Americas and Oceania Collections blog

220 posts categorized "Collections"

24 November 2021

E-resources: US historic and contemporary newspapers

In this second instalment of our Americas e-resources blog series we will focus on US newspapers, both historic and contemporary. All of the databases referred to here are full-text and many of them can be consulted remotely once you have a British Library Reader’s Pass.

Published by Readex, Early American Newspapers (Series 1, 1690-1876 & Series 2 1758-1900) is one of our absolute favourites. With facsimile coverage beginning in the late 17th century, when newspapers were often published by small-town printers reflecting the interests and values of the communities they served, its hundreds of titles chronicle the evolution of American society and culture through eyewitness reporting, editorials, obituaries, letters to the editor, advertisements, and much, much more. Search options include material type, date, keywords, name of publication, place of publication and language. The content is printable, downloadable and accessible remotely. Included among its riches is the first multipage colonial newspaper, Publick Occurences Both Forreign and Domestick; published in Boston on 25 September 1690, it was immediately suppressed.

A black and white printed newspaper page, with two columns and a heading going across the top.
Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, 25 September 1690. This was the first multipage newspaper published in the American colonies; it can be found on the full-text, remotely-accessible e-resource ‘Early American Newspapers.’

Also published by Readex and remotely accessible is African American Newspapers (Series 1, 1827-1998 & Series 2, 1835-1956). This extraordinary resource offers facsimile copies of more than 350 newspapers published by or for African Americans in more than 35 states. Coverage spans life in the Antebellum South; abolitionism; the growth of the Black church; the Jim Crow Era; the Great Migration to northern cities, the West and Midwest; the rise of the NAACP; the Harlem Renaissance; the civil rights movement; political and economic empowerment; and more. Many of the titles are rare and historically significant, including Freedom’s Journal, the first Black owned and operated newspaper in the United States, which was founded on 16 March 1827 in New York City by John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish.

A densely printed newspaper page with four columns of print and the title of the paper going across the top.
Freedom’s Journal, 16 March 1827. This was the first Black owned and operated newspaper published in the US; it can be found on the full-text, remotely accessible e-resource ‘African American Newspapers.’

American Indian Newspapers was made possible by the permission and contribution of the newspaper publishers and Tribal Councils concerned and is published by Adam Matthew. It includes over 170,000 pages from 9,000 editions of Indigenous US and Canadian national periodicals, local community newspapers, and student papers and magazines. Coverage runs from 1828 to 2016, although the bulk of its 45 titles were founded during the 1970s and document the proliferation of Indigenous journalism that grew out of the occupation of Wounded Knee. There are numerous bi-lingual and Indigenous-language editions, and many titles – including Ak-Chin O’Odham Runner, the Cherokee Phoenix and the Navajo Times – are digitised in runs of more than 500 issues. Unlike Early American Newspapers and African American Newspapers, it has to be consulted at the Library.

The front page of the Navajo Times newspaper, which features two columns of text, a photo of man wearing a suit and hat, and several black and white line drawings.
Navajo Times, November 1959; this can be found in the e-resource 'Native American Newspapers.'

Service Newspapers of World War Two contains over 300 publications for soldiers serving in all of the major theatres of that conflict. More than 60 of these were published for US military forces, including the Stars and Stripes, which was printed in dozens of editions in numerous locations. In addition to maintaining the troops’ morale and helping to create an atmosphere of solidarity, these newspapers played a vital role in keeping servicemen informed about events in their unit and immediate locality, as well as delivering news from home and about the war at large. A large number were written by the servicemen themselves, although some were sanctioned by senior staff and had a more official agenda. Most contained a mix of articles, news reports, op-ed pieces, letters, military facts, trivia, cartoons and photographs. Like American Indian Newspapers, it is published by Adam Matthew and needs to be consulted at the Library.

The front page of the Stars and Stripes newspaper, which includes the photo of US General Eisenhower decorating soldiers on parade, as well as five columns of dense text.
The Stars and Stripes, London edition, 5 July 1944; this can be found on the full-text e-resource 'Service Newspapers of World War Two.'

Currently, the British Library subscribes to three of Proquest’s Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2017), The Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988) and the Communist Historical Newspaper Collection. All offer full-text facsimile copies, but they are not accessible remotely. The New York Times probably needs no further discussion. The Baltimore Afro-American was founded in 1892. Five years later, its printing presses were purchased at auction by John H. Murphy, Sr.  Murphy had been born into slavery in Baltimore in 1840 and in 1868 married Martha Howard, the daughter of a well-to-do free black farmer. Although the Library's digital coverage of the Afro-American ends in 1988, this weekly publication is still in print and is the longest running African American family-owned newspaper in the United States. At its peak, regional editions were being printed in 13 major US cities; it has campaigned with the NAACP on a huge range of civil rights cases; and noteworthy contributors include writer Langston Hughes and artist Romare Bearden.

A five verse poem by Langston Hughes titled 'For A'Lelia.'
Poem by Langston Hughes in honour of A'Lelia Walker, daughter of Madam C.J. Walker and president of the C.J. Walker Company; from the Baltimore Afro-American, 19 August 1931, digitised by Proquest.

The Communist Historical Newspaper Collection offers the full-text editions of nine Communist newspapers published in the US, including The Daily Worker (1924-1958), Daily World (1968-1986), and the Ohio Socialist (1917-1919).

The front page of the Daily Worker newspaper which has eight columns of text, a cartoon and a map.
Daily Worker, 3 July 1940. It is available in the full-text e-resource 'Communist Historical Newspaper Collection, 1919-2013.'

Last but by no means least, we want to flag up the remotely accessible Newsbank Access World News. Despite its rather understated interface, it is an absolute goldmine if you are doing contemporary US research. It currently offers up-to-the minute full-text (non-facsimile) access to over 1300 US dailies, including Boston Herald (1991 – ); the New York Daily News (NY) (1995 – ); Los Angeles Times (1985 – ); Miami Herald (1982 – ); New York Post (1999 – ) and San Francisco Chronicle (1985 – ). It also offers access to more than 20 news magazines, including The New Yorker, The Nation and The Atlantic; the transcripts of more than 200 major TV news and radio programmes, including 60 Minutes (CBS; 2004 – ) ; CBS Evening News (2005 – ); CNN (2004 – ); Face the Nation (CBS; 2010 – ); Fox News’s various channels (2003 – ); Meet the Press (NBC; 2012 – ); MSNBC (2003 – ); NPR (1990 – ); and PBS NewsHour (2006 – ). On top of this it includes more than 300 web-only news sources and more than 80 newswires, including Associated Press (1997 – ); AP State Wires (from all states, 2010/2011 – ); CNN Wire (2009 – ); and UPI NewsTrack, (2005 – ). It is a truly unique and remarkable resource and we cannot recommend it enough.

Next month we will be having a look at some of our broad-brush ‘bibliographic e-resources’. This type of database offers you lists of sources (books, journal articles etc) that you will then need to track down elsewhere. These e-resources are particularly useful at the beginning of a project when you are trying to get a sense of the research landscape, but are equally valuable at the end, when you need to make sure you have caught everything that has been published in the previous few months.

 

 

 

26 October 2021

US Fine Presses: a new guide to the Library's holdings

We are delighted to let you know that the Eccles Centre has just published a new Americas-focused bibliographic guide: US Fine Presses Established after 1945: A Guide to the British Library's Holdings (just scroll down a little to find it!)

This guide grew out of a conversation in late 2019 with then-Head of the Centre, Phil Hatfield, who had recently pledged financial support towards the cataloguing of a backlog of US fine press publications. A large number of these works – produced on old-fashioned hand-presses by contemporary printers – had been acquired by our curatorial colleagues in the previous 15 years. Phil rightly noted that without some kind of check-list or guide, it would be almost impossible for Library Readers, now or in the future, to appreciate the depth and richness of these holdings.

A colourful, stretched-out concertina style book, with images of faces and text throughout.
Borderbus. [Poem by Juan Filipe Herrera; prints by Felicia Rice.] Santa Cruz, CA: Moving Parts Press, 2019. British Library shelfmark: RF.2019.b.144

Initially, the guide was just going to list the works that were then being catalogued. This suited me perfectly since at that point I honestly didn’t understand the time, money and effort that my colleagues had devoted to obtaining these items! Thankfully, as I immersed myself in this world, my appreciation grew – both for the beauty, originality and boundary-pushing nature of the items themselves, and for the imagination and skill of their printers. And as my appreciation increased, so too did the scope of this project. After discovering P.A.H. Brown’s Modern British and American Private Presses (1850-1965): [catalogue of the] holdings of the British Library (London, 1976) it seemed sensible to push our own guide’s start date back to 1965.1 And as it became apparent that several post-war presses had been omitted from Brown, so we pushed that date back even further, to 1945.

