American Collections blog

27 posts categorized "Curation"

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]

07 March 2012

The Arctic Regions: William Bradford's ambitious book

Arctic regions (cover)
Front cover from William Bradford's, 'The Arctic Regions'. Shelfmark: 1785.d.7 (restricted item)

Here at Team Americas and Australasian Studies we've been poring over a few acquisition catalogues recently, not to buy anything but to see what is happening on the antiquarian book market. During this process some items that we already hold jump out and make you think, 'I'd like to have a look at that'.

One such item can be seen above, William Bradford's publication, 'The Arctic Regions'. I was intrigued as I had not heard of the work before, so I thought I'd have a look at what makes it so special. Bradford was an artist who assembled an expedition to Greenland in order to photograph the area (although he actually used two Boston photographers, George Crichterson and John L. Dunmore) and produce a photographically illustrated book upon their return.

Arctic regions (Inuit)
Mounted internal photograph from, 'The Arctic Regions'

Bradford's publication idea was novel for the time and the end product is still stunning, the volume is very large and contains over 100 mounted photographs of various scenes from Arctic Greenland and North America. The depiction of the Arctic presented is romantic in tone and sometimes patronising to the people who were photographed (there is at least one disparaging comment regarding the appearance of local Inuit) but it is a notable early photographic view of the Arctic regions.

Unfortunately, due to the size of the item and the delicate nature of the mounted photographs the item is on the Library's restricted list and not easy to view. However, if you would like to know more and see more of the book's contents there are a couple of useful galleries online. There is a short selection on this wider gallery on the North West Passage while this gallery from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute provides a more detailed look and context.

[PJH]

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