American Collections blog

124 posts categorized "Eccles Centre"

28 August 2020

Paradise in London: the Paraíso School of Samba and the beginnings of urban Brazilian carnival in Rio de Janeiro

One event that is certainly going to be missed this summer is the Notting Hill Carnival. To avoid mass gatherings during the Covid-19 crisis, this year’s carnival takes place online. Usually on this weekend, the streets of west London become alive with the vibrant colours and sounds of costumes, steel bands and floats. The European & Americas Collections Team celebrates this popular London event with a joint blog. 

Initially, Trinidad-born activist and West Indian Gazette founder Claudia Jones started an annual indoor Caribbean carnival in response to the racist violence and riots that swept through Britain in the summer of 1958. The first London Caribbean carnival took place in January 1959 and was televised by the BBC, subtitled ‘A people's art is the genesis of their freedom’. The British Library holds a copy of a West Indian Gazette special edition about the event:

 

Image of black, white and red illustrated cover. It shows drawings depicting Caribbean dancers. Title reads: "Caribbean Carnival Souvenir, 1960: televised by BBC television. Organised by the West India Gazette.
Caribbean Carnival Souvenir 1960: televised by BBC Television, organised by the West Indian Gazette. Cover page with West-Indian musicians and dancers [BL Andrew Salkey Archive Dept. 10310, Box 33]

 

You can find out more about these beginnings at: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/claudia-jones-caribbean-carnival-souvenir-programme-1960. In 1966 carnival finally took to the streets in Notting Hill and has stayed there ever since. For three days, music and dance now bring together two million people in celebration of Caribbean cultures. 

My own initiation to the Notting Hill Carnival has been through Brazilian influence and close involvement with the Paraíso School of Samba, the most prominent school of Brazilian samba in London. Every year since its foundation in 2001, Paraíso has taken part in the Notting Hill Carnival parade, featuring costumed percussionists, dancers, and carnival floats.  Just like in Rio!

 

Paraiso School of Samba dancers at the Notting Hill Carnival 2017, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission. Image shows dancers of the Paraíso School of Samba in traditional Brazilian Carnival wear.
Paraíso School of Samba dancers at the Notting Hill Carnival 2017, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission

 

The president and founder of the Paraíso School of Samba, Henrique da Silva has since the age of eight been involved with one of Rio’s most traditional schools of samba: Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Estação Primeira de Mangueira or simply Mangueira. This inspired him to form a samba school in London following the same principles. The main idea of Paraíso is for people to celebrate and express their cultural identity through dance and music. To quote from Paraíso’s website  ‘samba is truly the popular art of people, especially in its inclusivity where everyone has a place. Paraíso plays samba as it is played by the baterias (percussions) of Rio’s samba schools.’

Samba music and dance originate from the Northeast of Brazil, where it was developed from the musical traditions of the African slaves. The style of Samba as we know it today, developed in the first half of the 20th century in Brazil’s urbanising Southeast, mostly its then cultural centre Rio. The style emphasises the polyrhythmic sounds of multiple percussion instruments, like African drumming music, which uses call and response.  This has become the pulsing sound of Rio’s modern carnival. The main driving force behind this style of samba were and still are organized groups known as escolas de samba (samba schools).  They are devoted to playing and dancing, as well as preparing for a yearly carnival parade. In Rio, samba is now inseparable from the Carnival.  

 

Paraiso School of Samba dancer at the Notting Hill Carnival 2018, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission. Image shows a close-up portrait of a smiling dancer of the Paraíso School of Samba. The dancer wears a dress made of blue coloured gems and feathers
Paraíso School of Samba dancer at the Notting Hill Carnival 2018, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission

 

My initial reaction to co-writing this blog was reluctance, as I have mostly stayed away from carnival on my visits to Brazil. Looking after the Latin American Collections, however, I felt I should give it a go and was rewarded with joyful browsing and listening on the internet for a couple of hours. I hope you’ll do the same for this year’s Notting Hill Carnival until we can take to the streets once more.

Our guide to the first decades of urban Rio carnival is Brazil’s most famous composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), a keen participant in his hometown’s carnival celebrations. During his lifetime, modern urban carnival developed and he knew its local protagonists and different musical traditions like no other person. In his own classical compositions, Villa-Lobos sought inspiration in the country’s popular cultural traditions to create a distinctive Brazilian style of music. He even composed two pieces of music on the theme of children’s experience of carnival: Carnaval das Crianças (Children’s Carnival) in 1919 and Momoprecoce (the precocious king of carnival) in 1928. The first, a work for piano describes in eight vignettes well-known carnival figures popular at the time like the diabinho (little devil) or the rei momo (king of carnival). The later work reinterprets and elaborates these themes into an orchestral work with solo piano.

Popular narratives of samba usually mark important milestones of modern urban carnival around similar dates. In 1916, Ernesto dos Santos, known as Donga, and Mauro de Almeida registered the first samba with Brazil’s National Library in Rio, while in 1928, José Gomes da Costa, known as Zé Espinguela, launched the first samba competition from the same Mangueira neighbourhood, where the famous samba school developed from existing older carnival groups.

Vanessa Rodrigues Cunha (2015) describes the different musical traditions from which samba emerges as predominant by the end of the 1920s. The music played at the time was slower, however, than the samba we know from later Brazilian carnival, which also developed different dance routines. A good way to experience the greatest musicians of the early time of urban carnival is through browsing the recent digital exhibition Native Brazilian Music: 80th anniversary: the history behind one of Brazilian music’s most iconic albums.

 

Native Brazilian Music Museu VL; Cover of the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ by Colombia Records, Museu de Villa-Lobos as reproduced in the digital exhibition
Cover of the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ by Colombia Records, Museu de Villa-Lobos, as reproduced in the digital exhibition

 

It tells the incredible story behind the famous recordings of Brazilian popular music organised by Villa-Lobos and Donga for the British composer Leopold Stokowski. His tour through Latin America was part of U.S. president Roosevelt’s ‘Good Neighbor policy’ and Stokowski had asked Villa-Lobos for help in finding Brazilian musicians for recordings. These took place in 1940 on board the steamship U.S.S. Uruguay in Rio’s harbour and would be released by Colombia Records in 1942. The exhibition contains some recordings, which give a good flavour of the musical style of the time. It is refreshing to hear them and you can see how they compare to the musical offerings of Notting Hill Carnival Online.

At the end of the weekend, you can sit down to listen to Villa-Lobos’ reinterpretation of the carnival theme with a recording (25 min) of his ‘Momoprecoce’ performed at the Proms in 2012 by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra with Nelson Freire at the piano and conducted by Marin Alsop. The recording includes a brief introduction to the piece by Alsop, and I could hear it over and over again. I’m sure that a weekend immersed in Caribbean carnival music will only enhance our appreciation of this wonderful ode to carnival!

Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager & Iris Bachmann, Curator, Latin American Collections.

Bibliography:

In the absence of access to our physical collection items, Vanessa Rodgrigues Cunha’s dissertation has been an invaluable, well-written guide to information on Villa-Lobos carnival pieces and the beginnings of urban Rio carnival:

Cunha, Vanessa Rodrigues. The Symbiosis Between Villa-Lobos's Carnaval Das Crianças And Momoprecoce: A Comparative Study. Dissertation. CUNY. 2015. Accessed 28.08.2020 https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/896/ 

Daniella Thompson’s research for ‘Stalking Stokowski’ (2000) http://daniellathompson.com/Texts/Stokowski/Stalking_Stokowski.htm underpins the digital exhibition on the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ and gives a more detailed account of its history and the marginalization of black musicians as samba goes mainstream.

Further suggested readings at the British Library:

Goldman, Albert. Carnival in Rio (New York, 1978). f78/3978

George, Terry. Carnival in Rio: samba, samba, samba! (Hamburg, 2005). EMC.2009.a.372

Hertzman, Marc A. Making samba: a new history of race and music in Brazil. (Durham, North Carolina/London, 2013). YD.2017.a.606 

Neto, Lira. Uma história do samba. (São Paulo, 2017). YF.2017.a.22063 

 

26 August 2020

The Centenary of the Nineteenth Amendment and US women's right to vote

To celebrate this important anniversary, this blog highlights some of the US women's suffrage music held at the British Library.

Today - 26 August 2020 - marks the centenary of the Nineteenth Amendment becoming part of the Constitution of the United States. This 39-word Amendment states: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."  

Text of what would become the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
The Nineteenth (XIX) Amendment to the US Constitution passed a vote in the House of Representatives on 21 May 1919 and in the Senate on 4 June 1919; it was then sent to the states for ratification.  On 18 August 1920 it was ratified by Tennessee, the 36th - and final - state needed to ensure its adoption.  Image: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 

Although brief, this Nineteenth Amendment was the culmination of a decades-long struggle for women's suffrage. This struggle formally began in July 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, where, at a convention organised by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, around 300 people gathered to discuss "the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women." In the 72 years that followed, activists for women's suffrage created many organisations and used many strategies to achieve their goal. In the end, however, it was amending the Constitution - rather than persuading individual states to extend the franchise - that was successful.

To commemorate this milestone, US institutions, including the Library of Congress, the National Archives Museum, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, are illuminating the complex, challenging and inspirational story of the movement for female suffrage with brilliant online exhibitions.

The cover photograph of this sheet music shows women in long white dresses and sashes marching in New York City for women's suffrage.
The copyright for this song was held by the New York Women's Suffrage Association which would have benefited from any sales. The cover photograph depicts one of the suffrage rallies held in New York City, 1912-14. In 1917 women gained the right to vote in New York State; this played a critical role in US President Woodrow Wilson's decision to support what would become the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
Zena S. Hawn, Fall in Line: Suffrage March. New York: Arthur W. Tams Music Library, c.1914.  British Library Music Collections: H.3826.r.(27.) 

In the late 1980s, I had the great good fortune to work as an intern on the Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Spanning the years 1831 to 1906 this vast microfilm project – then housed at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst – brought together more than 14,000 documents relating to these two extraordinary women. As a new graduate student with little experience of working with primary sources, transcribing Stanton and Anthony’s correspondence and indexing their weekly newspaper, The Revolution, was priceless. Yet, even then it was clear that Stanton and Anthony’s activism was not without flaws; particularly, regarding issues of race. 

What excites me today as I browse these centenary exhibitions, is seeing Stanton and Anthony's contributions as one strand - albeit a hugely significant one - of the suffrage journey and realising how much is still being discovered about all of the women and men who petitioned, organised, marched, wrote to representatives, senators, and presidents, argued with friends and family, argued with each other, and ultimately refused to give up.  

Viewing these virtual exhibitions has also made me extremely jealous of the collection items held by these American institutions; but that is for another day! Today, we are simply celebrating this 100th anniversary by sharing some of the women’s suffrage sheet music held by the British Library. 

The Liberty Bell and the American flag are colourfully depicted on the cover of this sheet music.
This song is dedicated ‘To Dr Anna Shaw and the Great Cause of Woman Suffrage’. Born in Britain Anna Shaw received her MD from Boston University in 1885 and was President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1904-1915.
M. Zimmerman & E. Zimmerman, Votes for Women: Suffrage Rallying Song. Philadelphia: E. M. Zimmerman, 1915. British Library Music Collections: H.3992.r.(18.) 

Like all great American reform movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the one for women’s suffrage was imbued with songs and marches. This is not surprising, given the prominent role that music played in homes, churches and social and political gatherings at this time. 

A woman holds a banner saying 'Universal Suffrage' on the cover of this sheet music.
This song was privately printed by its female composer and in her  dedication she urges women to: 'Never fail to keep the cause of woman's suffrage foremost in your mind ... it is your cause and you must support it.'
Lucenia W. Richards, Suffrage March Song. Chicago: Richards & Richards, 1914.  British Library Music Collections: H.3995.nn.(18.) 

Today, historians often categorise suffrage music into "parlour songs" and "rally songs". Although the lines of demarcation between these two are somewhat blurred, rally songs tended to be well-known tunes - usually hymns or anthems - that had been given new, pro-suffrage lyrics. At public gatherings, this style of music-making was particularly advantageous since the new lyrics, printed inexpensively on a single sheet of paper, could quickly be passed around a crowd. One or two people would then kick off the melody and everybody else could join in. 

Compilations of suffrage songs - often a combination of these re-worded hymns with original compositions - were frequently published by local and national suffrage associations as a means to raise funds. Others, including the one below, were created by single individuals:

The decorative inside cover of a pro-suffrage songster.
Woman's Suffrage Songs. For Public Meetings, Conventions, Entertainments or Vaudeville.  Words and Music composed by Pauline Browne.  Indianapolis: P. R. Browne, 1913.  British Library Music Collections: F.328.s.(5.) [Image courtesy Library of Congress, due to Covid restrictions].

In contrast to rally songs, "parlour songs" tended to have both original lyrics and original tunes. They enabled the singer – in the non-threatening environment of her own home – to express why women wanted the vote and the benefits this would bring to society. Many appealed to the listener’s sense of justice and fair play, including the one below, which opens with the declaration that: "No man is greater than his mother / No man is better than the wife he loves." It then lists women's qualities and accomplishments, before arriving at the surely inevitable conclusion that women also deserve to vote:  

A smiling well-dressed woman and a baby look out of an open window; the baby waves while leaning on a red cushion.
H. Paley & A. Bryan. She's Good Enough to Be Your Baby's Mother and She's Good Enough to Vote With You. New York: Jerome H. Remick, c.1916. British Library Music Collections: H.3995.q.(70.) 

