Americas and Oceania Collections blog

32 posts categorized "Modern history"

25 August 2022

Empires, Oceans, and Emotions: Unexpected Encounters in the Archive

Stephanie Narrow is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of California, Irvine, and was a 2020 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

NB: This article contains an historical image and descriptions relating to slavery and indentured servitude which readers may find upsetting.

Beyond a shared language and general oceanic orientation, 19th-century California and Britain's Pacific colonies don’t appear to have much in common at first glance. And true, they differed greatly in terms of government organization, class structure, and the proper way to spell “pajamas” (or is it “pyjamas?”)

But when we factor in issues like 19th-century immigration, land rights, diplomacy, and the circulation of print media between these regions, we encounter more similarities than differences. And, indeed, these very issues echo into the 21st century. Exploring the historical entanglements between the American empire in California and Britain’s Pacific Empire better equips us in the present day to address issues of xenophobia, access to natural resources, and ongoing demands for decolonization.

It was my drive to better understand the evolution of these issues that brought me some 5,437 miles (or 8,750 kilometers? See, those pesky cultural differences arise again!) from California to the British Library in London. Through the generous support of a Visiting Fellowship from the Eccles Centre for American Studies, I came eager to research the entangled histories of the British and American empires during the height of the Pacific gold rushes in the 1850s. In particular, I wanted to explore how gold rushes impacted both Chinese immigration and Indigenous land dispossession; and how, or if, these empires shaped their own modes of imperial governance around each other. Was California looking to British colonies in Hong Kong, Australia, India, and British Columbia to shape their own policies about Chinese immigration, trade, resource extraction, and Native genocide? Or vice versa?

To help answer these questions, I turned to the papers of Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon—an aristocrat and lifelong politician who served as the Foreign Secretary during much of this period. As Foreign Secretary, he was the head of diplomatic relations with foreign countries and was the person to whom the British Consulate in San Francisco, California, reported. I was convinced that his papers held the answers I was searching for.

As I was perusing the thick folios of his correspondence, I greedily anticipated that “eureka!” moment (gold rush pun intended) that would clearly, decisively, and unequivocally support my hypothesis. And certainly, I found much material that helped me reconstruct global diplomatic relations in this period. I did, however, come across something rather unexpected.

Here I beg for an indulgent pause and reflection on “the historical profession.” As historians, our job is to go into archives, research, and from that research tell stories that both illuminate our past and (hopefully) shed light on our present moment. We’re taught to be objective, logical. From the outside, it seems a rather neat and tidy experiment (though in reality it never is.) But nowhere in my nearly decade of graduate school training was I ever taught what to do when you find something that so wholly disturbs the peace and tranquility of the reading room.

So, one very normal morning, I turned the page of one of Carnarvon’s many folios and came across a report. It included tables of ships’ cargoes, routes, and destinations. But the following note on one table sent chills across my body:

“Many of the Chinese jumped overboard.”

A manuscript with columns and figures documenting the deaths and illnesses of the Chinese 'indentured labourers' who were forcibly taken to Cuba.
Image 1. Ledger detailing the deaths and illness of Chinese emigrants. The remarks point to the inhumane and unhygienic conditions aboard many sailing vessels. Letter from Clinton Murdoch, 19 June 1958. Carnarvon Papers Add MS 60782

This was a line in a ledger documenting the suicide of Chinese labourers aboard British sailing vessels who were sent, many through force or coercion, to Cuba in the 1850s. This “coolie trade” began in the 1840s and consisted mostly of men from China and South Asia. These labourers were often kidnapped or duped by British agents (as well as French, American, Spanish…) into so-called indentured servitude in the Caribbean, a very colonial labour solution to the end of the African slave trade.

And I sat as tears welled up and spilt over, soaking into my face mask. I couldn’t shake those six words that, for most, are probably the only earthly record remaining of their lives: “Many of the Chinese jumped overboard.” Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the furtive glances of one archivist, certainly equally parts confused about my emotional state and concerned that my tears might land on these priceless papers. I struggled to regain my composure, thinking about the hundreds of people who sooner sought what dignity they could in choosing a death at sea, far from home, than suffer under slavery and labouring on plantations in the Caribbean. It reminded me of the stories of the Middle Passage—of the horrific conditions that enslaved Africans faced upon their forced migration across the Atlantic. Many of them, too, sought solace in the sea.

