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32 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

20 February 2013

Democratic Brazil at the British Library

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Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlet 002
Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlets [BL shlefmark X.0520/785]

I recently had the privilege to attend a talk by the Brazilian Minister of External Relations at King’s College London. During his talk the Minister discussed among other things how the process of democratisation in Brazil has informed its domestic and foreign policy. In particular, how the transition from military dictatorship (Brazil’s current president Dilma Roussef was herself a victim of torture under the dictatorship) has shaped the country’s emphasis on multi-lateral and peaceful diplomacy, reduction of social inequality, and democratic reform of international organisations such as the UN security council.

The minister’s talk plus the upcoming conference ‘Democratic Brazil Ascendant’ and seminar on affirmative action in Brazilian universities inspired me to take another look at some of the Brazilian political pamphlets and ephemera that we hold from the 1980s onwards, when Brazil began its transition from military dictatorship to electoral democracy.

Taking a look at the collections we have here at the BL you immediately appreciate the popular groundswell that brought an end to the dictatorship in Brazil and the social goals that are still coming into fruition today.  The collection includes pamphlets promoting gay rights, affordable housing, agrarian reform, full employment, and an end to poverty and racial discrimination. The various collections of pamphlets and ephemera cover national and municipal elections as well as organising campaigns. They date from the early 1980s through the late 1990s.

Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlet 001
Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlets [BL shlefmark X.0520/785]

The collection also includes items from Lula’s 1982 campaign for governor of São Paulo, the work of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (which Lula help to found) and the Direitas Já! campaign for direct popular presidential elections in Brazil. In addition to political ephemera we also hold fascinating publications by the Brazilian trade unions (Miscellaneous collection of publications on trade unions – BL shelfmark ZL.9.d.3). As well as a special microfilm collection of documents and ephemera on the origins and evolution of the PT that you will find at shelfmark SPR.Mic.A.287.

[ENC]

11 January 2013

From the collections: Mary Seacole

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Hotel in the Crimea
'Mrs. Seacole's Hotel in the Crimea', insert from, 'The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands' [BL Shelfmark: 12601.h.20]

When something from the news catches my eye I occasionally have time to pull some relevant items up from the Library's collections. The recent stories about Mary Seacole's place in the curriculum pointed out to me, someone who didn't have the privilege of learning about Mrs. Seacole at school, that I didn't know enough about someone who had an important place in British military history.

The major work we hold on Seacole is her autobiography, 'The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands' [1853, BL Shelfmark: 12601.h.20]. It is a fascinating little book and many things about it caught my eye, not least the introduction from W. H. Russell (correspondent for the Times in the Crimea, he also covered the US Civil War). This glows about Seacole and notes, 'If singleness of heart, true charity, and Christian works; if trials and sufferings, dangers and perils, encountered bodily by a helpless woman on her errand of mercy in the camp and in the battle-field, can excite sympathy or move curiosity, Mary Seacole will have many friends and many readers.' (p.vii)

Adventures of Mrs Seacole
Cover of, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands' [BL Shelfmark: 12601.h.20]

I have always taken an interest in such dedications as they illustrate something of who took an interest in such books and perhaps say something of the underlying purpose of the publication. As an aside, in earlier works I find subscriber lists to be equally interesting, showing who took an interest in the contents of historically significant works. A good example here is Olaudah Equiano's, 'Interesting Narrative' which counts the Prince of Wales, Duke of York and entrepreneurs such as Josiah Wedgwood among its 9 pages of subscribers [1789, 1st edition; BL Shelfmark: 615.d.8]. I would suggest then that the dedications and subscribers found in these works speak to the importance of these individuals and their publications in their own time, even if we have since forgotten.

Both Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano have had much written about them in the intervening centuries and many of these works can be consulted here at the Library. However, for anyone wishing to become aquianted with Mary Seacole, Olaudah Equiano and other historical figures currently being discussed in the news I would recommend viewing their history from their own perspective as a first port of call.

[PJH]

06 November 2012

US Presidential Election: Bill Clinton at Penn

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PB060304
Bill Clinton at the Penn rally (photo: E. Gee)

The University of Penn runs a great series of seminars on 'Material Texts'. Yesterday, I left the Library Company early and headed across the Schuylkill to University City, with the plan of doing some writing, and then hearing Dan Hobbins (Notre Dame) discuss the early history of the colophon.  

