Americas and Oceania Collections blog

176 posts categorized "History"

10 August 2022

In Search of Vanilla

Kathryn Sampeck is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Illinois State University and was the 2021-22 British Library Eccles Centre Fulbright Scholar.

I arrived in London with all kinds of baggage—not only clothes, personal items, and tech to see me through six months of my UK Fulbright at the Eccles Centre, but also expectations about what I would find in the archives. My project investigates the relationships of race and food. I am interested in a notable case: chocolate and vanilla. I knew from previous research that these two substances had a long history of being paired (chocolate and vanilla “go together”) yet also semantic and culinary opposites (a difference of black and white; one cannot substitute for the other). One version of the semantic contrast of the two is as racial metaphors. For example, a 1974 article in Jet magazine describes how entertainer Connie Stevens “began her act with two Black dancers and two white dancers by saying that she has two daughters at home—‘one Chocolate and one Vanilla.’”

I knew from previous research that the association of chocolate with a dark colour, pejorative qualities such as sinfulness, and racial blackness occurred as early as the seventeenth century; the evidence was less clear about vanilla’s linkage with the colour white, purity, a bland taste, and racial whiteness. I assumed that I had not looked in the right places. Surely the British Library’s mountain of rare chronicles and medical and culinary books and manuscripts would fill in the gaps about when and how vanilla got its reputation. I thought vanilla would be there, perhaps a bit everywhere, and I had overlooked it because I was focusing on chocolate. My months in the archive and in British grocery stores and restaurants showed me how wrong I was! I now understand that I had an American bias about vanilla. My American bias is that vanilla is the go-to flavour for almost anything, and I assumed that such vanilla use had its roots in British cookery and medical practice. My deep dive into the British Library holdings showed this to be untrue. It is not until the nineteenth century that, as Mrs. Beeton claimed, vanilla was “in daily use for ices, chocolates, and flavouring confectionary generally.”

I wanted to know more about how vanilla fit in with other American ingestibles, so I cast my net broadly, looking for mentions in diverse kinds of documents of any American plants or foods. What I found surprised me, even after years of chocolate-focused research. More common than chocolate were turkey and potatoes, with the latter a regular entry in Queen Anne of Denmark's Household Book (Harley MS 157) from 1613. 

Image_1_potatoes_Harley MS 157
Image 1. An entry for “Ordinary diets, daily served for 220 flesh days.” The tenth column is for potatoes. Queen Anne of Denmark's Household Book, 1613, Harley MS 157.

A close second was sassafras (Sassafras albidum), a tree native to eastern North America, showing up in botanical, medical, and culinary works by people including James Petiver, Apothecary to the Charter-House (“Virtues of herbs”, Sloane MS 2346), a multi-authored 1619-1674 note-book of medical and culinary recipes (Add MS 36308), Mary Glover’s 1688 cookery and medical receipts (Add MS 57944), and most prominently, in Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix’s 1744 history and description of New France. Much less common—yet still more common than vanilla—was cochineal, a tiny parasitic insect (Dactylopius coccus) native to the tropical and subtropical Americas that feeds on prickly pear cacti (genus Opuntia). The dried, ground bodies of these insects yield the brilliant red, durable natural dye carmine, which certainly gave a rosy tint to those seventeenth-century concoctions. 

Image_2_cochineal_Lady-Dacres_Add MS 56248
Image 2. “An extraordinary medicine for low spirits” uses lemon, saffron, cochineal, and white wine. Recipe collection of Mary, Lady Dacres, for cookery and domestic medicine; 1666-1696, Add MS 56248.

The works that noted sassafras, cochineal, and other American substances often also included of cocoa or chocolate, such as the seventeenth-century Medicamenta usitatiora by George Bate, MD (Sloane MS 519). Cocoa or chocolate often occurred on its own (with sugar, water, milk, or cream); the most common additional flavour to chocolate was vanilla, a pairing that various sources from the earliest mentions to well into the nineteenth century claimed improved the taste of chocolate (and made it cost more!). 

Image_3_vanilla_Wildeman_1902
Image 3. Chapter on vanilla cultivation in Africa, with a drawing of the plant. The first paragraph of the French text describes how everyone uses vanilla to perfume drinks made with cocoa. Émile de Wildeman Les Plantes tropicales de grande culture-café, cacao, cola, vanille, caoutchouc, avec une étude sur la distribution des plantes dans le centre de l'Afrique et des notices biographiques sur les botanistes et les voyageurs ayant contribué à la connaissance de la flore de l'État Indépendant du Congo., 1902, General Reference Collection 7030.dd.20.

Culinary and medical recipes “white” or “clear” foods were abundant and had flavourings such as ambergris, sugar, mace, and cinnamon, but no vanilla.

Image_4_Mary_Glover_1688
Image 4. “A White Custard” recipe has cream, egg whites, sugar, and mace. Mary Glover, Cookery and medical recipes, 1688, Add MS 57944.

Why didn’t one of these substances pegged as white become the contrast to chocolate? I found one clue in the seventeenth-century Observations on the preparation and virtues of Chocolate (Sloane MS 1471). After discussing the medical and sensorial qualities of “Bainilla”, the author goes on to describe that “All those Ingredients are usually put into the Chocolatte…But the meaner sort of people, as blackmors, and Indians commonly put nothing into it, but Cacao, Achiotte, Maiz, and a few Chiley with a little Anny seeds.” Chocolate consumption in itself did not distinguish race and class, but the subtleties that people added to it drew a sharp distinction between people of colour and (by implication, white) people of taste. The “Account of the inhabitants of Cathagena from Ulloa’s Voyage to South-America” in the New York Magazine; or A Literary Repository for July, 1792 echoes a similar complaint that chocolate (there known as cacao) was so common that an enslaved Black person “constantly allows himself a regale of it after breakfast” and Black women “sell it ready made about the streets”; their habit was to consume cacao with wheat bread. So, chocolate was cheap, easily available, and a significant part of the diet of Afro-Latin Americans, but the authors complain—and thereby distinguish their tastes from these South American Blacks—that it was not good (i.e. pure) chocolate: “This is however so far from being all cacao, that the principal ingredient is maize.”

The implication of these and other complaints is that in the hands of people of colour, chocolate did not realise its full potential for flavour. Furthermore, not just any flavour would enhance chocolate—vanilla was a key to good taste, worth paying more for. This brings me to the discovery that surprised me the most: vanilla became increasingly associated with the colour white in foods or medicines after it was associated with racial whiteness. Vanilla and chocolate history give a remarkable view into the depth of the history of the construction of racial disparities; colour did not precede colourizing.

Image_5_cacao_Wildeman_1902
Image 5. Chapter on cacao cultivation in Africa, with a drawing of the plant. Émile de Wildeman Les Plantes tropicales de grande culture-café, cacao, cola, vanille, caoutchouc, avec une étude sur la distribution des plantes dans le centre de l'Afrique et des notices biographiques sur les botanistes et les voyageurs ayant contribué à la connaissance de la flore de l'État Indépendant du Congo., 1902, General Reference Collection 7030.dd.20.

