Americas and Oceania Collections blog

167 posts categorized "History"

20 April 2022

Writer's Award Winner Philip Clark on the Sounds of New York City: Part I

In this first installment of a series of blogs, Philip Clark shares his experience of being a 2022 Eccles Centre and Hay Festival Writer’s Award winner. The Writer’s Award offers £20,000, a year’s residency at the British Library to develop a forthcoming book, and the opportunity to showcase work at Hay Festival events in the UK and Latin America. Philip’s book – Sound and the City – will be a history of the sound of New York City and an investigation into what makes New York City sound like New York City.

At last, I’ve made it. After two years of pandemic travel bans, followed by an embarrassing gaffe with my visa back in January, I’m writing this blog sitting in the café at Barnes & Noble bookstore on Union Square in New York City. Since my arrival, I’ve checked in religiously every morning at 9am for a few hours’ writing; ingrained habits, even when in the city in which we’re told sleep is optional, die hard. Wake up, write. That’s the rhythm. The Barnes & Noble café – the equivalent of the café in Foyles, Charing Cross Road, my usual haunt – is quiet, comfortable and studious. I write surrounded by fellow scribes and ferocious readers – also a young couple gazing into each other’s eyes over a chessboard, who were here yesterday, too. This café has character, although not so much character that I’m distracted from my work. And best of all – the book I’m writing, Sound and the City, a history of the sound of New York City, will, in a few years’ time, be sitting on one of the shelves here. In this space where it was partly written, an idea which appeals to me very much.

People walking and cars driving at the corner of a New York City street in the evening; skyscrapers can be seen in the background.
'Atmosphere'; image, author's own.

My book opens an investigation into what makes New York City sound like New York City, a soundscape completely different from, say, London, Paris or Berlin. What my book is not is a history of music in New York. Instead, the project is to piece together interwoven histories from architecture, geology, immigration, politics and city planning to explain the unique relationship this city has with sound. Alongside, I’m exploring how writers and musicians who have called this endlessly fascinating resonating chamber home have dealt with the sound of the city – a long, impressive role-call that includes Henry James, John Dos Passos, Antonín Dvořák, Edgard Varèse, Duke Ellington, John Cage, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Philip Glass, Bob Dylan, Meredith Monk, Ornette Coleman, Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, Don DeLillo, Grandmaster Flash, Cecil Taylor, Gloria Gaynor, DJ Kool Herc and Wu-Tang Clan.

A five-storey brownstone house with a bay window on the third floor.
Miles Davis'  house; image, author's own.

What does New York do to an artist’s sense of pacing, proportion, structure? Of the sort of material they’re minded to put into their work and the way it behaves once they’ve put it there? In his memoir Words Without Music, published in 2015, Philip Glass claimed “My music sounds like New York”. Which is undoubtedly true. But so does the bebop of Charlie Parker, the modernist composition of Edgard Varèse, the rock of Debbie Harry and the nimble vocal gymnastics of Meredith Monk – none of which sound remotely like Glass. Could factors beyond musical style and idiom knit all this work together? It is my duty to find out.

As life drifted on between lockdowns, and I wondered whether travel would ever be a realistic proposition again, a fantasy New York ran riot inside my imagination. That said, ever since I discovered modern jazz, West Side Story, Morton Feldman and Bob Dylan in my mid-teens, some thirty-five years ago, I have always carried around my own inner-New York. The environment of the city, transferred to reality, felt entirely familiar to me when I started visiting seriously around 2005, testament to how much information its sonic footprint carries within it. New York played a crucial role in my previous book, a biography of the jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, A Life In Time, but there I needed to curb my enthusiasm; editing out superfluous city history became a continual necessity. Now the time has come to fully understand my New York fixation – why that fascination with the sound of its sound, and the sound of its music, has never left me alone.

Last year was spent immersing myself in histories of the city, and also in a pair of works that I knew would give my book its starting point: Edgard Varèse’s orchestral Amériques and John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer. Dos Passos’ novel was published in November 1925, with the premiere of Varèse’s composition following only a few months later in April 1926. The degree to which these panoramic captures of the city mirror each other virtually word-to-note and note-to-word is uncanny. The steamboat whistles and fire engine sirens which Dos Passos describes so vividly are not merely evoked in the fabric of Varèse’s music – he literally wrote both machines into his piece, urban objets trouvés he made sing and holler.

A couple of steps lead down to a brown wood front door, with a white surround; an iron balcony is immediately above.
Edgard Varèse’s front door; image, author's own.

Surely Varèse and Dos Passos had enjoyed long discussions about the meaning of art, life and the universe itself in various hostelries around the East Village? The closeness of their art suggests they must. Having won the Eccles Centre and Hay Festival Writer’s Award at the end of 2021, and now with the whole British Library at my disposal, this was one of the first questions I set out to answer: did they ever meet? Varèse, I read, enjoyed the company of the composers Carl Ruggles and Carlos Salzedo, the conductor Leopold Stokowski, the violinist Fritz Kreisler, the artist Marcel Duchamp – and there is also a documented encounter with the writer Theodore Dreiser. Dos Passos’ associates at the time included the writers E E Cummings, Hart Crane and Dawn Powell. At the British Library, I was very happy to find an extended critique by Sinclair Lewis of Manhattan Transfer, published in 1926, in which Lewis describes Dos Passos’ novel as “the moving symphony itself” and talks up the central role sound takes in the narrative (although Lewis’ respect for Dos Passos was, sadly, not reciprocated).

