American Collections blog

133 posts categorized "History"

23 July 2020

The Perils of Diplomatic Protection in the Early 19th Century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources consulted:

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

Further reading:

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

 

21 July 2020

Tracing the History of Northern Ontario at the British Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

 

16 July 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References: 

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

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

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

 

14 July 2020

Colonial Training in Canada

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

My research focuses on Victorian emigration societies as well as migration infrastructures such as colonial training centres for female and male emigrants.  In the second half of the 19th century, the growing need for qualified emigrants to people the British Empire led to the creation of colonial training centres for gentlemen and gentlewomen in Britain as well as in the colonies.

My study mainly focuses on the British Women’s Emigration Association (1884–1919).  Its periodical, The Imperial Colonist (Figure 1), being completely accessible at the British Library, my Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship allowed me to study the journal in depth and focus on the articles relating experiences of colonial training.

Cover of The Imperial Colonist periodical, from January 1905. Illustrated with a drawing of the British Imperial State crown, and a Union Jack flag.
Fig. 1: The Imperial Colonist: The Official Organ of the British Women's Emigration Association and the South African Expansion Committee (January 1905). British Library shelfmark: P.P.3773.fa.

Opened in 1874, the Ontario Agricultural College only accommodated male students until the founding of the MacDonald Institute of Domestic Science for women in 1903.  As young women increasingly left rural Ontario for the urban centres, the MacDonald Institute was expected to increase the appeal of rural life for young men and women.  The objective was to sustain rural life and solve the problem of untrained immigrants in Canada. As such, this training centre addressed concerns of the time: rural depression, colonial productivity and the surplus of women in Britain.  The women involved in such emigrant training ranged from the upper-working class to the upper middle-class.  Many were impoverished upper middle-class or educated upper-working class women and their migration was marked by social mobility.

At the Macdonald Institute, women were taught physiology and food science using chemical testing to determine the food structures, but also food economics to improve the health of the population and overcome poverty, and a growing interest in dietetics is evidenced by the emigrants’ careers.  In 1901, only 6% of British women held occupations in farming, and they were mostly represented in small-scale farming and horticulture.  Advocated by female activists, one solution to the surplus of women question was to open up women’s employment in agriculture and horticulture across the Empire.

Although there were training schools for emigrants in Britain, the colonial authorities were convinced that women could learn better in the colonies.  In 1909, Mary Urie Watson, director of the MacDonald Institute, wrote to the British Women’s Emigration Association to object to the training given to emigrants in Britain before departure.  She proposed setting up courses supervised by colonists in Britain, completed by training in the colonies.1  So, a farm house opened in Surrey, managed by a graduate from the MacDonald Institute, and it replicated Canadian domestic conditions in a course ‘for home makers overseas.’2

The Macdonald Institute worked closely with the British Women’s Emigration Association and in 1904 a scheme was set up to train Englishwomen as housekeepers for Canadian life.  Yet, the scheme was expensive and many emigrants actually only used the opportunity to gain free passage to Canada.  Whereas some emigrants had signed a contract binding them to work for free at the Macdonald Institute in exchange for free education and board, many directly moved to Canada without setting foot at the Macdonald Institute. After the Great War, the Macdonald Institute’s training was mostly offered to Ontario students to increase the quality of life in rural homes.  Similarly, British male students at the Ontario Agricultural College represented 10.5% of all students between 1874 and 1899, and this proportion decreased to 4.8% between 1900 and 1929.

Agricultural training provided higher education for women, yet it remained home-based and in keeping with the macro-narrative on women’s role in society and in the household. Hence, the Macdonald Institute may also have been founded to encourage rural marriages as the Minister of Agriculture declared in 1904: ‘I want some one [sic] to love the girls who come to the Macdonald Institute’ to which journalist James Creelman replied ‘The College boys will do that.’4  Indeed, male and female students regularly met during mixed classes in the Ontario Agricultural College buildings and at the library.

Yet, gender segmentation was reflected in the very building of the MacDonald Institute, which was on the Ontario Agricultural College campus in Guelph, but on a hill and separated from the rest of the Ontario Agricultural College campus as well as the city,5 as the map below from the British Library shows.  As such, the female students were both close enough to access the Ontario Agricultural College and the city, but protected from unwanted influence.

An illustrated bird's eye view of the Agricultural College buildings and fields used for experimental farming.
Fig. 2: A Bird's Eye View of the Ontario Agricultural College and Experimental Farm, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Guelph, 1904. British Library shelfmark: 1865.c.14.(6.)

In conclusion, the study of colonial training centres highlights the development of scientific education for women as a response to pressing concerns about the health and welfare of the nation.  Yet, the figures show that the Macdonald Institute did not train a high number of British immigrants, but farming and gardening became career options for unmarried gentlewomen in this period.  This was promoted by British female activists such as Jessie Boucherett and Frances Power Cobbe who were convinced that solutions were to be found at home before considering emigration.  The Macdonald Institute represented a tool in the campaign for female emancipation and imperialist propaganda, and paved the way for women’s scientific education.