An image of an orange/brown toned mountain thrown into sharp relief by a starry blue sky. The image is signed by its artist: Daniel Goldstein.
Kenneth Rexroth, Between Two Wars: Selected Poems Written Prior to the Second World War. Illustrations by Daniel Goldstein. Athens, OH: Labyrinth Editions; San Francisco, CA: Iris Press, 1982. British Library shelfmark: Cup.408.rr.9

The first step in tracking down these presses was to search the Library’s catalogue. Covid-19 related Library closures, combined with often-minimal cataloguing data, made it difficult to verify many of the items’ fine press credentials in person. Thankfully, however, online access to rare bookseller and auction websites made it possible, slowly but surely, to determine whether an item was hand-printed and whether a press had been founded after World War II.

An open book. On the left hand page a black and white lithograph appears to depict shards of glass flying towards the reader; on the right is a poem by Diane Ackerman.
About Sylvia. Poems by Diane Ackerman; lithographs by Enid Mark. Wallingford, PA: ELM Press, 1996. British Library shelfmark: Cup.512.d.9

In total, items by more than 180 such presses were found in the Library’s collection. More than 160 of these presses started after 1965 and – incredibly – more than 90 were established between 1965-1980. This fifteen-year period truly was a golden era for hand-press printing in the United States – a cultural phenomenon which seems entirely in-tune with that counter-cultural moment. Crucially, too, this was the point at which graduates from the recently established university book arts programmes began founding fine presses of their own.

A double-page blue and white print depicting the sea, mountains and a wooden boat on its side.
Tom Killion, The Coast of California: Point Reyes to Point Sur. Santa Cruz & Mill Valley, CA: The Quail Press, 1979. British Library shelfmark: C.180.k.1

Researching the emergence and development of these presses was absolutely fascinating. Time and again it showed me the profound impact that great teachers can have not only on individuals, but on an entire creative landscape. For this reason, in addition to listing the names of these presses and some of their works, the guide offers a short ‘biography’ of each of press, including, where possible: the name of the press’s founder(s); the founder’s training and/or education and mentor; how long the press was in operation; how it developed over time; any speciality in subject matter or genre; any change in location; the type of equipment used; and whether it made its own paper. After this ‘biography’, the full details of up to ten works are listed for every press. And at the end of the guide there is a geographic index to the presses, arranged by US state.

An open book. On the left hand page a swirling black and white image appears to depict cigarette smoke; on the right hand side is a black and white image of Charlie Parker, with his name written underneath.
Trading Eights: The Faces of Jazz. Essay by Ted Gioia; engravings by James G. Todd, Jr.; poem by Dana Gioia. California: Mixolydian Editions, 2016. British Library shelfmark: RF.2016.b.69

I hope this guide will prove useful to all those working in this field. And for those who are not, I hope it will offer an insight into a lesser-known aspect of the Library’s Americas holdings.

A dark and brooding image of Edgar Allan Poe. His black hair looks unkempt and he wears a high-neck collar and a dark jacket or coat.
Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven. Etchings and wood engravings by Alan James Robinson. Easthampton, MA: Cheloniidae Press, 1980. British Library shelfmark: C.136.g.42

Jean Petrovic

References

  1. Philip A.H. Brown, Modern British and American Private Presses (1850-1965): [catalogue of the] holdings of the British Library. London: British Museum Publications Ltd for the Library, 1976. Shelfmark: Open Access Rare Books and Music 094.4016 ENG; General Reference Collection 2708.aa.36; Document Supply 78/9820. 

14 October 2021

Americas and Oceania e-Resources: An Introduction

In light of the recent unprecedented demand for digital materials, we’ve decided to run a year-long series of monthly blogposts highlighting the extraordinarily rich Americas and Oceania-focused e-resources that are held at the British Library. Although most of these e-resources need to be consulted in-person in the Library’s Reading Rooms, some are accessible remotely to Reader’s Pass holders and we are hopeful that this number will continue to rise.

In terms of content, e-resources fall into two broad categories: full-text and bibliographic. The former will give you all or most of a particular item, be that a book, journal article, map, letter, playbill, diary, logbook, newspaper article, photo or minutes of a meeting. The latter will simply provide you with citations which you then need follow up elsewhere - in the Library’s Main Catalogue, for example, or a catalogue at another institution.

Psalmes II
Fig. 1: The Whole Booke of Psalmes, 1640. This was the first book to be published in the American colonies. It can be found in the full-text, remote access e-resource 'Early American Imprints, 1639-1800.'

Over the coming year, these blogs will cover both types of e-resources (full-text and bibliographic) and will clearly flag the kind of access they offer (in-person or remote). Some will focus on particular subjects: for example, US politics, Oceania, or literature of the Americas. Others will focus on certain types of material. Next month, for example, we will look at newspapers, including historic newspapers from the Caribbean, Latin America and the US,  American Indian newspapers, communist newspapers and service newspapers of World War II; many of these are accessible remotely.

All of the Americas and Oceania e-resources can be found in the Library’s Main Catalogue.

However, if you don’t have any titles or you want to get a sense of what the Library holds, please browse the holdings by subject. Currently, there are 130+ e-resources listed under History, for example, many of which have Americas and Oceania content. And more than 110 are listed under American Studies, a selection of which includes: America in World War Two; American Civil Liberties Union Papers; Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century; Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive, 1880-2015; First World War Portal; Global Commodities: Trade, Exploration and Cultural Exchange; History Vault: African American Police League Records, 1961-1988; History Vault: Struggle for Women’s Rights, 1880-1990; The Nixon Years; North American Indian Thought and Culture; Slavery & Antislavery: A Transnational Archive; Trade Catalogues and the American Home; and Virginia Company Archives.

Anne bradstreet II
Fig. 2: Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety and Learning...(1678). This anonymous and posthumously published volume of poetry by Anne Bradstreet was the first work by a woman to be published in the American colonies. It can be found in the full-text, remote access e-resource 'Early American Imprints, 1639-1800.'

Finally, I’ll just say a few words about one of my personal favourites: Early American Imprints: Series I: Evans, 1639-1800.  Based on the 14-volume work by US bibliographer Charles Evans, this incredible database provides the full-text of almost every book, pamphlet and periodical published on American soil in the 17th and 18th centuries.And once you have a Reader’s Pass, you can access it whenever and wherever you wish! Among its many treasures are The Whole Booke of Psalmes (1640) – the first work published in the American colonies (Fig 1, above). Anne Bradstreet’s self-revised and posthumously published Several Poems Completed with Great Variety of Wit and Learning (1678) – the first book by a woman to be published in North America (Fig.2, above). And An Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects Which Have Appeared in the World…(1784) by Hannah Adams – the first woman in the United States to make her living as a writer (Fig. 3, below).

Hannah adams
Fig. 3: Hannah Adams, An Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects...(1784). Adams was the first American woman to make her living as a writer and this was her first book; it can be found in the full-text, remote access e-resource 'Early American Imprints, 1639-1800.'

Happy browsing!

Next month we will look at the Library's huge range of Americas-focused e-newspapers. 

(And if you would like to learn more about the British Library's holdings of works by early American women writers, please take a look at 'For Myself, For My Children, For Money': A Bibliography of Early American Women's Writings at the British Library on the the Eccles Centre's website.)

References:

Charles Evans, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America ... 14 vols. British Library shelfmark: Open Access Humanities 1 HRL 015.73

 

 

 

 

 

 

06 August 2021

Two Conflicting Pioneers and their Precursors in the Amazon

This blog by Pola Oloixarac is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting recent research across the British Library's Americas collections by scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre's Awards.

Travel has changed a lot since the early naturalists voyaged through the Amazonia, and it continues to change today thanks to Covid restrictions. While I’ve been unable to foray in person into the archives of the British Library as I was hoping - summer, London, arcane tomes - I’ve had the luck of encountering the mighty digital explorer, Dr Aleksandra Kaye. Dr Kaye knows her way around the British Library’s vast digital  archives and like any sensible 19th century naturalist seeking help from a guide, I secured her expertise in unearthing their intricate holdings.
 
