American Collections blog

45 posts categorized "Caribbean"

13 November 2012

Exploring Cuba - from St Pancras


It has been 110 years since the United States ended its official occupation of Cuba in 1902, which began in 1898 at the end of the so-called ‘Spanish-American War.’ Digging around our manuscripts collections I recently discovered that we hold the papers of a certain Melville Preston Troy, who worked in the customs office of U.S. occupied Havana (Add MS 71718). On the face of it one may think detailed accounts of tariffs and customs checks hardly qualify as stimulating reading. However, the papers are a truly fascinating collection, comprised predominantly of letters and reports that shed light on the increased role of the U.S. in Cuba’s economy in the 20th century. One report in particular goes into great detail regarding the importance of lowering tariffs on sugar, cattle and tobacco imports from Cuba- as these would prove to be major areas of investment for U.S. companies. The papers also reveal the ways the Caribbean and Latin America figured significantly in the lives and consciousness of Americans in the 19th century. Incredible historical sources, the papers are also unique biographical documents that offer a window on to how one man from North Carolina found himself in involved in one of the great anti-colonial conflicts, and then later came to London as an executive in a tobacco company – which is how his papers eventually ended up at the British Library. 

The long and devastating struggle for Cuban independence from Spain started long before the United States became involved in 1898 and was comprised of three conflicts: the Ten years War 1868-78, the Little War (La Guerra Chiquita) 1879-80 and the Cuban War of Independence 1895-98. Students of Cuba’s protracted fight for independence will be interested to know that the Library has a copy of Album Histórico Fotografico de la Guerra de Cuba desde su principio hasta el reinado de Amadeo I., etc. (BL shelfmark 9771.h.7). Published in Havana in 1872 the book contains rare photographs from the Ten Years War such as this one of the pro-Spanish 1st Battalion of Volunteers of Havana:

 Cuba

Public Domain Mark
This work (Album Histórico Fotografico de la Guerra de Cuba desde su principio hasta el reinado de Amadeo I., etc.), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Reaching back to nearly a century earlier, the Library has another interesting set of papers on occupied Havana when the British took the city in 1762.  The Keppel Papers consist of papers of and collected by Sir George Keppel, including port permits, trade licences, and Keppel’s personal correspondences. Our Cuban holdings don’t stop there, though. Which is just another reason to come and dig around for yourself!

[E.N.C.]

14 September 2012

The Empire of Haiti: digitising some of the Nineteenth Century

 Coronation of Faustin I

Coronation of Faustin I, from Album Imperiale d'Haiti, New York 1852

A short but well-illustrated Team Americas post this week. We've all been a bit busy (especially Carole and Matthew who are currently refining the Kerouac exhibition labels like a pair of master sculptors). One of the things I'm currently working on is making a home for some Haiti materials we recently had digitised and so today seemed like a good time to share some highlights of the content with you.

The whole selection is quite broad, composed of various manuscripts, maps and a book of lithographic prints. Two of the book's prints and one of the maps are on show here. The book Album Imperiale d'Haiti commemorates the coronation of Faustin I (previously Faustin-Elie Soulouque). Above is the coronation scene and below the lavish frontispiece. The book also contains a further scene of Faustin leaving the ceremony and portraits of a number of dignitaries.

Frontispiece
Frontispiece from Album Imperiale d'Haiti, New York 1852

Due to the impracticality of uploading .tiff files to the blog what you see here are very low resolution images. Once the full size versions are up you will be able to see them in all their zoom-able glory. While the maps were designed to be viewed in microscopic detail, I doubt that the engraver for the Album imagined that his work would ever be looked at so closely - and I suspect there are some interesting omissions in the landscape plates for keen-eyed viewers.

Carte de Saint Domingue
Carte de l'Isle de Saint Domingue, 1722 [BL Shelfmark: Maps.K.Top.123.35]

Team Americas is feeling very digital at the moment, with the American Civil War, War of 1812 and this project all going on at the same time. We'll keep you posted as to how all of them are coming together - look for any announcements interspersed amongst the On the Road quotes on our Twitter stream.

[PJH]

20 August 2012

Breadfruit, Rum and Mutinies: the career of William Bligh


Breadfruit [store]

 Plant accommodation on HMS Bounty [BL Shelfmark: RB.31.c.503(1)].