At first I felt self-conscious and ashamed of my reaction. As professionals we are expected to train the emotion out of ourselves—especially us women—in order to be taken seriously. But then I realized there is strength in emotion, and the “ideal” of the unfeeling scholar is an affront to the humanity we so often claim to seek. Empathy is empowering, and I fervently encourage any reading this to embrace emotion, for it’s a universal tool that allows us to connect to other humans, past and present. After all, aren’t historians conduits between the living and the dead?



05 July 2022

US Radicals in Revolutionary Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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 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!

 

02 August 2021

“We Must Speak with Our Bodies”

This blog by Louise Siddons is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre’s awards, have undertaken across the Library’s Americas collections.

A page from a magazine with a title and two columns of type.
Figure 1. Detail of Richard Erdoes, “Crow Dog: ‘We Have Tried to Tell the White Man With Our Lips… Now We Must Speak with Our Bodies’,” Akwesasne Notes 5, no. 5 (Early Autumn, 1973): 40. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection P.2000/429.

I first started working with the Mohawk-produced newspaper Akwesasne Notes while I was a Summer Scholar at the Eccles Centre in 2018. I was researching an article about intersectional visual politics and the representation of the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee in its sister publication, The Black Panther—now available in the Summer 2021 issue of American Art.i Along the way, I collected examples of Native assertions of cultural sovereignty from the newspaper, setting them aside for future consideration. I’ve been back at the Eccles Centre as a Fulbright scholar this spring, and have taken the opportunity to follow up on some of those notes from a new vantage point.

Recent news has turned mainstream attention to the horrific histories of Native American and First Nations children at boarding schools in Canada and the United States. Long seen as tools of colonial assimilation, we increasingly understand the part they played in North American genocide throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Enrollment in boarding schools peaked in the 1970s: in 1973 it was estimated that 60,000 Native American children were in boarding schools in the United States. The devaluation of Native lives and culture was systemic and diffuse: resistance to it had to be equally comprehensive in order to succeed. In the 1970s, self-fashioning became one way among many that Native activists called attention to the structural undermining of Native identity and cultural sovereignty in educational institutions.

The American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded in 1968 by young activists who had participated in a variety of earlier organizing. Although the most well-known AIM actions were the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties caravan that led to the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) headquarters in Washington, DC, and the 1973 defense of Wounded Knee, the organization was active across the country at every level. From their beginnings, AIM leaders celebrated the “outer, visible Indian.”ii The “outer Indian” was a politically engaged, educated Native person who understood their Indigeneity in racial/ethnic, as well as cultural, terms. It also had a literal meaning: AIM members celebrated their politicized self-fashioning as an act of resistance against a white assimilationist establishment, a tool for pan-Indian coalition-building, and a strategy for being seen by mainstream media and audiences.

AIM leaders defined a very specific look for Indian activism that began with long hair. They pointed to the ways in which Indian identity had been attacked by the federal government through the regulation of individual appearance, focusing particularly on the targeted assimilation of children in boarding schools throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In a 1973 interview with Akwesasne Notes, Carter Camp (Ponca) summarized the history of American education of Native Americans.

A page of a magazine with three columns of text and a small black and white picture in the final right hand column of a man on a horse.
Figure 2a: Full page, “When in the Course of Human Events: An Interview with Carter Camp,” Akwesasne Notes 5, no. 5 (Early Autumn, 1973): 11. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection P.2000/429.
Detail of a magazine page showing a close up of a man on a horse.
Figure 2b: Detail of illustration captioned “Carter Camp at the 1973 AIM Convention,” accompanying “When in the Course of Human Events: An Interview with Carter Camp,” Akwesasne Notes 5, no. 5 (Early Autumn, 1973): 11. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection P.2000/429.

