07 February 2023
Cassie Quarless is a filmmaker was a 2020 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
As a documentary director, a large part of my job is mining my mind and my experiences for subjects that I am excited about and that I want to share with others. One such subject is the connection and exchange that exists between the music and musical cultures of the Caribbean, United States, United Kingdom and West Africa. During my time at the British Library I sought to research this further.
I was really struck by the British Library's collection and its wealth of Black British music, which spans a wide range of genres and styles, from early blues and jazz to contemporary grime and hip hop. The collection holds a wealth of resources for researchers, including sheet music, recordings, and concert programmes, as well as a range of scholarly publications and academic works on the subject.
One of the main issues that I had at the British Library - coming from the film/moving image space and having had a background as a DJ - was that I really wanted to be able to riffle through the Library’s collections like one would in a friend’s home or in a record store. After having spoken to and met with various incredibly knowledgeable members of the British Library staff, I ultimately got the hang of the different systems that the Library uses to catalogue its extensive collections and was able to navigate them in a more natural way.
One particular non-recorded music gem for me was the unpublished collection of correspondences by Andrew Salkey, a Caribbean-born writer and publisher who played a crucial role in promoting Black art and literature in Britain during the 1960s and 70s. These letters offer a unique perspective on the experiences and thoughts of one of the leading figures in the Black arts movement, and provide valuable insights into the cultural, political, and artistic context of the time.
I was particularly struck by Andrew Salkey’s correspondences with the Jamaican poet and academic Kamau Braithwaite and what they suggested about the expressed sharing of knowledge and thoughts about art (whether they be visual, literary or musical). Much of the correspondence that I read was dated from the mid-60s and onward into the 70s.
Both sides of my family are from the Caribbean (Grenada to be precise) and I was always regaled with stories of family ties and friendships that were lost through migration to the United Kingdom, other Caribbean islands or to Latin America. It had basically become a foregone conclusion for me that within the context of the Caribbean and its diaspora, the distance of the sea meant the death or at least serious atrophy of social connections during the 60s and 70s. When it came to music, it was felt that records from the Caribbean came to these shores with much of their context and intellectual intention removed - after all, only the most successful acts actually got to travel to the UK to perform and to spread their messages.
What Salkey’s correspondence with Braithwaite underscored was how much conversation was happening between interested parties across the Atlantic. People were not only exchanging art critique but also referring to their cross-nationally intermingled lives and social connections.
I am sad that my time as an Eccles Fellow at the British Library will end before the launch of its landmark exhibition centred on Black British music presented in collaboration with the University of Westminster. I was, however, definitely impressed by the British Library's collection and the breadth of materials that it contained. The collection not only documents the music itself, but also the broader cultural and social context in which it was created. This includes a range of materials that shed light on the experiences of Black musicians in Britain, including recordings of live performances, interviews with musicians and industry professionals, and articles and essays on the subject.
As a filmmaker and as a fan of music, my time at the British Library has definitely given me some new and valuable insights, but more importantly it has gotten me thinking even more deeply about the connections that I was looking to elucidate. I will be back here often as my project progresses.
25 January 2023
Philatelic comics, cartoons and caricatures comprise an important research resource in assessing public response to postage stamp design. Published globally from the nineteenth century to the present era, examples of this genre are in the thousands. Significant cartoonists, writers and illustrators had a hand in their creation, as exemplified by the life and work of the Australian historian, artist and writer Montague Thomas Archibald Wedd.
Born on 5 January 1921 in Glebe, New South Wales, Wedd worked as a junior poster artist for a printing firm, then as a designer and illustrator for a furniture manufacturer. Serving in the Australian Armed Forces during the Second World War temporarily interrupted his studies at the East Sydney Technical College in commercial art. Upon completing his studies on the restoration of peace, he produced his first comic strip under the moniker ‘Monty Wedd’ titled ‘Sword and Sabre.’
Following its commercial success, Wedd developed several other important Australian comics including ‘Bert & Ned,’ ‘Captain Justice’ (Figure 1) and ‘Kirk Raven.’ In 1954, he created his best-selling strip ‘The Scorpion’ and became a prolific cover designer for various pulp fiction novels during the 1950s. In 1963, Wedd turned his hand to animation producing ‘Marco Polo Junior versus the Red Dragon’ and the ‘Lone Ranger.’
Wedd also used his amazing talents of art and narration for didactic purposes. In 1966, he created the cartoon mascot ‘Dollar Bill’ to educate the public about Australia’s imminent switch to decimal currency. Later, he produced artwork for the Captain Cook Bicentenary celebrations in addition to a pioneering biographical comic strip chronicling the life of iconic nineteenth century bushranger, Ned Kelly.
Retiring from comics in 1977, Wedd established a museum dedicated to the Australian army with his wife’s support and published a richly illustrated, informative monograph ‘Australian Military Uniforms 1800-1982’ just five years later in 1982 (Figures 2-3). Returning to comics in 1988, Wedd created the long running historic comic strip ‘The Birth of a Nation’ chronicling Australia’s history published in various newspapers. Given this prodigious output, Wedd received the Order of Australia in 1993 for his services as an author, illustrator and historian. Sadly, he passed away on 4 May 2012 in New South Wales aged ninety.
From its launch in 1954, Wedd provided regular contributions to the important new Australian philatelic magazine ‘Stamp News,’ submitting over two hundred comics and illustrations to the editor, which became one of the publication’s most popular features. In their totality, this corpus of material provides a potted cultural history of the world narrated through the lens of stamps, postal history and collecting.
