American Collections blog

25 posts categorized " Official Publications"

11 February 2017

The Flint Sit-down Strike, 1936-37

Eighty years ago today – following a 44-day sit-down strike at their plant in Flint, Michigan – General Motors (GM) formally recognised the United Automobile Workers (UAW) as the sole bargaining authority for the striking workers.

Flint Wikimedia
Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration. LC-USF34-040028-D.

It is almost impossible to over-estimate the impact this recognition had upon both the unionisation of the American automobile industry and the labour movement across the United States.

In the early years of the Great Depression, increased workloads and cuts in pay were commonplace across the auto industry. In 1935, the average auto worker’s income was barely half that deemed by the government to be a minimum for a family of four. The following summer, hundreds of workers died in Michigan auto plants due to the heat wave and on-going poor working conditions. Theoretically, such conditions made these plants ripe for union organisation. However, strikes in 1930 and 1934 had been viciously broken up by the Flint police, aided by company informers; indeed, GM paid $839,000 for detective work in 1934 alone (1).

In 1935, the passage of the National Labor Relations Act – which legalised strikes – invigorated the Congress of Industrial Organizations' efforts to unionize industrial plants across the US. The following summer, UAW officials unaffiliated with existing (GM-infiltrated) locals began organising in Flint – an audacious plan, given it was essentially a company town; yet, they recognised the pay-off could be enormous. To avoid detection, they met with workers in their own homes and encouraged them to join; many did so. General Motors’ reaction was swift. On 29 December union leaders learned that over the New Year’s holiday the company planned to remove the huge and vital ‘dies’ used to make car bodies. If this happened, cars could be made elsewhere, thereby weakening the union’s strategic position. Recognising what was at stake, the workers refused to leave the plant.

The next 44 days were unprecedented in the history of American labour. Inside the plant, the workers organised themselves into committees for cleaning, defence, entertainment and exercise, while supporters outside brought them food and supplies.

  Flint wikimedia meal

Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration (LC-USF34-040031-D).

Finally, on 11 February 1937, GM signed an agreement recognising the UAW, and agreeing not to discriminate against those workers who had struck. The following year, nearly one-hundred sit-down strikes took place in auto plants across the country; UAW membership rose from 50,000 to 300,000; and auto worker wages rose by as much as 300%. This historic sit-down strike presaged a decade of intense union activity across American industry, and an extraordinary improvement in the lives of ordinary workers.

The British Library holds a wide variety of materials documenting the labour movement within the United States, including: reports, newspapers and recruiting pamphlets by individual unions, the CIO and the American Federation of Labor (AFL); Congressional hearings, reports, and federal legislation; publications by political parties, including the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of America; and reports by civil rights organisations. Additionally, the rise and activity of the unions may also be documented through our extensive collection of American newspapers, secondary sources, and electronic databases.

 Witch hunt CIO

George E. Novack, Witch-hunt in Minnesota: the federal prosecution of the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544, CIO. New York: Civil Defense Committee, [1941?]. Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.6863; The CIO: what it is and how it came to be. Washington, DC: Committee for Industrial Organization, 1937. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1501

AFL Communist party

Communist Party of the United States. For a Powerful, United A.F. of L. New York: Workers Library, 1936. Shelfmark: YD.2007.a.1654; Communist Party of the United States. Greetings to the American Working People on the Occasion of the First Anniversary of the Great Labor Merger, AFL-CIO! New York: Labor Committee, Communist Party, USA, [195?]. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1322

  UAW local

John G. Kruchko, The Birth of a Union Local: the history of UAW Local 674, Norwood, Ohio, 1933 to 1940. Ithaca, NY: New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, 1972. Shelfmark: q72/20497

1. "The 1936 - 37 Flint, Michigan Sit-Down Strike," BBC, Retrieved May 18, 2012, from 

Jean Petrovic

16 November 2016

American Studies Training Day in Boston Spa

Have you visited the British Library in Boston Spa yet? Did you know that you can access millions of books, journals and newspapers from the Boston Spa Reading Room? If you live in the north of England, the British Library at Boston Spa may be the most convenient way to view our collections.