Plotting the various addresses before I left home where Dos Passos and Varèse lived in the mid-1920s – and then this week walking between them – I discover that they criss-crossed each other constantly and, during different periods, lived but a few blocks from each other. The hotel in which Varèse took up long-term residence when he first arrived from his native France in 1916 – The Brevoort on the corner of 8th Street and 5th Avenue – is where two characters in Dos Passos’ novel, Elaine Oglethorpe and George Baldwin, conduct their affair.

Novelist and composer are traceable to some of the same bars and cafés. Romany Marie’s famous bistro-tavern, the place in the Village where artists, musicians and writers met to talk, was a regular meeting place of Varèse’s – and surely Dos Passos went there too. Walking a block from 188 Sullivan Street, Varèse’s home from 1925 until his death in 1965, I find Caffe Reggio – the first café to bring cappuccino to the city is the boast – which opened its doors in 1927. Given Dos Passos’ love of European culture and Varèse’s yearning to find tastes of Europe in New York, could their paths have crossed there? And then there’s McSorley’s Old Ale House, opened around 1860, and subject of a poem by Dos Passos’ close friend E E Cummings. And we know that Varèse loved ale. His wife, Louise, in her memoir, Varèse: A Looking Glass Diary, tells us how he took a shine to a barmaid – who called him ‘Dearie’ – in a London pub, near Broadcasting House, when the BBC performed his piece Hyperprism in 1924. Degrees of separation melt away by the moment.

The window of McSorley's Ale House reflecting nearby buildings and trees; gold lettering tells passers by that McSorley's was established in 1854 - 'before you were born'.
McSorley's Old Ale House; image, author's own.

But even if they managed never to meet, my thesis holds firm. Varèse and Dos Passos walked those same sidewalks, listening deep into the sound of the city, and you feel that kinship in the work they produced. New York works as an artistic matchmaker apparently – even when artists are not aware it is happening.

11 April 2022

Electronic Resources for US Politics

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 collections which can support those exploring US Politics and Political History. All resources can be accessed from our Electronic Resources page, and some are available remotely once you get your free Reader Pass. All previous posts in the series can be found here.

There are many resources which can help uncover the operation of government, with Congress being especially well represented. The Congressional Record Permanent Digital Collection 1789-1997 and the US Congressional Serial Set 1817-1994 provide impressive levels of insight into the legislative process. The Congressional Record is a substantially verbatim account of the remarks made by Senators and Representatives while they are on the floor of the Senate and the House of Representatives (the equivalent of the UK’s Hansard). It also includes all bills, resolutions, and motions proposed, as well as debates, and roll call votes. The Serial Set is comprised of the numbered Senate and House Documents and Senate and House Reports, bound by session of Congress. There is also a dedicated selection of maps with the Serial Set. The Serial Set, and its maps, can be accessed remotely by registered Readers. The maps can be browsed by State as well as topic. The image below shows the Indian Reservations in the United States in 1940.

Serial set black and white map
Map showing Indian reservations in the United States. Compiled and drawn by E.H. Coulson, Chief Engineering Draftsman, Office of Indian Affairs, Division of Forestry. 1940. Serial Set No. 11747, Session Vol. No.11, 83rd Congress, 2nd Session, H.Rpt. 2680, Page [Not Numbered], Map No. 1. (Accessed via the US Congressional Serial Set 1817-1994.)

The Library’s selection of electronic resources is very wide, and it is worth looking at resources which may not seem immediately ‘Political Studies’ yet may still hold relevant material. For example, the American History, 1493-1945 resource is drawn from the diverse collections of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York, and has some fascinating collections including materials related to the private lives of First Ladies, and Presidential Pardons. Below is part of the pardon by President Polk of an elderly counterfeiter, Samuel Howard, convicted of passing counterfeit coin and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, who was pardoned due to age, previous honesty, his family’s dependence on him, the small amount of counterfeited money involved, and the judge’s recommendation for clemency.

Manuscript document
Presidential authority to the Secretary of State to affix the seal to the pardon of Samuel Howard, 13 January 1848, Collection Reference Number, GLC00045.08. (Accessed via American History, 1493-1945.)

Similarly, there are many aspects of US domestic politics which are well-covered in other thematic resources focused on different identity groups, such as women’s suffrage campaigns, LGBTQ+ political activism, and African-American civil rights campaigns and political activism. For example, the African American Communities resource holds legal papers of justices and policymakers which shed light on the politics around busing and school desegregation, including the Algernon Lee Butler Papers, 1928-1978, from the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Butler Papers consist of Butler's political, legal, and personal papers from 1928 until 1978. Featured are a wide variety of writings and speeches Butler produced on political, educational, and civic topics, including materials relating to school desegregation and civil rights cases.

