01 September 2022
Our monthly series on the electronic resources available to support your research at the British Library has so far covered topics from Women in the United States and Caribbean Studies to African American History and US Politics. This next post will focus on some of the Oceania e-resources available for research on the history and culture of Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. All resources can be accessed from our Electronic Resources page, and some are available remotely once you get your free Reader Pass.
1. AustLit (Australian Literature Resource)
Description: AustLit is many things, but in its simplest form it can be described as an authoritative record of Australian writers and writing. This scholarly resource is the result of an impressive collaboration between multiple universities and libraries in Australia and provides bibliographic information (with links to full-text where available) on creative and critical Australian literature works including fiction, drama, poetry, children's and young adult literature, travel writing, autobiography, memoir, biography, essays, Indigenous life stories and oral history, and biographical information on Australian authors and the history of publishers, literary organisations and awards. In addition to its role as a database, AustLit provides a rich research environment for Australian literary, print, and narrative cultures, and you can explore the results of research projects on topics from the reverse diaspora of Australian writers to silent film in Australian newspapers.
Scope: Print coverage spans from the arrival of European print culture in Australia (c.1788) to the present, but also references the continuing storytelling culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians which precedes this date. The database is continually growing but the most recent count of entries show 991,019 works, 187,519 agents (people/organisations), and 30,100 subjects recorded. Although AustLit is Australia focused, one research project has explored Māori and Pasifika connections in the region to compile resources on Young Adult Fiction of Oceania.
Navigation: For those looking to explore general topics, the homepage showcases various research projects which are easily navigable and invite browsing. As well as a basic search box, there is a very thorough advanced search page with multiple filters (including limiting to full-text results) for those with more specific research questions. Slideshows and written tutorials are also available to guide searches.
Highlights: One of the most significant research projects available on AustLit is BlackWords which provides information about the lives, careers, and works of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers, including a comprehensive listing of works in an Indigenous language and translations to and from other languages. 25,187 works and 7,258 authors and organisations have been recorded in BlackWords thus far.
Access: AustLit is a subscribed database which can be accessed on London Reading Room PCs. To give you a sense of what’s available, you can also view up to five records on your own device without a subscription by directly accessing the resource at https://www.austlit.edu.au/
2. Papers Past
Description: Papers Past provides digitised full-text historical newspapers, magazines, and journals from Aotearoa New Zealand the Pacific, including those published in Māori or for a Māori readership. A selection of letters, diaries, parliamentary papers and books are also included. This digital collection of primary sources is part of the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa and is continually updated through collaboration with libraries, community groups, and private collections, and offers a fascinating insight into the history and culture of the country. The range of newspapers included in the resource means researchers can easily follow the development of Māori Niupepa (newspapers) including Te Hokioi (The War-Bird of New Zealand in Flight to You, 1862-1863), the first Māori-language newspaper produced entirely by Māori, or even investigate how the gold rush impacted the number of newspapers being published.
Scope: As of September 2022, newspaper coverage ranges from 1839 to 1979 (including titles from Samoa), whilst magazines and journals cover 1861 to 2017. To date, Papers Past contains 8,074,614 pages which includes 90,373,379 newspaper articles.
Navigation: The site can be navigated in both English and te reo Māori and is divided into five tabs: Newspapers; Magazines and Journals; Letters and Diaries, Parliamentary Papers; Books. Each tab offers slightly different search options but are easy to navigate. For newspapers and magazines you can limit your search to just the Ngā Tānga Reo Māori collection. This will limit your search to any titles printed in te reo Māori before 1901. When searching Letters and Diaries, you can select results by iwi/hapu (tribe/clan). Results can viewed in original formats or as text, and can be saved and printed. Instructions on the re-use of material is usually made clear on the page.
Highlights: The New Zealand Graphic and Ladies' Journal (1890-1913) has been recently added to the collection. This weekly publication was amongst the first to employ permanent artists which meant reports and commentaries on notable events, including the country becoming the first to give women the right to vote, were often accompanied by cartoons or illustrations which offer researchers today a unique insight into public sentiment at the time (or at least that of the editor!). Another highlight of this resource is the largest surviving series of nineteenth-century Māori letters included in The Papers of Sir Donald McLean collection. The letters, which total almost 3000, are searchable by iwi/hapu (tribe/clan) and were sent to the 19th-century politician and government official between 1840 to 1877. They have now been transcribed and translated through the E Mā: Ngā Tuhituhinga ki a Makarini project and discuss matters such as land issues and purchase negotiations. McLean was fluent in te reo Māori and played a significant, but often controversial role in negotiations between the settler government and Māori.
Access: Papers Past is a free resource available without subscription and can be accessed directly at https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/
Related e-resources: Researchers looking for further examples of primary sources from the region may also be interested in exploring Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War. This collection, which can be accessed on personal devices by Reader Pass holders, includes both printed and handwritten examples of magazines produced in trenches, ships, and hospitals by the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). Another e-resource offering unique perspectives on historical events is Early Experiences in Australasia: Primary Sources and Personal Narratives 1788–1901. Reader Pass holders can access this on a personal device.
All e-resources can be accessed through the Electronic Resources page. Look out for the next installment in this blog series focusing on our e-resources for research on colonial America.
Lucy Rowland, Oceania Curator
17 November 2021
With COP26 now over in Glasgow, I have looked to the Library’s Oceania collections for examples of book artists tackling some of the themes under discussion by world leaders during this crucial conference. The items selected use creative responses to recollect, witness, and foretell the impact of climate change in the Oceania region and beyond.
Carbon Empire by Allan McDonald
A primary goal of COP26 was to secure global net zero emissions by the middle of this century and keep the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Getting anywhere near to achieving this aim will require radical change and commitments from countries around the world to limit deforestation, phase out coal for renewable energy, and switch from petrol and diesel to electric cars. Allan McDonald’s 2017 photobook, Carbon Empire (YD.2020.b.233), documents petrol stations across New Zealand in different stages of transition. The photographs capture the effect of a change in petroleum laws which forced many independent stations out of business - weeds flourish where petrol pumps once stood, for sale signs replace advertising logos, and a full car park is more reminiscent of a graveyard than a sign of prosperity. And so, the images also offer a vision of a world where petrol stations have fallen out of use and lie abandoned to become rusting monuments of the past.
