02 June 2023
Call for Papers: Grenada, 1973-1983 | Beginnings of a Revolution, Invasion and After
Call for papers for a one-day symposium for academics, creatives, activists and community-based researchers to share research, ideas and reflections on the Grenada Revolution.
The British Library | Friday 27 October 2023
In 1979, Grenada became the first and so far only revolutionary socialist nation in the history of the English-speaking world. The Revolution arguably began with the emergence of the New Jewel Movement in 1973, initially a coalition and coalescing of diverse radical Black energies, and ended dramatically and violently with the USA’s invasion of the island ten years later.
This one day symposium, co-organised by Black Cultural Archives and the British Library, invites researchers from across academic disciplines, creative practices, and other forms of knowledge making to present new thinking about the Grenada revolution, its origins and its aftermath.
Themes for presentations might include:
- The place of the Grenada Revolution in longer and wider histories of Caribbean and socialist revolutionary movements
- The Revolution in this history of Black political thought
- Grenada and Black Power in the Caribbean
- The transnational entanglements and legacies of the Grenada Revolution
- Literature, music, film and visual art
- The invasion of Grenada and US imperialism
- The Grenadian diaspora in the aftermath of Revolution
- Memory and memorialisation
Contributors will be invited to give a 15 minute presentation based on original research or new ways of understanding the Grenada Revolution, and there will be ample opportunity for shared discussion and reflection.
If you have any questions please email [email protected]
If you would like to participate in the symposium, please email a 250 word proposal of your presentation, together with a CV, to [email protected], with 'Grenada Revolution Symposium' in the subject line.
The deadline for receipt of proposals is Friday 21 July 2023.
24 January 2023
Into the Crucible of Revolution: Hindu Anticolonialism and Radicalism in Early Twentieth Century America
Christopher Chacon is a PhD candidate in History at the University of California, Irvine, and was a 2022 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, amid the rise and fall of global empires and transnational movement, Hindu anticolonialists like Lajpat Rai and Bhai Parmanand arrived on American shores in hopes of stoking the embers of anti-imperial revolution once again in the American imagination. They counted among their allies Indian labourers in the fields of Central California and the urban streets of New York, American civil rights activists, Indophiles, and internationalist union members. Socialism, democratic nationalism, and anarchism wafted throughout the political air and the scene hungered for action. Out of the birth pangs of the twentieth century emerged Rai and Parmanand, figures draped in nineteenth century nationalism and Hindu revivalism and capable of leadership among the extreme factions of Indian anticolonialism.
For Rai, public fame and organizational support provided the foundation for his agenda in America. An ardent believer in education reform and social advancement, Rai built coalitions that strengthened his call for Indian independence. By engaging with the social and racial tensions that made America, Rai established a presence amongst the minds of the civil rights movement and helped gather support for independence through the Indian Home Rule League of America and through his works such as the Young India journal and The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions and a Study.1
Parmanand, by contrast, arrived in America not to bring about a social movement but instead to nurture a global revolutionary army that would topple the British regime in India. Under the guise of pursuing a master’s degree in pharmacy at Berkeley, Parmanand networked with other student radicals both in California and Oregon in order to procure weapons and cash for an anticolonial rebellion born simultaneously in the homeland and the global diasporic community.2 Already a prominent name in nationalist circles for his travels as an envoy for the Hindu revival organization, the Arya Samaj, Parmanand wielded the gravitas – and the imperial notoriety – required to move people in the direction towards open rebellion. It is for the latter that Parmanand’s mission failed. British imperial intelligence quickly identified his actions as a threat to their dominion over the Punjab and, upon his return to India, incarcerated him on the grounds that he possessed illicit materials and espoused seditious rhetoric.3
Through the generosity of the Eccles Centre, this research project acquired invaluable materials related to Parmanand’s involvement in the Ghadr Party of San Francisco as well as the movement at large. Among the collection gathered on American sources at the British Library, two specific pieces stand out as definitively exceptional: a ten-page report on Bhai Parmanand and a Ghadr Party poster that encompassed the spirit and reality of global intellectual movements. In the case of the former, most secondary literature on Parmanand assures the reader that he participated in the Ghadr Party movement – despite his autobiographical claims that he merely was at the wrong place at the wrong time. However, these same materials often omit how he functioned in the organization and what roles he fulfilled by its conclusion.4 With the incorporation of this report and other documents related to his roles as nationalist and revolutionary, a clearer picture emerges that resolves both questions about his imprisonment as well as inquiries into his future as a diehard spin master of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1930s and 1940s.
As for the Ghadr Party poster, this masterpiece connects the dream of socialist revolutionaries with the vision of global Hindutva ideologues. The name 'The United States of India' resides over the idealized map of an independent and unbroken India signifying its place of prominence in Asia. The open border with the Indian Ocean lays claim to the seas. However, the text that surrounds the image speaks to its special relationship to the US. 'In Union There Is Strength' and 'Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God' borrow from the American Revolution and contextualize the American war of independence against the British as the preamble for the Indian war to come. Finally, the reader comes to its zenith, the clarion call to arms: 'What Are YOU Doing to Liberate India?'5 This question does not discriminate based on nationality or appearance. Rather it divides the world into two camps: freedom fighters and imperialists. Visual materials such as this poster elevate the historical conversation and provide insight into the psychology of Rai and Parmanand in the 1910s. Without it – and the financial support of the Eccles Centre – this project would lack these vital pieces to the story of global Hindutva and its revolutionary phase in the 1910s.
1. Lajpat Rai, The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions and a Study. Calcutta: R. Chatterjee, 1916. For more on this subject, I recommend: Manan Desai, The United States of India: Anticolonial Literature and Transnational Refraction. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2020; Vivek Bald, Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013; and Dohra Ahmad, Landscapes of Hope: Anti-Colonial Utopianism in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
2. See the autobiography, Bhai Parmanand, The Story of My Life. New Delhi: Ocean Books Pvt. Ltd., 2003. To further the conversation, see, Maia Ramnath, Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011; Seema Sohi, Echoes of Mutiny: Race Surveillance & Indian Anticolonialism in North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014; and Harold A. Gould, Sikhs, Swamis, Students, and Spies: The Indian Lobby in the United States, 1900-1946. New Delhi: Safe Publications, 2006.
