American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?

Introduction

Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

18 December 2020

Cooking a Christmas Meal in the Caribbean Collections

Given there is no canteen Christmas lunch on offer this year, I thought I would ‘cook up’ a Caribbean Christmas meal out of the collections.

Colourful painting of a street scene with a man dressed in costume with a feathered headpiece.
Jackie Ranston, Belisario: Sketches of Character: A historical biography of a Jamaican artist. Kingston, Jamaica: The Mill Press, 2008. Shelfmark: LD.31.b.1989

“Koo-Koo, Koo-Koo” an attendant chorus repeated, imitating the ‘rumbling sound of the bowels, when in a hungry state.’1  This was the origin of the ‘Koo-Koo’ chant according to Isaac Medes Belisario, the Jamaican Jewish painter, engraver and lithographer.  The calling of Koo-Koos would sound the streets of Kingston during Junkanoo – the carnivalesque celebration that occurs around Christmas time in parts of the English-Speaking Caribbean.  Rooted in the era of slavery, Junkanoo festivities were performed during the planter-sanctioned Christmas holiday, which overlapped with the main annual break in the plantation cycle.  While the concept of Christmas was a colonial imposition in the Caribbean, the short break that this Christian holiday instigated became an opportunity for the creation of independent, creolized, defiant and delicious traditions.  From the rumbling stomach of Junkanoo to the ceremonial soaking of fruit in rum, Christmas through the mouth of the Caribbean collections is a varied and delectable affair.

The Main Event

Deviating from the oft-dry Turkey, the centrepiece of a Caribbean Christmas meal might be a ‘Christmas Goat’ or a pig.  As contributors to the community-published cookbook, Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole explain, Christmas in St. Lucia is a big celebration, where pigs are fattened up to be eaten on Christmas day and there are lots of dances and parties that ‘carry on through Christmas and New Year’.

Text from a book which describes Christmas in St Lucia.
Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole and other Caribbean recipes. London: Peckham Publishing Project,  1981. Shelfmark: X.629/17620

Much more efficient to rear than cows and easier to farm on smallholdings, the goat has consistently been one of the most consumed meats in Jamaica since the nineteenth century. Goat was ‘also the most commonly eaten mammal in India, after the sheep,’ which made it appealing to Jamaica’s East Indian community.The curry goat, a classic of Jamaican cuisine, is a product of East Indian and African creolization in Jamaica.

Text from a book which describes the Christmas Goat.
Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole and other Caribbean recipes. London: Peckham Publishing Project,  1981. Shelfmark: X.629/17620

 

Trimmings

As Carly Lewis-Oduntan writes in her article, ‘When Christmas Dinner Comes with a Side of Rice and Peas,’ a British and Caribbean Christmas food fusion might encompass roast turkey accompanied with rice and peas.  Derived from Akan cuisine, variations of rice and bean dishes have been a staple of Caribbean diets for centuries.  During the era of slavery, enslaved peoples in the English-Speaking Caribbean subsisted on their provision ground harvests (small plots of land where anything from yams to beans were grown), which have profoundly shaped the ingredients, processes and tastes that remain central to Caribbean cuisine.  Ripening just in time for Christmas, the perennial Gungo pea is an ‘essential part of the Christmas Day menu’, replacing the often-used kidney bean in rice and peas.

Sketches of different shaped beans.
B. W. Higman, Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2008. Shelfmark YC.2009.b.918.

 

Front-cover with a palm tree on an island amongst a background of blue.
P. De Brissiere, Caribbean Cooking: A Selection of West-Indian Recipes. London: The New Europe Publishing Co. Ltd, 1946. Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.5048
Recipes for Savoury Carrot Mould, Peas and Rice, Indian Cabbage and Bean Pie.
P. De Brissiere, Caribbean Cooking: A Selection of West-Indian Recipes. London: The New Europe Publishing Co. Ltd, 1946. Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.5048

 

The Proof is in the Pudding

The Caribbean Christmas cake or pudding is the product of months (or even years) of rum soaking.  Atop of kitchen cupboards you might spot dried fruit soaking in deep amber jars of rum, in preparation for baking the spiced, boozy and dense Christmas cake.  From the sugar grown and harvested on plantations, to the by-product of sugar (rum is made from molasses which is produced when sugarcane is refined) and regionally grown spices like nutmeg, Christmas pudding is an example of the region’s history melding together.

Recipe for Jamaican Christmas pudding
Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole and other Caribbean recipes. London: Peckham Publishing Project,  1981. Shelfmark: X.629/17620
Recipe continued with an illustration of a small bottle of liquor and nutmegs.
Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole and other Caribbean recipes. London: Peckham Publishing Project,  1981. Shelfmark: X.629/17620

 

A drink with that?

Colourful illustration of a sorrel flower
Floella Benjamin, Exploring Caribbean Food in Britain. London: Mantra Publishing, 1988. Shelfmark: YK.1989.b.1722
A drink recipe using sorrel and rum.
Teresa E. Cleary, Jamaica Run-dung: Over 100 Recipes. Kingston: Brainbuster Publications, 1973. Shelfmark: YA.1989.a.11640

 

How about a deep red glass of tart, sweet and cool sorrel drink, made from an infusion of fresh or dried sorrel.  The Jamaican name for hibiscus, B. W. Higman cites sorrel as arriving during in the eighteenth century, from Africa. Planted in August, the sorrel plant is harvested in December and January, hence, its Christmas association.  The refreshing drink is made by steeping sorrel in water for two days with ginger, cloves, orange peel, rum or wine.  These classic Christmas flavours encompass Britain’s colonial history and the far-reaching impact of the Spice Trade.

Drawing of a yellow hibiscus flower.
Marjorie Humphreys, Cerasee & Other Jamaican Flowering Plants. Kingston, Jamaica: The Mill Press, 1999. Shelfmark: YA.2003.a.26672

 

I hope this has whet your appetite for a Merry Christmas and has maybe even inspired you to test out one of these recipes – please get in touch if you do!

In 2021, we will be launching an exciting project that seeks to re-interpret, locate and co-create more sources on the history of Caribbean food, spanning from colonial materials, to post-independence and contemporary sources. We will need your input and participation … so watch this space and have a relaxing winter break.

Naomi Oppenheim, community engagement and Caribbean Collections intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library and CDP student researching Caribbean publishing and activism.  @naomioppenheim

Endnotes

1. Jackie Ranston, Belisario: Sketches of Character: A historical biography of a Jamaican artist (Kingston: The Mill Press, 2008), p.250.
2. B. W. Higman, Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2008), p.387-9.