Witness by Clyde McGill
Our reliance on fossil fuels and its impact on Indigenous cultural heritage is explored in Clyde McGill’s monumental book, Witness (HS.74/2407). The Australian artist travelled to Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), northern Western Australia to see the petroglyphs, or rock art, first created by the Aboriginal people of Murujuga over forty thousand years ago and added to continuously until the nineteenth century when this community of artists was eradicated through European colonisation. There are between 1-2 million petroglyphs depicting thylacines, megafauna, ceremonies, human faces, and geometrics on this site which is considered the largest continuous rock art gallery of its kind. Yet this part of northwest Australia is also home to massive iron ore, oil, coal, mineral and gas reserves, and when McGill visited prior to creating the book in 2016, this highly significant cultural heritage site was at risk of destruction from large-scale mining operations. Witness doesn’t attempt to document the petroglyphs, but rather records the artist’s experience of his visit to the sacred site through a collection of visceral and confronting paintings, handwritten notes, and performance.
Stolen Waters by Marian Crawford and Peter Lyssiotis
The damage wreaked by the extraction of fossil fuels is similarly interrogated in Stolen Waters (RF.2018.a.87), a collaboration between Australian book artists Marian Crawford and Peter Lyssiotis. This compact 2013 artists’ book examines the environmental damage to our waterways from mining. The names of major disasters are emblazoned on the pages including the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and the OK Tedi Mine disaster during the 1990s in Papua New Guinea. This accusatory typography is in stark contrast to the black and white images of a jellyfish suspended in a dark sea (or is it an oil slick?).
Picturing the Island by Marian Crawford
A further goal of COP26 was to protect the communities and ecosystems most affected by climate change, including the Pacific Island region; an early and increasingly visible victim of the climate crisis with much at stake in the outcome of COP26. Rising sea levels here are already contaminating fresh water supplies and agriculture, and threatening to engulf many of these small island nations, including Kiribati; a set of low-lying islands in the central Pacific Ocean. Artist Marion Crawford spent her childhood on the island of Banaba (previously Ocean Island), part of the nation of Kiribati where her parents worked for the British Phosphate Commission (BPC). The BPC managed the mining of the island’s phosphate resources until these were exhausted in 1979. The environmental impact of extensive mining has left the Banaba Islanders without fresh water sources and reliant on a desalination plant for clean water. Crawford’s 2016 photobook, Picturing the Island (RF.2017.b.99), uses colonial archival material, including text in Gilbertese and English and photopolymer prints, in juxtaposition with her own memories to reflect on the changes, including environmental damage, undergone by her childhood home.
Miami Underwater by Bronwyn Rees
The topic of global warming and rising sea levels is similarly interrogated in Bronwyn Rees’ Miami Underwater. Rees is an Australian printmaker whose richly textured work explores landscape and wilderness, often depicting nature as an unforgiving force. Although her work is primarily focused on Australian landscapes, in 2014 she turned a city in the USA at the mercy of the encroaching sea to create Miami Underwater. This small handmade book has a strong environmental message and incorporates text extracts from Tony Davis’ Underwater Cities (2011). The varying sizes and texture of the pages require careful handling of this item by the reader, lending a feeling of vulnerability. The overall effect is of a portent; the book feels as if you have just retrieved it from floodwater.
Lucy Rowland, Oceania Curator
Crawford, Marian and Lyssiotis, Peter (2013) Stolen Waters. Victoria, Australia: Carbon, Masterthief. Shelfmark RF.2018.a.87
Davis, Tony (2011) 'Underwater Cities: Climate change begins to reshape the urban landscape' [Online] October 27, 2011. In Grist.org Available at: https://grist.org/cities/2011-10-26-underwater-cities-climate-change-begins-reshape-urban-landscape/
Crawford, Marian (2016) Picturing the Island. Melbourne, Australia: Marian Crawford. Shelfmark RF.2017.b.99
McDonald, Allan (2017) Carbon Empire. Auckland, New Zealand: Rim Books. Shelfmark YD.2020.b.233
McGill, Clyde (2016) Witness. Fremantle, Australia: Clyde McGill. Shelfmark HS.74/2407
Rees, Bronwyn (2014) Miami Underwater. Melbourne, Australia: Bronwyn Rees. Shelfmark (awaiting shelfmark)
23 July 2021
This blog by Timothy Peacock is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre’s awards, have undertaken across the Library’s Americas collections.
75 years ago in July 1946, Operation Crossroads involved the first postwar nuclear weapons tests, at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. These consisted of two Bombs, codenamed Able, which was dropped from an aircraft, and Baker, positioned underwater, both targeting a fleet of over 90 decommissioned US and captured WW2 ships.i Further examination of the British Library’s holdings, which include the Official Pictorial Report on Crossroads, highlights not only the destructive force of the weapons and their multiple impacts, but also the ‘power’ and paradoxes of the images themselves. Such paradoxes vary from the photography and ways in which images were used, to scientific planning being accompanied by choices based on luck rituals, to the wide range of what was tested beyond the ships themselves.
Figure 1 is a stark example, a composite near the end of the book which superimposes New York’s skyline onto the Crossroads Baker nuclear cloud, to give readers some frame of reference as to the potential scale of the blast. This image echoed contemporary practices of newspapers, which printed maps of US cities with circles on them to indicate potential radii of atomic destruction.ii Nevertheless, while generating contemporary interest, this is one of the images which has, ironically, not been nearly as widely circulated in subsequent years as those of the unobscured originals (including, for instance, Figure 2). These pictures, which showed the growth of the cloud itself, whether from closeup or afar, seem to have had an even more powerful impact and reusability, possibly by not being tied to any skyline or context, and the even greater psychological visual disparity they display, engulfing the tiny dots at their base which were full-sized battleships.
A significant paradox is that Crossroads was, at the time, one of the most photographed events in history, but many of the pictures were not made public. The Record itself is a mere 200 still images out of over 50,000 taken. Half the world’s film footage was used to capture the event, leading to shortages in Hollywood and film studios elsewhere for months. However, much footage remained (and remains) classified, some material only released in recent years. Those images which are available illustrate a fraction of the different perspectives and cameras used, including the self-referential pictures of the camera equipment itself. A further paradox is that only a few thousand televisions existed in the US in 1946, so many people would have experienced Crossroads either via the shared ritual of watching on newsreels in cinemas or through pictures in newspapers or in this Record.