Screenshot of the African American Communities Algernon Lee Butler Papers
African American Communities database screenshot showing items from the Algernon Butler Papers.

There are many full-text US newspapers available in the electronic resources, which were covered in this earlier post. These newspapers are a fantastic resource for many aspects of US social and political life. Importantly, these don’t just include historical newspapers. The British Library subscribes to the excellent NewsBank: Access World News resource, which is available via Remote Access for registered Readers. This is an extraordinary database and an excellent resource for events from the 1980s to the present, including full-text coverage of more than 1300 American dailies such as the Boston Herald (1991 to the present) and the New York Post (1999 to the present); transcripts of more than 200 major TV news and radio programmes including 60 Minutes (2004 to the present) and Fox News Channel (2003 to the present); full-text coverage of more than twenty news magazines; output from more than 300 web-only sources; and access to more than 80 newswires.

Three covers of the Atlantic magazine
Recent issues of The Atlantic magazine (left to right: June 2021; July/August 2021; May 2021), available via NewsBank: Access World News.

Finally, our electronic resources are very strong on US foreign policy and international relations, particularly how other countries viewed the US. These include the Confidential Print: North America, 1824-1961 collection which comes from the National Archives at Kew and contains British Government documents covering the US (as well as other parts of the Americas). The collection covers topics such as slavery, Prohibition, the First and Second World Wars, racial segregation, territorial disputes, the League of Nations, McCarthyism and the nuclear bomb. For a broader global perspective, researchers can explore the excellent Foreign Broadcast Information Service (also available via remote access). FBIS was a US government operation which translated the text of daily broadcasts, government statements, and select news stories from non-English sources. The idea was to understand more about foreign opinion of the United States and its policies. It is an archive of 20th century news from around the world, offering global views on US foreign and domestic policy after World War II. The documents cover the Cold War, the Middle East, Latin America, the Soviet Union and more. Below is an example from the Soviet Home Service criticising America’s perceived plans in Asia as it ended the official postwar occupation of Japan.

Typed transcript
‘U.S. READIES JAPAN AS FAR EAST BASE’, Source: Moscow, Soviet Home Service, 09 August 1951; Translated into English and published in: DAILY REPORT. FOREIGN RADIO BROADCASTS (FBIS-FRB-51-160), 10 August 1951, USSR HOME SERVICE, Page AA6. (Accessed via Foreign Broadcast Information Service).

This whirlwind tour of the Library’s e-resources has just scratched the surface, but it does give an indication of the wide range of collections which include materials helpful for both historic and contemporary US Political Studies. For those interested in diving further into US politics at the Library, do check out the Collection Guide for US Federal Government Publications

By Cara Rodway, Eccles Centre, April 2022

30 March 2022

A welcome return for on-site Doctoral Open Days

It’s been a while since we’ve been able to do ‘in real life’ show and tells for students attending the Library’s Doctoral Open Days so the Americas and Oceania Collections Curatorial team and Eccles team were delighted to be able to discuss a selection of items from the collections with researchers at the latest on-site sessions.

On 4 and 7 March 2022, a number of students from all disciplines visited the Library’s site at St Pancras to get better acquainted with the services and collections available for their research, inspiration and enjoyment. Theses practical sessions were offered to all who attended our PhD webinars that took place earlier in the year.

The days give the chance to attend Reader Registration appointments, go on building tours, take advantage of drop-in sessions with Reference Services, see how collection items are handled and conserved, and come along to show and tells with curatorial teams across the Library to see and discuss items from different collections.

Photo of the collection items from across the Library on display at the show and tell sessions
Photo of the collection items from across the Library on display at the show and tell sessions

Asian and African Collections, British and European Collections, Music Collections, Digital Collections and Resources, Contemporary Society and Culture Collections, and Maps and Visual Arts Collections all took part. We love being part of these days; not only do we get to meet new researchers and discuss their work, but we also get the chance to see colleagues from other collection areas and chat with them about the items in their remit and beyond – both things that have been much-missed in-person activities over the past two years.

For those unable to attend, we thought we’d share a few things with you digitally instead! Here are a selection of items that the Americas and Oceania team displayed over the two days:

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
Text by Lewis Carroll; designed by Tara Bryan
Flatrock, Newfoundland, Canada: Walking Bird Press, 2016
RF.2019.a.126

Photos of down the rabbit hole (RF.2019.a.126) by Tara Bryan, showing the item as it’s stored and in its open form
Photos of down the rabbit hole (RF.2019.a.126) by Tara Bryan, showing the item as it’s stored and in its open form

Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript for Alice's Adventures Under Ground is housed at the British Library, so we are always excited to see how the tale has been re-imagined, re-interpreted and re-illustrated over the last 160 years. This item invites readers into the rabbit hole, with the words from Carroll tunnelling down and down… just as Alice did. This artists’ book was designed by Tara Bryan in her studio in Newfoundland. One of only 40 copies, it is made from delicate handmade Thai Bamboo paper and Japanese paper.