“They first cut your hair off,” he began, “just like they do in the Marines—to make you lose your identity.” Carter’s military reference was no coincidence, as many AIM members were Vietnam veterans who condemned the war in Southeast Asia as another colonial enterprise, as driven by racism as it was by anti-communism. Camp continued: “These little kids had no protection from this monster that has them jailed. So we have our lost generation of Indian people—the guys who work for the BIA and try to be as white as they can.”iii As Camp’s statement implied, Native people, like all people, expressed community, cultural identity, and spiritual beliefs through clothing, hairstyle, and other elements of regalia and adornment. When the United States government (and other organizations, such as churches, which also ran boarding schools) forced young Indians to cut their hair and dress in school uniforms, they were fully cognizant of its negative impact on the children, their families, and communities. Nonetheless, they proudly published “before” and “after” photographs as evidence of their success in destroying Native cultures. When members of AIM and other youth activists let their hair grow long and adopted elements of traditional regalia in their dress, they were asserting individual and cultural sovereignty and also calling attention to the schools’ atrocities.

Long hair was a gendered issue—no one cut girls’ hair against their will—and so the fight over long hair was in part a fight over Native masculinity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, AIM’s leadership was dominated by men, and the emergent trope of the Indian militant did not have much space for women, despite the fact that they were politically active across the continent. As activist Russell Means (Oglala Lakota) put it, the American Indian Movement offered its members “a new way to express our manhood,” in a statement that seemed to equate “Indianness” explicitly with masculinity.iv And yet coverage of AIM actions included many photographs of Native American women in bell-bottoms and other period fashion, as well as wearing Pendleton blankets, and framed with imagery that contextualizes and encourages an equally politicized reading of their long hair. Like many of the civil rights movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, in other words, the American Indian Movement struggled with gendered expectations for its members.v

Boarding schools were not their only targets. At its 1973 convention in Oklahoma, AIM called for a “national boycott of public schools which forbid native boys from wearing long hair”. 

A magazine page with three columns of text, a black and white photograph of a man with long hair wearing a headband and two other black and white illustrations of a bird and an old woman.
Figure 3a: Full page, “A.I.M. Elections Held at August Convention,” Akwesasne Notes 5, no. 5 (Early Autumn, 1973): 9. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection P.2000/429.
A black and white photograph of a man with long dark hair, with a boy with long hair and glasses standing to the left. Both wear headbands.
Figure 3b: Detail of illustration captioned “Buddy Hatch & Dennis Banks: Long hair, or no school,” accompanying “A.I.M. Elections Held at August Convention,” Akwesasne Notes 5, no. 5 (Early Autumn, 1973): 9. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection P.2000/429.

“Buddy Hatch, 11, an Oklahoma Arapaho lad, was chosen to symbolize the struggle. ... Hatch was expelled from school a year ago because his hair violated school regulations.”vi When an appeals court upheld the school’s regulations, AIM leader Dennis Banks (Ojibwe) deplored its refusal “to recognize Indian values. The courts are hostile to Indian heritage, and this hostility denies the Indian an opportunity to public education.”vii For Native people, regulations about hair length weren’t just about censoring individual self-expression. They represented centuries of colonial oppression, and therefore allowing one’s hair to grow long was a potent and highly visible symbol of political resistance. When he was recruited by AIM in 1969, Means “started growing his shoulder-length hair out so he could emulate others in AIM by wearing braids.”viii Similarly, an anonymous member described the moment in which he became involved with AIM: “I was assimilated into the mainstream of White America. And I was disenchanted. There was always an emptiness inside me. ... So I went up to Minnesota, and for about a week I visited with my brother and other people in the movement... Finally I got so involved I started letting my hair grow long, and I stopped wearing a tie and started to sort of deprogram myself, to become just a simple person, a simple man.”ix Although some participants later disavowed the stereotypical elements of AIM self-fashioning in this period, this desire to “deprogram” himself—today we might say decolonize— lends ideological weight to the self-transformation of AIM members across the board.

_______

Louise Siddons is Professor of art history at Oklahoma State University and a Fulbright Scholar at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. She is writing a book about the photographer Laura Gilpin that examines the intersection between mid-century lesbian liberation and Navajo sovereignty politics in Gilpin’s photographs and related visual culture.