Dr Marie Ruiz, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow 2019, is Associate Professor at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne, Amiens, France.

Notes

1. ‘MacDonald Institute,’ The Imperial Colonist, April 1909, 57.  (British Library shelfmark: P.P.3773.fa.)
2. N. C. Goldie, ‘Overseas Training School for Women,’ The Imperial Colonist, May 1914, 79.  (British Library shelfmark: P.P.3773.fa.) 
3. James Snell, Macdonald Institute: Remembering the Past, Embracing the Future. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2003, 69.
4. ‘Locals,’ The O.A.C. Review, vol. XVII, n° 3, December 1904, 211. (Available courtesy University of Guelph:  https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/handle/10214/13600)
5. Mary Margaret Wilson, ‘Cooking the books: curriculum and subjectivity at the MacDonald Institute for Domestic Science, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 1903-1920’ (PhD thesis: University of Toronto, 2007), 143.

Suggestions for further reading:

Hammerton, James A. (1979) Emigrant Gentlewomen: Genteel Poverty and Female Emigration, 1830–1914. London: Croom Helm. (British Library shelfmark: DRT ELD.DS.79088) 
Opitz, Donald L. (2013) "'A Triumph of Brains over Brute': Women and Science at the Horticultural College, Swanley, 1890-1910" Isis 104: 30-62. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 4583.000000) 
Opitz, Donald L., S. Bergwik, and B. Van Tiggelen, eds. (2016) Domesticity in the Making of Modern Science. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (British Library shelfmark: DRT ELD.DS.300766) 
Ruiz, Marie (2017) British Female Emigration Societies and the New World (1860-1914). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (Brtish Library shelfmark: DRT ELD.DS.437310) 
Wilson, Mary Margaret (2007) 'Cooking the books: curriculum and subjectivity at the MacDonald Institute for Domestic Science, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 1903-1920'. PhD Thesis: University of Toronto.

09 July 2020

The Black and Indigenous presence in the story of how Breadfruit came to the Caribbean

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

'As the heirs of two oceanic histories, we are conscious of the …challenges… the Atlantic and the Pacific represented to our respective ancestors. We are committed to nurturing and supporting the techniques of survivance that have led us to find each other.' Teresia Teaiwa1

How Breadfruit came to be loved in Xamayca/Jamaica became part of my Eccles Fellowship focusing on the North American and Caribbean collections at the British Library.  In my larger project, I chose to explore the ways in which existing historiography has erased (or occluded) the interrelationships between Black Caribbean and Indigenous peoples by reading in between the silences in colonial voyage narratives.  I contemplate the spaces between Black and Indigenous people’s parallel and intersecting histories of displacement, migration and decolonial struggles.  I seek stories of our encounters that have been ignored in academic texts or situated at a distance geographically or categorically in archived records.  My focus is on the traces of contested and still largely unwritten relationships as key to current discussions about Black freedom and Indigenous sovereignty if we “were not, even in the situations of the most extreme brutality, sealed off hermetically from one another”.2

In this essay, I offer a compass with which to navigate memories, geography, sacrifice, death through the entry point of Tahitian breadfruit brought by ship into the Caribbean.  I continue to be inspired by the late Teresia Teaiwa (African American and I-Kiribati), who embodies an Atlantic-Pacific connection reflected in much of her academic scholarship and poetic works; reminding us of the imposed amnesia and the need to undo its erasures.

so it’s easy to forget
that there’s life and love and learning
between
asia and america
there’s an ocean
and in this ocean
the stepping stones
are
getting real
Teaiwa, “AmneSIA”3

The first beloved place of breadfruit is in my maternal grandmother’s backyard in Constant Spring, Jamaica – a lone tree I remember while seated in carousel 333 of the British Library’s Rare Books and Music Room.  I find myself travelling back and forth, through space and time and through archival texts, seeking Teresia’s stepping stones and finding the footprints of two Ma’ohi (Tahitian) men who touched down from the HMS Providence after months of sailing from the Pacific to land in Jamaica in 1793.  I imagine them walking through the first place of contact – Port Henderson where my mother-line’s sea faring people still live.  Their second land fall was Port Morant to travel overland to Bath...

