American Collections blog

161 posts categorized "Eccles Centre"

22 January 2022

Commemorating Roberta Bondar's voyage into space

Today we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dr Roberta Bondar blasting off from the John F. Kennedy Space Center and becoming Canada’s first female astronaut and the world’s first neurologist in space!

Bondar had dreamt of this moment from an early age. As a child she showed an aptitude for science and when she was around 12 years old her father built her a laboratory in their basement. Following high school, she obtained a Bachelors degree in Zoology and Agriculture, a Masters degree in Experimental Pathology, and a PhD in Neurobiology. She became a medical doctor in 1977 and was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (in neurology) in 1981.

When Canada's National Research Council set up the Canadian Astronaut Program, Bondar immediately signed up. She was selected in December 1983. In 1986 the Challenger disaster threatened the entire space shuttle programme. However, a three-year investigation resulted in its revival and in 1990 Bondar learned she would be the next Canadian astronaut to go into space. 1

Roberta Bondar in her astronaut's uniform, set within the circular frame of the postage stamp; in the background is a black and white image of Bondar holding a stack of papers.
48c stamp by Canada Post celebrating astronaut Roberta Bodnar. It was issued in 2003 as part of a series of eight stamps honouring Canadian astronauts and the space programme that made their work possible. The British Library's Philatelic Collection: General Collection.

Along with six colleagues, Bondar was on board the Space Shuttle Discovery from 22 - 30 January 1992 as part of the first International Microgravity Laboratory mission - the precursor to the International Space Station. The main goal of the mission was to study the effects of microgravity on a variety of organisms and the physiological changes that occur in a weightless environment. As ‘Payload Specialist 1’, Bondar conducted over 40 advanced experiments for 14 countries. Many of these focused upon the effect of weightlessness on the human body - for example, on eye motion, the inner ear, the elongation of the spine and back pain, and energy expenditure during a spaceflight. Others explored the effects of microgravity on other life forms, including shrimp eggs, lentil seedlings, fruit fly eggs and bacteria. 

Roberta Bondar holds an ultrasound to her pilot's head, just above his left ear.
Dr Roberta Bondar using a Doppler ultrasound during her 1992 flight on board Space Shuttle Discovery; Stephen Oswald, the pilot, volunteered for this experiment for Bondar's own research into blood flow to the brain. Image courtesy robertabondar.com

 

Wearing a white polo shirt, Roberta Bondar sits in the Space Shuttle surrounded by equipment while juggling a cookie.
Dr Roberta Bondar - a former Girl Guide - juggling Girl Guide cookies during her 1992 flight on board Space Shuttle Discovery. Image courtesy of the Archives of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Bondar's ground-breaking work enabled NASA to better prepare its astronauts for long stays on the International Space Station. Following her career as an astronaut, she collaborated with NASA and led a space medicine research team investigating the neurological symptoms seen after spaceflight and their connections to neurological illnesses on Earth, including Parkinson’s disease and stroke. 

After many years working as a scientist, Bondar forged a new path and became an Honours student in Professional Nature Photography at the Brooks Institute of Photography in California; here, she was profoundly influenced by the work of renowned American photographer, Ansel Adams. She later created the Roberta Bondar Foundation and writes of this transition:

It took time, considerable reflection and detailed planning to build a Foundation focused on two of my passions, the environment and education. Following the razor-sharp focus and discipline involved in being an astronaut and scientist, I chose to apply my love of photography to foster sustainable development. Few get to view our earth from space. It puts unimaginable perspective on life and our stewardship of the planet. I made it the catalyst to a new career. My camera lens is my way of giving back in exhibits, seminars, schools across Canada and overseas.

For her book Passionate Vision: Discovering Canada’s National Parks (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2000; British Library shelfmark LB.31.b.21551), Bondar photographed Canada’s 41 national parks from Gwaii Haanas in the west to Terra Nova in the east, and Point Pelee in the south to Quttinirpaaq in the north; the book includes 100 of her photos as well as six images from space.

Now in her mid-70s, Roberta Bondar remains tireless in her commitment to environmental and scientific education and to deepening humanity's love for planet Earth. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Specially Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, holds the NASA Space Medal and has her own star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. 

Photo of coastal area with the pinky-blue water and sky almost indistinguishable from one another.
Coastal and Marine Biome - Blue Haiku - Kouchibouguac National Park, New Brunswick, Canada. Photo by Roberta Bondar; courtesy The Roberta Bondar Foundation.

 

Trees in autumn are reflected in a lake that has dry, brown grass in the foreground; the sky is blue with light cloud cover.
Forests Biome - Boreal Fall - Prince Albert National Park of Canada, Saskatchewan. Photo by Roberta Bondar; courtesy The Roberta Bondar Foundation.