Opposition to female suffrage took many forms, but particularly common were accusations that women would become "sexless" (scathing references to "spinsters" were common) or would neglect their homes and families. These views were reflected in the sheet music of the time, including in the song below. Published in 1913, this song is full of stereotypes not only about those supporting women's suffrage but also about Italian Americans. The song's protagonist bewails the fact that since "his" Margarette became a suffragette, not only does she no longer cook or clean the house, but, worst of all, "She wear a-da pants / Dat kill da romance..."

A woman in flamboyant dress points dismissely at the floor as a man with curly hair and an earring begs in front of her on bended knee.
G. Edwards & Will D. Cobb, Since my Margarette became a-da Suffragette. New York: Jerome H. Remick, c.1913. British Library Music Collections: H.3992.x.(9.)

From the earliest days, there were strong ties between those working for women's suffrage in the United States and their counterparts in Great Britain. In the 1910s, concern about the increasing militancy of the British movement was reflected not only in the American press but also in popular music. The cover illustration of the song below, published in New Jersey in 1912, depicts British suffragettes marching in their sashes while throwing bricks and breaking windows. The song’s protagonist – recently arrived from England – shares the horrors he has witnessed there and concludes in the chorus: "They’re growing too strenuous by jingo/ These women on mischief are bent/ With brick bats they’ve smashed all the windows/ And raided the Houses of Parliament/ They’re wearing men’s collars and shirt fronts/ Less bashful are these sweet coquettes/ They’re after our votes just as well as our notes/ And our trousers! Oh! You suffragettes": 

In the sketch suffragettes wearing sashes and long dresses are breaking windows while holding a Votes for Women banner aloft.
B.A. Koellhoffer & J.J. Gallagher, Oh! You Suffragettes. Irvington, NJ: B.A. Koellhoffer, c.1912. British Library Music Collections: H.3994.u.(20.).  [Image courtesy Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries & University Museums, due to Covid restrictions.]

In spite of the vigorous efforts of the anti-suffrage contingent, on 19 January 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson announced his support for an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would guarantee women the right to vote. This Nineteenth Amendment was passed by Congress on 4 June 1919, ratified on 18 August 1920 and officially incorporated into the Constitution on 26 August 1920.  

Just over fifty years later, on 16 August 1973, Congress approved H.J.Res. 52 - introduced by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) - designating 26 August as Women's Equality Day.  

Jean Petrovic

Due to Covid restrictions, some of the images in this blog are from non-British Library sources; I wish to express my thanks to these institutions.

Please note, you can read more about Bella Abzug and other women involved in the (still-ongoing) battle for the Equal Rights Amendment in my colleague Rachael Culley's evocative two-part blog inspired by the recent TV series Mrs America. Please also note that the British Library's next major exhibition 'Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights', is currently on hold until later in the year. 

 

 

04 August 2020

Reactions to HIV in the 1980s and COVID-19 stigma

This post by Carmen Logie is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across Caribbean, Canadian and US  collections.

My work in the field of HIV began in the early 1990s, before we had effective anti-retroviral therapy.  I had just moved from small town Ontario, to a big Canadian city - Toronto.  It was the first semester in my undergraduate degree when a fellow student asked me if I wanted to volunteer with her on what was then called the ‘AIDS’ floor of a local hospital.  Always interested in learning about something new, I agreed.  Little did I know that would change the course of my life.  The floor was sectioned off for only people with HIV, and by the time people reached the stage of being hospitalized, for many they were in the last stages of life.  As a volunteer my job was anything that the patient wanted—to run and grab a newspaper, to escort them to the smoking area (when there was such a thing), or to help the nurses feed someone.  Sometimes I would just sit and hold someone’s hand.  Myself and other volunteers were often the only visitors some patients had, having been abandoned by their friends and family due to HIV-related stigma alongside with homophobia, as many at the time (as today) living with HIV in Canada were gay and bisexual men.  Knowing that people were sick and alone due to stigma sparked my passion on stigma in the field of HIV and sexual health.

Fast forward 26 years and it is my first week at the British Library for my Eccles Fellowship in March 2020.  A new virus—COVID-19—had recently emerged and was stirring global fear and panic.  A few weeks prior to arriving in London I had conducted a media interview on stigma directed toward persons of Asian descent in Toronto, Canada related to COVID-19. I reflected on the roots of this stigma, and its parallels to HIV-related stigma.  While at the British Library I was inspired to re-read books on HIV-related stigma from the beginning of the epidemic.  Classics like Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors led me back to her earlier work, Illness as Metaphor.1 I also revisited D. Crimp’s AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism.2

A photo of Susan Sontag sitting in her own home. Her left arm rests on a table and the right rests on the arm of the chair. Her dark hair is loose. She is wearing an open-necked striped shirt and a dark waistcoat. There are floor to ceiling bookcases in the background.
Susan Sontag, photographed in her own home. 1979. Copyright Lynn Gilbert.  (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0.)

Reading these pieces from early in the AIDS pandemic was striking.  I was inspired to write two commentaries on parallels between HIV-related stigma and COVID-19 stigma.  Sontag had warned about using military metaphors to describe the HIV and AIDS pandemic decades ago: “We are not being invaded.  The body is not a battlefield.  The ill are neither unavoidable casualties nor the enemy.  We—medicine, society—are not authorized to fight back by any means whatever.”3  Yet the panic and fear regarding COVID-19 was palpable.  While this fear was understandable, the use of military metaphors in framing COVID-19 exacerbated the xenophobic responses, including hate crimes, toward persons of Asian descent in Canada and other global contexts.  Othering—distinguishing oneself as ‘normal’ in comparison with the ‘abnormal’ other—has been a central part of understanding and approaching illness throughout history.  Crimp reminds us from his discussion of the framing of HIV in the early days as impacting the ‘4-H’s’ (Haitians, haemophiliacs, heroin users, ‘homosexuals’) that illnesses are often blamed on the racial, foreign or otherwise ‘immoral’ other.  Although COVID-19 was named to avoid association with a place of origin, even in July 2020 world leaders continue to refer to it as the ‘China virus’.  People who are not following public health measures have been labelled ‘super spreaders’ and even ‘intentional murderers’.  This blaming of individuals leaves the larger social and structural factors contributing to COVID-19 vulnerabilities—including racism, poverty and insufficient access to PPE—unaddressed.