Endnotes:

i American Art issues are available in print at British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 0810.395000. Digital access to the journal is available in the Reading Rooms.
ii This intentionally contrasted with the “inner Indian” promoted by the Society of American Indians at the beginning of the century, which also ostensibly sought the betterment of Native Americans but argued that it would come about most effectively through outward assimilation. Hanson, Jeffery R. “Ethnicity and the Looking Glass: The Dialectics of National Indian Identity,” American Indian Quarterly 21, no. 2 (Spring, 1997): 202 and 204. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection P.901/2012 (Digital access to the journal is available in the Reading Rooms.)
iii Carter Camp, “When in the course of human events: An Interview with Carter Camp,” Akwesasne Notes 5, no. 5 (Early Autumn, 1973): 11. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection P.2000/429.
iv Quoted in Gerald Vizenor, “Dennis of Wounded Knee,” in The People Named the Chippewa: Narrative Histories (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984): 124-138: 126. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection YA.1990.b.636.
v For more on gender in the American Indian Movement, see Susan Applegate Krouse, “What Came out of the Takeovers: Women’s Activism and the Indian Community School of Milwaukee,” American Indian Quarterly 27, no. 3/4, Urban American Indian Women’s Activism (Summer-Autumn 2003): 533-547, British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection P.901/2012 (Digital access to the journal is available in the Reading Rooms.); and Donna Hightower Langston, “American Indian Women’s Activism in the 1960s and 1970s,” Hypatia 18, no. 2, Indigenous Women in the Americas (Spring 2003): 114-132. British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 4352.621500.
vi “A.I.M. Elections Held at August Convention,” Akwesasne Notes 5, no. 5 (Early Autumn, 1973): 9. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection P.2000/429.
vii Ibid.
viii Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (New York: The New Press, 1996): 133. British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 96/26579.
ix “V.B.”, quoted in Rachel A. Bonney, “The Role of AIM Leaders in Indian Nationalism,” American Indian Quarterly 3, no. 3 (Autumn, 1977): 209-224: 214. (Digital access to this issue of American Indian Quarterly is available in the British Library Reading Rooms.) The piece was originally published in Penthouse International Magazine for Men 1973: 59.

23 June 2021

Natasha Ramnarine: Doubles Queen

This is the seventh in a series of blogs coming out of the Eccles Centres’ Caribbean Foodways oral history project. Identifying connections between participants’ stories and collection items, each blog explores one of the nine oral history interviews that will be deposited in the Sound Archive.

*** Please note that certain browsers do not support the audio clips - read and listen on Chrome or Internet Explorer to ensure that the clips play in full ***

This blog is about Natasha Ramnarine, an NHS programme manager who cooks up a storm on the weekend for Natty’s Saturday Kitchen. Growing up in Trinidad, Natty moved to London in 2007. This interview focuses on her deep knowledge of Indo-Trinidadian food and her experiences of migrating to England but you will soon be able to listen to her full interview via the British Library’s Listening and Viewing Service.

‘Doubles is a derivative of the Indian dish, Chole Bhature … a flatbread with spiced chickpeas and condiments’

Doubles and Aloo Pie

Doubles are one of the most popular dishes at Natty’s Saturday Kitchen – a food business set up by Natasha to promote the flavours and history of Trinidad. As she explains in this clip, the spiced chana (chickpeas) that sit atop bara (fried flatbread), evolved from the Northern Indian street food, Chole Bhature, which is commonly eaten in the Punjab. In Trinidad, doubles became a popular food ‘for labourers that would work in the sugar plantations’ because ‘it was cheap, costing only 5 cents … and mobile, it was just put in brown paper so that they could hold it and eat it as they were going home because they were hungry.’ Natty’s description of men on bikes, fitted with a ‘huge Styrofoam cooler’ from which piles of bara, containers of chana and condiments would emerge, signifies the transportable and transient mode of serving and eating that was suited to both small businesses (with minimal start-up costs) and hungry workers (who were time and money poor).1 This spicy, tangy and filling snack – that incorporates Indian seasoning alongside Trinidadian flavours and produce – embodies the entangled history of Indo-Trinidadian food.