While Crossroads involved highly scientific and rigorous planning, it is interesting to see the extent to which photos also captured human rituals of betting and chance and how these shaped parts of the exercise. However, these rituals either echoed previous responses to such scientific uncertainties or were considered fair methods of selection. In some cases, this involved decisions prior to Crossroads: the former German battleship Prinz Eugen, for example, pictured in the Report and one of the three non-US target vessels, had originally been awarded as a war prize to the US by drawing lots with the British and Soviets for other vessels.iii At Bikini Atoll, there were informal pools among military personnel and scientists (Figure 4), betting on such aspects as “how many ships would be sunk [by Crossroads], or as to the exact time” of bomb detonation for the air-dropped weapon. Similarly, while those few journalists documenting Crossroads Able from the air were selected by their peers (Figure 5) “the radio commentator was chosen by lot”. That these latter details and images are even contained in the Record shows something of them being regarded as significant in the ‘human’ stories behind the tests, while also reminiscent of the very first nuclear bomb test ‘Trinity’ a year earlier, when scientists took bets, including on whether they were going to set the atmosphere on fire!iv
While Crossroads mainly involved testing atomic bombs against ships, the images also highlight, paradoxically, the wide variety of equipment loaded onto the decks of target vessels to assess how atomic bombs would impact these, from tanks and aircraft parts to clothing and rations.
75 years on, perhaps the greatest paradox from these images is that Crossroads’ story, which was foundational in the history of nuclear weapons development and was intended to have the widest possible photographic/filmic dissemination, remains relatively unknown. Its history is, ironically, overshadowed by its most visual legacy in popular culture, the mushroom cloud itself.
Dr Timothy Peacock, Eccles Fellow 2019, is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Glasgow. He is on Twitter @DrTimPeacock
i The source material for this blog is drawn from Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211. This item is also available digitally courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. For further information about the Operation, see Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994) British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 94/14429
ii Rosemary B. Mariner, The Atomic Bomb and American Society: New Perspectives (University of Tennessee Press, 2009), p. 4.
iii Fritz-Otto Busch, Prinz Eugen (London: First Futura Publications, 1975), pp. 212-13. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection X.708/41193
iv US DOE, ‘The Manhattan Project’ - https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1945/trinity.htm
16 July 2020
Atomic Holiday Snaps? Depictions of ‘normality’ in the official photography of postwar atomic bomb tests
This post by Timothy Peacock is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.
Who would ever think of a nuclear test site as a summer holiday camp?
One of the extraordinary holdings of the British Library is the 'Official Pictorial Record' of the aptly named ‘Operation Crossroads’ in 1946, containing over 200 photographs and accompanying text about the first postwar nuclear bomb test series by the United States.1 The tests, at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, used atom bombs against a fleet of decommissioned and captured World War II ships. These detonations set precedents for the peacetime testing of more than 1,000 nuclear weapons over the following decades, displaced populations from their Pacific Island homes, and had global diplomatic impacts.2
The tests also produced some of the most recognisable images of atomic bomb detonations which not only continue to be staples of film and television but have generated sociocultural responses from mushroom-cloud hairdos to memes and protest movements. The now ubiquitous swimsuit, the bikini - which was unveiled to the world four days after the first detonation - was immediately equated by its creator with the atom: small but full of explosive potential. Yet unlike the Atoll itself, the swimsuit appears to have escaped widespread association with nuclear testing and its radioactive legacies!
However, the political, military and cultural histories merge within Operation Crossroads: the Official Pictorial Record in the most unexpected ways. Alongside images of scientific test preparations, atomic detonations and damage surveys, what is perhaps most remarkable about the Record is the number of images which capture aspects of the everyday lives of those involved in the tests, whether working or off-duty - at rest, exercise or while being entertained.
Some of the images look, at first glance, like historic holiday snapshots, the only indicators to the contrary being an ominous line in the accompanying text or occasional visual clues. Sometimes even these clues do not make it clear as to the overarching situation.
One double page in particular captures the holiday camp vibe, entitled, with unconscious irony, “IS EVERYBODY HAPPY?”. A large group of sailors are pictured paying close attention to a shirtless speaker (Figure 2), who turns out to be a Congressman observing the tests. The text explains this to have been part of a “Happy Hour”, including a quiz about nuclear physics. In perhaps a classic representation of the ‘underdog’ triumphing, it proudly records the ships messboys’ victory over the scientists in their quiz knowledge.
Alongside this image, the other page displays pictures which continue the seaside resort theme. One of these (Figure 1) is a close-up photograph of women on a beach, surrounding one man, with another in the background, all wearing what appears to be beachwear, some smiling for the camera. It is only through the caption that we learn of their affiliation as Army nurses serving with the Task Force, with the explanatory caption “relax with friends”. The description and framing of the image are notable for reinforcing the vacation motif, and also for blurring the distinction regarding the professional identity of the subjects.
The other image on the page (Figure 3), a large beach scene, filled with off-duty personnel enjoying themselves through such activities as swimming or sunbathing, features some on a landing craft, but the overall ethos is not dissimilar from the pictorial framing of typical holiday scenes. The caption does, however, include a final line about banning swimming temporarily because of radiation concerns after the Test Able detonation, quickly following this up by saying it was allowed again once safety was ensured. The attempt to normalise the tests through juxtaposing the photograph and caption is significantly portentous, given the subsequent history of the radioactive transformation of the landscapes depicted.
The sardonic humour of the photographs, characteristic in 1940s civil and military life, is incongruous with the overarching seriousness of the nuclear test situation. Figure 4 shows a 'reboarding party' surveying a target ship for damage after one of the nuclear detonations. The message chalked onto the ship’s hull, “Attention visitors, No Smoking, No Souvenirs”, is a seemingly self-conscious pastiche of signs aimed at tourists in hotel resorts, juxtaposed with the military regulations in place surrounding the tests. Such writing also echoes related traditions of chalking messages onto bombs during the War, or indeed, of naming some individual nuclear weapons after famous figures. The Bomb dropped in Crossroads Able test, for example, was christened 'Gilda', and adorned with a stencilled name and Rita Hayworth’s photograph, after the title character she played in the 1946 film Gilda – an association which was not appreciated by the film star herself! The message on the ship was likely written before detonation, a different message being shown in another photo being written by a sailor. Its presence is an insight into the attitudes of the unnamed author, a working ‘tourist’ in arguably the most exclusive and, at that moment, unappealing resort.
The radioactive seawater which enveloped the target ships during the Crossroads Baker test made most of them too radioactive to be decontaminated. It has been regarded as one of the world’s first nuclear accidents. Many of the vessels still lie sunk in Bikini Atoll, a popular location in recent years for a very different kind of enthusiast, those diving to explore the wrecks.
The world-changing effects of a seemingly microscopic globule today in some ways resonate remarkably with the transformation surrounding the splitting of the atom. The official photographs from Crossroads serve not only as a scientific and military record of early nuclear testing, but also as a poignant example of the final moments for those individuals involved of the ‘normality’ of the world as it was, and the end of the holiday.
