American Collections blog

27 posts categorized " Official Publications"

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.


06 November 2012

Down to the wire: the U.S. election

It appears that the 2012 U.S. election is going down to the wire.  There are obviously many reasons why the race is so close, but political commentators also always argue that a second term election is there to be lost by the incumbent.

 George Bush came a cropper in the 1992 election when his public approval ratings nose-dived due to (amongst other things) his apparent confusion over the pressing economic issues of the day. In 1980, the 39th President, Jimmy Carter, ran for a second term in what is often cited as the most disastrous campaign in US Presidential history. Carter had to fend off attacks from an effective campaign on the right by Ronald Reagan, the Republican nominee, whilst also defending his position against Edward (Ted) Kennedy, the Senator for Massachusetts, on the left of his own Democratic Party. Kennedy had refused to drop out of the Democratic Primary after the first vote, leading to a dirty and prolonged mud slinging match before Carter secured the nomination. Somewhat ironically Carter found himself running against his own economic record, with high inflation causing stagnation in economic growth and unemployment remaining stubbornly high.            

Many factors will play a part in influencing the outcome of this election - money and ‘Obamacare’ to name just two. Enormous campaign contributions have been amassed by both the Obama and Romney campaigns, and this has been made possible the Supreme Court decision which states that Federal Government cannot curtail independent expenditure for political purposes by groups, corporations and committees. The primary purpose of these political action committees or Super PACs, is to influence elections via corporations, unions or wealthy individuals. There is no limit on the amount of money they can raise as long as it is spent independently of the candidate’s campaign.

Obamacare, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been a particularly contentious and divisive piece of legislation. The Act became law in March 2010 and the Republicans have already raised no fewer than 33 Bills in an attempt to repeal it. Why would the Republicans continue to raise bills which seem doomed to failure? It could be argued that this strategy is less about having Obamacare repealed in the first instance (although that clearly is a goal), but more a case of using these continuous legislative attacks on the Act in order to keep the issue at the top of the political agenda (and thereby subvert the Democrats own campaign agenda).

I was planning to finish off this post with a few light-hearted remarks on much smaller factors which potentially could influence the vote  (- such as the latest incarnation of the Halo series computer game Halo: 4 which is due for release today). But following the devastation that Hurricane Sandy has inflicted on the eastern seaboard, it is clear that many Americans are now faced with huge issues which may well have an impact on a knife-edge election where every vote really does count.

Matt is still in Philadelphia, and our Eccles Centre Professor Davies is now in Boston for the election, so they will have front row seats. But I and the rest of Team Americas will be glued to our TVs tonight to see how things unfold. There will no doubt be a few sleepy curators in the office tomorrow.

And you might like to know that we have a number of databases relating to U.S. Official Publications.


25 April 2012

Malaria in Ontario: a World Malaria Day post

Rideau Canal (route)
Route of the Rideau Canal, insert from the map, Map of the District of Montreal, Lower Canada [Shelfmark: Maps 70715.(2.)]

Today is World Malaria Day so it seemed appropriate to do a short post related to one of the world's most prevalent diseases. Regarding the collections, there are a number of items which could drive interesting narratives here but this piece focuses on malaria in Canada. This might seem odd but malaria is not solely a tropical disease, coming in two main strains one of which is tolerant of temperate climates. Indeed the P. vivax strain of malaria was long endemic in parts of England, as this blog post from the Wellcome Library points out.

Scientific evidence illustrates that malaria in all its forms was introduced to the Americas subsequent to Columbian contact. Malaria was established in many parts of North America before the nineteenth century and Canada was no exception, but the construction sites of the Rideau Canal provided a particularly strong foothold. The construction of the canal led to the creation of semi-drained, marshy areas into which dense populations of workers were added, an ideal environment for mosquitoes and malaria transmission.

Rideau Canal (Locks)
Rideau Canal significant works, plate from, Papers on Subjects Connected with the Duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers [Shelfmark: P.P.4050.i]

As a result parts of the canal's construction were dogged by significant malarial sickness, as described by the engineer John MacTaggart in 1829, “In the summer of 1828 the sickness in Upper Canada raged like a plague; all along the banks of the lakes, nothing but languid fevers; and at the Rideau Canal few could work with fever and ague; at Jones Falls and Kingston Mills, no one was able to carry a draught of water to a friend; doctors and all were laid down together.” [from Three Years in Canada, Vol. II, p. 21, Shelfmark: 792.f.8]. While today malaria is almost unheard of in this part of North America, these nineteenth century outbreaks resulted in many deaths in the project's labour camps.

Away from Canada, malaria is still a source of misery for millions around the world. The Library contains a significant amount of published material relating to malaria, largely as a result of the significant twentieth century developments in understanding how the disease was transmitted and could be treated. There is also a large amount of material online, especially because the drive to reduce the incidence of malaria is one of the Millennium Development Goals.