In the first written accounts of the Amazon, the anthropological gaze is under-developed. Though entranced by the power of landscape, the earliest naturalists typically didn’t consider the human culture they encountered. The richness of the human Amazonian world typically escape their notice. Indeed, where Amazonian people are referenced, early accounts by European naturalists are explicitly racist. One explorer, however, who did take some account of indigenous people was the French painter Hercules Florence, although how he saw them was problematic. He travelled to the Amazon from 1825 to 1829 and ended up spending his life in Brazil.

What excited Florence was undiscovered places and he was uninterested in indigenous village life. He remarked in his diary that the jungle is repetitive and that, "to see a Brazilian village, is to see them all"1. He became obsessed with capturing the unchartered territory and capturing it through sound and image with pioneering technology. Florence experimented making photographs in Brazil in 1833 and wanted to record the sounds of what surrounded him. This led him to devise a method to record wild bird song in the Amazon. While looking for a way to record sound, he stumbled into photography. Indeed, while trying to publicise his experiments in sound recording he managed to devise the first printing machine in Sao Paulo.

In the first page of his diary he mentions the expedition slaves, noting that all humans become the same bundle of flesh under the severity of the Amazonian environment. When the expedition’s commander, Gregory Langsdorff (Fig. 1, below) succumbs to yellow fever, Florence notes that illness made no distinction about social class in the context of the Amazon.

A  slightly side-on black and white image of G.H. Langsdorff.
Fig. 1: G. H. von Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World… London: printed for Henry Colburn, 1813. British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 38483]. Image courtesy University of Alberta, due to Covid restrictions.

Langsdorff claimed to be the first to attempt the fluvial crossing of Brazil, from Pantanal to Belum. Until now it was believed that the first trip was in 1825 but Dr Kaye’s research has revealed a precursor: there was a previous trip funded by the Imperial Russian court and led by Adam Johan Krussertern in which Langsdorff took part. Before his trip with Florence in 1825, Langsdorff had added himself hastily and at his own expense to the Krussertern expedition as a second naturalist (the first was Wilhm Gottlieb Tilesius). Langsdorff, therefore, went into the Amazon at least two times, around 1803-1807.  These earlier expeditions could explain why the subsequent Langsdorff trip a few decades later was hardly noticed by the very Russians who funded it, considering it, perhaps, redundant. Indeed, the reports of the Langsdorff investigation languished in St Petersburg for over a century largely undiscovered.

Langsdorff’s story is a reminder of how much these exploratory naturalist expeditions had in common with modern filmmaking. Langsdorff had, in effect, been to the Amazon first as a location scout (1803-1807), but his vision of the Amazon and the legacy of his expedition could not exist without artists to document the trip. For his 1825-1829 expedition - the one that would make him famous - Langsdorff only wanted the very best artists. He hired Johan Moritz Rugendas, but their relationship faltered when the Prussian commander sought to take ownership of the artist’s original works. Rugendas, however, was aware of his own worth as an artist and would not bow to Langsdorff. The Brazilian diaries of both Rugendas and Langsdorff paint the latter in a negative light: Langsdorff was controlling and wanted Rugendas to assign him copyright, but the artist resisted and ultimately deserted the expedition. 

This is how Hercules Florence joined the trip as a second painter to first painter André Taunay. Traveling with Langsdorff, Hercules Florence experimented with photography (he called it “painting with light”). He claimed to be its first inventor, documenting his attempts using silver nitrate and natural acids like urea. Despite these claims, however, Dr Kaye found that Alexander Agassiz, also claimed to be the first to use photography through carbon printing for general illustrations of natural history. In 1871 Agassiz made this claim in the pages of the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College (British Library shelfmark Ac.1736/26), where his father, Louis Agassiz, was an acclaimed professor. Agassiz argues that photography is likely to overtake lithography as a mode of illustrating natural history and includes two photographs with his work. His view that the new printing technology would withstand the test of time is born out by the archive; and 150 years later, we can look at these photographs at the British Library.

Sea urchin 1
Fig. 2: Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College. 1871. British Library shelfmark: Ac.1726/36.

Did Agassiz know of Florence’s efforts to make pictures by “painting with light”? Or was Florence unknown to his contemporaries, even those working as naturalists in Brazil? These questions beg answers. For now, we can only reflect on the fact that the London edition of the early Langsdorff travels (before his trip with Florence) is much more richly illustrated and complete than the American version. In the UK edition we find a lithograph of a Brazilian house (Fig. 3, below) and a musical score called “Brazilian Air” (Fig. 4, below). Both are accessible digitally, which makes comparing them possible. The US edition from 1817 has been digitized by the British Library and is in the public domain - the UK edition from 1813 is only available digitally inside the library, but the University of Alberta digitized their copy and made it publicly available. The London edition was published in two separate volumes, while the US edition has less images, is more cramped and in smaller format and is published as a single book. As a consequence the US edition would have been cheaper to produce and therefore more accessible to bigger audiences.

Two women crouching and engaged in domestic tasks.
Fig. 3: G. H. von Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World… London: printed for Henry Colburn, 1813. British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 38483]. Image courtesy University of Alberta due to Covid restrictions.
A page of musical notation and lyrics.
Fig. 4: G. H. von Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World… London: printed for Henry Colburn, 1813. British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 38483]. Image courtesy University of Alberta, due to Covid restrictions.

Another interesting item with connections to Brazil uncovered by Dr Kaye is a 1916 book of short stories by Edith Wharton, the American author, called Xingú, and Other Stories (London; New York printed: Macmillan, 1916; British Library shelfmark NN.4057). The “Xingú” text portrays a dialogue between elite ladies who cannot fathom what is meant by Xingú. They think Xingú is something mysterious or rude, which creates quite a lot of drama among them. Eventually they discover it’s a Brazilian River. The text keeps you wondering, what would The Age of Innocence (Mrs. Wharton’s vivid masterpiece) be like, if set in the Império do Brasil? A crossover of the directors Martin Scorsese and Joaquim Machado de Assis, with vast corridors of palms, would surely depict a young emperor obsessed with becoming a masterful photographer, like Dom Pedro II of Brazil once was. He would have been especially pleased about finding the British Library's digital versions of his photographs available today.

Pola Oloixarac is the author of the novels Savage Theories, Dark Constellations and Mona. She’s the recipient of the 2021 Eccles Centre and Hay Festival Writer's Award.

1. Hercule Florence Diary: http://etnolinguistica.wdfiles.com/local--files/biblio:kossoy-1977-florence/kossoy_1977_hercules_florence.pdf

30 July 2021

Columbus and the Idea of Cuba

This blog by JS Tennant is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting recent research across the British Library's Americas collections by scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre's Awards.

Like Columbus I have torn through one reality and discovered another but like Columbus I thought Cuba was on the mainland and it was not and like Columbus also it is possible I am leaving a heritage of destruction.

– Malcolm Lowry, 1937

It might seem like a truism to restate the importance of Columbus’s so-called ‘discovery’ of the Americas. But recent theories around primacy - those jostling counter claims attributing first transatlantic landfall to Norsemen, Basque or Bristol cod-fishermen, or a Portuguese pilot - detract little from the hemispheric and historical significance of the Genoese navigator’s albeit unintended achievement.

Portugal was the pioneering nation of exploration in the late medieval period. Columbus had first sought sponsorship for his design from the kings of Portugal and England. He then spent seven long years petitioning Fernando and Isabel of Spain, trailing around after the regents’ itinerant court among their vast retinue of hand-wringing camp followers.  Eventually, his doggedness won over the ‘Catholic Sovereigns’ whose union had brought together the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile and reached its apotheosis in the rout of Islam’s last stronghold on the peninsula at Granada.

Columbus failed to convince the regents during a debate with the country’s leading theologians and cosmographers at Salamanca in 1486, but a further audience near Granada in 1491 (under siege at the time) led Fernando and Isabel – buoyed no doubt by their imminent success – to grant his request. They urged him to set off quickly, in fact, perturbed by recent news that the Portuguese had succeeded in rounding the Cape of Good Hope; Spain needed to open a new, westward, maritime trade route into the lucrative spice markets of Asia.

Medieval European cartography can be generally categorised within three traditions: the mappaemundi, portolan charts and celestial maps. Mappaemundi were large, decorative circular maps of the known world, intended as much for spiritual instruction as locational accuracy. They were often beautifully illustrated with densely symbolic imagery, classical themes, placing Jerusalem at the nexus of all lands. Portolan charts, or sea charts, usually showed the Black Sea or Mediterranean and were deemed to be accurate, meant for active use by navigators. Although invented by the Phoenicians, these portable charts were perfected in late medieval times in the city states of Venice, Genoa, Florence as well as Ancona and Palma de Mallorca.