Legacies of Indentureship

Cover page and black and white text
D. W. D. Comins, Notes on Emigration from India to Trinidad (Calcutta: Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Press, 1893) British Library Shelfmark P/W 31

Nana - Babooni Cheddi

Like the food that she cooks, Natty’s story is rooted in Trinidad and Tobago’s histories of indentureship. Following the abolition of slavery across the British Empire, in 1834, and the end of the apprenticeship period in 1838, colonialists sought labour from elsewhere in the British Empire – chiefly India and Hong Kong. In 1837, the East India Company set out regulations for the system of indentureship, whereby emigrants would have to provide a minimum of 5 years’ service before being ‘returned’. As Trinidad had some of greatest labour shortages, it saw the arrival of Indian men, women and children in significant numbers between 1837 and 1917, when the system was suspended as part of the wartime emergency.2 According to Notes on Emigration: India to Trinidad, 127,240 people travelled from East India to Trinidad, between 1845 and 1891. Arriving on ships from Kolkata (Calcutta) and Chennai (Madras), there was a strong correlation between crop failures and patterns of emigration out of India’s agricultural districts.3 As the story of Natty’s great grandmother, Babooni Cheddi, reveals, many of these ‘labourers’ did not ‘return’, they stayed and built communities. The source below shows that by 1893, 35.1% of population was of Indian origin, which is virtually identical to 2011 figures of 35.4%.4 Aside from demographics, cooking is just one of the ways that the legacies of Babooni Cheddi and thousands of other first- and second-generation East Indians lives on in Trinidad and Tobago, as an integral part of its culture.

Table from a book 'Notes on Immigrants introduced into the Colony from India during the years 1845 to 1891'
D. W. D. Comins, Notes on Emigration from India to Trinidad (Calcutta: Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Press, 1893) British Library Shelfmark P/W 31

Grandmother's routine 

From rotis to curries, the Indian influence in Trinidadian cuisine is unmistakable. As Natty explains through her familial connection to this history and her own research, emigrants brought seeds such as okra and aubergine with them, which have become a popular part of Trinidadian cuisine. However, they also adapted – coriander was substituted for chadon beni, the green herb that ‘grows anywhere’, and Hindu and Muslim cultures blended with one another, which Natty captures in an anecdote about her devout Hindu grandmother reciting Halal prayer when she killed chickens.

Grinding spices and cleaning rice

Throughout Natty’s interview, she describes the wonders of this rich food culture, from the everyday array of breads and spiced vegetables to the festive eating of a goat or duck on special occasions. This clip evokes the aromas of whole cumin seeds, garlic and hot pepper crackling in a ladle of oil before it is thrown over a pot of cooked dal or split pea. Explaining how her grandmother and mother would rise in the early morning to prepare homegrown coffee and get started on the day’s endless chores, Natty is always attune to the intensive labour that went into making these staple dishes, such as washing starch out of rice or picking stones from split peas. This unpaid labour is one element in what she calls a patriarchal system. The legacies of her mother and grandmother’s labour can be tasted in Natty’s delicious food – these are the flavours and techniques that she reproduces and plays with at her home in South London.

Photography of woman holding utensils while she cooks roti bread on a hotplate
Natty making roti, Natty’s Saturday Kitchen, photograph courtesy of Natasha Ramnarine
 

Saturday Kitchen food philosophy

Every Saturday, Natty cooks her take on a different Trinidadian dish, which customers come and collect from her home. Her most popular meals are ‘doubles, roti and curry, shark and bake, crab and dumpling,’ which are always served with a side of history. As Natty explains, ‘the point of my food is to educate’ and if you look on Natty’s Saturday Kitchen Facebook page you will find delectable photographs of what she’s whipped up that week alongside stories about the ‘evolution of dishes and how it linked back from India or from Africa.’ Rather than forgetting or minimising the complex histories that this cooking is rooted in – which can be an issue when foods are commercialised or appropriated – the explicit historical connections that Natty promotes through her food business are revealing of her philosophy, of ‘unity in diversity through our food.’