Footnotes:

1. On 5 October 1984, Marc Garneau became the first Canadian to go into space; he went on two further missions in 1996 and 2000. Roberta Bondar was the second Canadian in space.

20 January 2022

Slavery and the Sugar Trade: cataloguing five bills of lading

 

N.B. This article may contain descriptions which are outdated and/or culturally/racially insensitive

 

Colour image of Jamaican slaves/enslaved people cutting sugar cane in a field. They are dressed in working clothes typical of the time
Title: Jamaica negroes cutting (sugar) canes in their working dresses. Shelfmark: T.1140.(3.)

 

Slave sugar sweetened the British economy for over three hundred years. As abolitionist discourse grew over the course of the 18th century, the operations of British-owned Caribbean sugar plantations became a contentious subject. Even after abolition, the economics of the post-emancipation sugar trade remained a bitter question in British politics. In 1848, amidst revolutions and financial crises, it was sugar that dominated debate in the Commons, as Disraeli noted in his biography of Bentinck:

“Singular article of produce! What is the reason of this influence? It is that all considerations mingle in it; not merely commercial, but imperial, philanthropic, religious; confounding the legislature and the nation lost in a maze of conflicting interests and contending emotions”[1].

The library has recently acquired five bills of lading dating from 1714-1800.  They are printed forms recording the receipt of goods transported by sea, with gaps for the addition of specific information by hand.  In their printed contents alone, they are unassuming pieces of administrative ephemera. However, the devil is in the details. Three of the bills were completed by Dudley Woodbridge on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, an organisation that lobbied for the greater influence of the Church of England within Britain’s burgeoning empire.  The Society spanned the Atlantic, including Barbados, where it operated a slave-worked sugar plantation[2]. It is from this plantation that these bills originate.

They detail three separate shipments of sugar from Barbados to England from May 1714 to April 1715. Though all three are penned by Woodbridge, each bill lists a different ship and captain. More can be learned of these ships when cross-referenced with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. For instance, one bill details a shipment transported upon the ship ‘Smith Frigate’, captained by John Riding, and signed in Barbados, 29th April 1715. When searching the database for ‘Smith Frigate’, one finds a detailed entry which tells the story of a 200 ton ship, responsible for carrying 287 enslaved people from Cape Coast Castle to Barbados in 1714. Fourteen people died during middle passage of this voyage[3]. The ship returned to England in 1715, taking the sugar with it. By presenting this information side-by-side, we can contextualise the sugar trade and its inextricable relationship with slavery in the 18th century.

 

Images 1-3. Three bills of lading completed by Dudley Woodbridge on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The bills refer to three separate shipments of sugar, sent from Barbados to England, between April 1714 and May 1715
Image 1. One of the 'Three bills of lading' (processing shelfmark)

 

Images 1-3. Three bills of lading completed by Dudley Woodbridge on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The bills refer to three separate shipments of sugar, sent from Barbados to England, between April 1714 and May 1715
Image 2. One of the 'Three bills of lading' (processing shelfmark)

 

Images 1-3: Three bills of lading completed by Dudley Woodbridge on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The bills refer to three separate shipments of sugar, sent from Barbados to England, between April 1714 and May 1715
Image 3. One of the 'Three bills of lading' (processing shelfmark).
Images 1-3: Three bills of lading completed by Dudley Woodbridge on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The bills refer to three separate shipments of sugar, sent from Barbados to England, between April 1714 and May 1715

 

Another bill details the transport of twenty hogsheads of sugar from Kingston to London in April 1778. It is signed by the carrier, Captain James Moore, and the form has been completed by the agent, Malcolm Laing. Once again, this document is enriched when compared against databases. Laing appears on the UCL Legacies of British Slavery database as a resident slave-owner from Kingston[4]. During probate of his estate in 1782, he owned 93 enslaved persons, 44 of which were male and 49 female. 30 were children. Unlike the other bills, this one survived with its original paper envelope. The envelope is addressed to William Philip Perrin, owner of five estates in Jamaica, inherited from his father[5]. Further archival evidence attests to the scale of Perrin’s operations in Jamaica, where enslaved persons were forced to labour on sugar plantations, further engorging Perrin’s healthy capital. The sale of sugar from these plantations turned a profit of £4,500 per annum, equivalent to approximately £400,000 today[6]. Perrin never visited Jamaica.

 

Bill of lading detailing the shipment of twenty hogsheads of sugar from Perrin's plantation in Jamaica, to England. Signed by Malcolm Laing.
Recto of the bill of lading detailing the shipment of twenty hogsheads of sugar from Perrin's plantation in Jamaica, to England. Signed by Malcolm Laing.