3. For more on the subject, see, Richard J. Popplewell, Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British Intelligence and the Defence of the Indian Empire 1904-1924. Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1995.
4. IOR/L/PJ/6/1405, File 4095 – Lahore Conspiracy Case and the Lahore Supplementary Conspiracy Case. Sep 1915-Dec 1916. Number 56 in the list of the accused, “Bhai Parma Nand” is given a lengthy 10-page backstory which provides much context for both his ventures prior to and following his San Francisco and Portland interlude.
5. Mss Eur C228 -- Ghadr Party papers. 1920. `Flag of the H G Party': a map of `The United States of India', surrounded by party slogans. Published by the Hindustan Gadar Party, San Francisco, c1920.
05 December 2022
“The Flying Researcher”: South Asians and Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest
Rishma Johal is a PhD candidate in History at McGill University and was a 2022 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
As an academic in training, I believe that most PhD Candidates—particularly *cough cough* myself—are young, wide-eyed, naive students who hope to use their magical wings to fly from source to source in a matter of seconds. If any of this were remotely true, my thesis would be complete in a few days. However, no matter how aware I am of my naivete, there is always the glimmer of hope that the next research trip will be 'the one' in which I read every source at the archives. Needless to say, this hope is shattered as soon as an archivist hands me a file weighing a few good pounds in the morning of my very first day. Perhaps, the British Library experience has been my most dramatic encounter in terms of the amount of information available versus the amount of information that I can read in a short period of time. This autumn, as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, I enjoyed five weeks at the British Library, yet even that felt too little to complete my research. Thus, if I had to select one challenge over any other, it would be my fight against time. Nevertheless, the availability and versatility of sources at the Library ensured that my visit was both fruitful and rewarding.
My research entails analysing files on South Asian migrants and Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest—both marginalised communities about whom information at archives is generally limited. Specifically, my thesis examines intersections and dissension among early South Asian migrants and Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest from 1857–1947. This means that I am examining files on diverse groups of people. It is quite time-consuming to search for these sources, although the British Library holds a wealth of data. For this reason, the limit on the number of sources that I could request in one day quickly became another challenge, though I managed to power through most of the sources on my research list.
Conducting research at the British Library was imperative as it enabled me to access many archival records about early South Asian migrants in both Canada and the United States. Most of these files were held in the India Office Records and I also found correspondence among various levels of government on South Asian migration, from reading views of inspectors, politicians, and ministers in Vancouver and British Columbia to Ottawa, Britain, and India. I found numerous instances of concern over increasing numbers of South Asians in the Pacific Northwest that incorporated correspondence with American officials. The British Library has a priceless amount of information on the Ghadar movement (early Indian independence struggle that began in North America) and clandestine activities run by South Asians from California extending to Argentina, Panama, South Africa, Afghanistan, and Australia. However, the British Empire’s vast network of information gathering and sharing is only visible when files are accessed that discuss the Ghadar movement, “Hindu immigration,” and event specific files such as IOR/L/PJ/1325, File 3601 Canadian Immigration; the Komagata Maru Incident. These sources discussed the status of South Asians in Canada and noted the companies that they owned as well as the land purchases that they made, which was vital information concerning South Asians’ role in settler colonialism and Indigenous dispossession.
In one or two instances, I also found comparisons that officials made between the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia and South Asians. My favourite sources were rare finds that may not have been as useful as the above files for my thesis but were integral in terms of South Asian diasporic activity. For instance, I was thrilled to view a flag made by the Ghadar Party of San Francisco with a map that envisioned the borders of a free India as early as 1920 (Mss Eur C228: 1920). I was also able to view several maps made by South Asian surveyors and assistants within the British Indian army. These included maps of boundaries in Tibet, China, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa. The maps portray the role that some South Asians played as intermediaries within the colonisation of the Indian Ocean Arena before many migrated to North America.
I was also interested in sources on Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest, though finding archival materials associated with specific tribes was difficult. For this aspect of my research, I utilised the vast collection of books that covered substantial components of the history of Indigenous peoples from California, Washington and Oregon. However, I was able to locate a few important firsthand documents such as the Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians of California (British Library shelfmark: A.S.217/19, 1873) made by special agents Helen Jackson and Abbott Kinney and The Report of the Special Agent for California Indians to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs by C.E. Kelsey (British Library shelfmark: Mic.K.2130, 1906). The former report provided a significant account of how white colonists dispossessed Indigenous peoples in Southern California, despite US government orders that recognized Mission Indians’ lands as reservation lands. The 1906 report outlined the conditions of Indigenous peoples living within California and described the areas that remained populated by them. Reading these reports in comparison to one another was particularly useful for my research. The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians (British Library shelfmark: P.P.3437.bad) was another important source that discussed Native American issues, although individuals interested in Native Americans, rather than those of Indigenous ancestry, published most of the articles. More importantly, I was able to read a wide variety of books written about Indigenous peoples and to corroborate movements of certain Indigenous communities with the migration and land purchases of South Asians.
Overall, my magical wings were quite elated to fly from one source to the next at the British Library whether that was in a matter of hours, days, or weeks as I continue to read files that I photographed in October. I had an amazing experience as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, and I would highly recommend this fellowship opportunity to other researchers in American Studies. Although I did not have a chance to attend many events, connecting with other Fellows and the Eccles Centre team at one of their Researchers' Packed Lunches was wonderful. Nevertheless, time is always of the essence. Alas, this researcher flies away to the next archive!