08 August 2022

Black Women’s Activism in the Americas

The Eccles Centre recently hosted a one-day symposium on Black Women’s Activism in the Americas, in collaboration with the Society for the History of Women in the Americas (SHAW). The day included a Show and Tell for the delegates, inspired by some of the topics under discussion. Here are some highlights from the display.

Claudia Jones
A few years ago the Library acquired a number of issues of Spotlight magazine. Produced by American Youth for Democracy during World War Two (formerly the Young Communist League), it was edited by Claudia Jones, the Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist who emigrated to the US as a child.

Spotlight combined
Left: Spotlight cover, Right: editorial column by Claudia Jones; ‘Spotlight: 1776. The Glorious Fourth. 1944’; July 1944, by American Youth for Democracy; edited by Claudia Jones. (New York, NY : New Age Publisher, 1944.) Shelfmark: RF.2018.b.176

Following the persecution of Communists by the US Government, Jones was deported to Britain in 1955. She continued her Communist activism in the UK and went on to found Britain’s first major black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in 1958, and played a major role in founding the Notting Hill Carnival. You can read more about Jones’ life and work in the British Library’s Windrush Stories online exhibition here. As with many histories of activism by women of colour, Jones’ legacy was maintained for many years by community activists and historians, through works such as Claudia Jones, 1915-1964: A Woman of Our Times [researched and compiled by Jennifer Tyson], published by Camden Black Sisters Publications in c1988.

Claudia Jones pamphlet

Claudia Jones pamphlet
‘Claudia Jones, 1915-1964: a woman of our times’ [researched and compiled by Jennifer Tyson] (London: Camden Black Sisters Publications, c1988). Shelfmark: LD.37.a.200


Angela Davis
Later US Communist activist and scholar Angela Davis was also represented with the Show and Tell including a number of works produced around her imprisonment in 1971 on murder and kidnapping charges. The case generated interest around the world and the display included items published in the UK and Germany demonstrating solidarity with her case, as well as a booklet produced by the United States Information Service and distributed by the US Embassy in London which endeavoured to present the ‘legal background’ to the case.

Angela Davis International response
Left: ‘Angela Davis on trial’ (London: Angela Davis Defence Committee, [1970]), Shelfmark: Collection YD.2010.a.4174; Right: ‘Free Angela Davis: Hero of the other America = Freiheit für Angela Davis!: Heldin des Anderen Amerika’, by Dr. Klaus Steiniger ([Germany]: National Council of the National Front of the German Democratic Republic, [1972?]), Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.446

 

Angela Davis USIS Legal Background
‘The Angela Davis case. The legal background.’ United States. United States Information Service. London, [1972]; Shelfmark: A.S.975/73



Alongside Official Government Publications, such as the USIS booklet shown above, another type of collection item which may be less familiar to British Library researchers are examples of political ephemera. The Library continues to acquire a range of this type of material including this striking broadside “I Am A Black Woman Communist”, featuring a portrait of Angela Davis, which was produced for the 20th Convention of the Communist Party USA in New York in February 1972. The following quote is printed beneath her portrait: "I am a black woman Communist / the corrupt government of this country could not accept such a combination / this is why they launch an effort to murder me." The artist's signature, identified only as ‘Sherman,’ is printed at upper right corner.

Angela Davis broadside
Broadside: "I Am A Black Woman Communist...". (New York: CPUSA, 1972). Shelfmark: RF.2020.b.53



Léila Gonzalez
The political ephemera continued with election pamphlets produced by the Worker’s Party (PT, Partido dos Trabalhadores) during Brazilian federal elections in 1982. Included amongst those standing for office was Lélia Gonzalez, the leading Afro-Brazilian feminist, intellectual, politician, professor, anthropologist and Black and women’s rights activist. Her influential concept of Amefricanidade or ‘Amefricanity’ references both the black diaspora and indigenous populations of the Americas, signalling their histories of resistance as colonised peoples. Among a long career in activism and education, she ran as a federal candidate for the Worker’s Party in 1982. The broader context of the PT slate of candidates (included at the same shelfmark) provide fascinating insights in to the range of social justice concerns active in Brazilian politics in the early 1980s, including gay rights.

Leila Gonzalez election pamphlet & other PT pamphlets v2
A political pamphlet of Lélia Gonzalez [centre]. Partido dos Trabalhadores Election Pamphlets (Brazil: O Partido, [1982]), Shelfmark X.0520/785; other pamphlets produced in support of other PT candidates in the same election can be seen behind (all stored at the same shelfmark)



Philatelic Collections
An underused part of the Library’s holdings, the Philatelic Collections offer a fascinating way into many different aspects of social and political histories. The Show and Tell was enriched by items from our Philatelic colleagues which illustrated the way black women’s activism has been commemorated on stamps, in turn helping to construct national and international conversations about women’s history and achievements. To find out more about Philately at the British Library, visit their subject page or their social media channels.

Stamps
From the top: Carrie Best: Canada 2011; Harriet Tubman: USA 1978; Mary McLeod Bethune: USA 1988; Sojourner Truth: USA 1986; Ida Bell Wells-Barnett: USA 1990; Gladys Bustamante: Jamaica 1968; Mary Seacole: Jamaica 1991; Mabel Alice 'Cissie' Cauderion: Dominica 1982; Phillis Wheatley: Senegal 1971



By Cara Rodway, Eccles Centre, August 2022 (with thanks to my Eccles and Americas colleagues for their help developing and mounting the Show and Tell)



04 August 2022

A Case of "Archive Fever" (Cause: Due to Drafts)

Jessica Mehta is currently a Fulbright Nehru Senior Scholar in Bengaluru, India, and was a 2019 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

I was fortunate to visit the British Library as an Eccles Fellow in 2019, just before the onset of the pandemic. The intention of this visit was to support my PhD thesis, “Women Poets and Eating Disorders: 1840–1970s.” Two of “my” key poets include Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti, and the Library holds myriad handwritten drafts from both poets. Archival analysis was critical to my doctoral work and is greatly informing my post-doctoral life as I prepare my research into monograph form. As Jane Dowson says, “the best use of archival writing is to open up, rather than close down, interpretive possibilities”. 1 Stephen Dilks sums up how we, and I, are using such archives: “When a new generation of readers rediscovers [literature’s] meaning in a new historical context, it partially remakes its meaning; it extends its meaning into the present; it makes it live again, and not precisely as it ever lived before”. 2