 

Verso of the bill of lading detailing the shipment of twenty hogsheads of sugar from Perrin's plantation in Jamaica, to England. Signed by Malcolm Laing
Verso of the bill of lading detailing the shipment of twenty hogsheads of sugar from Perrin's plantation in Jamaica, to England. Signed by Malcolm Laing

 

Image of envelope belonging to the above bill of lading, detailing the name of the recipient, William Philip Perrin
Envelope belonging to the above bill of lading, detailing the name of the recipient, William Philip Perrin (processing shelfmark)

 

Careful consideration has been given to how these items are catalogued. It was important to contextualise these items, using supporting information drawn from databases such as those mentioned above. Unsurprisingly, none of these refers to the individuals who were kidnapped, sold, and enslaved for the production of sugar. Yet, sugar and slavery are inextricably related, and to describe such resources without any indication of this association would be reductive. Subject headings related to slavery have been included alongside those of shipping and trade. Summary notes have been added to enhance the historical context of the documents, and citations refer to the databases where this information is collated. One inescapable tragedy is that the enslaved individuals from these plantations cannot be named, but their slavers can. For named individuals, such as William Philip Perrin and Malcolm Laing, authorised name entries have been created, with adequate biographical information detailing who they were and how they made their money. By linking our catalogue records with data from other sources, we are able to enrich our metadata to contextualise these documents, and provide a valuable description of what they are and what they represent. 

 

[1] Disraeli, Lord George Bentinck, (London, 1852), page 530.

[2] The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in obo in Atlantic History (Accessed  December 2021).

[3] Ship Voyage ID 76476, Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database  (Accessed December 2021).

[4] Malcolm Laing of Kingston, Jamaica, Legacies of British Slavery database, (Accessed December 2021).

[5] William Philip Perrin, Legacies of British Slavery database (Accessed December 2021)

[6] Price of Britain’s Slave Trade Revealed (Accessed December 2021).

 

Blog post by

Kither, Alex,  Cataloguer Printed Heritage Collections 

 

10 January 2022

Uncovering Free Ports in the Colonial Caribbean

R. Grant Kleiser is a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, New York City, and was an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow 2021.

During my time as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library, I was interested in material concerning the diffusion of so-called ‘free ports’ in the Spanish, French, British, and Danish Caribbean from roughly 1750 to 1787. In this short period, all the aforementioned imperial powers enacted legislation to welcome foreign merchants to trade in certain colonial harbours (‘free ports’) under low customs duties. Previously, each European empire generally forbade or limited trade with other imperial powers, e.g. England and its colonies were only supposed to trade with each other. Thus, this free port movement marks a notable moment of colonial reform towards opening commerce with foreigners. In a testament to free ports’ importance, political-economic writers such as Adam Smith and Thomas Paine highlighted free ports in their treatises that advocated for what we might call “free trade” today.

Scholars are beginning to chart the origins of Caribbean free ports and their economic effects in the region. But few historians have considered such free ports’ establishment in conjunction with one another, nor have many works examined the impact free ports made on enslaved people’s lives. This is what my broader project sets out to do. Specifically, at the British Library, I wanted to understand how Spain’s lone free port of Monte Cristi (established in 1756) fit in with Britain’s Free Port Act of 1766 (which opened four ports in Jamaica and two in Dominica).

Monte Cristi lies on the northern coast of the island of Hispaniola, just on the border between Santo Domingo (the modern-day Dominican Republic) and Saint-Domingue (today Haiti). Spanish policy-makers had decided to experiment with liberalizing that port for ten years starting in the 1750s to stimulate the desperate local economy and provide support for the Spanish population there. For decades, settlers from Saint-Domingue had been attempting to push into Santo Domingo, and Madrid believed that sparking trade in that region would supply Spanish inhabitants who could defend against such incursions. Even though hundreds of British and British American merchants subsequently flocked to this port, Monte Cristi hardly figured into British politicians’ discussions to establish their own Caribbean free ports in 1766. Why did these policymakers in Westminster and Whitehall ignore Monte Cristi as a free port model when it was so popular with British merchants?

 

 

I found a critical folder to answer this question in the British Library, and it has all to do with the chaos of wartime. From 1756 to 1763 the British were engaged in a global military conflict with France, what we now call the Seven Years War. As well as head-on battles and skirmishes at sea, an important maritime wartime strategy for Britain was the naval blockade, when Royal Navy ships would try to prevent merchant ships from accessing French and French colonial ports and so starve these territories of vital supplies. To bolster the blockade effort, in 1756 the British Parliament enacted the so-called Rule of 1756. This Act extended the Navy’s efforts beyond interrupting France’s trade with its own colonies, by seeking to disrupt any neutral European power from trading with the French. British subjects were prohibited from trading with neutral powers who were also trading with France (such as Denmark and, before 1762, Spain), and in practice, the Rule often was used to legitimize the seizure of ships from any nation conducting commerce with the enemy French.

