American Collections blog

21 posts categorized "Modern history"

02 February 2021

We're calling for your Caribbean food stories

Newspaper article titled 'Ridley Rd Market', black and white images of market stalls selling yams and bananas.
West Indian World, 9 July 1971. British Library shelfmark: LOU.4359 [1971]

Following Riaz Phillips’s wonderful blog, I would like to introduce a new project that the Eccles Centre is launching – ‘Caribbean Foodways at the British Library’. It is inspired by an exciting spread of food-related collection items, Steve McQueen’s Mangrove (2020) and a desire to hear your stories and have your input in collections development, here at the library.

As Phillips describes in his blog, food has often been a battleground for survival, culture, home-making and resistance. A critical roadmap for understanding histories and experiences of migration, ‘Caribbean Foodways at the British Library’ aims to explore and highlight these histories in a collaborative way, through conversation and exchange.  In recognition of food’s vital place in community and struggle, this project seeks to listen to and learn from your stories.

Front-cover of pamphlet-style cookbook.
Teresa E. Cleary, Jamaica Run-dung: Over 100 Recipes. Kingston: Brainbuster Publications, 1973. British Library shelfmark: YA.1989.a.11640

The British Library’s collections are stuffed with fascinating and largely untapped resources relating to Caribbean food, scattered through manuscripts, printed books, newspapers,  magazines, sound and oral histories. Over the coming months we are embarking on a series of connected projects, working with communities and partners in the Caribbean and the UK, to select key collection items to digitize and make freely available online; to identify significant gaps in the collection; and to tell and record new stories and memories of food, culture and experience amongst the global Caribbean diaspora.

From Black British magazines such as Tropic (1960) and Flamingo (1961-65), to community-published cookbooks in London and colonial cookbooks published in the Caribbean, the British Library holds a variety of collection items that speak to the complexities of Caribbean food history.

Front cover of the magazine with a woman posing in blue summer dress, a red and white head scarf and jewellery.
Flamingo, October 1961. British Library shelfmark: P.P.5109.bq

 

Advert for Edwin McKenzie Tropic Food, drawing of palm trees with a list of foods available e.g. hot pepper sauce and guavas.
Tropic, September 1960. British Library shelfmark: P.P.7615.kf

 

Introduction page including a list of contributors.
Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole and other Caribbean recipes. London: Peckham Publishing Project, 1981. British Library shelfmark: X.629/17620

Caribbean Food and You!

Through a series of initiatives, including oral history interviews, the British Library wants to engage participants in conversations about life, history and politics through food. This marks an opportunity for people to tell their food stories and memories which will inform new collection perspectives and development at the British Library.

The interviews recorded for this project will be deposited in the British Library’s Sound Archive, becoming a part of the Library’s collection forever. They will also be the basis for a series of blogs, as part of the British Library’s 2021 Food Season. In preparation for these interviews, Eccles staff will search for collection items which connect to participants’ food memories, as well as drawing up a list of new items to acquire (with public input).

There are different ways to get involved, whether the Library's buildings are open or closed:
   • Put yourself forward for an interview
   • Home collections: we are all the archivers of our own lives and homes, so why not explore your own shelves, photo albums, cupboards and memories to discover collection items  in your own home and tell us about them
   • Researching from home: we invite you to scour the British Library's online catalogue for food-related items and to write to us about items that you’re interested in.  Look out   for an upcoming blog on navigating the digital Caribbean collections
   • Expanding the collections: have you noticed something missing from the Library's catalogue?  If so, please get in touch and we can try to acquire those items
   • Digitizing: we would like to expand the range of items available to view online, and would like to hear your suggestions for new items to be digitized – excerpts of books, newspapers, diaries and letters from the modern era that you think people should be able to see, for free, anywhere in the world
   • Once the Library is open, come in and look at these fantastic items!

‘Caribbean Foodways at the British Library’ is about opening up the Library’s collections and creating a platform for people to tell their own story, so that, together, we can explore the relationships between personal experience and national knowledge.  For us, it’s an opportunity to listen to your stories, learn more about our collections and make them better by adding your voice.

NB: Being Interviewed: If you’d like to put yourself forward to be interviewed, please send an email with some information about yourself and why you would like to share your story about Caribbean food with the British Library. Please send your statement of around 250 words to naomi.oppenheim@bl.uk by 5pm on Sunday 28 February 2021. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee to interview everyone who gets in touch, but we promise to reply to everyone by 5pm on Friday 12 March. We expect interviews to take place between Monday 15 March and Friday 2 April 2021.

Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Collections and Community Engagement Intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library @naomioppenheim

Further Online Reading/Listening

• Abdul Rob, ‘The Origins of ‘slave food’: Callaloo, Dumplings and Saltfish’, Black History Month, 20 December 2016
• Bernice Green, ‘Food: From Source to Salespoint’, British Library Sound Archive, C821/49
• Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, ‘Beyond the scotch bonnet: the rise of Caribbean food in the UK’, Guardian, 20 January 2019
• ‘Frank Critchlow’, Waking the Dead, Octavia Foundation
• ‘Is it harder to make it in the food industry if you’re black?’, The Food Programme, BBC, 5 July 2020
• Keshia Sakarah, ‘Jouney Cakes’, Vittles 2.14 – The Diversity of Caribbean Cuisines, 12 June 2020
• ‘Mangrove Nine: Directed by John La Rose and Franco Rosso’, George Padmore Institute
• Nadine Chambers, ‘The Black and Indigenous present in the story of how Breadfruit came to the Caribbean’, British Library Americas blogs, 9 July 2020
• Organised Youth, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, SoundCloud
• Riaz Phillips (editor and curator), Community Comfort, online cookbook. Tezeta Press, 2020
• Riaz Phillips’ Top Caribbean Spots, Trippin