FOR HOME USE: A BOOK OF REFERENCE ON MANY SUBJECTS RELATIVE TO THE TABLE
Proprietors of Angostura Bitters
Trinidad: Angostura Bitters (Publication year unknown/Donated)
YD.2004.a.5928

Photos of For Home Use: A Book Of Reference On Many Subjects Relative To The Table (YD.2004.a.5928)
Photos of For Home Use: A Book Of Reference On Many Subjects Relative To The Table (YD.2004.a.5928)

This item speaks to culinary social history, especially concerning those deemed belonging to the middle and upper classes of Trinidad and Tobago. ‘Invaluable to the Host and Hostess’, this book of recipes by the makers of Angostura Bitters, is an example of great marketing from a bygone era.

SÃO FERNANDO BEIRA-MAR: CANTIGA DE ESCÁRNIO E MALDIZER
Antonio Miranda
São Paulo: Dulcinéia Catadora, 2007
RF.2019.a.285

LA MUJER DE LOS SUEÑOS DEL DOMADOR DE YAKARÉS
Amarildo Garcia
Asunción: Yiyi Jambo, 2008
RF.2019.a.356

TRIPLE FRONTERA DREAMS
Douglas Diegues
Buenos Aires: Eloísa Cartonera, 2012
RF.2019.a.361

CARTONERAS IN TRANSLATION = CARTONERAS EN TRADUCCIÓN = CARTONERAS EM TRADUÇÃO: ANTOLOGÍA
Lucy Bell et al., eds.
Cuernavaca: La Cartonera, 2018
RF.2019.a.311

Photo of cartoneras from Latin America (Top left, RF.2019.a.311; top right, RF.2019.a.285; bottom left, RF.2019.a.356; bottom right, RF.2019.a.361)
Photo of cartoneras from Latin America (Top left, RF.2019.a.311; top right, RF.2019.a.285; bottom left, RF.2019.a.356; bottom right, RF.2019.a.361)

Cartoneras are books of poetry, literature, and translations made with covers from salvaged cardboard with original illustrations in acrylic colours made by members of cartonera workshops. Their illustrated cardboard covers are often anonymous, even when created by famous artists, or signed by all members of the publishing group in a clear attempt to promote the community effort over the individual artist. The focus is on making books together and giving everyone access to reading and writing their stories.

Cartonera books are not only visually beautiful, but also make a critical intervention in publishing and reading cultures in Latin America starting in the wake of the financial crisis in Argentina with Eloísa Cartonera in 2003. This type of cheap community publishing spread quickly across the region and allowed other Latin American countries plagued by economic and social inequality to appropriate reading and book-making practices creatively and in a community-based way.

LIP MAGAZINE ISSUE 1
Frances (Budden) Phoenix (featured artist)
Melbourne, Australia: Women in the Visual Arts Collective, 1976
RF.2019.b.172

Photo of Lip magazine with artwork using paper doily by Phoenix on centerfold (RF.2019.b.172)
Photo of Lip magazine with artwork using paper doily by Phoenix on centerfold (RF.2019.b.172)

Lip was an Australian feminist journal self-published by a collective of women in Melbourne between 1976 and 1984. The art and politics expressed in the journal provide a fascinating record of the Women’s Liberation era in Australia. The inaugural issue seen here includes articles on writer Dorothy Hewett, Australian embroidery, and Australian feminist art, film and performing arts, as well as a double page removable centerfold: a doily vulva artwork called ‘Soft Aggression’ by artist Frances (Budden) Phoenix. Phoenix was an Australian feminist artist who helped to establish the Women’s Domestic Needlework Group, and known for her provocative textile and needlework which subverted traditional notions of women’s domestic crafts. In her centerfold here, she revisits the tradition of women inscribing messages into their work and includes the directive to readers: “female culture is in the minds, hearts and secret dialogues of women. Use your culture in your own defence: use soft aggression.”

THE LITERARY VOYAGER OR MUZZENIEGUN
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, edited with an introduction by Philip P. Mason
[East Lansing]: Michigan State University Press, 1962.
X.800/1125.

ALGIC RESEARCHES, COMPRISING INQUIRIES RESPECTING THE MENTAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS: FIRST SERIES: INDIAN TALES AND LEGENDS
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft
New York, 1839.
12430.e.20.

The Literary Voyager Or Muzzeniegun (X.800/1125.)
The Literary Voyager Or Muzzeniegun (X.800/1125.)

In 1962, scholar Philip P. Mason collected and republished the entirety of the manuscript magazine The Literary Voyager. Originally produced between December 1826 and April 1827 by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, it is considered to be the first periodical related to Native American culture. Its alternative title, Muzzeniegun is Ojibwe for ‘book’.

Schoolcraft, an ethnologist and Indian Agent in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, handwrote a few copies of each issue which were posted to friends and family. Schoolcraft was married to Bamewawagezhikaquay, also known as Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, who was of Ojibwa and Scots-Irish ancestry. She is considered to be the first known Native American woman writer. Notably she wrote in both English and Ojibwe. Many of her poems and traditional stories were included in The Literary Voyager, however she does not receive credit for her work. Her mother, from whom Schoolcraft also collected traditional stories and cultural knowledge, is also not named. It has taken considerable efforts by Native American literary scholars to correct this historical omission, and to bring attention to this important Ojibwe voice.