Since Monte Cristi was open to merchants of all flags and was located only a few miles from French Saint-Domingue, British naval vessels identified this port as a potential nest of illegal wartime commerce. Add MS 36213 contains the testimony from multiple appeal hearings concerning British Navy vessels that had seized merchant ships that had conducted commerce in Monte Cristi. The testimony from the appeal hearings demonstrates how many ships in and around Monte Cristi the British Navy captured, including ships from Ireland, British North America, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The captains of these ships swore that they were only trading with the neutral Spanish, and not with the enemy French. However, the British courts clearly suspected fraud on the part of the traders and also on Spanish officers in Monte Cristi providing false certificates concerning the provenance of the ships’ cargoes. These reports, taken together with other documents and Britain’s general stigma at this time against Spain as a decadent, corrupt, and lazy power, show that British policymakers in 1766 would not view Monte Cristi as a well-regulated free port worthy of emulation.

A handwritten eighteenth-century manuscript, which reads in the margin, "Slaves: Memorial of the Wets India planters complaining that the Spaniards invit the slaves to desert their masters."
“Memorial of the West India Planters complaining that the Spaniards invite the Slaves to desert their Masters,” read At the Council Chamber Whitehall, April 17, 1790, BL Add MS 38392, ff. 92-93.

I also came into the British Library hoping to find records that would detail the experiences that enslaved people had in such Caribbean free ports. While, as several historians have noted, free ports were sites of further sale and displacement of enslaved people of African descent, I argue that free ports also provided heightened opportunities for such enslaved people to claim freedom. Specifically, I note that the increased presence of Spanish vessels in British free ports offered enslaved people an easier means of escape. Spain promulgated several Reales Cédulas or royal decrees that promised freedom to any enslaved person escaping from Protestant empires who were willing to convert to Catholicism in Spanish realms. In British free ports then, Spanish merchants brought news of these decrees to eager people held in bondage as well as potential berths to stowaways. The above source, “Memorial of the West India Planters complaining that the Spaniards invite the Slaves to desert their Masters,” combined with other documents indicate that British Grenada experienced a heightened “problem” of freedom-seekers fleeing to nearby Spanish Trinidad after St. George’s, Grenada became a free port in 1787. Thus merchants and white inhabitants were not the only ones to benefit significantly from the free-port reform movement.

These documents in the British Library will serve as fundamental sources in my examination of the development of mid-to-late eighteenth-century Caribbean free ports and their impact on the Atlantic world. Not only can such research help us to understand the roots of many of our modern commercial and political-economic practices and ideas, but it can also shed light on historical actors’ experiences that have too often been silenced by contemporary writers, archival prioritization, and later scholars.

20 December 2021

Bibliographic E-resources: or, how to give up footnote-chasing forever...

This third - and deliberately brief - instalment of our e-resources blog series focuses on the Library's ‘bibliographic’ e-resources!

By and large, searching this kind of e-resource will not bring up the full-text of books and articles. Instead, you will be given a list of citations which you then need to track down elsewhere. For example, if your search brings up a journal article that looks interesting, you will need to see if the British Library or another institution subscribes to that journal in order to be able to read the article itself.

While this might at first glance seem disappointing, the unique and utterly brilliant selling point of these databases is their capacity to stop you from ever again needing to note down and follow-up footnotes as you attempt to uncover all the previous research on your topic.  Instead, in a matter of moments, you will be provided with accurate, up-to-date information about everything that has already been published in your field.

So, how do they work?

In brief, they are compiled by teams of highly-skilled indexers whose role it is to assign multiple index-terms to every article in a particular journal, thereby providing you with the greatest possible chance of retrieving citations that are relevant to your research.

All mainstream subjects – history, literature, politics, sociology, economics, art, music etc – have at least one dedicated bibliographic e-resource and these can be found by using the Subject search facility on the Library’s portal. These subject-specific e-resources include, for example:

  • America History and Life, which currently indexes articles in 1,648 journals covering United States and Canadian history and culture
  • MLA International Bibliography, which currently indexes 6000+ journals in literature, language and linguistics, literary theory and criticism, and folklore, and which adds over 66,000 citations every year
  • HAPI Online (Hispanic American Periodicals Index Online), which currently indexes 400+ journals and includes 335,000+ citations in total

Other bibliographic e-resources cover multiple subjects, for example: Humanities Index; Arts and Humanities Citation Index; and Social Sciences Full Text (selective full-text coverage since 1994).