Wedd’s Stamp News work comprises of three distinct categories. First, ‘Postmen in other lands’ being a potted global history of postal communication from ancient times to modernity. Each instalment comprises a single illustration accompanied with a short body of text as illustrated by shown by these two instalments on the Sleigh Posts of North West Canada and Pony Express of the U.S. Mail (Figures 4-5).
His second, longer-lasting series ‘Stamp Oddities’ developed on the previous format, each one devoted to a particular stamp design or historical vignettes from postal history as well as stamp collecting. These generally comprised several connected or independent illustrations, accompanied with a short paragraph of relevant information. This ‘The Inca Post’ strip takes inspiration from the six-peseta stamp depicting an ‘El Chasqui’ issued as part of Spain’s 1966 ‘Explorers and Colonisers of America’ issue (Figure 6).
Another example, ‘Long Legged Lady’ provides a description of a popular masquerade character performed by the Mother Sally Dance Troupe depicted upon Guyana’s 1969 ‘Christmas’ stamp (Figure 7).
In ‘Fake Signature’ Wedd recalls the public uproar occasioned by the US Post Office’s announcement that it amended George Washington’s signature on the design on the USA 1960 4c stamp of its ‘American Credo’ issue to make it more legible (Figure 8).
‘Women Pirates!!’ was inspired by two stamps from Grenada’s 1970 ‘Pirates’ issue to raise awareness of famous female pirates once active in the Caribbean (Figure 9).
However, Wedd’s most developed contributions comprised single-page comic strips, narrating the cultural contexts of particular stamps or philatelic themes. ‘First Born’ recounts the story of the first baby of English parentage born in America via the United States of America’s 18 August 1937 ‘Virginia Dare’ 5-cent stamp (Figure 10).
‘The Pitch Lake’ based on Trinidad and Tobago’s 1953-1959 ‘Definitive’ issue 6-pence stamp looks into the historic, geological and economic background of this world famous geological landmark (Figure 11).
‘The Legend of Toivita Tapaivita’ was part of of a series commemorating myths and legends of Papua New Guinea (Figure 12). This particular instalment was based on 60-cent stamp of Papua New Guinea’s, 8 June 1966 ‘Folklore, Elema Art’ (1st Series) issue.
The story of how Tierra Del Fuego issued a set of local stamps in 1891 forms the crux of the narrative in ‘Tierra Del Fuego: Land of Fire’ (Figure 13).
Finally, ‘The First Fleet’ focuses on the establishment of Britain’s penal colony in Botany Bay as seen through a couple of Australia’s commemorative postage stamps from 1938 (Figure 14).
Inspired by various texts and illustrations as well as postage stamps, the intertextual nature of Wedd’s work effectively culminated in the generation of creative new cultural meanings. Influencing mid-twentieth century western worldviews, Wedd’s work provides a powerful example of response to postage stamp design from a highly talented artist and influencer.
By Richard Scott Morel, FRPSL
Curator, British Library’s Philatelic Collections
The British Library’s Philatelic Collections: Stamp News Australia.
Toby Burrows and Grant Stone. Comics in Australia and New Zealand. Routledge, 1994.
Monty Wedd. Australian Military Uniforms 1800-1982. Kangaroo Press, 1982.
Monty Wedd. Captain Justice. Sydney, Australia: New Currency Press.
24 January 2023
Into the Crucible of Revolution: Hindu Anticolonialism and Radicalism in Early Twentieth Century America
Christopher Chacon is a PhD candidate in History at the University of California, Irvine, and was a 2022 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, amid the rise and fall of global empires and transnational movement, Hindu anticolonialists like Lajpat Rai and Bhai Parmanand arrived on American shores in hopes of stoking the embers of anti-imperial revolution once again in the American imagination. They counted among their allies Indian labourers in the fields of Central California and the urban streets of New York, American civil rights activists, Indophiles, and internationalist union members. Socialism, democratic nationalism, and anarchism wafted throughout the political air and the scene hungered for action. Out of the birth pangs of the twentieth century emerged Rai and Parmanand, figures draped in nineteenth century nationalism and Hindu revivalism and capable of leadership among the extreme factions of Indian anticolonialism.
For Rai, public fame and organizational support provided the foundation for his agenda in America. An ardent believer in education reform and social advancement, Rai built coalitions that strengthened his call for Indian independence. By engaging with the social and racial tensions that made America, Rai established a presence amongst the minds of the civil rights movement and helped gather support for independence through the Indian Home Rule League of America and through his works such as the Young India journal and The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions and a Study.1
Parmanand, by contrast, arrived in America not to bring about a social movement but instead to nurture a global revolutionary army that would topple the British regime in India. Under the guise of pursuing a master’s degree in pharmacy at Berkeley, Parmanand networked with other student radicals both in California and Oregon in order to procure weapons and cash for an anticolonial rebellion born simultaneously in the homeland and the global diasporic community.2 Already a prominent name in nationalist circles for his travels as an envoy for the Hindu revival organization, the Arya Samaj, Parmanand wielded the gravitas – and the imperial notoriety – required to move people in the direction towards open rebellion. It is for the latter that Parmanand’s mission failed. British imperial intelligence quickly identified his actions as a threat to their dominion over the Punjab and, upon his return to India, incarcerated him on the grounds that he possessed illicit materials and espoused seditious rhetoric.3
Through the generosity of the Eccles Centre, this research project acquired invaluable materials related to Parmanand’s involvement in the Ghadr Party of San Francisco as well as the movement at large. Among the collection gathered on American sources at the British Library, two specific pieces stand out as definitively exceptional: a ten-page report on Bhai Parmanand and a Ghadr Party poster that encompassed the spirit and reality of global intellectual movements. In the case of the former, most secondary literature on Parmanand assures the reader that he participated in the Ghadr Party movement – despite his autobiographical claims that he merely was at the wrong place at the wrong time. However, these same materials often omit how he functioned in the organization and what roles he fulfilled by its conclusion.4 With the incorporation of this report and other documents related to his roles as nationalist and revolutionary, a clearer picture emerges that resolves both questions about his imprisonment as well as inquiries into his future as a diehard spin master of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1930s and 1940s.