Some of Bamewawagezhikaquay’s stories were later published in Algic Researches, also compiled by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. This Library copy is an original edition from 1839.

Algic Researches, Comprising Inquiries Respecting the Mental Characteristics of the North American Indians: First Series: Indian Tales And Legends (12430.e.20.)
Algic Researches, Comprising Inquiries Respecting the Mental Characteristics of the North American Indians: First Series: Indian Tales And Legends (12430.e.20.)

We’d like to thank our colleagues in the Library’s Research Development Team for organising the webinars and in-person sessions, and to our friends in the Eccles Centre for American Studies for their support in helping the days run smoothly.

As the Library continues to working hard at both our sites to make sure everyone can visit us safely, we are looking forward to the opportunity to run similar sessions and meet more of you in person over the coming year.

07 February 2022

E-resources for Women in the United States

This fourth instalment of our Americas e-resources blog series focuses on women in the US, both historic and contemporary, but may also prove a useful starting point for exploring women’s lives and experiences in other parts of the Americas and Oceania.1 

Having recently curated a large exhibition on women’s rights in the UK at the British Library, we are well aware of the challenges involved in organising a topic as varied, contested and capacious as ‘women.’ It has been interesting to see, therefore, how some of the major digital recourses have been organised into different thematic strands.

On Adams Matthews's Gender: Identity and Social Change, for instance, themes include women’s suffrage, feminism and the men’s movement as well as employment and labour, education and the body.

Image of a woman in dungarees driving an old-fashioned harvesting machine. Other agricultural labourers and haystacks are in the background.
'Gender: Identity and Social Change'; an e-resource available at the British Library.

Drawing from collections in the US, Canada, UK and Australia, the resource offers full text access to monographs, periodicals and archives from the early nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. Among other riches is the archive of Betty Friedan, feminist activist and co-founder of both the National Organisation for Women and the National Abortion Rights League (digitised from the Schlesinger Library). The archive includes Friedan's survey and accompanying notes about the satisfaction of female graduates in 1957, a piece of work which informed her seminal 1963 publication The Feminine Mystique. As letters sent to Freidan shortly after the book’s publication reveal, some readers objected strongly to the notion of ‘the problem which has no name’, the existence of women’s malaise which The Feminine Mystique identified.

A type written letter to Betty Friedan from a reader opposed to these thesis she put forward in The Feminine Mystique.
Letters from original readers of The Feminine Mystique, 5 January - 24 December 1967, © Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Betty Friedan. Republished by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'Gender: Identity and Social Change'.

 

A yellow programme for the 6th Conference on Men & Masculinity; it is typewritten with two columns of text in the bottom half.
Programme for the 6th Men and Masculinity Conference, 17 September - 25 October 1979. Content compilation © 2017, by the MSU Library. All rights reserved. Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'Gender: Identity and Social Change'.

For an analysis of women and popular, commercial culture, Proquest’s Vogue Archive is hugely illuminating. With full of coverage of American Vogue from the magazine’s first issue in 1892 to the current month, the archive showcases evolving fashions, photography and design as well as being a record of culture, society and aspiration over more than a century. The subject search engine allows for close analysis and the outline statistics for coverage across years provides both a snapshot of topics and their popularity at any given time. A search for ‘abortion', for instance, reveals a peak of 158 mentions between 1990 and 1999, compared to 74 between 1970 and 1979, and 9 from 1960 to 1969. Careful indexing and high-resolution colour page images render the magazine accurately and allow for detailed searches as well as providing evidence of the frequency fashion, style, photography.

A magazine cover featuring a headshot of an African American woman smiling at the camera; on the left of the page are written hints about the articles within the magazine.
Beverly Johnson, the first African American woman to be photographed on the cover of Vogue. Vogue; New York Volume 164, Issue 2, (1 August, 1974): C1. Copyright Conde Nast Publications. Accessible at the British Library on the 'Vogue Archive' e-resource.

Everyday Life & Women in America is published by Adam Matthews and supports the study of American social, cultural and popular history. Offering access to rare primary source material from both the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History at Duke University and The New York Public Library, it includes fully searchable monographs, pamphlets, periodicals and broadsides addressing 19th and early 20th century political, social and gender issues, religion, race, education, employment, marriage, sexuality, home and family life, health, and pastimes. One of the periodicals on offer is Town Topics: The Journal of Society (1887 – 1923). In its day, this was an essential source of articles and commentary on art, music, literature, society, gossip and scandal not only for the socially ambitious, but also for established families like the Vanderbilts and Astors. Today, this full-run of issues provides a unique insight into the Gilded Age.

Everyday Life & Women in America is also rich in guides to social conduct and domestic management literature. One example from a vast selection is American Ladies' Memorial; an indispensable home-book for the wife, mother, sister; In fact, useful to every lady throughout the Unites States (1850). This covers topics such as embroidery and painting as well as etiquette and behavioural advice. In ‘A few Rules for the Wise’ the author advises ‘ladies’ should ‘Control the temper’ as well as ‘use but little ceremony, else your guests will not feel at ease.’