And some bibliographic e-resources focus on a particular type of content, for example:

  • Proquest Dissertations and Theses and EThOS index, in different ways, doctoral dissertations and Master's theses 
  • Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, 1802-1906 offers digitized access to William Frederick Poole’s ground-breaking attempt to make accessible the vast amount of magazine and journal content published in the 19th century. 

Below are some of the bibliographic e-resources with Americas content that are currently offered by the British Library, but please take a look at the full range of these resources on the Library’s website as there will be at least one database that will make your literature search both quick and comprehensive; some of  these resources will include books as well as journal articles, and an increasing number of them are, happily, offering full-text access:

ABELL (Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature)
America: History and Life
Anthropological Index Online
Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts
Art Index
Arts and Humanities Citation Index
Book Review Digest Plus (1983- ) & Book Review Digest Retrospective, 1903-1982
Chicano Database
EconLit
EThOS
HAPI Online
Humanities and Social Sciences Index Retrospective, 1907-1984
Humanities Index, 1962 – present
International Political Science Abstracts
MLA International Bibliography
Music Index
PAIS International
Policy File Index
Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, 1802-1906 (Part of Eight Centuries)
Proquest Dissertations and Theses
RLIM Abstracts of Music Literature
SciELO Citation Index
Social Sciences Citation Index
Social Sciences Full Text

Wishing you a wonderful festive season and all the very best until 2022 when the next blog in this series will highlight everything you need to know about Americas-focused Women's Studies e-resources!

 

14 December 2021

Dystopian Fiction & Long Feminist Histories

This autumn the Eccles Centre has been hosting a series of events and activities for researchers interested in gender and US politics. The programme will conclude with two days of activities this week, including a public, online event exploring the process of communicating women’s history through exhibitions, Staging Women’s History, on Thursday 16 December at 17.00 GMT, which is free to attend and open to all.

In previous events, the group has explored different aspects of the British Library’s collections, including sheet music, poetry, and fiction, which network member, Dr Eir-Anne Edgar, explores in more detail in this post.

In October 2021, thousands came out to protest a restrictive new anti-abortion law in Texas, which allows individuals to sue anyone suspected in assisting in or receiving an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Images of the protests capture the scene – some women in bright pink pussy hats, many protestors armed with homemade signs and banners, and some wearing long red cloaks and large white wimples or bonnets that conceal much of the wearer’s face – the costume made famous by the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale and worn by the Handmaids of the novel’s title.

Mannequin wearing a black dress with red cape and white bonnet.
Homemade ‘handmaid’ Women’s March costume, featured in the British Library’s ‘Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights’ exhibition, 2020-21

Culturally, the costumes have come to be synonymous with the oppression of women by a Christian, patriarchal society that restricts women’s political and individual freedoms and punishes rule-breakers with physical and emotional violence. Even more significantly, the costumes represent the bravery and cunning exercised by women who have had enough and push back against oppression, as protagonist June/Offred does, rescuing children and women tormented in Gilead’s society.

Atwood’s follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, the highly anticipated 2019 novel, The Testaments, captures the zeitgeist of the Trump presidency. Without revealing too many spoilers, readers see Offred’s legacy via the brave actions of a few young women – some in Gilead, some across the border in Canada – as well as a surprising twist from characters familiar to readers from The Handmaid’s Tale. Told in alternating perspectives from three different women, it seems that Atwood is underscoring the way in which women must work together to implement societal change. In particular, The Testaments illustrates the power that narrative has. A secret library, tucked deep in the recesses of Gilead, contains forbidden books that portray “problematic women” who deviate from their social norms. “Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Paradise Lost, Lives of Girls and Women – what a moral panic each one of them would cause if set loose among the Supplicants!” (Atwood, 35).

Inside back cover showing envelop and extra content
Special edition of The Testaments (2019) from Pelee Island Bird Observatory. Inside back cover showing envelop for bonus material.

 

Handwritten list on lined notepaper
Special edition of The Testaments (2019) from Pelee Island Bird Observatory, featuring bonus content, including ‘Aunt Lydia’s Reading List’

These books, like 'The Testaments' itself, have the power to impact culture and society. As Atwood herself has noted, the Trump administration’s attempts to limit the rights of immigrants, women, LGBTQI people, and other members of marginalized groups have inspired her work.

In my research, I examine how dystopian fiction such as Atwood’s novels addresses contemporary feminist political issues and movements, including the #metoo movement and the fourth wave feminist movement’s drive for reproductive justice. Although my project focuses on recent iterations of women’s writing and their corresponding political issues, it is important to note that there is a much longer history of feminist dystopian novels that imaginatively reframe contemporaneous social and political issues. We can also see this in the work of authors such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose utopian trilogy (written in 1909, 1915, and 1916 – yet not published until the 1970’s) portrays a world without men, one in which women are breadwinners and are able to procreate without men, and emphasizes the necessity of community, education, and the malleability of gender roles. 