As for the Ghadr Party poster, this masterpiece connects the dream of socialist revolutionaries with the vision of global Hindutva ideologues. The name 'The United States of India' resides over the idealized map of an independent and unbroken India signifying its place of prominence in Asia. The open border with the Indian Ocean lays claim to the seas. However, the text that surrounds the image speaks to its special relationship to the US. 'In Union There Is Strength' and 'Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God' borrow from the American Revolution and contextualize the American war of independence against the British as the preamble for the Indian war to come. Finally, the reader comes to its zenith, the clarion call to arms: 'What Are YOU Doing to Liberate India?'5 This question does not discriminate based on nationality or appearance. Rather it divides the world into two camps: freedom fighters and imperialists. Visual materials such as this poster elevate the historical conversation and provide insight into the psychology of Rai and Parmanand in the 1910s. Without it – and the financial support of the Eccles Centre – this project would lack these vital pieces to the story of global Hindutva and its revolutionary phase in the 1910s.
1. Lajpat Rai, The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions and a Study. Calcutta: R. Chatterjee, 1916. For more on this subject, I recommend: Manan Desai, The United States of India: Anticolonial Literature and Transnational Refraction. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2020; Vivek Bald, Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013; and Dohra Ahmad, Landscapes of Hope: Anti-Colonial Utopianism in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
2. See the autobiography, Bhai Parmanand, The Story of My Life. New Delhi: Ocean Books Pvt. Ltd., 2003. To further the conversation, see, Maia Ramnath, Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011; Seema Sohi, Echoes of Mutiny: Race Surveillance & Indian Anticolonialism in North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014; and Harold A. Gould, Sikhs, Swamis, Students, and Spies: The Indian Lobby in the United States, 1900-1946. New Delhi: Safe Publications, 2006.
3. For more on the subject, see, Richard J. Popplewell, Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British Intelligence and the Defence of the Indian Empire 1904-1924. Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1995.
4. IOR/L/PJ/6/1405, File 4095 – Lahore Conspiracy Case and the Lahore Supplementary Conspiracy Case. Sep 1915-Dec 1916. Number 56 in the list of the accused, “Bhai Parma Nand” is given a lengthy 10-page backstory which provides much context for both his ventures prior to and following his San Francisco and Portland interlude.
5. Mss Eur C228 -- Ghadr Party papers. 1920. `Flag of the H G Party': a map of `The United States of India', surrounded by party slogans. Published by the Hindustan Gadar Party, San Francisco, c1920.
17 January 2023
The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds is currently displaying seven items from British Library collections as part of their FREE exhibition, The Colour of Anxiety: Race, Sexuality and Disorder in Victorian Sculpture – open until 26 February 2023
Two of the items in the Institutes’ main galleries for this spectacular exhibition are from the Americas collections held here at the British Library. It’s always great to be able to loan items from the Library to other museums and galleries. For starters, it means more people gain access to viewing the works, those who might not ordinarily consult collection items in the Library’s Reading Rooms, or be in the London vicinity to see items on display at our St Pancras site. Secondly, it’s wonderful to see the items interpreted by a multitude of experts and curators, often placing the item in a completely different context from the library setting we’re used to. In this case, as the title of the exhibition suggests, the books are alongside an array of fantastic sculptures as the display brings into focus a rich yet largely overlooked body of sculptural work collected in Britain between 1850 and 1900. The exhibition examines objects that introduced colour and new materials into the sculptural process, situating them within the context of the anxiety which often weighed upon Victorian society in the face of social change and scientific advances.
The exhibition has had great reviews from The Observer and The Telegraph so don’t miss out on seeing it. Here’s a quick peek at the items from the Library’s Americas collections on display – if you want to find out more and see some remarkable sculptures do make time for a visit to Leeds.
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (BL shelfmark: 012629.de.20.)
This science fiction novella by H. G. Wells is generally credited with popularising the concept of time travel by using a device to travel forward or backward through time. Indeed, the term itself, ‘time machine’, was coined by Wells and is now commonly used to refer to such a vehicle. This edition of The Time Machine was printed in New York in 1895 by the American book-publishing house Henry Holt and Company.
This first American edition, first issue, preceded the British edition and you’ll see the author’s name is misspelled as H. S. Wells on the title page and on the Authors Note as ‘H.S.W.’ – something that was later corrected in the British edition. Unable to let the error slide, a past reader ever in search of correctness has at some point noted in pencil the correction of ‘H. G. Wells’ on the title page under the misprint, initialled simply by the letter ‘K’. As well as the misspelling of Wells’s name being corrected for the English edition, according to science-fiction editor Mike Ashley, this American edition is a shorter version than the English but was published two weeks earlier and is regarded today as particularly collectable. It will certainly be interesting to see this item on display in the Henry Moore Institute Galleries as just one example illustrating anxieties about rapid social change and developments in science that were occurring during the Victorian era.
The Vampire. A poem ... Written for a picture by Philip Burne-Jones exhibited at the New Gallery in London, 1897. [With a reproduction of the picture.] by Rudyard Kipling (BL shelfmark: Cup.402.a.30.)
