American Collections blog

12 posts categorized "Guides"

04 February 2014

Federal Writers' Project publications

Wikimedia Commons, provided by the National Archives and Records Administration

The Federal Writers’ Project was established by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1935 – six years into the Great Depression. At its peak it provided employment for more than 7,500 writers, editors, historians and other white collar workers.

Yet while its primary aim was to provide economic relief, the Project’s highly ambitious first Director, Henry Alsberg, regarded it as a means by which to vividly document America’s rapidly changing cultural landscape.

Today, the Project is perhaps best known for its American Guide Series – a set of travel guides to the 48 states, plus Alaska territory, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Unlike traditional guides, these included not only driving tours documenting what could be found at every stop, but long photographic essays detailing the economic, cultural and historical resources of each state. All but a few of these are held by the British Library, as are many of the regional, county, city and town guides that were also produced.

Festivals in San Francisco

Festivals of San Francisco,  James Ladd Delkin [in association with] Stanford University, 1939. Printed at the Grabhorn Press. This particularly fine edition was part of a gift of 90 American imprints to the Eccles Centre in 2002 from Princeton University Library to celebrate the 90th birthday of Lady Eccles.

In addition to the guides, the Project produced ethnic studies such as The Italians of New York (shelfmark: L.70/641) and The Armenians of Massachusetts (shelfmark: YA.1991.a.15502); urban and rural folklore collections, including Nebraska Folklore (shelfmark: X.700/21082) and Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies among the Georgia Coastal Negroes (shelfmark: 010007.h.70); and nature studies.

The Project also collected the narratives of more than 2,300 former slaves in seventeen states, although most of these remained unseen until the multi-volume The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography was published in the 1970s (refer to guide below).

The Library’s extensive holdings are listed in The Federal Writers' Project: a guide to material held at the British Library.


17 April 2012

Sheila Rowbotham, Writer in Residence: From Whitman to The Wire


Sheila Rowbotham’s non-fiction Rebel Crossings: New Women, Free Lovers and Radicals in the US and Britain 1880 to 1910, will trace a small network of British and American radicals during the turn of the century

Prof. Rowbotham

Sheila Rowbotham is one of the two Eccles Centre Writers in Residence at the British Library for 2012.  Professor Rowbotham has written widely on women's history and is working on her next book, Rebel Crossings: New Women, Free Lovers and Radicals in the US and Britain 1880 to 1910, which will trace a small network of British and American radicals during the turn of the century.  Together with the other Writer in Residence, Naomi Wood, she will be posting to the Team Americas blog during her stay.

Four decades ago I discovered a book in the  Reader’s Room of the British  Museum, as it was then, edited by an American anarchist and Whitman enthusiast, Helen Tufts, in memory of her English  friend from Bristol, Helena Born. It was called Helena Born: Whitman’s Ideal Democracy and printed in Boston in 1902. Helen Tufts had only 500 copies done. Her friend was not a celebrity, but she was determined that a memory would live on.

I was researching the British socialist campaigner for homosexual rights, Edward Carpenter, and was intrigued by the account of how Helena Born bees-waxed her  home in  9 Louisa  Street, St Phillips, a poor working class area where she had chosen to live when Carpenter visited early in 1890. She was trying to live simply, absorbed in a great surge of union militancy in the city which brought women cotton  workers out on strike.

Later that year Born migrated to Boston with her friend Miriam Daniell, along with Daniell’s lover Robert Allan Nicol . Their baby, ‘Sunrise’ was born out of wedlock in the US and they became involved in a circle of Individualist anarchists around the journal Liberty.

I could not imagine back in the 1970s that so many years on I would still be pursuing them as an Eccles Centre/British Library  Writer in Residence and writing a book about them called  Rebel Crossings for Verso Books.

I kept coming across small pieces of information about Helena Born, Miriam Daniell and other new women who joined the socialist movement in Bristol in the late 1880s and 90s.