Moving to London

Roti Joupa 

Four photographs from a book, shop front, roti, menu and logo
Riaz Phillips, Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK (London: Tezeta Press, 2020)

leaving a small island and coming to London is real shift in culture

Travelling from a ‘small island’ to another island is a common experience for those that have journeyed from the Caribbean to Britain (by choice and by force) for hundreds of years. This ‘shift in culture’, that Natty describes, is manifold, from modes of conversation to eating habits. Food is often the medium through which people recreate a sense of cultural familiarity as they navigate this island. Natty’s story of going to Roti Joupa in Clapham North when she moved to London, conveys this intense bond between belonging and food. One of the first places to sell Trinidadian roti in London, Natty says that ‘going there was just like walking into the sunshine’. This ‘walk in the sunshine’ referred to the general atmosphere of the shop, which offered Natty a chance for ‘picong’ (banter) and catching up on Trinidad, as well as the aromas and textures of familiar dishes like roti and dhal puri. This reminds me of Riaz Phillips’ essay on Roti Joupa, in Belly Full, where he describes it as ‘likely the only option close by for people craving a taste of the eastern Caribbean shores’ with ‘the constant energetic Soca music emanating from the shop’s speakers.’5 Both of these accounts echo the importance of food outlets in the creation of diasporic spaces of home, comfort and pleasure.

Thank you Natasha Ramnarine for sharing your memories and thoughts with me.

Naomi Oppenheim is the project lead on Caribbean Foodways in her role as the Caribbean Collections and Community Engagement Intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library @naomioppenheim

Read the previous blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Anselm Berkeley: From Field to Shelf to Plate

References/Further Reading

  • W. D. Comins, Notes on Emigration from India to Trinidad (Calcutta: Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Press, 1893) BL Shelfmark P/W 31
  • David Dabydeen, Maria del Pilar Kaladeen and Tina K. Ramnarine, We Mark your Memory : writings from the descendants of indenture (London: School of Advanced Study, University of London/Commonwealth Writers, 2018)
  • Doubles With Slight Pepper, directed by Ian Harnarine (2012)
  • Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: the export of Indian labour overseas, 1830-1920 (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Race Relations, 1974) BL Shelfmark 74/9550
  • Natasha Ramnarine interviewed by Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Foodways Interview, March 2021 (uncatalogued)
  • Riaz Phillips, Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK (London: Tezeta Press, 2020) British Library Shelfmark for 2017 edition YKL.2017.b.4909
  • ‘Trinidad and Tobago’, Britannica
  1. Doubles With Slight Pepper, directed by Ian Harnarine (2012). This short film follows the family of a young doubles vendor in Port-of-Spain.
  2. D. W. D. Comins, Notes on Emigration from India to Trinidad (Calcutta: Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Press, 1893), p.116.
  3. Ibid.  
  4. 35.4% of East Indian heritage, 34.2% being of African heritage, 22.8% of mixed heritage, 7% did not state and 0.6% described themselves as white, Britannica.
  5. Riaz Phillips, Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK (London: Tezeta Press, 2020), p.150.

20 May 2021

Sandra Agard: An Ode to Ridley Road

This is the fourth in a series of blogs coming out of the Eccles Centres’ Caribbean Foodways oral history project. Identifying connections between participants’ stories and collection items, each blog explores one of the nine oral history interviews that will be deposited in the Sound Archive.

*** Please note that certain browsers do not support the audio clips - read and listen on Chrome or Internet Explorer to ensure that the clips play in full ***

This blog is about Sandra Agard, a storyteller and author who is currently based at the British Library. Sandra’s parents travelled from Guyana (British Guiana at the time) in the early 1950s and infused their London home with the flavours of Guyana. A life-long Hackney resident, this blog focuses on memories of her parents’ cooking and trips to Ridley Road market but you will soon be able to listen to her full interview via the British Library’s Listening and Viewing Service.