My three-part methodological approach culminated in a unique way to examine these poets’ work. My steps included analysing (oftentimes handwritten, unpublished, and non-digitised) archival drafts; comparing drafts to the published version(s) of poems; and examining these poems (both via the comparison of draft progressions to published poems and the completed poems as they stand) alongside various medical theories related to eating disorders during the poets’ eras. Dilks stresses that when we read, it is with “an incomplete sense of the context” which is “one reason why experts continue to debate the meaning or meanings of texts that have been read thousands of times”. 3 It might seem like some poems, such as “Aurora Leigh,” have been read and analysed ad nauseum, but have they really? I argue they have not. Similarly, archives and drafts are key to a close exploration of a poet’s work because they reveal process, not just in a poetic sense but in terms of the writer’s internal progression. Wim Van Mierlo says, “Literary archives allow us to study that writing not only in its finished, but also in its inchoate, embryonic state … the avant-texte, the text before it is ‘the text’”. 4 Derrida famously dubs such places home to Archive Fever (1995), which he claims, “verges on radical evil”. 5

I took a traditional approach to archival exploration, travelling the globe in my quest—the farthest I traveled was the British Library. Sadly, as Carolyn Steedman bemoans, “Many modern historians simply never use the[se] kind of archives,” suggesting that the “majority” of historians today “have never set foot in a départementale or national archive”. 6 This became increasingly true as travel was stopped and borders closed during COVID-19. However, it was in this approach, in becoming Steedman’s “figure solemnly hunched over a list of names, compiling a long time ago for a purpose quite different from the historian’s,” where I truly connected with my poets. 7 Here, in the Library, I felt that I, too, was gaining “entry to an inner world”. 8 There are several notes made in the drafts I examined, such as Barrett Browning’s question to herself regarding a shawl in a draft of her persona poem “Runaway Slave.” She asks, “Does that sound like a slave’s article of clothing?” (British Library shelfmark: Ashley MS A2517). This was, obviously, well before the era of culture vultures and cultural appropriation.

Manuscript of Barret-Browning's poem, with her vertical note to herself in the top-right.
Elizabeth Barret Browning, “Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,” 1846, British Library shelfmark: Ashley MS A2517.

The sense of privacy revealed in drafts suggest that these papers provide a more honest peek into the poet’s world, letting us unearth realities and perhaps truths not yet buried in the polished poems. After my time at the Library, I wholeheartedly agree with Helen Taylor’s summation that, “This generation of scholars perhaps needs to be reminded of an age when scholarship involved long train journeys to archives”. 9 Digital records are simply not the same though, ultimately, I depended on digitisation from other archival libraries when lockdowns occurred.

My months spent in the Library’s archives led to uncovering much more than early drafts. Here, things get personal. I was tasked with avoiding the trap of, as Steedman puts it, feeling “able to speak on behalf of the dead, and to interpret the words and the acts they themselves had not understood”. 10 These archives reveal how poets were responding to world events, such as the abolition of slavery in the United States, and their own flourishing knowledge and experiences. The labour of drafting poems gives us the opportunity to watch the evolution of an anorexic aesthetic and the chance to see how choices (such as adding more em-dashes or capitalising certain food- or hunger-centric words) led various poem iterations to become increasingly reflective of the processes and results of eating disorders. The work these writers undertook often mimics the presentations and cycles of an eating disorder, beginning with the most overt aspect of the editing process: the scraping away of excess fat.

The idea and motivation for my thesis, successfully defended in March 2023, began many years ago with the quiet, sudden realisation that I was not the only one. I had sisters. That bond strengthened during my research. I found myself in that space, deep in the archives, where, as Steedman says, “You think: I could get to hate these people, and then: I can never do these people justice, and finally: I shall never get it done”. 11 As Derrida says, “If Freud suffered from mal d’archive, if his case stems from trouble de l’archive, he is not without his place, simultaneously, in the archive fever or disorder we are experiencing today”. 12 Delicately poring over precious ephemera, yearning to touch history and become a part of it, I came to understand the fluid, subjective fleetingness of what archives entail. “We are en mal d’archive: in need of archives,” says Derrida, and further expounds:

It is to burn with a passion. It is to never rest, interminably, from searching for the archive … It is to have a compulsive, repetitive, and nostalgic desire for the archive, an irrepressible desire to return to the origin, a homesickness, a nostalgia for the return to the most archaic place of absolute commencement. 13

Years ago, I found kindred spirits in women who were writing eras and lifetimes ago. My experience at the Library led me to a place as a researcher that Simon Barker beautifully describes: “[Researchers] soon discover that beyond the boundary of the archive they may become not the mere writers of stories that ought to be told, but a figure in the story that is being told”. 14 Don’t we all want to be such protagonists, such heroes? Isn’t that, at least in part, what brings us to the Library?

References

  1. Jane Dowson, “Poetry and Personality: The Private Papers and Public Image of Elizabeth Jennings", in The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation, edited by Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead, Routledge, 2017, p. 107.
  2. Stephen Dilks, et al. Cultural Conversations: The Presence of the Past. Boston; New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001, p. 4.
  3. ibid, 4.
  4. Wim Van Mierlo, “The Archeology of the Manuscript: Towards Modern Paleography,” in The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation, edited by Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead. London: Routledge, 2017, pp. 15–16.
  5. Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Translated by Eric Prenowitz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995, pp. 19-20.
  6. Carolyn Steedman. Dust: The Archive and Cultural History. Rutgers University Press, 2002, x.
  7. ibid, xi.
  8. Linda Anderson, et al., editors. “Introduction: Poetry, Theory, Archives.” The Contemporary Poetry Archive: Essays and Interventions. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019, p. 1.
  9. Helen Taylor, “‘What Will Survive of Us Are Manuscripts’: Archives, Scholarship, and Human Stories,” in The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation, edited by Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead, Routledge, 2017, p. 198. 
  10. Carolyn Steedman. Dust: The Archive and Cultural History. Rutgers University Press, 2002, p. 38.
  11. ibid, 18.
  12. Derrida, p. 90.
  13. ibid, 91.
  14. Simon Barker, “Lost Property: John Galsworthy and the Search for ‘That Stuffed Shirt,'” in The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation, edited by Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead, Routledge, 2017, p. 103.



 

05 July 2022

US Radicals in Revolutionary Mexico

Owen Walsh is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Aberdeen and was a 2021 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

NB: This article contains historical images and descriptions relating to slavery which readers may find upsetting.

‘We are not safe in the United States’, warned the Jewish intellectual Anita Brenner in 1943, ‘without taking Mexico into account’. This fact of North American interdependence, she argued, ‘is something that Mexicans have long known, with dread, but that few Americans have had to look at.’1

My research at the British Library has been motivated by a conviction that scholars of US culture and political radicalism in the early-mid twentieth century have too often averted their gaze from Mexico while chronicling the making of an internationalist American Left. The Mexican revolutionary era, spanning c. 1910-1940, was the first major revolution of the twentieth century and a key moment in the unfolding of the global anticolonial struggle. The Revolution’s cultural legacy was described by Brenner and other contemporary critics as nothing less than ‘the first great modern art created in America’.2

My work in the British Library marks the start of a project in which I explore the travel experiences and writings of Leftist US intellectuals in revolutionary Mexico. The project traces the impact of Mexico, its rapidly changing culture and its inspired people, on radical cultural formations (New Negro writing, the proletarian literature movement) in the interwar United States. The rare books and radical journals contained in the British Library’s collections have been indispensable for this work.