Yet reading Sontag’s and Crimp’s work more than 30 years after it was written also provides me with hope.  They both underscore the solution to stigmatizing and blaming groups of people for illnesses lies in strengthening communities.  We need to remind one another of our shared humanity in order to build solidarity and caring networks that support one another to engage in COVID-19 preventive practices and care for one another when we are sick.  These networks have already been formed; for instance, across the globe people are sewing hand-made masks to share with others, and some are shopping and checking in on the wellbeing of the elderly.  Sontag powerfully reminds us that we are unified in our vulnerability to acquiring illness:

“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship.  Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.  Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” (Sontag, 1978, p. 3).

I disappointingly had to leave my Eccles Fellowship early, after the Prime Minister in Canada requested Canadians return home as the border was closing.  Being at the British Library when this pandemic was spreading inspired me to go back to the books on early HIV and AIDS activism, to reach back in history and learn from the way we stigmatize new infections—and from the way we can challenge this stigma and build stronger communities.  My research has now expanded to understanding and tackling COVID-19 stigma across the globe, hoping we can learn from the past to dig out the root causes of stigma and plant seeds of solidarity and care.

Carmen Logie, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow 2019, is Associate Professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

For further discussions of stigma, listen to Carmen’s podcast series, ‘Everybody Hates Me: Let’s Talk About Stigma’. This podcast invites a range of weekly guests to talk about all different kinds of stigma. Why does it matter? What does it look like? What can we do about it? https://www.buzzsprout.com/1024792

References:

1.  Susan Sontag, AIDS and its metaphors. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1989. General Reference Collection: YK.1993.a.100;  Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1978. General Reference Collection: X.329/11987.

2.  D. Crimp,  AIDS: cultural analysis/cultural activism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 1987. p. 3–16.  General Reference Collection: YC.1992.b.5679.

3.  Sontag, 1989. p. 180.

Articles supported by this Eccles Fellowship:

C. Logie, 'Lessons learned from HIV can inform our approach to COVID-19 stigma.'  Journal of the International AIDS Society. 2020, 23:e25504

C. Logie and J. Turan, 'How do we balance tensions between COVID-19 public health responses and stigma mitigation? Learning from HIV research.'  AIDS & Behavior. 2020, 24: 2003-3006.

30 July 2020

Exploring Robert Lowell's English years in the Sound Archive

This blog by Grzegorz Kosc is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.

Robert Lowell stands in front of a wall of books, wearing a light jacket, dark tie, striped shirt and glasses.
Robert Lowell at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Harvard Square, 1965, by Elsa Dorfman. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The British Library has a truly unique collection of recorded interviews with friends, associates, and spouses of the celebrated American confessional poet Robert Lowell (1917–1977) (the collection can be most effectively searched through the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue, C939/01–53).  The interviews were conducted and recorded in 1979 by poet and editor Ian Hamilton in preparation, first, for a BBC2 television programme about Lowell in the Lively Arts series, broadcast in February 1980, and, second, for Robert Lowell: A Biography (1982).  The interviewees include, for instance, Frank Bidart, his close friend and assistant who was to become a famous poet himself; his editor at Faber and Faber, Charles Monteith; Jonathan Raban, Frank Parker, William Alfred, and Eugene McCarthy.  The subjects even include Mrs Dignam, a cleaner in Castletown House where he and his third wife, Lady Caroline Blackwood, moved shortly before they broke up, and who was the last person to see Lowell before his death.  Two interviews Hamilton conducted with Lowell’s two wives, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Blackwood herself, crown the collection.

The interviews have never been published or transcribed for a print publication.  It’s unclear how their revelations informed or impacted Hamilton’s final narrative for, when one listens to them, they continue to sparkle with surprises.  They can be accessed only by visiting the Library.  Though they are fully digitized from original compact cassettes, they can be heard out only from the Library’s computers and therefore are not easily accessible to Lowell scholars usually swarming on the other side of the Atlantic where all the major Lowell archival collections are housed—that is, at the Houghton, Harvard and the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.  Hamilton’s tapes in London remain largely unexamined.  Lowell scholars make a mental note of their existence but few seem to have made the journey.  Only the most painstaking of researchers—like Saskia Hamilton, the editor of Lowell’s letters, or Kay Redfield Jamison, the author of his psychobiography Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire—got around to listening to them.

Cover of The Dophin including an illustration of a fish-like shape.
The Dolphin by Robert Lowell, 1973. British Library shelfmarks: General Reference Collection X.989/21486; Document Supply 73/5755; Document Supply 73/6262.

The continuing neglect of the recordings by researchers is regrettable because they are rich in more ways than one.  It’s a trove of portraits of people from Lowell’s circle and of revelations about the poet’s late life in England.  One is struck, for instance, by the personality and the peculiar, odd conversational talent of Francis Stanley Parker, one of Lowell’s closest and oldest friends, a Cambridge, Mass.-based artist who did all of the frontispieces for Lowell’s volumes.  One is drawn into Jonathan Raban’s detailed and intimate account of his days he spent with the Lowells at Blackwood’s mansion Milgate Park in Kent.

Robert Lowell, wearing a dark jacket and tie, and Elizabeth Hardwick, wearing a dark summer dress or blouse, sit on wooden chairs in a sunny park.
Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick. Photograph courtesy the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

However, the most haunting are the monologues, of several hours each, by Elizabeth Hardwick and Lady Caroline Blackwood.  Blackwood is very casual, matter-of-fact, dividing her attention between Hamilton and her daughters, very honest about the divorce deal Lowell made with Hardwick and about her growing realisation of the terrors she would have deal with in Lowell’s manic phases.  Convivial and perhaps slightly lubricated with a drink, Elizabeth Hardwick, too, is forthright and unreserved in her conversation with Hamilton.  One wants to listen to the recordings for hours for her personality, her special mood that day, and most importantly, for her complex attitude to “the real [. . .] Aspern Papers”--that is, despairing letters which she was sending to Lowell in the early 1970s when they were breaking up and he was turning his attention to Caroline and which he versified into sonnets for The Dolphin (1973).  The story has recently received a full treatment in The Dolphin Letters, 1970-1979 and The Dolphin: Two Versions, 1971–1973, both volumes edited by Saskia Hamilton (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019).  And yet Hardwick’s rich monologue continues to be fresh and surprising.  She monologizes at length about the letters, telling Hamilton, among other things, that what really angered her was that her husband had misrepresented her words and tone, making her letter seem “flat and dull.”  She was most irritated by the sonnet “In the Mail” intoning lame decencies, allegedly coming from under her pen, about her daughter being “normal and good because she had normal and good parents.”  She also told Hamilton an unknown story which I think is a research lead, about how one day she and Lowell went over the Selected Poems in hardcover and she made him review the selection and tweak the Dolphin sonnets once again to address her complaints.  How the paperback edition of the Selected differs from the original hardcover will be the next step in my research.