Curry goat to political rallying

Riaz Phillips on Caribbean takeaways, foodways and politics

When people ask me for intel on the best jerk chicken or Trini roti in London or where to visit for some Caribbean goodness when they are in a number of other cities across the country, while I do of course have some small personal favourites, the question for me always misses the point.  For me the importance of Caribbean food institutions in the UK has never been about the food but rather their importance as a community hub.

An open book, with a page of text on the left about 'Caribbean Food in the UK' and a mural of the Empire Windrush on the right.
Riaz Philips, Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK. Second Edition. London: Tezeta Press, 2020. Photo courtesy of Tezeta Press. First edition, London: Tezeta Press, 2017. British Library shelfmark YKL.2017.b.4909..

The particular plight of the post-war Caribbean community in the UK and the treacherousness of everyday life has been wonderfully depicted in all manner of media.  Favourites include Samuel Selvin’s 1956 book The Lonely Londoners to films like Horace Ove’s 1975 film Pressure.  While much of focus of the Caribbean community in the UK, like in other diaspora regions such as the USA and Canada, is placed on the globally renowned subculture of Reggae, I struggled to find much, if anything, about the places and spaces outside one’s home where people congregated to eat.

Book cover of The Lonely Londoners depicting a woman and two men, all smartly dressed. The woman is wearing a white blouse, white jewellery and black skirt; both men are wearing jackets, ties and hats.
Samuel Selvon, The Lonely Londoners. London: Allan Wingate, 1956. British Library shelfmark: RF.2013.a.2

In books and magazine clippings, mostly found researching at the British Library, I rejoiced whenever a restaurant or eatery was mentioned in passing.  Early instances of particularly Caribbean food and drink establishments - cafés, bars and social clubs selling Caribbean food and cooked meals - date back to the late 1920s.  This handful included the likes of the Caribbean Café at 185a Bute Road in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, which was the locale of the 1919 South Wales riots, and 50 Carnaby Street in Central London.1   The latter, founded by Sam Manning and Amy Ashwood, a political activist and first wife of famed Pan-African icon Marcus Garvey, was described as an intellectual hub, “guests were attracted to the rice n peas West Indian Cuisine.”2  The fact that many of these food-related histories are hard to find is why the British Library is a launching a Caribbean foodways project which seeks to amplify food stories and memories.

Black and white photograph of one woman and four men standing next to each other in front of a short wall; all are smartly dressed.
Amy Ashwood Garvey stands on the left Ethiopian Sympathizers at London Meeting, 1935. British Library shelfmark 515019168. © Bettmann / Contributor

From their inception, these institutions went beyond simply being buildings at which to summon a takeaway box of curry goat to being places at which to politically rally, to be merry and more importantly to be free from persecution.  All this - the banter, the arguments over the hottest latest musician, the comedic tiffs between nuances of the different Caribbean islands and, when necessary, the planning of political upheaval - were pleasingly depicted in 2020’s Mangrove feature film directed by Steve McQueen.  However, years before this, I felt that the breadth of these spaces hadn’t truly been given the documentation they deserved in the wider story of this vivid group of people in the UK.

Collage of photographs taken at Mister Patty in Brent.
Photo courtesy of Riaz Phillips.

I like to use the word "vivid" because one thing I feel that outsiders don’t realise about the Caribbean is the great diversity of its people - from African-descendant Rastafari and generational Chinese in the west of the Island group, to Muslim southeast Asians at the other reach of the Caribbean.  Be it the Ital vegan spots, the Guyanese roti shops, Jamaican jerk huts or even home cooking, foodways are the perfect route in convoying stories and memories of the Caribbean and any project encompassing this will always reveal some gems.

Riaz Phillips is a writer, videomaker and photographer.  His book Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK was published in 2017 and a second edition was published in 2020.
@riazphillips

If you would like to read more about 'Caribbean Foodways at the British Library', please read We're calling for your Caribbean food stories to find out more about the project, including information on how you can participate.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Footnotes:

1.  Cardiff Migration Stories. London: Runnymede Trust, 2012. 
2.  C. Grant, Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey and His Dream of Mother Africa. London: Vintage, 2009., p. 437. British Library shelfmark YC.2010.a.1521;  S. Okokon, Black Londoners, 1880-1990. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Pub., 1998. British Library shelfmark YC.1999.b.664

References

Riaz Phillips, Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK. London: Tezeta Press, 2017. British Libary shelfmark YKL.2017.b.4909

 

26 August 2020

The Centenary of the Nineteenth Amendment and US women's right to vote

To celebrate this important anniversary, this blog highlights some of the US women's suffrage music held at the British Library.

Today - 26 August 2020 - marks the centenary of the Nineteenth Amendment becoming part of the Constitution of the United States. This 39-word Amendment states: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."  