The list of figures who might be included in a history of American travel in revolutionary Mexico is long and distinguished. Leftist journalists John Reed, Lincoln Steffens, and Ernest Gruening wrote sympathetic and romantic reports of the political and military struggles of the era. Future leading Communists Mike Gold, Charles Shipman, and Lovett Fort-Whiteman passed through the country and participated in the germination of revolutionary labour unionism and embryonic Party organisation. Major writers of American modernism including John Dos Passos and Langston Hughes found inspiration in Mexico and mixed with the cosmopolitan cultural networks around Mexico City.

During the most violent phase of the revolution in the 1910s, most of the American visitors were journalists seeking an unmediated view of the chaotic cascade of conflicts – over land, liberty, and individual egos – which together constitute the Mexican Revolution. Through the 1920s and 1930s, political and cultural pilgrims flocked to Mexico. They were often escaping persecution, but they also sought to witness and report on the social conflicts that continued to convulse their southern neighbour and to draw inspiration in their own mission to build a modern, socialist cultural order in the US.

In this short post, I want to focus on one of the earliest and most influential accounts of Mexican society in the era of revolution. Published in 1911, Barbarous Mexico (Chicago: Charles Kerr & Co.; British Library shelfmark 10481.pp.11), was a sensational exposé of life under the rule of the pre-revolutionary dictator Porfirio Díaz. It was the product of investigative reportage by John Kenneth Turner with the help of Lázaro Gutiérrez de Lara. It helped to ignite a movement in support of the radical Magón brothers (Mexican revolutionaries imprisoned in the US) and informed American sympathies with the Mexican Revolution for years to come.

Turner journeyed to Mexico in the immediate pre-revolutionary period, in 1908 and 1909, after hearing rumours of slavery prevailing in large swathes of the country, which was under the political and financial domination of US capitalism. Much of his reporting was done undercover, using disguises and employing the anti-Díaz activist Gutiérrez de Lara to help bridge cultural gaps, build networks, and provide translations. Turner’s travels took him across Mexico, from the Yucatán peninsula, where the henequen plantations were worked by indigenous Yaqui people enslaved after defeat in their war with the Mexican state, to Valle Nacional in Oaxaca, ‘the worst slave hole in Mexico’, where a racially mixed population were forced to labour on tobacco farms by the mostly Cuban planters and the Porfirian state authorities.3

A woman wearing a white shirt and long black skirt carrying a child on her back and standing in front on a spikey, fan-shaped plant that is taller than she is.
Photographic image from John Kenneth Turner, Barbarous Mexico. Chicago: Charles Kerr & Co., 1911. British Library shelfmark: 10481.pp.11. [With Turner's captions.]


Throughout Barbarous Mexico, Turner was concerned to connect the problem of slavery in Mexico with American policy. Turner’s definition of slavery was somewhat specific and limited: ‘the ownership of the body of a man, an ownership so absolute that the body can be transferred to another, an ownership that gives to the owner a right to take the products of that body, to starve it, to chastise it at will, to kill it with impunity.’4 But in Barbarous Mexico, Turner explores slavery in various subtle forms, including the informal trading of people that occurred under the legal guise of debt peonage. Indeed, in his introductory remarks Turner’s use of the slippery term ‘slavery’ went so far as to describe the imperial relationship between the two North American republics in the same terms. The US, Turner wrote, ‘enslaves the Mexican nation’ while the US media collaborated with the Porfiriato to keep ‘the American public in ignorance’.5 Such political arrangements, Turner is careful to point out, is what defines Mexico as ‘barbarous’, rather than any deficiency of its people.6

A bare-chested man, wearing a hessian-type hat and trousers and carrying a basket on his back, stands in front of small, round-shaped dwelling with a straw roof.
Photographic image from John Kenneth Turner, Barbarous Mexico. Chicago: Charles Kerr & Co., 1911. British Library shelfmark: 10481.pp.11. [With Turner's captions.]

Despite its republican trappings, Díaz’s Mexico had discarded constitutional rule and the rights ‘which all enlightened men agree are necessary for the unfolding of a nation’.7 Confronted with such a nation, Turner presciently wrote that the ‘country is on the verge of a revolution in favor of democracy’.8 When the Revolution did come, Turner was a leading figure in the US solidarity movement, and he went on to pen a book-length argument against US intervention.

The concerns in Barbarous Mexico with republican principle and democratic rule override any specifically socialist propagandising in Turner’s account. But his work could only find an audience via the socialist press. Turner’s despatches were published first in the Socialist Party-aligned newspaper Appeal to Reason. The success of these articles opened a route for him to publish in the liberal American Magazine, which soon closed due to the backlash fuelled by the well-funded Porfiriato lobby. The only publisher who accepted Turner’s book was the socialist Charles H. Kerr and Co.

The role Turner and his Appeal to Reason comrades played in exposing forced labour in Mexico demonstrates the continuous histories of socialist, abolitionist, and anti-imperialist politics in the US. In making his report on slavery in the province of Yucatán, Turner’s mind repeatedly returned to ‘the slaves of our southern states before the Civil War’.9 The comparison invites us to imagine that Turner was consciously mimicking the abolitionist journalism of nineteenth-century journals such as William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator. Like his abolitionist forebears, Turner sought to puncture the well-funded lies of a southern slaveocracy with terrifying reports and haunting visual evidence of injustice and brutality carried out with the sanction of the US state.

To the right of the image is a large, white washed brick building; to the left are over 100 people standing in lines while in front of them are several people on horseback.
Photographic image from John Kenneth Turner, Barbarous Mexico. Chicago: Charles Kerr & Co., 1911. British Library shelfmark: 10481.pp.11. [With Turner's captions.]

Many of the thematic concerns, rhetorical strategies, and ideological negotiations that operate in Turner’s important text continued to be visible in writing by American radicals on Mexico for many years. Time and again, American radicals called on their readers to look favourably on the Revolution, to oppose US meddling in Mexican affairs, and to visualise the Mexican people as a noble and patriotic mass struggling for freedoms that were already familiar – and dearly held – to most Americans. Such appeals combined mainstream republican principles with the radical thrust of American socialism, and were often aided by Mexican Leftists who deeply understood the vulnerabilities and opportunities that come with being a subordinate neighbour to the US.

Notes:

1. Anita Brenner, The Wind That Swept Mexico: The History of the Mexican Revolution 1910-1942 (Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1971) p. 3.(British Library shelfmark X.800/5804).
2. Brenner, p. 65.
3. John Kenneth Turner, Barbarous Mexico (Chicago: Charles Kerr & Co., 1911) p. 67 (British Library shelfmark: 10481.pp.11); Claudio Lomnitz, The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014) p. 161 (British Library shelfmark: YC.2014.a.6131).
4. Turner, p. 16.
5. Turner, Preface.
6. Turner, Preface.
7. Turner, p. 11.
8. Turner, p. 10.
9. Turner, pp. 34-5.