They would re-enter my life through Carpenter again when I began writing a biography of him.  But even when Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love was published I had no plan to write about the Bristol rebels who migrated to the States.

I was pulled in gradually, intrigued by the growing files I was accumulating on them and encouraged by the enthusiasm and help of friends in both countries. The drama of their lives fascinated me, so did the ‘crossings’ between countries, political boundaries, social classes and conventions.  Ideas as well as people migrated, travelling by word of mouth, letters, journals, books.

Since I became  a Writer in Residence this January I have been discovering the extent of the British Library’s North American holdings which the Eccles Centre for American Studies aims to promote.  These are vast. Along with newspapers and periodicals there are collections on women, immigration, Anti-Slavery, the West... the list could go on and on.

At first I roamed through catalogues, eventually settling down to explore the broader context of Boston in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Jean Petrovic’s Selective Guide to Materials at the British Library, 'The American City in the Twentieth Century' proved invaluable. See

I have embarked on the geography, social composition, architecture, race relations, politics and culture of the city my rebels migrated into through reading books and Boston newspapers online.

When not travelling in my head to Boston, I have been checking into Baltimore. Belatedly through my son I have become a fan of ‘The Wire’. I resisted when everyone else was watching it. No, I wasn’t interested in cops and robbers stories. I struggled with the plots and difficult sentence construction at first but then was hooked. These police in ‘The Wire’ are just like historians after all slowly piecing together all those bits of information. Oh for a Wire on nineteenth century Bostons anarchists, socialists, new women and Whitmanites!


13 September 2011

USA: Olympic Rugby Champions

Last weekend saw the start of the seventh Rugby World Cup. The Americas are well represented in the competition with three teams in the finals. I thought I’d take the opportunity to see what titles in our collection that explore the development of rugby union in the American continent. Arming myself with the Rugby Compendium [BL shelfmark: HLR 796.333 Open Access] compiled by John M. Jenkins (no relation) to see if it could offer any possible hints.  

September 11th saw the U.S. Eagles' first match of the tournament, against Ireland. The U.S. are currently the Olympic champions, beating France in the final of the 1924 Paris Olympics. This was the last time rugby union was included a competitive sport in the Olympics, though the Berlin Olympics did put it on has an exhibition event. The development of rugby union in the U.S. seems to focus on the West Coast, and the title California Football History by “Brick” Morse, 1937 [BL shelfmark: X.622/20122] appears to be a useful if brief introduction.

Turning to Canada, who have developed as a team recent years from their involvement in the Churchill Cup where they play their southern neighbour and the England “Saxons” regularly. As with the U.S. rugby union in Canada, plays third of forth fiddle to other sports although the lineage of the Canadian Rugby Football Union dates back to 1884. The tome Canada learns to play : the emergence of organized sport, 1807-1914, Allan Metcalfe, 1987, [BL shelfmark: YL.1989.a.1808]  covers the development of sports in nineteenth-century Canada.

As a number of teams have found out to their cost in previous World Cups, you cannot underestimate Argentina, whose prowess on the field shows through time and again. They were unlucky not to prevail in the Pool B clash with England on Saturday last.   The British influence in Argentine sport can be traced in Victor Raffo’s El origen británico del deporte argentino : atletismo, cricket, fútbol, polo, remo, rugby durante las presidencia de Mitre, Sarmiento y Avellaneda 2004 [BL shelfmark: YF.2006.a.19585].

Enjoy the World Cup!


08 August 2011

A Research Guide to Secondary Sources on the American Fifties

Maro, our current ERASMUS intern has been busy over the last few weeks.  One of the first fruits is this bibliography of secondary materials on the USA in the 1950s. The Library holds most of these titles, but we will endeavour to fill the gaps over the next few months. 

Maro has broken the period into a number of themes, and has added a few introductory remarks about what she sees as the tenor of the age:

Download 1950s USA Bibliography [.pdf; 240kb]

See also our Guides and Bibliographies page.

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