Three paperback books on a table
Selected editions of Gilman’s work, left to right: Herland (London: Woman's Press, 1979) General Reference Collection X.909/44756; Herland, The Yellow Wall-paper, and Selected Writings (New York : Penguin Books, 1999) Document Supply m03/42037; The Yellow Wallpaper (London: Virago Press, 2009) General Reference Collection H.2013/.5096

Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” arguably her most well-known story, was re-printed in 1973 by Feminist Press. Originally written in 1892 and, like her utopian trilogy, first published in her periodical The Forerunner, Gilman’s work was “rediscovered” by second wave feminists and struck a chord with a new generation of readers. The Yellow Wallpaper illustrates many 19th century women’s issues, such as the limitations of the domestic sphere, medical treatment for women’s mental and physical health issues, the pressures of motherhood and marriage, and more. For second wave feminist readers, the worlds that Gilman portrays in her work, imagined and real, resonate from the 19th century and into the 70’s, much in the same way that the Reagan-era issues captured in The Handmaid’s Tale reverberate in 2021.

The “Gender and US Politics” group discussed Gilman’s short story and Atwood’s latest novel during a meeting that focused on fiction. Given my current research project, I was very excited to discuss these materials with others. I am one of just a few literature scholars in the group, which is also composed of historians, political scientists, and members of diverse disciplines. Listening to those outside of my expertise was one of the most interesting (and inspiring) aspects of the meeting. For instance, several scholars research suffragism in the US and abroad, and their contributions shed light on new ways of thinking about the literature, particularly in considering Gilman’s work. The opportunity to be part of a transdisciplinary group of scholars with intersecting research interests has helped me “see” the literature I work with in new ways, such as making connections between Atwood’s novels and television adaptation with Gilman’s writing, first published almost one hundred years before. It has also helped me to see how literature resonates over time with readers and how political issues can morph or remain the same, despite the political progress women have made.

****

Dr Eir-Anne Edgar is Associate Professor of Literature in ILU at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. She is currently at work on her research project, Women in the Wastelands: The World-Making of Feminist Critical Dystopian Fiction, which explores the recent explosion of transnational, feminist dystopian novels and the ways in which they “re-make” or “re-see” real-world issues. Though the Wasteland may seem like a strange place to locate hope, this project finds that women authors have long located frustrations with the limitations placed against gender and sexuality within the pages of dystopian and utopian novels.

The Gender and US Politics project, coordinated by Cara Rodway (Eccles Centre) and Robert Mason (University of Edinburgh) is supported by the British Association for American Studies and the US Embassy London.

[Posted by Cara Rodway, Eccles Centre]

 

12 December 2021

Celebrating Viola Desmond, Carrie Best and a new philatelic acquisition

Today’s blog does three things!

It commemorates the 75th anniversary of Viola Desmond’s refusal to leave a whites-only section of a Nova Scotian movie theatre - an action that galvanised the modern civil rights movement in Canada. It celebrates the British Library's acquisition of a stamp commemorating the Canadian journalist and social activist Carrie Best. And it illuminates how these two wonderful women are connected.

A postage stamp showing an image of a Carrie Best in her later years; an image of her in her youth while reading a copy of The Clarion, the news paper she had founded; her signature; and her Order of Canada medal.
Fig 1: 59c stamp by Canada Post commemorating Canadian journalist and social activist Carrie Best. The British Library's Philatelic Collections: General Collection.

In the mid-1940s, Viola Desmond was a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur. As a young Black woman, she had been unable to train as a beautician in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After honing her craft elsewhere – including at Madame C.J. Walker’s beauty school in New York City – she had returned to Halifax and established a beauty salon, her own line of beauty products, and the Desmond School of Beauty Culture, which she hoped would prevent other Black women from facing similar obstacles to their training.

On 8 November 1946, Desmond was travelling on business when her car broke down in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Forced to stay overnight, she decided to see a movie. At that time, racial segregation in Canada varied according to place and context. After taking a seat in the Roseland Theatre’s 'Main' section, Desmond was informed that she could not remain there. Returning to the kiosk, she was told she could not purchase a ticket for this whites-only section. Rather than heading to the Blacks-only Balcony, however, Desmond chose to return to the Main section. She was then forcibly removed by a policeman and sent to jail overnight. The following morning, without being offered legal representation, she was tried and fined $20 for defrauding the government of one penny; the difference in Entertainment tax between the Main and Balcony sections. With the support of prominent members of Halifax’s Black community, Desmond fought this decision. Yet several months later, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court upheld the original verdict.