In the 1400s Europeans believed there were three continents, corresponding with those assigned to the sons of Noah: Asia, Europe and Africa. But both mappaemundi and portolan charts did signal the possibility of Terra incognita: most notably the existence of an Edenic terrestrial paradise, the Garden of Earthly Delights, whose existence was a given for orthodox Christians in the Middle Ages. The few sea charts which have come down to us showing a portion of the Atlantic – such as that of Grazioso Benincasa (1470) [Figure 1] – often position mythical islands such as Antilia, Brasil, Saint Brendan's Isle and Salvaga out at the edge of the mar tenebroso, the shadowy sea. An entirely new continent, though – let alone two – would have been beyond the wildest imaginings (even to the highly susceptible medieval mind). 

Detail from the Benincasa chart showing the mythical islands of Antilia & Salvaga.
Figure 1: Portolan chart from 1470 by Grazioso Benincasa. British Library shelfmark: MS 31318A.

Claudius Ptolemy’s Cosmographia – a mid-second century work of theoretical geography and manual for map-making – proved a sensation in clerical and courtly circles in Western Europe when it was translated into Latin in 1406. A manuscript of the Alexandrian scholar’s treatise had been copied out in the late thirteenth century the Byzantine monk Maximus Planudes and was preserved in the Monastery of Vatopedi [Figure 2]. Although not printed until the 1470s, the Cosmographia was widely circulated before then and, although it overestimated degrees of longitude (elongating the distance between west and east), confirmed the tripartite nature of the world. Having languished practically unknown – except by Arab astronomers – for 1,300 years before the time of Columbus, the eventual rediscovery of Ptolemy as a geographer became one of the major intellectual events of the fifteenth century. 

A yellowing manuscript page in Greek with two spherical sketches suggesting the tripartite nature of the world.
Figure 2: 14th century MS of Ptolemy’s Geographia. British Library shelfmark: Burney MS 111.

Like many learned men of his age, Columbus was steeped in the work of Ptolemy and colourful travelogues such as Marco Polo’s Il milione and Mandeville’s Travels. Lumbered with such preconceptions it is hardly a surprise that, when he stumbled upon the myriad cays, atolls and islands of the West Indies, he assumed this was the same archipelago off the eastern end of Orbis terrarum where the Great Khan – Emperor of China (or Cathay) – went to capture slaves. Although Ptolemy never fully mapped the outer rim of East Asia, he did describe a cluster of islands numbering 1,378 which must have recalled, for Columbus – who jotted this in the margins of his copy of Pierre d’Ailly’s Imago mundi – Polo’s 1,300 cities in Mangi (South China) and the 7,448 islands in the Sea of Mangi, verdant with fragrant trees and a profusion of white and black pepper.

Ptolemy’s conjectural coastlines, and Polo’s fanciful writings, were of little use to him in the Caribbean, which he named ‘the Indies’: at that time a term often assigning the whole of South and East Asia, a hazily imagined space so characterised by islands that its easternmost confine was often labelled Insulindia. Encountering Cuba on his first voyage, in 1492, Columbus publicly declared it to be the fabled Golden Chersonese (the present-day Malay Peninsula), stating later it was the littoral of mainland Cathay.

Displaying their own doubts, perhaps, ahead of his second voyage, the Spanish sovereigns urged Columbus to explore Cuba, ‘known up till now as a continent [tierra firme]’, once more. In June, 1494, dismissing claims to the contrary from native inhabitants ‘so ignorant and provincial they think the whole world is composed of islands’ he made his crew sign an oath affirming the continental nature of Cuba which, if reneged upon, would entail a cutting out of tongues. Privately, he conceded the possibility it could be an island, which he initially called Juana, only later updating this to ‘Cuba’: the name used by its local peoples (which in any case may have signified Florida).

At the turn of the century Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, an Italian humanist in the service of the Spanish court, had written of reports from men who claimed to have rounded the island. Given that he sailed under Columbus’s command on both the first and second voyages (as mate of the flagship Marigalante, which he also owned), and that first recorded circumnavigation of Cuba was by Sebastián de Ocampo in 1508, it is surprising that the Castilian cartographer Juan de la Cosa dared to depict Cuba as an island on his map of 1500. Beautifully executed on ox-hide [Figure 3], it also shows a putative channel cleaving the isthmus of Central America, through which wades a cartouche of St Christopher (who Columbus openly associated himself with) ferrying a cherubic Christ child on his shoulders. Was this to salve his admiral’s potential misgivings about the depiction of Cuba? 

Coloured map showing the islands and sea in the Caribbean.
Figure 3: Map of Juan de la Cosa, 1500. Detail of the Caribbean Sea region. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

The beautiful Cantino planisphere of 1502 [Figure 4, below] is coloured and adorned like a mappamundi but studded by compass roses radiating rhumb lines and strongly accented coastlines in the portolan fashion. It shows a half-figured, spectral presence of the South and North American continents, but likewise a breach in Central America, hoping against hope for a seaward passage there towards Cathay and the Spice Islands. The Cantino planisphere also carries the prominent legend The King of Castile’s Antillies, named of course after Antilia, the island or (sometimes) archipelago of legend: the place – often associated with Cuba – some of Columbus’s many detractors felt he had really reached.  

This detail of the planosphere has a white/cream background and shows numerous islands, some with images of wildlife.
Figure 4: Planisphere named for Alberto Cantino. 1502. Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantino_planisphere#/media/File:Cantino_west.jpg

Columbus seems to have been afflicted with a sort of Insulindia of the senses, an archipelagic delirium derived from antiquity, the bible, and books of travel. Writing to the Pope in February, 1502, he claims that, among the hundreds of islands he discovered were Tarshish, Cethia, Ophaz, and Cipangu [Japan]; Ophir, the biblical region from where King Solomon received regular tributes of gold, ivory, peacocks and apes; as well as ‘vastly infinite lands’: it is ‘in that vicinity the Terrestrial Paradise is to be found’. Publicly, perhaps for fear of having duped the Catholic Sovereigns, Columbus maintained the unwavering conviction that he’d reached Asia – one professed, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, until the day he died in 1506. 

Figure 4 revised
Figure 5: Francesco di Lorenzo Roselli & Giovanni Matteo Contarini, Mundu [sic] spericum. [Florence ?], 1506. British Library shelfmark: Maps C.2.cc.4

The first printed map to show the ‘New World’ is the Contarini-Rosselli that same year, the only copy of which is held at the British Library [Figure 5, above]. Ptolemy, although writing in Greek, owed much of his knowledge to the expansion of the Roman empire; Columbus’s discovery of the Americas for Europe, and Portuguese advances across Asia, made it clear to cartographers that the old Jerusalem-centred manner of depiction no longer held. But such was the Alexandrine’s influence that, well into the sixteenth century, attempts were made to fit the Americas and Asia into a Ptolemaic framework, such as can be seen in the Contarini-Rosselli Map the Ruysch World Map of 1507 [Figure 6]. 

5 revised final
Figure 6: Johann Ruysch world map, created 1507-08. Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ruysch_map.jpg

Confusion, sparked by Columbus’s equivocations over the nature of Cuba, are evidenced here in analysis which has shown that Ruysch painted over his original inscription Terra de Cuba, on the large island in its place, leaving it unnamed. The 1507 and 1516 Waldseemüller maps mislabel Cuba as ‘Isabella’, while the latter goes as far as to categorise an area of mainland Mexico as Terra de Cuba, Asie Partis. Similarly, the 1520 Schöner Globe marks Terra de Cuba on a landmass floating where North America should be, with Japan hovering tantalisingly nearby through an open sea channel [Figure 7]. In the end, Columbus’s characteristic intransigence had a devastating effect on the posterity and status he so craved. His false idea of Cuba contributed to the two continents being named instead for his friend, a Florentine also in the service of Spain: the explorer Américo Vespucio. 

Colourful detail of Schoner's 1520 globe.
Figure 7: Detail of the globe by Johannes Schöner, 1520. Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

 

JS Tennant’s work Mrs Gargantua and the Idea of Cuba is forthcoming from William Collins. It was shortlisted for the 2020 Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award.

 

26 July 2021

Shape-shifting: Creative research and 'The Owner of the Sea'

This blog by Richard Price is part of the Eccles Centre's special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting recent research by scholars and creatives working across the British Library's Americas collections. 

