21 May 2015
Above: cloth sample with text description [BL: C.112.e.1, restricted item]
If you have been through the Entrance Hall Gallery recently you will note that our own Lines in the Ice has given way to a wonderful new work by Cornelia Parker. Designed to capture the process of collective memory (and history) making that underpins our ideas about the Magna Carta and its legacy the work is a multi-authored depiction of Wikipedia's entry on the Magna Carta. At first glance, the idea of craft, needlework and textiles in the national library might seem a little odd, but this isn't the only place you'll find such materials in the Library.
Above: one part of the Magna Carta embroidery. From the Library's press release.
As Lines in the Ice showed, the Library holds a number of unusual items and accounts relating to the efforts of explorers from the 18th and 19th centuries, not least those accumulated as a result of the voyages of Captain Cook. Amongst the materials relating to Australasia is a book snappily titled, 'A Catalogue of the Different Specimens of Cloth collected in the Three Voyages of Captain Cook, to the Southern Hemisphere; with a particular account of the manner of the manufacturing the same in the various islands of the South Seas; partly extracted from Mr. Anderson and Reinhold Forster's observations, and the verbal account of some of the most knowing of the navigators: with some anecdotes that happened to them among the natives. [With 39 specimens of cloth, restricted item held at C.112.e.1]' - lest we forget it was published in 1787.
There's a lot to say about this book and it has recently been the focus of research at the University of Otago (you can read the outputs here) but what struck me today was, like Cornelia Parker's piece in the Entrance Hall gallery, this is fundamentally a collaborative effort with a large number of individual stories bound into it. As the title alludes, the collection and publication of these samples of textile are endeavours awash with stories, as are the textiles themselves; and today we are much more aware that the stories of the cloth makers, not just the collectors, need recording too. They communicate, history, heritage and culture in their weave. As a result, the book represents a fascinating and complex historical object, as does the embroidery on display in the Entrance Hall Gallery.
Speaking of complex and contested artistic histories, Team Americas and Australasia are heading over to the British Museum's new exhibition, 'Indigenous Australia, Enduring Civilisation' later this week - so a bonus exhibition / collection items cross over for this post.
15 November 2012
‘A View of the Habitations in Nootka Sound’ plate held at BL: 456.h.24
This work (A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean...,London: W & A Strahan, etc., 1784), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.
Once again I’ve been calling up some of the many works of Captain James Cook from the Library's storage areas, this time to look at his notes and illustrations relating to his searches for the fabled 'great southern land' and the North-West Passage. While my reason for calling the items up was more concerned with the frozen seas of the Arctic and the Antarctic, as usual I was waylaid by some other writings and illustrations that I came across.
In October I was able to take something off my long ‘to-do’ list when I visited UBC's Museum of Anthropology. The collections held there, together with the various economic and political issues affecting today’s inhabitants of British Columbia made me think of the dramatic changes that have happened subsequent to Cook’s contact with the area. With this in mind I let myself wander to a series of plates dedicated to the people and material culture of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth.
The illustrations of the area (I think done around Yuquot), its people and material culture, are both interesting and useful records. But, as with many travel accounts of the period, they (together with the notes and images which document all of Cook’s three voyages), are indicative of an imperial way of seeing the various peoples encountered, an emphasis being placed on their 'Otherness' to European eyes.
The materials relating to Cook’s voyages have been published in many forms, including the exhaustive ‘A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean…’ [BL Shelfmark: 454.h.9 -11], with which these plates are associated [but stored separately at BL Shelfmark: 456.h.24]. The Library also holds various accounts of Nuu-Chah-Nulth culture and post-contact history, although many of these need to be searched for using the term Nootka (as used in the works’ titles).
20 August 2012
I’ve been doing further reading on Australian history this week and you can’t cover early nineteenth- century Australia without coming across William Bligh. Bligh became Governor of New South Wales in 1806 but prior to this he had already undertaken a number of missions for the British Government in European, Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific waters. One of these missions provides Team Americas with another blog on the links between Australasia and the Americas.
While in Tahiti as part of Cook’s first Pacific voyage, Joseph Banks noted that the local Uru, or breadfruit, had potential as a source of cheap, high energy food that could be cultivated in British colonies. Banks successfully promoted his idea after returning to London, and Bligh was dispatched with HMS Bounty to acquire plants for use in the Caribbean. After one mutiny, a trip back to London (via Koupang) and two trips to Tahiti for specimens, Bligh finally delivered the breadfruit plants to Jamaica.