The front page of The Clarion newspaper, with three columns of text and an image of Viola Desmond smiling and with an upswept 1940s hair-do.
Fig. 2: Vol. 1 Issue 1 of The Clarion, 1946; image courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives.

One of those who supported Desmond was Carrie Best. Three years earlier, Best – a life-long Black resident of New Glasgow – had bought tickets for the Roseland’s Main section for herself and her son. Like Desmond, they were arrested for attempting to watch a movie. They fought the charge in order to challenge the legal justification for the theatre's segregation, but their lawsuit was also unsuccessful. Best responded by establishing The Clarion, the first Black owned and published newspaper in Nova Scotia, which has now has been digitised by the Nova Scotia Archives. With its by-line 'Published in the Interest of Colored Nova Scotians', it was the very first issue of The Clarion that broke Viola Desmond’s story (Fig. 2).

Interest in Desmond’s case soon spread not only across Canada but also the United States; the article below, for example, was published in the Baltimore Afro-American on 1 February 1947:

A short report on Viola Desmond's case along with a head-shot of her smiling and with an upswept 1940s hair-do.
Fig. 3: Article about Viola Desmond's case in The Baltimore Afro-American, 1 February 1947; this newspaper is available digitally to British Library Readers.

Interestingly, A. Ritchie Low, a reporter for the Baltimore Afro-American, had interviewed Carrie Best in the summer of 1946 while investigating the lives of Black Canadians in the Maritime Provinces (Fig. 4, below):

An extract from a newspaper showing headlines in various fonts, four columns of text and a map showing the relationship between the Canadian maritime provinces and the United States.
Fig. 4: Extract of an article from The Baltimore Afro-American, 14 September 1946; this newspaper is available digitally to British Library Readers.

Best had made it clear to Low that things were far from perfect for the Black community and had shared with him her experience at the Roseland as well as her plans for her newspaper. Low was clearly impressed with her, writing (in language somewhat of its time): 

Mrs Carrie Best is a dynamic personality. It didn't take me long to discern that. She is a young, small, wiry, up-and-coming little body who doesn't allow the grass to grow under her feet. By no means. Nor does she, like most of us, wait for something to turn up. Instead, Mrs Best goes ahead and turns up something! For example, one of the local theaters forbade colored people to enter its downstairs section; they must go upstairs, insisted the manager. They didn't like it, but did nothing to express their disapproval, that is to say, all except Carrie Best.  She went in, sat downstairs and made a test case. She didn't win out, because of some technicality of the law, but she still has hopes of doing something. "I must show you a little paper I'm editing," she told me, excusing herself to go and fetch it. (Baltimore Afro-American, 14 September 1946)

Subsequently, Best started a radio show in 1952 which ran for twelve years, and between 1968-75 she was a columnist for The Pictou Advocate. Sadly, Desmond did not fulfil her dreams of opening a chain of beauty salons and would move away from Halifax. Yet her courageous actions are now credited with kickstarting the modern movement for civil rights and racial equality in Canada.  

In recent decades, both women have been recognised and honoured. In an historic first, Viola Desmond was posthumously pardoned in 2010. The Crown-in-Right of Nova Scotia also apologised for prosecuting her for tax evasion and acknowledged that she was rightfully resisting racial discrimination. In 2018 she became the first Canadian woman to appear alone on a bank note. 

Carrie Best was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1979 and posthumously awarded the Order of Nova Scotia in 2002. The 59c stamp commemorating Best (Fig. 1) was issued to mark Canada’s Black History Month in February 2011.1  We are hugely grateful to our Philatelic colleagues for acquiring this significant stamp on behalf of the British Library.

References

1. The stamp was designed by Laura Minja and manufactured by Lowe-Martin using a lithographic printing process.

 

24 November 2021

E-resources: US historic and contemporary newspapers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

17 November 2021

The Eccles Centre at 30

The Eccles Centre for American Studies was formally opened in November 1991. In this blog its newest member of staff – Polly Russell, Head – and its most long-standing – Jean Petrovic, Bibliographical Editor – reflect on the Centre’s development over the past three decades.

Polly Russell, Head

Last month, in a meeting at the British Library, Catherine Eccles gave me a few papers she had discovered relating to the early years of the Eccles Centre. These included this copy of the speech given by David Eccles at the Centre’s official opening in November 1991:

Typewritten speech, with handwritten additional notes.
Notes for the speech by Viscount Eccles at the formal opening of the Eccles Centre on 4 November 1991; page 1.
Typewritten speech, with handwritten additional notes.
Notes for the speech by Viscount Eccles at the formal opening of the Eccles Centre on 4 November 1991; page 2.