In a past life I was a researcher, studying for a PhD. I was investigating the novels and plays of the writer Neil M. Gunn who wrote in the interwar period and just beyond. I used the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays collection in the Library to see what the state censor of the day had made of Gunn’s play The Ancient Fire (1929). Gunn had located this drama in two politically sensitive places: post-war Glasgow, dependant on warship contracts for the British Empire, and a Scottish Highlands dominated by super-wealthy, super-absent landlords. I suspected there would be crossings-out in blue pencil, blustering annotations – any manner of indignation – and I was right. The Lord Chamberlain’s office was not going to let that play pass across its desk without the sharpening of pencils.

I duly completed the PhD and to this day use “Dr”, mainly to remind myself I actually did it. As it happens the revelations about censorship – it is still quite shocking to see a person’s art damaged by systematic authority – didn’t form much of my thesis. As often in research, specific information you glean doesn’t always, or even usually, make it to the central argument. Mine was more about aesthetics and internal Scottish self-identity rather than British politics, though of course these three components have various kinds of critical relationship with each other.

And, bar a published paper here or there afterwards, that was it. Fairly soon I decided to settle for just two vocations rather than three – Librarianship and Poetry. I let Research go, continued to work for a certain national library then located in the Round Reading Room of the British Museum (among other places), and continued to work in my own time – yes, I have finally learnt to call it work – as a writer.

Or I thought I had left Research. As the years have gone on, I’ve realised that thing that is reading and thinking and conversing about a subject before making something from that activity is still, of course, Research. 

Here are some topics I’ve felt the need to study for creative projects over the years: medical and psychological interventions for insomniacs (Rays, poetry, 2009); airborne pathogens (The Island, novel, 2010); stroke and patient care (Small World, poetry, 2012); the Scottish Highlands in wartime (Wind-breakers, Sea-Eagles and Anthrax, radio, 2019); the history of little magazines (Is This A Poem?, essays, 2015); the music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson (The World Brims by the Loss Adjustors, album, 2018); and, most recently, Inuit legends (The Owner of the Sea: Three Inuit Stories Retold, poetry, 2021). I’ve used a mixture of interviews with practitioners, straight-out purchases of academic books, and of course library-based study for all these.

Writing that paragraph I realise I’ve just missed the most significant segment of research that I have carried out: reading poetry. Contemporary poetry, yes, but poetry from all kinds of territories, times and directions, too; books and magazines about poetry which maintain context and skills knowledge; and of course conversations and correspondence with other poets and with readers including those who may not even know they could like poetry. Any writer, I imagine, is continually and voraciously reading works within their form and discussing them, so much so that they lose sight of it sometimes as study, as ‘Research’. In some ways, I hope that they do lose sight of it. Play, pleasure, enjoyment – immersion – perhaps, these are under-rated qualities in a society driven, at times, by a mixing up of  education and the work ethic? In any case, all this is the circulating blood at the heart of research, creatively speaking.

I think there’s another element, and perhaps that is also ‘invisible’ to many as labour, as researching activity. It is developing a practical understanding of the material demands, from physical form to people networks, that one’s art moves in, through, and across. For visual artists this is, say, ‘To know the gallery trade’. For a poet like me, who often works with book artists, it’s knowing the artist’s book market and the kinds of possibilities book artists explore in their work; it’s working with book artists. The same is true for knowing the mainstream poetry publishing world: this doesn’t happen instantly but takes years of finding-out (and luck). Some may say that these are compromising complications for a ‘pure poet’ or equivalent artist but I’m not so sure that one can ever escape the material nature of even such an apparently ethereal art.  I’d go further, that the nature of its material form and distribution is a big enough part of its meaning for a poet to devote time to learning it. 

This helps in a way to explain how The Owner of the Sea came about, and how it was that this ‘invisible’ aspect of research inspired its creation. It was integration within the materiality of one part of the poetry world – artist’s books – that led to it. For well over twenty years I have, in my time away from the Library, been an appreciator of and collaborator with the Anglo-Brazilian artist Ronald King. Our first book was gift horse (Circle Press, 1999; British Library Shelfmark: Cup.512.b.232). It’s a large off-white book with very few pages and striking images which are not inked – they are ‘blind embossed’. The printing equipment has made an impression on a damped page whose paper has to be chosen carefully for its strength and stretchiness in the process. Because no ink is used on these images the eye relies on slight shadow and light differences to make them out. Ron ‘animated’ the image: he used the central figure of a horse starting from a standing position and gradually going into a gallop by the end of the book. The artist Karen Bleitz set the type of the poem in soft grey.

Decades later, after a series of King-Price collaborations, all duly and proudly now in the British Library collections, we joined up for a return to a blind-embossed book, Sedna and the Fulmar. Ron asked me to write a small set of poems based on one of the legends of Sedna, who is a major sea spirit or god, known by various names across different Inuit territories. As a young man, Ron had lived in Canada and had stumbled across her legend. He had never found a satisfying artistic way of responding until now when he would use blind-embossing as an analogy for Arctic white-space, the images imprinted as it were into the snow of the page.

Following his invitation to work with him again, the more conventional usage of ‘Research’ came into play for me. I began to read (and write) more about Sedna than the project required. I was particularly taken by Frédéric Laugrand and Jarich Oosten’s The Sea Woman: Sedna in Inuit Shamanism and Art in the Eastern Arctic (University of Alaska Press, 2008; British Library shelfmark: YK.2009.b.8589) which offered not only information for me to make narrative outlines but a rich sense of traditions and beliefs surrounding Sedna, including shamanism.

The cover of Frédéric Laugrand and Jarich Oosten’s The Sea Woman: Sedna in Inuit Shamanism and Art in the Eastern Arctic, showing the mermaid-like goddess in blue water.
Frédéric Laugrand and Jarich Oosten, The Sea Woman: Sedna in Inuit Shamanism and Art in the Eastern Arctic. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2008; British Library shelfmark: YK.2009.b.8589

Unlike my encounter with the Lord Chamberlain’s plays, this time I wasn’t going to let the extra research go to waste. I very quickly established a narrative for a poetry sequence which would, yes, incorporate the small number of poems I had been commissioned to write, but would tell a longer story. I sent the whole sequence to Michael Schmidt, my publisher at Carcanet but also editor of the poetry journal PN Review. He offered to publish it in its entirety in the magazine almost by return of email. He also encouraged me to write more poems based on Inuit figures.

My study took me to further mythic accounts, from the more fragmentary ones assembled from various nineteenth century accounts by the anthropologist Franz Boas to Kira Van Deusen’s focussed and revelatory book Kiviuq: An Inuit Hero and His Siberian Cousins (McGill-Queen’s, 2009), based on the stories of living storytellers. This helped me counterbalance the story of the female god Sedna with the one of the male hunter Kiviuq.

The cover of Kira Van Deusen’s Kiviuq: An Inuit Hero and His Siberian Cousins, showing an Inuit person’s face.
Kira Van Deusen, Kiviuq: An Inuit Hero and His Siberian Cousins. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009; British Library shelfmark pending.

I also visited a now tragically defunct website, Kiviuq’s Journey, which Van Deusen had also been involved in, and which featured summaries of the tales of the mythic hunter Kiviuq. Again, these were taken directly from living Inuit storytellers (sadly, at least some have since died). Being Canadian, the site was out of scope for the work of our own UK Web Archive, but it does survive thanks to the US-based Internet Archive.

Screen shot of the website Kiviuq’s Journey taken from the Internet Archive.
A screenshot of the apparently defunct website Kiviuq’s Journey, taken from the Internet Archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20191214155128/http://www.unipka.ca/

So there were a range of focussed research resources I used for my poetry collection. But wait, I haven’t given examples of the ‘background research’ (like beneficial background radiation) that I mentioned is a way of life for poets – the collections we read day in and day out and the conversations we have. As my readers will know I am a poet of the sequence – from Tube Shelter Perspective (1993) to Small World (2012) – my poems inhabit connected narratives poem by poem, building drama, jumping gaps whose significance the reader will see as they read on. That is in part from being influenced by and having an affinity with such writers as the Tom Leonard of nora’s place or the Bernadine Evaristo of the verse novel The Emperor’s Babe.

Purple book cover of The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo, depicting a black woman’s hand holding a bunch of grapes.
A recent edition of The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo, originally published by Hamish Hamilton, 2001, British Library shelfmark: H.2001/2208.

It was adding this, what?, sensibility? towards the poetry sequence to my understanding of the narrative structures in Inuit story (at times trance-like, shamanistic, structures) that was the ‘breakthrough’ for me. In fact, sometimes it felt like writing the poems was being in a trance: I look at The Owner of the Sea and I don’t fully understand how these poems came to be written.