17 June 2022

The British Library’s Canadian Copyright Collection: An Introduction

This new series will shine a light on the British Library’s Canadian Copyright Collection.

The British Library’s Canadian Copyright Collection occupies a unique and quite intriguing place in its Canadian holdings. As well as books and periodicals, it includes maps, sheet music, insurance plans, photographs, and city and area directories, and its comprehensive nature means it offers a vital window into Canadian life and culture between 1895 and 1923. Yet, why does the Library have this Collection? And how can researchers make the most of it?

In this introductory blog, we will answer the first question; subsequent blogs will then illuminate different aspects of the holdings. However, we cannot begin the series without acknowledging the invaluable contribution of Patrick B. O’Neill – Canadian theatre historian and bibliographer extraordinaire.

In the 1970s, O’Neill began work on a research project to illuminate the full corpus of Canadian drama. Quite quickly, he ran into all sorts of obstacles. Yet he was nothing if not tenacious. In 1979, his quest for printed copies of playscripts published in Canada brought him to the British Library and here his conversations with curators – and their conversations with long-retired colleagues – led to the “re-discovery” of the Canadian Copyright Collection in its entirety. Several years later, O’Neill – then professor at Mount Saint Vincent University – returned to the Library on sabbatical to document the collection and it is thanks to his painstaking work, and that of several Dalhousie University colleagues, that it is so accessible today.

In a wonderfully clear and informative article, O’Neill recounts that the genesis of the Copyright Collection lay in an 1895 amendment to the Canadian Copyright Act of 1875.1 Up until 1895, obtaining copyright under Canadian law had involved meeting two conditions. First, the literary, scientific or artistic work had to be published and printed or reprinted in Canada. Second, two copies of the work – be it a book, map, chart, musical composition, photograph, print, cut or engraving – had to be deposited at the Office of the Minister of Agriculture. The 1875 Act instructed the Minister to deposit one copy of the work in the Library of Parliament and to retain the other copy in the Copyright Office.

Map of a town, mainly in black ink, sectioned into separate squares for each property, some are coloured in yellow or pink, depending on the material used in their construction.
Fire insurance plan for Medicine Hat, Alberta. 1910. Part of the British Library's Canadian Copyright Collection. British Library shelfmark: Maps.146.b.48.(25)

In 1895, Section Ten of this Act was amended to require that three copies be sent to this Minister, and this third copy was to be forwarded to the Library of the British Museum. Thankfully, the Department of Agriculture appears to have been extraordinarily diligent in ensuring that these third copies reached the UK. Indeed, O’Neill notes that the "Canadian Copyright Lists" (that were found in the office of that retired member of staff and later used by O’Neill to document the collection) indicated nearly 100% receipt of the material copyrighted in Canada between 1895 and 1923. And the Department’s diligence would prove even more significant in light of subsequent events at the other two repositories.

In 1916, the Library of Parliament suffered its first of two disastrous fires, with the second one occurring in 1953. In both cases, water damage caused more destruction than the fires themselves and although its copyright collection was not totally destroyed, it was seriously depleted.

The Copyright Office Collection fared even worse. Having drawn a blank in finding any trace of this collection himself, O’Neill resorted to writing to his then Member of Parliament, the Hon. Robert Stanfield, to find out what had happened. Stanfield’s response arrived within 24 hours, but was far from encouraging. It appears that in 1937 the Copyright Office was due to move premises. Given that the new offices lacked enough space for its collection, advice was sought on how to proceed. The Committee of the Privy Council’s assessment was that few of the "several thousands of volumes of books, catalogues, periodical pamphlets, sheet music, maps" had any value. An Order-in-Council (whose signatories included then Prime Minister Mackenzie-King) therefore ordered that the material be offered for selection to the Secretary of State Library; anything remaining after that was to be disposed of by the Copyright Library. In total, the former chose 155 books of prominent Canadian statesmen and some 60 volumes of Canadian fiction. The remaining 50,000+ items in this copyright collection seem to have been destroyed.

Given these events, it is not surprising that the British Library now holds the most complete record of Canadian printing and publishing – in French and English, and in all its manifestations – for the period between 1895 and 1923. The reason for this particular cut-off date was that on 1 January 1924, the Canadian copyright Act of 1921 came into force and it no longer required items to be deposited in repositories in Canada or elsewhere. It should be noted that this was later amended by a 1931 bill that required publishers to send two copies of all books published in Canada to the Library of Parliament, thereby forming the basis of a Canadian national library.

Next time, we will focus on the sheet music published in Canada during this time, and in subsequent blogs we will explore maps, city and directories, insurance plans (more fascinating than one might initially imagine!) and photographs…

Notes

1. Patrick B. O'Neill, From Theatre History to Canadiana: The Canadian Deposit Collection in the British Library. Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1986

15 June 2022

Electronic resources for African American History

As we continue our series highlighting the breadth of electronic resources available for researchers at the British Library, this blog will discuss some of the digitally available collections which can support those studying African American History. All resources can be accessed from our Electronic Resources page, and some are available remotely once you get your free Reader Pass.

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

1. African American Communities

Let’s start with African American Communities which gives access to hundreds of pieces of primary source material for researchers examining racial oppression across social, political, cultural and religious arenas in America. You can study a range of items, from scrapbooks to official records, oral histories to 360-degree objects, which focus on Atlanta, Chicago, St Louis, Brooklyn and locations in North Carolina. Topics covered by this resource’s collection include racism, desegregation, civil rights movements and expressions of African American culture displayed through artists, musicians and more.

Before delving into a few of the materials the resource provides, the platform itself has a number of very useful features to help navigate its vast offering that are worth mentioning. The ‘Nature and Scope’ link on the main landing page gives a comprehensive overview of the themes and source archives you can view. You can choose to browse items in a number of ways as all documents have been indexed using multiple categories, or you can also do a general full text search. Community case studies and thematic guides and essays are also available which offer handy entry points into the collections and give a steer as to where to start. One of my favourite features is ‘My Archive’ where you can save and revisit your previous searches and any documents you’d like to return to, quickly and easily.

A few examples will demonstrate the breadth of material on offer from this rich resource.

Researchers examining civil rights protests and movements will be interested in the collection of materials generated or collected by the Chicago Urban League. Items held here explore one of the most famous civil rights protests for open housing, which took place near Marquette Park in the summer of 1966, and its aftermath. The protest contributed to the creation of Chicago as a racially open city as many Black residents moved into its vicinities. However, as this 1977 report shows, even some 11 years later, racial tensions and violence were very much still in existence.

Conclusions of the Marquette Park
Conclusions of the Marquette Park: A descriptive history of efforts to peacefully resolve racial conflict report, 1977 © University of Illinois at Chicago Library, Special Collections, access provided by African American Communities e-resource from Adam Matthew

Other materials in the Chicago Urban League collection offer insights into the social services available to African Americans between 1935 and the 1980s, including those regarding reproductive health, youth and welfare services, general health and access to hospitals, and issues related to the aging and those with mental illness.

