14 February 2023
In this second installment of a series of blogs, Philip Clark shares his experience of being a 2022 Eccles Centre and Hay Festival Writer's Award winner.1 The Writer's Award offers £20,000, a year's residency at the British Library to develop a forthcoming book, and the opportunity to showcase work at Hay Festival events in the UK and Latin America. Philip’s book – Sound and the City – will be a history of the sound of New York City and an investigation into what makes New York City sound like New York City.
For a few months at the end of last year, I communed daily with Dutch colonials of the mid-1600s. In various roles, taking various responsibilities, the likes of Peter Stuyvesant, Adriaen van der Donck, Peter Minuit, Willem Kieft and Cryn Fredericks established the city of New Amsterdam which, by 1664, had become the English colonial city of New York.
Having already taken the deepest of dives into 1920s New York, through the work of the composer Edgard Varèse and the novelist John Dos Passos, I decided that my book Sound and the City – my history of the sound of New York City – needed to flip the chronology on its head. The 1930s will follow, but later, and in the meantime I engineered a flashback to the beginnings of recordable time itself, and to the Ice Age. In the span of this history, the appearance of Dutch colonials a mere three-and-a-half centuries ago feels relatively contemporary. When they turn up, their interactions with the Indigenous People, who had populated that coast for centuries, pivots the story into something more like countable time, a reassuringly familiar turnaround of years, decades and centuries again after thinking about time in units of hundreds of thousands of years.
My subject is sound. Music-writers are often called upon to speculate about where music might be heading next, although writing this section of my book made me realise that second-guessing the root sounds of the deep past is no easy matter either. How do you ‘hear’ sounds of which no recorded example exists? Listening in to the modern-day city is normally a good starting point, and one afternoon last summer I took an ‘A’ train from Penn Station in midtown Manhattan to where the line terminates at Inwood 207th Street.
A fifteen-minute walk later, I found myself in deserted woodland, the trilling of sirens cutting through from downtown the only clue I was still in New York City. I’d come to Inwood Hill Park because this park, perched on the far northern tip of Manhattan, has preserved something of its prehistory. This is where you come to look at New York’s oldest rock formations; to trace how the imperceptible tread of glaciers scooped out what would become the landmass of New York. Inwood was the place Native Americans gravitated towards over centuries, its caves and bountiful ecosystem providing shelter and sustenance aplenty.
Although probably a wishful-thinking myth, Inwood Hill Park is also purportedly where, in 1626, Native Americans sold the island of Manhattan to the Dutch colonial governor Peter Minuit for 60 guilders. More likely, this meeting actually took place farther downtown, where Peter Minuit Plaza stands today, near Battery Park. But numerous mythologies all converge around the inlet of the park where the meeting was said to take place. This was where the British explorer Henry Hudson supposedly dropped anchor in September 1609, having made landfall a couple of weeks earlier at Sandy Hook. A tulip tree started growing there a century later and, as a commemorative plaque makes clear, the tree, 280 years old when it died in 1932, represented the last living link with the Native Americans who had lived here. In a city that became celebrated for high-rise structures, the tulip tree was a pioneer. Towering over the park, its height reportedly equivalent to a seventeen-storey building, it resonated as a marker of a past that had moved beyond collective memory – a potent symbol in a city that was otherwise engaged in relentlessly inventing its future.
Almost as soon as I arrived in the park, though, a shock. The 4G on my iPhone fizzled out, then Google maps froze, and I was rudderless. In an area of the park now called ‘The Cove’, the slug-like progression of glacial erosion spooned out the innards of the earth and the glacial potholes that resulted – some 50,000 years old – look bracingly abstract to me, like sculptures by Henry Moore or Seymour Lipton thwacked into the earth. They also look unmistakably like disembowelled speakers, I thought, with their cones ripped out, but still receptible to sound. My awareness that darkness was about to fall kept me moving, pushing through the woods, using paths trampled into the ground over centuries, with a covering of tulip trees above my head. I followed the reassuring rumble of cars and, more through good luck than canny navigation, found myself staring at the Henry Hudson Bridge, which crosses the river into the Bronx. At that precise moment my iPhone pinged back to life and I located my position. I was looking across at Spuyten Duvvil Creek – where the Hudson River meets the Harlem River Ship Canal – and the rock formations I could see, which I discovered subsequently are called Fordham Gneiss, are a billion years old.
A few weeks later, back in the relative safety of the Rare Books and Music Reading Room at the British Library, I searched for sources that might help explain my afternoon in Inwood Hill Park. This has been the rhythm of writing this book so far; intense field trips followed by equally intense research binges at the Library. Unpicking the mythologies surrounding the tulip tree took hours of poring over old newspapers and contemporary reports. Mythology should never be dismissed lightly. What mythologies tell us about a city’s sense of its own history is intriguing in itself. But chipping away the layers of folklore to reveal what actually happened was important too.
Something else that needed to be chipped away at: those ancient rock formations scattered around Inwood Hill Park. One great pleasure of British Library research is the ease with which you can slip outside your own area of expertise, and, in Rare Books and Music, I began a fingertip search through geological and flora-&-fauna reports relating to the park. My examination of New York’s oldest rock formations was about determining how nature created this giant resonating chamber later called New York City, where all sorts of sounds would happen. Slipstreams of sound ricocheting around the city is central to my obsession, and examining how geological activity established this field of play gave my book its roots.