Conversations-wise I also shared my drafts with poet friends, including Nancy Campbell , author of Disko Bay and The Library of Ice, who has lived in Greenland and knows Inuit culture far better than I do. Nancy provides an afterword to the sequences in the book.

There is a key point about appropriation here, one that any researcher – creative or otherwise – needs to think carefully about when using the creative labour and common intangible heritage of indigenous cultures. I have, for example, been careful within The Owner of the Sea to acknowledge not just the authors I’ve mentioned but the many individually named storytellers who are cited in the key works. I’ve also emphasised distances in my introduction to the book, in asides contained within the poems themselves, in the jangle of contemporary UK language registers, and the distinctly un-traditional way the book proceeds. No reader could think that the book is anything but a contemporary collection from a Western poet, albeit based on the key moments of Inuit narratives. The original stories are not poems, they are in an entirely different form, the story of oral tradition, a tradition which has its own conventions and needs a set of sophisticated and localised skills for its rendering and which, though I imagine has some overlaps, must be very different from my own poetry tradition. My poems are also not translations and again I emphasise that.

Purple cover of The Owner of the Sea: Three Inuit Stories Retold, by Richard Price, depicting a sculpture of an Inuit woman.
Richard Price, The Owner of the Sea: Three Inuit Stories Retold; with an afterword by Nancy Campbell. Carcanet, 2021. Shelfmark pending.

It’s important, I feel, that the reader understands that set of distances and hopefully enjoying the different textures of poetry in The Owner of the Sea can, if they want, lead to the stories the book pays tribute to. I liken this distancing not to scientific or anthropological activity, each fraught with the risks of dehumanisation in such a context where framing is important to the investigating process, but as the distancing that takes places when any one art form, and its culture, tries to relate to another, especially across very different societies and (because the stories are hundreds and probably thousands of years old) across time. Instead of framing, ‘reaching towards’ is what such an activity does. An analogy would be, say, a 16th century painting from Europe depicting the story of Christ’s Nativity many centuries before in ancient Palestine. That artist, whether they are painting for devotion or for patronage or, as may be likely, both, cannot in the making of that painting, I believe, be seen as only ‘appropriating’ the teachings of and folklore around that religion. Rather they are responding in a way that is paradoxically distanced and dedicated: if they are an appropriator in some way they are also and, perhaps more firmly, an apostle.  They are also bringing in their contemporary world – the architecture of the stable, the nature of the snow – all European rather than Palestinian (in poetry, we would think of Peter Whigham’s Catullus or Christopher Logue’s Homer, where the world of now glances through the world of the past).

I am also aware that this painting analogy is itself a very Western one, and I use it here to give the  opportunity to pause to remember what trauma Christian organisations enacted on Inuit and other indigenous communities in Canada up until very recently, for example through the brutal residential schools systems. In fact in writing these poems I was driven by the sense that these stories -- where creatures are ‘human’’ and humans ‘creaturely’, all within a nature-space that depends on each and their relationship to each other -- were significant not just for their narrative interest but for their reflections on human behaviour. To write the tribute that The Owner of the Sea became was to place Inuit ideas, with all their unsettling challenges and breath-taking beauty, right into contemporary discourse, where they are much needed.

Richard Price is Head of Contemporary British Collections at the British Library. Richard’s The Owner of the Sea: Three Inuit Stories Retold is available here.

13 July 2021

Hazel Daniels: Pepperpot Philosophising

This is the ninth and final blog coming out of the Eccles Centres’ Caribbean Foodways oral history project. Identifying connections between participants’ stories and collection items, each blog explores one of the nine oral history interviews that will be deposited in the Sound Archive.

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This blog is about Hazel Daniels who was born in Guyana in 1946. Training and practicing as a radiographer in Georgetown, she then married Omar Daniels in 1973 and moved to the UK in 1975, where they have lived ever since, raising their three children. An enthusiastic home cook, Hazel likes to experiment with different cuisines and flavours in the kitchen, but is guided by her Guyanese roots. This blog focuses on Hazel’s descriptions of Guyanese ingredients and dishes alongside her philosophy of food and health, but you will soon be able to listen to her full interview via the British Library’s Listening and Viewing Service.

Black and white photo of hazel in a white headress
Wedding photo of Hazel, photograph courtesy of Hazel Daniels

Pepperpot

‘if you want to take something forward, into the future, I think it has to be pepperpot’

Pepperpot

Pot with stew on a stove
Pepperpot cooked by Hazel, courtesy of Hazel Daniels

All the participants of Guyanese heritage that I have interviewed for the Caribbean Foodways oral history project spoke about pepperpot. A dish with First Nations origins, pepperpot is history in a bowl. Paying tribute to the First Nations people of Guyana, ‘the people who were there hundreds and hundreds of years … before the colonies,’ Hazel explains the intriguing process of making this historic meal. The key ingredient is cassareep, which is made from boiling cassava for hours, until the pristine white flesh of the root becomes a ‘dark substance.’ The seemingly magical ‘preservative quality’ of the cassareep means that this rich stew, which is made from combining meat, fish or vegetables with the dark sauce, does not need to be refrigerated and it sits on the back of the stove, being eaten day in and day out until the pepperpot is gone!

Also commenting on the importance of the cassava to 'Guinan natives', Rev. J. G. Wood's exploratory index to Charles Waterton's, Wanderings in South America (1882) described how boiled cassava was then 'flavoured with red-pepper' to become the 'well-known cassareep' and that 'when the palate has become accustomed to the inordinate amount of red pepper, is not only nourishing but appetizing.'1 Moreover, 'the pot is never cleaned, so that, as it is very thick, very soft, and very porous, it absorbs the juices.'2 Alongside Hazel's interview and recipes, Wood's glossary evokes the continuity of cassareep in Guyana's foodways.  

Front cover with drawings
Tom Brown's School Days, Wanderings in South America, Old Christmas and Bracebridge Hall (London: Macmillan & Co, 1882) British Library Shelfmark 12350.m.12.
 
Text and illustrations about cassava and cassareep
Rev J. G. Wood, 'Explanation Index' in Wanderings in South America, The North-West of the United States, and the Antilles, in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820, and 1824 (London: Macmillan & Co, 1882) British Library Shelfmark 12350.m.12.
 

In Olive Senior’s introduction to Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean, the poet states that: ‘One thing that unites us in the Caribbean is food, especially the melange: we all love pepperpot by any name - calalu or sancocho or ‘Saturday soup.”’3 Like many Caribbean dishes, pepperpot embodies cultures of creolisation and adaptability that reflect the region more broadly. Hence, there are numerous versions of pepperpot. ‘Pepperpot a la Jamaican’ that is featured below, does not include cassareep. The article sarcastically claims that ‘We are told that our pepperpot is but a poor imitation of the real thing which originated in British Guiana’. Likewise, the version described in recent Netflix series, High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America (based on food historian, Jessica B. Harris’s book), seems closer to a take on oxtail stew. ‘The most popular dish in Philadelphia in the eighteenth and nineteenth century,’ chef and artist, Omar Tate, explains that pepperpot was sold by free women of colour who made a living as street vendors.4

Black and white page from a magazine
Pepperpot. Annual Jamaican potpourri (1951) British Library Shelfmark P.803/423.

Caribbean Guyanese Food is...

a language that we can virtually all communicate with, even without speaking’

Attuned to the variance and connectivity that encompasses the Caribbean region, Hazel compares Guyana’s ‘racing rivers’ to the island nations of the region that have ‘beautiful beaches and blue water.’ Whilst highlighting the distinctiveness of Guyana as a mainland country, located on the South American continent, she believes that the ‘roots are virtually the same … we understand each other, we eat each other’s food.’ This understanding is the outcome of the region’s history, where all these societies have been profoundly shaped by the African diaspora.

Sketch of a waterfall
James Rodway [Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana], Handbook of British Guiana (Georgetown: published by the Committee [Printed by John Andrew & Son: Boston, USA]), 1893. British Library Shelfmark 10480.d.27.

Experimenting in the Kitchen

Playing with English Food

Hazel moved to England in 1975 to join her husband, Omar Daniels, who was studying psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London. Having trained as a radiographer in Guyana, she started working at King’s College Hospital. Upon moving to England, Hazel noticed that ‘the food was different,’ it lacked ‘that extra bit’ from the food she had grown up with – the wonders of fresh thyme, juicy tomatoes, papayas and garlic that smelt ‘to high heaven.’ Inviting her new colleagues round for dinner, Hazel would ‘try to create’ classic English dishes with ‘a little twist’ by adding a stick of cinnamon, sweet peppers or pomegranate molasses (that she likens to cassareep), which seemed revolutionary to her dinner guests who were bowled over by her food.