Text of what would become the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
The Nineteenth (XIX) Amendment to the US Constitution passed a vote in the House of Representatives on 21 May 1919 and in the Senate on 4 June 1919; it was then sent to the states for ratification.  On 18 August 1920 it was ratified by Tennessee, the 36th - and final - state needed to ensure its adoption.  Image: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 

Although brief, this Nineteenth Amendment was the culmination of a decades-long struggle for women's suffrage. This struggle formally began in July 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, where, at a convention organised by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, around 300 people gathered to discuss "the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women." In the 72 years that followed, activists for women's suffrage created many organisations and used many strategies to achieve their goal. In the end, however, it was amending the Constitution - rather than persuading individual states to extend the franchise - that was successful.

To commemorate this milestone, US institutions, including the Library of Congress, the National Archives Museum, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, are illuminating the complex, challenging and inspirational story of the movement for female suffrage with brilliant online exhibitions.

The cover photograph of this sheet music shows women in long white dresses and sashes marching in New York City for women's suffrage.
The copyright for this song was held by the New York Women's Suffrage Association which would have benefited from any sales. The cover photograph depicts one of the suffrage rallies held in New York City, 1912-14. In 1917 women gained the right to vote in New York State; this played a critical role in US President Woodrow Wilson's decision to support what would become the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
Zena S. Hawn, Fall in Line: Suffrage March. New York: Arthur W. Tams Music Library, c.1914.  British Library Music Collections: H.3826.r.(27.) 

In the late 1980s, I had the great good fortune to work as an intern on the Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Spanning the years 1831 to 1906 this vast microfilm project – then housed at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst – brought together more than 14,000 documents relating to these two extraordinary women. As a new graduate student with little experience of working with primary sources, transcribing Stanton and Anthony’s correspondence and indexing their weekly newspaper, The Revolution, was priceless. Yet, even then it was clear that Stanton and Anthony’s activism was not without flaws; particularly, regarding issues of race. 

What excites me today as I browse these centenary exhibitions, is seeing Stanton and Anthony's contributions as one strand - albeit a hugely significant one - of the suffrage journey and realising how much is still being discovered about all of the women and men who petitioned, organised, marched, wrote to representatives, senators, and presidents, argued with friends and family, argued with each other, and ultimately refused to give up.  

Viewing these virtual exhibitions has also made me extremely jealous of the collection items held by these American institutions; but that is for another day! Today, we are simply celebrating this 100th anniversary by sharing some of the women’s suffrage sheet music held by the British Library. 

The Liberty Bell and the American flag are colourfully depicted on the cover of this sheet music.
This song is dedicated ‘To Dr Anna Shaw and the Great Cause of Woman Suffrage’. Born in Britain Anna Shaw received her MD from Boston University in 1885 and was President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1904-1915.
M. Zimmerman & E. Zimmerman, Votes for Women: Suffrage Rallying Song. Philadelphia: E. M. Zimmerman, 1915. British Library Music Collections: H.3992.r.(18.) 

Like all great American reform movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the one for women’s suffrage was imbued with songs and marches. This is not surprising, given the prominent role that music played in homes, churches and social and political gatherings at this time. 

A woman holds a banner saying 'Universal Suffrage' on the cover of this sheet music.
This song was privately printed by its female composer and in her  dedication she urges women to: 'Never fail to keep the cause of woman's suffrage foremost in your mind ... it is your cause and you must support it.'
Lucenia W. Richards, Suffrage March Song. Chicago: Richards & Richards, 1914.  British Library Music Collections: H.3995.nn.(18.) 

Today, historians often categorise suffrage music into "parlour songs" and "rally songs". Although the lines of demarcation between these two are somewhat blurred, rally songs tended to be well-known tunes - usually hymns or anthems - that had been given new, pro-suffrage lyrics. At public gatherings, this style of music-making was particularly advantageous since the new lyrics, printed inexpensively on a single sheet of paper, could quickly be passed around a crowd. One or two people would then kick off the melody and everybody else could join in. 

Compilations of suffrage songs - often a combination of these re-worded hymns with original compositions - were frequently published by local and national suffrage associations as a means to raise funds. Others, including the one below, were created by single individuals:

The decorative inside cover of a pro-suffrage songster.
Woman's Suffrage Songs. For Public Meetings, Conventions, Entertainments or Vaudeville.  Words and Music composed by Pauline Browne.  Indianapolis: P. R. Browne, 1913.  British Library Music Collections: F.328.s.(5.) [Image courtesy Library of Congress, due to Covid restrictions].

In contrast to rally songs, "parlour songs" tended to have both original lyrics and original tunes. They enabled the singer – in the non-threatening environment of her own home – to express why women wanted the vote and the benefits this would bring to society. Many appealed to the listener’s sense of justice and fair play, including the one below, which opens with the declaration that: "No man is greater than his mother / No man is better than the wife he loves." It then lists women's qualities and accomplishments, before arriving at the surely inevitable conclusion that women also deserve to vote:  

A smiling well-dressed woman and a baby look out of an open window; the baby waves while leaning on a red cushion.
H. Paley & A. Bryan. She's Good Enough to Be Your Baby's Mother and She's Good Enough to Vote With You. New York: Jerome H. Remick, c.1916. British Library Music Collections: H.3995.q.(70.) 