Works Cited

* B. W. Higman, Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2008), BL Shelfmark YC.2009.b.918
* Carly Lewis-Oduntan, ‘When Christmas Dinner Comes with a Side of Rice and Peas’, VICE, 14 December 2018
* Floella Benjamin, Exploring Caribbean Food in Britain (London: Mantra Publishing, 1988) BL Shelfmark YK.1989.b.1722
* Jackie Ranston, Belisario: Sketches of Character: A historical biography of a Jamaican artist (Kingston: The Mill Press, 2008). BL Shelfmark LD.31.b.1989
* Marjorie Humphreys, Cerasee & Other Jamacian Flowering Plants (Kingston: The Mill Press, 1999)
* P. De Brissiere, Caribbean Cooking: A Selection of West-Indian Recipes, BL shelfmark YD.2005.a.5048
* Teresa E. Cleary, Jamaica run-dung: over 100 recipes (Kingston: Brainbuster Publications, 1973) BL Shelfmark YA.1989.a.11640
* ‘14th Day of Christmas – Gungo Peas & Christmas’, Jamaica Information Service

Further Reading

* B. W. Higman, ‘Cookbooks and Caribbean Cultural Identity: An English-Language Hors D’Oeurve’, New West Indian Guide, 72 (1998).
* Catherine Hall, ‘Whose Memories? Edward Long and the Work of Re-Remembering’ in K. Donington, R. Hanley, & J. Moody (Eds.), Britain's History and Memory of Transatlantic Slavery: Local Nuances of a 'National Sin'’ (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016), pp. 129-149.
* Chanté Joseph, ‘Confronting the Colonial Past of Jamaica’s Hard Dough Bread’, VICE, 25 April 2019
* Colleen Taylor Sen, Curry: A Global History (London: Reaktion, 2009) BL Shelmark YK.2010.a.31951
* Edward Long, A History of Jamaica (London: T. Lowndes, 1774), 981.f.19-21. [Version available online]
* Malini Roy, ‘Reopening and reinterpretation – our Front Hall Busts’, Living Knowledge Blog, 28 August 2020
* Naomi Oppenheim, ‘A Belated Happy Junkanoo: the Caribbean Christmas’, American Collections blog, 7 January 2019
* Riaz Phillips, Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK (London: Tezeta Press, 2017) YKL.2017.b.4909

 

16 December 2020

The American newsroom as seen in cartoons: 1930-1960. By Dr Will Mari

In the mid-century United States, the newsroom was at the heart of journalism’s professional world, the place where reporters and editors produced and published stories that shaped their society, and their own. In their numerous depictions on stage and screen, newsrooms have been romanticized and idealized, but they were very human places, complete with the failures and foibles of the cultures they were embedded in.

They could be macho, sexist and racist places, where white men dominated. They could be places where publishers and owners demurred too much to corporate or political interests.

But they were also spaces where true stories—however imperfect—were told to people in power, and, gradually, were becoming more open to women and people of color by the 1960s.

Cartoonists and other artists, working in newsrooms, captured and caricatured their working lives, including their colleagues, in these places. What follows is a small sample of the images I have gathered in my research for my new book on the history of the American newsroom from the 1920s through the end of the 1950s, to be published with the University of Missouri Press early next summer. I’ll describe what’s happening in each image and provide further context.

Note: several of the images below come from a trade publication, Editor & Publisher (the equivalent in the UK would be the Press Gazette), which can be found in the British Library’s holdings at the following shelfmarks: Document Supply 3661.077000 or the General Reference Collection, PP.1423.lgt.

The British Library holds an extensive collection of historical and current newspapers and magazines published in the United States. All of them can be accessed via the Explore catalogue. An Eccles Centre guide to the Library's printed and microfilm holdings is available here (https://blogs.bl.uk/files/british-library-newspapers-us-canadian-holdings.pdf). The guide lists the newspapers by title and provides an index to available holdings by state and town. In addition to these printed and microfilm materials, the Library subscribes to several online databases containing full text searchable newspapers and magazines. The blog post Americas Digital Newspapers Resources, provides more information on digital newspaper databases, many of which are available remotely once you obtain a British Library reader pass.  

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on April 18, 1936
The other fellow’s job. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on April 18, 1936. Caption to the cartoon reads: “Specially drawn for Editor & Publisher by Louis A. Paige. Utica (N.Y.) Observer-Dispatch”. Image used with permission from Editor & Publisher, copyright ©Editor & Publisher

 

In this first image from Editor & Publisher and published on April 18, 1936, Louis Paige, a cartoonist at the Utica, New York, Observer-Dispatch, shows a columnist typing away behind an office partition in a newsroom, with a younger reporter working out in what is implied to be the open newsroom. The older columnist says, “Gosh -- I wish I were in that reporter's shoes -- up and around hustling news, meeting people, seeing things, etc. --.”

The second part of the cartoon shows the unnamed younger reporter looking into the office, on the columnist, and saying, wistfully, “Gee -- That's how I'd like it some-day -- sit in your own office, sway the nation with editorials, etc.”

While more touching than tongue-in-check, this scene gently teases news workers for envying each other’s jobs. For many rank-and-file reporters, working as a columnist seemed like a pretty easy gig. After all, columnists could stay inside and work at a more leisurely pace, but columnists, for their part, missed the carefree semi-independence of their younger days as reporters.

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on March 27, 1948
The Fourth Estate, by Trent. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on March 27, 1948. Image used with permission from Editor & Publisher, copyright ©Editor & Publisher

 

In this image, a group of reporters are playing a game of cards in a “press room” located in a city building. A flummoxed functionary is seen opening the door on them, and one reporter turns and says, “Bring the Mayor’s statement down later, neatly typed!

This cartoon, published in Editor & Publisher on March 27, 1948, shows how reporters spent their time between assignments, or even on assignments, and what they thought of local government officials.

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on April 21, 1934
The paths of glory. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on April 21, 1934. Cartoon by Denys Wortman of the New York World-Telegram. Image used with permission from Editor & Publisher, copyright ©Editor & Publisher

 

In this image, a cartoon by Denys Wortman, of the New York World-Telegram, a brash young reporter is complaining to a coworker about his editor. He says, leaning casually against a table, “I went and won the Pulitzer Prize, Jack, and the managing editor hasn’t spoken to me for a month because he’s afraid I’ll ask for a raise.” Published on April 21, 1934, in Editor & Publisher, it spoofs the constant clamoring for raises that American editors faced, but also the harsh reality of the Great Depression, where winning a major journalistic award was not enough to guarantee a pay bump.

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on February 18, 1956
The Fourth Estate, by Trent. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on February 18, 1956. Image used with permission from Editor & Publisher, copyright ©Editor & Publisher

 

In this cartoon from Feb. 18, 1956, and published in Editor & Publisher, a couple of reporters in a “radio car”—a car equipped with an expensive, two-way radio system for calling stories into the newsroom, or receiving instructions from editors—is shown on a busy city street. Both reporters appear grumpy, and one is saying into a microphone, not visible, but probably on the dashboard, “Calling City Desk, calling City Desk … where are we?.”

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on September 18, 1953
The Fourth Estate, by Trent. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on September 18, 1953. Image used with permission from Editor & Publisher, copyright ©Editor & Publisher

 

In this cartoon, a reporter with a radio strapped to his back with a long antennae, is busy cornering interview subjects in a hallway in a city hall building, and is saying into a receiver, “Hi, Betty, this is Al; give me the Desk.” The image, published in Editor & Publisher on Sept. 19, 1953, both pokes fun at the new portable technologies possible in the postwar world, but also takes, perhaps, a subtle pride in how they’re changing journalism.

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper The Guild Reporter published on September 26, 1952
Grin and bear it, by Lichty. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper The Guild Reporter published on September 26, 1952. Image used with permission from The Guild Reporter, and the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America. Copyright ©The Guild Reporter ©NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America

 

This final image, published on Sept. 26, 1952, in The Guild Reporter, a publication of the American Newspaper Guild (ANG), shows a labor negotiator being tossed forcibility through a glass window, in a door. A receptionist and two male editors look on. One says, “Looks like the union and management have agreed on one thing, at least…they’ve thrown out the mediator…”. The cartoonist, George Lichty, drew the image for the Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate. While it exaggerates, of course, it does show how the unionization efforts of the ANG had helped journalism, at least partially, become a more white-collar occupation.