Cooking and Freedom

This playful approach to cooking, which contrasted with Hazel’s serious and accurate line of work as a radiographer, offered a feeling a freedom. Describing herself as a maverick in the kitchen, Hazel speaks about being ‘free to try new things’ without the constraints of a cookbook or scales. Always inspired by other cuisines, Hazel’s food has been influenced by the aromas and textures of Egypt, where Omar received a scholarship to study medicine (and her paternal grandfather had fought for the British army). Talking me through her favourite meals, she describes cooking melting lamb and rice with almonds and fruits, a dish that is traditionally eaten for Iftar, when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan. From roast beef and tagines to plant-based stews, Hazel’s repertoire captures her open spirit and tastebuds that are always trying to create not only tasty, but beautiful looking dishes.

Multi-coloured book cover
Rosamund Grant, Caribbean and African Cookery (London: Virago, 1989) British Library Shelfmark YK.1989.a.5313
 
Page from cookbook recipe for Fish Creole
Rosamund Grant, Caribbean and African Cookery (London: Virago, 1989) British Library Shelfmark YK.1989.a.5313

Finding Rosamund 

Whilst not one for using recipes, Hazel’s ‘Fish Creole with Herb Dressing’ features in Rosamund Grant’s landmark cookbook, Caribbean and African Cookery. Published in 1989, with a foreword by Maya Angelou, it was one of the first Black-British authored cookbooks about Caribbean food. An old friend of Grant’s, the two attended primary school together in Georgetown. Meeting up at her legendary North London restaurant, Bambaya, Hazel reminisces about the joys of eating at a restaurant that served ‘all the food that we remembered.’ As Grant explains in her own oral history with the British Library, ‘Europeans tend to see Caribbean food in a particular way,’ for example, it is stereotyped as ‘spicy’ or ‘exotic.’5 In defiant response to this, Grant stated ‘I will define who I am and I will define … what I’m cooking.’6 Much like her schoolfriend, Hazel has forged her own personal and culinary path.

Food Philosophy

‘food is so much more than sustenance’

Food and Health

Given her lengthy career in healthcare, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that Hazel's food philosophy is embedded in a belief that food is a ‘preventative medicine.’ Throughout the interview, she often highlights the mineral and vitamin qualities of certain ingredients, such as getting magnesium from avocados, nuts and raisins. Much like this page in the health section of a West Indian cookery book, Hazel has wide-ranging knowledge of food’s nutritional value, which was partly shaped by her parent’s emphasis on maintaining a balanced diet and eating well.

Chart of ingredients and nutritional value
E. Phyllis Clark, West Indian Cookery (Edinburgh: Published for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago by Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1946) British Library Shelfmark 7948.a.66.

Food, Happiness and Identity

As Hazel sets out in her philosophy, ‘culture and food are integral to the sense of identity … of every human being.’ Food has shaped Hazel’s life profoundly and that of her children, to whom she has passed down an adaptable Guyanese culinary heritage that lives on through the spices that they rub, coat or add to food. As the last blog in the Caribbean Foodway series, I think that Hazel’s food philosophy is the perfect note to end on, as it encompasses the centrality of food in the politics of health, community, history and identity formation. In the words of the remarkable Hazel Daniels … ‘it’s what defines us all and brings us all together’!

I will leave you all with Hazel’s recipe for a classic Guyanese pepperpot, which she has generously shared. The Caribbean Foodways series may be over for now, but I invite you all to continue your exploration of Caribbean cooking by trying out the recipes shared in these blogs by our wonderful participants. Whether it is Ranette Prime’s Trini Phoulourie, or Ann Husband’s Green Banana Salad, tweet us with photographs of what you’ve cooked @BL_EcclesCentre!

Recipe
Hazel’s Pepper-pot Recipe, courtesy of Hazel Daniels

Thank you Hazel Daniels for sharing your memories and thoughts with me.

Naomi Oppenheim is the project lead on Caribbean Foodways in her role as the Caribbean Collections and Community Engagement Intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library @naomioppenheim

Read the previous blog in the Caribbean Foodways series – Rod Westmaas: A Hotchpotch of History and Hospitality

Further reading / references

  • Phyllis Clark, West Indian Cookery (Edinburgh: Published for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago by Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1946) British Library Shelfmark 7948.a.66.
  • Hazel Daniels interviewed by Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Foodways Interview, April 2021 (uncatalogued)
  • High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America, directed by Roger Ross Williams (2021)
  • James Rodway [Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana], Handbook of British Guiana (Georgetown: published by the Committee [Printed by John Andrew & Son: Boston, USA]), 1893. British Library Shelfmark 10480.d.27.
  • Jessica B. Harris, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to the America (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011) British Library Shelfmark DRT ELD.DS.70649
  • Annual Jamaican potpourri, 1951 – 1969 Reprint (Nendeln, Kraus Reprint, 1970) British Library Shelfmark P.803/423.
  • Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean (Leeds: Peekash Press, 2014) British Library Shelfmark YKL.2015.a.1788
  • Rosamund Grant, Caribbean and African Cookery (London: Virago, 1989) British Library Shelfmark YK.1989.a.5313
  • Rosamund Grant, ‘Not just Caribbean Stew’, Oral history curator’s choice (2000-2002) C821/35
  • Rev J. G. Wood, 'Explanation Index' in Wanderings in South America, The North-West of the United States, and the Antilles, in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820, and 1824 by Charles Waterton (London: Macmillan & Co, 1882) British Library Shelfmark 12350.m.12.
  1. Rev J. G. Wood, 'Explanation Index' in Wanderings in South America, The North-West of the United States, and the Antilles, in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820, and 1824 by Charles Waterton (London: Macmillan & Co, 1882), pp.50-51
  2.  Ibid, p.51. 
  3. Olive Senior, ‘Preface’, in Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean (Leeds: Peekash Press, 2014), pp.11-16 (p.11).
  4. High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America, directed by Roger Ross Williams (2021).
  5. Rosamund Grant, ‘Not just Caribbean Stew’, Oral history curator’s choice (2000-2002) C821/35.
  6. Ibid.

09 June 2021

Anselm Berkeley: From Field to Shelf to Plate

This is the sixth in a series of blogs coming out of the Eccles Centres’ Caribbean Foodways oral history project. Identifying connections between participants’ stories and collection items, each blog explores one of the nine oral history interviews that will be deposited in the Sound Archive.

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This blog is about Anselm Berkeley who was born on the island of Grenada in 1936. Moving to England in 1960, Anselm worked at Macfarlane Lang, the biscuit company, for 22 years before setting up a shop that sold West Indian produce in Shepherd’s Bush Market. When rent increases pushed him out of the market, he returned to Grenada in semi-retirement where he exported fresh produce to Britain. This blog focuses on Anselm’s memories of Grenada, his shop in Shepherd’s Bush market and his extensive experience of working in the business of supplying food, but you will soon be able to listen to his full interview via the British Library’s Listening and Viewing Service.

Spice Island

grow … and sell nutmegs all his life

Family Land

Colourful drawing
'Myristica Fragrans' Hout. (Myristicaceae). Nutmeg Tree. From an album of 40 drawings made by Chinese artists at Bencoolen, Sumatra, for Sir Stamford Raffles. Watercolour. 1824. British Library Shelfmark NHD 48/23

The small, brown, hard balls that we buy at shops in Britain, and grate into marinades and cakes, were once luscious greeny-yellow seeds growing on a tree, most likely, in Grenada or Indonesia.1 Known as ‘Black Gold’, nutmeg (which appears on the national flag) denotes Grenada’s identity as the ‘Island of Spice'. The largest producer of nutmegs in the Western Hemisphere, this nutty and aromatic spice features heavily in Grenada’s histories of flavour, imperialism and revolution.

Anselm Berkeley’s grandfather owned 15 acres of nutmeg land and before school, Anselm would ‘go up in the mountain … and pick up nutmegs and tek it back down to the village’. Later in the day, his parents would ‘go to the association and sell our nutmegs’. The ‘association’ refers to the Grenada Co-operative Nutmeg Association that was set up as the sole exporter of nutmegs from Grenada in 1947.