I’ve been doing further reading on Australian history this week and you can’t cover early nineteenth- century Australia without coming across William Bligh. Bligh became Governor of New South Wales in 1806 but prior to this he had already undertaken a number of missions for the British Government in European, Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific waters. One of these missions provides Team Americas with another blog on the links between Australasia and the Americas.

While in Tahiti as part of Cook’s first Pacific voyage, Joseph Banks noted that the local Uru, or breadfruit, had potential as a source of cheap, high energy food that could be cultivated in British colonies. Banks successfully promoted his idea after returning to London, and Bligh was dispatched with HMS Bounty to acquire plants for use in the Caribbean. After one mutiny, a trip back to London (via Koupang) and two trips to Tahiti for specimens, Bligh finally delivered the breadfruit plants to Jamaica.

Breadfruit [illus]
Illustration of breadfruit in Bligh’s A Voyage to the South Sea [BL Shelfmark: : RB.31.c.503(1)]

Following success as a Naval captain in Europe, and having earned Nelson’s favour at the Battle of Copenhagen, Bligh was appointed Governor of New South Wales. Arriving in 1806 Bligh immediately had to deal with the New South Wales Corps, the standing regiment for the colony which had set up a decent sideline in profiteering illegal trade items – namely, rum. Eventually this led to the 'Rum Rebellion' of 1808 and Bligh was forced to take another ignominious trip on the sea (this time to Hobart).

Breadfruit [map]
Map of Bligh’s journey, in A Voyage to the South Sea [BL Shelfmark: : RB.31.c.503(1)].

While mutinies grab popular attention, Bligh's career offers a good example of the way in which many individuals in the British Navy helped to developed global networks of exchange and control which underpinned the British Empire. He’s also a case study of what binds Team Americas and Australasia together.

I’ve noted in an earlier blog the Library’s collections on Cook and his expedition, and there is also a significant collection on the expeditions of Bligh; for starters see, A Voyage to the South Sea, 1792 [BL Shelfmark: RB.31.c.503(1)] and A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board His Majesty’s Ship Bounty, 1790 [BL Shelfmark: G.3066].

[PJH]

14 August 2012

Team Americas looks forward to a great Fall events programme

We've been feeling decidedly down in the mouth after the Olympics - we’ve all enjoyed the last couple of weeks so much that it was inevitable that things would suddenly feel a bit flat. But we’ve now perked up considerably since we find ourselves not only very busy but with a lot to look forward to over the next couple of months. Matt and Carole are wearing their Beat hats as they prepare for the arrival of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road manuscript scroll in early October - how exciting is that! And then there is the accompanying programme of events, featuring a preview screening of Walter Salles’ new film of On the Road, and an evening with Amiri Baraka to mention just two. The full programme can be found on the BL’s website under events (check under each month), and details of the exhibition will be up very soon.

In addition to supporting some of the On the Road events/exhibition, our wonderful Eccles Centre for American Studies is sponsoring a fantastic range of autumn talks, including our Summer Scholars series (featuring e.g. Naomi Wood and Sheila Rowbotham, our 2 Eccles Writers in Residence), as well as events with Liza Klaussman (who, incidentally, happens to be Herman Melville’s great-great-great granddaughter!), Andrea Wulf, and Lord Putnam to pick out just a few. And how could we forget that there happens to be a big election coming up in the U.S. in November, and we of course have that covered too. For the full range of Eccles events see http://www.bl.uk/eccles/events.html/.

And as if that wasn’t enough, we’ll be showcasing some of our artists’ books on 4 September at Inspired by Artists' Books, we have David H.Treece speaking about The Meanings of Music in Brazilian Culture for Brazil World Music Day on September 7, and we'll be celebrating Jamaican Independence on October 5th . Finally, the Olympics are still in our thoughts as we look forward not only to Rio, but to our conference Social Change and the Sporting Mega-event on November 5, organised in collaboration with our Brazilian colleagues.

Whew! Hopefully, you’ll find at least some of these events of interest and we hope to see you at the Library in the near future.

25 June 2012

Politics, Plantations and Camels: early publishing about Barbados

Barbados (Lingon Map)
'A Topographical Description and Measurement of the Island of Barbados', in Richard Ligon's (1657) 'A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados' [Shelfmark: 455.a.18]

The British Library holds a significant collection of published material relating to the history of Barbados, some of it dating back to the mid-seventeenth century, and the above map inspired me to post about some of it here. Ligon's 'A True and Exact History' is one of the earliest publications the Library holds relating to Barbados (there are a couple of earlier works about English Civil War related strife in the 1650s) and it contains a number of interesting details about an island which was only settled by the English in 1627.