02 March 2022
In conversation with Frank Brannon
This is the second blog looking at Cherokee language printing through the work of book artist and papermaker Frank Brannon. A previous post introduced Frank’s work, Cherokee Phoenix, advent of a newspaper: the print shop of the Cherokee Nation 1828-1834: a handmade letterpress book that tells the history of the first newspaper printed in an Indigenous language. After becoming interested in the materiality and creation of Frank’s book, he kindly spoke to me about his experience of printing in Cherokee as well as complex questions about what it means to have Indigenous language materials at the British Library.
Initially, Frank explained to me some of the technical difficulties of printing in Cherokee, such as ensuring the right spacing is on the type and watching for typos. We also spoke about the differences between Sequoyah’s syllabary, and the type-cast-
“To other eyes through time, just as you and I will see Roman letters, others will see Cyrillic if they have that background, or they might see Greek. They tend to look like other things. But Sequoyah’s original letters look nothing like the type-cast."
In creating the book, Frank also described how he visited the University of Alabama special collections library to model the book on those of the 1820s:
"I wanted to put the person in the time. The 1820’s is a time of transition from handmade to machine-made books. Books would be encased in a cheap cover, and they weren't really meant to last long in the publisher’s binding before they became something else. At the special collection's library, you would open the books and the backs would be breaking. So, The Cherokee Phoenix book really wants to fall apart- it was made for a better binding" (Fig. 1 above)
In speaking to Frank, what is notable is the book’s grounding in materials and place. On asking him what drew him to the topic, he replied that “it was the papermill and it was Sequoyah”. The historic materials used to print the Cherokee Phoenix were excavated from the site of the original printing office in New Echota (now Calhoun, Georgia) and those materials extend into the narrative and creation of Frank’s book. Given the (sometimes) difficult history of printing in Cherokee and the current endangerment of the language, I asked Frank if he felt a sense of responsibility in the work today. In his response he recalls returning to New Echota-
"I felt early that we had a responsibility to get it right, and I still feel that responsibility today. I was able to take some of the printing type and print at the historic site of New Echota in what is now North Georgia, and I actually taught a class in the reconstructed print shop there. When my friend- who was a member of the tribe- and I, would go and print in New Echota you could just kind of feel the weight of that event. It was almost like a dream. It's prescient, it's superseding your regular day, and I would have to admit there are not that many times in life it happens. It was the reality and the depth of that experience. The manager of what is now a Georgia state historic site understood the importance of us coming there and doing that work, also. And as a white person trying to support the revitalization the Cherokee language, you have to try a little bit harder."
This reminds us also of the gap between language on the page and language in the world as lived, happenstance and imperfect. Frank retells how when teaching at the Southeastern community college in western North Carolina, he labelled drawers of coloured paper with their Cherokee names. There is a sense of immediacy, in a place where all understand the importance of language revitalization-
“It was immediate for people from that community who did not know the language at the time to start using those words. I never told anyone in the class that I would like for them to use the names, but they did, every time. It’s not like you have to teach them, its osmosis, it’s in them.”
When considering the poignancy of printing in New Echota, we spoke about different sense of place presented by the British Library. What does it mean for Frank’s work and wider Indigenous language materials to be in the British Library? Much of the library’s holdings - and its history as an institution - speak to a North American context whereby Indigenous languages were taken, classified and denied to peoples in service of historic and ongoing settler colonial projects that sought to eradicate languages and cultures. These contexts have legacies in the ways languages are misrepresented and accessed in library systems today -
“The idea that one might need to verify who they are to access the language of their own people, things that they have been denied the ability to speak or say themselves, in a boarding school for example. The indignity of being pressed to follow someone else’s rules, to access their own knowledge”
“It’s hard to think in general about doing a fine letterpress book and having anyone upon it. There are a lot of questions here, and it has to with ownership, and it has to do with possession.”
This brought us to a discussion on the issues with the label of ‘Indigenous languages collection’ and the narratives those collections claim to tell -
“That’s the key - that process of ‘collecting’ them, ‘acquiring’ them. The parallel for me as an artist is that question of - when looking at the larger picture of European history - whose books are in those libraries? It’s mainly male, it’s mainly Anglo. Is that the entire history of the European experience? Well, we know that the answer is no. My artists’ statement says that I wish to tell the story of those that are less told, and to ask: what is the library of 500 years and what will it look like?"
I found the Frank drew between languages and institutional approaches to curating books very insightful in reflecting on some of these questions. In many contexts, Indigenous languages were viewed as ‘exotic’ objects and brought into an institutional setting, to collect and to study or observe. Such a view can persist in the ways people may approach or ask questions about the subject today. As Frank says, ‘it’s just a group of people who have their own language and they would like to use it, it’s as simple as that’. Some of these ideas inform Frank’s work as a book artist-
“For one of the art projects me and my friend Jeff Marley did in Cherokee, I wanted to do an outdoor installation- an exhibition for everything other than people. I did no advertising, and we documented through photography and film. That’s a larger response to the bigger questions you’re asking, because many days I’m not sure if I want to put it in ‘that’ library. A lot of artists books, or book arts, are now shown in a very display like manner. They’re fetish objects and it’s very much ‘over there’. I always struggle when they are behind glass."
By extension, Frank’s artistic process challenges and expands how we interact with books-
“With an artists’ book, you know immediately from the cover that something is different. I would love for the person to recognise that something different is going on long before they even get to the book, and so with the idea of installation or performance artwork to surround the object I am trying to expand the epi-text of the book. All those little things that go with the book, I want them to come out and be alive and blow through the cover. To think of the book as an epi-textual environment that best represents the thoughts and ideas of the individuals or group”
Perhaps in the context of the British Library, this approach can be used to think about how language materials are there, how they have been decontextualised and how Indigenous creators and representation has been written out of the record-
“How you describe books, that is part of that epi-textual environment. The stuff that floats around it, is about it, is of it. And how is that presented.”