The moment the colonials arrive, primary sources bounce into life. Adriaen van der Donck’s A Description of the New Netherlands (1641), Daniel Denton’s A Brief Description of New-York: Formerly Called New-Netherlands (1670) and Jaspar Dankers and Peter Sluyter’s Journal of a Voyage to New York (1679-1680) are all fantastically vibrant accounts of the emerging city of New Amsterdam and the surrounding wilderness. Colonial fascination with the possibilities of this new world against the reality of what had been there before, the presence of Indigenous people in particular, leaves a bitter aftertaste. Dutch colonialism was ultimately responsible for – through landgrab and brutal repression – the decline of Indigenous Peoples. One needs to be aware of this wider historical context using this material and read with caution, but there were little clues in each journal – a sound here, a sound there – that allowed me to build a soundscape.
A few basics became crystallised; the distinction between the ‘downtown’ of the New Amsterdam, the huburb around the fort, and the streets that fanned out around it, against the bucolic peace of the bouwerie farms beyond the city walls, where the East Village and Chinatown sit now. Jaspar Dankers and Peter Sluyter – a pair of visiting priests – took the same trip to Inwood Hill Park I did nearly 350 years later. Fortified by supplies of peaches from the local orchard, they tackled the churning “eddies and whirpools” of Spuyten Duvvil Creek in a hired canoe (which they complained was over-priced). My discovery, sitting in a reading room on Euston Road, that they saw the same rock formations which had filled me with awe: “two ridges of very high rocks, with a considerable space between them, displaying themselves majestically, and inviting all men to acknowledge in them the majesty, grandeur, power and glory of their creator”, sent shivers down my spine. Shaking hands across history with fellow travellers. Who, I note, had no need for 4G.
1. Philip Clark's first Writer's Award blog may be found here.
07 February 2023
Cassie Quarless is a filmmaker was a 2020 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
As a documentary director, a large part of my job is mining my mind and my experiences for subjects that I am excited about and that I want to share with others. One such subject is the connection and exchange that exists between the music and musical cultures of the Caribbean, United States, United Kingdom and West Africa. During my time at the British Library I sought to research this further.
I was really struck by the British Library's collection and its wealth of Black British music, which spans a wide range of genres and styles, from early blues and jazz to contemporary grime and hip hop. The collection holds a wealth of resources for researchers, including sheet music, recordings, and concert programmes, as well as a range of scholarly publications and academic works on the subject.
One of the main issues that I had at the British Library - coming from the film/moving image space and having had a background as a DJ - was that I really wanted to be able to riffle through the Library’s collections like one would in a friend’s home or in a record store. After having spoken to and met with various incredibly knowledgeable members of the British Library staff, I ultimately got the hang of the different systems that the Library uses to catalogue its extensive collections and was able to navigate them in a more natural way.
One particular non-recorded music gem for me was the unpublished collection of correspondences by Andrew Salkey, a Caribbean-born writer and publisher who played a crucial role in promoting Black art and literature in Britain during the 1960s and 70s. These letters offer a unique perspective on the experiences and thoughts of one of the leading figures in the Black arts movement, and provide valuable insights into the cultural, political, and artistic context of the time.
I was particularly struck by Andrew Salkey’s correspondences with the Jamaican poet and academic Kamau Braithwaite and what they suggested about the expressed sharing of knowledge and thoughts about art (whether they be visual, literary or musical). Much of the correspondence that I read was dated from the mid-60s and onward into the 70s.
Both sides of my family are from the Caribbean (Grenada to be precise) and I was always regaled with stories of family ties and friendships that were lost through migration to the United Kingdom, other Caribbean islands or to Latin America. It had basically become a foregone conclusion for me that within the context of the Caribbean and its diaspora, the distance of the sea meant the death or at least serious atrophy of social connections during the 60s and 70s. When it came to music, it was felt that records from the Caribbean came to these shores with much of their context and intellectual intention removed - after all, only the most successful acts actually got to travel to the UK to perform and to spread their messages.
What Salkey’s correspondence with Braithwaite underscored was how much conversation was happening between interested parties across the Atlantic. People were not only exchanging art critique but also referring to their cross-nationally intermingled lives and social connections.
I am sad that my time as an Eccles Fellow at the British Library will end before the launch of its landmark exhibition centred on Black British music presented in collaboration with the University of Westminster. I was, however, definitely impressed by the British Library's collection and the breadth of materials that it contained. The collection not only documents the music itself, but also the broader cultural and social context in which it was created. This includes a range of materials that shed light on the experiences of Black musicians in Britain, including recordings of live performances, interviews with musicians and industry professionals, and articles and essays on the subject.
As a filmmaker and as a fan of music, my time at the British Library has definitely given me some new and valuable insights, but more importantly it has gotten me thinking even more deeply about the connections that I was looking to elucidate. I will be back here often as my project progresses.
24 January 2023
Into the Crucible of Revolution: Hindu Anticolonialism and Radicalism in Early Twentieth Century America
Christopher Chacon is a PhD candidate in History at the University of California, Irvine, and was a 2022 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, amid the rise and fall of global empires and transnational movement, Hindu anticolonialists like Lajpat Rai and Bhai Parmanand arrived on American shores in hopes of stoking the embers of anti-imperial revolution once again in the American imagination. They counted among their allies Indian labourers in the fields of Central California and the urban streets of New York, American civil rights activists, Indophiles, and internationalist union members. Socialism, democratic nationalism, and anarchism wafted throughout the political air and the scene hungered for action. Out of the birth pangs of the twentieth century emerged Rai and Parmanand, figures draped in nineteenth century nationalism and Hindu revivalism and capable of leadership among the extreme factions of Indian anticolonialism.