Opposition to female suffrage took many forms, but particularly common were accusations that women would become "sexless" (scathing references to "spinsters" were common) or would neglect their homes and families. These views were reflected in the sheet music of the time, including in the song below. Published in 1913, this song is full of stereotypes not only about those supporting women's suffrage but also about Italian Americans. The song's protagonist bewails the fact that since "his" Margarette became a suffragette, not only does she no longer cook or clean the house, but, worst of all, "She wear a-da pants / Dat kill da romance..."

A woman in flamboyant dress points dismissely at the floor as a man with curly hair and an earring begs in front of her on bended knee.
G. Edwards & Will D. Cobb, Since my Margarette became a-da Suffragette. New York: Jerome H. Remick, c.1913. British Library Music Collections: H.3992.x.(9.)

From the earliest days, there were strong ties between those working for women's suffrage in the United States and their counterparts in Great Britain. In the 1910s, concern about the increasing militancy of the British movement was reflected not only in the American press but also in popular music. The cover illustration of the song below, published in New Jersey in 1912, depicts British suffragettes marching in their sashes while throwing bricks and breaking windows. The song’s protagonist – recently arrived from England – shares the horrors he has witnessed there and concludes in the chorus: "They’re growing too strenuous by jingo/ These women on mischief are bent/ With brick bats they’ve smashed all the windows/ And raided the Houses of Parliament/ They’re wearing men’s collars and shirt fronts/ Less bashful are these sweet coquettes/ They’re after our votes just as well as our notes/ And our trousers! Oh! You suffragettes": 

In the sketch suffragettes wearing sashes and long dresses are breaking windows while holding a Votes for Women banner aloft.
B.A. Koellhoffer & J.J. Gallagher, Oh! You Suffragettes. Irvington, NJ: B.A. Koellhoffer, c.1912. British Library Music Collections: H.3994.u.(20.).  [Image courtesy Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries & University Museums, due to Covid restrictions.]

In spite of the vigorous efforts of the anti-suffrage contingent, on 19 January 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson announced his support for an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would guarantee women the right to vote. This Nineteenth Amendment was passed by Congress on 4 June 1919, ratified on 18 August 1920 and officially incorporated into the Constitution on 26 August 1920.  

Just over fifty years later, on 16 August 1973, Congress approved H.J.Res. 52 - introduced by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) - designating 26 August as Women's Equality Day.  

Jean Petrovic

Due to Covid restrictions, some of the images in this blog are from non-British Library sources; I wish to express my thanks to these institutions.

Please note, you can read more about Bella Abzug and other women involved in the (still-ongoing) battle for the Equal Rights Amendment in my colleague Rachael Culley's evocative two-part blog inspired by the recent TV series Mrs America. Please also note that the British Library's next major exhibition 'Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights', is currently on hold until later in the year. 

 

 

14 July 2020

Colonial Training in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

Suggestions for further reading:

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

13 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Lucy Rowland, Curator Oceania Collections

Listeners to BBC Radio 4s Saturday Live programme will know of its ‘Inheritance Tracks’ feature. For those unfamiliar with the show, this is a segment where a famous person chooses two pieces of music, one which they’ve ‘inherited’ (usually something from their childhood or youth) and one which they would ‘pass on’ to later generations (usually a favourite or significant piece from their adult life), and talk about what the tracks mean to them. We have borrowed this idea for a collaborative series of blog posts with our European Studies colleagues about our British Library ‘Inheritance Books’. Colleagues choose an ‘inherited’ item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and will explain why they’re important to us. This week, Lucy Rowland, responsible for the Oceania collections, shares her selections. 

I began looking after the collection of contemporary publications from Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Pacific in 2018 and was struck straight away by how difficult it was to really 'know' the extent of this printed collection. In previous library roles I had been able to do this by spending time wandering in the stacks, familiarising myself with the contents, shelving books, and becoming so used to the titles, colours and shapes on the shelves that a new book would become immediately apparent. But the British Library is different. Very different. With over 170 million items  included in the Library's collections, 'wandering in the stacks' is not just not an option. In fact, it would take over 80,000 years to see the entire collection held at the British Library. Yet my difficulty in understanding what the Oceania printed collection entailed wasn't just due to the sheer volume of items, but also that the fact that the material involved is all over the place. I say all over the place, but I know my colleagues involved in organising and retrieving this material would say that they are in the exact place they should be, thank you very much!

Image of books in rolling shelving units
Book stacks in the basements at the St Pancras site. Image from British Library

What I mean is that, aside from some items kept on open shelves in the Reading Rooms, printed material is spread between the London (St Pancras) and Yorkshire (Boston Spa) sites in various buildings, including ones ruled by robots working in the dark, and basements so deep that the Victoria line runs alongside them. As these shelves are not designed for browsing, the items can be stored in ways which make more sense for retrieval and preservation purposes. Which means you won't usually find books grouped together by author or subject for example, as material is organised on the shelves by size, usage, value or rarity, arrival date, language, or even by provenance. I could never go and visit the printed Oceania collection in its entirety, but instead rely on collection guides, catalogues, bibliographies, handlists and the knowledge of my many learned colleagues to explore the full breadth of the collection.

Inherited item

Which brings me to my 'inherited item', as having everything all over the place means that every now and then, you get a wonderful surprise when you discover something in the collection that you didn't know was there (and give thanks to your predecessors). One of these items for me was an Indigenous Australian adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland. It has never been standard practice to collect international picture books at the British Library (though UK children's books are collected through legal deposit), so it was a very welcome surprise to come across this title in the collection.