Dr Timothy Peacock, Eccles Fellow 2019, is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Glasgow. He is on Twitter @DrTimPeacock
1. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211. This item is also available digitally courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
2. For further information about Operation Crossroads, see Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994. British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 94/14429.
NB: Readers may also be interested in a blog about Operation Crossroads by Mark Eastwood, who undertook a PhD placement with the Eccles Centre in 2016.
09 July 2020
This post by Nadine Chambers is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.
'As the heirs of two oceanic histories, we are conscious of the …challenges… the Atlantic and the Pacific represented to our respective ancestors. We are committed to nurturing and supporting the techniques of survivance that have led us to find each other.' Teresia Teaiwa1
How Breadfruit came to be loved in Xamayca/Jamaica became part of my Eccles Fellowship focusing on the North American and Caribbean collections at the British Library. In my larger project, I chose to explore the ways in which existing historiography has erased (or occluded) the interrelationships between Black Caribbean and Indigenous peoples by reading in between the silences in colonial voyage narratives. I contemplate the spaces between Black and Indigenous people’s parallel and intersecting histories of displacement, migration and decolonial struggles. I seek stories of our encounters that have been ignored in academic texts or situated at a distance geographically or categorically in archived records. My focus is on the traces of contested and still largely unwritten relationships as key to current discussions about Black freedom and Indigenous sovereignty if we “were not, even in the situations of the most extreme brutality, sealed off hermetically from one another”.2
In this essay, I offer a compass with which to navigate memories, geography, sacrifice, death through the entry point of Tahitian breadfruit brought by ship into the Caribbean. I continue to be inspired by the late Teresia Teaiwa (African American and I-Kiribati), who embodies an Atlantic-Pacific connection reflected in much of her academic scholarship and poetic works; reminding us of the imposed amnesia and the need to undo its erasures.
so it’s easy to forget
that there’s life and love and learning
asia and america
there’s an ocean
and in this ocean
the stepping stones
The first beloved place of breadfruit is in my maternal grandmother’s backyard in Constant Spring, Jamaica – a lone tree I remember while seated in carousel 333 of the British Library’s Rare Books and Music Room. I find myself travelling back and forth, through space and time and through archival texts, seeking Teresia’s stepping stones and finding the footprints of two Ma’ohi (Tahitian) men who touched down from the HMS Providence after months of sailing from the Pacific to land in Jamaica in 1793. I imagine them walking through the first place of contact – Port Henderson where my mother-line’s sea faring people still live. Their second land fall was Port Morant to travel overland to Bath...
... definitely passing through Airy Castle where my father’s people have landed history rooted by three Oteheite (ayyah) trees that bore deep purple-skinned fruit legendary in size and sweetness. Raised in Jamaica on breadfruit and apples made possible by their Ma’ohi traditional knowledge that crossed into the Caribbean, I listen for echoes of these two men’s footfall as I read a copy of The Log of H.M.S Providence by W. Bligh in the Manuscripts room on the 2nd floor of the British Library.4
Bligh – the celebrated naval captain of Bounty and Providence fame – instructed the crew to make sure that Tahitians were not to be told about the reason for the acquisition of the breadfruit.
Against this silence, I ask – so, to what purpose?
Within the library catalogue I found the oft overlooked work of an accomplished Jamaican botanist - the late Dulcie Powell and her careful attention to the plant genealogy of Jamaican botanical gardens, and the people behind it. Powell’s work, 'The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, H.M.S. Providence, 1791-1793', gives the reader the economic context to understand what drove British captains’ military and commercial ventures, coded as “botany research” and “exploration” – each opened with devastating military violence towards Pacific Indigenous peoples, appropriated plants then brought Tahitians and their intellectual acumen to the Atlantic and into the Caribbean.5 She includes an extract from writing by the well-known planter Bryan Edwards of 15,000 deaths of Black people trapped between the violence of enslavement and environmental catastrophes:
THIS NUMBER WE FIRMLY BELIEVE TO HAVE PERISHED OF FAMINE, OR OF THE DISEASES CONTRACTED
BY SCANTY AND UNWHOLESOME DIET BETWEEN THE LATER END OF 1780 AND THE BEGINNING OF 1787.6
This key excerpt from Edwards shows that the bedrock of the introduction of breadfruit to Jamaica was part of the British global imperial project, and that the breadfruit’s purpose was to sustain the life of Black people in Jamaica – solely for reaping profit from slavery.
But what about introductions between people?
The two men Maititi (Mydidee, Mideedee) and Paupo (Bobbo, Pappo) are first introduced to the reader through Bligh’s logs: the former styled as a Tahitian emissary, the other as a Tahitian stowaway. I note Captain Bligh’s first awareness of Paupo was part of a critical decision as to whether he lives or dies.
To my astonishment I found a man who had always been collecting with the botanists secreted between decks… and I had not the heart to make him jump overboard… I conceived he might be useful in Jamaica...therefore directed he should be under the care of the botanists... (July 18, 1792)7
Here, his name is not revealed on a long voyage that depended on many other racialized people who remained seen but also unnamed while assisting the survival of the floating Plant Nursery in safe harbours from storms and fresh water supplies as they sailed from the Pacific to the Caribbean. However, my central quest is Maititi and Paupo’s moment of arrival and any evidence of their encounters with people of African descent in Jamaica. Only some details are known to us, as we have to rely on 3rd Lieutenant Tobin, who observed Feb 5th, 1793 as the day Maititi and Paupo were on deck to see those “for which the benefit the voyage was chiefly promoted” – the Black people who “were loud in their praises and were constantly paddling around her [the Providence] in their canoes.”8
What might these Ma’ohi men’s thoughts have been about the excitement from the canoes or upon meeting the eyes of the paddlers? Did the paddlers notice the two men?
My reading of eighteenth-century ship’s log and crew diaries is informed by these questions – questions hardly considered at the time. In order to make visible Paupo’s landfall in Jamaica, I examine a few additional moments from Bligh’s log and find details that only relate to his relationship with the project through being listed as their ‘Otaheitian friend’ and an unpaid responsibility of Gardener Wiles who had agreed to stay on in Jamaica at Bath at £200 per annum.9 These logs render invisible and silent people of African descent who were the majority of the population: the records scarcely show any detail of these enslaved workers except in ledgers where their masters were paid for allowing them to be hired out for labour in the botanical garden.
However, finally a surprise encounter.
