memoir, An Interesting Condition, some decades before the women’s liberation movement encouraged others to pick up their pens and make maternity properly visible. The book was unusual enough that it was printed not just in her New York but also in London, thus making its way into the hands of ordinary English readers as well as the collections of the British Library. That she published under a pseudonym was some indication of the taboos that needed to be broken.

In writing Mother: An Unconventional History, I plundered personal writings like these to understand past experiences of pregnancy, birth and being with an infant. And I took inspiration, too, from what happens when you think, like Otis Burger, in a memoir form. Blending memoir into history, and history into memoir, I found myself asking questions I might otherwise have overlooked. In bleary sleeplessness and with an infant close at hand, I wondered, what was the history of the maternal night? Or, what were the new sensations of feeling continually interrupted, or hearing the sound of an infant’s cry? I found answers not just in past memoirs but in a host of other kinds of materials to be found in libraries and archives, from leather-bound how-to guides to slave narratives and social scientists’ surveys, to private letters and scribbled diaries.

Sarah Knott, Mother (Penguin Viking, 2019)

***

Norma Clarke:

Cover of the book My Daugter - Maria Callas; it includes 5 black and white photos of Maria Callas
Evangelia Callas, My Daughter – Maria Callas, as told to Lawrence G Blochman (London: Leslie Frewin, 1967) Shelfmark W77/5490

Not Speaking tells the story of a family quarrel and it does so partly through conventional narrative, partly through oral history interviews and partly by means of investigations into literary subjects: Homer’s Iliad with its quarrelling heroes features throughout, Pope’s poem, The Rape of the Lock, has traction (brother hairdressers Nicky and Michael Clarke are at the heart of the story) and Robert Graves and George Sand in Majorca figure because Majorca is one of the settings, along with Athens and London. I had no intention of researching Maria Callas and it was only by accident that she became included. But asking my mother questions about her life as a girl growing up in Athens led me down unexpected byways. The mother of Prince Philip, for example, Princess Alice, had remained in Athens during the war, and spoke very good Greek; my mother admired her. Maria Callas was also in Athens. Maria left Greece in 1945 and turned her back on her mother and sister, declaring that they hated her and she them. The women were no longer on speaking terms. And then I read a quote from Callas that riveted me: ‘I know my mother wrote a book about me, but I never read it.’

Her mother wrote a book about her! Books by daughters about mothers are ten a penny, but books by mothers about daughters? I couldn’t wait to read it. I rushed to the British Library, and within 70 minutes I had in my hands, My Daughter – Maria Callas, by Evangelia Callas (1960). It’s a book that vibrates with fury, and I reflected that Maria was probably right to keep it at a distance, but for me it was revelatory.

Norma Clarke, Not Speaking (Unbound, 2019)

***

Tessa McWatt:

A photo of a jagged fragment of bone with Shang dynasty characters.
Shang dynasty characters on fragments of an oracle bone dating between 1600 and 1050 BC. British Library, Or. 7694/1516

 

“What Are You?”

It’s a question I was asked as an eight-year old in a suburban Toronto classroom by my teacher, after the word “Negro” came up in a book the class was reading. It was a word that none of the kids in the room – all ‘white’ except for me -- knew the meaning of.

Shame on Me began as a journey to understand how to answer the question. It looks at all of the strands of my genetic make-up – Scottish, African, English, Irish, Chinese, South Asian -- to find some kind of meaning in biology. But when I began to research the history of race, of the particular ‘miscegenations’ that formed me, it occurred to me that it’s all down to story-telling. I might as well ask an oracle.

Then I came across the Chinese Oracle Bone (dating from between 1600 BC and 1050 BC) in the British Library. I was hooked. I started to frame my book around the idea that ‘knowing’ is storytelling. I saw the Chinese oracle bone as an ancient 23&Me. Diviners used them to answer the elite’s questions about health, birth and death; about crops, the weather; about the outcome of battles or simply whether a particular ancestor was causing a king’s headache. The shoulder blades of ox, sheep, boars, horses and deer, or the shells of tortoises were cleaned of flesh, scraped, polished, and then diviners carved questions into them using a sharp tool. During a divination session, the bone was anointed with blood before questions were posed to ancestors. The diviner then applied such intense heat that the bone or shell cracked, and he interpreted the pattern of the fractures to answer the questions posed.

A bone with the power to provide these kinds of answers would surely provide an answer to ‘What are You?’

If only.

Tessa McWatt, Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging (Scribe UK, forthcoming, October 2019)

***

Covers of Mother by Sarah Knott, showing a pencil drawing of a woman and baby, and Not Speaking by Norma Clarke, featuring various black and white photos of members of Clarke's family.
Covers of Mother by Sarah Knott (Penguin Viking, 2019) and Not Speaking by Norma Clarke (Unbound, 2019).

 

To find out more, join Sarah, Norma and Tessa in conversation with Erica Wagner at the British Library on Monday 3 June. More details: https://www.bl.uk/events/memoir-identity-experience

 

 

 

 

 

 

19 February 2019

Event: Doctoral Open Day 2019

Starting a PhD can be a daunting undertaking; and getting to grips with the vast, often idiosyncratic workings of a major research Library with over 200m items can be even more daunting. This is why, for students who have recently embarked on doctoral study on any aspect of the Americas, we are putting on an Open Day on the British Libraries Americas collections and resources on Monday 18 March.

BL People_112

PhD Placement student Daniela Jimenez talks with curator Pardaad Chamsaz

The day will involve a series of general introductions to the British Library, as well as more regionally focussed presentations on Canada, the US, the Caribbean and Latin America – essentially explaining in broad terms what we have and how to find it. There will also be opportunities to ask questions individually of the curators and research teams, and attendees can tell us their topics in advance so everyone can leave the Library that day having opened up some rather promising avenues of enquiry.

We’re also very excited and grateful to be able to draw on the expertise of colleagues from other parts of the Library, who will be able to offer insights into some of the approaches and resources available through the Library (such as digital scholarship or manuscript studies) that students might not be so familiar with. There will also be first-hand insights from current PhD students who are working extensively on our collections, who can (hopefully!) confirm that the British Library is both a pleasant and fantastically useful place to spend at least some of your time over the next 3-4 years.

CDP students 2017

British Library CDP students, including Naomi Oppenheim and Jodie Collins, discuss their work

Finally, as well as introducing the collections, we give students the chance to get to know the Library spatially and architecturally – so we’re offering the chance, during the lunchbreak, for students to take ‘sound tours’ of the main St Pancras building.  Not only are these a wonderful opportunity to explore the main building but they will also showcase the breadth of material contained in the Library’s Sound Archive, a resource that is often over looked by researchers.  As part of last year’s excellent Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land exhibition, the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project invited volunteers to use the Library’s Sound Archive to curate tours which reflect on black British history within the physical space of the Library.  One of the tour guides has kindly agreed to lead our Americas Doctoral Students through this unique experience.

Windrush sound points

Listening points in the Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land exhibition

These different sessions will all be accompanied by a great deal of tea, coffee, cake and sandwiches, and a lot of very enthusiastic staff who are really passionate about getting PhD students in to work on our Americas collections. The full programme for the day can be found here.  To find out more and to book visit the event page.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Eccles Centre via eccles-centre@bl.uk.

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