Ligon's account places a significant emphasis on the flora and fauna of Barbados as well as the fish and mammals encountered on his journey to the island. Of particular interest here is the long section given to the description of sharks and the animosity felt towards them by the ship's crew, who reserved gruesome fates for any of these predators that they caught (pp. 5-6). The other thing that jumps out to the reader from amongst the wealth of botanical and zoological information is a note on p. 58 about the presence and use of camels on the island. It would seem they were highly valued for their durability and use for carrying heavy loads, it also illustrates how quickly Barbados became part of a global exchange mechanism.

Barbados (Sloane Map)
Late 17th Century map of Barbados from a volume of ink wash on paper maps [Shelfmark: Sloane 2441]

Within these notes on the bounty of Barbados is the ever-present detail of the darker side of the island, its economy and politics. That slavery quickly became a brutal part of the island economy is illustrated by the two hunted runaways seen on the top map, as well as extensive notes found in the text. While Ligon makes little direct mention of the effects the English Civil War had on the island shortly before his work was published the tensions which existed are hinted at by the informal punishment allotted to the mention of the words 'Roundhead' or 'Cavalier' (p. 57).

While Ligon skirts around most details of the conflict in Barbados other writers see it as a significant incident related to wider problems with the island's administration. As such, one of the first books printed on the island, 'Some Memoirs of the First Settlement of Barbados' [published in 1741. Shelfmark: G.14967], notes the events that led to the Civil War playing out in Barbados and highlights key events in this conflict. It also concludes with a lengthy treatise on fairer government and the benefits this would bring to the island, a hot topic in the Americas at the time and one that would be debated in various forms during the history of the colonial Caribbean.

[PJH]

12 June 2012

Travel, Landscapes and Kodaks: Picturing Jamaica

Bananas (Golden Vale Jamaica)
'Bananas at Golden Vale, Portland' from, 'Picturesque Jamaica' by V. P. Parkhurst [Shelfmark: 1790.b.9]

Some of us here at Team Americas have been trying to find time to look over our collection of photographically illustrated books relating to the Caribbean. Sadly, this has not happened as quickly as we would like,but our intern, Brendan, has just started the ball rolling by looking for Caribbean-focussed works published between 1840 and 1950. So, to mark the occasion, I thought I would blog about some Jamaican items I already know about.

One of the earliest relevant items is a series of illustrations created from the Daguerreotypes of Adolphe Duperly and published in 1840. Moving more firmly into the realm of the photographically illustrated, we have the Mezzotypesof V. P. Parkhurst published in 1887 in Picturesque Jamaica[Shelfmark: 1790.b.9]. Parkhurst's work depicts many Jamaican landscape scenes, although emphasis is placed on wild, dreamy spaces and scenes of the managed or built environment are eerily devoid of life. In many ways, his work sets a tone for the tourist photography which would later be so prevalent in Jamaica.

Jamaica with a Kodak (cover)
Cover of, 'Through Jamaica with a Kodak' [Shelfmark: 010470.e.5]

Parkhurst's romanticised visual imagination of Jamaica is not a unique one, indeed his framing of the island is one seen repeatedly in the various illustrated travelogues which would follow this work; and they were many, thanks in part to the technical advances in photography and the work of Eastman Kodak. These same advances meant cameras were increasingly able to photograph people and every day scenes in reasonable clarity, meaning Jamaica's populace could now be bound into the same romantic and objectified imagination of the place.

One of the most notable examples here is the work of Alfred Leader and the book, Through Jamaica with a Kodak[010470.e.5]. Leader's cover (above) is something of a statement of intent, the camera looking like one of H. G. Wells' tripods and reminding the viewer of Susan Sontag's thesis that photography is an inherently aggressive act. These works are not unique in terms of the photographically illustrated books I know from the collection, with A Glimpse of the Tropics[Shelfmark: 10470.ee.9] and, another, Picturesque Jamaica [Shelfmark: L.49/233] producing similar tropical paradise imaginations. What the rest of our photographically illustrated books hold I don't yet know but will keep you posted.