For Rai, public fame and organizational support provided the foundation for his agenda in America. An ardent believer in education reform and social advancement, Rai built coalitions that strengthened his call for Indian independence. By engaging with the social and racial tensions that made America, Rai established a presence amongst the minds of the civil rights movement and helped gather support for independence through the Indian Home Rule League of America and through his works such as the Young India journal and The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions and a Study.1
Parmanand, by contrast, arrived in America not to bring about a social movement but instead to nurture a global revolutionary army that would topple the British regime in India. Under the guise of pursuing a master’s degree in pharmacy at Berkeley, Parmanand networked with other student radicals both in California and Oregon in order to procure weapons and cash for an anticolonial rebellion born simultaneously in the homeland and the global diasporic community.2 Already a prominent name in nationalist circles for his travels as an envoy for the Hindu revival organization, the Arya Samaj, Parmanand wielded the gravitas – and the imperial notoriety – required to move people in the direction towards open rebellion. It is for the latter that Parmanand’s mission failed. British imperial intelligence quickly identified his actions as a threat to their dominion over the Punjab and, upon his return to India, incarcerated him on the grounds that he possessed illicit materials and espoused seditious rhetoric.3
Through the generosity of the Eccles Centre, this research project acquired invaluable materials related to Parmanand’s involvement in the Ghadr Party of San Francisco as well as the movement at large. Among the collection gathered on American sources at the British Library, two specific pieces stand out as definitively exceptional: a ten-page report on Bhai Parmanand and a Ghadr Party poster that encompassed the spirit and reality of global intellectual movements. In the case of the former, most secondary literature on Parmanand assures the reader that he participated in the Ghadr Party movement – despite his autobiographical claims that he merely was at the wrong place at the wrong time. However, these same materials often omit how he functioned in the organization and what roles he fulfilled by its conclusion.4 With the incorporation of this report and other documents related to his roles as nationalist and revolutionary, a clearer picture emerges that resolves both questions about his imprisonment as well as inquiries into his future as a diehard spin master of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1930s and 1940s.
As for the Ghadr Party poster, this masterpiece connects the dream of socialist revolutionaries with the vision of global Hindutva ideologues. The name 'The United States of India' resides over the idealized map of an independent and unbroken India signifying its place of prominence in Asia. The open border with the Indian Ocean lays claim to the seas. However, the text that surrounds the image speaks to its special relationship to the US. 'In Union There Is Strength' and 'Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God' borrow from the American Revolution and contextualize the American war of independence against the British as the preamble for the Indian war to come. Finally, the reader comes to its zenith, the clarion call to arms: 'What Are YOU Doing to Liberate India?'5 This question does not discriminate based on nationality or appearance. Rather it divides the world into two camps: freedom fighters and imperialists. Visual materials such as this poster elevate the historical conversation and provide insight into the psychology of Rai and Parmanand in the 1910s. Without it – and the financial support of the Eccles Centre – this project would lack these vital pieces to the story of global Hindutva and its revolutionary phase in the 1910s.
1. Lajpat Rai, The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions and a Study. Calcutta: R. Chatterjee, 1916. For more on this subject, I recommend: Manan Desai, The United States of India: Anticolonial Literature and Transnational Refraction. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2020; Vivek Bald, Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013; and Dohra Ahmad, Landscapes of Hope: Anti-Colonial Utopianism in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
2. See the autobiography, Bhai Parmanand, The Story of My Life. New Delhi: Ocean Books Pvt. Ltd., 2003. To further the conversation, see, Maia Ramnath, Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011; Seema Sohi, Echoes of Mutiny: Race Surveillance & Indian Anticolonialism in North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014; and Harold A. Gould, Sikhs, Swamis, Students, and Spies: The Indian Lobby in the United States, 1900-1946. New Delhi: Safe Publications, 2006.
3. For more on the subject, see, Richard J. Popplewell, Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British Intelligence and the Defence of the Indian Empire 1904-1924. Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1995.
4. IOR/L/PJ/6/1405, File 4095 – Lahore Conspiracy Case and the Lahore Supplementary Conspiracy Case. Sep 1915-Dec 1916. Number 56 in the list of the accused, “Bhai Parma Nand” is given a lengthy 10-page backstory which provides much context for both his ventures prior to and following his San Francisco and Portland interlude.
5. Mss Eur C228 -- Ghadr Party papers. 1920. `Flag of the H G Party': a map of `The United States of India', surrounded by party slogans. Published by the Hindustan Gadar Party, San Francisco, c1920.
11 January 2023
Darius Bost is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Utah and was a 2020 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
In my book, Evidence of Being: The Black Gay Cultural Renaissance and the Politics of Violence (Chicago, 2019), I wrote about the renaissance of black gay male cultural production in the 1980s and 1990s. In those decades, black gay men across the Atlantic used a range of cultural forms—media, literature, film, dance, music, and performance—as modes of community building, political mobilization, self-determination in the face of state neglect and cultural exclusion, and cultural preservation amid the losses of AIDS and anti-black and anti-gay violence. Given my narrow focus on literary cultures in two U.S. cities—Washington, D.C., and New York City—I was unable to discuss the significance of the visual arts and transnational exchange between black American and black British artists. For example, Washington, D.C.-based, black gay writer Essex Hemphill visited London in the winter of 1986 and performed a series of readings from his poetry collection Conditions at various cultural venues. New York City-based writer and performer Assotto Saint toured London in April 1988 with his theatre group Metamorphosis, performing pieces from his award-winning, black gay-themed trilogy. However, media documentation of these events and others featuring U.S. black gay artists who traveled to London give the impression that the flows of black gay culture moved unilaterally from the U.S. to the U.K. While conducting research for my current project on queer visual cultures of the black Atlantic, I have found little commentary on how black gay artists in London influenced U.S. black gay culture. A focus on the contributions of Nigerian-British visual artist Rotimi Fani-Kayode suggests some ways that British artists influenced U.S. black gay culture during the 1980s black gay cultural renaissance.