Brought to Grenada in 1843, nutmeg required ‘less land, capital and labour’ than sugarcane.2 As the price of sugar fell, abandoned plantations, that were ripe for ‘cultivation and settlement,’ were bought, leased or squatted by ‘Emancipated Africans and former indentured migrants.3 By the late 19th century, nutmeg had replaced sugar exports in Grenada. Perhaps Anselm’s ancestors were some of the original ‘Black Gold’ farmers on the island.

Book cover with photograph of Maurice Bishop and a crowd people
Maurice Bishop, Forward Ever! Three years of the Grenadian Revolution: Speeches of Maurice Bishop (Sydney: Pathfinder Press, 1982) British Library shelfmark YA.1987.a.16402

In 1979, When the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) came to power in Grenada, this small yet potent seed became a symbol for imperial control that extracted profits from the region:

‘A sister cracking nutmegs at a receiving station in Grenada receives a small wage of $7.10 a day, and that sister would need to crack about 150 pounds of nutmegs in order to earn that $7 for the day. Those same nutmegs are sold to a broker – a middleman – and taken off to Europe. Then they are resold to a miller, cleaned, blended, and packaged, and put on the shelves of European supermarkets. And when one of our sisters or brothers or aunts living in Shepherd’s Bush or Brixton or Hammersmith in London goes to buy a one-ounce carton of Grenada nutmeg, the price of that ounce of nutmegs is about 20 pence or one of our dollars. One ounce for $1, but 150 pounds of cracking for $7. … the real value of the nutmeg worker’s labor is 300 times what she receives in a day’s wage. That is what we mean by imperialism at work.’

Maurice Bishop, ‘Three Years of the Grenada Revolution’, 13 March 1982, Rally at Queen’s Park, St. George’s

Bishop’s speech was reflective of the PRG’s broader Agro-industrial policy, in which questions about crops and food reliance became a critical part of political debate.4 Interestingly, Anselm’s journey, from picking nutmegs in the mountains to running his own export business that shipped fresh Grenadian produce to Britain, represents a politics of independence that took ownership of foodways between Grenada and Britain.

Shepherd’s Bush Market: ‘one of the first shop fronts’

Black and white advert with palm tree and lists of produce e.g. Guava jelly
Tropic, September 1960. British Library shelfmark: P.P.7615.kf
 
Black and white advert with photograph of a food shop and list of locations and supplies
Flamingo, November 1962. British Library Shelfmark: P.P.5109.bq

Market Day

‘Some enterprising West Indians went to the importers and got the stuff, eliminating the middle man. These stuffs were sold from street to street wherever they could find West Indians and Africans. Later they bought out the shops.’

Donald Hinds, Journey to an Illusion (1966)

In the mid-1980s, Anselm took over one of the first permanent shopfronts selling West Indian food in Shepherd’s Bush Market. Much like these adverts for Edwin McKenzie and 3 Star Stores, Anselm’s shop sold fresh and dry produce. One of the earlier Caribbean-owned Caribbean food shops, Anselm’s story is part of a broader history of Caribbean people establishing their own supply chains in post-war Britain.

On a typical day, Anselm would arise from the family home in Thornton Heath at 4am and drive to Spitalfields Market to buy produce. Arriving in Shepherd’s Bush by 7am, he then unpacked the goods and arranged fresh produce on a bench outside of the shop. Fridays and Saturdays were the busiest days because that 'was the time that the majority of people get paid', so on Friday evening when the 'women come from work, they pass in the market' and bought food from his shop. Anselm recalls spending long days in the shop alone with no break until his children were old enough to lend a helping hand. Running the shop was ‘very hard work’; Anselm would get home at 7pm – meaning he was working 15-hour days, 6 days a week, with Sundays spent bookkeeping.

Chatting at the shop

Anselm’s shop was also a social hub, people ‘would come to chat’ and meet their friends and fellow customers there. Next door to Websters’ record shop, Anselm’s had a unique atmosphere that drew custom from across London. This reminds me of Sam Selvon’s Lonely Londoners, ‘the iconic chronicle of post-war Caribbean migration to Britain.’5 Tanty, an elderly aunt in the novel, makes frequent visits to the grocers:

‘Well Tanty used to shop in this grocery every Saturday morning. It does be like a jam-session there when all the … housewives go to buy …. They getting on just as if they in the market-place back home: “Yes child, as I was telling you, she did lose the baby … half-pound saltfish please, the dry codfish … yes, as I was telling you … and two pounds of rice please, and half-pound red beans, no, not that one, that one in the bag in the corner” … She too like the shop, and the chance to meet them other women and gossip.’6

Selvon’s description reconstructs the social vibrancy of the grocers as a place for conversing, gossiping and shopping. A public space of domesticity where the ‘market-place [of] back home’ could be recreated to produce feelings of familiarity and comfort. Anselm’s son, Rob Berkeley, describes how ‘Food traditions from across the Caribbean were exchanged, recipe secrets passed on, new fusions created, and old friendships rekindled.’

Fire in the market

During his 14 years at Shepherd’s Bush Market, there were four arson attacks at Anselm’s shop. This disturbing and upsetting part of the story speaks to the struggles that Anselm faced. Speaking about the first fire, that was done ‘deliberately from outside of the shop’, he recounts how the shop and shuttering were burnt out and all of his produce – most of which was uninsurable – was destroyed. Anselm explains that it is ‘hard to describe how he felt … there was nothing I could do.’ While the shop was being repaired, Anselm had a temporary stall on the market. On the Saturday after the fire that had happened two days prior, Anselm recalls how his customers refused to walk down Shepherd’s Bush Market and queued, waiting to buy from him, at his temporary stall. No one was ever charged with starting the fire and Anselm explains that he never received any information from the police about any suspects or the wider case. Whilst the state failed to respond effectively to the fire, the community rallied around Anselm. This dynamic, of state failure and community mobilisation, has been a defining characteristic of Black British history.


Coming full circle: farming and exporting 

Sketch of breadfruit growing on a tree
William Elwood Safford, The Breadfruit … Together with a biographical sketch of the author (Washington: H. L. McQueen, 1904) BL Shelfmark 7031.bbb.4.

Export business 

Anselm left the market in 1996 mainly due to sharply rising costs of running a shop there. Returning to Grenada with his wife, Rita, they started exporting Caribbean food to British markets from a farm that they created back in Grenada. They sent fresh produce, like mangoes and breadfruit – a favourite of Anselm’s – by air, to agents in the UK. Anselm’s circular journey from Grenada to Britain and back again (him and Rita recently returned to the UK) embodies the fluidity and connectivity of Caribbean foodways.

Thank you Anselm Berkeley for sharing your memories and thoughts with me.

Naomi Oppenheim is the project lead on Caribbean Foodways in her role as the Caribbean Collections and Community Engagement Intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library @naomioppenheim

Read the next blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Natasha Ramnarine: Doubles Queen

Read the previous blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Ranette Prime: Food and Identity in Britain

References/Further Reading

  • Anselm Berkley interviewed by Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Foodways Interview, March 2021 (uncatalogued)
  • Claude J. Douglas, The Battle for Grenada’s Black Gold (St. Andrew: Maryzoon, 2004) British Library Shelfmark YD.2006.a.4718
  • Donald Hinds, Journey to an Illusion: The West Indian in Britain (Heinemann: London, 1966) British Library shelfmark W49/3312
  • Flamingo, November 1962, British Library Shelfmark: P.P.5109.bq
  • Grenada, The Future Coming Towards Us, directed by M. Carmen Ashurst, John Douglas and Samori Marksman (1983). Available to watch on YouTube
  • Maurice Bishop, Forward Ever! Three years of the Grenadian Revolution: Speeches of Maurice Bishop (Sydney: Pathfinder Press, 1982) British Library shelfmark YA.1987.a.16402
  • Pure Grenada 
  • Samuel Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (London: Allan Wingate, 1956) British Library Shelfmark2013.a.2
  • Susheila Nasta, ‘The Lonely Londoners: a new way of reading and writing the city’, British Library, 2018
  • Tropic, September 1960. British Library shelfmark P.P.7615.kf
  1. Grenada produces approximately 23% of the world’s nutmeg, ‘second only to Indonesia, which accounts for 73%of the world’s production’, Claude J. Douglas, The Battle for Grenada’s Black Gold (St. Andrew: Maryzoon, 2004). 
  2. Ibid p.1.
  3. Ibid p.1.
  4. Grenada, The Future Coming Towards Us, directed by M. Carmen Ashurst, John Douglas and Samori Marksman (1983) 
  5. Susheila Nasta, ‘The Lonely Londoners: a new way of reading and writing the city’, British Library, 2018
  6. Samuel Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (London: Allan Wingate, 1956).

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