Front cover of Alitji in Dreamland by Nancy Sheppard
Alitji in Dreamland/Alitjinya ngura tjukurmankuntjala by Nancy Sheppard & Donna Leslie (1992) BL shelfmark LB.31.a.6178

Alitji in Dreamland/Alitjinya ngura tjukurmankuntjala is a bilingual picture book in Pitjantjatjara and English, first published in 1975 (shelfmark YA.1996.a.6667) with illustrations by Byron S. Sewell. This retelling of the Alice tale is set in an Indigenous Australian context with landscape, animals and cultural references familiar to its intended readers. It was produced by the Department of Adult Education at the University of Adelaide where the author, Nancy Sheppard, taught the Pitjantjatjara language of the Anangu people from 1968-75: the first course of its kind in Australia. Primarily an oral language, the written format was only confirmed in 1987 with publication of a Pitjantjatjara–English dictionary: which makes this adaptation one of the earliest picture books Anangu children were able to enjoy in their first language. The later 1992 edition (shelfmark LB.31.a.6178), pictured above, is the more significant version in my mind as this one has been illustrated by the Gamileroi academic and artist Donna Leslie, and is more explicit in supporting Sheppard's post-colonial interrogation of the Alice narrative:

Horse (March Hare): Your skin is very dark. You ought to wash yourself

Alitji (Alice): My skin is always dark, even after washing

 

Coming across this book felt particularly significant to me at the time as it represented a tangible link between my new role at the British Library, where the original manuscript of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is held, and the place where I grew up near Adelaide in South Australia. I was taught elements of the Pitjantjatjara language in primary school by visiting Elders from the Central Australian desert region, and though I have failed to retain many of these words as an adult, the appreciation for what I now realise was quite an unusual education initiative at the time has never left me. I am pleased that my young nephews now also benefit from a similar initiative with the revitalisation of Indigenous language learning taking place in schools across Australia.  

Item to pass on

How to choose? There are so many titles worthy of this merit, so I will go with the most recent item (another Australian item I'm afraid) and what was one of the hardest to obtain (see below): a special issue of the Northern Territory newspaper, NT News. The Thursday 5th March 2020 edition of this tabloid paper included an 8 page insert of toilet newspaper with the headline "Run out of loo paper?". This special edition was produced as a very Aussie tongue-in-cheek response to the panic surrounding shortages of toilet paper across many states in in the country at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although this lighthearted joke now feels somewhat callous in hindsight, at the time of publication in early March 2020 the virus had not yet been confirmed as a pandemic and no-one could have anticipated the devastating scale of the crisis yet to come. As such, this special issue will now take its place in the Oceania collection as an example of a moment when Australia, like many other countries, was not yet aware they were balanced on the precipice of a global disaster, and were still able to make light of the behaviour surrounding a virus which has since killed more than half a million people worldwide as of July 2020.

Cover of NT News with toilet paper insert
NT News Thursday 5th March 2020 with 8 page toilet paper insert. BL shelfmark tbc

I was alerted of this issue by a colleague and tried in vain to obtain a copy from the newspaper office in Darwin (who incidentally had apparently received numerous requests from libraries). In the end I resorted to besieging friends and family in Australia with requests to track down a copy for me. Luckily an old friend living in Darwin came up trumps and went to the office herself to collect one (thanks Jo!) and promised to send it over. This was early March 2020 and the world (including the postal system) was coming to a standstill, so I had almost given up on receiving this when it finally arrived over 2 months later. By this point the British Library had been closed for some time, which means I am sadly not able to provide a shelfmark as yet.

Lucy Rowland, Curator of Oceania Published Collections (post-1850)

 

For other posts in the Inheritance Books series so far see: 

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections 

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections 

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

Janet Ashton, Western European Languages Cataloguing Team Manager 

05 February 2020

Walter Rodney's Enduring Legacy Through Archival Collaboration

Black and white photo of Walter Rodney standing in front of a door or window
Walter Rodney; image courtesy of the Huntley Archives, London Metropolitan Archives, LMA 4463 series

Nearly forty years ago, on 13 June 1980, Guyanese historian, political activist and academic Walter Rodney was assassinated.  Family, friends and fans across the world mourned the loss of Rodney.  This grief expressed itself privately and publicly – through poetry, letters and protest.  Traces can be found in the British Library, particularly in the archive of Andrew Salkey.  P.D. Sharma – a Guyanese comrade – wrote to Salkey shortly after hearing the news.  He wrote of being ‘paralyzed with grief, shock and disbelief’ as expressed in the poem below; such moving remembrances of Rodney’s continue to this day: 

WALTER RODNEY IS DEAD (13th June 1980)
Weep people, cry Jesus
And drown the earth above us
Flood the oceans
Liquidify the mountains
Sink heaven.
The Eastern star is blown
No more the fairest of twinkles
Done the kingdom and the king.
Now the sun will never catch the night
The falcon god soars
And shadows we be
Our world is out.
How infinite was so brief
Too much and only but few
Except that grey men
With infants on their laps
Shall tell to eternity
Of the light that once,
Breathless and bedamned
Questioning the open
But if, what might …

(Letter from P.D. Sharma (LA) to Salkey (Massachusetts), June 1980, Walter Rodney File, Box 21, Andrew Salkey collection, The British Library)

Walter Rodney’s intellectual energy, praxis and commitment lives on.  It lives on through Black liberation struggles across the world and the action and commitment of the Friends of the Huntley Archives at LMA  (FHALMA). Housed at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), the Huntley Archives is made up of Jessica and Eric Huntley’s documents, photographs and recordings.  It also holds the files of Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications (one of Britain’s earliest black publishing houses) that they collectively founded in 1968, following the banning of Walter Rodney from Jamaica.   