Section of a map of St Thomas, Jamaica, with many places and towns marked, both on the coast and inland.
Map of Jamaica, prepared for The Jamaica Handbook, under the direction of Thomas Harrison, Gov't Surveyor, by Colin Liddell, 1895. Digitized copy from National Library of Jamaica, Flickr. Also held at the British Library (Cartographic items: C.F.S.178)

... definitely passing through Airy Castle where my father’s people have landed history rooted by three Oteheite (ayyah) trees that bore deep purple-skinned fruit legendary in size and sweetness.  Raised in Jamaica on breadfruit and apples made possible by their Ma’ohi traditional knowledge that crossed into the Caribbean, I listen for echoes of these two men’s footfall as I read a copy of The Log of H.M.S Providence by W. Bligh in the Manuscripts room on the 2nd floor of the British Library.4

Bound copy of log with the spine presented brown with gold writing of title and author backgrounded by maroon squares
W. Bligh, The Log of the H.M.S. Providence, 1791- 1793. (British Library, MS Facsimile 832 (1976)).

Bligh – the celebrated naval captain of Bounty and Providence fame – instructed the crew to make sure that Tahitians were not to be told about the reason for the acquisition of the breadfruit.

Against this silence, I ask – so, to what purpose?

Within the library catalogue I found the oft overlooked work of an accomplished Jamaican botanist - the late Dulcie Powell and her careful attention to the plant genealogy of Jamaican botanical gardens, and the people behind it.  Powell’s work, 'The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, H.M.S. Providence, 1791-1793', gives the reader the economic context to understand what drove British captains’ military and commercial ventures, coded as “botany research” and “exploration” – each opened with devastating military violence towards Pacific Indigenous peoples, appropriated plants then brought Tahitians and their intellectual acumen to the Atlantic and into the Caribbean.5  She includes an extract from writing by the well-known planter Bryan Edwards of 15,000 deaths of Black people trapped between the violence of enslavement and environmental catastrophes:

THIS NUMBER WE FIRMLY BELIEVE TO HAVE PERISHED OF FAMINE, OR OF THE DISEASES CONTRACTED
BY SCANTY AND UNWHOLESOME DIET BETWEEN THE LATER END OF 1780 AND THE BEGINNING OF 1787.6

This key excerpt from Edwards shows that the bedrock of the introduction of breadfruit to Jamaica was part of the British global imperial project, and that the breadfruit’s purpose was to sustain the life of Black people in Jamaica – solely for reaping profit from slavery.

But what about introductions between people?

The two men Maititi (Mydidee, Mideedee) and Paupo (Bobbo, Pappo) are first introduced to the reader through Bligh’s logs: the former styled as a Tahitian emissary, the other as a Tahitian stowaway.  I note Captain Bligh’s first awareness of Paupo was part of a critical decision as to whether he lives or dies.

Page of the Providence log where the quotation is located.
W. Bligh, The Log of the H.M.S. Providence, 1791- 1793. (British Library MS Facsimile 832 (1976)).

                                         To my astonishment I found a man who had always been collecting with the botanists secreted between decks… and I had not the heart to make him jump overboard… I conceived he might be useful in Jamaica...therefore directed he should be under the care of the botanists... (July 18, 1792)7

Here, his name is not revealed on a long voyage that depended on many other racialized people who remained seen but also unnamed while assisting the survival of the floating Plant Nursery in safe harbours from storms and fresh water supplies as they sailed from the Pacific to the Caribbean.  However, my central quest is Maititi and Paupo’s moment of arrival and any evidence of their encounters with people of African descent in Jamaica.  Only some details are known to us, as we have to rely on 3rd Lieutenant Tobin, who observed Feb 5th, 1793 as the day Maititi and Paupo were on deck to see those “for which the benefit the voyage was chiefly promoted” – the Black people who “were loud in their praises and were constantly paddling around her [the Providence] in their canoes.”8

What might these Ma’ohi men’s thoughts have been about the excitement from the canoes or upon meeting the eyes of the paddlers?  Did the paddlers notice the two men?

My reading of eighteenth-century ship’s log and crew diaries is informed by these questions – questions hardly considered at the time.  In order to make visible Paupo’s landfall in Jamaica, I examine a few additional moments from Bligh’s log and find details that only relate to his relationship with the project through being listed as their ‘Otaheitian friend’ and an unpaid responsibility of Gardener Wiles who had agreed to stay on in Jamaica at Bath at £200 per annum.9  These logs render invisible and silent people of African descent who were the majority of the population: the records scarcely show any detail of these enslaved workers except in ledgers where their masters were paid for allowing them to be hired out for labour in the botanical garden.

However, finally a surprise encounter.

Somewhere in the months between landing in Jamaica and sailing for England to deliver the remainder of the botanical collection to Kew, Tobin writes this undated observation of Paupo in Jamaica:

...having many quarrels with an old negroe nurse who attended him – one day when she was oversolicitous [sic] for him to eat, after making several ineffectual attempts to explain to her that he required nothing, in rather an angry tone he said Aimak mad oboo peyak peyak “I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear telling her “she might perhaps find room in his head”.10

Seventeen months away from Tahiti, this singular encounter was retold by a third party as a partial exchange of words, strong feelings and touch between a young ailing Paupo and a senior Black healer.  I re-read the gesture and the translation and found myself move slowly from elation to unease.  In other fleeting moments Paupo is described as cheerful; yet here his exchange seems fraught.  The translation of his words is unreliable, the touch and exchange ascribed layered with complexity.