As a result of Frank’s work, the printing type is out in the world and the story continues. It’s clear that Frank misses this work, and I am incredibly grateful to him for talking to me. The conversation made me think on the importance of place and ask important questions of collecting practices: what are we trying to preserve, and for who? Above all I love the materiality of the book, and its layers and relationship to the historic materials and contemporary questions. There is something poignant in the 1820’s style book that ‘wants to fall apart’ as the used and accessible artists’ book (as opposed to the displayed and distant artists’ book), and the used, imperfect and grounded use of the Cherokee language (as opposed to the collected and exotic ‘Cherokee language’ materials). Additionally, it begins a very crucial questioning of the difficult ‘epi-text’ of the British Library.
- Rebecca Slatcher, Collaborative Doctoral Student (British Library & The University of Hull)
24 February 2022
The Advent of a Newspaper
This is the first of a series of blogs looking at Cherokee language printing.
Whilst exploring the British Library’s North American Indigenous language materials as part of my PhD research, I came across Frank Brannon's Cherokee Phoenix, Advent of a Newspaper: the print shop of the Cherokee Nation 1828-1834 (Fig 1, below). The book tells the fascinating story of the first newspaper printed in an Indigenous language at the Cherokee Nation's capital of New Echota (near what is now Calhoun, Georgia). As a papermaker, printer and book artist from Knoxville in East Tennessee, Frank grew up not far from both the birthplace of Sequoyah (the Cherokee inventor of the syllabary that enabled printing in the Cherokee language) and the papermill that supplied the paper for the first edition of the Cherokee Phoenix.
In 1809 Cherokee speaker Sequoyah embarked on committing the Cherokee language to paper. He was fascinated by books (or 'talking leaves') and the power of the written word, but not all shared in this fascination. On the 18th of August 1828, the Cherokee Phoenix reported that Sequoyah had been 'strenuously opposed by all his friends and neighbours' in his task. In response, 'he would listen to the expostulations of his friends and then deliberately light his pipe, pull his spectacles over his eyes, and sit down to his work, without attempting to vindicate his conduct', an account that wonderfully evokes the famous image of him (Fig 2, below).
Sequoyah initially created a character for every word in Cherokee. He may have been influenced by other alphabets and reportedly had an English spelling book in his possession. Finding that this yielded too many characters, he separated the words into parts and assigned a character to each component: hence, a syllabary (Fig 3, below).
Sequoyah listened, remembered and added, and in 1821 he completed his 86-character invention. It took some effort to convince Cherokee speakers to use it, but learning was quick once persuaded. This was because it was made by and for native speakers (unlike the Roman orthographies imposed by missionaries at the time), and once a speaker learnt 'the alphabet', they could read. Within seven years, Cherokee literacy had accelerated, and a national press had been established. Even before the characters appeared in print, they became a tangible part of life and the landscape. An observer in a later newspaper, the Cherokee Advocate, wrote that when travelling through the Cherokee Nation in 1828 'I frequently saw as I rode from place to place, Cherokee letters painted or cut on the trees by the roadside, on fences, houses and often on pieces of bark or board, lying about the houses.' Whilst Sequoyah was not directly involved with the Cherokee Phoenix, he would regularly travel to the Dwight Mission in Oklahoma to collect the latest issue sent to him from Georgia.
In Frank’s book, we follow printers John Foster Wheeler and Isaac Harris as they journeyed together in 1827 from Jasper, Tennessee to the printing office made of 'hewed logs' in New Echota. There, they met editor and Cherokee Elias Boudinot and missionary Samuel Worcester. The materials - the paper, typecast and press - arrived from Boston in early 1828 and the first edition appeared on 21st February 1828. A fifth of the four-page newspaper was printed in Cherokee, reflecting the difficulties of translating and printing between English and Cherokee.
The potential input of US type casters and Worcester in designing the typecast alters how the characters appear in print. Worcester also re-arranged Sequoyah’s characters to reflect the sounds expressed through Roman letters (Fig 4, see below). Despite this, the syllabary was a Cherokee initiative in its creation and use.
Frank writes that "the complexities in the purpose of the newspaper should connotate the difficulties of the era: a true crucible where no one purpose may be clearly stated". This captures the turbulent history the newspaper shared in, seen through its engagement with debates on forced removal and Cherokee sovereignty, and in the newspapers eventual demise. Frank’s quote also captures the complex context of print as a technology tied to the ‘civilising’ mantra of colonialism. Through the story of the Phoenix however, we can understand how print also existed (and exists) as a tool of Indigenous agency, used and expanded to meet Indigenous motives and intellectual traditions.
The last edition of the Phoenix appeared on the 31st of May 1834. In the following year the printers moved westward, the State of Georgia, at the behest of the US Federal Government, seized the printing press and the editor of the newspaper, Elias Boudinot, signed the controversial 1835 Treaty of New Echota - the precursor to the mass forced removal of Cherokees in the 1838 Trail of Tears.
In 1954, the typecast was excavated from a well nearby to the original printing office. Frank’s work includes reproductions of hand impressions of this type which he uses to make conclusions on printing activities at New Echota in the early nineteenth century (Fig 5, see below).
Frank’s book brings together the history of the materials and people joined in the creation of the Cherokee Phoenix and uses those historic materials within its own creation. Through it, we encounter a handmade letterpress book that both emulates and extends the story of the historical materials used to print the Cherokee Phoenix. It is form and content connecting and reaching back through time, speaking to the afterlives of those materials and extending the story of Cherokee language printing.
- Rebecca Slatcher, Collaborative Doctoral Student (British Library & The University of Hull)
26 May 2021
Ranette Prime: Food and Identity in Britain
This is the fifth 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.
*** Please note that certain browsers do not support the audio clips - read and listen on Chrome or Internet Explorer to ensure that the clips play in full ***
This blog is about Ranette Prime, a London-based lawyer and food enthusiast who set up her own supper club. Ranette’s parents, Randolph and Lynette Prime, travelled from Trinidad and Guyana to England, in the 1960s, and they have both shaped her love of food. This blog focuses on Ranette’s memories of family trips to Brixton market and life in Sheffield, but you will soon be able to listen to his full interview via the British Library’s Listening and Viewing Service.