The speech is a heartening reminder of the principles and ambitions which have underscored the three decades of the Centre’s existence. Although the Centre’s team and activities have expanded significantly, David and Mary Eccles’ commitment to partnership, exchange, scholarship and research remain at the heart of the work we do. Since Lord Eccles officially opened the Centre, surrounded by the scaffolding and building materials of the yet unfinished British Library, the scope of the Eccles Centre has expanded beyond the USA, but fostering better understanding of the Americas through the British Library’s unique collections remains at the heart of what we do. Indeed, it is arguably more urgent than ever. From the environmental crisis and the challenge to liberal democracy, to new historical understandings of race, colonialism, migration and global trade, the Americas play a key role. As the newest member of the Eccles Team – I started this time last year – I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Eccles family, colleagues past and present and our many friends, partners and stakeholders for building on the generous vision set out by David and Mary Eccles and for helping to keep the conversation about the Americas very much alive, vibrant and relevant at the British Library.

Jean Petrovic, Bibliographical Editor

I love how David’s short but powerful speech so brilliantly captures the energy and vitality of David and Mary themselves. Both were well-advanced in years when I first met them in 1992, but their youthfulness of spirit – and their determination to make the most of every day – was inspirational. I quickly learned that David had proposed to Mary on his 80th birthday. And Mary’s ‘diary’ – which was in fact more like a wall-calendar – was enough to show anyone that life is for living. I initially caught a glimpse of it while we were planning what became the Bryant Lecture. Every day was divided into morning, afternoon and evening and each of these time-slots was packed with functions, meetings and activities. I was 27 at the time and such scheduling put my own life to shame!

I’m also struck by David’s comments about friendship and the need to work with others if we are to achieve anything of lasting value. From its inception, the Centre has reached out to other organisations and other people. Initially this outreach was limited to a couple of scholarly societies, the US Embassy and Canadian High Commission, the American Studies Library Group and our immediate curatorial colleagues. Slowly but surely, however, this network has grown deeper, broader and richer. It is not an exaggeration to say that almost all of the Centre’s work today is, in one way or another, the result of dialogues and exchanges, both with our generous and insightful internal colleagues – from Maps to Manuscripts, and Learning to Events and Research Engagement – and with our inspirational external partners, our Writers and Fellows, and a huge array of scholarly associations, research groups and interested individuals.

A man stands at a lectern giving a speech; on his left sit an elderly man and woman; on his right sit two men.
The formal opening of the Eccles Centre on 4 November 1991: from left, David Eccles, Mary Eccles, Bob Burchell (the Centre's first Head), Michael Saunders-Watson (Chair, British Library), Raymond Seitz (US Ambassador)

All of these collaborations would have delighted David and Mary, as would the Centre’s dedication both to its “main business” of scholarship and research as well as to sharing insights about “all things American” with the general public, including with school teachers and pupils. While Bob Burchell, the first Head, solidly committed the Centre to the former, it was Phil Davies, his successor, who ensured that non-academics – “men and women, with every kind of interest in America” – could benefit from Eccles activities. During Phil’s tenure, the Centre hosted hundreds of events on every aspect of American history, life and culture. And the Centre’s Congress to Campus programme – which Phil created and which is now in its 19th year – has brought around 20,000 A Level politics students into conversation with nearly 40 former Members of Congress.

Regarding the Library’s truly extraordinary Americas collections, David was absolutely correct to note in 1991 that these had been underutilised. Thankfully, this is no longer the case: partly due to the exceptional work of our Americas curatorial colleagues and the Centre’s bibliographic guides and research training sessions, but also to the ever-evolving programme of Eccles Fellowships and Awards. Under Phil Hatfield, the Centre’s third Head, not only did the Visiting Fellowships expand to include creative practitioners as well as scholars, but the Eccles Writer’s Award gained an amazing partner in Hay, thereby expanding its remit to include Latin America. Each of these steps has widened the network of those who know about – and can therefore benefit from – the Library’s holdings.

Guests talking and drinking at the formal opening of the Eccles Centre.
The formal opening of the Eccles Centre on 4 November 1991; the Library did not move into this building at St Pancras for another six years, so enormous heaters were hired in order to keep guests warm in the unfinished building!

As a slight aside to the work of the Centre – but still connected to David’s message – it is interesting, if somewhat depressing, to note that conversations about gender and sexual harassment – which in 1991 were prompted by the case of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas – are still on-going, on both sides of the Atlantic. Likewise, Britain’s relationship with the United States, Europe, and the rest of the world is ever-changing and worthy of attention.

Finally, and on behalf of everyone connected with the Centre – past and present – I would like to pay tribute once again to the incredible energy and open-heartedness of David and Mary Eccles. We are truly grateful for their passion and generosity and for their determination to create something “special” that would bear fruit after their “disappearance.” We hope – and trust – we are making them proud.

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