On Saturday 22 February, the 15th Annual Huntley Conference: Rodney's Enduring Legacy will offer a space for activists, scholars, students and families to engage with this legacy through a day of discussion, film, lectures and archive tours.  Supported by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, the LMA and the Museum of London, it brings together some of London’s key cultural heritage institutions.  It also builds on an ongoing collaboration between the British Library, LMA and FHALMA as part of the mass sound digitisation project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Volunteering for FHALMA and helping to organise this conference has offered a brilliant opportunity to extend my Collaborative Doctoral Partnership beyond the British Library and UCL by connecting with archives and community groups across London.  Related to ongoing research on Caribbean publishing as activism, the conference provides an important space to discuss the history and legacy of Caribbean intellectual thought.

Black and white photo of Walter Rodney sitting at a typewriter on a table covered with papers; a woman stands behind him
Walter Rodney; image courtesy of the Huntley Archives, London Metropolitan Archives, LMA 4463 series

Notably, the conference will include roundtable sessions called 'Groundings' which are modelled on and inspired by Rodney’s practice of talking plainly about human rights, identity and Black history directly with grassroots communities.  These intergenerational conversations will explore themes of Black liberation, solidarity and class, whilst considering the role of youth, academics, communities and creative producers within historic and contemporary struggles.

Professor Patricia Daley's keynote, 'Walter Rodney: The Black Academic and the Importance of the Study of Africa for Global Black Emancipation', will reflect on Rodney's impressive contribution to radical scholarship on Africa and consider his understanding of ‘groundings’ as a form of academic and political practice, central to black emancipation globally.

The frontispiece of Walter Rodney Speaks - black print on a green cover
Walter Rodney, Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1990. (British Library shelfmark: YA.1992.a.9118)

Walter Rodney continues to challenge us through our archives.  You can find Rodney in the British Library’s Andrew Salkey collection, from recordings of memorial lectures to Bogle-L'Ouverture book launches.  Rodney also speaks to us through his many texts - published both when he was alive and posthumously - including: The Groundings with My Brothers (1969), A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800 (1970), How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) and Walter Rodney Speaks: the making of an African Intellectual (1990).

Suggested further reading/listening:

  • Bogle book launch (1985), Andrew Salkey collection, C1839/62.
  • Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney: 1968 Revisited.  Barbados: Canoe Press, UWI, 1998. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2005.a.8199).
  • Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney’s Intellectual and Political Thought. Mona: University of the West Indies, 1998. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 99/13124). 
  • Manning Marable lecture (1987), Andrew Salkey Collection, C1839/45.
  • Colin Prescod, ‘Guyana’s socialism: an interview with Walter Rodney’, Race & Class, 18 (1976), 109- 128. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6236.a). 
  • Kate Quinn (eds.), Black Power in the Caribbean. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014.  (British Library shelfmark: YC.2014.a.16051) 
  • Researching Walter Rodney in the Huntley Archives, London Metropolitan Archive.

Works by Walter Rodney:

  • The Groundings with My Brothers. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1970. (British Library shelfmark: X.709/10382) 
  • A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 72/14824)
  • How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1976. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 82/24897) 
  • Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1990. (British Library shelfmark: YA.1992.a.9118) 

Naomi Oppenheim is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library and UCL researching Caribbean print cultures and the politics of history in post-war Britain. Follow her on Twitter @naomioppenheim

 

17 October 2019

Black History Month

October is Black History Month in the UK and has been celebrated here for nearly 40 years. The month marks an annual commemoration of the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK. Originally founded to recognise the contributions made by people of Caribbean and African backgrounds, the focus of Black History Month has now expanded to include the history of African, Asian and Caribbean peoples and the importance of their contributions to the culture of the UK.

To mark Black History Month, we have selected a few items from our collections which highlight significant moments in black history around the world. The British Library will also be hosting Caribbean Fest events on Saturday October 19th 2019 including poetry, food and performance.

 

Ottavia Salvador, Fabrizio Denunzio, Morti senza sepoltura. Tra processi migratori e narrativa neocloniale (Ombre corte, 2019) YF.2019.a.14806

 
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections (Italian)
 
Front cover of 'Morti senza sepoltura. Tra processi migratori e narrativa neocloniale'
Cover of: Ottavia Salvador, Fabrizio Denunzio, Morti senza sepoltura. Tra processi migratori e narrativa neocloniale (Ombre corte, 2019) YF.2019.a.14806

 

Migrations in the Mediterranean are the subject of a lot of Italian books at the moment. I chose this title because the authors don't shy away from holding neo-colonialism responsible for the immigration process. The title 'Dead without Burial' evokes the horror of dying in a foreign country, in exile, often without a grave with a name on. Like French sociologist Abdelmalek Sayad (more from him, also in English in our collections) says in the essay in the appendix, the way a country treats a foreigner who dies on its soil says a lot.