An elaborately decorated black and white cover for a women's periodical.
American Ladies' Memorial; an indispensable home-book for the wife; mother; sister; In fact; useful to every lady throughout the Unites States. Boston, MA. Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'Everyday Life & Women in America'.

For the records pertaining to suffrage and women’s rights organisations as well as women at work during the World War II, a good place to start is the History Vault women’s study module Struggle for Women's Rights: 1880-1990, Organizational Records. This includes financial records, letters, papers, diaries and scrapbooks and more taken from the University Publications of America Collections. Records include those from the National Women’s Party, League of Women Voters and the Women’s Action Alliance, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor and the correspondence of the director of the Women’s Army Corps. A recent addition are the birth control campaigner, sex educator and nurse Margaret Sanger’s papers.

Three platforms worth exploring, despite being somewhat challenging to navigate, are The Gerritsen Collection, Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History, and North American Women’s Letters and Diaries. The latter contains the first-person experiences of 1,325 women through 150,000 pages of diaries and letters, while Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History brings together hundreds of accounts by women of their travels across the globe from the early 19th century to the late 20th century. A wide variety of forms of travel writing are included, from unique manuscripts, diaries and correspondence to drawings, guidebooks and photographs. The resource includes a slideshow with hundreds of items of visual material, including postcards, sketches and photographs.

Spanning four centuries, The Gerritson Collection draws together content from Europe, the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. This archive of books, pamphlets and periodicals on suffrage, women’s consciousness and feminism was originally collected by the nineteenth century Dutch physician and feminist Aletta Jacobs Gerritsen and her husband. Today, the collection contains more than 4,700 publications including a substantive body of material pertaining to anti-suffrage, for example Carrie Chapman Catt's Ought Women to Have Votes for Members of Parliament? (1879) and Anti-Suffrage Essays by Massachusetts Women (1916).

The black and white front cover of The Anti-Suffragist; under the title is the index of contents.
Anonymous : Front Cover; Anti suffragist, devoted to placing before the public the reasons why it is inexpedient to extend the ballot to women. Volume 4, Issue 2 (1912) pg. 0_1. Accessible at the British Library on the e-resource 'The Gerritson Collection'.

This is the tiniest snapshot of the material available via the Library’s electronic resources pertaining to women in the US, but hopefully it demonstrates the wealth of primary and secondary source material that have been collated from archives and libraries around the world and made available through single-access platforms.

Later this month, we will look at the Library's Americas literary e-resources!

Polly Russell, Head, The Eccles Centre

Endnotes:

1. All of the databases referred to here are full-text and need to be consulted on-site at the Library.

26 January 2022

"Hope’s ragged symbol": 50 years of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in poetry and prose

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this post contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

 

Black and white photograph showing Billy Craigie, Bert Williams, Michael Anderson and Tony Coorey at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, outside Parliament House, Canberra, 27 January 1972
First day of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, outside Parliament House, Canberra, 27 January 1972. Left to right- Billy Craigie, Bert Williams, Michael Anderson and Tony Coorey. Image courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy SEARCH Foundation. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 BY International Licence

On the evening of 26 January 1972, four men set up a beach umbrella on the lawn opposite Parliament House (now known as Old Parliament House) on Ngunnawal Country in Canberra and established the Aboriginal tent embassy. The four men, Michael Anderson, Tony Coorey, Billy Craigie, and Bert Williams, erected a handmade sign claiming the site as the 'Aboriginal Embassy' and became the first occupants of the longest continual protest site for Indigenous sovereignty and land rights. Numerous, and often violent, attempts since 1972 to remove the embassy have ultimately failed and it remains a site of continued resistance. In recognition of its significance to Australian history, the site was included on the Commonwealth Heritage List in 2015. This blog will look at some of the poetry and prose which inspired or was inspired by the Aboriginal tent embassy.

 

Cover of 'We are going' by Kath Walker. Jacaranda Press, 1964. Shelfmark
We are going: poems by Kath Walker (now Oodgeroo Noonuccal). Brisbane : Jacaranda Press, 1964. British Library shelfmark X.900/2567.

In 1962, the poet, educator and activist, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, prepared a poem for the 5th Annual General Meeting of the Federal Council Aboriginal Advancement in Adelaide. Entitled Aboriginal Charter of Rights, the poem gave voice to the feelings of Aboriginal people, articulating them in 44 lines for the rest of Australia in a way that they had not heard before. Noonuccal, a descendant of the Noonuccal people of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), uses short, sharp, repetitive lines to make clear the disparity between demands of basic human rights and the current conditions imposed on Aboriginal people:

We want hope, not racialism,


Brotherhood, not ostracism,


Black advance, not white ascendance:


Make us equals, not dependants (Noonuccal, 1962).

Aboriginal Charter of Rights was subsequently published in her first book of poems We are going: poems (Jacaranda Press, 1964, shelfmark X.900/2567.); the first collection of verse published by an Aboriginal poet. The poem reverberated in the Aboriginal rights demonstrations of the 1960s, fueling a growing civil rights awareness amongst students and leading to the 1965 Freedom Ride.  Aboriginal Charter of Rights nears an end with Noonuccal asking "Must we native Old Australians, In our own land rank as aliens?".