Guest post by Dr. Will Mari, Assistant Professor of Media Law and Media History, Louisiana State University.

 

 

 

08 December 2020

Art in a pandemic: exploring manifestation of art and design

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly given us the difficult task of witnessing one of the most unmerciful global challenges since the world wars.

As it happens during times of crises, artists start producing objects, or creating digital content, which reflect part of the daily struggle for life. Their creation can be seen as a process that transforms art in ephemera and ephemera in arts, and the boundaries between what is art and what is not are often impalpable and undefinable. How do we see these objects now, through the lens of time, and while enduring another lockdown? 

The descent of the lockdown on our bodies and souls has forced us into living in a dystopian society, as well as a forced daily exploration of digital content and images or, at least, that is what has happened to me.

Last spring, during one of my virtual exploration sessions at @CovidArtMuseum, I was particularly attracted by artistic responses from the southern hemisphere. I met an inspirational graphic artist on Instagram, and having decided to use a couple of graphic creations, I contacted her to discuss copyright but we ended up talking about books, art inspirations and feelings of deprivation.

 

Graphic art from Guatemala: the soap dispenser

 

Soap dispenser embellished with details from Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night on the lower part. On the upper part a yellow writing in block letters reads: make art not panic
Make art not panic, by Mayte Oliva @mayteoliva –Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photo sourced by Instagram, March 2020 @CovidArtMuseum. Photo courtesy of the artist ©mayteoliva

 

An embellished soap dispenser represents the dispensation of creativity and thoughts of positivity as a remedy to panic and desperation in a moment of crisis. Behind the dispenser, a sky coloured background and an invisible sub-message that reads: wash your hands.

Art is vital for human kind. Keep creating. El arte es vital para tu humanidad. En cualquier disciplina, forma, con cualquier material, con desafíos físicos o emocionales, sin importar quien lo vea o si es solo para tus ojos. Crear es bueno para ti (Caption to the image. @mayteoliva). [Art is vital to your humanity. In any discipline, shape, with any material, with physical or emotional challenges, no matter who sees it or if it is only for your eyes. Creating is good for you].

 

Image of one of Vincent Van Gogh's most famous paintings. It depicts the view of a starry night just before the sunrise. In the lower part of the painting, on the left, there is a tree in the foreground, and in the right part of the painting, a village. The sky and the stars are painted with large brushstrokes of colour in multiple shades of blue and yellow
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night. Saint Rémy, June 1889. Museum of Modern Art. Floor 5, 501. The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries. Photo sourced by MoMA website ©MoMA

 

The reference to Van Gogh's Starry Night is brilliant. Entirely painted from memory during the day while in isolation at the sanatorium of Saint-Rémy-de-Provance, Van Gogh reproduced the vision of the stars in the dark from outside his sanatorium room window. It represents the oneiric interpretation of the reality of the asylum experience as he perceived it, apocalyptic, terrifying and yet astonishingly creative.

“Through the iron-barred window I can make out a square of wheat in an enclosure, above which in the morning I see the sunrise in its glory” (from Vincent van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo).

 

Graphic art from Brazil and Australia: the toilet paper

Another curious object strongly associated with life during the pandemic, is the toilet paper roll. I was particularly attracted by this image with its direct message, and all that goes with it, on the unrolled paper square. This visual reprimand, created on the eve of the first lockdowns, would have resonated with people around the world and at more or less the same time.

 

Image of a white toilet paper roll on a pink background with a message on the unrolled paper square that reads: Este papel no limpia tu egoísmo / This paper doesn’t clean your selfishness
Este papel no limpia tu egoísmo /This paper doesn’t clean your selfishness, by Mayte Oliva @mayteoliva –Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photo sourced by Instagram, March 2020 @CovidArtMuseum. Photo courtesy of the artist ©mayteoliva

 

“I made this piece the day that the government in my country announced the curfew, supermarkets were crowded, and people took very selfish attitudes. I think it is important to raise awareness of this type of actions on social networks, so that more people see it as something negative and can take positive attitudes in difficult situations” (In conversation with @mayteoliva).

During the same time, a colleague in the library started a very difficult newspaper-copy hunt for a particular issue of the  Northern Territory News which wryly included an 8-page insert of toilet news-paper. Libraries around the world had started collecting this special issue, and it soon became very difficult to obtain one. It was immediately clear that this item would become a collectable item documenting a certain aspect of  consumer society; one of those objects that you could easily imagine seeing in an exhibition, perhaps entitled “Art Pandemic: incubation 2020”!

 

Image of Northern Territory newspaper and 8 page toilet paper insert
NT News, Thursday 5th March 2020 with 8 page toilet paper insert. British Library cataloguing and shelf-marking in process

 

The toilet paper Instagram colloquium with the graphic artist @mayteoliva, evolved into a much freer talk and exchange of ideas. When asked which books have recently inspired her, she promptly sent photos of covers, and her thoughts on the books incriminated.

In conversation with the artist @mayteoliva

“There is beauty in everything, and this is a great guide to find it. I find this book really inspiring, makes me want to create something, draw something, cook something, try something new and appreciate it. The other night I was making cinnamon rolls for the first time, and the process was beautiful, this book has helped me appreciate these things of everyday life and then translate my experiences into visual art” (In conversation with @mayteoliva in reference to Alan Moore, Do / Design: why beauty is key to everything).

 

Image of a hand holding a book and showing its cover. Book title reads: Do/Design: why beauty is key to everything
Alan Moore, Do / Design: why beauty is key to everything, London, Do Book Co., 2016. Shelfmark: YKL.2017.a.11507

 

“Madame & Eve, Women portraying women is an amazing compilation of women artworks in contemporary art. Here are some of my favourite artist, like Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, but I have found many other artists who have impressed me a lot” (In conversation with @mayteoliva).

 

Image of an open book. It shows portraits of woman on both pages
Liz Rideal, Kathleen, Soriano, Madam & Eve: women portraying women, London: Laurence King Publishing, 2018. Shelfmark YC.2019.b.367.

 

Embroidered poetry from Brazil

From the collection #museodoisolamento (museum of isolation), I found this incredible piece of concrete poetry. From the visual exploration of it, I immediately had multiple sensorial messages sent to my brain. I needed a few minutes to fully decode them into sensation and emotions, and to have them automatically connected to my personal consciousness which was strongly affected by the circumstances of the moment.

My first sensorial association was the light blue impressions of the fabric to the pale blue of surgical masks. In this case it was transformed in a wide canvas ready to receive a concise and concrete message behind which the essence of art is explained.