[PJH]

16 May 2012

The Hull is a Boundary: on cricket, ships and empire

Campo Grande
Cricket on the Campo Grande, from Wild (1878), 'At Anchor' [Shelfmark: 1786.a.6]

Tomorrow is the beginning of a few weeks of divided loyalties for me, as England take on the West Indies in the first summer series. In honour of the occasion I thought I'd post a nugget from a paper I've written for the Library's 'Sourcing Sport' event on 21st May.

That paper is on cricket in the Americas and while I was researching it a particular detail caught my eye, that is the insights British colonial shipping can give to the spread of the game. Two non-Americas examples are the earliest record of a game of cricket being played in India (Port of Cambay, 1721. Recorded in Downing (1737), 'A Compendious History of the Indian Wars' [Shelfmark: 800.c.16]) and Darwin's relatively well known Beagle voyage diary entry about cricket being played in New Zealand (December 1895, 'Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries visited during the Voyage of HMS Beagle Round the World' [Shelfmark: X.319/3182]).

Arctic Cricket
Cricket on the Arctic ice, from Parry (1824), 'Journal of a second voyage for the discovery of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific' [Shelfmark: G.7394]

Because of similar circumstances there was opportunity for the etching at the top of this piece to be made. It depicts a match between expatriate Britons and the crew of HMS Challenger on the Campo Grande, San Salvador, and is an example of cricket being spread into the informal British empire (as the expatriates and sailors were all there as a result of British investment in the building of a local tramway).

However, as interesting as the Campo Grande illustration is, the depiction of cricket being played on the Arctic ice (from William Parry's account of a voyage to chart the Northwest Passage) takes the award for 'most striking ground' - although it might also win 'worst wicket'. These references and others in the Library's collections attest to how much the spread of cricket owes to the enthusiasm of British sailors; they also represent a useful source to further question the relationship between sport and empire

There is a great deal the Library's collections can tell us about sport and society, as previous posts here and next week's 'Sourcing Sport' will show. As to the rest of what makes cricket special, hopefully Sammy, Strauss, et al will furnish that argument.

[PJH]

02 April 2012

From the collections: twelve (very similar) views of Jamaica

 Roaring River (Belanger)

Louis Belanger (1800), ‘View of the Bridge Across the Roaring River near Bath, Jamaica’

Last week Team Americas had to do a little bit of digging to find out more about the French landscape artist Louis Belanger and six views of the Caribbean he painted. Cutting to the chase, and after several hours of source searching and collection digging, Belanger’s Caribbean views seemed incongruous to his wider body of work. He was employed as a painter in Europe and during the course of his life worked for various members of the British and Swedish establishment, producing many views of the European landscape. However, no existing sources mention Belanger being commissioned to travel to the Caribbean.

It seemed, therefore, that the process through which the views were created would remain unclear to us; until Beth found a reference to Belanger’s work in a article from 1936 in The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, entitled, ‘Early Prints of Jamaica’ (26th December 1936, pp. 826-27) which provides a short art-history of the depiction of the Jamaican landscape. Within the main argument the following jumps out:

“L. Belanger made six drawings of Jamaica, evidently copies from those of George Robertson. They were acquatinted by J. Merigot and published in 1800. These views are signed, ‘Louis Belanger, le Romain’. The untropical nature of his colour leads one to believe he never visited Jamaica.”

Roaring River (Robertson)
George Robertson (1778), ‘A View in the Island of Jamaica, of Fort William Estate, With Part of the Roaring River Belonging to William Beckford Esq., Near Savannah La Marr’

The two pieces shown here are from the Library’s ‘Caribbean Views’ gallery and they illustrate the author’s point. Unfortunately, for the most striking examples, ‘View of the Bridge Across Cabaritta River’ and ‘View of the Bridge Across Rio Cobre’, the Robertson views are not available online but a comparison of the physical copies suggests a strong affinity between the two sets of work. Indeed if you look at the Library’s copies of Belanger and Robertson’s works, it does seem that Belanger’s versions are exaggerated and romanticised reproductions of Robertson’s landscapes. All six views by both artists are part of the King’s Topographical Collection; Belanger, Maps K. Top. 123.55; Robertson, Maps K. Top. 123.54.

Interestingly these two sets of work have been sharing a volume in the King’s Topographical Collection for some time, separated by just a few sheets of intervening material; funny to think their history could be as intimate as their place in the collections.

[ENC & PJH]

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