Last Friday the Americas Team and the Eccles Centre for American Studies joined forces for a special training session on resources for American Studies at the British Library at Boston Spa.

50 students from the universities of Leeds, Chester, Birmingham, York, Northumbria, Sunderland, Central Lancashire, Sheffield and Dundee, among others, joined us on a misty autumnal morning in North Yorkshire to explore the British Library’s North American holdings.

Aerial shot of Boston Spa site

The British Library at Boston Spa from the sky (we went by train)

The day began with an introduction to the British Library holdings and the history of the American collections within the Library. We had a look at the different catalogues for printed items, manuscripts, and the sound archive, as well as our collection of e-resources. This was followed by a virtual show and tell of highlights in our American collections (take a look at our American Revolution and American Literature in Europe sites to see a few of the items we discussed).

Our day continued with a fascinating presentation about the Boston Spa site and the UK newspaper collections by our colleagues Joanne Cox and David Clayforth, where we heard about how the Library’s different sites and collections have been reconfigured over time. The Eccles Centre’s Fran Fuentes illustrated how the newspaper collections holds vast potential for researchers working in the Americas, and guided students through a case study focussing on holdings of regional US newspapers. This was followed by two parallel sessions: one on resources for the study of American literature, where we looked at the research potential of comparing UK and US editions as well as our wonderful collection of fine press books, and one on US official publications, where Jennie Grimshaw helped students navigate our immense and sometimes challenging collection.

We are hoping to organise a similar training day in 2017 and we will advertise it widely on the blog and our twitter accounts @_Americas and @BL_EcclesCentre. Do let us know if there are any areas in the collections about which you would like to learn more!

07 April 2015

Nixon and Hoover


President Nixon celebrating FBI Director Hoover's birthday on Air Force One with Secretary of State William P. Rogers and Mrs. Rogers, 12/31/1971 National Archives Identifier: 194400 Local Identifier: NLRN-WHPO-C8156-2 Creator(s): General Services Administration. National Archives and Records Service. Office of Presidential Libraries. Office of Presidential Papers. (01/20/1969 - ca. 12/1974) 

It was a great pleasure last month to hear Alexander Butterfield in conversation with Professor Iwan Morgan at the Library. Butterfield was a trusted member of the Nixon's inner circle since the President's inauguration in 1969. By February 1971, Butterfield was instructed to oversee the installation of the now infamous White House taping system. In 1973, he revealed its existence to the Senate Select Committee and the Watergate investigation was transformed.

Now in his late eighties Butterfield provided clear and humorous insight into life in the Nixon White House. For me, the talk reminded me of a long shadow that hung over the U.S. Executive until 1972, that of J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was brought to mind, not because he was mentioned directly, but in 1937, a Richard Milhous Nixon applied to join the FBI. From the documents available in the FBI online Records, it appears that Nixon passed all the various tests required. Nor did the extensive background checks flag up anything untoward. Nevertheless Nixon was not appointed a FBI field agent, though no explicit reason was given. However, a memorandum to Hoover, on the 18th March 1954, stated that:

“[T]he reason for the cancellation of the appointment is not reflected in the file. It may be assumed that the view of the fact that Mr Nixon was not immediately available for appointment, and based on our needs in August of 1937, that the appointment was cancelled.”

It is no coincidence that this memo was written at this juncture. By 1954 Nixon was in his second year as Vice- President in the Eisenhower administration. Indeed, from November 1946 when Nixon was elected as Representative for California, along with John F. Kennedy for Massachusetts and a Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for Wisconsin, all of the aforementioned would have received a fresh FBI file as newly elected legislators. Clearly in the subsequent years of Congressional service, Nixon and Hoover’s relationship must have developed, not least because Nixon’s anti-communist views were closely aligned to those of Joseph McCarthy’s who courted Hoover’s friendship from his arrival at the Capitol.