 

Image of a white canvas with light blue impressions and a phrase embroidered on it which reads: A arte existe porque a vida não basta/ Art exists because life is not enough
A arte existe porque a vida não basta/ Art exists because life is not enough, by Mayara Silva @mayara5ilva –Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. Photo sourced by Instagram, June 2020 @CovidArtMuseum. Photo ©mayara5ilva

 

“Uma das minhas frases preferidas. É de Ferreira Gullar, poeta maranhense, ao falar sobre sua trajetória na arte durante uma entrevista. ‘Arte é uma coisa imprevisível, é descoberta, é uma invenção da vida. E quem diz que fazer poesia é um sofrimento está mentindo: é bom, mesmo quando se escreve sobre uma coisa sofrida. A poesia transfigura as coisas, mesmo quando você está no abismo. A arte existe porque a vida não basta’“(Caption to the image. @mayara5ilva)

[One of my favourite phrases. It is by Ferreira Gullar, a poet from Maranhão, when talking about his career in art during an interview. "Art is an unpredictable thing, it is discovered, it is an invention of life. And whoever says that making poetry is suffering is lying: it is good, even when writing about something suffered. Poetry transfigures things, even when you are in the abyss. Art exists because life is not enough”].

 

Emerging formats: poetry from the US

And people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.

And listened more deeply …

(From the web, by Kitty O’Meara).

 

Image of the screenshot of the Instagram page @CovidArtMuseum showing the text of the poem by the title “And the people stayed home”, by Kitty O’Meara.  “And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. "And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. "And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed." Kitty O'Meara
And the people stayed home, by Kitty O’Meara –Photo sourced by Instagram, June 2020 @CovidArtMuseum

 

Kitty O’Meara, awarded the “poet laureate of the pandemic” by the web arena, is an Irish American teacher who wrote the poem during the days of the pandemic outbreak last March. The poem went immediately viral, and has now become an illustrated book for children. This represents an emerging format type of literary production: those produced, acclaimed, and published in a very short interval of time.

The circulation of ideas, inspirations, and artistic products have been floating around the world, not only via the powerful means of the World Wide Web, but also through the most traditional and time-sensitive channel: the postal service.  

 

Mail art: mailing hope from New York and Mexico

In May, New York-based artist and researcher Lexie Smith, founded a food-based art project, Bread on Earth, offering to send free active sourdough starters preventively dehydrated via UPS to anyone who would have made requests. Over 700 people responded to the call at the beginning. As she explains on her website: “Stay safe, and let this time remind you that bread is only a threat when in the hands of few, and power when in the hands of many”.

The project also aimed to create a ‘locations of the jars’ map. As the sourdough travelled to people around the world, the map would show the spread of this happy bread-making community, since sourdough starters can be easily shared with friends, family and neighbours. She has sent parcels all over the U.S. and Canada, Singapore, India, Bulgaria, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Paris, London, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Mexico, and Hawaii amongst other places.

 

Image of heart-shaped bread served on a chopping board
Heart shaped bread. I received this heart shaped bread from my partner who, despite the distance, made my living with the pandemic days an artistic adventure (blog post author's personal image) 

 

Mail Art has never been so vivid since its glorious time of the 60s, and it has now become so iconic that I have found it portrayed in an oil on canvas, and it looks great.

 

Image of a brown paper parcel painted on canvas. A read sticker on the parcel reads "FRAGIL" in white characters. The Mobius loop, the sign for recycling paper, is stamped in white on the left part of the parcel. On the right part of the envelope, there is a white label with three bar codes and a text that reads: besos y abrazos urgentes / urgent kisses and hugs
Envios urgentes de cuarantena / Urgent quarantine shipments, by Mariana Lagunas @marianalagunasart -Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico. Photo sourced by Instagram September 2020 @CovidArtMuseum. Photo ©marianalagunasart

 

“Por medio de mi obra exploro el concepto de optimismo, pues a mi modo de ver es un tema que contiene una dualidad entre conformismo y ambición. El optimismo llega a ser en algunos casos incluso doloroso, pues la presión por ser agradecido, así como la culpa por no serlo, se traducen en frustración. Este último es un sentimiento que se generaliza, crece y que está directamente relacionado con el fortalecimiento de las redes sociales, el microtargeting, la publicidad y los medios de comunicación masiva” (Mariana Lagunas’ website)

[Through my work I explore the concept of optimism, since in my view it is a theme that contains a duality between conformity and ambition. Optimism can be, in some cases, even painful, since the pressure to be grateful, as well as the guilt for not being grateful, translate into frustration. The latter is a sentiment that is generalizing, growing and that is directly related to the strengthening of social networks, micro-targeting, advertising and the mass media].

 

Banner Art: from Toronto and London

First exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Mark Titchener’s banner "Please believe these days will pass," have been found all around the city during the days of the first lockdown. It made London and many other UK cities the perfect hosts of this gigantic artist’s book. With this banner, Titchener visually confronted the passers-by using his typical language-based graphic statement. In those early days of desperation and fears it came as a revelation, a vector towards the mass common denominator: to believe that these days will pass for us all.

 

Photographic image of Mark Titchner's banner. The image covers the entire wall of a two-story house. It presents impressions of colour in shades of red, yellow and blue and in the centre a message written in large letters that reads: Please believe these days will pass
London Fields. A shot I took during my one form of exercise per day in the vicinity of my house on the days of the first lockdown. The banner reproduces Mark Titchner’s work "Please believe these days will pass". It was presented at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2012. 

 

The 2006 Turner Prize-nominee's work particularly fits with studies in typography and typographical characters when they are used to inspire people, communicate to the core of the community and bring art to a street-based-level. The people become part of it, deciding how to read it and which voice to give to it. No captions are provided, just the imagination and personal, or common, feelings and circumstances of passers-by. Here is a piece of art in which each of us is part of it.

[Blog post by Annalisa Ricciardi, Cataloguer, Americas and Oceania Collections]

 

Bibliography and suggested readings:

Alan Moore, Do / Design: why beauty is key to everything, London: Do Book Co., 2016. Shelfmark: YKL.2017.a.11507

Liz Rideal, Kathleen Soriano, Madam & Eve: women portraying women, London: Laurence King Publishing, 2018. Shelfmark: YC.2019.b.367.

Leo Jansen, Jans Luijten and Nienke Bakker (editors), Vincent Van Gogh. The letters: the complete illustrated and annotated edition, London: Thames & Hudson, in association with the Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute, 2009 (Volume 5: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Letters to his brother Theo). Shelfmark: YC.2010.b.362 vol. 5.

Mark Titchner, Why and why not: vibrations, schizzes and knots, London: Book Works, 2004. Shelfmark: YC.2007.a.6117.

Martin Clark, Mark Beasley, Alun Rowlands, Tom Trevor, (editors), Mark Titchner, Bristol: Arnolfini, 2006. Shelfmark: YC.2011.b.820.

Richard L. Hopkins (editor), The private typecasters: preserving the craft of hot-metal type into the twenty-first century, Newtown, Pennsylvania: Bird & Pull Press, 2008. Shelfmark: RF.2017.b.103).

On the art and poetics of Ferreira Gullar, see the British Library holdings at: https://bit.ly/3qaHmXs

From the web to the publisher. Kitty O’Meara’s "And the people stayed home: https://trapublishing.com/products/and-the-people-stayed-home

 

Collect, preserve and cataloguing emerging format at the British Library:

https://www.bl.uk/projects/emerging-formats?_ga=2.68841681.1751897924.1590397461-675682078.1590397461

https://blogs.bl.uk/digital-scholarship/2019/04/collecting-emerging-formats.html

 

On the definition of Mail Art as an artistic phenomenon: https://bit.ly/2JvBW8E

Mail Art initiatives at the time of the first coronavirus pandemic wave:

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/quarantine-mail-art-initiative-usps-1902009

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/mail-art-renaissane-1850670

On Mail Art publications and items at the British Library:

https://bit.ly/3qgqK0w

https://bit.ly/3mtuUjh

 

 

 

26 November 2020

PhD Placement Opportunity – National Library Curator Conference

Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with curators from the Americas Collections. Under the title Digital Conference National Libraries Now: International Perspectives on Library Curation, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or preferably the part-time equivalent) engaging with the complex challenges that national library curators face in building and interpreting collections, and making use of that research to shape and support an international conference. As a digital conference, there is the opportunity for this placement to be undertaken remotely. 