Fani-Kayode was born in 1955 in Lagos, Nigeria. His father was a member of the political aristocracy in Nigeria, and a keeper of the shrine of Yoruba deities in Ife. At the age of twelve, Fani-Kayode moved with his family to Brighton, England, to escape the Nigerian Civil War. He attended numerous private schools in England for his secondary education before moving to Washington, D.C., in 1976 to complete his undergraduate education in Economics at Georgetown University. He lived in New York City in the early 1980s while completing his MFA in Fine Arts and Photography at Pratt Institute. While living in the U.S., Fani-Kayode shared spaces with many of the artists and writers that I write about in Evidence of Being, including the DC Clubhouse, an internationally renowned nightclub that became an important site of black lesbian and gay cultural and political formation in the late 1970s [until an estimated 40% of its membership roles were lost to AIDS by the late 80s]. That he dedicated his first monograph Black Male/White Male (1988) to 'Toni and the spirit of the Clubhouse' demonstrates how U.S. black gay communities influenced his practice. Yet, little is known about how Fani-Kayode influenced these communities during his time there.
We can see more of his influence on the black cultural renaissance when directing our attention to his practice in London, to which he returned after completing his studies in the United States. Fani-Kayode photographed Hemphill alongside black gay British activist Dennis Carney for his monograph Black Male/White Male. He also photographed Saint, and Oakland, California-based musician Blackberri, another important contributor to the black gay cultural renaissance who performed at the historic Black Gay Conference in London in 1987. Notably, one of the images from Black Male/White Male graced the cover of Tongues Untied, a collection of black gay British and American poetry published by the London-based Gay Men’s Press in 1987. The collection inspired U.S.-based filmmaker Marlon Rigg's 1989 film Tongues Untied. Riggs’ film and Black British filmmaker Isaac Julien’s 1989 Looking for Langston—which includes the work of many U.S. black gay cultural producers—demonstrate the significance of transatlantic exchange to the 1980s black gay cultural renaissance. Rotimi’s contributions to this movement establishes the significance of photography to this cultural movement. His longtime artistic collaborator and romantic partner Alex Hirst describes Fani-Kayode’s photography as 'a means of reaching others who on a world scale would otherwise be quite beyond the scope of an individual’s ability to speak to them.'1
Beyond the emphasis on transnational exchange and collaboration, evidence from the archive suggests how Fani-Kayode work sought to expand the philosophical underpinnings of the black gay cultural renaissance in the service of a broader vision of collective liberation. The British Library holds an audio recording of the memorial event held at the Photographer’s Gallery in London in January 1991 in honor of Fani-Kayode after his untimely death in 1989 from a heart attack. At this event, Hirst provided reflections on Rotimi’s work that suggest how it contributed to this broader cultural movement. Commenting on Fani-Kayode's self-identification as an 'African working in a Western medium,' Hirst discusses how Rotimi sought to challenge the West's tradition of separating rather than combining, which has created dualisms like black and white, sacred and profane, and heterosexual and homosexual, that has secured its dominance for over five centuries.2 Hirst also emphasized how Fani-Kayode brought to the photographic medium a non-Western perspective that viewed art as inseparable from everyday life. Rotimi drew from ancestral traditions in which art 'was a way for society to make concrete its emotions, its aesthetic concerns, its hopes and its fears and to give form to a collective consciousness of history, psychology, ethics, and dreams.'3 In so doing, Rotimi destabilized the Western dualisms that undergirded the terms 'black' and 'gay,' while acknowledging the power of combining these terms towards collective social and spiritual transformation. His refusal to separate art from ordinary life showed other black gay cultural producers that their artistic practices were inextricable from the community’s broader aims of social and spiritual transformation. In sum, Fani-Kayode’s work expanded the vision of the black gay cultural renaissance beyond Western constructions of identity and aesthetics and toward a vision of the black gay Atlantic unbound by the Western categorical distinctions that fostered the collective marginalization of black gay men and disparaged ways of knowing and modes of expression that might 'give form to [black gay male] collective consciousness.'
1. Alex Hirst, 'Talk at Friends of Rotimi Lecture,' Photographer’s Gallery, London, UK, January 16, 1991. Casette. Photographer’s Gallery Recordings. British Library.
2. Rotimi Fani-Kayode, 'Traces of Estasy,' Revue Noire, November 1996, p. 6; Hirst, 'Talk at Friends of Rotimi Lecture.'
3. Alex Hirst, 'Talks at Friends of Rotimi Lecture,' Photographer’s Gallery, London, UK, January 16, 1991. Casette. Photographer’s Gallery Recordings. British Library.
12 December 2022
Thomas Bishop is Senior Lecturer in American History and Programme Leader of the BA History degree at the University of Lincoln; he was a 2021 British Library Eccles Visiting Fellow.
In 1957 Walt Disney broadcast 'Our Friend the Atom'. Designed to both educate and reassure, the forty-minute special encouraged viewers to put aside their fears of destruction and instead embrace the limitless potential of the atom. Likening atomic power to that of a jinnī being unleashed from a magic lamp to grant wishes, the narrator tells audiences that with enough hard work 'the atomic genie might spread across the world granting the gifts of science to all mankind.'