Nine months after Ma’ohi Paupo arrived to Xamayca –in the Caribbean Sea – Wiles reported Paupo’s death in The Royal Gazette printed 27th of October 1793 (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384) and that his last days he refused food, refused to speak before succumbing to ill health.  There is no known marker to signal his resting place as part of the land at Bath; far from his island which Powell described as “about as far south of the Equator as Jamaica is north…and their climates are therefore similar”.11  However, it was not similar, neither in area nor, more importantly, in social climate.

The pages of the newspaper reflect a snapshot of this climate – his obituary placed beside a report of trade business, a military report and lists of Black ancestors who are ill and enslaved or featured in runaway ads and workhouses.  This returns us to the question of what could Paupo’s relationship have been to the enslaved community, perhaps through being cared for by that nurse?  Would the cost of his keep have become associated with the ‘negro labour’ ledger lines for the garden?  Could one speculate he might have had a sense of being estranged from the system Black people surrounding him were chained within?

“I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear

What more could have been recorded?

Instead, it is easiest to know more about the thoughts of the leadership of the plantocracy behind the Providence project.  The Royal Gazette stated:

…In less than twenty years, the chief article of sustenance for our Negroes will be entirely changed; - plantains, yams, cocoa, and coffee, will be cultivated only as subsidiary, and used merely for change; whilst the breadfruit, gaining firm hold in the earth by the toughness and strength of its root, will bid defiance to storms.12

Official letters stating the plants did well came from Wiles who reported regularly to his patron Joseph Banks of their progress; in October 1793 they were “thriving with astonishing vigor” on the eastern side of the island.  Wiles found “everyone exceeding anxious to get plants of it,” although some “old conceited & prejudiced [enslaved] creoles” said they preferred plantains and yams.13

In truth, Breadfruit survived but took decades to become part of everyday people’s preferred local diet.14  I continue to wonder sometimes if by chance, in those brief months whether Paupo had time to personally introduce breadfruit preparation to the healer’s community?  What would that have looked like–practical trade or tentative trust-building?  Or like breadfruit; in the healer’s mind was Paupo separate and associated with a garden of unfamiliar plants and closer to the owners in an enslaved society?

The difficult purpose of this small essay is to reframe Paupo’s story within the context of the Black population.  Yes, slavery and hunger were the terrible impetus of our forgotten introduction to Tahitians who brought uru and other botanical riches of the Pacific.  The difficult social climate that structures his introduction to the healer I overcome by thinking about a Tahitian story in a time before time as we know it.  It is said a Ma’ohi family survived a famine when the father transformed himself - with hands becoming leaves; arms and body, the trunk and branches; his head – the breadfruit in the place known now as Tua’uru – the Place of Breadfruit.15  I think of this as I consider how this plant was transported in 1793 to deal with starvation in the Caribbean.  Today, uru lives – included when Jamaicans state the word ‘food’ defined as specific reference to the circle of beloved ground provisions our Black ancestors refused to abandon even in those hard times.

Breadfruit.

First in the Valley of Tua’uru then in Bath, St. Thomas with Paupo - a Ma’ohi stone within the Jamaican landscape. Māuruuru.

Nadine Chambers, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, is a PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London.

References

1 Teaiwa, Teresia; Ojeya Banks, Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Courtney-Savali Leiloa Andrews, Alisha Lola Jones, and April K Henderson. ‘Black and Blue in the Pacific: Afro-Diasporic Women Artists on History and Blackness.’ Amerasia Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, (2017), pp. 145-193. (British Library shelfmarks: Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(1); Document Supply 0809.655000; )

2 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993, p. 2. (British Library shelfmark: YC.1994.b.3724.)

3 Teresia Teaiwa, ‘We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 19:2 (2017), p. 133-136. (British Library shelfmark: ZC.9.a.5571)

4 William Bligh, The Log of HMS Providence, 1791-1793 (British Library, MS Facsimile 832 (1976).

5 Dulcie Powell, ‘The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, HMS Providence, 1791-1793,’ Economic Botany, vol. 31.4 (1977): 387-431. (British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply 3651.700000; Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(10))

6 B. Edwards, The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies. Dublin, 1793, Vol. 2. Dublin, capitals in the original.(British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 44458])

7 Bligh, ibid. 

8 Journal of Lieutenant George Tobin on HMS Providence 1791 -1793, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/_transcript/2011/D04424/a1220.htm [accessed online July 2, 2020].