15 April 2012

The Sinking of the RMS Titanic

Titanic US inquiry

Today marks the centenary of the sinking of the White Star Liner RMS Titanic. The shock waves of the incident radiated through the world in a number of ways. It marked the beginning of the end for the Edwardian period’s “age of innocence”. Since that fateful night in the north Atlantic Ocean where the Titanic collided with an iceberg during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, it has embedded itself deeply into our collective imagination. Even after a century, and with the passing of the last survivors and the fading of their stories, the Titanic continues to hold a mass appeal.

From the perspective of Official Publications, the Titanic disaster provides us with two inquiries into the sinking - the U.S. Senate Inquiry: "Titanic" disaster hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce, United States Senate, Sixty-second congress, second session, pursuant to S. Res. 283 directing the Committee on Commerce to investigate the causes leading to the wreck of the White Star liner "Titanic".[shelfmark AS.10/4]

This was convened in New York on the 19th April, just a day after the SS Carpathia had docked with the survivors, in order to get their testimony at the earliest opportunity.  Following this the British Wreak Commissars Inquiry got underway on the 1st May 1912.  The subsequent report Shipping casualties, (loss of the steamship "Titanic"). Report of a formal investigation into the circumstances attending the foundering on 15th April, 1912. [shelfmark B.S.Ref.1 Cd. 6352] was published in July.  Unusually there is, in pencil, an annotated cross reference the the U.S. inquiry added to the entry for the British inquiry in our Reading Room copy of the General Index to the Bills, Reports and Papers of the House of Commons. While both inquiries are available in the library’s collections in various formats there are also digital editions freely accessible online via the Titanic Inquiry website.

The U.S. and U.K. inquiries were criticized at the time for their short comings. Nevertheless, broadly speaking the recommendations for the two reports resulted in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (shelfmark A.S.10/4) which continues to govern maritime safety today. In addition, the inquiries offer us verbatim transcripts of the examination of the survivors from the Titanic’s passengers and crew, providing an insight into the events of that night from the perspective of those who went through the ordeal.      

The Library’s collections are peppered with material relating to the Titanic – some of the most famous contemporary depictions and portraits from publications of the day can be viewed in Images Online . Use the search term “Titanic”.    

Some of the more unusual items to be found in the catalogue include sermons and religious tracts relating to the disaster. Of particular interest is a copy of Some reflexions, seamanlike and otherwise, on the loss of the Titanic [shelmark Ashley 484] by the writer Joseph Conrad, who was also an experienced seaman. It is one of only twenty-five copies printed. Conrad also commented on the inquiry in Some Aspects of the Admirable Inquiry into the Loss of the Titanic [shelfmark Ashley 485], another limited edition of twenty-five copies .

Loss of the Titanic (Conrad)

We also have a strong collection of musical scores which where composed following the sinking to commemorate the events of that tragic night a century ago.



26 January 2012

Picturing the Great Alone: photography and the Antarctic

Robert Falcon Scott (by Herbert Ponting)
Robert Falcon Scott on the 'Terra Nova' expedition, by Herbert Ponting. Image from Wikipedia.

Last year was a busy one for Team Americas and one of the many things we managed to do was take on some responsibilities for materials relating to Antarctica, thus adding a whole extra continent to our domain. This being the case, when an opportunity to view 'The Heart of the Great Alone' at The Queen's Gallery came up a couple of us jumped at the chance.

'The Heart of the Great Alone' covers various early twentieth century expeditions to the Antarctic, including that of the 'Terra Nova' during which Scott and his team perished. The main exhibition focus is the photography of Frank Hurley, photographer for Shackleton's 'Endurance' expedition, and Herbert Ponting, who produced the official photographs for the 'Terra Nova' expedition. I could write a lot here about these photographers and the expedition but the best thing to do would be to recommend a visit the exhibition itself or the e-gallery.

 Icebergs (by Herbert Ponting)
'Midnight in the Antarctic Summer', by Herbert Ponting. Image from Wikipedia.

However, as always with these trips, I had a mind to mull over the Library's materials relating to the Antarctic when I got back. The Library's collections from this area are not the largest in the world, with institutions such as the Scott Polar Research Institute and the Royal Geographical Society (to name a few) holding a wealth of material, but there is a noteworthy body of material which is well supported by the wider collection of Official Publications and Newspapers (especially in the case of an expedition such as the 'Terra Nova').

That said, there are some stand out items and a notable collection of miscellaneous materials held here. Captain Scott's diary is one of the Library's star collection items and the journal 'The South Polar Times' (shelfmark: Tab.444.d.6.) was the first publication printed on the Antarctic continent. Publications by Frank Hurley and Herbert Ponting also feature, including Ponting's 'The Great White South' (1921, shelfmark: 010460.g.1). These items contribute to a wealth of published material relating to the Antarctic and explorers such as Scott and Roald Amundsen.