Following success as a Naval captain in Europe, and having earned Nelson’s favour at the Battle of Copenhagen, Bligh was appointed Governor of New South Wales. Arriving in 1806 Bligh immediately had to deal with the New South Wales Corps, the standing regiment for the colony which had set up a decent sideline in profiteering illegal trade items – namely, rum. Eventually this led to the 'Rum Rebellion' of 1808 and Bligh was forced to take another ignominious trip on the sea (this time to Hobart).
While mutinies grab popular attention, Bligh's career offers a good example of the way in which many individuals in the British Navy helped to developed global networks of exchange and control which underpinned the British Empire. He’s also a case study of what binds Team Americas and Australasia together.
I’ve noted in an earlier blog the Library’s collections on Cook and his expedition, and there is also a significant collection on the expeditions of Bligh; for starters see, A Voyage to the South Sea, 1792 [BL Shelfmark: RB.31.c.503(1)] and A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board His Majesty’s Ship Bounty, 1790 [BL Shelfmark: G.3066].
13 March 2012
A couple of weeks ago I spent a Sunday afternoon at Down House, where Charles Darwin lived and wrote his famous works. Many things struck me that afternoon but the map of the Beagle's voyage reminded me that Darwin's journey is a piece of history which provides a link between all of us here in the Americas and Australasian Studies department. Duly motivated, I decided to do a short blog on the Beagle's presence in the Library's collections.
The British Library holds a lot of material which refers to or resulted from the work conducted by Darwin and others during the voyage of HMS Beagle. Not only are there many copies of, 'On the Origin of Species' but there are also less popularly know publications, such as Darwin's paper, 'The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, etc.' (shelfmark: 07109.i.13). Amongst all of this, my favourite publication related to the expedition is, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle' (which I also saw on display at Down House).
'Zoology' is a detailed account of the animals and fossils encountered and collected during the voyage of the Beagle with each volume being drawn together by various authorities of the time. Between them, the five volumes provide accounts of the various specimens collected and are richly illustrated with examples from various parts of the voyage (although the lithographs of Galapagos finches are understandably the most eye catching).
The account also underlines the scope and scale of the Beagle's voyage and Darwin's collecting, neither of which were necessarily unique to the time but they do illustrate a globalised scientific process. Unfortunately, it's becoming something of a trend for me to blog about restricted items and once again the library's original 'Zoology' (shelfmark: 791.I.17,18) is on this list. However, there are also some very good reproductions available in the reading rooms, not least the Royal Geographical Society's 1994 commemorative edition (shelfmark: Cup.410.g.500).
15 February 2012
As I mentioned in a previous post on the Terra Nova expedition, 2011 was a busy year for the Americas section of the Library and one of the other developments was being joined by our colleague responsible for Australasian Studies. Unfortunately, Nicholas has now left the Library to enjoy the warmer climes of southern France and so the rest of us from Americas Studies are doing our best to direct readers interested in researching the area for the time being. This being the case, we thought we'd start the best way we know how - blogging.
The Library has a notable collection of materials relating to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and we aim to show a selection of the historical works we have as 'guest posts' on the Americas blog. For today's post I happened to be looking at the voyage of Captain Cook to the west coast of Canada and thought the Australian materials included in the same volumes would make a good first Australasian post.
Edited by John Douglas, 'A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean' (shelfmark: 10025.bbb.22) has a supplementary volume of plates and charts compiled during the journey, held at shelfmark, C.180.h.11. These charts and plates cover various parts of Cook's expedition and therefore range from Australia to Nootka Sound and illustrate the landscape, fauna and peoples encountered. The above, 'A Man from Van Diemen's Land' is an example of the illustrations included in the volume which charts the diversity of societies and environments encountered.
The Library's collections contain many materials relating to Cook's voyages, including books, maps and manuscripts. Another item I called up was the 1786 publication, 'An Historical Narrative of the Discovery of New Holland and New South Wales' (shelfmark: 1446.c.19). The piece is a much smaller, highly edited account of Cook's expedition which happens to contain the rather nice map seen at the top of this post. Given the amount of material the Library holds relating to Cook's expeditions it is tempting to keep posting highlights from the myriad publications and manuscripts in coming weeks, but rest assured a host of notable collection items on various subjects will be on display in subsequent guest posts.
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