9 Bligh, ibid.

10 Journal of Lieutenant Tobin, ibid.

11 Dulcie Powell, ibid.

12 The Royal Gazette, Feb 9, 1792 – Misc section, unknown publisher Kingston, Jamaica. (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384)

13 Wiles quoted in Newell, Jennifer. Trading Nature: Tahitians, Europeans, and Ecological Exchange. University of Hawaii Press, 2010. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply m10/21589 )

14 Higman, Barry W. Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture. Kingston, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2008. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2009.b.918)

15 Henry, Teuira and John Muggridge Orsmond. Ancient Tahiti. Honolulu: B.P Bishop Museum, 1928. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6245/3.(48.))

07 July 2020

Dancing in the archives...

This post by Robert Hylton is the first in a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.

In the early 1980s this thing called hip hop suddenly arrived in the UK from North America through videos like Malcolm McLaren's Buffalo Gals (1982) and films such as Wild Style (1983).  It marked the start of a global cultural change and, unbeknown to me, would help develop my future world as a choreographer, researcher and teacher.

In time, my curiosity would take me beyond the South Bronx of the 1970s to '50s jazz dance, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and, eventually, minstrelsy.

An African American woman and man Lindy Hopping; the woman is wearing a long sleeved blouse, a striped skirt and white plimsolls while the man is wearing a long sleeve shirt and dungarees that are tight at the waist and full in the leg
Willa Mae Ricker and Leon James dancing the Lindy Hop, Life, 23 August 1943; shelfmark P.P.6383.cke

Minstrelsy and blackface was something I was aware of growing up in the 1970s as a mixed race child in the North East of England: The Black and White Minstrel Show was still on TV and racial relics were never far away.  Years later I began looking past the racially charged media of minstrelsy, seeing instead an innovative dance form which laid the foundations not only for hip hop dance but for entertainment as we know it today.  And so I began to ponder on the question: What happened before minstrelsy?  Which is what brought me to the Eccles Centre and the British Library.

My approach at the Library was to explore African diaspora dance practices in the United States from the early 1800s.  My prior knowledge of African based social dances was mostly limited to the 20th century and I knew there was so much more: More threads and meeting points detailing the myriad ways in which the African diaspora experience was carried to the US, became fractured and disrupted through slavery, and morphed into gospel, blues, ragtime, jazz, funk and hip hop.  My research enabled me to understand how African dance, including Gelede and Calenda, were exchanged and disrupted through gatherings such as corn shucking meets, leading in turn to secular dances like the turkey trot and the camel walk. 

An advert for a minstrel show, depicting a group of around 15 people singing and dancing in the moonlight by the side of a river
The Big Black Boom. Her Majesty's Theatre, Westminster c. 1878. Shelfmark: Evan.273 (Image taken from a collection of pamphlets, handbills, and miscellaneous printed matter relating to Victorian entertainment and everyday life. Originally published/produced in London, 1800 - 1895)

The key thing I realised through this research, however, wasn't even about dance.  It was about how information was passed, gathered and coded through slavery.  It was about the interactions between different African practices. I began looking beyond West African traditional dance forms to broader African practices.  This led me to explore the Muslim experience within Africa, the United States and slavery.  One story I came across was that of a 35-year old male Muslim slave in Sierra Leone during the eighteenth century. Waiting in irons for departure, sometimes he would sing a melancholy song and sometimes a Muslim prayer.  The song would eventually arrive in America to be heard by other Africans who may not have understood Arabic. Yet the cadence, experience and emotion enabled an experience of empathy that transcended words.  It was decoded through human consciousness as emotional unity through sound and movement.  It was understood, or misunderstood, and developed identity, social communication and African American culture.  These rhythms and experiences would resurface and be remixed into early blues; a remix that I suggest echoes into the sampling culture of hip hop.

Traces of Muslim practice may also relate to the Ring Shout (ceremonial dance) and the Kaaba and walking anti clockwise as prayer.  These exchanges of different African cultures, through shared experience and slavery, led me to think more about the subtleties and nuances of human exchange, gesture, symbolism and the cadence of both sound and movement: how scales of emotion and the body being read and misread is very much part of human learning, social patterns and coded cultures.

The African diaspora experience of slavery is one of the most heartless in human history and yet people survived, grew and emerged.  Of course, resilience in itself is a built-in human trait but how many times must it be tested and inflicted from one human to another to the degree of slavery and many other forms of violence, where carried trauma and disrupted African experiences seem to be in constant recovery and where culture acts to navigate and find better ways of living.

I think this research more than anything has led me to a deeper understanding of cultural development, human exchange, histories (my own) and the traces of experience that we carry and that are passed through generations.  Which brings me to the present, to my own creative practice and towards Afro futurism and how one can begin to develop African diaspora history(s) through speculation as a way to navigate future possibilities.  My hope is to develop projects embedded in my Eccles Centre research through dance, hip hop, visual art and education, exploring the question: What is hip hop's place in the twenty first century?