As McCarthy’s recklessness “threatened to the respectability of Republican anti-Communism”, Eisenhower used Nixon as a go-between in an effort to restrain the maverick Wisconsin Senator. Nevertheless, the closeness of the Nixon/Hoover relationship over the years was possibly best illustrated by Hoover’s bragging in FBI circles that he had created Nixon. This would have been reinforced in Hoover’s own mind when as President–elect Nixon met with Hoover early on at his transition headquarters in New York, promising him, 'Edgar, you are one of the few people who is to have direct access to me at all times.'

Inevitably Hoover held the whip hand in their relationship since on the two occasions when Nixon came under pressure to force Hoover to resign and summoned him to the Oval Office, he always left with his position as Director of the FBI intact. It was heart disease and not the Executive which ended J. Edger Hoover’s tenure.

Ironically, it was at that meeting in the Hotel Pierre in New York where Hoover planted the seed that would ultimately result in Nixon’s downfall.

Hoover warned Nixon, who as President-elect would attend the White House as the guest of the incumbent, then President Johnson, that he should be careful what he said, because 'Johnson had installed elaborate electronic equipment which enabled him secretly to record conversations in the Oval Office.'

On Nixon’s orders his deputy assistant Alexander Butterfield instructed the Secret Service to install recording devices in various locations around the White House, including five microphones fitted into the fabric of the Oval Office desk.


- Jerry Jenkins

A collection of Nixon’s recordings are freely available online:

Presidential Campaign Activities of 1972, S. Res. 60. Watergate and Related Activities Phase 1: Watergate Investigation. Book 5. Accessible via the Congressional Hearings Digital Collection, 1824-1979

Morgan, Iwan, Nixon Arnold. London 2002 BL.Shelkmark : YC.2002.a.23723

Gentry, Curt, J. Edgar Hoover: the Man and the Secrets. WW. Norton: London 2001 BL Shelfmark : YA.1992.b.4224

The Watergate investigation index: Senate Select Committee hearings and reports on presidential campaign activities, compiled by Hedda Garza, Wilmington : Scholarly Resources, 1982. BL Shelfmark : X:205/1531 

04 February 2014

Federal Writers' Project publications

Wikimedia Commons, provided by the National Archives and Records Administration

The Federal Writers’ Project was established by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1935 – six years into the Great Depression. At its peak it provided employment for more than 7,500 writers, editors, historians and other white collar workers.

Yet while its primary aim was to provide economic relief, the Project’s highly ambitious first Director, Henry Alsberg, regarded it as a means by which to vividly document America’s rapidly changing cultural landscape.

Today, the Project is perhaps best known for its American Guide Series – a set of travel guides to the 48 states, plus Alaska territory, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Unlike traditional guides, these included not only driving tours documenting what could be found at every stop, but long photographic essays detailing the economic, cultural and historical resources of each state. All but a few of these are held by the British Library, as are many of the regional, county, city and town guides that were also produced.

Festivals in San Francisco

Festivals of San Francisco,  James Ladd Delkin [in association with] Stanford University, 1939. Printed at the Grabhorn Press. This particularly fine edition was part of a gift of 90 American imprints to the Eccles Centre in 2002 from Princeton University Library to celebrate the 90th birthday of Lady Eccles.

In addition to the guides, the Project produced ethnic studies such as The Italians of New York (shelfmark: L.70/641) and The Armenians of Massachusetts (shelfmark: YA.1991.a.15502); urban and rural folklore collections, including Nebraska Folklore (shelfmark: X.700/21082) and Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies among the Georgia Coastal Negroes (shelfmark: 010007.h.70); and nature studies.

The Project also collected the narratives of more than 2,300 former slaves in seventeen states, although most of these remained unseen until the multi-volume The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography was published in the 1970s (refer to guide below).

The Library’s extensive holdings are listed in The Federal Writers' Project: a guide to material held at the British Library.


10 July 2013

Eisenhower and European Integration

 Letters between eisenhower on Coal & Steel

The British Library recently made available the digitised contents of the EU Bookshop via its catalogue: Explore the British Library now provides free access to a range of digitised official publications produced by the European Union (and its previous incarnations) from the mid 1950s up to the present day.