Also on display from the British Library Americas collections is The Vampire by Rudyard Kipling, printed by Woodward & Lothrop of Washington DC in 1898. Whilst doing some digging in the archives for approving this outward loan, I discovered the item was acquired by the Department of Printed Books at the British Museum Library in the spring of 1961. Purchased from a second-hand bookstore based in New York for the handsome price of £5 it was bought along with a scarce pamphlet on Rudyard Kipling entitled American Oats (BL shelfmark: Cup.503.l.26.). The Vampire was catalogued by the British Museum Library team swiftly as is shown by the red Library stamp dated 15 May 1961.
Kipling wrote the poem to gather publicity for what was then considered a mildly pornographic painting by his cousin, the artist Philip Burne-Jones, entitled ‘The Vampire’ (1897) – the piece would become Burne-Jones’s most famous work. The painting depicts a woman leaning over an unconscious man and was believed to have been modelled by the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell – with whom Burne-Jones had been romantically linked. This painting is an example of how, despite Victorian ideals of virginity and chastity circulating at the time, male artists responded to and reinforced an increasingly sexualised representation of the female body in art, reflecting fears regarding the changing role of women. Indeed, Kipling’s poem echoes this notion also.
Alongside items from British Library collections, visitors to The Colour of Anxiety: Race, Sexuality and Disorder in Victorian Sculpture will be able to see artworks from the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Collection Trust and Aberystwyth University School of Art Museum and Galleries and pieces created by artists sculpting during the Victorian period, as well as more contemporary spectacles from the likes of Sanford Biggers and Maud Sulter. The exhibition runs until 26 February 2023 and is free to visit. Find out more and plan your visit via the Henry Moore Institute website.
Blog by Rachael, Curator for North American Published Collections Post-1850
 Out of this world: Science fiction but not as you know it by Mike Ashley, page 49 (London: British Library, 2011), BL shelfmark: YK.2011.b.8873
11 January 2023
Darius Bost is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Utah and was a 2020 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
In my book, Evidence of Being: The Black Gay Cultural Renaissance and the Politics of Violence (Chicago, 2019), I wrote about the renaissance of black gay male cultural production in the 1980s and 1990s. In those decades, black gay men across the Atlantic used a range of cultural forms—media, literature, film, dance, music, and performance—as modes of community building, political mobilization, self-determination in the face of state neglect and cultural exclusion, and cultural preservation amid the losses of AIDS and anti-black and anti-gay violence. Given my narrow focus on literary cultures in two U.S. cities—Washington, D.C., and New York City—I was unable to discuss the significance of the visual arts and transnational exchange between black American and black British artists. For example, Washington, D.C.-based, black gay writer Essex Hemphill visited London in the winter of 1986 and performed a series of readings from his poetry collection Conditions at various cultural venues. New York City-based writer and performer Assotto Saint toured London in April 1988 with his theatre group Metamorphosis, performing pieces from his award-winning, black gay-themed trilogy. However, media documentation of these events and others featuring U.S. black gay artists who traveled to London give the impression that the flows of black gay culture moved unilaterally from the U.S. to the U.K. While conducting research for my current project on queer visual cultures of the black Atlantic, I have found little commentary on how black gay artists in London influenced U.S. black gay culture. A focus on the contributions of Nigerian-British visual artist Rotimi Fani-Kayode suggests some ways that British artists influenced U.S. black gay culture during the 1980s black gay cultural renaissance.
Fani-Kayode was born in 1955 in Lagos, Nigeria. His father was a member of the political aristocracy in Nigeria, and a keeper of the shrine of Yoruba deities in Ife. At the age of twelve, Fani-Kayode moved with his family to Brighton, England, to escape the Nigerian Civil War. He attended numerous private schools in England for his secondary education before moving to Washington, D.C., in 1976 to complete his undergraduate education in Economics at Georgetown University. He lived in New York City in the early 1980s while completing his MFA in Fine Arts and Photography at Pratt Institute. While living in the U.S., Fani-Kayode shared spaces with many of the artists and writers that I write about in Evidence of Being, including the DC Clubhouse, an internationally renowned nightclub that became an important site of black lesbian and gay cultural and political formation in the late 1970s [until an estimated 40% of its membership roles were lost to AIDS by the late 80s]. That he dedicated his first monograph Black Male/White Male (1988) to 'Toni and the spirit of the Clubhouse' demonstrates how U.S. black gay communities influenced his practice. Yet, little is known about how Fani-Kayode influenced these communities during his time there.