Robert Hylton, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, 2019.

Suggested Reading:

Abbott, L and Seroff, D. Ragged but Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs," and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. (Shelfmark: m07/.15598 DSC)

Austin, A. African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles. New York; London: Routledge, 1997. (Shelfmark: YC.1997.a.3453) 

Diouf, S. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in The Americas. New York University Press, 1998. (Shelfmark: YC.1999.a.80)

Emory, E. Black Dance: From 1619 to Today. London: Dance, 1988. (Shelfmark: YM.1989.a.111) 

Gay, K. African American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations: the History, Customs, and Symbols Associated with Both Traditional and Contemporary Religious and Secular Events Observed by Americans of African Descent. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2007. (Shelfmark: YD.2007.a.7641)

Glass, B. African American Dance: An Illustrated History. Jefferson, N.C; London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2007. (Shelfmark: m07/.12508 DSC)

Hammer, J. Safi, O. The Cambridge Companion to American Islam. Cambridge University Press, 2013. (Shelfmark: YC.2014.a.828)

Robinson, D. Modern Moves: Dancing Race During the Ragtime and Jazz Eras. (Oxford; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015) (Shelfmark: YC.2015.a.12024)

Thompson, K. Ring Shout, Wheel About: the Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014) (Shelfmark: m14/.11623) 

Visual References:

Ring Shout: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQgrIcCtys0

Buzzard Lope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dGamWaYcLg

Audio Reference:

Alan Lomax Recordings - Levee Camp Holler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EH3jsnUo38

21 April 2020

Bernard and Mary Berenson at Villa I Tatti

On the first days of the lockdown, while making peace with the idea of being forced home by an enemy I couldn’t even see, confined in my cosy flat, and comforted by the pleasure of reading, I started leafing through my art books. I recalled those days, whose exquisiteness I was never enough aware at the time, when I had to lock myself in my room to prepare for my art history exams, back in the good old days of literary leisure as a university student.

 

Image of the painting The Compleat Angler by Arthur Hughes (1832-1915). The painting depicts a young woman lying on a meadow on the shore of a river, and dedicated to her readings
How I reimagine myself back in the good old days of literary leisure as university student. The Compleat Angler, Arthur Hugughes (1832-1915) Photo sourced by flickr uploaded by Amber Tree ©All rights reserved.

 

Among the very strict iconographic parameters, and names, and dates, and gallery details to be remembered by heart, there were those curious anecdotes that pleasantly livened up the monotony of the study routine. Today, I have certainly lost the pedantry of remembering the details but the anecdotes, I surely remember those, and so I recalled the story of Bernard and Mary Berenson.

I remember the story of how Bernard had been inspired to read more extensively the books of his library due to the confinement of a long period of isolation in his house, Villa I Tatti in Florence, and the story of his wife Mary. Ghost writer, art historian, suffragette, feminist and poet, and member of the Bloomsbury Group, together with her daughter Karin Stephen who had married Virginia Woolf’s brother, the story of Mary Berenson, has always fascinated me.

 

Black and white photographic portrait of Bernard and Mary Berenson at Friday’s Hill, Fernhurst, England. Around 1901. The photo shows the couple leaning on a low wall while looking at each other in a contemplative attitude
Bernard and Mary Berenson at Friday’s Hill, Fernhurst, England. Unknown photographer, 1901. Courtesy of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Biblioteca Berenson, I Tatti -The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Bernard and Mary Berenson papers, Photographs. Hollis No. olvwork178672.

 

Born Mary Withall Smith, from a couple of Quaker preachers from Pennsylvania, she was an art historian, and has been reassessed as an important author in her own right rather simply a ghost writer.

In 1885, after marrying the Scots-Irish barrister and political reformer, Frank Costelloe, Mary moved to England. Together with her parents, who had moved with her, she became very much involved in the social and intellectual life of the country, often hosting poets and philosophers such as Walt Whitman, with whom Mary was connected through mutual feelings of friendship and esteem for life1.

 

Black and white portrait of Maria wearing an elegant dress with fur trims, sitting on a chair, facing forward and holding her papers
Mary Berenson (née Smith) by unknown photographer. Albumen print on card, 1885. NPG Ax 160646. Sourced via ©National Portrait Gallery.

 

Mary had studied at the Harvard Annex, later Radcliffe College, a women’s liberal arts college and female counterpart to Harvard College, very well known for being the host of the late 19th century intellectual, art-inspired, and independent-minded female students2. Her personal inclination towards the arts, politics and culture were clearly stimulated in the Harvard intellectual environment. Supported by her feminist mother, Mary became involved in the women's movements in the United States and later in England, publishing articles and making speeches on feminism, suffrage and women in politics.

 

Black and white portrait of Mary on her horse Anticellere at Smith College in 1883
Mary Berenson (née Smith) on her horse Anticellere at Smith College by unknown photographer. Bromide copy print, 1883.NPG Ax160580. Sourced via ©National Portrait Gallery.