The placement is supervised by the Oceania curator in the Americas collections, but the student will also be working closely with a team of curatorial staff at the Library to develop the first international conference for curators at national libraries. This event will bring together collections professionals from institutions worldwide to interrogate current challenges and the practical approaches being undertaken to address them, including what is considered national heritage, digital availability of material, decolonising strategies, engaging new audiences and our growing sense of social responsibility following unprecedented world events.      

Image of a person holding open a large illustrated book
Curatorial staff member viewing a collection item. Image © British Library

While the project can be shaped by the student's interests and strengths, the placement will involve building relationships with curatorial staff at international cultural institutions, researching digital platforms and networking tools, establishing a suitable methodology for an evaluative report on the conference, and supporting conference legacy work including conference proceeding publications, and a network platform for library curators. The student will also have the opportunity to work with other teams at the Library including Digital Scholarship, International Office and Cultural Events and is encouraged to make the most of access to the Library’s programme of staff talks, events and reading groups during their placement.  

This placement project offers an opportunity for a PhD student to put their critical thinking skills into practice at a major cultural institution to help develop an international network of library curators whose work will influence and inform practice in national libraries and cultural institutions more widely in the coming years. PhD students in all areas of the humanities and social sciences are invited to apply, and we would especially like to hear from students with an academic or professional interest in cultural heritage and library and information studies.  

Further information on eligibility, conditions and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is 5pm 18 December 2020


For informal enquiries, please contact lucy.rowland@bl.uk  

18 November 2020

The 2021 Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer's Award shortlistees: researching the Americas

Composite image showing 6 portraits of the Eccles Centre and Hay Festival Writer’s Award 2021 shortlisted authors.

The judges have debated and the shortlist has been announced for the 2021 Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award, a highly prestigious annual literary award of £20,000 for a current writing project exploring the Americas. And what a list. Featuring writers from across the globe, the six-strong list showcases world-class storytelling in both English and Spanish.

These writers will explore our Americas collections to research their writing projects, with the two winners granted a year-long residency and unique access to the expertise of our curatorial staff.

But what are their projects, and why are our Americas collections perfectly placed to inform them?

“Because of its eclecticism and richness, the British Library is a bibliographic treasure trove for this project”:

Andrés Barba is shortlisted for his non-fiction project Ruinas Vivas de América (Living Ruins of America), a literary and philosophical exploration of the concept of ruins – archaeological, historical and natural – across the American continent.

Andrés is the first of two shortlisted writers poised to use our Bauzá Maps Collection, in his case to view the ruins that form the roots of local identity such as Machu Picchu, Chichén Itza and Teotihuacán. He will then dig into our Oral History collections, including the Oral Histories of Wars and Conflicts, and the Television and Radio News Collection, to reveal the impact of natural disasters on already ruined cities like Detroit, Chaco Canyon, Santa Clara or Bodie. Andrés’ use of Oral History will continue as he researches the Oral History of Architecture, the Twentieth Century Society Recordings of Architects, the Ove Arup interviews and the Andrew Saint Architecture Recordings to then discover how these natural disasters inspired America to construct and create.

Aerial photograph of a massive grey stone stepped pyramid with a staircase running up the centre, sitting in a landscape of grassland and trees.
The Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, México, photograph by Ricardo David Sánchez (2007), courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Doreen Cunningham, our next shortlistee, is selected for her memoir about learning from whales how to be a mother in a world in the grip of climate crisis. Her project explores the effects of climate change on oceans, and climate justice for Indigenous peoples. Having lived with Iñupiat whalers in the Arctic in 2006, Doreen will draw on her enduring relationship with an Iñupiat family as she researches US Government policies towards Native Americans in our collections, and considers the impact that waves of contact with colonising European agricultural culture and climate change have on the Iñupiat, including social devastation caused by cultural loss.

Illustrated cover showing seals on rocks and in the water, with a sailing ship in the background, and men in European clothes pulling sleds packed with shovels, picks and other items, walking into a snowy landscape.
Illustration from 'Alaska’ by Miner W. Bruce [shelfmark: 10460.dd.17]

She will use texts such as John Bockstoce’s Whales, Ice and Men and “I am sorry now we were so very severe”, an exploration of a 1930s ‘Eskimo Residential School’ by Val Marie Johnson, to research the social impact of this cultural change, including the introduction of alcohol, residential schools and oil exploration in the Arctic.1 And she’ll use the unexpected; our collection includes comprehensive documents on gray whale census data and marine monitoring, Charles Scammon’s whaling logs, and even whalesong recordings - some of which Doreen has already consulted to start things off.

Our next shortlisted project, Pie de Guerra (War Footing), will be written by Chilean writer and scholar Lina Meruane, and will expose the mutilation suffered by the Chilean veterans of the Pacific War. The novel will consider the double mutilation suffered by these veterans; the dismemberment of their bodies and the suppression of their voices. Having been inspired to write this story after discovering photographs of 33 soldier-miners in Colección de Fotografía Patrimonial in Chile’s National Historic Museum, Lina will consult our collections to bring their stories to life.

She will use the stories, letters and testimonials written by these soldiers, their families and other chroniclers, that can be found in our collection. The history of medical photography and medical history will allow Lina to trace the kinds of wounds produced by the armaments available and the medical procedures used to treat casualties. Collection material on weaponry, arsenals, uniforms, flags, and other war artefacts will paint a picture, while the study of the language employed both during and after this confrontation will help write the words.

Pola Oloixarac is next, selected for Atlas Literario del Amazonas (Literary Atlas of the Amazon), a work of creative non-fiction revealing the secret history of the Amazon as a region of the world and the people, ideas and stories within it that have remained unexplored.

Pola’s project aims to link imagination with bibliographic and historical research, and she will work with our Latin American collections to focus on documents relating to the European Conquest, indigenous languages and the stories of travellers who crossed the Amazon in different eras.

A 17th century map of Brazil with scenes of Brazilian life with dense typed text below.
Map of Brazil from the Klencke Atlas, c. 1660 (Shelfmark: Maps KAR)

Pola will be the second shortlisted writer this year to use the Bauzá map collections, and she will also study the accounts of British travellers to the Amazon, from Spruce and von Martius to Darwin, from Agassiz to Florence.

JS Tennant is selected for Mrs Gargantua and the Idea of Cuba, a playful history of Cuba’s relationship with the United States and other superpowers, contextualising the island within a web of power relations to show how it has long been miscast as an imagined or fantastical space as much as a real one.

To write this project JS will first explore the güije (a troll-like being) in the ethnological writings of Nancy Morejón and Fernando Ortíz. He’ll call on the guidance of our curators to research the mappaemundi Columbus had access to ahead of his venture into Terra Incognita, the so-called portolan charts (we hold one from 1350) which showed the presence in the Atlantic of imagined islands such as Legname, Corvi Marini, San Zorzi, St Brendan’s Isles, Brazil and Antilla.