Somewhere in the months between landing in Jamaica and sailing for England to deliver the remainder of the botanical collection to Kew, Tobin writes this undated observation of Paupo in Jamaica:
...having many quarrels with an old negroe nurse who attended him – one day when she was oversolicitous [sic] for him to eat, after making several ineffectual attempts to explain to her that he required nothing, in rather an angry tone he said Aimak mad oboo peyak peyak “I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear telling her “she might perhaps find room in his head”.10
Seventeen months away from Tahiti, this singular encounter was retold by a third party as a partial exchange of words, strong feelings and touch between a young ailing Paupo and a senior Black healer. I re-read the gesture and the translation and found myself move slowly from elation to unease. In other fleeting moments Paupo is described as cheerful; yet here his exchange seems fraught. The translation of his words is unreliable, the touch and exchange ascribed layered with complexity.
Nine months after Ma’ohi Paupo arrived to Xamayca –in the Caribbean Sea – Wiles reported Paupo’s death in The Royal Gazette printed 27th of October 1793 (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384) and that his last days he refused food, refused to speak before succumbing to ill health. There is no known marker to signal his resting place as part of the land at Bath; far from his island which Powell described as “about as far south of the Equator as Jamaica is north…and their climates are therefore similar”.11 However, it was not similar, neither in area nor, more importantly, in social climate.
The pages of the newspaper reflect a snapshot of this climate – his obituary placed beside a report of trade business, a military report and lists of Black ancestors who are ill and enslaved or featured in runaway ads and workhouses. This returns us to the question of what could Paupo’s relationship have been to the enslaved community, perhaps through being cared for by that nurse? Would the cost of his keep have become associated with the ‘negro labour’ ledger lines for the garden? Could one speculate he might have had a sense of being estranged from the system Black people surrounding him were chained within?
“I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear
What more could have been recorded?
Instead, it is easiest to know more about the thoughts of the leadership of the plantocracy behind the Providence project. The Royal Gazette stated:
…In less than twenty years, the chief article of sustenance for our Negroes will be entirely changed; - plantains, yams, cocoa, and coffee, will be cultivated only as subsidiary, and used merely for change; whilst the breadfruit, gaining firm hold in the earth by the toughness and strength of its root, will bid defiance to storms.12
Official letters stating the plants did well came from Wiles who reported regularly to his patron Joseph Banks of their progress; in October 1793 they were “thriving with astonishing vigor” on the eastern side of the island. Wiles found “everyone exceeding anxious to get plants of it,” although some “old conceited & prejudiced [enslaved] creoles” said they preferred plantains and yams.13
In truth, Breadfruit survived but took decades to become part of everyday people’s preferred local diet.14 I continue to wonder sometimes if by chance, in those brief months whether Paupo had time to personally introduce breadfruit preparation to the healer’s community? What would that have looked like–practical trade or tentative trust-building? Or like breadfruit; in the healer’s mind was Paupo separate and associated with a garden of unfamiliar plants and closer to the owners in an enslaved society?
The difficult purpose of this small essay is to reframe Paupo’s story within the context of the Black population. Yes, slavery and hunger were the terrible impetus of our forgotten introduction to Tahitians who brought uru and other botanical riches of the Pacific. The difficult social climate that structures his introduction to the healer I overcome by thinking about a Tahitian story in a time before time as we know it. It is said a Ma’ohi family survived a famine when the father transformed himself - with hands becoming leaves; arms and body, the trunk and branches; his head – the breadfruit in the place known now as Tua’uru – the Place of Breadfruit.15 I think of this as I consider how this plant was transported in 1793 to deal with starvation in the Caribbean. Today, uru lives – included when Jamaicans state the word ‘food’ defined as specific reference to the circle of beloved ground provisions our Black ancestors refused to abandon even in those hard times.
First in the Valley of Tua’uru then in Bath, St. Thomas with Paupo - a Ma’ohi stone within the Jamaican landscape. Māuruuru.
Nadine Chambers, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, is a PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London.
1 Teaiwa, Teresia; Ojeya Banks, Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Courtney-Savali Leiloa Andrews, Alisha Lola Jones, and April K Henderson. ‘Black and Blue in the Pacific: Afro-Diasporic Women Artists on History and Blackness.’ Amerasia Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, (2017), pp. 145-193. (British Library shelfmarks: Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(1); Document Supply 0809.655000; )
2 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993, p. 2. (British Library shelfmark: YC.1994.b.3724.)
3 Teresia Teaiwa, ‘We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 19:2 (2017), p. 133-136. (British Library shelfmark: ZC.9.a.5571)
4 William Bligh, The Log of HMS Providence, 1791-1793 (British Library, MS Facsimile 832 (1976).
5 Dulcie Powell, ‘The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, HMS Providence, 1791-1793,’ Economic Botany, vol. 31.4 (1977): 387-431. (British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply 3651.700000; Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(10))
6 B. Edwards, The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies. Dublin, 1793, Vol. 2. Dublin, capitals in the original.(British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 44458])
7 Bligh, ibid.
8 Journal of Lieutenant George Tobin on HMS Providence 1791 -1793, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/_transcript/2011/D04424/a1220.htm [accessed online July 2, 2020].
9 Bligh, ibid.
10 Journal of Lieutenant Tobin, ibid.
11 Dulcie Powell, ibid.
12 The Royal Gazette, Feb 9, 1792 – Misc section, unknown publisher Kingston, Jamaica. (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384)
13 Wiles quoted in Newell, Jennifer. Trading Nature: Tahitians, Europeans, and Ecological Exchange. University of Hawaii Press, 2010. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply m10/21589 )
14 Higman, Barry W. Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture. Kingston, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2008. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2009.b.918)
15 Henry, Teuira and John Muggridge Orsmond. Ancient Tahiti. Honolulu: B.P Bishop Museum, 1928. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6245/3.(48.))
23 April 2020
For this blog, and in collaboration with our European Studies colleagues, we have taken inspiration from last year’s timely anthology of poems, Poems from the Edge of Extinction, edited by poet and UK National Poetry Librarian, Chris McCabe. Published in 2019 (also the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages), the book celebrates linguistic diversity through poetic expression, gathering 50 poems in languages identified as endangered and presenting them in both the original and in English translation. It’s got us thinking about poetry written in lesser-known languages in the Americas and Oceania collections. In part 1 of this blog, we consider examples of poetry in Tongan and Yucatec Maya, while part 2 (to follow) will look at examples in Patwa/Jamaican creole and Yolngu Matha. If you've never heard of these languages, read on!