The recordings of Ian Hamilton’s interviews at the British Library remain a rich resource to the students of Lowell’s late career.  They offer memorable portraits of Lowell’s loved ones and of several talented writers and intellectuals from his circle.  Whilst the Hamilton tapes are only accessible in the Reading Rooms, a later interview with Elizabeth Harwick is available on the British Library Sounds webpages, as part of the ICA talks series.  In this interview she discusses her life and works.  Interestingly, she comes across as a little haughty and blasé in this public forum, quite different in her manner from the way she behaved with Hamilton.

Grzegorz Kosc (University of Warsaw) was an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow 2018. He is co-editing, with Steven G. Axelrod of the University of California Riverside, Robert Lowell’s Memoirs to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2021. He is also a co-editor, with Thomas Austenfeld of the University of Fribourg, of Robert Lowell in Context for Cambridge University Press, slated for 2022. His own research work is focused on the question of how Lowell’s late financial problems affected his poetics.

28 July 2020

Colonial American Theatre

This post by Jeffery Kennedy is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.

As friends and colleagues heard that I had received a Fulbright Scholar Award to the British Library, their first question was to ask what I would be researching.  When I told them a new text on American Theatre history, their puzzled look was typically followed by “At the British Library?”  The reality is that studying British theatre of the 17th and 18th centuries is precisely where one needs to begin as this is the origin from which almost all of Early American theatre springs.  My research goals while a guest of the Library’s Eccles Centre for American Studies revolved around three main threads of study: 1) identifying the British ancestry of colonists recorded to have performed the first play in the American colonies; 2) the significant influence the Puritans had on theatre in both Britain and America; and 3) the Restoration plays that were the first to be performed professionally in the colonies.  I want to report here about the first item, which was the ancestral work the resources at the Library allowed me to complete.

A contemporary heritage plaque indicating where 'The Bear and the Cub' was performed.
The Bear and the Cub Marker: This sign is located on Highway 17 in Pungoteague, Virginia, telling of the town’s history of staging the first play in America. Image courtesy of Jeffery Kennedy.

The first recorded play performed in the American colonies took place on 27 August 1665 in Pungoteague, Accomack County, Virginia.  The play was titled “Ye Beare and Ye Cubb,” and we know of the performance because of its entry in the legal record.  After being performed in Fowlkes Tavern, a citizen, Edward Martin, reported his moral objection to the local authorities, though what his protest was specifically is not known.  Likely it sprang as a remnant from the twenty-year ban on theatre in Britain that was a result of Puritan dominance after 1640.  The Puritans, who desired a stricter religious practice than the new Church of England required, believed that theatre was, at its core, evil.  Charles I was beheaded as head of the Church of England by the Puritan rebellion led by Oliver Cromwell and monarch rule was suspended.  Puritan influence led to similar kinds of judgements about theatre in America, particularly in the northeastern colonies of New England.  However, the “Restoration” occurred after Charles II was installed as king in 1660, returning Britain to being led by a monarch.  As a result, theatres reopened in London, most often performing frivolous comedies of manners that featured women on stage for the first time.

A sepia photograph of a tavern with 15 or so people standing in front.
An old photograph of Fowlkes Tavern, courtesy of Jeffery Kennedy.

The local Accomack judges responded to Martin’s charge by bringing before them the play’s likely author, William Darby, and Cornelius Watkinson and Philip Howard, who performed it with him.  After they were “subjected to a rigid cross-examination,” the council ordered them to perform the play at their next session, costumes and all.After the performance, finding the play innocent in content as well as intent, the council released the three men from all charges and instead ordered their accuser, Martin, to pay the expenses incurred.  Sadly, there is no existing script of the play, nor are the plot or characters known.  Some scholars conjecture that the title implies a critique of mother England’s (the Bear) newly imposed restrictions on direct sales to other countries of goods created in the colonies (the Cub).  Also, little has been known about the lives of the three who performed the play, particularly Darby.  One of my goals was to conduct genealogical research to see if I could discover anything, including where in England he had emigrated from, something previously unknown.

I consulted many genealogical records within the Library, most of which were typically kept by the local parishes that recorded births, christenings, marriages, and burials.  One of the most helpful was from the Staffordshire Parish Registers Society, published in 1912.2  The evidence strongly suggests that William Darby was born in Tipton, Staffordshire, in the West Midlands of England.  His family moved to nearby Rowley when he was still a boy, and it is here that he married Elizabeth Heywood.  The last record of the family living in Rowley is the 1650 death of William’s middle daughter, Anne, at the age of nine; all references after this locate them in Virginia.  William had five children, and we gain the most information by tracing the life of his eldest son, Daniel. We know that by 1665, the year the play was performed, William was forty-eight-years-old and that this same year 25 year old Daniel married the 22 year old Dorothy Churchill in Accomack County, Virginia.  Dorothy had come to Accomack in 1664 as a “headright,” the name for those who self-indentured; such individuals were provided with passage via ship and basic necessities in exchange for a fixed period of unwaged labour in the new colony.  Whether the Darbys were freemen or became freedmen is so far not known.  Daniel eventually became a land-owner and served in local civic affairs.  How or why William was involved in presenting and perhaps even writing a play is so far unknown, but I intend to pursue this further.

My research through the Eccles Centre yielded this critical information, which is more than has been able to be confirmed to this degree by other scholars.  Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic required me to return to the U.S. after just a short time, not allowing me to finish more research.  However, I hope to return to the Library’s hallowed halls to pursue even more deeply those Brits involved in the vital launching of theatre in America.

Jeffery Kennedy, Fulbright-British Library Eccles Centre Scholar 2019-20, is an Associate Professor in the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies at Arizona State University.

References

  1. This comes from J. C. Wise, Ye kingdome of Accawmacke, or, The Eastern Shore of Virginia in the seventeenth century. Richmond, Va: Bell Book and Stationery Co., 1911.  British Library shelfmark: 9602.s.2.
  2. Staffordshire Parish Registers Society. Privately printed for the Society, 1902- .  British Library shelfmarks: Ac.8131 & Document Supply 8426.420000.

23 July 2020

The Perils of Diplomatic Protection in the Early 19th Century

This post by Vanessa Mongey is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.

How far should diplomatic protection extend?  Surely, consul James Buchanan argued, there must be limits to American “humanity.”  In Belize, a British settlement in Central America, Buchanan was trying to understand his responsibilities towards U.S. citizens.  The hurricane season of 1849 had caused a few ships to wreck near the coast and the officers, crew, and passengers had sought refuge in the port of Belize.  They turned to Buchanan for help.  The consul paid for a few destitute sailors to return home, but the situation soon got out of control. Officers demanded he pay for their room and board.  Sailors asked storekeepers to send their bills to him.