 

Not long after the marriage, probably displeased with it, and feeling constrained by the weight of the social convention, she abandoned the life of a devoted spouse and loving mother to return to her latent interests in art and design, and pursue a career in the arts. Focusing on art research, Mary rapidly became an art authority with a prolific output of journal articles, and particularly after the publication of a pamphlet, in 1894, on the history of the Italian paintings at Hampton Court, a work strongly influenced by the presence in her life of her mentor Bernard Berenson, whom she met in 18903.

The common passion for the Italian Renaissance art, and the several journeys to the continent and in particular to Italy, where Mary studied art under Bernard’s tutorage, made the couple fall in love with each other. By that time, Mary was energetically committed to work on Bernard’s projects and his public image, contributing to his essays, and writing reviews promoting his publications, and eventually moving to Florence to Bernard’s estate Villa I Tatti.

“… she played a major role in the writing of the Venetian Painters of The Renaissance, which listed Bernard as the sole author due to the social delicacy of their association … she published less as she devoted more of her energy to supporting Bernard's work (Mary Berenson)”4.

With such an established and undisputed calibre of art scholarship, it will not be difficult to imagine how the role of Mary in Bernard's works has been widely re-evaluated in the latest years. It appears now, that her hand in Bernard’s writing production and fame, is unquestionable.

***

Colour photograph of the terrace garden at Villa I Tatti, Florence, taken in 1925 by Frances Benjamin Johnson (1864-1952)
Villa I Tatti, Ponte a Mensola, Settignano, Florence. Frances Benjamin Johnson (1864-1952) photographer. Photo taken sometimes in 1925, from the album “Gardening in colour”, The Library of Congress, prints & Photographs Division. Sourced via flickr.

 

During WWII, Bernard Berenson, a Jewish American, and one of the most influential art critics of his time, was forced to live as refugee in his own house, Villa I Tatti, a beautiful countryside estate in Settignano, Florence, for around one year.

“With the war upon him, B. B. faced a terrifying future. In time of crisis some people go to church, some take to drink, others simply run away. B. B. turned to his library … His library is his fortress and is filled with the smoke of the battle raging outside"*.

In 1942, confined to an indefinite period of isolation when it was not safe to be a Jewish-American living in the Italian peninsula, protected by the American ambassador in Italy and by the people of the town, he challenged himself to a more extensive reading of his library, believing this would help him to stop from thinking too much about the war and all its consequences.

 

Screenshot image of the title page of Bernard Berenson’s book One year’s reading for fun (1942), published in New York by Alfred A. Knopf in 1960
*From the introduction to One year’s reading for fun (1942) by John Walker. (New York, Knopf, 1960), pages ix and xi. Screen shot image of title page.

 

In 1959, when the University of Harvard inherited the Berensons’ library, the whole nucleus consisted of more than 50,000 volumes, a collection of works mainly about Mediterranean art and culture, but including also a rich collection of works on Oriental art and archaeology, and of around 170,000 photographs. Mary and Bernard had put together this treasure in Villa I Tatti from 1907 onwards, when the estate was purchased, probably starting from combining their own private collections. In addition to a room which served as a proper library space, the collections had grown rapidly and consistently so that other eleven rooms were added to the main space in the following years.

 

Black and white portrait of Bernard Berenson in his study at Villa I Tatti surrounded by a few his books
Bernard Berenson in his study at I Tatti. Unknown photographer, winter 1948-1949. Courtesy of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Biblioteca Berenson, I Tatti -The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Bernard and Mary Berenson papers, Photographs. Hollis No. olvwork631213

 

Berenson collated the notes from his reading of his library in a work that was posthumously published in New York in 1960 by Arnold A. Kpnof, and edited by John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art and Berenson’s pupil.

And you? What about your quarantine reading? What lively quotations have you come across?

 

Bibliography and suggested reading:

Oakley, Maroussia, The book and periodical illustrations of Arthur Hughes: 'a spark of genius' 1832-1915, Pinner, Middlesex: Private Libraries Association, [2016] (shelfmark: YC.2018.b.2604).

1 Of Walt Whitman Mary said: “You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass ... He has expressed that civilization, 'up to date,' as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him”, see Reynolds, David. S., Walt Whitman: a cultural biography, New York: Knopf, 1995, page 4 (shelfmark 95/35007). Check the British Library digitised Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1867), and see also the eBLJ article on Walt Whitman by Dorian Hayes who discusses the poet’s virtues and the iconic first edition (1855) of Leaves of Grass held at the British Library (shelfmark: C.58.g.4.).

2 About Radcliffe College and its role as female college see: Kendall, Elaine, Peculiar institutions: an informal history of the Seven Sister colleges, New York: Putnam, 1976 (shelfmark: X:809/28730, or 76/23169).