We can see more of his influence on the black cultural renaissance when directing our attention to his practice in London, to which he returned after completing his studies in the United States. Fani-Kayode photographed Hemphill alongside black gay British activist Dennis Carney for his monograph Black Male/White Male. He also photographed Saint, and Oakland, California-based musician Blackberri, another important contributor to the black gay cultural renaissance who performed at the historic Black Gay Conference in London in 1987. Notably, one of the images from Black Male/White Male graced the cover of Tongues Untied, a collection of black gay British and American poetry published by the London-based Gay Men’s Press in 1987. The collection inspired U.S.-based filmmaker Marlon Rigg's 1989 film Tongues Untied. Riggs’ film and Black British filmmaker Isaac Julien’s 1989 Looking for Langston—which includes the work of many U.S. black gay cultural producers—demonstrate the significance of transatlantic exchange to the 1980s black gay cultural renaissance. Rotimi’s contributions to this movement establishes the significance of photography to this cultural movement. His longtime artistic collaborator and romantic partner Alex Hirst describes Fani-Kayode’s photography as 'a means of reaching others who on a world scale would otherwise be quite beyond the scope of an individual’s ability to speak to them.'1
Beyond the emphasis on transnational exchange and collaboration, evidence from the archive suggests how Fani-Kayode work sought to expand the philosophical underpinnings of the black gay cultural renaissance in the service of a broader vision of collective liberation. The British Library holds an audio recording of the memorial event held at the Photographer’s Gallery in London in January 1991 in honor of Fani-Kayode after his untimely death in 1989 from a heart attack. At this event, Hirst provided reflections on Rotimi’s work that suggest how it contributed to this broader cultural movement. Commenting on Fani-Kayode's self-identification as an 'African working in a Western medium,' Hirst discusses how Rotimi sought to challenge the West's tradition of separating rather than combining, which has created dualisms like black and white, sacred and profane, and heterosexual and homosexual, that has secured its dominance for over five centuries.2 Hirst also emphasized how Fani-Kayode brought to the photographic medium a non-Western perspective that viewed art as inseparable from everyday life. Rotimi drew from ancestral traditions in which art 'was a way for society to make concrete its emotions, its aesthetic concerns, its hopes and its fears and to give form to a collective consciousness of history, psychology, ethics, and dreams.'3 In so doing, Rotimi destabilized the Western dualisms that undergirded the terms 'black' and 'gay,' while acknowledging the power of combining these terms towards collective social and spiritual transformation. His refusal to separate art from ordinary life showed other black gay cultural producers that their artistic practices were inextricable from the community’s broader aims of social and spiritual transformation. In sum, Fani-Kayode’s work expanded the vision of the black gay cultural renaissance beyond Western constructions of identity and aesthetics and toward a vision of the black gay Atlantic unbound by the Western categorical distinctions that fostered the collective marginalization of black gay men and disparaged ways of knowing and modes of expression that might 'give form to [black gay male] collective consciousness.'
1. Alex Hirst, 'Talk at Friends of Rotimi Lecture,' Photographer’s Gallery, London, UK, January 16, 1991. Casette. Photographer’s Gallery Recordings. British Library.
2. Rotimi Fani-Kayode, 'Traces of Estasy,' Revue Noire, November 1996, p. 6; Hirst, 'Talk at Friends of Rotimi Lecture.'
3. Alex Hirst, 'Talks at Friends of Rotimi Lecture,' Photographer’s Gallery, London, UK, January 16, 1991. Casette. Photographer’s Gallery Recordings. British Library.
12 December 2022
Thomas Bishop is Senior Lecturer in American History and Programme Leader of the BA History degree at the University of Lincoln; he was a 2021 British Library Eccles Visiting Fellow.
In 1957 Walt Disney broadcast 'Our Friend the Atom'. Designed to both educate and reassure, the forty-minute special encouraged viewers to put aside their fears of destruction and instead embrace the limitless potential of the atom. Likening atomic power to that of a jinnī being unleashed from a magic lamp to grant wishes, the narrator tells audiences that with enough hard work 'the atomic genie might spread across the world granting the gifts of science to all mankind.'
'Our Friend the Atom' took centre stage during President Dwight Eisenhower’s 'Atoms for Peace' campaign. Through the 1950s, as the Soviet Union and United States increased atmospheric testing of weapons of even greater destructive potential, Eisenhower launched a public education campaign to sell the positive benefits of atomic energy. Seeking allies in this quest to neutralise anxieties over existing weapons technology, Eisenhower turned to the nation’s foremost animator to help create a new cultural imagination of the benign atom. The result is a striking vision of a nuclear future shaped by harmless radiation, accident proof industries, and smiling scientists. This sanitised, Hollywoodised vision of a nation rushing headlong into the promise of the atomic age, conceals the everyday realities and occupational risks associated with working life inside the most iconic industry of the Cold War.
At the British Library, I set out to investigate the hidden histories of nuclear technology in the United States. Specifically, over the last few years I have been keen to research and write a new history of radiation protection standards during the Cold War from the perspective of the thousands of blue-collar workers whose labour powered the nation’s reactors. Talking to archivists often leads to important, unexpected discoveries that can define a research project. I arrived at the Library hoping to make inroads into unearthing a complicated yet critical episode in American history.
The British Library is a treasure trove of material for those interested in nuclear history, with records reaching from the factory floor to the Oval Office. Initially, I looked over the Federal Government Collections in order to understand the changing political landscapes over occupational safety during a period of peak commercial growth in nuclear power during the late 1960s, often called the 'turn-key' era of reactor construction. What might appear to some as dry bureaucratic history is in fact brimming with human stories as civil servants, scientists, employees, and activists debated the health hazards of working with radiation. Out of these records, I started to hone my research around a concept all too familiar to those working within the sector, known as the 'permissible dose'.
Throughout the Cold War the 'permissible dose' governed both the lives and livelihoods of those working within the nuclear sector. To cut through the quite dense technical terminology, the permissible dose refers to the legal amount of ionized radiation a body can receive over the course of a year. This federally sanctioned level of radiation was the cornerstone of the occupational nuclear frontier. How radiation threshold levels were measured, what risk was deemed 'acceptable', and how regulation was understood and enforced across an entire industrial sector was the most significant question facing this rapidly changing industry. With questions of individual workers’ experiences still very much at the front of my mind, I searched for documentation that might shed light on how blue-collar workers experienced and understood this concept of acceptable risk.