Two pages of a book, one with printed text in Spanish, the other with coloured images of two species of fish.
Parra, Antonio, of Havana, Descripcion de diferentes piezas de historia natural, las mas del ramo maritimo, representadas en setenta y cinco laminas. (Havana, 1787), p.19 (Shelfmark: General Reference Collection DRT Digital Store 955.h.20.)

He also plans to base a section of Mrs Gargantua around the first book printed in Cuba, Antonio Parra y Callado’s Descripción de diferentes piezas de Historia Natural (1787).2 We hold a rare copy of this book, colloquially known as the ‘Book of the Fishes’ for its exquisite hand-coloured paintings.

Our final shortlisted project is Empire Without End: A New History of Britain and the Caribbean, to be written by Imaobong Umoren. An expansive new history of the 400 year relationship between Britain and the Caribbean, Imaobong’s book will argue that the Caribbean was the birth-place of a racial caste system that shaped both nations and continues to be influential today.

Poem handwritten in blue ink on headed paper, printed with Bemjamin Zephaniah’s name and two images of pens and microphones intertwined.
‘What Stephen Lawrence Has Taught Us’ by Benjamin Zephaniah (shelfmark: Dep 10936)

Imaobong will draw on a wealth of material here at the Library for this project, including collections such as the Wasafiri Magazine Archive, Benjamin Zephaniah’s manuscript poem 'What Stephen Lawrence Has Taught Us' and the letters of Ignatius Sancho.  The project will also call on our Caribbean newspapers collection, including the Daily Gleaner and Dominica Chronicle and will explore the Endangered Archives Programme for Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Turks and Caicos.

Only two writers will win the £20,000 prize, but we’re pleased to also grant all the shortlisted writers £2000 towards work on their proposed project here at the Library. And we’ve already begun. Following the shortlist announcement in October we’ve been sharing our expertise and helping the writers get started. With researchers currently facing unprecedented challenges we’ll be working with this year’s shortlist to help them research effectively using digital resources, research assistants and curatorial support, wherever they are.

The two winners of the 2021 Writer’s Award will be announced on 25 November.

Works cited:

1.  Bockstoce, John, Whales, Ice and Men (Seattle: University of Washington Press in association with the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Massachusetts, c1986) (Shelfmark: General Reference Collection LB.31.b.2973); Johnson, Val Marie, “I'm sorry now we were so very severe”: 1930s Colonizing Care Relations between White Anglican Women Staff and Inuvialuit, Inuinnait, and Iñupiat People in an “Eskimo Residential School”, Feminist studies: FS, Volume 45: Number 2/3 (2019); pp 335-371 (Shelfmark: 3905.197800)
2.  Parra, Antonio, of Havana, Descripcion de diferentes piezas de historia natural, las mas del ramo maritimo, representadas en setenta y cinco laminas. (Havana, 1787) (Shelfmark: General Reference Collection DRT Digital Store 955.h.20.)

Helen Young

 

01 October 2020

New additions to our electronic resources

The Americas and Oceania collections are pleased to offer three new electronic resources on women's rights, Native American studies, and early settlers in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand.  The resources can be accessed by Readers in the British Library Reading Rooms which are currently open but in a restricted capacity. Our hard-working Reference Enquiry Team are also able to access these new resources in order to support your virtual enquiries. You can contact them on their Quick Chat service for short research enquiries from Monday to Friday: 09.30–17.00, or get in touch with individual Reading Room teams via the 'Ask the Reference Team' function.

 

Photograph of unidentified woman putting up billboard with bucket and broom. Billboard reads: "'Women of Colorado, you have the vote. Get it for women of the nation by voting against Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic Candidate for Congress. Their party opposes national woman suffrage. The National Woman's Party."
A National Woman's Party campaign billboard in Colorado, 1916. Source: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mnwp.159016


History Vault: Struggle for Women’s Rights: Organizational Records, 1880–1990

This digital collection is comprised of records of three important women's rights organizations in the US: the National Woman's Party, the League of Women Voters, and the Women's Action Alliance. Material included shows the organisations’ concerns with issues such as employment and employment discrimination, childcare, health care, and education and U.S. politics from 1920 to 1974. Types of content include party papers, correspondence, minutes, legal papers, financial records, printed material and photos. It’s an absolutely fascinating range of documents; lots of correspondence letters, offering a very different kind of approach to historical research on the topic of women’s rights

The collection provides a good primary resource for the study of first and second wave feminism. It includes the records of three important women's rights organizations in the US for the period 1913-1996, with additional material dating back to the 1850s. This resource complements existing areas of the British Library’s collections, particularly in regard to printed material around women’s suffrage movements in America. Later this month, the Library will be highlighting its collection around women’s rights with its major exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, taking place, and this resource will provide researchers with further ways to investigate the stories and issues touched upon in the exhibition.

Related e-resources which can be accessed in the Reading Rooms and by our Reference Enquiry Team to support virtual enquiries during this time include:

Everyday Life & Women in America c.1800-1920

North American Women’s Letters and Diaries

Women's Studies Archive: Voice and Vision

 

Promotional material for the digital resource 'North American Indian Thought and Culture'

North American Indian Thought and Culture

For researchers looking at Indigenous Studies, American Studies and Canadian Studies, North American Indian Thought and Culture brings together more than 100,000 pages, many of which are previously unpublished, rare, or hard to find. The project integrates autobiographies, biographies, First Nations publications, oral histories, personal writings, photographs, drawings, and audio files for the first time. The result is a comprehensive representation of historical events as told by the individuals who lived through them. The database is an important resource for all those interested in research into the history of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Canadian First Peoples. It includes an archive of key texts about and by Indigenous peoples, including biographies, oral histories (audio and transcript), and photographs.

This resource complements existing collection strengths on North American Indigenous peoples at the British Library. Covering several centuries, its value particularly lies in the numerous accounts by Indigenous people (written and oral) which add a much needed dimension to the collections.  Many of the materials it provides access to are otherwise unavailable in the UK. Autobiographies by Black Hawk and Okah Tubbee can be accessed, and rare books included represent Sequoyah and Standing Bear. Twenty prominent Native Americans have been selected for special emphasis, with multiple biographies presented, including Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, and Plenty Coups.

Virtually all North American groups are represented—nearly 500 in all. Some nations are covered in great depth, including the Eskimos and Inuit of the Arctic; the sub-Arctic Cree; the Pacific Coastal Salish; the Ojibwa, Cheyenne, and Sioux of the Plains. Biographies have been collected from more than 100 Native American publications, such as The Arrow, the Cherokee Phoenix, and the Chickasaw Intelligencer. The collection includes 2,000 oral histories presented in audio and transcript form and at least 20,000 photographs including from the archives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other rare collections.