3 Logan, Mary, Guide to the Italian Pictures at Hampton Court: with Short Studies of the Artists (The Kyrle Pamphlets; no. 2), London, 1894 (shelfmark: 07813.aa.7.). Mary Berenson wrote the pamphlet under the pseudonym of Mary Logan.

4 In 1984, the publication of Venetian Painters of The Renaissance, established Bernard Berenson’s reputation as an art historian of undisputed international fame, a book largely written by Mary. Check the British Library copy The Venetian painters of the Renaissance, with an index to their works, New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons [third edition], (shelfmark: 7858.r.37.). On the case of Mary’s role in Bernard’s publications see: Barbara Strachey and Samuels Jayne, Mary Berenson: a self-portrait from her letters & diaries, London: Hamilton, 1985 (shelfmark: X.958/31629).

Berenson, Bernard, One year’s reading for fun (1942), London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1960 (shelfmark: 11878.gg.36).

Rocke, Michael, The Biblioteca Berenson at Villa I Tatti, in Art Libraries Journal, vol. 33, no. 1, 2008, 5-9 (shelfmark: 1733.461500)

Weaver, William, A legacy of excellence: the story of Villa I Tatti, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997 (shelfmark: YC.2001.b.988)

 

[Blog post by Annalisa Ricciardi, Cataloguer, American Collection. American and Australasian Studies]

07 April 2020

Online Access to United States Government Printing Office Publications

My former colleague and Head of the Eccles Centre for North American Studies, Professor Philip Davies, would always start his remarks of welcome to Eccles Centre events by saying that the North American collections and resources of the British Library were the best in the world, outside of the Americas.

Professor Davies was most likely right on that count based on the pure size of the North American collections which have been systematically developed for around two centuries.  Nevertheless, these collections housed in the Library’s cavernous basements and storage buildings are now inaccessible due to the to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the scholar, reader, or anyone who’s interested, there is a rich collection of North American digital resources available from the British Library website which are free to access.

One of these is the collection of the United States Government Printing Office publications available through Explore the British Library. The Government Printing Office (GPO) is the printer to the US Government and since 1861 it has played a pivotal role in keeping Americans informed about the business of government. Being official publications are meant for public circulation, a portion of these works are freely available to access via the catalogue.

To access the collection simply use the search term “Government Printing Office” in the British Library catalogue. Under Access Options select “Online” where it will list in excess of 15,000 records. By selecting the “I Want This” option on any of these records it will direct the user to a view online option and from there select US Federal Government Document by clicking “Go”. This will take you directly to the digital version of the publication.

 

Screenshot of the British Library catalogue, “Explore the British Library”, showing how to access the collection of the United States Government Printing Office using the search term "Government Printing Office", and related results
Step 1. How to explore: using the search term "Government Printing Office"

 

Screenshot of the British Library catalogue, “Details” / “I want this”, showing how to select and request a digital item
Step 2. How to explore: selecting and requesting a digital item

The breadth of what is published by the GPO is quite bewildering, so where would one start? In normal circumstances a suggestion might be to visit the forthcoming British Library exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, which explores the complex history and battles for women’s rights. 

At the moment, it might be appropriate to suggest a collection of 150 plus digital publications relating to Women’s Bureau between the 1918 -1963, which can be accessed via Explore the British Library. These publications include the Women’s Bureau Bulletin and their annual reports, along with a range of reports, legislation and studies on a Federal and State level proving rich research resources for range of disciplines. By way of an example:

“Women's Employment in Aircraft Assembly Plants in 194”: Women's Bureau Bulletin, No. 192-1.

Screenshot of Women’s Bureau Bulletin [Public –no. 259 – 66th Congress]. Title reading: “An act to establish in the Department of Labor a bureau to be known as the Women’s Bureau”. … Approved, June 5, 1920
Women's Bureau Bulletin

The United States Women’s Bureau was set up in 1920, as part of the Department of Labor to create parity for women in the labour force through research and policy analysis. Its role was to educate and promote policy change, and to increase public awareness. The Women’s Bureau is still in existence and is celebrating its centenary this year.

Furthermore, the collection contains a wide range of contemporary titles published by the Government Printing Office including:

A Grave Misfortune: The USS Indianapolis Tragedy / Richard A. Hulver; Peter C. Luebke, associate editor.

The Final Report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission

Women in Congress, 1917-2017

Keeping America informed: the U.S. Government Printing Office: 150 years of service to the nation.

All the above titles can be accessed via Explore by searching the title. Bear in mind that if you are searching for a specific document, or report, this item may be part of a larger series. 

For a more in-depth insight in to the Library’s collection, there is a downloadable guide on the US Federal Government publications collection page. 

[blog post by Jerry Jenkins. Curator, Contemporary British Publications, Emerging Media]

 

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