Researchers interested in the literary and political history of African Americans will be enthused by access to The Messenger, provided by The Newberry Library, Chicago. Founded in New York in 1917, the latter years of the publication from 1925 to its final issue in 1928, can be accessed by this e-resource. Significant in the early stages of the Harlem Renaissance, the magazine helped voice African American intellectual, cultural and political expression through articles, short stories, letters, reviews, songs and art. It featured a number of writers in the early stages of their career, for example, Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘The Eatonville Anthology’ was first published in the September 1926 edition of The Messenger. Her short story instalments in the magazine told of various characters living in an African American community just outside Orlando and used authentic dialect. Her work represented an honest picture of Black culture in the American south in the early 20th century.

The Messenger cover and Eatonville Anthology
The Messenger, World’s Greatest Negro Monthly, September 1926 with excerpt of Zora Xeale Hurston’s The Eatonville Anthology © The Newberry Library, Chicago, access provided by African American Communities e-resource from Adam Matthew

Straying slightly from the more conventional primary source material one might expect from such e-resources, a quick mention goes to the Weeksville Interactive Exhibition also available on African American Communities. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Historic Hunterfly Road Houses located in Weeksville (now Brooklyn) are New York landmarks preserving the homes belonging to a free and independent African American community. The interactive exhibition allows users to explore the layout and objects within the homes from the 1860s – 1930s, complete with 360-degree photography, opening a door onto how African American life in a bygone era could have looked for some. The packaging and marketing choices on the food and drinks packaging are particularly striking and could be great resources for researchers of culinary history and art.

Ginger Ale bottles and tinned goods
Ginger Ale bottles, n.d. and food tins, 1930s Hunterfly Road House, 1930-1939 © 5th of July Resource Center for Self-Determination & Freedom, Weeksville Heritage Center, access provided by African American Communities e-resource from Adam Matthew

2. Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: organisation records and papers, parts 1 and 2

Next up is Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: organisation records and papers, parts 1 and 2 from ProQuest’s History Vault (available remotely), which is another fantastic resource for researchers to turn to study both well- and lesser-known events and social movements in American history. A gathering of materials from a multitude of perspectives, this e-offering features records of the NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, CORE, and federal records on the Black Freedom Struggle. Key archival material is available to search and view, including digitised letters, newspapers, photographs and official reports.

Researchers examining many aspects of the African American fight for freedom in 20th-century America will find it a very useful research tool indeed, to name one example: those studying the Great Migration and its impact on Black America can access materials from the 1929 National Interracial Conference regarding African American women in industry. Much of the material from which this selection draws is rich in detail on the living and working conditions of American workers. The extracts below are from a study of 15 U.S. States by the U.S. Women’s Bureau showing details of Black women workers, including their industries, numbers of employees, their hours, and facts concerning the conditions under which they worked, and earnings.

Median ages and industries from National Interracial Conference report
Examples of pages from National Interracial Conference, African American Women in Industry: From a Study of 15 States by the U.S. Women's Bureau, records of U.S. Women's Bureau, 1928 © 2022 ProQuest LLC, access provided by Black Freedom Struggle e-resource from ProQuest

Continuing the vein of study regarding the history and impact of Black women in America, users may also be interested to note an abundance of newspaper clippings about activist Angela Davis, from the African American Police League Records, 1961 – 1988, to which the Black Freedom Struggle e-resource offers access. Provided by the Chicago History Museum, the e-folder includes clippings from 1970 to 1972 and covers key moments surrounding Davis’s trial. With cuttings from mass-readership papers such as the Chicago Daily News, to African American newspapers and university student newspapers, the selection to sift through should provide researchers with many angles from which to examine the prolific impact of, and response to, Angela Davis, in Chicago specifically.

Angela Davis cuttings
Selection of items from ‘News clipping: Angela Davis, 1972’ folder from African American Police League provided by Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois © 2022 ProQuest LLC, access provided by Black Freedom Struggle e-resource from ProQuest


3. Race Relations in America

Packed with primary sources you might not find elsewhere, another e-resource rich in ephemeral material offered by the British Library is Race Relations in America. The origins of the collection digitised for this resource are sourced from the records of the Race Relations Department of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, housed at the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans.

Examining three pivotal decades in the struggle for Civil Rights in America, the items made digitally accessible by this resource give particular voice to the every-person: telling stories through the eyes and work of sociologists, activists, psychologists, teachers, ministers, students and homemakers, those on the ground trying to make change happen. Through correspondence, personal testimonies, maps, and marketing publications, researchers will find unexpected items providing an interesting look at the ways in which Civil Rights and calls for desegregation were advocated from within the home and beyond. This calendar below, entitled ‘Dateline for Freedom’, is an example of such and includes photographs of people of different races interacting in educational and leisure activities.

Calendar, Dateline for Freedom, 1951-1954
Calendar, Dateline for Freedom, 1951-1954 © Physical rights retained and permission granted by the Amistad Research Center, access provided by Race Relations in America e-resource from Adam Matthew

Race Relations in America provides access to a wealth of documents highlighting different responses to the challenges of overcoming prejudice, segregation and racial tensions. Key themes examined by the e-resource include desegregation of schools, industries and public transport; the role of the Church in the Civil Rights Movement and in African American Communities; and the migration of African Americas from the rural South to urban centres, and the industrial and domestic impacts that came with it. As mentioned before, the ‘My Archive’ feature is again available here – meaning one can save every document, search result or individual image to return to at any point.

As well as sharing the experiences of everyday African American people, the resource also contains documents and materials from pioneering names in the Civil Rights Movement. You can listen to the speeches of Thurgood Marshall, along with over 100 hours of further recordings from those seeking to understand and improve racial tensions. You can also view Champions of Democracy, a pamphlet on citizenship activities at Highlander Folk School, authored by Septima Clark. Highlander, Tennessee, was the site of leadership training for southern civil rights activists and it was where Rosa Parks had attended a workshop on schools desegregation in the summer of 1955.

Highlander Folk School: 'Champions of Democracy'
Highlander Folk School: 'Champions of Democracy', n.d., © Physical rights retained and permission granted by the Amistad Research Center, access provided by Race Relations in America e-resource from Adam Matthew

This brief blog only touches the surface when it comes to the fully accessible, digital collections that one can use for researching African American history and American racial oppression. Other e-resources on the subject that that Library provides access to, and that are available for free with your Reader Pass, include History Vault: African American Police League Records, 1961-1988, Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice, 1490-2017, Slavery & Antislavery: a Transnational Archive, and Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture, and Law. Don’t forget that newspaper and periodical-specific e-resources also offer a wealth of material that could be of interest – take a look at African American Newspapers Series 1 1827-1998 and Series 2 1935-1956 (Readers with a valid pass have remote access to this resource), and Baltimore Afro-American, 1893-1988. You can see a full list of the e-resources you can access remotely with a Reader Pass here, as of 2022 a number of ProQuest e-resources related to the Americas have been added. 