Sundays at Brixton Market
On Sunday mornings, Ranette’s family would pack into a car and drive from West Sussex to Brixton Market, where they would spend the whole day stocking up on supplies of food, beauty products and incense. Ranette’s memories of the market speak to Brixton as a hub of Black Britain – a place where were nods and smiles were signs of ‘community acknowledgement’. Trailing round the market for hours, getting the best eddoes or the cheapest sarsaparilla, and make-up from Island Beauty, Ranette and her siblings were rewarded with patties at the end of the ‘marathon’ shopping trip. Ranette’s recollection that she ‘felt very at home in Brixton’ echoes Brixton’s history as a place of Caribbean settlement, political activism, commerce and leisure.
These articles from the 1960s reflect this sense of Brixton as the heart of Black Britain at the time. Founded in 1960, Tropic magazine was a popular glossy magazine that described itself as the ‘voice of 250,000 coloured people in Britain.’1 ‘Living in Brixton’ tells its readers that if you ‘Walk through the famous Brixton market any Saturday and you are bound to hear the lilt of West Indian and West African voices mingled with cockney accents.’ On the next page, the article pinpoints the highlights of living in Brixton, including a photograph of Claudia Jones at the West Indian Gazette offices that were housed at 250 Brixton Road – above Theo Campbell’s record shop – and Leslie and Chris Morgan’s Caribbean Bakeries Limited. Founded a few months after Tropic’s demise, Flamingo magazine was similar in terms of content and style. This 1963 article, ‘West Indians in Brixton Market’ explains the increasingly profitability of ‘West Indian food, vegetables and tinned goods’ alongside recognising its importance as a ‘meeting place’. As Ranettes’ interview reveals, her memories of Brixton market in the 1980s and 1990s are in dialogue with these longer histories that have been documented in Britain’s Black magazines.2
Moving to Sheffield
‘Over the years we established a bit more of an identity in Sheffield … we had pockets … but it took a while’
At the age of 11, Ranette and her family moved to Sheffield. As they built a new life, they sought out ‘parallels’ to what they had in London. Interestingly, the parallels that they were seeking were often food-based – they searched for familiar ingredients and flavours. In this clip, Ranette remembers a man called Martin who delivered Caribbean food to families across Sheffield. His van was an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ that was filled with fresh and dry foodstuffs, such as plantains, cakes and hardo bread. By the early 2000s Martin had opened a ‘massive’ shop in Pitsmoor, on the outskirts of Sheffield. This story of Martin’s evolution from his travelling van to a permanent shop captures Ranette’s broader reflections on adaptation and community-building, as Sheffield’s Black Caribbean communities established themselves.
Establishing a sense of community in Sheffield was a gradual process and one that was at times complicated by questions of food and identity. ‘Surrounded by fish and chip shops’, Ranette expresses a sense of fascination with their signification of Britishness. This beautiful ‘Fried Fish and Chipped Potatoes’ rhyme, that was printed on greaseproof paper and published in Leeds, in 1906, embodies this quintessential ‘British’ fish and chips narrative that Ranette speaks of. However, these positive, wholesome and British connotations were a relatively recent development in the early 20th century. In Fish and Chips: A History, Panikos Panayi explains how Sephardic Jewish refugees brought traditions of frying fish to Britain in the late 19th century. Panayi interprets records of people complaining about the “nauseous odour”, as symbolising denigrating associations between fried fish and London’s poor areas, where Jewish communities settled.3 So, interestingly, Britain’s ‘national dish’ tells a history of migration, othering and adoption.
As well as eating fish and chips, Ranette remembers asking her mum to make that ‘British stuff … peas and fish fingers’, when her school friend came over to the house. Reflecting on her associations of certain foods, like shop bread and fish and chips, with British culture, Ranette remembers her young self, feeling a need to identify with these foods. This anecdote of culinary elasticity signifies the multiple ways in which people, especially children, self-consciously shape their identities.
‘I lived in little Trinidad as it were, and little Guyana at home’
As Ranette explains, her approach to cooking, whether at home or for her supper club (Eats and Beats), has been profoundly influenced by the food of her parents i.e. the food of Trinidad and Guyana. However, other cuisines, from Turkish to Korean, have also shaped Ranette’s tastes and cooking style. Speaking about the her parents, she describes a ‘common ground in their culture that Guyanese and Trini … complement each other really well’ – a harmony of tastes that is born out the region’s complex history. Phoulorie, which is widely eaten in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, reflects this ethnic and culinary crossover that is in part a result of their respective Indo-Caribbean populations. There is a basic recipe for phoulorie in E. Phyllis Clark’s West Indian Cookery book , but I think that Ranette’s recipe, which she has generously shared, sounds far tastier than Clark’s version which seems under spiced. Why not try it at home this weekend?
Thank you Ranette Prime 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 - Anselm Berkely: From Field to Shelf to Plate
Read the previous blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Sandra Agard: An Ode to Ridley Road
References / further reading
- Black London Histories http://www.blacklondonhistories.org.uk/
- Caribbean Market, Brixton, 1961, British Pathé
- Conversation in Sheffield about accent, dialect and attitudes to language, BBC Voices, British Library Shelfmark C1190/28/05
- Flamingo, July 1963, British Library Shelfmark: P.P.5109.bq
- Crossley, Fried fish and chipped potatoes (Leeds, 1906) British Library Shelfmark HS.74/1588
- Loretta’s Kitchen
- Naomi Oppenheim, ‘Popular history in the Black British press: Edward Scobie’s Tropic and Flamingo, 1960-64’, Immigrants & Minorities (2020), 136-162
- Panikos Panaya, Fish and Chips: A History (London: Reaktion Books, 2014). British Library Shelfmark 2016.a.1892
- Sahar Shah, Fish and chips are uniquely British, and so is its hidden migrant history, gal-dem, 1 December 2020
- Shopping, Brixton, 1975, British Pathé
- Ranette Prime interviewed by Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Foodways, March 2021 (uncatalogued)
- ‘The Hyper-Regional Chippy Traditions of Britain and Ireland’, Vittles, 30 October 2020
- Tropic, August 1960, British Library Shelfmark P.P.7615.kf.