 

Cover of The Aboriginal tent embassy : sovereignty, black power, land rights and the State / edited by Andrew Schaap and Gary Foley and Edwina Howell. London : Routledge, 2014. Shelfmark YC.2013.a.13107
The Aboriginal tent embassy : sovereignty, black power, land rights and the State / edited by Gary Foley, Andrew Schaap and Edwina Howell. 2014. British Library shelfmark YC.2013.a.13107

Noonuccal's words were revisited by Gary Foley, the Gumbainggir activist and academic, who played a key role in the establishment of the Aboriginal tent embassy. In the 2014 edited collection of writing on the tent embassy, The Aboriginal tent embassy : sovereignty, black power, land rights and the State (Routledge. Shelfmark YC.2013.a.13107), Foley recalls the decision to name the protest site an embassy was to reflect how Aboriginal people were treated as "aliens in their own land" and so, like other aliens, needed an embassy of their own.  However this embassy wouldn't be a grand government building like the one across the lawn, but one which would reflect the living conditions of Aboriginals; a simple tent which Bobbi Sykes designated "Hope's ragged symbol" in the liberal newspaper Nation Review in 1972.

 

Cover of Sykes, R. (1998). Snake dancing. French Forest, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin. Shelfmark YA.2000.a.1826
Sykes, R. (1998). Snake dancing. French Forest, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin. British Library shelfmark YA.2000.a.1826

Bobbi (or Roberta) Sykes was a writer, activist, and the first black Australian to attend Harvard University in the US. She became the executive secretary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972. Her piece in the Nation Review begins by outlining the symbolism of the tent:

From the first, the Aboriginal embassy represented the people. It was an embarrassment to the government same as the people are. It was poor and shabby just like the people. For many of the residents who passed through and stayed for a while it was more luxurious than their own homes despite the cold, the lack of facilities, the constant need for money, for food. The embassy was everything that the people still are (Sykes, 1972, 165).

and continues with her personal account of the multiple, violent clashes with police who attempted to remove the protesters and tent from the site; "I was hurled to the ground on several occasions, and walked over by heavy cop boots. 'The whole world's watching, the whole world's watching' we chanted". Sykes later revisits these struggles from 1972 in a haunting description of the tent being torn down in the second volume of her autobiography, Snake Dancing (1998, Allen & Unwin. Shelfmark YA.2000.a.1826). Bobbi Sykes was instrumental in publicising the fight for Aboriginal rights to an international audience and inspired many others to do the same.

In her 1998 speech for International Women's Day in Sydney, the Wiradjuri woman and activist Isobel Coe declared:

Now the Aboriginal tent Embassy is all about Sovereignty, this is Aboriginal land, always was and always will be and we are there to tell the truth about Sovereignty. [...] The time has come for us to sit down, we’re mothers, we’re grandmothers aunt’s we’re sisters and we all have a common goal and we all have a stake in this country because we all have children and if we are to go into the next century in peace and harmony we have to address the sovereignty issue. That dirty word that no-one wants to talk about, Aboriginal Sovereignty (Coe, 1998).

Another 'dirty' word in her speech that Coe, a prominent figure at the Aboriginal tent embassy, wanted to get people to talk about was genocide, "We are the first people, not just of this country but of the world and that recognition hasn’t come [...] and when there is another genocide you people [...] will be a part of the conspiracy to commit genocide now!". In 1998 Coe, along with three others, applied to the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory to get the crime of genocide recognised as a crime in Australian law. The application was dismissed and the words in her speech here reflect the shared frustration among Aboriginal people that 26 years have passed since the embassy was established and little progress has been made.

One year later in 1999, that frustration is echoed by the essayists Felicia Fletcher and John Leonard in Australia Day at the Aboriginal tent embassy; an evocative account in the literary journal, Meanjin, of the corroboree ceremony for Aboriginal sovereignty which took place on Australia Day at the embassy in 1999 (58 (1), 10-17. Shefmark P.P.5126.gbn.). The piece oscillates between descriptions of the ceremony itself, which involved merging water and fire; "All day the smoke continued to billow out over Parliamentary Triangle; fragrant wood-smoke blowing over the non-native trees and formal gardens", and bitter humour:

'Dear Aboriginal people/s, I hereby enclose your citizenship rights. I have retained my rights to dispossess you of your land. Making a fuss will not prove worthwhile because we are many and you are few. Our God is now your God. Enjoy. Goodbye erstwhile companions of my explorers, and thanks for all the land' (Fletcher & Leonard, 1999, 13).

Canberra poet, Paul Cliff, who has co-published with Oodgeroo Noonuccal, similarly employed a particularly ignorant, non-Indigenous voice to great effect in his poem, Tent Embassy, Winter (Parliament House Lawn, Canberra) which features in his 2002 collection The Impatient World (Five Islands Press. Shelfmark YA.2003.a.48502). In this short but striking poem, Cliff takes the position of an outsider looking in: "Frost grips the tents [...] 9am: and no one's stirred. Is that -- traditional?". This question brings us to one of the final writers to feature in this blog; Lionel Fogarty.