'Our Friend the Atom' took centre stage during President Dwight Eisenhower’s 'Atoms for Peace' campaign. Through the 1950s, as the Soviet Union and United States increased atmospheric testing of weapons of even greater destructive potential, Eisenhower launched a public education campaign to sell the positive benefits of atomic energy. Seeking allies in this quest to neutralise anxieties over existing weapons technology, Eisenhower turned to the nation’s foremost animator to help create a new cultural imagination of the benign atom. The result is a striking vision of a nuclear future shaped by harmless radiation, accident proof industries, and smiling scientists. This sanitised, Hollywoodised vision of a nation rushing headlong into the promise of the atomic age, conceals the everyday realities and occupational risks associated with working life inside the most iconic industry of the Cold War.
At the British Library, I set out to investigate the hidden histories of nuclear technology in the United States. Specifically, over the last few years I have been keen to research and write a new history of radiation protection standards during the Cold War from the perspective of the thousands of blue-collar workers whose labour powered the nation’s reactors. Talking to archivists often leads to important, unexpected discoveries that can define a research project. I arrived at the Library hoping to make inroads into unearthing a complicated yet critical episode in American history.
The British Library is a treasure trove of material for those interested in nuclear history, with records reaching from the factory floor to the Oval Office. Initially, I looked over the Federal Government Collections in order to understand the changing political landscapes over occupational safety during a period of peak commercial growth in nuclear power during the late 1960s, often called the 'turn-key' era of reactor construction. What might appear to some as dry bureaucratic history is in fact brimming with human stories as civil servants, scientists, employees, and activists debated the health hazards of working with radiation. Out of these records, I started to hone my research around a concept all too familiar to those working within the sector, known as the 'permissible dose'.
Throughout the Cold War the 'permissible dose' governed both the lives and livelihoods of those working within the nuclear sector. To cut through the quite dense technical terminology, the permissible dose refers to the legal amount of ionized radiation a body can receive over the course of a year. This federally sanctioned level of radiation was the cornerstone of the occupational nuclear frontier. How radiation threshold levels were measured, what risk was deemed 'acceptable', and how regulation was understood and enforced across an entire industrial sector was the most significant question facing this rapidly changing industry. With questions of individual workers’ experiences still very much at the front of my mind, I searched for documentation that might shed light on how blue-collar workers experienced and understood this concept of acceptable risk.
Uncovering blue collar workers’ experiences with radiation is laden with difficulties. Often, in lieu of self-made sources, historians seek out instances of workers engaging with the industrial and political elite in the fight for workplace safety. Here, the British Library plays an essential role in magnifying the subtle archival presences of the working communities who helped regulate nuclear power. Through recent digitization efforts, readers can now access records ranging from blow by blow breakdowns of the decisions made around radiation exposure levels found in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), to industry trade publication Nucleonic reviewing safety challenges facing a rapidly commercialised industry. A rich collection of material waiting for anyone interested in these records, it contains interviews with workers, debates over compensation cases, and even whistle-blowers willing to go on the record about the substandard safety practices they encountered. Together these collections allowed me to track the controversies surrounding radiation protection standards and start putting together a picture of nuclear regulation that seems far more complex than studies have previously acknowledged.
In the records of the specific industrial accidents held in the files of the Environmental Project Agency (EPA), the health and science periodicals of the 1960s, I noticed the central role that workers’ testimonies played during fights for reform. Far from being passive actors in the fight for stricter regulation, blue collar workers were active and vocal in making their voices heard for better working conditions. With this material, I can prove that ordinary working Americans are the forgotten 'policymakers of the nuclear age': organisers who marched, blew the whistle, litigated, and turned to the press, unions, and White House for support. This time in the archives has allowed me to knit top-down perspectives of regulatory policy with local experiences of labour activism, pushing our understanding of the ability of ordinary working Americans to fight for and enact meaningful change for themselves and their communities.
While this project is still very much a work in progress, the records of the British Library provide a critical start for anyone interested in researching our often-complicated relationship with nuclear technologies. In an age where renewable energy and climate change are defining global concerns, and politicians talk about the promise of a 'Green New Deal' it is important that we seek out our nuclear past, to make sure it is not forgotten during a moment of renewed interest in our nuclear futures.
05 December 2022
Rishma Johal is a PhD candidate in History at McGill University and was a 2022 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
As an academic in training, I believe that most PhD Candidates—particularly *cough cough* myself—are young, wide-eyed, naive students who hope to use their magical wings to fly from source to source in a matter of seconds. If any of this were remotely true, my thesis would be complete in a few days. However, no matter how aware I am of my naivete, there is always the glimmer of hope that the next research trip will be 'the one' in which I read every source at the archives. Needless to say, this hope is shattered as soon as an archivist hands me a file weighing a few good pounds in the morning of my very first day. Perhaps, the British Library experience has been my most dramatic encounter in terms of the amount of information available versus the amount of information that I can read in a short period of time. This autumn, as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, I enjoyed five weeks at the British Library, yet even that felt too little to complete my research. Thus, if I had to select one challenge over any other, it would be my fight against time. Nevertheless, the availability and versatility of sources at the Library ensured that my visit was both fruitful and rewarding.
My research entails analysing files on South Asian migrants and Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest—both marginalised communities about whom information at archives is generally limited. Specifically, my thesis examines intersections and dissension among early South Asian migrants and Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest from 1857–1947. This means that I am examining files on diverse groups of people. It is quite time-consuming to search for these sources, although the British Library holds a wealth of data. For this reason, the limit on the number of sources that I could request in one day quickly became another challenge, though I managed to power through most of the sources on my research list.