As well as holding materials relating to the initial exploration of Antarctica, the Library has a significant collection regarding the continent in the later twentieth century; where scientific progress and international co-operation become the order of the day. Materials arising from events such as the Antarctic Treaty or organisations such as the British Antarctic Survey, as well as many academic texts and articles regarding the continent, are insightful on their own but also suggest an evolving relationship between global society and the frozen continent.


16 January 2012

War, Struggle and Equality: the Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee airman (poster)
War bonds poster featuring an unnamed Tuskegee airman (displayed on Wikipedia's Tuskegee Airmen entry)

On January 10th the Institute for the Study of the Americas hosted a screening of the documentary, 'Double Victory', an account of the Tuskegee Airmen and their exploits in World War Two. These pilots of the 332nd Figther Group and 477th Bomber Group of the U. S. Army Air Corps were the first African American aviators of the U.S. Armed Forces but they faced a struggle against institutionalised racism in order to fly, fight and be treated as equals during and after the war.

'Double Victory' is a documentary account of this struggle, narrated by Cuba Gooding Jr. and produced to be viewed alongside the film 'Red Tails' (both productions are Lucas Film projects). The high point of the evening, however, was the attendence of two Tuskegee Airmen, Le Roy Gillead and Alexander Jefferson. Gillead and Jefferson's recollections added a great deal to the evening, with Jefferson talking about the struggle for African American men to be allowed to fly and his experiences as a German POW and Gillead highlighting the struggle for equality undertaken by officers who did not see front line service.

Both men also talked about their pride at being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, along with roughly 300 other Tuskegee Airmen. During the award ceremony, President George W. Bush paid tribute to the airmen, saying, "The Tuskegee Airmen helped win a war, and you helped change our nation for the better. Yours is the story of the human spirit, and it ends like all great stories do – with wisdom and lessons and hope for tomorrow." A copy of the act bestowing the medals can be found here and Library holds a number of resources relating to the Tuskegee Airmen, their forces service and the relationship their actions had to the subsequent Civil Rights Movement.

The Library's collection of American newspapers contain a number of insights, with articles such as the Chicago Defender's, '332nd Flies Its 200th Mission Without a Loss' and many accounts of how the Freedman Field Mutiny and other incidents regarding racial equality were reported. There are also published service accounts, Alexander Jefferson's, 'Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free' (shelfmark: YC.2005.a.5960) is a good example, and various journal articles on the exploits and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen in Europe and the US.

[JJ and PJH]

14 December 2011

Canada walks away from Kyoto: another Official Publications post

Global Health Check (Durban)
Publicity photograph from Durban 2011, courtesy of 'UNclimatechange' 

Canada's intention to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol has been a badly kept secret for some time, as the BBC have pointed out. However, questions as to why and what the impact will be still arise; institutions such as the British Library and electronic repositories of official publications can provide a wealth of useful material to furnish answers. 

There are several online repositories that offer useful resources on the Protocol in particular and on the nature and impact of climate change more widely.  Much of this information can be found via the UN Climate Change Portal, which provides useful statistical overviews and links to more detailed reports and numbers from other branches of the United Nations. Information can also be found on UN Data, such as this Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data chart which illustrates output from 41 countries between 1990 and 2008.

The UN also makes available a wide range of materials from the recent Durban Climate Change Conference, these can be found here and provide a large amount of data on a complex and still evolving political event. Canada's withdrawal came subsequent to the Environment Minister, Peter Kent, attending the Durban conference and confirming that the protocol, 'does not represent the way forward for Canada'. Canada's significance as a carbon dioxide emitter is summed up by this graph, perhaps most importantly it also shows how much an economy dominated by oil exports also contributes in relative terms.

The Alberta Oil Sands (which have been on this blog before) have been suggested as a reason for Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol despite not being mentioned directly by the government. This is perhaps appropriate as such decisions rarely come down to a single issue, instead being the result of a complex assortment of social, economic and political pressures. As such, it may be worthwhile also paying attention to Canada's overall status as a pollutor, projected trade interests, demographic pressures and domestic energy needs, all of which could cause Canada trouble in adhering to the conditions set by the protocol and its potential successor.

The British Library holds a significant amount of material relating to climate change and the Kyoto Protocol produced in various countries and from myriad research backgrounds. In particular the Science, Technology and Medicine collections contain English language journals and academic monographs from around the world. There are also publications relating specifically to Canada, including Rodney White, 'Climate Change in Canada' (2010: YK.2011.a.16488) or the previous government's 'Moving Forward on Climate Change: a plan for honouring our Kyoto agreement' (2005, shelfmark: OPF.2006.x.35).

[PJH and JJ]



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