Related e-resources which can be accessed in the Reading Rooms and by our Reference Enquiry Team to support virtual enquiries during this time include:

 American Indian Histories and Cultures

American Indian Newspapers

 

Promotional material for the digital resource 'Early Experiences in Australasia: Primary Sources and Personal Narratives 1788-1901'

Early Experiences in Australasia: Primary Sources and Personal Narratives 1788-1901

For researchers in settler colonial studies, history, area studies, migration studies, Indigenous studies, and more, this collection of first-person accounts provide a unique and personal view of events in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand from the arrival of the first settlers through to Australian Federation at the close of the nineteenth century. Through letters and diaries, narratives, and other primary source materials, we are able to hear the voices of the time and explore the experiences of women and men, settlers and Indigenous peoples, convicts, explorers, soldiers, and officials . Thousands of unique documents have been drawn from the archives of the State Library of Victoria; State Library of New South Wales; State Library of Queensland; Flinders University; University of Melbourne; and University of Waikato.

A key feature of this resource is the extensive indexing of material which allows the sources to be browsed and cross-searched in a variety of ways, including by date, person, and subject. Content can be explored by writer, region, audience, personal and historical event, environmental features including fauna and flora, and more. Supporting material such as images, maps, and photographs supplement the first-person narratives and provide additional context. The resource builds on the legacy of the James Cook: The Voyages exhibition in providing first-hand accounts of those who settled in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific following Cook’s exploration in the region.

Related e-resources which can be accessed in the Reading Rooms and by our Reference Enquiry Team to support virtual enquiries during this time include:

Age of Exploration

Colonial and Missionary Records *

* Reader Pass holders can access this resource remotely via our Remote Resources service

 

Lucy Rowland, Curator of Oceania Published Collections

14 September 2020

Māori Language Week 2020

September 14th 2020 marks the start of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week): the annual celebration of a pivotal moment in the revitalisation of the language in Aotearoa/New Zealand. In this post, we look at the journey of te reo Māori (the Māori language) following the arrival of Europeans in the 19th century, and hear from Scott Ratima Nolan, a member of staff here at the British Library, about his own relationship with te reo (the language).

Te reo Māori in Aotearoa

The history of te reo, considered so sacred in Māori culture that it now has protection under the Treaty of Waitangi, is a tale of highs and lows. Before the 19th century, te reo Māori was predominately a spoken language, with meaning and information also communicated through symbols and patterns embedded in crafts such as weaving and carvings. Te reo (the language) developed as a written form in the beginning of the 19th century with the arrival of Christian missionaries, and dominated the early years of publishing in Aotearoa. The first books printed in the country were written in te reo: extracts from the Bible printed on the missionary press in the 1830s at Paihia in the country’s North Island. Early Māori language newspapers, such as the government-owned Ko te Karere o Nui Tireni (shelfmark LOU.CMISC67), began publication in the following decade.

Image showing the title page of Ko nga pukapuka o Paora te Apotoro ki te hunga o Epeha, o Piripai (Bible extracts) printed in 1835
This extract from the Bible in te reo Māori (Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians, translated by Rev. William Williams) from the Paihia Missionary Press in 1835, is considered the first substantive book printed in Aotearoa/New Zealand. BL shelfmark C.23.a.15.(2.)

Te reo remained the most widely spoken language of Aotearoa during the first half of the 19th century, with Europeans learning the language in order to communicate, trade and convert the Māori population. However, this changed with the increase of settlers arriving in the country, and Europeans emerged as the majority population by the second half of the 19th century. The English language now dominated, forcing assimilation among Māori through suppression of the use of te reo in schools and discouraging its use in public life. Confined to use in the home, te reo Māori became at risk of extinction by the mid-20th century. The Māori language, culture and identity are intricately entwined, with te reo considered taonga (treasure) in Māori culture. Taonga require protection and this prompted a revitalisation of the language in the 1970s. On September 14th 1972, Parliament was called upon to allow te reo to be taught in schools: a place where its use had previously been actively discouraged, and often forbidden. Language recovery programmes began in earnest and te reo Māori became increasingly heard on radio and television, and read in Māori newspapers, magazines and books. Te reo education systems were established including Kōhanga reo and Kura kaupapa which immersed students in Māori language and culture. Following a successful language claim under the Treaty of Waitangi which argued that, as a taonga, the language deserved protection, te reo Māori was made an official language of Aotearoa/New Zealand through the Māori Language Act in 1987. The Māori Language Commission (Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori), was set up in the same year to promote the language, and published guides such as Māori for the office = Te reo Māori mō te tari (shelfmark YK.2000.a.5008) and Te Matatiki  contemporary Māori words (shelfmark YK.1996.a.20438) to promote use of te reo in daily life.  

Front cover of Māori for the office = Te reo Māori mō te tari (2nd ed)
Guides such as this one were published by the Māori Language Commission in the 1990s to encourage the use of te reo in every day life. BL shelfmark YK.2000.a.5008

The Commission also exists to expand the language, and they have recently developed Māori terminology for a very serious 21st century situation: COVID-19. New terms to enter the Māori language this year to support the fight against COVID-19 include: 

  • Mate Korona = Corona Virus 
  • Patuero ā-ringa = Hand Sanitiser
  • Tū Tīrara = Social Distancing 
  • Rere ā-Hapori = Community Transmission 

Maori Language Commission, 2020 

The aim is for Aotearoa to eventually become a bi-lingual country, and while Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) celebrates that crucial moment in the trajectory of te reo in 1972, it also acts a source of inspiration and encouragement for all New Zealanders to connect or re-connect with te reo Māori. In doing so, they help safeguard a language deeply woven into their country’s history and identity. Te reo Māori is also safeguarded outside Aotearoa through diaspora communities, including here in the UK. The Ngāti Rānana London Māori Club keep the Māori culture and language strong and proud in New Zealanders living in London and the rest of the UK. Ngāti Rānana also meet to learn, practise and share knowledge of kapa haka: traditional performing arts. Anyone with an interest in Māori culture is welcome at their regular gatherings at the New Zealand High Commission in London (moved online during COVID-19).

 

A personal connection with te reo Māori 

Although the British Library is the national library of the UK, our staff are international and have personal connections to countries, languages and cultures all over the world. In the story below, Conservation Support Assistant, Scott Ratima Nolan, explains his own relationship with te reo Māori.

It hasn’t been easy to write about being tangata whenua: being Māori here in the UK. When I think about Aotearoa, the land I call home, it is a strong wrench. The ties of a thousand flaxen cords are interwoven with both Pasifika and Pākehā (White NZ) threads, bound with the hands of ancestors known, and (to my shame) unknown. Ever does it pull; He taura here whenua. Such are the ties that bind. 
 
Growing up in South Auckland, that North Island city of effervescent Polynesian culture, I was wrapped in the warmth of my whānau and a proud people. My father, a man as gifted as Herodotus in blending truth and fiction, maintained my first language was te reo Māori. While this is debatable, I certainly was strong in my tikanga (custom or practice); the first flag I ever knew was the United Tribes of New Zealand. I remember my visit to the Auckland War Museum as a child, where I was moved to tears in seeing the taonga, the treasures of my people, on display. It resolved me, even then, to become a Kaitiaki: a custodian. And, emblematic of my own shared bloodlines, caring for the heritage and the taonga of not just my own, but many cultures. 
 