When the consul refused to reimburse all these expenses, the crew complained to the local British police and magistrates.  They turned to the Act for the Relief and Protection of American Seamen (1796) that provided certificates for the protection of sailors.  They argued that the U.S. government owed them not only diplomatic but also financial protection. Buchanan was as annoyed as he was confused.  He asked the State Department what to do with U.S. citizens stranded abroad.  He confessed that he had “no legal knowledge of what the consul’s duties are in this matter.”

A page of a handwritten letter from the U.S. Consul in British Honduras to the U.S. State Department.
An example of consular correspondence. Part of a letter from U.S. Consul to State Department, 15 February 1863. The letter mentions white settlers' anxieties around plans by the government of British Honduras (today's Belize) to encourage African American immigration from the U.S.  British Library shelfmark (microfilm): T334 Despatches from U.S. Consuls in Belize, 1847-1906, roll 1, 1847 –1863.

The correspondences of U.S. consular representatives in the British Library abound with this kind of complaints and queries.  Many politicians, jurists, and citizens in the United States embraced the view that individuals had a natural right to leave their country.  Increasing numbers of U.S. Americans traveled abroad during the nineteenth century. Some served in Latin American independent armies and navies.  Many settled in neighbouring foreign territories like Florida, Texas, and California, eventually leading the United States to invade and annex these territories.  Freedom of movement often bolstered U.S continental and commercial ambitions.

Although the nineteenth century saw relatively unregulated movement, the right to travel was racialized.  Freedom of movement was often a privilege of European and Euro-descendants as shown by tensions surrounding Chinese immigration to California and issues around enslaved and free travelers of African descent moving across state and national lines.

Even for free white U.S. Americans, the right to travel freely created new challenges: what happened when citizens crossed international borders and got into trouble abroad? Instrumental in defining and implementing diplomatic protection were consular networks.  Lacking a significant overseas presence in the first half of the nineteenth century, the U.S. government possessed neither the resources nor the capabilities to monitor the activities of their citizens abroad.  With no formal training, consuls were the ones on the ground who assisted Americans when they ended up in jail, aided them in navigating estate and inheritance issues, or represented their legal interests.  They often had to decide whether an individual was really a U.S. citizen, and therefore entitled to consular protection, at a time when no definition of national citizenship existed.

Painting of men gathering in Peshawar. Some are on horseback, others talk together in groups. Buildings and trees surround the square.
Peshawar (in modern-day Pakistan). Chromolithograph from plate 9 of William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern (1867). British Library shelfmark X108(9). Available in the British Library Online Gallery.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the United States could not set up permanent consular posts in India.  The British kept tight control over the region, thwarting U.S. consuls in Calcutta (Kolkata) and Bombay (Mumbai).  The India Office Records and Private Papers in the British Library show that tensions frequently erupted between British and U.S. representatives.  British authorities complained about distressed sailors who ended up in their care.  One U.S. consul in Singapore simply refused to help naturalized American citizens, arguing that those who were born British subjects fell under the Common Law doctrine of perpetual allegiance.  In brief, once British, always British—especially if these individuals were potential drains on consular finances.

In addition to uncertainty and confusion expressed by U.S. consuls, these correspondences also reveal how U.S. citizens understood their rights and responsibilities.  When they had the resources or the connections, they sent letters to journal editors in the United States, hoping to put pressure on consuls.

This early phase of diplomatic experimentation came to an end in the middle of the nineteenth century.  As the U.S. consular service expanded outside of Europe and the Americas and into China, Japan, and Siam, the government formalised the diplomatic and consular system in 1856.  A reform legislation introduced salaries for a greater number of consular officials, hoping to reduce corruption and professionalise the service.  The same year, the State Department received sole issuing power over passports and limited their use to U.S. citizens, thus reducing the autonomy of consuls.  The Civil War (1861-1865) prompted a sharp growth of the consular service. At the end of the war, the fourteenth amendment defined national citizenship to include all persons born or naturalized in the United States.  Monitoring international travel served as a testing ground for restrictions of citizenship rights along class, gender, and racial lines.

Dr Vanessa Mongey, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow 2019, is on Twitter @VMongey

Resources consulted:

For US Federal Government Publications, the finding aid Diplomatic Records: A select catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (shelf mark OPL 973.0076) is available in the Social Sciences reading room. It has been annotated to indicate which microfilms are in the British Library and gives their shelfmarks. I made particular use of ‘The correspondences of U.S. ministers at overseas posts’ (shelfmark SPR Mic.B.21) and ‘U.S. consuls at overseas ports’ (shelfmark SPR Mic.B.22). The India Office Records and Private Papers: the general shelfmark is IOR/Z/E/ and this is the collection guide

Further reading:

Fahrmeir, Andreas O. & Patrick Weil (eds.), Migration Control in the North Atlantic World: The Evolution of State Practices in Europe and the United States from the French Revolution to the Inter-War Period. New York: Berghahn Books, 2002. British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply m03/17964; General Reference Collection YC.2003.a.13981; General Reference Collection DRT ELD.DS.515229.
Glanville, Luke. “The Responsibility to Protect Beyond Borders.” Human Rights Law Review. 12: 1 (2012): 1–32.  British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply 4336.440550; General Reference Collection ZC.9.b.7074.
Green, Nancy L. “The Politics of Exit: Reversing the Immigration Paradigm.” The Journal of Modern History. 77: 2 (2005): 263-289. British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 5020.680000.
Jones, Martha S. Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2018.  British Library shelfmark: YC.2019.a.4852.
Kennedy, Charles Stuart. The American Consul: A History of the United States Consular Service 1776–1924. New York: Greenwood, 1990. British Library shelfmark: YC.1992.b.1026. (Rev. ed. published by New Academia Publishing, 2015). 
Perl-Rosenthal, Nathan. Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015. British Library shelfmark: YC.2017.a.660.
Phelps, Nicole. Researching the U.S. Consular Service https://blog.uvm.edu/nphelps/

 

21 July 2020

Tracing the History of Northern Ontario at the British Library

This post by Shaelagh Cull is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.