Why would this be of relevance to our Americas blog I hear you ask? Firstly, I hope to make the wider research community aware of the development since there is a wide range of interesting and informative material available on the subject of European integration. But I’m also taking the opportunity to share an interesting primary source that I’ve discovered from within the EU Bookshop collection:  

Correspondence between President Eisenhower and Presidents of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Congress of the United States about the European Coal and Steel Community and the European unification. 

This 1953 publication (issued in both English and French), offers an insight to the views of President Eisenhower and the members of the U.S. Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee on the prospect of the Coal and Steel Community growing into a wider European community. All parties were keen that this transformation 'may be speedily developed, ratified and put into force.' (Resolution of 16 June 1953 by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives).  

The final part of the document is a communiqué issued from the White House on 3 June 1953, following a meeting held between President Eisenhower and Jean Monnet, the economist and diplomat regarded as the chief architect of European unity, Franz Etzel, and Dirk Pieter Spierenburg. The text notes that while in Europe Eisenhower’s 'experience there convinced him that the uniting of Europe is a historic necessity for the peace and prosperity of Europeans and of the world.' In addition, the document states that in the U.S. 'in the field of coal and steel the barriers, which have so long divided Europe, have been removed so that those basic materials enjoy a single market of 155 million consumers...'

The sentiments articulated in the document echo over time. In recent years I’ve attended many talks and lectures organised by our Eccles Centre for American Studies, and delivered by a range of U.S. statesmen and diplomats. One common and ongoing thread in these events has been the importance of the transatlantic relationship between Europe and U.S. 

To close, in a piece on the U.S. and the European Union, I must mention the fine work of the University of Pittsburgh’s Archive of European Integration to disseminate European Union documentation.


27 June 2013

Bert the Turtle: or, how they learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

 Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’ Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc

Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’, Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc.

Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’ Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc

If you’ve been to our exhibition Propaganda: power and persuasion you will probably have spotted the cute character above and you might have listened to the accompanying recording of the Duck and Cover song. Bert also features in the Duck and Cover film. I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering how on earth Bert’s capers and ducking under your school desk could ever have been considered sufficient protection against the blast of a nuclear bomb – after all, the film and song came out in 1951, well after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. So I started to do a bit of reading to find out more. The subject is obviously much too big and complex for a simple blogpost so I’m just going to note a few of the things I discovered and point to some further reading for anyone who is as intrigued as me at just what kind of collective delusion (or what Peter Boyer has described as the ‘big sleep’) was going on in the Cold War U.S. of the early 1950s.

In August 1949 the Soviet Union conducted its first successful nuclear test, and ‘America’s unique physical security,’ as President Eisenhower had described it, changed forever. During WWII, ‘civil defence’ had meant black-out drills, learning how to conserve scarce resources, planting ‘victory gardens,’ raising money through war bonds, and Rosie the Riveter (many examples of which are to be found in our exhibition). But the new threat from weapons capable of flattening U.S. cities meant that civil defence had to be re-defined, and initially at least, the education system was considered to offer the perfect conduit for transmitting the required message. ‘Education is our first line of defense. In the conflict of principle and policy which divides the world today, America’s hope, our hope, the hope of the world, is education.’ said President Truman in 1949. In January 1951 he announced the formation of a new federal agency – the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA). Its role was to be both supervisory and ‘inspirational’, but responsibility for implementing (and funding) its programmes was left to individual states. Although TV (still in its infancy and not in all homes), was used for dissemination of some information, the FCDA preferred radio, print and film, and most of its output was aimed at the public school system. So, the early fifties represent a very specific period in the history of education in U.S. schools – when national defence and education were inextricably linked (leading to the National Defense Education Act of 1958), and teachers provided bomb threat and civil defence training to children, – and through the children, their parents.