1. Tropic, March 1960, p.1
2. Naomi Oppenheim, ‘Popular history in the Black British press: Edward Scobie’s Tropic and Flamingo, 1960-64’, Immigrants & Minorities (2020)
3. Panikos Panaya, Fish and Chips: A History (London: Reaktion Books, 2014); Sahar Shah, 'Fish and chips are uniquely British, and so is its hidden migrant history', gal-dem, 1 December 2020
07 May 2021
Joe Williams: ‘the need for flavour’
This is the second 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 Joe Williams, the Leeds-born arts and heritage activist who researches the historic African presence in Yorkshire. This blog focuses on Joe’s memories of Leeds West Indian Carnival and his historical perspective on Caribbean food but you will soon be able to listen to his full interview via the British Library’s Listening and Viewing Service.
In Jamaica, tamarind season refers to a period of scarcity and hardship before the harvest. Invoking this in her first published collection of poetry, Tamarind Season (1980), Lorna Goodison expresses strength and optimism in face of suffering. Joe Williams echoes this motif of struggle and resilience throughout this recollections and understandings of Caribbean foodways, from Yorkshire to West Africa.
The fruit itself – what Joe calls ‘packaged sweets in nature’ – also connects Joe’s story to Goodison’s poem. In this clip, Joe recalls his sister joining the family in Leeds, from Jamaica, in 1969 and bringing fresh tamarind pods wrapped in newspaper. Joe’s evocative description of the lip-pursing – ‘makes you stand up’ – dark reddish-brown fruit provides a window onto the numerous delectable, novel and familiar items that would have been pulled out of tightly packed suitcases and trunks, as people came to join already-settled family members and friends in Britain.
The occurrence of siblings joining partially established families in Britain was common; families that been separated by the Atlantic’s economic and historic waves, what some historians have referred to as the ‘second Middle Passage’.1 Joe’s mother, Birdie Williams, a seamstress from Jamaica who had 10 children in Trench Town, Kingston, came to Britain alone in 1960. Joe locates his mother’s story as a ‘rare insight into the Windrush narrative’ that puts a spotlight on those women who bravely travelled alone ‘to create opportunities for their family’. Throughout the 1960s, Birdie’s husband and children joined her and Joe in Leeds – realising her dream ‘to get her children out of terrible conditions in the ghettoes of Jamaica, which were a legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade’.
In Andrea Levy’s Small Island (2004), the award-winning novel about post-war Caribbean migration, there is a similar narrative around food and arrival. When Hortense arrives in London to join her husband Gilbert, Kenneth – a fellow Caribbean settler – enquires about the contents of her luggage:
‘So you tell me she jus’ come from home? You know what she have in that trunk?
‘Come, let us open it. Mango fetching a good price. You think she have rum? I know one of the boys give me half his wage to place him tongue in a guava.’2
Whilst this conjures senses of yearning for the familiarity of home through foodstuffs, like Joe’s story, it evokes the personal and small-scale journeys of Caribbean produce, in pockets and suitcases.
Leeds West Indian Carnival
The longest running West Indian outdoor carnival started in Chapeltown, Leeds, in 1967. As Joe explains, Leeds’ West Indian population has a majority of people from St Kitts and Nevis – so Leeds Carnival reflects the unique cultural practices of these islands, such as Christmas Sports.3 Becoming more conscious as a teenager, Joe found his own way to carnival, describing it as a ‘welcoming and inclusive’ space where eclectic Caribbean cultures were shared.
Carnival marked an ‘opportunity to introduce people to the food of the West Indies’ from roasted corn to homemade patties. Evoking the sights, sounds and smells of carnival, Joe recalls a man with a machete chopping green coconuts. The journey of the coconut from Southeast Asia to the Americas, and its symbolic place at Leeds West Indian Carnival, reflects the complexities of Caribbean foodways. The coconut was introduced to the Americas as part of the Columbian exchange in the early colonial period, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. J. W. Bennett’s The coco-nut palm, its uses and cultivation (1836) speaks directly to the transportation of certain plants and foodstuffs across the British empire – a point that Joe echoes in his critical discussion of Kew Gardens' colonial legacies. Bennett’s book embodies practices of extraction, exploitation and disavowal. From the exoticizing narratives of indigenous practices in ‘Ceylon’ to carefree recipes for coconut cocktails, it is, essentially, a planter’s manual for the production of capital, luxury and indulgence during an era of apprenticeship – which was, in practice, an extension of slavery. As Joe’s interview explores, Caribbean food cannot be disentangled from histories of slavery and resistance.
Hospitality in the home
Throughout Joe’s descriptions of culinary commerce, there is a strong sense of resourcefulness, of what he calls ‘the culture of … survival’. This self-sufficiency was manifest in the houses that became social hubs for eating, drinking and playing dominoes, and by the creation of shebeens and blues parties. Drawing links between South African apartheid and the ‘colour bar’ in Britain, this editorial from Tropic highlighted the state’s failure to ‘put an end to the practice of racial discrimination in … public places.’ The exclusion from mainstream opportunities to engage in commercial and leisure practices meant that Caribbean communities had to construct their own spaces of enjoyment and commerce, to make money and experience joy, wherever possible. The fact that food simultaneously produces pleasure and capital means that it is an important arena for diasporic and migrant cultural-commercial production.
What Joe terms as a ‘need for flavour’ in this final clip, helps us to understand why and how the ‘brutality’ of Caribbean history has been ‘made into something beautiful that can be shared with others.’