But, on the way towards the Van Pelt library, we spotted a bunch of TV crews, and thought we'd take a look.  There were long lines of people, and lots of young people with clipboards and Obama badges.  I asked what was up.  The answer:

"Bill Clinton"

The 42nd President of the United States was doing a rally in a couple of hours.  This was at once exciting, and troubling, as it underlined how much Pennsylvania is a swing state (apologies if this reveals my political bias).  We followed the line (there are no queues in America).  It swept around the sports stadium.  There were thousands of people.  Taking a punt, we decided to see if we could get in before the colophon talk started.  An hour later, and we were in, as participant observers.

As expected, we got political razzmatazz.  I was disappointed by the lack of straw boaters and puzzled by the oddly low-key security, but there was a band, sousaphones, banners, a huge US flag (Philly is the home of Betsy Ross after all), and lots of call-and-response shouting.  We were whooped into action by a couple of congressmen, the governor, Mayor Nutter, swore allegiance to the flag, got a stunning rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, and were urged to go 'Forward!'.  Then, Bill arrived, and delivered a masterful half-hour of political wonkery and homely homilies.    

 

PB060171
Bill Clinton (Photo: M. Shaw)

A few people drifted out before the end. Perhaps they had trains to catch.  But the buzz was real enough afterwards, as people mobbed Clinton, asking for autographs, photographs and to sign their placards (one guy delightedly showed us his afterwards).

We walked back across the Market Street Bridge, and spotted the 'Beast' waiting to whisk the ex-President away, on to the next engagement, next to a pile of snow cleared from the Class of 1923 Ice Rink.  Some pumpkin beer, onion rings, and a quarter of the Philly 76ers, and it was a very American night.  The colophon talk, by all accounts, was great, too. 

[@_MattShaw]

Down to the wire: the U.S. election

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It appears that the 2012 U.S. election is going down to the wire.  There are obviously many reasons why the race is so close, but political commentators also always argue that a second term election is there to be lost by the incumbent.

 George Bush came a cropper in the 1992 election when his public approval ratings nose-dived due to (amongst other things) his apparent confusion over the pressing economic issues of the day. In 1980, the 39th President, Jimmy Carter, ran for a second term in what is often cited as the most disastrous campaign in US Presidential history. Carter had to fend off attacks from an effective campaign on the right by Ronald Reagan, the Republican nominee, whilst also defending his position against Edward (Ted) Kennedy, the Senator for Massachusetts, on the left of his own Democratic Party. Kennedy had refused to drop out of the Democratic Primary after the first vote, leading to a dirty and prolonged mud slinging match before Carter secured the nomination. Somewhat ironically Carter found himself running against his own economic record, with high inflation causing stagnation in economic growth and unemployment remaining stubbornly high.            

Many factors will play a part in influencing the outcome of this election - money and ‘Obamacare’ to name just two. Enormous campaign contributions have been amassed by both the Obama and Romney campaigns, and this has been made possible the Supreme Court decision which states that Federal Government cannot curtail independent expenditure for political purposes by groups, corporations and committees. The primary purpose of these political action committees or Super PACs, is to influence elections via corporations, unions or wealthy individuals. There is no limit on the amount of money they can raise as long as it is spent independently of the candidate’s campaign.

Obamacare, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been a particularly contentious and divisive piece of legislation. The Act became law in March 2010 and the Republicans have already raised no fewer than 33 Bills in an attempt to repeal it. Why would the Republicans continue to raise bills which seem doomed to failure? It could be argued that this strategy is less about having Obamacare repealed in the first instance (although that clearly is a goal), but more a case of using these continuous legislative attacks on the Act in order to keep the issue at the top of the political agenda (and thereby subvert the Democrats own campaign agenda).

I was planning to finish off this post with a few light-hearted remarks on much smaller factors which potentially could influence the vote  (- such as the latest incarnation of the Halo series computer game Halo: 4 which is due for release today). But following the devastation that Hurricane Sandy has inflicted on the eastern seaboard, it is clear that many Americans are now faced with huge issues which may well have an impact on a knife-edge election where every vote really does count.

Matt is still in Philadelphia, and our Eccles Centre Professor Davies is now in Boston for the election, so they will have front row seats. But I and the rest of Team Americas will be glued to our TVs tonight to see how things unfold. There will no doubt be a few sleepy curators in the office tomorrow.

And you might like to know that we have a number of databases relating to U.S. Official Publications.

[J.J.]