 

John Michael Vlach, Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993). q93/15775

Chosen by Cara, Deputy Head, Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library

Cover of 'Back of the Big House'
Cover of: John Michael Vlach, Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993). q93/15775        
Book open to show photographs and plans of buildings
Inside pages of: John Michael Vlach, Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993). q93/15775;

 

This book made a deep impression on me when I first came across it as part of an MA course on the built environment in America.  I was impressed by how thoroughly Vlach managed to bring the lived experiences of the enslaved into sharp focus through the architectural landscapes they had inhabited.  As he says himself in his Preface his “main objectives here are first to describe, in broad terms, the architectural settings of plantation slavery and then to suggest some of the ways in which black people may have transformed those architectural settings into places that best served their social needs” (p.x).  The major source for the visual material in the book is the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).  Originally founded in 1933, it still operates as a division of the National Parks Service.  During the 1930s and later, HABS teams documented large numbers of slave buildings and associated spaces and Vlach uses these photographs and plans to great effect in his book.  These are then complemented by another Depression-era source, the oral histories of formerly enslaved people conducted by interviewers for the Federal Writer’s Project.  As Vlach explains “My description of the architecture of slavery thus meshes information from two archival projects that have been separated for more than half a century” (p.xiii).  I found this mixture of first-person accounts, as well as other archival evidence (business records, personal letters etc), with the structures that had shaped people’s everyday lives to be incredibly evocative.  I came away from the book with a deeper understanding of the importance of vernacular spaces to historical enquiry, as well as more especially a better understanding of the way the built environment shaped, and was shaped by, the lives of enslaved African-Americans and their white overseers and owners.  I’ve found myself thinking about this book often over the years, especially as discussions around how to more fully represent the experiences of enslaved people have come to the forefront in heritage and tourism contexts (for example, the incorporation of slave buildings and stories into the interpretation offered to visitors at plantation sites in the US, most notably at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home).

For more information on Federal Writer’s Project holdings at the British Library, including the accounts of former slaves, see the guide prepared by my Eccles Centre colleague, Jean Petrovic.

 

 

 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Boston, Mass: G.K. Hall, 1986), Nov.1987/702

 
Chosen by Rachael (Curator, American Printed Collections Post 1850)
 
Book cover of 'The Color Purple'
First edition cover of The Color Purple. Image from Wikimedia Commons sourced from Biblioctopus.

 

I was introduced to the The Color Purple while in my first year as an undergraduate at the University of Nottingham. It was like nothing I’d read before, in both voice and content. I’d never encountered a character like Cecile, nor the abuse she endures in a novel, and I remember being interested in the contrasting ways the various females in the book are portrayed. Told in an epistolary format as Cecile writes to God, she tells of the horrors she suffers at the hands of her father and later her husband, and the life that eventually leads her to Shug – a woman who opens her eyes to a different way of living. The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and frequently features on lists of banned or contested books (see more of these on our Banned Books Week blog).

 

Land Rights Before Games poster (Brisbane, Australia: 1982) shelfmark HS.74/2436

 
Chosen by Lucy (Curator, Oceania Published Collections Post-1850)
 
Campaign poster on Aboriginal flag background with slogan 'Land Rights Before Games'
Land Rights Before Games poster (Brisbane, Australia: 1982) British Library shelfmark HS.74/2436

This poster represents a key piece of 20th century campaign material in Australian history. The 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane were the focus of a series of protests from Indigenous Australians who aimed to bring the issue of land rights to the international stage. The campaign called for rights over indigenous lands in Queensland and control over mining in those areas. The Queensland premier at the time, Joh Bjelke-Peterson, declared a state of emergency and banned street marches during the games. Yet around 2000 people still took to the streets of Brisbane on 26th September in support of the campaign and in protest of the continuing oppression of Indigenous Australians. Further sit-ins and marches were held throughout the games with hundreds of arrests made by police. The protests gained international attention and remain a significant moment in the indigenous civil rights movement in Australia. In 2012, the State Library of Queensland held an exhibition called 'State of Emergency' to mark the 30th anniversary of the protests.

 

 

 

22 May 2019

The Power of Memoir

Where does the personal reside in our understanding of history, social issues and human experience? And what does the form of the memoir distinctively illuminate?

In 2018 novelist Tessa McWatt used her residency as an Eccles British Library Writer’s Award holder to work on a memoir on race and story-telling which traced the hybridity of her genetic make-up and the issues of racism she has faced on both sides of the ‘divide’. Her practice-based research is engaged in issues of colonialism and the historical and structural underpinnings of the creation of race and how her personal experience has been embedded in those structures.

On 3 June, Tessa will be speaking at the British Library in conversation with two historians, Sarah Knott and Norma Clarke, chaired by Erica Wagner, to talk about how embracing their own experiences and investing in the memoir form has enabled them to develop and extend their work as scholars and writers.  In preparation for their event, we asked them to given an example of how an historical item from the archive helped inform their projects: Sarah on maternity, Norma on family and Tessa on race.

Sarah Knott:

Black and white text of two adjacent pages from An Interesting Condition
Abigail Lewis [Otis Burger], An Interesting Condition (London: Odhams Press Ltd, 1951), pp. 180-181. Shelfmark 8417.cc.29.