In January, my research into the history of art, craft, and trade in the James Bay region of Northern Ontario, Canada, took me to the Americas collections of the British Library as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow.  Today, the region referred to as Northern Ontario stretches from the French River, Lake Nipissing, and the Mattawa River northwards to Hudson Bay, with Manitoba to its West and Québec to the East.  The traditional territory of the Cree and Anishinaabe peoples, Northern Ontario has been a site of cultural contact and exchange for centuries. Beginning in the seventeenth century, the region played a central role in the British and French fur trades.  Ontario’s oldest English-speaking settlement, Moose Fort (now Moose Factory), was established by the British Hudson’s Bay Company on the southern end of James Bay in 1673.1

As the fur trade expanded, a rival Northwest Company fort was built on nearby Hayes Island in 1803, and the Parisian company Revillon Frères began operating in the region in 1903. By the twentieth century, economic expansion into mining, pulp and paper, and agriculture and the development of the Canadian Pacific (begun in 1881) and National Railways (1919) created new opportunities in the North.  J.B. MacDougall’s Building the North (1919), records that mines between the communities of Porcupine, Cobalt, and Sudbury were responsible for producing 61% of the gold, 91% of the silver, and 90% of the nickel in the world, with the Sudbury area alone producing two hundred and fifty million dollars' worth of nickel.2

Towns sprung up quickly around mining centres and pulp mills, drawing immigrants from a variety of cultural backgrounds – including Scots, Irish, Cornish, Italian, Chinese, Ukrainian, and Polish, amongst others – to the region.3  While mining is still a major industry in the North, local economies also diversified with communities offering ecotourism experiences and promoting art and craft.  With Britain’s historical connection to the region, the collections of the British Library houses documents which record the changing names, boundaries, economic activities, and social milieu of the area.

Many of the resources in the Library’s collections relate to the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company and French/English presence (and occasional conflict) on James Bay.  One of the earliest documents to reference the region in the Library’s collections is J. Seller’s The English Pilot, Fourth Book (1671), a treatise on seventeenth century navigation (British Library Maps: C.22.d.2 ).4  It outlines the history and topography of James Bay and Henry Hudson’s 1608 attempt to locate the Northwest Passage trade route through North America.  Additionally, the manuscript contains a number of early maps charting the region, including “A Chart of the North Part of America” (Figure 1) which divided what is today Northern Manitoba and Northern Ontario into New North Wales, New Yorkshire, and New South Wales.5

A black and white map from the seventeenth century showing James Bay; it has a decorative description in the top right hand corner under the heading 'A Chart of the North Part of America.'
Figure 1: A detail from “A Chart of the North Part of America,” in J. Seller’s The English Pilot, Fourth Book (1671) showing James Bay. British Library shelfmark: C.22.d.2. 

Moose Fort was established two years after the publication of Seller’s manuscript and during the nineteenth century was made the administrative headquarters of the Southern Department of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Moose Fort Journals, 1783-85 (British Library shelfmark: Ac.8565/6) and Moose Factory 1673 to 1947 (British Library shelfmark: 10470.t.21) provide key information about the early presence of the Hudson’s Bay Company and commerce within the region.7  The Library also houses maps recording the French presence in the region, including “Carte de la Baye de Hudson” [1744] (Figure 2).

A black and white double-page map of Hudson Bay. In the bottom right hand corner are the publisher's details under the title 'Carte De La Baye De Hudson'; this also includes scales for distance.
Figure 2: “Carte de la Baye de Hudson” by Jacques Nicolas Bellin, published in "Histoire et Description General de la Nouvelle France avec le Journal Historique d'un Voyage fait par ordre du Roi dans l'Amérique Septentrionnale" by Pierre Francois Xavier De Charlevoix.  [Paris], 1744. British Library shelfmark: 118.e.17.

W.A. Kenyon’s book, The Battle for James Bay (1686), traces the often violent encounters between the British and French as they competed for the region’s fur resources, most notably with Captain Pierre de Troyes’ capture of Moose Fort in 1686 (British Library shelfmark: X.809/13837).8  These documents record British and French stakes in and visions for James Bay as they began colonizing Northern Ontario.

As my own research focuses on the collection and reception of art, craft, and material culture from James Bay, I was particularly interested in the Library’s resources pertaining to Indigenous material and visual culture in Northern Ontario.  The Central Cree and Ojibway Crafts series published by the Indian and Northern Affairs division of the Canadian government in 1974 catalogues historical Indigenous craft to document the material history of the Cree and Anishinaabe of Northern Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba and institutions where these objects are housed (British Library shelfmark: C.S.E.20/73).9   The Library also contains various promotional materials, catalogues, and albums (Figure 3) related to the 1967 International and Universal Exposition held in Montreal, Quebec (Expo 67) and the Indians of Canada Pavilion, a landmark in North American Indigenous art and a politically-charged critique of Canadian Confederation during the country’s one-hundredth anniversary celebrations.

Cover of the Expo 67 Souvenir Book depicting a coloured illustration of the plaza in front of the Canadian Pavilion (an upturned pyramid) and the Tree of People (a red and yellow sphere). Several flags are flying, the largest one being that of Canada.
Figure 3: Expo 67 Album Souvenir Book. Montreal: Benjamin, 1967. British Library shelfmark: Wq2/2131.

The Pavilion featured the work of contemporary Indigenous artists, many of whom - such as the highly influential painters Norval Morrisseau and Carl Ray, who popularized the Woodlands Style - came from Northern Ontario.  First-hand accounts such as Lillian Small’s, Indian Stories from James Bay (British Library shelfmark: YA.1998.a.12925) and a collection of poetry by Margaret Sam-Cromarty, James Bay Memoirs: A Cree Woman's Ode to Her Homeland (British Library shelfmark: YA.1994.a.12583), provide Indigenous perspectives on James Bay Cree history and culture.10

These resources are starting points for those interested in Northern Canada, the history of James Bay, and Indigenous art.  Both for researchers in the UK and North America, the Americas collections of the British Library provide unique glimpses into the regional histories of communities in Canada.

Shaelagh Cull, Eccles Fellow 2019, is a graduate student at Queen's University, Ontario, Canada.

References

1 “History of Moose Factory,” Moosetalk, (Summer 1979): 4.
2 J.B. MacDougall, Building the North. Toronto: McClelland and Stuart Publishers, 1919, pp. 21-22. British Library shelfmark: 08365.g.41.
3 Kerry M. Abel, Changing Places: History, Community, and Identity in Northeastern Ontario. Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006, xii. British Library shelfmark: m06/28009.
4. The English Pilot. The Fourth Book, describing the North Coasts of America from Groenland to Newfoundland. [London], [1671]. British Library shelfmark: C.22.d.2.  NB: There are many subsequent versions of this work; please consult the Library's catalogue. 
5. “A Chart of the North Part of America” also includes a second major inlet named “The Great Bay of God’s Deliverance” beside James Bay which does not exist and was not included on subsequent historical maps of the region.
6. “Staff House at Moose Factory,” Hudson’s Bay Company, accessed June 22, 2020, http://www.hbcheritage.ca/places/forts-posts/staff-house-at-moose-factory.
7. Hudson's Bay Company, Moose Fort Journals, 1783-85. Edited by E.E. Rich. London, 1954. British Library shelfmark: Ac.8565/6; Eric Ross Arthur, Moose Factory, 1673 to 1949. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1949. British Library shelfmark: 10470.t.21.
8. W.A. Kenyon. The Battle for James Bay, 1686. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, [1971].  British Library shelfmark: X.809/13837.
9. Canada. Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Central Cree and Ojibway Crafts. Ottawa, 1974. British Library shelfmark: C.S.E.20/73.
10. Lillian Small, comp. Indian Stories from James Bay. Cobalt, Ont.: Highway Book Shop, 1972. British Library shelfmark: YA.1998.a.12925.; Margaret Sam-Cromarty, James Bay Memoirs: a Cree Woman's Ode to her Homeland. Lakeland, Ont.: Waapoone, c.1992. British Library shelfmark: YA.1994.a.12583.