Conducting research at the British Library was imperative as it enabled me to access many archival records about early South Asian migrants in both Canada and the United States. Most of these files were held in the India Office Records and I also found correspondence among various levels of government on South Asian migration, from reading views of inspectors, politicians, and ministers in Vancouver and British Columbia to Ottawa, Britain, and India. I found numerous instances of concern over increasing numbers of South Asians in the Pacific Northwest that incorporated correspondence with American officials. The British Library has a priceless amount of information on the Ghadar movement (early Indian independence struggle that began in North America) and clandestine activities run by South Asians from California extending to Argentina, Panama, South Africa, Afghanistan, and Australia. However, the British Empire’s vast network of information gathering and sharing is only visible when files are accessed that discuss the Ghadar movement, “Hindu immigration,” and event specific files such as IOR/L/PJ/1325, File 3601 Canadian Immigration; the Komagata Maru Incident. These sources discussed the status of South Asians in Canada and noted the companies that they owned as well as the land purchases that they made, which was vital information concerning South Asians’ role in settler colonialism and Indigenous dispossession.
In one or two instances, I also found comparisons that officials made between the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia and South Asians. My favourite sources were rare finds that may not have been as useful as the above files for my thesis but were integral in terms of South Asian diasporic activity. For instance, I was thrilled to view a flag made by the Ghadar Party of San Francisco with a map that envisioned the borders of a free India as early as 1920 (Mss Eur C228: 1920). I was also able to view several maps made by South Asian surveyors and assistants within the British Indian army. These included maps of boundaries in Tibet, China, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa. The maps portray the role that some South Asians played as intermediaries within the colonisation of the Indian Ocean Arena before many migrated to North America.
I was also interested in sources on Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest, though finding archival materials associated with specific tribes was difficult. For this aspect of my research, I utilised the vast collection of books that covered substantial components of the history of Indigenous peoples from California, Washington and Oregon. However, I was able to locate a few important firsthand documents such as the Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians of California (British Library shelfmark: A.S.217/19, 1873) made by special agents Helen Jackson and Abbott Kinney and The Report of the Special Agent for California Indians to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs by C.E. Kelsey (British Library shelfmark: Mic.K.2130, 1906). The former report provided a significant account of how white colonists dispossessed Indigenous peoples in Southern California, despite US government orders that recognized Mission Indians’ lands as reservation lands. The 1906 report outlined the conditions of Indigenous peoples living within California and described the areas that remained populated by them. Reading these reports in comparison to one another was particularly useful for my research. The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians (British Library shelfmark: P.P.3437.bad) was another important source that discussed Native American issues, although individuals interested in Native Americans, rather than those of Indigenous ancestry, published most of the articles. More importantly, I was able to read a wide variety of books written about Indigenous peoples and to corroborate movements of certain Indigenous communities with the migration and land purchases of South Asians.
Overall, my magical wings were quite elated to fly from one source to the next at the British Library whether that was in a matter of hours, days, or weeks as I continue to read files that I photographed in October. I had an amazing experience as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, and I would highly recommend this fellowship opportunity to other researchers in American Studies. Although I did not have a chance to attend many events, connecting with other Fellows and the Eccles Centre team at one of their Researchers' Packed Lunches was wonderful. Nevertheless, time is always of the essence. Alas, this researcher flies away to the next archive!
28 November 2022
Barry Robinson is the Robert Haywood Morrison Professor of History at Queens University of Charlotte and was a 2020 British Library Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow.
In August 1895 a committee of prominent musicians and members of the Italian community in Lima, Peru announced a benefit concert to be held on behalf of the seventy-seven-year-old composer Carlos Enrique Pasta. Their stated purpose was “to alleviate the pitiful situation in which the well-known and respectable maestro finds himself in his old age.”1 Pasta had first come to Lima in 1855 as part of the many waves of Italian performers who travelled through and to the Americas during the nineteenth century.
Italian migrants like Pasta brought European content to American audiences, but they also created new performances that drew from local themes and contemporary politics. Pasta’s zarzuela ¡Pobre indio! debuted in Lima on 3 March 1868. The performance included two yaravies and a huayno (indigenous Andean folk ballads and dance, respectively), with the overture incorporating the chorus of the Peruvian National Anthem.2 This cultural exchange filtered back across the Atlantic, with productions of American-inspired work making their way to the most prominent opera houses of Europe.
Pasta’s best remembered work, the opera Atahualpa, recast the Inca emperor as a tragic and nuanced figure, set to a melancholy and melodious score. His librettist, Antonio Ghislanzoni, also authored the libretto for Verdi’s Aida. Pasta returned to Italy for the debut of Atahualpa in November 1875 at Genoa’s Teatro Paganini, where critics reported “applause galore – more than twenty calls to the maestro – Bravo Maestro Pasta!”3 Atahualpa’s success continued at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, but by January 1877 Pasta had returned to Lima for the opera’s Peruvian debut at the Teatro Principal.4 He continued to compose zarzuelas over the next few years. As of 1887 he was offering his services to the citizens of Lima as a piano and voice teacher.5
Along with my colleague, Dr. Lucia Galleno, I have been constructing a database of hundreds of individuals like Carlo Enrico Pasta to track the movement of Italian opera performers (singers, musicians, and empresarios) from Italy to the Americas in the nineteenth century. We are employing traditional historical research along with techniques from the digital humanities and geospatial analysis to identify broader patterns among the companies, theatres, and performers who formed part of this influential cultural transference. Their stories might best be visualized as a fluid network of journeys spanning the Atlantic and centering on urban hubs with theatres connecting to the international tour circuits.6
Lima makes for a revealing node from which to begin charting these transatlantic opera networks. Italian opera served as a vibrant element of the city’s cultural life, drawing large crowds of passionate supporters who often engaged in vigorous public critiques and debates, occasionally spilling over into physical violence.7 In 1896, the year after the benefit concert for Maestro Pasta, famed Peruvian literary figure Manuel Moncloa y Covarrubias recalled the vigorous partisanship surrounding the career of soprano Clotilde Barilli in the 1850s, labelling it “a scandal of colossal proportions.”8 Barilli’s fans developed such a furious rivalry with those of the O’Loghlin theatre company that in the 1852 season grave wounds were delivered with a rapiers and firearms, to the point that General Pedro Cisneros de la Torre called in an infantry battalion to restore order. In his Mujeres de teatro, Moncloa y Covarrubias notes that, given the politically fluid nature of those times, this action put the inhabitants of the entire city in a state of great alarm.9
The British Library Reader Pass has provided an invaluable opportunity to connect nineteenth century Italian migrants more fully to the communities in which they lived and performed, and to trace their movement across the Atlantic from cities like London, Madrid, and Milan through our focal point of Lima, Peru, and around the Americas to cultural hubs such as New York, Havana, and New Orleans.