Uncovering blue collar workers’ experiences with radiation is laden with difficulties. Often, in lieu of self-made sources, historians seek out instances of workers engaging with the industrial and political elite in the fight for workplace safety. Here, the British Library plays an essential role in magnifying the subtle archival presences of the working communities who helped regulate nuclear power. Through recent digitization efforts, readers can now access records ranging from blow by blow breakdowns of the decisions made around radiation exposure levels found in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), to industry trade publication Nucleonic reviewing safety challenges facing a rapidly commercialised industry. A rich collection of material waiting for anyone interested in these records, it contains interviews with workers, debates over compensation cases, and even whistle-blowers willing to go on the record about the substandard safety practices they encountered. Together these collections allowed me to track the controversies surrounding radiation protection standards and start putting together a picture of nuclear regulation that seems far more complex than studies have previously acknowledged.
In the records of the specific industrial accidents held in the files of the Environmental Project Agency (EPA), the health and science periodicals of the 1960s, I noticed the central role that workers’ testimonies played during fights for reform. Far from being passive actors in the fight for stricter regulation, blue collar workers were active and vocal in making their voices heard for better working conditions. With this material, I can prove that ordinary working Americans are the forgotten 'policymakers of the nuclear age': organisers who marched, blew the whistle, litigated, and turned to the press, unions, and White House for support. This time in the archives has allowed me to knit top-down perspectives of regulatory policy with local experiences of labour activism, pushing our understanding of the ability of ordinary working Americans to fight for and enact meaningful change for themselves and their communities.
While this project is still very much a work in progress, the records of the British Library provide a critical start for anyone interested in researching our often-complicated relationship with nuclear technologies. In an age where renewable energy and climate change are defining global concerns, and politicians talk about the promise of a 'Green New Deal' it is important that we seek out our nuclear past, to make sure it is not forgotten during a moment of renewed interest in our nuclear futures.
05 December 2022
Rishma Johal is a PhD candidate in History at McGill University and was a 2022 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
As an academic in training, I believe that most PhD Candidates—particularly *cough cough* myself—are young, wide-eyed, naive students who hope to use their magical wings to fly from source to source in a matter of seconds. If any of this were remotely true, my thesis would be complete in a few days. However, no matter how aware I am of my naivete, there is always the glimmer of hope that the next research trip will be 'the one' in which I read every source at the archives. Needless to say, this hope is shattered as soon as an archivist hands me a file weighing a few good pounds in the morning of my very first day. Perhaps, the British Library experience has been my most dramatic encounter in terms of the amount of information available versus the amount of information that I can read in a short period of time. This autumn, as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, I enjoyed five weeks at the British Library, yet even that felt too little to complete my research. Thus, if I had to select one challenge over any other, it would be my fight against time. Nevertheless, the availability and versatility of sources at the Library ensured that my visit was both fruitful and rewarding.
My research entails analysing files on South Asian migrants and Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest—both marginalised communities about whom information at archives is generally limited. Specifically, my thesis examines intersections and dissension among early South Asian migrants and Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest from 1857–1947. This means that I am examining files on diverse groups of people. It is quite time-consuming to search for these sources, although the British Library holds a wealth of data. For this reason, the limit on the number of sources that I could request in one day quickly became another challenge, though I managed to power through most of the sources on my research list.
Conducting research at the British Library was imperative as it enabled me to access many archival records about early South Asian migrants in both Canada and the United States. Most of these files were held in the India Office Records and I also found correspondence among various levels of government on South Asian migration, from reading views of inspectors, politicians, and ministers in Vancouver and British Columbia to Ottawa, Britain, and India. I found numerous instances of concern over increasing numbers of South Asians in the Pacific Northwest that incorporated correspondence with American officials. The British Library has a priceless amount of information on the Ghadar movement (early Indian independence struggle that began in North America) and clandestine activities run by South Asians from California extending to Argentina, Panama, South Africa, Afghanistan, and Australia. However, the British Empire’s vast network of information gathering and sharing is only visible when files are accessed that discuss the Ghadar movement, “Hindu immigration,” and event specific files such as IOR/L/PJ/1325, File 3601 Canadian Immigration; the Komagata Maru Incident. These sources discussed the status of South Asians in Canada and noted the companies that they owned as well as the land purchases that they made, which was vital information concerning South Asians’ role in settler colonialism and Indigenous dispossession.
In one or two instances, I also found comparisons that officials made between the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia and South Asians. My favourite sources were rare finds that may not have been as useful as the above files for my thesis but were integral in terms of South Asian diasporic activity. For instance, I was thrilled to view a flag made by the Ghadar Party of San Francisco with a map that envisioned the borders of a free India as early as 1920 (Mss Eur C228: 1920). I was also able to view several maps made by South Asian surveyors and assistants within the British Indian army. These included maps of boundaries in Tibet, China, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa. The maps portray the role that some South Asians played as intermediaries within the colonisation of the Indian Ocean Arena before many migrated to North America.
I was also interested in sources on Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest, though finding archival materials associated with specific tribes was difficult. For this aspect of my research, I utilised the vast collection of books that covered substantial components of the history of Indigenous peoples from California, Washington and Oregon. However, I was able to locate a few important firsthand documents such as the Report on the Condition and Needs of the Mission Indians of California (British Library shelfmark: A.S.217/19, 1873) made by special agents Helen Jackson and Abbott Kinney and The Report of the Special Agent for California Indians to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs by C.E. Kelsey (British Library shelfmark: Mic.K.2130, 1906). The former report provided a significant account of how white colonists dispossessed Indigenous peoples in Southern California, despite US government orders that recognized Mission Indians’ lands as reservation lands. The 1906 report outlined the conditions of Indigenous peoples living within California and described the areas that remained populated by them. Reading these reports in comparison to one another was particularly useful for my research. The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians (British Library shelfmark: P.P.3437.bad) was another important source that discussed Native American issues, although individuals interested in Native Americans, rather than those of Indigenous ancestry, published most of the articles. More importantly, I was able to read a wide variety of books written about Indigenous peoples and to corroborate movements of certain Indigenous communities with the migration and land purchases of South Asians.