Delicious, magical, sumptuous … it’s about stories, journey, tradition … a melting pot of so many influences coming together to make the Caribbean, and that’s what Caribbean food is, it’s history, it’s us, it’s me

Caribbean food is

Capturing the magic of Caribbean food, Sandra connects her own life to that of her parents, and the wider history of Guyana and the Caribbean, through recollections of freshly baked bread, chow mein and Guinness punch with hot milk. Dishes like chow mein speak to what Sandra calls Guyana’s ‘melting pot’ history. Those fried noodles stretch back to the period of indentureship, when Chinese labourers transported ingredients, tastes and cooking techniques, as they arrived on ships from Hong Kong, to supplement labour shortages following the abolition of slavery.1

Legacy

Sandra’s sumptuous memories of delicious and comforting meals speak to nourishment as a form of community building. Throughout the interview, Sandra spoke tenderly about her parents, Evelyn and Cecil Agard. She thanks them for instilling the family with a strong sense of Caribbean identity. From Cecil’s Black Cake – which he laboriously made at Christmas time – to Evelyn’s curries, duffs and roti, interspersed with parties and trips to Speakers’ Corner, the family was raised on a diet of Guyanese delicacies, culture and politics. Families like the Agards are revealing of a bigger story about food, migration and identity. A storyteller herself, Sandra avows the importance of maintaining stories and legacies because these ‘mothers and fathers, grandparents, they sacrificed too much to become invisible’. Her memories of Ridley Road market are just one part of this legacy, and they echo Hackney’s working-class and multicultural heritage.

Memories of Ridley Road

Ridley Road Market, as a child, it was the boom

Red, white and green painted flyer with text
Save Ridley Road sign on Colvestone Crescent, collect by the author

Sandra remembers when Ridley Road Market was so busy that ‘you couldn’t move … it was just chock-a-block’. She would go on Saturday mornings with her mother, Evelyn, who was constantly bumping into friends, stallholders and fellow nurses – you could not go ‘two seconds without meeting somebody and standing up for years and talking and talking’. These memories capture the community spirit of one of London’s oldest markets. Whilst official records of Ridley Road date back to 1926, Freddie Sherrif – who was once the market governor – explains that this date refers to the time when stallholders asked the council to regulate it and that the market long predates this. Recorded for the Millennium Memory Bank, Sherrif traces the history of the market, from his grandfather who fought against Oswald Mosley (founder and leader of the British Union of Fascists, 1932-40) to the changing demographics of the surrounding area in the post-war period.

‘that’s why this market’s survived, basically we’ve got a catchment of customers that come from cultures that are market-based … we realise that and we’re very grateful. Where other markets, great markets within London have failed … Ridley Road’s still thriving because of that one reason … The whole world meets here and there’s never any trouble … no more than you would in Harrods’

Freddie Sherrif interviewed by Matthew Linfoot - Millennium Memory Bank BL Shelfmark C900/05075

Both of these interviews – with Sandra and Sherrif – depict the market as a hub of trade, nourishment and comradeship, with its comparative success and longevity resulting from the rich composition of Hackney’s population.

Page from the book
Great Domesday Book, 1086. National Archives Shelfmark E 31/2/2

Markets have existed for millennia, to provide goods and services to the surrounding locality and as a space for farmers and artisans to sell their wares. Commissioned by William the Conqueror, in 1085, the Great Domesday Book (1086) recorded details of 13,418 settlements in England – including 50 market towns. From the 12th century, the number of market towns in England increased rapidly; between 1200 and 1349 thousands of new weekly markets were licensed by the Crown.2 These markets are a part of our national heritage, that speak to the everyday histories of food, trade and of family life. Even as the prevalence of street markets decline (in the UK), they continue to be an important part of daily life for many people and cultures across the world. In fact, ‘The Market’ was one of the topics included in Going to Britain?, a guide for prospective Commonwealth voyagers from the Caribbean. Published by the BBC in 1959, the pamphlet was authored by a combination of Caribbean men who were already living in London (including Samuel Selvon, the Trinidadian novelist), political figures and civil servants. It covered several topics, such as the journey, housing and work, in a sometimes humorous but generally stern and condescending tone.  