30 October 2012

Post the Post-Tropical Storm

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Apple Store in Philadelphia
An electronics the morning after Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully the sandbags were unnecessary. Photo: M. Shaw

Thankfully my fellow Fellows' predictions didn't come to pass, and we kept power during the storm (although some in south Philly lost theirs).  The cops came out to check some jerry cans left in a truck opposite the repository of some of the nation's most precious books and manuscripts, but deemed them safe.  A chunk of metal got blown down from somewhere, and then clattered about the street for the night.  The merlot was disappointing.  But, that, thankfully was it.  We were lucky.

It was another story for pretty much everything east of the Delaware (and, indeed, elsewhere). You will have seen the reports from New York that look like a slide from an Al Gore presentation.  Several million are still without power.  People have died.  The governor of New Jersey has proposed delaying Halloween, and absentee ballots have been extended in several of the worst-hit counties.  Long Island will have some tales as bad as 1938, if not worse.

Twitter, I think, told the most telling story, as the snark drained from people's timelines as news from the several feeds reporting on police scanners spread across the internet (the NYTimes's David Carr called it right).  Earnest debunking of rumours and hoaxes (a shark in New Jersey, anyone?), along with expressions of concern, verified reports, and official updates instead filled up the timeline.  Usually active friends and colleagues fell silent as power outages, server fails and iPhone batteries drained.  They'll be back soon enough; that's the American way, as politicians and governors have been keen to say.  And they are right.

Here's just one tweet from the night. I like the screen grab. 

And, the last word from Joshua Lyman.  

14 August 2012

Team Americas looks forward to a great Fall events programme

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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.

13 February 2012

At the BAFTAs

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Brad Pitt at the Baftas

Team Americas got the red-carpet treatment at the weekend, and here's our new friend, Mr Pitt (to be less disingenuous, we were behind a barrier along with the other gawpers). But, it may serve as a reminder of the film collections in the Library, including access to American Film Scripts Online.

There has, of course, been less happy news from the world of entertainment at the weekend: the death of Whitney Houston. Our (this time, real) friends at UEA blog, Containing Multitudes, have added some comments from an American Studies perspective.

[MJS]

26 January 2012

Picturing the Great Alone: photography and the Antarctic

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Robert Falcon Scott (by Herbert Ponting)
Robert Falcon Scott on the 'Terra Nova' expedition, by Herbert Ponting. Image from Wikipedia.

Last year was a busy one for Team Americas and one of the many things we managed to do was take on some responsibilities for materials relating to Antarctica, thus adding a whole extra continent to our domain. This being the case, when an opportunity to view 'The Heart of the Great Alone' at The Queen's Gallery came up a couple of us jumped at the chance.

'The Heart of the Great Alone' covers various early twentieth century expeditions to the Antarctic, including that of the 'Terra Nova' during which Scott and his team perished. The main exhibition focus is the photography of Frank Hurley, photographer for Shackleton's 'Endurance' expedition, and Herbert Ponting, who produced the official photographs for the 'Terra Nova' expedition. I could write a lot here about these photographers and the expedition but the best thing to do would be to recommend a visit the exhibition itself or the e-gallery.

 Icebergs (by Herbert Ponting)
'Midnight in the Antarctic Summer', by Herbert Ponting. Image from Wikipedia.

However, as always with these trips, I had a mind to mull over the Library's materials relating to the Antarctic when I got back. The Library's collections from this area are not the largest in the world, with institutions such as the Scott Polar Research Institute and the Royal Geographical Society (to name a few) holding a wealth of material, but there is a noteworthy body of material which is well supported by the wider collection of Official Publications and Newspapers (especially in the case of an expedition such as the 'Terra Nova').

That said, there are some stand out items and a notable collection of miscellaneous materials held here. Captain Scott's diary is one of the Library's star collection items and the journal 'The South Polar Times' (shelfmark: Tab.444.d.6.) was the first publication printed on the Antarctic continent. Publications by Frank Hurley and Herbert Ponting also feature, including Ponting's 'The Great White South' (1921, shelfmark: 010460.g.1). These items contribute to a wealth of published material relating to the Antarctic and explorers such as Scott and Roald Amundsen.

As well as holding materials relating to the initial exploration of Antarctica, the Library has a significant collection regarding the continent in the later twentieth century; where scientific progress and international co-operation become the order of the day. Materials arising from events such as the Antarctic Treaty or organisations such as the British Antarctic Survey, as well as many academic texts and articles regarding the continent, are insightful on their own but also suggest an evolving relationship between global society and the frozen continent.

[PJH]