Overall, my magical wings were quite elated to fly from one source to the next at the British Library whether that was in a matter of hours, days, or weeks as I continue to read files that I photographed in October. I had an amazing experience as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, and I would highly recommend this fellowship opportunity to other researchers in American Studies. Although I did not have a chance to attend many events, connecting with other Fellows and the Eccles Centre team at one of their Researchers' Packed Lunches was wonderful. Nevertheless, time is always of the essence. Alas, this researcher flies away to the next archive!
28 November 2022
Barry Robinson is the Robert Haywood Morrison Professor of History at Queens University of Charlotte and was a 2020 British Library Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow.
In August 1895 a committee of prominent musicians and members of the Italian community in Lima, Peru announced a benefit concert to be held on behalf of the seventy-seven-year-old composer Carlos Enrique Pasta. Their stated purpose was “to alleviate the pitiful situation in which the well-known and respectable maestro finds himself in his old age.”1 Pasta had first come to Lima in 1855 as part of the many waves of Italian performers who travelled through and to the Americas during the nineteenth century.
Italian migrants like Pasta brought European content to American audiences, but they also created new performances that drew from local themes and contemporary politics. Pasta’s zarzuela ¡Pobre indio! debuted in Lima on 3 March 1868. The performance included two yaravies and a huayno (indigenous Andean folk ballads and dance, respectively), with the overture incorporating the chorus of the Peruvian National Anthem.2 This cultural exchange filtered back across the Atlantic, with productions of American-inspired work making their way to the most prominent opera houses of Europe.
Pasta’s best remembered work, the opera Atahualpa, recast the Inca emperor as a tragic and nuanced figure, set to a melancholy and melodious score. His librettist, Antonio Ghislanzoni, also authored the libretto for Verdi’s Aida. Pasta returned to Italy for the debut of Atahualpa in November 1875 at Genoa’s Teatro Paganini, where critics reported “applause galore – more than twenty calls to the maestro – Bravo Maestro Pasta!”3 Atahualpa’s success continued at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, but by January 1877 Pasta had returned to Lima for the opera’s Peruvian debut at the Teatro Principal.4 He continued to compose zarzuelas over the next few years. As of 1887 he was offering his services to the citizens of Lima as a piano and voice teacher.5
Along with my colleague, Dr. Lucia Galleno, I have been constructing a database of hundreds of individuals like Carlo Enrico Pasta to track the movement of Italian opera performers (singers, musicians, and empresarios) from Italy to the Americas in the nineteenth century. We are employing traditional historical research along with techniques from the digital humanities and geospatial analysis to identify broader patterns among the companies, theatres, and performers who formed part of this influential cultural transference. Their stories might best be visualized as a fluid network of journeys spanning the Atlantic and centering on urban hubs with theatres connecting to the international tour circuits.6
Lima makes for a revealing node from which to begin charting these transatlantic opera networks. Italian opera served as a vibrant element of the city’s cultural life, drawing large crowds of passionate supporters who often engaged in vigorous public critiques and debates, occasionally spilling over into physical violence.7 In 1896, the year after the benefit concert for Maestro Pasta, famed Peruvian literary figure Manuel Moncloa y Covarrubias recalled the vigorous partisanship surrounding the career of soprano Clotilde Barilli in the 1850s, labelling it “a scandal of colossal proportions.”8 Barilli’s fans developed such a furious rivalry with those of the O’Loghlin theatre company that in the 1852 season grave wounds were delivered with a rapiers and firearms, to the point that General Pedro Cisneros de la Torre called in an infantry battalion to restore order. In his Mujeres de teatro, Moncloa y Covarrubias notes that, given the politically fluid nature of those times, this action put the inhabitants of the entire city in a state of great alarm.9
The British Library Reader Pass has provided an invaluable opportunity to connect nineteenth century Italian migrants more fully to the communities in which they lived and performed, and to trace their movement across the Atlantic from cities like London, Madrid, and Milan through our focal point of Lima, Peru, and around the Americas to cultural hubs such as New York, Havana, and New Orleans.
The career of Clorinda Corradi Pantanelli, credited by Basadre with “definitively popularizing” Italian opera in Peru during the season that began on 2 September, 1840, illustrates the scope of this movement.10 After initiating her career in Italy and Spain in the 1820s and 1830s, Corradi Pantanelli sang in Havana, Cuba as a part of a company managed by her husband, Raffaele Pantanelli, from 1836 to 1839. During an interim 1837 season at the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans, two other performers “absconded” from the company and the empresario engaged in a heated financial dispute with the owner of the St. Charles.11
Corradi Pantanelli’s company arrived in Peru in 1840. The immediate popularity of Corradi Pantanelli’s performance in Lima prompted conservative literary figure Felipe Pardo y Aliaga to publish an essay entitled “Opera y nacionalismo” in October 1840, in which he critiqued what he viewed as a liberal, mercantile fascination with this foreign art form as an ornament of national modernity. Pardo y Aliaga protested that “Nonsensical nationalism has produced few more original phenomena than the one observed on the occasion of the arrival of the Italian company that today charms this capital.”12
Corradi Pantanelli’s company remained in Lima until April 1844, when they continued southward to Chile. They opened the newly constructed Teatro Victoria in Valparaiso in December.13 Corradi Pantanelli continued to perform in Chile over the next decade. Records of the University of Chile show that she took a post as a professor at the National Conservatory of Music in May of 1861.14
The career of mezzo-soprano Estefanía Collamarini provides a final example of the migrant trajectories of these performers. In 1898 Moncloa y Covarrubias characterized Collamarini as “the most splendidly beautiful Carmen we have had [in Lima]”.15 The following year Collamarini ranged as widely as Mexico City, San Francisco, and even Kansas City, Missouri, where she personally funded a reorganization of the stranded Lombardi Opera Company to enable it to complete its tour of the United States.16 Collamarini returned to South America where she continued to perform through at least 1905, when she performed at the Teatro de Sao Pedro d’Alcantara in Rio de Janeiro.17
The British Library affords world class access to a wealth of source material that is not accessible at our home institution, including memoirs, catalogues of performances, photos and paintings, diagrams of theatres, an outstanding general reference collection, and excellent nineteenth century newspaper collections (including both hard copy and digital databases). The Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship has enabled me to track the locations and management of theatres, the movement of individuals and opera companies, and the public reactions and responses to their performances in the major cities of South and North America. These materials help us to transcend the violence of abstraction by putting a personal and individual contour onto the data, adding a human voice to the historic drama that the performers experiences represent.