Thank you Joe Williams 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 - Charlie Phillips: the story behind Smokey Joe's Diner
Read the previous blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Ann Husbands: Black Pudding and Roti at Notting Hill Carnival
References / Further Reading
- Andrea Levy, Small Island (London: Review, 2004) British Library Shelfmark Nov.2005/1369
- Frank L. Mills, Christmas sports in St. Kitts-Nevis: our neglected cultural tradition (F.L. Mills : S.B. Jones-Hendrickson, 1984) British Library Shelfmark YA.1988.a.9251
- Gabriel Noble, ‘To what extent is the colonial history of botany realised at Kew Gardens today?’ Medium, 15 May 2015
- Guy Farrar, Tim Smith, Max Farrar, Celebrate! : 50 years of Leeds West Indian Carnival (Huddersfield: Northern Arts Publications, 2017) British Library Shelfmark LC.37.a.1666
- Harriet Walsh, Leeds West Indian Carnival, 1967-2002 (Leeds: Pavillion, 2003) British Library Shelfmark YK.2004.a.1560
- Heritage Corner
- Hilary Beckles, ‘British Trade in Black Labour: The Windrush Middle Passage’, British Library, 15 June 2018
- Joe Williams, interviewed by Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Foodways, March 2021 (uncatalogued)
- J. W. Bennett, The coco-nut palm, its uses and cultivation: as adapted for the general benefit in our West Indian and African colonies (London: Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper, 1836) British Library Shelfmark Digital Store RB.23.a.25211
- Lorna Goodison, Tamarind Season: Poems (Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1980) British Library Shelfmark X.950/14241
- Tropic, June 1960, p.1 British Library Shelfmark P.P.7615.kf.
- ‘From Caribbean Isles to the British Isles: Home to Home’, The National Caribbean Heritage Museum
- ‘Complete Archive of aware-winning novelist Andrea Levy acquired for the nation’, British Library, 6 Feburary 2020
- Hannah Lowe, ‘An introduction to Andrea Levy’s Small Island’, British Library, 4 October 2018
1. Hilary Beckles, ‘British Trade in Black Labour: The Windrush Middle Passage’, British Library, 15 June 2018
2. Andrea Levy, Small Island (2004), p.22
3. Christmas Sports is an African-derived creolized tradition that begins on Boxing Day and culminates with a carnival on New Year’s Day in St Kitts and Nevis. See Frank L. Mills, Christmas sports in St. Kitts-Nevis: our neglected cultural tradition (F.L. Mills : S.B. Jones-Hendrickson, 1984)
06 February 2021
Two treaties: Waitangi Day in conversation
In this blog post, Lucy (Oceania Curator) and Scott (Conservation Support Assistant) use a selection of collection items from Aoteaora New Zealand to discuss Waitangi Day, the country’s national day commemorated annually on 6th February.
Waitangi Day marks the anniversary of the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) by representatives of the British Crown and Rangatira (Māori chiefs) at Waitangi on 6th February 1840. The treaty, drafted by the governor, William Hobson, was translated from English into te reo Māori (the Māori language) by the Christian missionary, Rev. Henry Williams with help from his son, Edward. This version was used to outline the agreement to Rangatira and gather signatures around the country, but it was not an exact translation of the English document. The result was two treaties with significantly different interpretations; the English version asserting the sovereignty of the Crown, and the reo Māori version retaining the full authority of the chiefs, an authority previously affirmed in the Declaration of Independence document of 1835.
Whilst the treaty documents officially confirmed European settlement in Aoteaora New Zealand, the exact meaning and intentions of the treaty text has since been fiercely debated. In 2014, the Waitangi Tribunal, set up to mediate the differences between the two texts, found that the Rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede sovereignty to the British Crown, but did agree to share power through different roles. The tribunal ruled that the Crown has the right to govern (kāwanatanga), subject to the protection of Māori interests (rangatiratanga). This ruling is not universally accepted in Aotearoa New Zealand, and public commemorations on Waitangi Day are often when this dispute is brought firmly into the spotlight.
Lucy: The dual language book pictured above is an example of the resources now used in schools to teach children about the events that led to the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and what has happened since. What are your memories of Waitangi Day when you were growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand?
Scott: It was quite difficult to be Māori growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand, particularly in the South Island. The media tend to portray the day as ‘rogue’ elements of Māori ruining a lovely sunny day by harassing the terrified politicians running the gauntlet to Te Tii Marae at Waitangi [the sacred Māori meeting ground at Waitangi - politicians are usually invited here on Waitangi Day]. Growing up, the first flag I ever knew was the United Tribes of New Zealand flag and, as a (reputed) descendant of Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipipi Te Waharoa (the ‘Kingmaker’), the affirmation of the Kīngitanga [Māori King] movement. But when I moved to a rural area of the South Island, I found that my Pākehā friends and classmates inherited and perpetuated their parents' fear and anger that Māori were going to ‘claim their land back’.
Combined with a lack of teaching in school around the Treaty and the New Zealand Wars, in many areas that has led to a continuation of the same attitudes towards Māori. I learned swiftly that we were, and often still are, seen as second-class citizens in our own land. But while restitution is a part of the Waitangi Tribunal process, for me it is about establishing Māori as equal partners to the Crown; to regain the equality with Pākehā which our ancestors never gave away. This graphic novel superbly illustrates what I feel is the best part of Aotearoa New Zealand; the combination of both Māori and Pākehā working together in both languages, educating us all on the importance, but also effects, of our founding document. As the book says on page 15, “If we are honest about our country’s past, we can try to fix some of the damage that still affects us today”.
Lucy: The Treaty of Waitangi is often used as a case study, as in the title above, to explore the role of cultural memory and worldviews in translation studies. The Library looks after this 1845 printed handbill of te Tiriti o Waitangi in te reo Māori and you can see the disputed terms, kāwanatanga and rangatiratanga there in articles 1 and 2 (paragraphs 4 and 5). These are the most significant examples of where the translation from English to te reo Māori led to different interpretations of the treaty. What meaning does this item hold for you?