Front cover, black and white photo and page of text
BBC Caribbean Service, Going to Britain? (London: British Broadcasting Corp., 1959) British Library Shelfmark Andrew Salkey Archive Dep 10310. Box 17. Available to view online

Nurses shopping in the market

A.G. Bennett’s section on shopping warned future settlers that ‘Fruit dealers hate buyers handling and squeezing things on display.’ This reminds me of Sandra’s anecdote about nurses shopping for provisions – ‘plantains, sweet potatoes and yams’ – on Ridley Road after they had come off the night shift. When the shopkeeper told the nurses off for touching the produce, Sandra thought ‘how dare he?!’ These feelings of anger prompted her to tell ‘him what’s for’ and demand that he show these women, nurses, mothers and customers more respect. These were women that had been recruited by the newly-formed NHS to come to Britain and train as nurses in order to meet the health needs of post-war Britain.3 Sandra remembers that everyone else started to join in, which ‘was just so brilliant’ – it was part of a process of ‘finding their own voice and standing up for themselves’. This is why recording and archiving stories like Sandra’s is so important, because it speaks back to the archive and, in this case, to the politics of assimilation that publications like Going to Britain epitomised.

Article 'Black Angels' with text and photographs
'Black Angels: Coloured doctors and nurses are saving Britain's hospital services from breakdown', Flamingo, October 1961 British Library Shelfmark P.P.5109.bq.

How the market's changed 

Nostalgic for the market’s ‘vibrant’ and ‘electric’ feel, Sandra explains that there is now ‘something missing’, which has only been intensified by the global pandemic. Acutely aware of the forces that have intensified the market’s decline, she comments on the fact that Ridley Road is ‘prized land’, as much of Hackney is now. Listing some of Hackney’s diminished or lost markets, like the Waste along Kingsland Road and Roman Road Market, in comparison to thriving Broadway Market, Sandra provides a window onto the fast-changing gentrified landscape of Hackney, through the lifecycle of the market. Much like the Save Ridley Road campaign – for which you will see beautifully painted and printed signs on display in the surrounding area – Sandra proclaims ‘We need our markets’!

Photograph of a red, white and green sign surrounded by leaves
Save Ridley Road sign on Colvestone Crescent, Dalston, taken by the author

Thank you Sandra Agard for sharing your memories and thoughts with me.

Naomi Oppenheim is the project lead on Caribbean Foodways in her role as the Caribbean Collections and Community Engagement Intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library @naomioppenheim

Read the next blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Ranette Prime: food and identity in Britain

Read the previous blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Charlie Phillips: The Story Behind Smokey Joe's Diner

References / further reading

  • 'Great Domesday Book', Anglo-Saxons Collection Items, British Library 
  • BBC Caribbean Service, Going to Britain? (London: British Broadcasting Corp., 1959) British Library Shelfmark Andrew Salkey Archive Dep 10310. Box 17
  • ‘Black and white photos of pre-gentrification Hackney’, Huck, 12 February 2020
  • Flamingo, October 1961, British Library Shelfmark P.P.5109.bq.   
  • Freddie Sherrif interviewed by Matthew Linfoot - Millennium Memory Bank British Library Shelfmark C900/05075
  • Future Hackney
  • H. Britnell, ‘The Proliferation of Markets in England, 1200-1349’, The Economic History Review, 34 (1981). 209-221
  • Linda McDowell, 'How Caribbean migrants helped to rebuild Britain', Windrush Stories, 4 October 2018
  • 'Local storytelling collective to stage public exhibition celebrating Ridley Road', Hackney Citizen, 13 October 2020
  • William Lobscheid, Chinese Emigration to the West Indies. A trip through British Guiana undertaken for the purpose of ascertaining the condition of the Chinese who have emigrated under Government contract. With supplementary papers relating to contract labor and the slave trade (Demerara: Royal Gazette Office, 1866) British Library Shelfmark Digital Store 8155.ee.9.(6.)
  • P. Lee, Chinese Cookery. A hundred practical recipes with decorations by Chiang Yee (London: Faber & Faber, 1943) British Library Shelfmark 7946.df.32.
  • Sandra Agard interviewed by Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Foodways, March 2021 (uncatalogued)
  • Save Ridley Road
  1. William Lobscheid, Chinese Emigration to the West Indies (Demerara: Royal Gazette Office, 1866)
  2. R. H. Britnell, ‘The Proliferation of Markets in England, 1200-1349’, Economic History Review, 34 (1981). 209-221
  3. Linda McDowell, 'How Caribbean migrants helped to rebuild Britain', Windrush Stories, 4 October 2018

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