One key thing to note is that training wasn't about the technology of the bomb or what happened when it went off, but more about how to behave, emphasising the ‘3 Rs’ –Rights, Respects, and Responsibilities. According to the New York Board of Education, ‘the child should know what to do in school, at home, in the street, or in the playground. He should be trained in self-reliance, imbued with faith in his ability to survive, no matter what the danger.’  According to the FCDA, ‘Like the A-bomb, panic is fissionable. It can produce a chain reaction more deeply destructive than any explosive known.’ To gain the support of parents, letters were sent to homes to reassure them, citing ‘competent experts’ in the atomic field. For example, parents in Los Angeles were told, ‘As devastating as the atomic bomb is, there is no evidence to justify a feeling of hopelessness in the event of such a bombing.’ There in fact seems to have been an amazing lack of public information on the effects of the bomb in the early 1950s –with the Atomic Energy Commission actively minimising the known effects of radiation. In addition, JoAnne Brown notes that virtually no factual material on the effects of an atomic bomb appeared in educational journals in the 1950s or in history text books. This, together with the over-riding emphasis on controlling panic, of being alert but not alarmed,  starts to make the idea of ‘duck and cover’ as a strategy look just a little more understandable.   

Several types of air raid drill were introduced – ‘duck and cover’ being the most common (and best remembered), but there were also advance warning drills (usually involving moving classes to school basements or other shelters), and dispersal drills (mainly tested on the east coast and soon deemed impractical). Teachers were also given a variety of materials for use in class, and Bert the Turtle/the Duck and Cover story was one of the most popular. Issued by the FCDA in 1951, it received a wide distribution in print (as a comic book), as both film and filmstrip, and song. The film is one of the first attempts on screen to help children understand what they should do in the event of an atomic bomb attack. As Bert explains, ‘It explodes with a flash brighter than any you have ever seen. Things will be knocked down all over town… YOU must be ready to protect yourself.’ So, as soon as a teacher shouted ‘duck,’ kids were taught to dive under their desks and assume the ‘atomic head clutch position.’ As JoAnne Wood explains, ‘Duck and Cover typified the way both educators and FCDA officials handled civil defense for children. Instruction and drill were typically purged of all frightening elements and were implemented with a perverse cheeriness. The net effect was a bizarre disjuncture between the known consequences of atomic war and the playful precautions of people living under its threat.’ Brown argues that this illegitimisation of people’s fears fostered a ‘dangerous and widespread psychology of repression,’ and others have gone on to argue that the psychological fall-out from this repression was one of the causes of the unrest and protest movements of the 1960s (see Robert Jay Lifton, The Broken Connection: on death and the continuity of life, Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1979. BL shelfmark YC.1996.a.4169).

Another major strand of the school civil defence activities was the introduction of identification programmes for children. This is straying off my ‘Bert the Turtle’ story, but I can’t resist including a quote from the Journal of the National Education Association on the various options for identifying lost – and dead (although not overtly stated as such) children in the event of an attack. Just look at the options! ‘Tattooing is considered occasionally, but generally rejected because of its associations and impermanence in the case of severe burns... Marking of clothing is more seriously regarded [but] clothing can be destroyed... and is frequently interchanged. Fingerprinting is... regarded by some as an infringement of privacy. Cards are easily worn out, stolen or destroyed.’ For anyone interested, the preferred system opted for was the dog tag, long used by soldiers, but now ‘domesticated’ as JoAnne Brown describes it, for home use, and taking on an almost talismanic quality for protection of the nation’s children. Of course, the likelihood that dog tags would help identify anyone caught up in an atomic bomb blast is as believable as thinking you would be ok if you hid under your desk.

There are numerous reasons why teachers were, on the whole, complicit in the ritual of civil defence activities but I’ve no space to comment on them in a blog that’s already way too long. The two articles cited below provide much more information – and also explain why this peculiar role assigned to teachers and the school system didn’t last for very long. By the time of the launch of Sputnik in 1957, it was clear that America had fallen behind in the technology race. As former Senator William Benton put it, ‘Russian classrooms and libraries, her laboratories and teaching methods may threaten us more than her hydrogen bombs.’ Critics of the early 1950s focus on moral and spiritual education wanted a bigger emphasis on technical education which, to quote Michael Carey ‘would enable them to build weapons – more, bigger, better – and create the absolute security that moral and spiritual education could never attain.’  