 

 

Cover of Mogwie-Idan : stories of the land / Lionel George Fogarty ; co-edited by Ali Cobby Eckermann. Newtown, NSW : Vagabond Press, 2015. Shelfmark YD.2018.a.3977
Mogwie-Idan : stories of the land / Lionel George Fogarty, 2015. British Library shelfmark YD.2018.a.3977


The poetry of Lionel Fogarty, Murri poet and activist, subverts the question of what might be considered 'traditional'. Described by poet, John Kinsella as ‘the greatest living Australian poet’, Fogarty's work is abstract, radical, and at times indecipherable through his mutinous approach to traditional grammatical structures. His poetry draws inspiration from Oodgeroo Noonuccal and is directly informed by his involvement in Aboriginal activism since the 1970s. His 2015 collection Mogwie-Idan : stories of the land (Vagabond Press. Shelfmark YD.2018.a.3977) includes the poem Tent Embassy 1971-2021 as well as number of his own drawings which push and pull at the reader. Mogwie-Idan ends with the poem Power Lives in the Spears:

    Power live in the spears

    Power live in the worries

    Power air in the didgeridoo

    Power run on the people heart

    Bear off the power come from the land (Fogarty, 2015)

 

Cover of Gilbert, K. (1994). Black from the edge. South Melbourne, Vic. : Hyland House. British Library shelfmark YK.1995.a.1312
Gilbert, K. (1994). Black from the edge. South Melbourne, Vic. : Hyland House. British Library shelfmark YK.1995.a.1312

Fogarty's words here are reminiscent of the closing lines of Winter Camp, Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a poem from the Wiradjuri poet, playwright, printmaker and activist, Kevin Gilbert, which features in his award-winning 1994 collection Black from the edge (Hyland House. Shelfmark YK.1995.a.1312.). Gilbert was instrumental in the continual occupation of the tent embassy site and spent the final year of his life there. A memorial was held at the embassy for him following his death in 1993. Gilbert's poem, Winter Camp, Aboriginal Tent Embassy, begins with the lines; "We see them, shoulders hunched, standing in the rain", and pays homage to the undiminished, and vital, flames of anger and hope in those who have kept the Aboriginal tent embassy site running for fifty years. The poems ends with the following lines which feel an appropriate way to conclude this blog post:

human spirit flames for love

to light the pages of history

with their heroic form (Gilbert, 1994, 30).

 

Pay attention,"The whole world's watching."

Lucy Rowland, Oceania Curator

 

References:

Cliff, P. (2002). The Impatient World. N.S.W. : Five Islands Press. Shelfmark YA.2003.a.48502

Coe, I (1998). Speech for the virtual tour Sydney 1998 IWD. [Online] Available at: http://www.isis.aust.com/iwd/docos/tour98/coe.htm

Fletcher, F., & Leonard, J. (1999). Australia Day at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Meanjin, 58 (1), 10-17. Shefmark P.P.5126.gbn. Also available online in Reading Rooms at: https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.898736456225388

Fogarty, L. (2015). Mogwie-Idan : stories of the land. Newtown, NSW : Vagabond Press. Shelfmark YD.2018.a.3977

Foley, G. (2014). A reflection on the first thirty days of the embassy. In: Foley, G., Schaap, A., & Howell, E. (eds.). (2014). The Aboriginal tent embassy : sovereignty, black power, land rights and the State. London : Routledge. Shelfmark YC.2013.a.13107

Foley, G., Schaap, A., & Howell, E. (eds.). (2014). The Aboriginal tent embassy : sovereignty, black power, land rights and the State. London : Routledge. Shelfmark YC.2013.a.13107

Gilbert, K. (1988). Inside Black Australia : an anthology of Aboriginal poetry. Harmondsworth : Penguin, published with the assistance of the Literature Board of the Australia Council. Shelfmark YH.1989.a.6

Gilbert, K. (1994). Black from the edge. South Melbourne, Vic. : Hyland House. Shelfmark YK.1995.a.1312

Sykes, R. (1972). Bobbi Sykes 'Hope's ragged symbol' Nation Review, 29 July-4 August 1972. In: Foley, G., Schaap, A., & Howell, E. (eds.). (2014). The Aboriginal tent embassy : sovereignty, black power, land rights and the State. London : Routledge. 165-168. Shelfmark YC.2013.a.13107

Sykes, R. (1998). Snake dancing. French Forest, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin. Shelfmark YA.2000.a.1826

Walker, K. (1964). We are going: poems. Brisbane : Jacaranda Press. Shelfmark X.900/2567.

Watson, I. (2000). Aboriginal Tent Embassy: 28 years after it was established [Interview with Isobell Coe by Watson, Irene.]. Indigenous Law Bulletin, 5(1), 17–18. Available online in Reading Rooms at: https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/ielapa.200104820

 

 

 

20 January 2022

Slavery and the Sugar Trade: cataloguing five bills of lading

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Blog post by

Kither, Alex,  Cataloguer Printed Heritage Collections 

 

20 December 2021

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

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

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

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

So, how do they work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

12 December 2021

Celebrating Viola Desmond, Carrie Best and a new philatelic acquisition

Today’s blog does three things!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

 

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