1. El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 19 August 1895. British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive.
2. Jorge Basadre, Historia de la República del Perú (Lima, 1961-1968), Vol. IV, p. 1903, BL shelfmark: W31/3274. Basadre points out that this debut occurred during a period of heightened indigenismo in Lima. A zarzuela differs from an opera in that it intersperses the music and singing with sections of unaccompanied spoken verse. Vera Wolkowicz views the huayno and yaraví as part of the early foundation of national Peruvian music, and cites Pasta as the first composer of any nationality to incorporate Andean folk elements into his compositions. Vera Wolkowicz, Inca Music Reimagined: Indigenist Discourses in Latin American Art Music (Oxford University Press, 2022) p. 57.
3. Carlo Civallero, “Gazzetino di Genova,” 29 November and 9 Dicembre, in: Appolonio e Caprin, L'Arte: Rassegna di teatri, scienzi e lettere con annessa Agenzia. Trieste, 30 November 1875 No. 33, p. 3 and 13 December 1875, No. 34, p. 3.
4. On August 6, 2015, Lima’s Gran Teatro Nacional hosted a resurrected performance of Pasta’s Atahualpa for the first time since the nineteenth century. El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 7 August 2015. British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive.
5. El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 9 October 1887, British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive. The Hotel de Francia é Inglaterra was located at 204 Calle Judíos.
6. John Rosselli has identified a number of seasonal patterns to this movement, which he categorizes into three distinct circuits: 1) Austral America (including Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina), 2) the Circum-Caribbean, including Havana, Caracas, and major cities in the Eastern United States, and 3) a Pacific circuit extending from Mexico up to San Francisco and down through Central America to Peru and Chile. John Roselli, “The Opera Business and the Italian Immigrant Community in Latin America 1820-1930: The Example of Buenos Aires.” Past & Present, May, 1990, No. 127, pp 165-166.
7. Robert Stevenson’s Foundations of New World Opera (Lima: Pacific Press, 1973) BL shelfmark YM.1991.b.9 and Chad Gasta’s Transatlantic Arias: Early Opera in Spain and the New World (Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2013) BL shelfmark YD.2014.a.786, identify Peru as a center of early New World Opera through the eighteenth century, but scholars of nineteenth century opera tend to overlook Peru.
8. Moncloa y Covarrubias often used the pen name M. Cloamón. M. Cloamón, “De telón adentro,” El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 29 May, 1896, British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive. His extensive Diccionario teatral del Perú (Badiola y Berrio, 1905) offers a vital foundation for identifying specific Italian opera performers at a date and theatre in Lima, and identifying their company and the works they performed.
9. Enrica Jemma Glickman, “Italian Dramatic Companies and the Peruvian Stage in the 1870s,” Latin American Theatre Review, Spring 1973, p. 43; Manuel Moncloa y Covarrubias, Mujeres de teatro: apuntes, perfiles, y recuerdos (Callao, Imp. El Progreso, 1910) p. 11.
10. Jorge Basadre, Historia de la República del Perú (Lima, 1961-1968), Vol. II, p. 399, BL shelfmark W31/3272.
11. Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) 8 June 1837. British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive; Katherine K. Preston, Opera on the Road: Traveling Opera Troupes in the United States, 1825-60. (Music in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993) pp. 113-117, BL shelfmark 93/24434.
12. Felipe Pardo y Aliaga, “Opera y nacionalismo,” in: El espejo de mi tierra. Edición y estudio preliminar de Alberto Tauro (Lima: Editorial Universo, 1971) pp. 74-89, BL shelfmark X.907/12764.
13. José Manuel Izquierdo Konig details the process of constructing the Teatro Victoria in: “The Invention of an Opera House: The 1844 Teatro Victoria in Valparaiso, Chile,” Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 32, 2021, p. 140.
14. Anales de la Universidad de Chile: memorias científicas y literarias, Volume 18 (Universidad de Chile, 1861) p. 603, BL shelfmark Ac.2693.
15. Moncloa y Covarrubias, Diccionario teatral del Perú (Badiola y Berrio, 1905) p. 51.
16. Manuel Mañon, Historia del Teatro Principal de México (México, 1932) p. 209, BL shelfmark, 11795.tt.36; “Stranded Opera Company Reorganizes.” New York Times (1857-1922); Oct 24, 1899.
17. Richard Langham Smith and Clair Rowden, eds. Carmen Abroad: Bizet's Opera on the Global Stage (Cambridge University Press, 2020) p. 162, BL shelfmark YC.2022.b.205.
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