Scott: It’s a good reminder of what many New Zealanders, even today, still struggle to understand; that while it is one document, there are two versions of Te Tiriti [The Treaty]. This is an issue which has been at the heart of race relations and the struggle to preserve not only our heritage, our whenua [land] but also ourselves as a people from Pākehā [non-Māori] assimilation. Here in the handbill, the te reo version of the treaty which most Rangatira, or chiefs, signed on February 6th 1840, allowed the British government over the land by having a governor who could rein in the settlers which had been troublesome to Māori. My ancestors also wanted the protection of the British from possible French incursion, but most importantly, while keeping their own sovereignty; their Mana [authority, prestige and spiritual power] and land.
At the urging of missionaries, Māori signed the te reo version in good faith, assured that we could keep our lands, freedom and way of life. But the British utilised the mostly unsigned English version, which ceded sovereignty to the Queen and led to the horrific New Zealand Wars, mass land confiscation as punishment for ‘rebellion’, and the suppression of Māori way of life and tikanga [customs]. Whether the change in language was deliberate or not is debatable. However, I grew up in a household which regarded Te Tiriti as one of the great con-jobs of history, a Trojan horse of trauma and devastation disguised as friendship.
Lucy: The Library also holds a contemporary artists’ book, pictured above, which considers the bicultural aspect of the Treaty of Waitangi by combining design elements, images from Treaty documents, the Treaty House plans, and Māori and British illustrations from historical documentation in such a way that they become entangled and the distinctions blurred. This blending of cultures is similarly explored in books such as Always Speaking, pictured above, which interrogates the role of the Treaty in everyday life and public policies including broadcasting, housing, maternity care, youth services and the electoral system. How do you embody the Treaty in your everyday life?
Scott: On the basis of the Treaty, Aotearoa New Zealand is a bicultural society, though this sits uncomfortably with many Pākehā. Much in the way the artists’ book blends both Totara [a type of Aotearoa New Zealand wood] and Oak together, the two strongest materials from our cultures, the combination of the two peoples, positively, respectfully and equally is the way forward for us as a nation. For years, the government has acknowledged failure in providing the key concepts of protection, participation and partnership to Māori, but I do believe we are taking slow steps forward. As Tangata whenua, as Māori, I choose to embody the treaty by embracing and celebrating my Māori culture as part of my mixed heritage, to choose to live in te ao Māori [the Māori world]. This was a fairly recent decision after reflecting on the impact 2020 Black Lives Matter movement on myself, as well as so many others.
So now, here in the home of Cook and Banks, and the launching point of some 10,000 soldiers that marched under guns through the Waikato in the New Zealand Wars, I undertake to embody the Treaty by being openly and proudly Māori; utilising my basic understanding of te reo in my emails and in my work. And committing to that partnership with the Crown as equals by exploring how aspects of my culture, such as our view on Kaitiakitanga [holistic guardianship], can be applied here within the British Library for all our future generations.
Lucy: Your role at the Library involves training users in the handling and care of collection items. How would the principles of Kaitiakitanga apply to the stewardship of the Treaty of Waitangi handbill, for example, in the Library’s collection?
Scott: For an item such as the 1845 handbill, active and inclusive custodianship would mean that this material would be seen as a taonga, or treasure, to be kept safe. Effective and inclusive custodianship of such a key item in the joining of both Māori and Pākehā cultures is important. It has immense significance for those who may wish to understand not only the differences in language and meaning that led to the horrors that we as Māori had to endure, but also the ‘spirit’ of the treaty, the joining of two cultures, which is especially significant for someone like myself, a blend of both Māori and Pākehā bloodlines.
Custodianship, or kaitiakitanga, fits within the ideals that we already have here at the British Library. We work to ensure such culturally significant material from our past, is preserved in the present for our future generations. Even though the handbill itself hasn’t come forth from my people, or our whenua [land], the fact that it is in te reo, our language, which is regarded as sacred, means it must be handled with active respect for its status, as well as its own mauri [life-force].
Scott, Conservation Support Assistant and Lucy, Oceania Curator
References and further reading:
Sue Abel, Shaping the news : Waitangi Day on television (Auckland 1997) YA.1999.a.9098
Rachael Bell et al., The Treaty on the ground : where we are headed, and why it matters (Auckland 2017) YD.2017.a.2655
Siobhan Brownlie, Mapping memory in translation (London 2016) ELD.DS.299497
William Colenso, The Authentic and Genuine History of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand ... 1840 ... With copies of the treaty in English and Maori, etc (Wellington 1890) 9004.l.33.(8.)
Robert Consedine & Joanna Consedine, Healing our history : the challenge of the Treaty of Waitangi (Auckland 2012) YD.2012.a.4861
William Hobson, Handbill of the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 (Paihia 1845) 74/B.I.1/3.(7.)
I. H. Kawharu, Waitangi : Māori and Pākehā perspectives of the Treaty of Waitangi (Auckland 1989) YC.1990.b.2501
Patrick A. McAllister, National days and the politics of indigenous and local identities in Australia and New Zealand (Durham, N.C. 2012) m13/.12015
Toby Morris, The Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Wellington 2019) YD.2019.b.1189
Dominic O'Sullivan, Beyond biculturalism : the politics of an indigenous minority (Wellington 2007) YD.2007.a.8667
Claudia Orange, An illustrated history of the Treaty of Waitangi (Wellington 2004) YD.2010.b.171
Claudia Orange Te Tiriti o Watangi = The Treaty of Waitangi, 1840 (Wellington 2017) YD.2017.b.550
Vanya Steiner, The Tiriti Book (Auckland 2002) Awaiting shelfmark
Veronica M.H. Tawahi and Katarina Gray-Sharp, 'Always speaking' : the Treaty of Waitangi and public policy (Wellington 2011) YD. 2012.a.5143
Nicola Wheen and Janine Hayward, Treaty of Waitangi settlements (Wellington 2012) Y.2013.a.86
Americas and Oceania Collections blog recent posts
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