The career of Clorinda Corradi Pantanelli, credited by Basadre with “definitively popularizing” Italian opera in Peru during the season that began on 2 September, 1840, illustrates the scope of this movement.10 After initiating her career in Italy and Spain in the 1820s and 1830s, Corradi Pantanelli sang in Havana, Cuba as a part of a company managed by her husband, Raffaele Pantanelli, from 1836 to 1839. During an interim 1837 season at the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans, two other performers “absconded” from the company and the empresario engaged in a heated financial dispute with the owner of the St. Charles.11
Corradi Pantanelli’s company arrived in Peru in 1840. The immediate popularity of Corradi Pantanelli’s performance in Lima prompted conservative literary figure Felipe Pardo y Aliaga to publish an essay entitled “Opera y nacionalismo” in October 1840, in which he critiqued what he viewed as a liberal, mercantile fascination with this foreign art form as an ornament of national modernity. Pardo y Aliaga protested that “Nonsensical nationalism has produced few more original phenomena than the one observed on the occasion of the arrival of the Italian company that today charms this capital.”12
Corradi Pantanelli’s company remained in Lima until April 1844, when they continued southward to Chile. They opened the newly constructed Teatro Victoria in Valparaiso in December.13 Corradi Pantanelli continued to perform in Chile over the next decade. Records of the University of Chile show that she took a post as a professor at the National Conservatory of Music in May of 1861.14
The career of mezzo-soprano Estefanía Collamarini provides a final example of the migrant trajectories of these performers. In 1898 Moncloa y Covarrubias characterized Collamarini as “the most splendidly beautiful Carmen we have had [in Lima]”.15 The following year Collamarini ranged as widely as Mexico City, San Francisco, and even Kansas City, Missouri, where she personally funded a reorganization of the stranded Lombardi Opera Company to enable it to complete its tour of the United States.16 Collamarini returned to South America where she continued to perform through at least 1905, when she performed at the Teatro de Sao Pedro d’Alcantara in Rio de Janeiro.17
The British Library affords world class access to a wealth of source material that is not accessible at our home institution, including memoirs, catalogues of performances, photos and paintings, diagrams of theatres, an outstanding general reference collection, and excellent nineteenth century newspaper collections (including both hard copy and digital databases). The Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship has enabled me to track the locations and management of theatres, the movement of individuals and opera companies, and the public reactions and responses to their performances in the major cities of South and North America. These materials help us to transcend the violence of abstraction by putting a personal and individual contour onto the data, adding a human voice to the historic drama that the performers experiences represent.
1. El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 19 August 1895. British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive.
2. Jorge Basadre, Historia de la República del Perú (Lima, 1961-1968), Vol. IV, p. 1903, BL shelfmark: W31/3274. Basadre points out that this debut occurred during a period of heightened indigenismo in Lima. A zarzuela differs from an opera in that it intersperses the music and singing with sections of unaccompanied spoken verse. Vera Wolkowicz views the huayno and yaraví as part of the early foundation of national Peruvian music, and cites Pasta as the first composer of any nationality to incorporate Andean folk elements into his compositions. Vera Wolkowicz, Inca Music Reimagined: Indigenist Discourses in Latin American Art Music (Oxford University Press, 2022) p. 57.
3. Carlo Civallero, “Gazzetino di Genova,” 29 November and 9 Dicembre, in: Appolonio e Caprin, L'Arte: Rassegna di teatri, scienzi e lettere con annessa Agenzia. Trieste, 30 November 1875 No. 33, p. 3 and 13 December 1875, No. 34, p. 3.
4. On August 6, 2015, Lima’s Gran Teatro Nacional hosted a resurrected performance of Pasta’s Atahualpa for the first time since the nineteenth century. El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 7 August 2015. British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive.
5. El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 9 October 1887, British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive. The Hotel de Francia é Inglaterra was located at 204 Calle Judíos.
6. John Rosselli has identified a number of seasonal patterns to this movement, which he categorizes into three distinct circuits: 1) Austral America (including Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina), 2) the Circum-Caribbean, including Havana, Caracas, and major cities in the Eastern United States, and 3) a Pacific circuit extending from Mexico up to San Francisco and down through Central America to Peru and Chile. John Roselli, “The Opera Business and the Italian Immigrant Community in Latin America 1820-1930: The Example of Buenos Aires.” Past & Present, May, 1990, No. 127, pp 165-166.