Look out for next month’s instalment in this blog series focusing on our e-resources that support researchers examining the Caribbean, past and present.

By Rachael Culley, Curator North American Published Collections Post 1850

01 June 2022

Food and Freedom in 19th-Century Jamaica

Katey Castellano is Professor of English at James Madison University and was a 2020 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

During my Eccles Fellowship at the British Library in March and April 2022, I researched the publications and perspectives of the Black Romantic-era writer, Robert Wedderburn (1762-1835/36). Wedderburn was born enslaved in Jamaica, and as a young man he migrated to London, where he became involved in London’s ultraradical circles. My research suggests that, even though he was publishing in London, Wedderburn’s political theories grow out of his experiences of being raised by his enslaved mother, Rosanna, and his grandmother, Talkee Amy. His writing importantly provides a rare glimpse into what Vincent Brown describes as an “oppositional political history taught and learned on Jamaican plantations—a radical pedagogy of the enslaved.”1 Wedderburn’s publications challenge the abolitionist narrative that liberal, individualist freedoms should be spread from England to the West Indies. Instead, Wedderburn instructs his white, lower-class readers in London about already existing African-Jamaican practices of land and food reclamation.2 In other words, Wedderburn’s abolitionist pedagogy insists that food and freedom are inseparable.

A pen and ink sketch of a middle aged man wearing a dark jacket with a white shirt underneath.
Image 1: Portrait of Robert Wedderburn from The Horrors of Slavery (London, 1824). British Library shelfmark: 8156.c.714.

The British Library holds one of two remaining copies of Wedderburn’s The Axe Laid to the Root, or a Fatal Blow to Oppressors, Being an Address to the Planters and Negroes of the Island of Jamaica (1817). An inexpensive weekly periodical for working-class readers, Axe Laid to the Root’s six issues disseminate a vision of abolition that opposes private property, both in people and land, because access to land for growing food is necessary for freedom from the plantation system. Wedderburn declares, “Above all, mind and keep possession of the land you now possess as slaves; for without that, freedom is not worth possessing; for if you once give up the possession of your lands, your oppressors will have power to starve you to death.”3

The front page of a journal, with many different fonts in its headings and two columns of text.
Image 2: Title page from Robert Wedderburn, Axe Laid to the Root; or, a Fatal Blow to Oppressors (London, 1817). British Library shelfmark: P.P.3557.

When Wedderburn admonishes enslaved people in Jamaica to “keep possession of the land,” he is referring to the provision grounds, land distributed by enslavers for enslaved people to grow their own food. Access to this land allowed enslaved people to cultivate kinships and culture around growing and eating yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, taro, and other vegetables. Sylvia Wynter argues, “Around the growing of yam, of food for survival” enslaved laborers in Jamaica “created on the plot a folk culture—the basis of a social order.”4

A colourful image of different botanical species, including yams.
Image 3: Image of yams (#45) from William Jowett Titford, Sketches towards a Hortus Botanicus Americanus (London, 1811). British Library shelfmark: 447.i.25.

The provision grounds were not spectacular or immediately revolutionary, like other moments of Black self-emancipation, such as Tacky’s War or the Haitian Revolution. Yet the provision grounds not only nourished people, they also reterritorialized estates. For example, a survey of Edward Long’s Lucky Valley Estate (1769)⁠, demonstrates that a large part of the estate must be reserved for provision grounds. The map illustrates how the provision grounds were limited and hemmed by the plantation, yet the grounds were also located close to the mountains and away from the surveillance of enslavers and overseers. Growing food also allowed some self-determination in diet and provided subsistence for self-emancipated individuals who fled the plantations.

A hand drawn map showing the different land uses on a Jamaican estate in the 18th century.
Image 4: Detail from Plan of the Lucky Valley Estate by James Blair, 1769, reduced and copied by William Gardner; n.d. 14 chains to an inch. 531 mm. x 458 mm. Add MS 43379 A.

Guided by Wedderburn’s theory that abolition requires access to land and food, I explored other colonial texts at the British Library that describe the provision grounds. Matthew Lewis is best known as the author of the popular gothic novel The Monk (1796), yet while at the British Library I studied his Journal of a West India Proprietor, which was written from 1815 to 1818. The journal records two visits to inherited plantations in Jamaica. As Lewis attempts to ameliorate the conditions of enslaved people, the provision grounds become a point of contentious negotiation. By the middle of his first visit, the people that Lewis enslaved had negotiated increased freedom to visit their provision grounds: “I therefore granted them as a matter of right, and of which no person should deprive them on any account whatever, every Saturday to cultivate their grounds.”5 Throughout his journal, Lewis vacillates between his anxiety about the independence cultivated by the provision grounds and his desire to be a hero in facilitating access to them. Provision grounds finally provoke a crisis within the idea of the people as property: if people are property, how can they have rights to the land? Enslaved people bequeathed provision grounds to their kin and earned money from selling excess produce, but, legally, enslaved people were themselves property. By cultivating independent food production on the provision grounds, then, the seeds of freedom had been sown before Emancipation.

The black and white title page of a book.
Image 5: Title Page from Matthew Lewis, Journal of a West India Proprietor (London, 1834). British Library shelfmark: 1050.l.17.

The radical nature of the provision grounds emerges even more clearly during Emancipation (1834), when the provision grounds became openly contested spaces. In the Holland House Papers, an estate manager, Thomas MacNeil, complained to Lord Holland that formerly enslaved people “have withheld so much labour from the estate” while at the same time “they have devoted much labour to improve their cottages, and increase the extent of their provision lands.” Holland wants formerly enslaved labourers to cultivate sugar cane and pay rent for their land, but MacNeil reports, “They declare they will not pay any rents whatever until they see ‘the Queen's Law’ to say they must do so, that their parents before them, had possession of the land and had houses where theirs now are, before Lady Holland was born and that they cannot think of paying any rent whatever and work for the estate also.”⁠6 MacNeil’s letter indicates that formerly enslaved people “cannot think” of paying rent after emancipation because they understood freedom as the right to possess the provision grounds as an intergenerational inheritance. The formerly enslaved people on Holland’s estate struggle to retain African-Jamaican land and food-based freedoms nearly identical to those advocated by Wedderburn: “Above all, mind and keep possession of the land you now possess as slaves; for without that, our freedom is not worth possessing.”

After Emancipation, formerly enslaved people in Jamaica resisted leaving or paying rent for their grounds. Both planters and antislavery activists wanted to detach African-Jamaicans from the land in order to force the formerly enslaved population into useful wage-labour for the British economy. Following Wedderburn’s argument that food and land are inseparable from freedom, I found evidence in planter journals and letters that African-Jamaican food systems challenged the plantation system during and after slavery.

For more information about African American foodways, see the interview with Jessica B. Harris, author of High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011; British Library shelfmark DRT.ELD.DS.70649), at the British Library’s Food Season 2022. 