But to return to Bert the Turtle: as one California cabbie recalls from his schooldays, ‘Only the young, the naïve and the schoolteachers were fooled by the drill.’ An educational filmstrip perhaps provides the most appropriate advice: 'The Atomic Energy Commission says the best defense against an atom bomb is to BE SOMEWHERE ELSE when it bursts.'

Further reading:

Michael J. Carey, The Schools and Civil Defense: the Fifties revisited. Teachers College Record, Vol.84 (1), Fall 1982, pp.115-127 (NB. The whole issue is on Education for Peace and Disarmament: toward a living world). BL shelfmark Ac.2688.q/4

JoAnne Brown, “A is for Atom, B is for Bomb”: Civil Defense in American Public Education, 1948-1963. Journal of American History, Vol.75 (1), June 1988, pp.68-90. Available through JSTOR in the Library’s reading rooms.

Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American thought and culture at the dawn of the atomic age, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994 BL shelfmark YA.1997.b.2861 and Fallout: a historian reflects on America’s Half-Century Encounter with Nuclear Weapons, Columbus: Ohio State University press, 1998. BL shelfmark: 98/17544




Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’ Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc


Bert, the Turtle: ‘The Duck and Cover Song’ Leon Carr, Leo Corday & Leo Langlois. 1953 © Sheldon Music Inc

02 May 2013

Commodore Perry goes to Japan

Perry men

 Public Domain Mark OR 16453

 A few weeks ago I was reading a piece in the Guardian about a new acquisition made by our colleagues at the British Museum. They had succeeded in raising the funding (£400,000) to acquire a beautiful 50 foot scroll (only half the length of the On the Road scroll of course!) which documents the arrival of the U.S. fleet in Japan in 1854, under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry (1794-1858). This was a key moment in both Japanese and U.S. history; the signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa took place on 31 March 1854, giving U.S. vessels access to Japanese ports both for refuge and to take on provisions. In addition, the Treaty allowed for a consul to be stationed in Shimoda. Although it wasn’t actually a trade agreement, the opening of a consulate inevitably facilitated trade, and the agreement signalled the beginning of Japan’s economic and political rise, as well as the U.S.’s growing interest in gaining both commercial and strategic advantage in the region.

Perry had entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1809 and was to enjoy a long and successful career. In 1852 he took command of the East Asia Squad, expressly on the orders of President Millard Fillmore, and was tasked with establishing official relations with Japan, a country which had been closed to most foreign contact for several centuries. Perry first arrived in Edo (Tokyo) Bay in 1853, with 4 warships and a letter for the Emperor from President Fillmore requesting that U.S. ships be allowed access to Japanese harbours. The letter was reluctantly accepted, which was fortunate since Perry’s back-up plan had been to proceed to the capital by force. He and his men then left Japan, but he was to return with his ‘black ships,’ as the Japanese described them, in February 1854 to receive the answer to the letter. The Museum's scroll is the most comprehensive depiction of Perry’s visit from the Japanese point of view. It was made 4 years later but is based on drawings done at the time of the visit. The scroll has just gone on display at the British Museum, and since it is too long to display in full, they will be opening out a new section each month until October. For now, I’ve had to make do with the tantalising glimpse revealed in the article, but I’m looking forward to going to see the real thing.  

 Perry procession

OR 16453

I was discussing the acquisition with our Japanese collections curator and was delighted to hear from him that we in fact also have a scroll relating to the U.S. fleet’s arrival – but ours references that first visit of Perry, when he delivered President Fillmore’s letter in July 1853. So Matt and I of course wanted to take a look straight away. The scroll is very much smaller than the BM’s (10 feet) and much less accomplished (but then it was also much cheaper!) but nevertheless, it’s still very interesting to see the Japanese representations of the arrival of Commodore Perry and his men. Perry is not in fact mentioned by name in the scroll, but it depicts the men in their uniforms, their formal parade with band (see images above), together with details of the men’s hats and instruments, and so on. The final section is a panorama of the U.S. ships at anchor in Uraga Bay. 