Tongan (Lea Faka-Tonga) is the national language of the Kingdom of Tonga, a Polynesian nation of 169 islands in the southern Pacific Ocean, and the only monarchy in the Pacific. Tongan is a Polynesian language of the Austronesian family and is most closely related to the Samoan language of the same family. There are around 190,000 Tongan speakers with nearly half of these living overseas in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia or the United States. Though not on the endangered language list, Tongan, like many Pacific languages, is in danger of an eventual language shift to English. As outlined above, the migration of many native Tongan speakers is a predictor for this, as well as the predominance of English in online environments, and with English being increasingly associated with greater educational and employment opportunities. In an effort to counter this and preserve Tongan as the native language among young people in the country, the Minister of Education introduced a new language policy in 2012. Children are now taught solely in Tongan upon starting school, with English only gradually introduced at later stages. The policy aims for students to be fluent in both languages by completion of their education. Other efforts to preserve the language and culture among Tongans, includes the annual Tongan Language Week for Tongans living overseas in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Traditionally a spoken language, the first written examples of Tongan were made by missionaries using the Latin script in the 19th century, with the current spellings decided by the Privy Council of Tonga in 1943. The Tongan script uses three different diacritic marks to guide pronunciation and meaning: the glottal stop, the macron, and the stress mark, which often requires careful proofreading in text. The language is notable for having multiple speech registers based on status and formality, including one specifically for use when speaking to or about the reigning monarch or deities. With its strong oral over written tradition, Tongan language poetry is not abundant in our print collections. However, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a translated collection of the poetry of Tonga’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Sālote Tupou III, Tonga's poet on the throne from 1918 to her death in 1965. Songs & poems of Queen Sālote (2004) features 114 works by the monarch in Tongan with translations into English by the Pacific languages academic, Dr. Melenaite Taumoefolau.
Some of you may already be familiar with Queen Sālote as the head of state who received uproarious applause on Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Day in 1953, when she refused to lower the hood of her carriage in the driving rain, and instead laughed and waved joyfully at the crowds lining the procession route. Her spirit and warmth on the day prompted newspaper editor, Jack Fishman, to write a song aptly titled The Queen of Tonga (Music Collections VOC/1953/FISHMAN) which was then made popular by Edmundo Ros and his orchestra (Sound Collections 1CD0189529).
However, you may not know that she is also celebrated as poet and song writer whose work, comprising of over 100 compositions, has played a major role in the preservation of the Tongan language and Tonga’s rich cultural heritage. Historian and biographer of Queen Sālote, Elizabeth Wood-Ellem, wrote in Songs & poems of Queen Sālote that:
The Queen was… acclaimed as an extremely gifted poet. Queen Sālote spent many hours perfecting the words of her poems, and she invited groups of musicians to come to the Palace in the evenings to work with her. They often stayed until the early hours of the morning. Poetry that was set to music consisted of love songs (both happy and sad), laments for deaths of chiefs and those close to her, lullabies for her grandchildren, and songs written especially for the accompaniment of dance, such as lakalaka and mā‘ulu‘ulu. Love songs (hiva kakala) were often used as accompaniment to the solo dance for a woman, the tau‘olunga. (pp.279-281)
Tongan language poetry makes great use of heliaki (metaphoric language) to make culture specific references to the knowledge shared by Tongan speakers. This can make literal translations difficult without using annotations, as the meanings and connotations of kinship connections in the heliaki often require explanation to non-Tongan speakers. We can see an example of this in Queen Sālote’s poem, The Queen’s Tears at the Passing of Tangata o’ Ha’amea, which employs the technique to bemoan that Ha’amea (a prominent Tongan chief) left no heir:
Dear home of Niukasa
Standing at the base of Sia
With the stream called Fotu ‘afinema
Once trickling but now empty
Not a drop is left
Diplomatic use of heliaki can be seen in her poem, ‘Uno 'o Sangone. Composed during World War 2, the poem is ostensibly about the Polynesian myth of the turtle Sangone, but draws heavily on the shared knowledge of the long history and connections between Tonga and its neighbour, Samoa. Through this use of heliaki, the Queen aimed to reassure Tongans and remind them of the importance of allies and unity during wartime:
Ne‘ine‘i hako mei he tonga
Tapa ē‘uhila mei lulunga
He na‘e mana ē Feingakotone
Fakahake ē‘uno ‘o Sangone.
No wonder the gales blew from the south
Lightening flashed from the west.
The Feingakotone* thundered
For Sangone’s shell was brought forth.
However, to really appreciate the Tongan language and Queen Sālote’s work, you should enjoy it in the manner through which it was intended, such as this contemporary performance of Loka Siliva (Silver Lock or Locket), a love song (hiva kakala) she wrote for her husband, sung by the Tonga Creative Collective, and with translations from Tongan to English.
For examples of more recent poetry from the Kingdom of Tonga in the British Library collections, see also Hingano : selected poems, 1966-1986 / by Konai Helu Thaman (BL shelfmark YA.1996.a.3558), and Mauri ola : contemporary Polynesian poems in English / edited by Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri & Robert Sullivan (BL shelfmark DRT ELD.DS.322430).
*Feingakotone is a place in the Kingdom of Tonga
Lucy Rowland (Curator, Oceania Published Collections post-1850)
Yucatec Maya (Mexico)
Briceida Cuevas Cob is a well-published poet and cultural promoter in her native Yucatan, South-Mexico. The poem below is from the verse collection U yok’ol auat pek’ ti kuxtal pek’ / El quejido del perro en su existencia [The growl of the dog in its existence]. In her collection, she captures the violence and harshness of Mayan existence through the violence suffered by these abandoned stray dogs.
Four poems from this collection were published in Latin American Literature Today, May 2018: Translated by Arthur Dixon. Here is one of them:
¿Máax ku tich’ik chuchul uaj yétel u xdzik k’ab,
ku jósik u xnoj k’ab u tial u jadz?
Pek’ má ta p’atik a yúmil,
Pek’ má ta chíik a yúmil,
Pek’ a yama a yúmil:
majant a uak’ti uínik,
tiólal u choj xan u k’a u chí,
ka u ch’ul luum,
ka u pak’, je bix teché, u náatil kuxtal.
Majant a uich ti uínik,
tiólal u pákat yétel a k’om ólal.
Majant a nej ti uínik
tiólal u bik’ibik’tik, yétel a kímak ólal.
kun alak ti: KS, KS, KS;
tiólal u tákik ichil u yok yétel a sútal,
kun alak ti: B’J, B’J, B’J.
Majant a ní ti uínik,
tiólal u yusnítik utz yan chen tu k’ab chichán pal.
majant a dzaay tí uínik,
tiólal u chíik u túkul.
Who is he who holds out the stale tortilla with his left hand
raises his right hand to strike?
Dog, don’t you abandon your owner,
dog, don’t you bite your lord,
dog, you love your master:
lend your tongue to the man,
so the drool drips down him too,
so it wets the earth,
and sows, like you, the understanding of existence.