1949 New York. Otis Burger wanted to stop each contraction and see what it felt like. It was odd having an entirely new sensation inside. She had been reading the English doctor Grantly Dick-Read, who thought childbirth should be painless ‒ disliking his determination to reduce women to their biology, but appreciating his tenderness. Her fear was the hospital feeling of being naked, and at the mercy of strangers, like a specimen of some sort. Male doctors were condescending; they seemed to think the difficulty was all in the mother’s mind and that birth was too much of a commonplace for the mother to make such a silly fuss.

Otis Burger wrote her remarkable maternal memoir, An Interesting Condition, some decades before the women’s liberation movement encouraged others to pick up their pens and make maternity properly visible. The book was unusual enough that it was printed not just in her New York but also in London, thus making its way into the hands of ordinary English readers as well as the collections of the British Library. That she published under a pseudonym was some indication of the taboos that needed to be broken.

In writing Mother: An Unconventional History, I plundered personal writings like these to understand past experiences of pregnancy, birth and being with an infant. And I took inspiration, too, from what happens when you think, like Otis Burger, in a memoir form. Blending memoir into history, and history into memoir, I found myself asking questions I might otherwise have overlooked. In bleary sleeplessness and with an infant close at hand, I wondered, what was the history of the maternal night? Or, what were the new sensations of feeling continually interrupted, or hearing the sound of an infant’s cry? I found answers not just in past memoirs but in a host of other kinds of materials to be found in libraries and archives, from leather-bound how-to guides to slave narratives and social scientists’ surveys, to private letters and scribbled diaries.

Sarah Knott, Mother (Penguin Viking, 2019)

***

Norma Clarke:

Cover of the book My Daugter - Maria Callas; it includes 5 black and white photos of Maria Callas
Evangelia Callas, My Daughter – Maria Callas, as told to Lawrence G Blochman (London: Leslie Frewin, 1967) Shelfmark W77/5490

Not Speaking tells the story of a family quarrel and it does so partly through conventional narrative, partly through oral history interviews and partly by means of investigations into literary subjects: Homer’s Iliad with its quarrelling heroes features throughout, Pope’s poem, The Rape of the Lock, has traction (brother hairdressers Nicky and Michael Clarke are at the heart of the story) and Robert Graves and George Sand in Majorca figure because Majorca is one of the settings, along with Athens and London. I had no intention of researching Maria Callas and it was only by accident that she became included. But asking my mother questions about her life as a girl growing up in Athens led me down unexpected byways. The mother of Prince Philip, for example, Princess Alice, had remained in Athens during the war, and spoke very good Greek; my mother admired her. Maria Callas was also in Athens. Maria left Greece in 1945 and turned her back on her mother and sister, declaring that they hated her and she them. The women were no longer on speaking terms. And then I read a quote from Callas that riveted me: ‘I know my mother wrote a book about me, but I never read it.’

Her mother wrote a book about her! Books by daughters about mothers are ten a penny, but books by mothers about daughters? I couldn’t wait to read it. I rushed to the British Library, and within 70 minutes I had in my hands, My Daughter – Maria Callas, by Evangelia Callas (1960). It’s a book that vibrates with fury, and I reflected that Maria was probably right to keep it at a distance, but for me it was revelatory.

Norma Clarke, Not Speaking (Unbound, 2019)

***

Tessa McWatt:

A photo of a jagged fragment of bone with Shang dynasty characters.
Shang dynasty characters on fragments of an oracle bone dating between 1600 and 1050 BC. British Library, Or. 7694/1516

 

“What Are You?”

It’s a question I was asked as an eight-year old in a suburban Toronto classroom by my teacher, after the word “Negro” came up in a book the class was reading. It was a word that none of the kids in the room – all ‘white’ except for me -- knew the meaning of.

Shame on Me began as a journey to understand how to answer the question. It looks at all of the strands of my genetic make-up – Scottish, African, English, Irish, Chinese, South Asian -- to find some kind of meaning in biology. But when I began to research the history of race, of the particular ‘miscegenations’ that formed me, it occurred to me that it’s all down to story-telling. I might as well ask an oracle.

Then I came across the Chinese Oracle Bone (dating from between 1600 BC and 1050 BC) in the British Library. I was hooked. I started to frame my book around the idea that ‘knowing’ is storytelling. I saw the Chinese oracle bone as an ancient 23&Me. Diviners used them to answer the elite’s questions about health, birth and death; about crops, the weather; about the outcome of battles or simply whether a particular ancestor was causing a king’s headache. The shoulder blades of ox, sheep, boars, horses and deer, or the shells of tortoises were cleaned of flesh, scraped, polished, and then diviners carved questions into them using a sharp tool. During a divination session, the bone was anointed with blood before questions were posed to ancestors. The diviner then applied such intense heat that the bone or shell cracked, and he interpreted the pattern of the fractures to answer the questions posed.

A bone with the power to provide these kinds of answers would surely provide an answer to ‘What are You?’

If only.

Tessa McWatt, Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging (Scribe UK, forthcoming, October 2019)

***

Covers of Mother by Sarah Knott, showing a pencil drawing of a woman and baby, and Not Speaking by Norma Clarke, featuring various black and white photos of members of Clarke's family.
Covers of Mother by Sarah Knott (Penguin Viking, 2019) and Not Speaking by Norma Clarke (Unbound, 2019).

 

To find out more, join Sarah, Norma and Tessa in conversation with Erica Wagner at the British Library on Monday 3 June. More details: https://www.bl.uk/events/memoir-identity-experience

 

 

 

 

 

 

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