7. Robert Stevenson’s Foundations of New World Opera (Lima: Pacific Press, 1973) BL shelfmark YM.1991.b.9 and Chad Gasta’s Transatlantic Arias: Early Opera in Spain and the New World (Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2013) BL shelfmark YD.2014.a.786, identify Peru as a center of early New World Opera through the eighteenth century, but scholars of nineteenth century opera tend to overlook Peru.
8. Moncloa y Covarrubias often used the pen name M. Cloamón. M. Cloamón, “De telón adentro,” El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 29 May, 1896, British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive. His extensive Diccionario teatral del Perú (Badiola y Berrio, 1905) offers a vital foundation for identifying specific Italian opera performers at a date and theatre in Lima, and identifying their company and the works they performed.
9. Enrica Jemma Glickman, “Italian Dramatic Companies and the Peruvian Stage in the 1870s,” Latin American Theatre Review, Spring 1973, p. 43; Manuel Moncloa y Covarrubias, Mujeres de teatro: apuntes, perfiles, y recuerdos (Callao, Imp. El Progreso, 1910) p. 11.
10. Jorge Basadre, Historia de la República del Perú (Lima, 1961-1968), Vol. II, p. 399, BL shelfmark W31/3272.
11. Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) 8 June 1837. British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive; Katherine K. Preston, Opera on the Road: Traveling Opera Troupes in the United States, 1825-60. (Music in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993) pp. 113-117, BL shelfmark 93/24434.
12. Felipe Pardo y Aliaga, “Opera y nacionalismo,” in: El espejo de mi tierra. Edición y estudio preliminar de Alberto Tauro (Lima: Editorial Universo, 1971) pp. 74-89, BL shelfmark X.907/12764.
13. José Manuel Izquierdo Konig details the process of constructing the Teatro Victoria in: “The Invention of an Opera House: The 1844 Teatro Victoria in Valparaiso, Chile,” Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 32, 2021, p. 140.
14. Anales de la Universidad de Chile: memorias científicas y literarias, Volume 18 (Universidad de Chile, 1861) p. 603, BL shelfmark Ac.2693.
15. Moncloa y Covarrubias, Diccionario teatral del Perú (Badiola y Berrio, 1905) p. 51.
16. Manuel Mañon, Historia del Teatro Principal de México (México, 1932) p. 209, BL shelfmark, 11795.tt.36; “Stranded Opera Company Reorganizes.” New York Times (1857-1922); Oct 24, 1899.
17. Richard Langham Smith and Clair Rowden, eds. Carmen Abroad: Bizet's Opera on the Global Stage (Cambridge University Press, 2020) p. 162, BL shelfmark YC.2022.b.205.
23 November 2022
The British Library has digitised and made available online the only known copy of Una Marson’s pioneering play ‘At What a Price’ (1932).
Una Maud Marson was born in Jamaica in 1905. Throughout her lifetime she would live and work in the Caribbean, the UK and the USA. An editor, poet, playwright, activist, writer and BBC producer, Marson had a versatile and prolific career. The phenomenal breadth and range of Una Marson’s creative and critical outputs are yet to be fully appreciated, but there has been a recent renewed interest in the contributions she made to the cultural landscape of the British Empire and North America. Una Marson was the subject of a BBC production, Una Marson: Our Lost Caribbean Voice, which brought to life her incredible career and creations. Many of those creations can be found here, in the British Library, including her poetry collections. However, some of her works are a little harder to find.
Through a recent project at the British Library, the Eccles Centre for American Studies has been supporting the research of Professor Kate Dossett and her project ‘Black Cultural Archives & the Making of Black Histories’. Part of this project involved examining the Lord Chamberlain’s Play’s (LCP) collection for plays produced in Britain written by Black playwrights. The LCP’s are the largest collection of manuscripts in the British Library. The collection consists of plays collected by the Office of the Lord Chamberlain from the years 1824 to 1968. They were collected because the censorship laws which existed at the time specified that plays had to be approved for a licence before a performance. This collection therefore provides an illuminating record of drama performed in the UK up to 1968. The research project has utilised this collection to find and promote the, often hidden, work of Black theatre makers in the early twentieth century.
One of the plays within the collection is Una Marson’s, ‘At What a Price’. Marson first wrote this play whilst living in Jamaica where it staged in 1932. The play was so successful that she used the profits to travel to London, England, where it was staged before British audiences. In London she got involved in anti-racist activism and became secretary to the League of Coloured Peoples, which fought for racial equality in the UK. The league and its founder, Harold Moody, sponsored Marson’s London production of her play in 1933. Yet, despite its international popularity no copy of the play’s script is known to have survived beyond the one kept in the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays collection.
The play follows Ruth Maitland, a young Jamaican woman who moves from the countryside to Kingston, Jamaica, to work as a stenographer where she is pursued by a white Englishman. The play examines women’s agency in love and work, as well as issues of interracial relations and sexual harassment. The unique play script that Una Marson and her production team sent to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office has now been digitised in its entirety and has been made accessible through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. Researchers can now view this play and the related reader’s report from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office which outlines the department’s response in terms of whether the play was suitable for licensing. These images are available to view here.
With the digitisation of this play and related Lord Chamberlain’s Office correspondence, we hope to preserve and widen access to Una Marson’s many and varied cultural outputs. With the digitisation of this play, and others created by black theatre makers, researchers and audiences can discover ways in which black playwrights across the British Empire and Americas were frequently creating new cultural narratives and were at the forefront of movements for change that were an integral part of the British theatrical landscape in the early 20th century.
Jessica Gregory, Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts
Digitisation funded by the Eccles Centre for American Studies.
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