Lend your eyes to the man,
so he sees with your sadness.
Lend your tail to the man,
so he wags it with joy
when they call him: KS, KS, KS;
so he tucks it between his legs with your shame
when they tell him: B’J, B’J, B’J;
lend him your nose
so he sniffs the goodness that only exists in the hands of a child.
lend him your teeth
so he bites his own conscience.
I have chosen this poem, because I remember stray dogs as a striking feature during my first visit to Mexico as an intern at UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) after finishing my MA. An older Austrian colleague with a proper job adopted a stray dog, when a group of us came home from a weekend trip. Looking back, this must have seemed a foolish act to many local people. Yet, we were a group of young and idealistic Mexicans and foreigners and this act of kindness towards the stray dog is stuck in my mind.
When I read Briceida Cuevas Cob’s dog poems, I think back to the many mangy dogs on dusty roads I saw in Mexico and our friend’s little act of defiance in taking one of them in. I like how Cueva Cob in her poem binds together mundane experiences of ubiquitous violence with deep philosophical questions about life. And I like the rhythm of the poem in the English translation by Arthur Dixon. In the Maya original, which I cannot read, I enjoy looking at the distribution of letters on the page, strange and beautiful to me, unlike the spelling of any other language I can read. There are so many ‘k’ and ‘u’. It looks mysterious to me and makes me want to hear the poem recited in Yucatec Maya.
If you feel the same, you can hear another poem by Cuevas Cob set to music by contemporary Mexican composer Hilda Paredes, who lives in London. Our library has the music score of two pieces composed to Cuevas Cob’s work. One is called Codex of Enigmas/ Códice de Adivinancas [Scores at BL Music Collections g.1465.v.(2.)] and is a piece for solo viola and a speaker reciting the poem written in Maya language . You can find a video of a performance in France on the composer’s webpage.
Or if you prefer a different tune, check out the video from Tihorappers Crew, from Tihosuco, Quintana Roo (also in the Yucatec peninsula). It starts in Maya language and then switches between Spanish and Maya. Even if you don’t know Spanish or Maya, I think you’ll be able to hear the difference between the two languages and can enjoy the beat.
Iris Bachmann, Curator of Latin American Published Collections (post 1850)
Chris McCabe (ed.), Poems from the Edge of Extinction (London, 2019), [BL shelfmark: ELD.DS.463137]
Read more about the Endangered Poetry Project here
Helu, 'I. F. (2006). Ko e heilala tangitangi ʿo Sālote Pilolevu : Ko e tohi vete ʿo e fatu ʿa e kau Punake Tonga ʿo tuku he tumuʿakiʹ ʿe he ngaahi maaʿimoa ʿa e Taʿahine Kuini Sālote Tupou III : ʿoku fokotuʿu mo fakatoputapuʿi atu ʿa e kiʿi tohi ni (dedicate) kia Pilinisesi Sālote. Nukualofa, Tonga: ʿAtenisi Press. Shelfmark YF.2010.a.28034
Helu, 'I. F., P., & Janman, P. (2012). On Tongan poetry. Warkworth, Auckland, N.Z.: Atuanui Press. Shelfmark YD.2019.a.4936
Smith, K. and 'Otunuku, M. (2015). Heliaki: transforming literacy in Tonga through metaphor. The SoJo Journal: Educational Foundations and Social Justice Education 1 (1), pp. 99-112.Cardiff University, http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/86002
Wood-Ellem, E. (2004). Songs & poems of Queen Sālote / translated by Melenaite Taumoefolau ; edited by Elizabeth Wood-Ellem ; with essays by HRH Princess Nanasipauʻu Tukuʻaho ... [et al.]. Nukuʻalofa: Vavaʻu Press. Shelfmark YD.2009.b.1963
Briceida Cuevas Cob, Poetry by Briceida Cuevas Cob, Poetry without Borders, 2005, Nov issue, Accessed 22 April 2020:
Briceida Cuevas Cob, ‘Two poems by Briceida Cuevas Cob’, World Literature Today., 2010, 84(1), 16-17. [BL shelfmark: 9356.558600]
Paul Worley, ‘On translating indigenous languages’, Asymptote, June 7, 2018. Accessed on 22 April 2020:
09 May 2018
Above: John Rocque's, 'A General Map of North America' [Maps K.Top.118.32]
Our colleagues from the Americas Collections have kindly allowed us a slot on the blog, so we thought we would let you know about some changes that are coming to the Eccles Centre. Spring is a particularly exciting time of year for the Eccles Centre as we welcome our new Visiting Fellows. Our Fellows are drawn from across the UK, Europe and North America and the Centre provides them with a financial award to support research using the North American collections of the British Library, plus a one-year membership of the Library.
Our Visiting Fellowships announcement marks the end of our 2018 awards and so our attention is now turning to calls for applications for our 2019 cohort. An invitation to apply for the Centre’s Fulbright Scholarship is now available on the Fulbright website and we will soon be advertising the next round of our Writer’s Award. Those of you who read The Bookseller will have seen Catherine Eccles’s recent piece about the award and noted that the scope of works eligible will stretch across the whole Americas during 2019. Watch this space for more details.
Further changes to our awards will be obvious when our call for 2019 Fellows comes out this summer. We are keen to help applicants see the potential of the Library’s collections more clearly and so from 2019 there will be a series of research priorities championed by the Centre. These are not meant to be exclusive, we still want to hear about all research the Library’s North American collections can support, and instead provide a window into areas where the collections are particularly strong. The priorities will also shape the Centre’s events schedule for the coming year and, hopefully, create a cohort of fellows working in similar areas. With this in mind the priorities for April 2018 – April 2019 will be:
- North American and Caribbean Indigenous Studies
- Literary, theatrical and artistic connections in Canada, the Caribbean and the US
- Book history and arts in North America
- Pacific politics and geopolitics
- Migration in/from/through Canada, the Caribbean and the US
- LGBTQ histories and culture in Canada, the Caribbean and the US
Should anyone wish to discuss possible research projects, collaborations or events that tie in with these priority areas please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evidence of our research priorities can be seen in the Centre’s upcoming events for the spring and summer, with ‘Buffalo Bill Goes to China’ and ‘The Death of Captain Cook’ speaking directly to our new priorities. So too does the Centre’s support of the British Library’s, ‘Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land’ and the season of events that accompanies the exhibition. We are also excited to be supporting an, 'In Conversation' with The Last Poets; Sarah Churchwell’s critical history of ‘America First’; and our two Black Lives Matter events, ‘From Black Lives Matter to White Power Presidency’ and ‘Black Lives Matter in the US and UK Today’, amongst our packed schedule
We hope the changes to the Centre excite you as much as they do us and we look forward to seeing you at one of our events soon.
Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies
27 July 2016
Mark Eastwood is a PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham. He is currently undertaking a PhD placement with the Eccles Centre at the British Library. Mark will be producing a series of blogs which will explore aspects of the Cold War through the American Collections at the British Library.
July 2016 marks the 70th anniversary of the United States’ first atomic tests outside of World War Two. In July 1946, a joint U.S Army-Navy task force staged two atomic weapons tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The operation was designed to test the effects of an atomic bomb on naval vessels at sea. Consisting of tests Able and Baker, Operation Crossroads marked the first of over 1900 nuclear tests staged since the end of World War Two.
Seventy years on, what can we learn from Operation Crossroads?
Figure 1: "A Tree Grows in Bikini" Image of the Baker Bomb Test
Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p.199 (Shelf mark: W67/5211)
Operation Crossroads, front cover
The US collections at the British Library house one of the UK’s only copies of the official photographic record of the operation. Official Pictorial Record of Operation Crossroads, published in 1946, contains a collection of more than 200 photographs documenting all stages of the operation. Not only does the collection offers a unique insight into the operation, but it demonstrates the emergence of the nuclear political culture which dominated the Cold War and can be felt even today.
The first lesson to draw from Operation Crossroads is to understand the sheer scale of the nuclear-industrial complex. The tests involved more than 200 ships, 42000 men and women and 150 aircraft gathered from both the Navy and Army Air Force. A significant number of civilian scientists from fifteen universities and many more individuals from private business and NGO’s also took part. The tests would mark pioneering breakthroughs in the use of remotely piloted boats and aircraft.
Figure 2: "Radio Controlled Flying Fortress"
Operation Crossroads p.50
To ensure the operation was reported around the world, a huge legion of domestic and international press representatives were invited as observers. Many of the journalists were offered passage aboard the U.S. Navy vessel ‘Appalachian,’ dubbed, ‘the press ship.’ Technological innovation and cross-sector involvement, relayed globally by the press, underlined the significance of the nuclear-industrial complex which would come to dominate the Cold War years and beyond.
Figure 3: "Gentlemen of the Press"
Operation Crossroads from top to bottom: p.41
The mass of cameras used at Bikini solidified the iconic imagery at the centre of today’s nuclear imaginary. More than 50000 still images and 1.5 million feet of film roll were taken during Operation Crossroads. For the global public, the images from Bikini offered their first engagement with the reality of the bomb. The photographs from Operation Crossroads demonstrated the awesome power of the atom which they could only read about previously. The image of the mushroom cloud rising high above the Bikini Lagoon became fixed in the public imaginary and in turn secured its status as the most potent and evocative image of the nuclear age.
Figure 4: "Test Able Panorama"
Operation Crossroads: pp. 138-139
Operation Crossroads also marked the beginning of what we might call nuclear colonialism. Part of the preparation for Operation Crossroads involved the removal, or ‘evacuation’ as the U.S. government termed it, of 167 islanders from their ancestral home. They were relocated first to Rongerik Atoll and then some 250 miles away to the island of Kwajalein.
The islanders believed the relocation to be temporary but, seventy years later, the Bikini Atoll remains far too radioactive for their descendants to return to. The environmental conditions on Kwajalein were not the same as at Bikini and the islanders suffered from a lack of resources and fishing grounds once their U.S. supplied provisions ran out. The islanders are largely written out of the official pictorial record. Whilst reference is made to the beauty of Bikini itself, the inhabitants are largely an afterthought. Less than 1% of the photographs in the collection document the presence of indigenous inhabitants. Those which do exist focus on the ‘happy native,’ thankful to the kind and benevolent American colonialist. The treatment of the islanders and their almost complete erasure form the official record highlights the colonial trend in nuclear testing. From the islands of the Pacific to the Aboriginal lands of Australia, nuclear tests have ravaged indigenous lands around the globe.
Figure 5: "At Home Abroad" King Juda (far left), of the Bikini islanders, pictured at Kwajalein enjoying the radio given to him as a gift by the U.S. Navy. One of the few photographs of the islanders contained in the record.
Operation Crossroads p.17
Finally, one may argue that Operation Crossroads picked up where Hiroshima and Nagasaki left off in fuelling the arms race which came to dominate the Cold War. The original idea for the operation grew out of a militarised mind-set and fear over the vulnerability of the naval fleet to a nuclear attack. The tests were designed to study the effects of the atom bomb and also to provide studies in how to defend against it.
Figure 6: "General Damage on Stern Deck, Nevada"
Operation Crossroads p.167
Opposition to the tests did manifest, largely from the Manhattan Project scientific community who warned that the local Pacific waters were likely to become a ‘witch's brew’ of radioactivity. Ignoring such warnings, which turned out to be extremely accurate, the government pressed ahead. In demonstrating their commitment to continued atomic testing in the post-war era, it could be argued that the United States threw down the atomic gauntlet to the rest of the world. Furthermore, alongside U.S. vessels, Operation Crossroads included Japanese and German ships which had been surrendered after the War. The symbolic destruction of these ‘prizes’ did little to undermine the perception of U.S. imperialistic power.
Figure 7: "Bomb vs Metropolis" A composite comparing the size of the explosion of the Baker test with the Manhattan skyline
Operation Crossroads p.215
Seventy years and nearly 2000 tests on from Operation Crossroads, whilst the Bikini Atoll still feels the ecological impact of nuclear testing, the cultural and political ramifications of the first post-war tests remain rather potent.
P.S. Did you know that the tests at the Bikini Atoll were responsible for the introduction of the word ‘bikini’ into the common lexicon? It was adopted to describe the invention of the new two-piece bathing suit and was derived “from the comparison of the effects wrought by a scantily clad woman to the effects of an atomic bomb.”
 Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994, p. 4
Americas and Oceania Collections blog recent posts
- Electronic resources for research in Oceania studies
- Witnessing climate change: COP26 and Oceania book artists
- The Paradoxes of Power: Photographic records and postwar nuclear testing
- Atomic Holiday Snaps? Depictions of ‘normality’ in the official photography of postwar atomic bomb tests
- The Black and Indigenous presence in the story of how Breadfruit came to the Caribbean
- Poems from the edge of extinction (part 1)
- Spring news from the Eccles Centre
- Operation Crossroads: 70 Years on from the Bombs at Bikini
- Stories Weaved in Cloth
- From the Collections: Captain Cook and the Nuu-Chah-Nulth