Notes:

1. Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War (Harvard: Harvard UP, 2020), 242.
2.  I have made this argument in “Provision Grounds Against the Plantation: Robert Wedderburn’s The Axe Laid to the Root (1817),” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 25.1 (2021): 15-27.
3.  Axe Laid to the Root; or, a Fatal Blow to Oppressors, no. 1 (London, 1817): 4.
4.  “Novel and History, Plot and Plantation,” Savacou 5 (1971): 99. My reading of Wynter’s plot is influenced by Janae Davis, Alex Moulton, Levi Van Sant, and Brian Williams, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, ... Plantationocene?: A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crisis,” Geography Compass 13.5 (2019): 1-15.
5.  Journal of a West India Proprietor (London, 1834): 191-2.
6.  Letter from Thomas MacNeil to Lord Holland, 15 February 1839, Holland House Papers, Add Ms. 51816, ff. 169-70. I originally found reference to these letters in Jamaica Surveyed: Plantation Maps and Plans of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Kingston: Institute of Jamaica Publications, 1988), 108.


 

 

 

31 May 2022

E-Resources on European Colonization in the Americas to c.1650

In the latest of our blogs on digital resources for Americas Studies, the Eccles Centre's Philip Abraham looks at the early period of European contact and invasion of the Americas. Remember, once you have your Reader Pass a number of these e-resources can be accessed remotely, from the comfort of your own home.

The emergence of what many scholars now think of as Vast Early America during the early modern period is one of the central pivots of global history. [1] The emergence of an Atlantic world during the two centuries after 1450 was a complex and truly transnational phenomenon, which involved the transfer and circulation (often violent and coerced) of peoples, plants, animals, goods and ideas between Europe, Africa and the Americas.

Because this moment involved so many different kinds of people and things scattered across three continents, it is also a subject that particularly benefits from the development of digital platforms. Digital technology allows researchers to bring together documents and sources from institutions and repositories from around the world in a way that was only possible for the most privileged researchers in the analogue age. These platforms often also include features like maps and infographics which help students and researchers to visualize the movements and voyages that are so fundamental to understanding these histories.

This blog is going to focus on some of the more specialized digital platforms and resources available through the British Library, but it is always worth remembering that some of the more general resources for the humanities (and early modern studies in particular) have a lot to offer. [2]

 

Bibliographies

For building a bibliography, general resources that have been mentioned elsewhere, like the Hispanic American Periodicals Index, America: History & Life and the Bibliography of British and Irish History (which, despite the name, also covers the British Empire in North America and the Caribbean, and Britain's military, economic and diplomatic relations with Latin America) are indispensable starting points. These platforms rely on keywords searches, however, which is great if you have a fairly specific idea of what you are looking for, but less useful if you’re entering a subject for the first time and would like a bit more guidance. For those new to the subject, the best jumping off point for building a reading list are the annotated bibliographies in Atlantic History available through Oxford Bibliographies. Assembled by world-leading experts and covering 360 themes ranging from ‘African Retailers and Small Artisans’ to ‘Dreams and Dreaming’ in the Atlantic world, it is an eclectic but extremely inspiring way into the subject.

A screengrab of the 'Dreams and Dreaming' bibliography page on the 'Oxford Bibliographies' website
The 'Dreams and Dreaming in the Atlantic World' bibliography prepared by Prof. Ann Marie Plane (University of California Santa Barbara), available through "Oxford Bibliographies"

Primary Sources

Again, many of the general platforms for early modern studies offer important pathways into the subject of Europe’s overseas expansion. Early English Books Online (which has a digitized copy of almost every book printed in the British Isles and North America before 1700) is invaluable if you are interested in the ideas that animated England’s engagement with the Atlantic, as you can retrieve texts like Richard Hakluyt’s foundational treatise, Principal Navigations, Voyages and Discoveries of the English Nation, at the click of a button.

A digitised imaged of the title page of the second edition (1598) of Richard Hakluyt's "Principal Navigations", as viewed through the online viewing platform EEBO
The title page of the second edition (1598) of Richard Hakluyt's "Principal Navigations", as viewed through EEBO

EEBO (as those in the know call it!) is an amazing achievement but again, it rewards those that know what they are looking for. European Views of the Americas, 1493-1750 similarly does not easily facilitate browsing but is a really useful gateway into online primary sources for more experienced researchers. There are no comparable resources available through the British Library in languages other than English, however, so if you want to get a more pan-European, indeed pan-Atlantic, perspective, some of the specially curated platforms are very useful.

Its somewhat old-fashioned (indeed, some might say problematically euphemistic) title notwithstanding, Age of Exploration, c. 1420-1920 is a really dynamic and compelling way into the subject, and has a number of really useful features. It has hundreds of documents relating to Europe’s colonization of the Americas (as well as Europe’s colonization of other regions of the world, as it is not focused solely on the Atlantic), organized into collections and themes to make browsing much easier. A particularly useful feature are the interactive maps, which not only chart the routes taken by some of the most significant voyages of exploration during this period, but connects these to fascinating primary sources. For instance, the map plotting William Baffin’s second voyage (March – August 1616) in search of the fabled Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans links to a full digitization of his account of the journey and the log of the voyage. [3]

A map of the world focussed on the North Atlantic, showing in pink the course of William Baffin's journey from Gravesend in England, northwest to Greenland and Arctic Canada, and then back to Dover
William Baffin's second voyage, as viewed on "Age of Exploration"
A page of a seventeenth-century mariner's log book for the month of May - a table with rows representing days and columns representing direction, distance, wind direction, latitude, longitude, and variation.
William Baffin's logbook for May 1615, as downloaded from "Age of Exploration"


Other documentary highlights include a digitized copy of Antonio de la Ascensión’s 220 page account of Sebastián Vizcaíno’s voyage along the coast of California in 1602-1603, and an equally long manuscript describing the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia’s subjugation of Chile in the 1540s.

Age of Exploration also features videos by leading scholars introducing a number of topics, as well as essays and biographies of several major white European men involved in the exploration and invasion of the Americas. Other curated platforms that similarly offer in-depth access to select primary sources together with helpful editorial or secondary interpretive material include Global Commodities: Trade, Exploration & Cultural Exchange, which uses datasets, documents and maps relating to 15 raw and manufactured goods such as fur, silver and gold, sugar and coffee as ways into global history. Empire Online covers the British Empire from a broad range of perspectives. Obviously, the African and Indigenous experiences need to be brought into view before a full picture of the emergence of the early modern Americas can be made, but these resources on European travel, war-making, trade and early settlement are a good starting point.

 


[1] This notion was developed by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and is very well articulated by former Director Karin Wulf here.

[2] This blog will not deal in depth with digital resources concerned with the Atlantic slave trade, or the Indigenous American experience of European colonization. Look out for blogs that will deal with these themes in the future.

[3] This happens to a British Library manuscript. William Baffin, True Relation of his Fourth Voyage for the discovery of a north-west passage, in the year 1615; preceded by the Log of the voyage, Add MS 12206.

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