 Perry ships

OR 16453

We of course also have the American account of the visits – a hefty 3 volume set Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, performed in the years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the command of Commodore M.C. Perry, United States Navy….’ compiled by Francis L. Hawks, Washington: A.O.P. Nicholson, Printer, 1856 (shelfmark: 10057.f.22). Volume 1 has numerous illustrations (and maps), and below you can see the depiction of the presentation of the President’s letter. Interestingly, although the majority of the illustrations are by American artists, the volume also incorporates a number of vividly coloured facsimiles of traditional Japanese drawings. A good deal of volume 2 consists of maps, while Volume 3 is entirely concerned with ‘observations on the zodiacal light.’


Public Domain Mark Shelfmark 10057.f.22

For those wanting to know more about Perry and the ‘opening of Japan,’ you will find numerous accounts in the collections (he certainly isn’t someone who would qualify for our ‘Untold Lives blog). And Perry may well make a re-appearance on the Americas blog since an earlier period of his career connects to Phil's War of 1812 digitisation project.


08 November 2012

Tecumseh's warriors: First Nations and the War of 1812

 Subscriptions for Brock Monument (title sheet)

Public Domain Mark
This work (Correspondence, addresses, &c. connected with the subscriptions of various Indian tribes in Upper Canada, in aid of the funds for the re-construction of Brock's monument on Queenston Heights, by publisher: R. Stanton), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

With work still continuing on our War of 1812 digitisation project, Team Americas’ ex-intern Brendan Cull delves back into some of the items he discovered during his time here:


While at the Library I had the opportunity to sift through a variety of resources related to the War of 1812. As I dove feet first into historical documents and current research, it became clear to me that the reverberations of the battles fought were far-reaching both geographically and historically. Recently, many communities and groups in North America have been organizing re-enactments and celebrations to commemorate and explore the period. For example, the Royal Canadian Mint has honoured national heroes such as Sir Isaac Brock, Tecumseh, and Laura Secord with special issue coins

The War of 1812 affected many cultural groups and highlights the complex relationships between European settlers and First Nations. One item which caught my attention in particular contains a collection of official communications between Canadian government officials and First Nations leaders. “Correspondence, Addresses Etc. connected with the subscriptions of various Indian tribes in Upper Canada, in aid of the funds for the re-construction of Brock’s Monument, on Queenston Heights” [BL Shelfmark: C.42.b.1] contains a series of letters which connect various First Nations groups to the aforementioned British war hero, Sir Isaac Brock (who was killed in the Battle of Queenston Heights alongside his British and First Nations comrades). It begins with an appeal for fundraising, but fast becomes a fascinating record of the thoughts and feelings of various groups, including the Chippewas, Hurons, Wyandotts, Munsees, Oneidas, Mississagas and Mohawks, regarding their involvement in the war effort. These formal statements express outrage towards the defacement of Brock’s final resting place and their commitment to honour Brock’s memory, and by proxy that of their relatives who fought alongside him. By making financial contributions towards the re-erection of Brock’s Monument, the First Nations strove to commemorate their own involvement in many of the same battles in which Brock and, famously, Tecumseh had fought.

These letters are made even more telling when one considers that the American Army would not accept First Nations men amongst its ranks, whereas the British showed some encouragement to them to join in the conflict. An article entitled “Canadian Indians” in the March 9, 1813 edition of the Montreal Gazette [BL Shelfmark: MC270] reports that President James Madison mocked the British for fighting alongside the “red people”. The author makes it clear that while Madison had a negative view of First Nations people, not all Americans subscribed to this judgement; in fact, he draws on personal experience to counter Madison’s stand. These documents give us a sense of not only the politics of the conflict but also the role of the First Nations groups who had an important stake in its outcome.


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