 

16 July 2020

Atomic Holiday Snaps? Depictions of ‘normality’ in the official photography of postwar atomic bomb tests

This post by Timothy Peacock is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections. 

A group of women and men sitting together on a tropical beach, wearing beachwear, palm trees some distance behind, looking at the camera. There is also one man off to the right, standing, wearing swimming trunks.
Figure 1: Army nurses stationed at Kwajalein relax with friends [during a nuclear test series]. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211.

Who would ever think of a nuclear test site as a summer holiday camp?

One of the extraordinary holdings of the British Library is the 'Official Pictorial Record' of the aptly named ‘Operation Crossroads’ in 1946, containing over 200 photographs and accompanying text about the first postwar nuclear bomb test series by the United States.1  The tests, at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, used atom bombs against a fleet of decommissioned and captured World War II ships.  These detonations set precedents for the peacetime testing of more than 1,000 nuclear weapons over the following decades, displaced populations from their Pacific Island homes, and had global diplomatic impacts.2

The tests also produced some of the most recognisable images of atomic bomb detonations which not only continue to be staples of film and television but have generated sociocultural responses from mushroom-cloud hairdos to memes and protest movements.  The now ubiquitous swimsuit, the bikini - which was unveiled to the world four days after the first detonation - was immediately equated by its creator with the atom: small but full of explosive potential.  Yet unlike the Atoll itself, the swimsuit appears to have escaped widespread association with nuclear testing and its radioactive legacies!

However, the political, military and cultural histories merge within Operation Crossroads: the Official Pictorial Record in the most unexpected ways.  Alongside images of scientific test preparations, atomic detonations and damage surveys, what is perhaps most remarkable about the Record is the number of images which capture aspects of the everyday lives of those involved in the tests, whether working or off-duty - at rest, exercise or while being entertained.

Some of the images look, at first glance, like historic holiday snapshots, the only indicators to the contrary being an ominous line in the accompanying text or occasional visual clues. Sometimes even these clues do not make it clear as to the overarching situation.

One double page in particular captures the holiday camp vibe, entitled, with unconscious irony, “IS EVERYBODY HAPPY?”.  A large group of sailors are pictured paying close attention to a shirtless speaker (Figure 2), who turns out to be a Congressman observing the tests.  The text explains this to have been part of a “Happy Hour”, including a quiz about nuclear physics.  In perhaps a classic representation of the ‘underdog’ triumphing, it proudly records the ships messboys’ victory over the scientists in their quiz knowledge.

Rows of men sitting together as a crowd, wearing white sailor uniforms, some with hats. To the right, a man wearing a white hat and swimming trunks stands at a microphone, addressing them. 
Congressman W. G. Andrews (R) from Buffalo, New York, acts as master of ceremonies at a “Happy Hour” aboard the AGC 3 “Panamint”. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 70. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211.

Alongside this image, the other page displays pictures which continue the seaside resort theme.  One of these (Figure 1) is a close-up photograph of women on a beach, surrounding one man, with another in the background, all wearing what appears to be beachwear, some smiling for the camera.  It is only through the caption that we learn of their affiliation as Army nurses serving with the Task Force, with the explanatory caption “relax with friends”.  The description and framing of the image are notable for reinforcing the vacation motif, and also for blurring the distinction regarding the professional identity of the subjects.

On a tropical beach, a group of men, dressed in swimwear. One sunbathing nearby, others in the distance, swimming in the sea or on a landing craft.
Figure 3: On the beach at Bikini, men of the Task Force try out the swimming facilities. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211.

The other image on the page (Figure 3), a large beach scene, filled with off-duty personnel enjoying themselves through such activities as swimming or sunbathing, features some on a landing craft, but the overall ethos is not dissimilar from the pictorial framing of typical holiday scenes.  The caption does, however, include a final line about banning swimming temporarily because of radiation concerns after the Test Able detonation, quickly following this up by saying it was allowed again once safety was ensured.  The attempt to normalise the tests through juxtaposing the photograph and caption is significantly portentous, given the subsequent history of the radioactive transformation of the landscapes depicted.

A group of sailors inspect the damage aboard a naval vessel, in front of a sign chalked onto the hull.
Figure 4: 'Reboarding Party'. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, 2. 171. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211.

The sardonic humour of the photographs, characteristic in 1940s civil and military life, is incongruous with the overarching seriousness of the nuclear test situation. Figure 4 shows a 'reboarding party' surveying a target ship for damage after one of the nuclear detonations.  The message chalked onto the ship’s hull, “Attention visitors, No Smoking, No Souvenirs”, is a seemingly self-conscious pastiche of signs aimed at tourists in hotel resorts, juxtaposed with the military regulations in place surrounding the tests.  Such writing also echoes related traditions of chalking messages onto bombs during the War, or indeed, of naming some individual nuclear weapons after famous figures.  The Bomb dropped in Crossroads Able test, for example, was christened 'Gilda', and adorned with a stencilled name and Rita Hayworth’s photograph, after the title character she played in the 1946 film Gilda – an association which was not appreciated by the film star herself!  The message on the ship was likely written before detonation, a different message being shown in another photo being written by a sailor.  Its presence is an insight into the attitudes of the unnamed author, a working ‘tourist’ in arguably the most exclusive and, at that moment, unappealing resort.

The radioactive seawater which enveloped the target ships during the Crossroads Baker test made most of them too radioactive to be decontaminated. It has been regarded as one of the world’s first nuclear accidents.  Many of the vessels still lie sunk in Bikini Atoll, a popular location in recent years for a very different kind of enthusiast, those diving to explore the wrecks.

The world-changing effects of a seemingly microscopic globule today in some ways resonate remarkably with the transformation surrounding the splitting of the atom. The official photographs from Crossroads serve not only as a scientific and military record of early nuclear testing, but also as a poignant example of the final moments for those individuals involved of the ‘normality’ of the world as it was, and the end of the holiday.

Dr Timothy Peacock, Eccles Fellow 2019, is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Glasgow. He is on Twitter @DrTimPeacock

References: 

1. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211.  This item is also available digitally courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

2. For further information about Operation Crossroads, see Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994. British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 94/14429.

NB: Readers may also be interested in a blog about Operation Crossroads by Mark Eastwood, who undertook a PhD placement with the Eccles Centre in 2016.

 

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