Now, as any reproachful teenager would tell you, growing up is hard. And in moving to the South Island of New Zealand, I was confronted by another culture: that of the South Island Pākehā. My school had no legitimate te reo course. Culture was limited to theatre and musicals. Speaking te reo out loud was looked down on. In history, we spent an entire term on the Irish Civil War, but knew next to nothing on the New Zealand Wars, the Treaty of Waitangi and Māori land confiscation. Frustratingly, both teachers and my fellow students were aghast at my claims to be ‘native’. I looked like them; why would I want to be any different? In a grand spectacle of Pākehā dominance, in front of what seemed to be the entire school, my Principal forced me to remove my Pounamu, a sacred greenstone (which my father had forbidden me to remove), from around my neck. The trenches and palisades of my cultural pride and resistance were assaulted and hewn down into the cold embrace of southern conformity.  And, while I rebuilt my confidence somewhat over my university years, I had lost a lot of my pride, and my language. There were scars across my heart, and it was with some relief that I left Aotearoa to come to the UK. I hoped I could reconnect with my culture by becoming a Kaitiaki, working with heritage collections. 
 
However, attempting to build a career in heritage institutions here can be a real struggle for BAME and Indigenous peoples. To work in this sector, I found I had to suppress my culture: a necessity for those doors to open. I did this not out of shame over being Māori, but rather the sadness of not being accepted and welcomed here (especially in this sector) as such. And for years since, I railed against those ties that bound me until they diminished. And I stopped my ears to the whispers of my tīpuna (ancestors) who know me as Māori until they quietened. I even stopped using what te reo I knew, because I had grown up understanding that my language was sacred, and I felt I profaned it by using it when I did not honour my people. And thus, I lived, but I lived with a hole in my heart. 
 
But the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement was a real catalyst for me. That hole in my heart cast a long shadow across my soul, and a real despondency overtook me. This despondency rose not just from those events, but also the slow dawning realisation of how much I had given up just to be here to work in a field I had, in ruthless irony, chosen as a place where I could honour my people by being a Kaitiaki, a custodian, to the treasures we hold here.    
 
A taniwha, a guardian spirit that had long lain dormant inside me, had awoken, and it was hungry for change. And somehow, I gained the strength to put aside fear of exclusion, embarrassment or castigation, to speak up and identify myself as Māori.  And I found a workplace that is incredibly supportive and responsive to the BLM movement, and is taking steps to become more inclusive: to accept me as I am. In a matter of weeks, I was working alongside others on the Front Hall busts reinterpretation, which, in redressing some of our collection legacies, has restored Mana to both my people and the British Library. 
 
So, in this year’s Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, I’m celebrating my rebirth. I’m Māori, and I’m proud. I take courage from the very language itself, which at one point faced extinction and has come back so strong. Te reo Māori is an essential part of my culture, and I’ve made it my resolution to relearn it. I’m starting now, haltingly, to use the words of my people in every day speech and in email, to celebrate and share my culture, and to reach out to my friends back home in Aotearoa: to not only kōrero (talk), but also to whakarongo, (listen). 
 
And every word I speak tears down another brick in the walls I have built up, filling the hole in my heart. And at long last I can hear my ancestors again.  
 
Tihei Mauri ora! Behold the breath of life! 
 
Scott Ratima Nolan 
Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa 

 

Glossary 

Aotearoa: ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’ the Māori name for New Zealand

Kaitiaki: Guardian or a custodian, someone who works to protect and safeguard 

Pākehā: White New Zealanders of (usually) European descent 

Pasifika: Peoples of the Pacific or of Pacific Island descent, who call Aotearoa home 

Pounamu: NZ nephrite jade, or Greenstone. A sacred stone considered taonga, or treasured. Often used in jewellery or weapons with a deep spiritual connection  

Tangata whenua: ‘The People of the Land’ how we as Māori often refer to ourselves; the indigenous inhabitants of this land 

Taniwha: a Mythological being, often found in water. They can be Kaitiaki (guardians) or monsters punishing those that breached tikanga (custom) 

Taonga: the treasures, artefacts or resources that are considered of great value, including our language 

Tikanga: the customs, culture, etiquette and practices of being Māori 

Tīpuna: alternatively spelled as tupuna, this refers to Ancestors and grandparents 

Whānau: Family and extended family 
 

Further reading: 

Belich, J. (2015). The New Zealand wars and the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press. BL shelfmark ELD.DS.322292

Cooper, G. (2004). Te rerenga ā te pīrere : a longitudinal study of Kōhanga reo and Kura kaupapa Māori students. Pūrongo tuatahi = Phase 1 report. Wellington, N.Z.: New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER). BL shelfmark YD.2010.b.826 

Curnow, J., Hopa, N.K. and McRae, J. (2013). He pitopito kōrero nō te perehi Māori = Readings from the Māori-language press. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press. BL shelfmark ELD.DS.322290 

Higgin, R. Rewi, P. and Olsen-Reeder, P. (2014). The value of the Māori language = Te hua o te reo Māori. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia Publishers. BL shelfmark YP.2014.a.6419 

Karetu, T. and Milroy, W. (2019). He kupu tuku iho : ko te reo Māori te tatau ki te ao. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press. BL shelfmark ELD.DS.306747

Moon, P. (2016). Ka ngaro te reo: Māori language under siege in the nineteenth century. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press. BL shelfmark YC.2020.a.2630 

Moon, P. (2018). Killing te reo Māori. Palmerston North, New Zealand: Campus Press. BL Shelfmark YD.2018.a.3686 

Williams, H.W. (1924). A Bibliography of Printed Maori to 1900. Dominion Museum Monograph. no. 7. Wellington, New Zealand. BL shelfmark Ac.1990.ca. 

References: 

Williams, W. (trans). (1835) Ko nga pukapuka o Paora te Apotoro ki te hunga o Epeha, o Piripai /Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians. Paihia, New Zealand: Pahia Missionary Press. BL shelfmark C.23.a.15.(2.)
 
Ko te karere o nui tireni. (1842). Auckland; New Zealand. BL shelfmark LOU.CMISC67

Māori Language Commission. (1997) Māori for the office = Te reo Māori mō te tari (2nd ed).  Auckland, New Zealand:  Oxford University Press. BL shelfmark YK.2000.a.5008 

Māori Language Commission. (1996). Te Matatiki : contemporary Māori words. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press. BL shelfmark YK.1996.a.20438 

Māori Language Commission. (2020). Māori terminology for Covid-19 [online]. Available at: https://www.tetaurawhiri.govt.nz/en/te-reo-maori/press-releases/maori-terminology-for-covid-19/  

 

Lucy Rowland, Curator Oceania Published Collections (post-1850) 

 

28 August 2020

Paradise in London: the Paraíso School of Samba and the beginnings of urban Brazilian carnival in Rio de Janeiro

One event that is certainly going to be missed this summer is the Notting Hill Carnival. To avoid mass gatherings during the Covid-19 crisis, this year’s carnival takes place online. Usually on this weekend, the streets of west London become alive with the vibrant colours and sounds of costumes, steel bands and floats. The European & Americas Collections Team celebrates this popular London event with a joint blog. 

Initially, Trinidad-born activist and West Indian Gazette founder Claudia Jones started an annual indoor Caribbean carnival in response to the racist violence and riots that swept through Britain in the summer of 1958. The first London Caribbean carnival took place in January 1959 and was televised by the BBC, subtitled ‘A people's art is the genesis of their freedom’. The British Library holds a copy of a West Indian Gazette special edition about the event:

 

Image of black, white and red illustrated cover. It shows drawings depicting Caribbean dancers. Title reads: "Caribbean Carnival Souvenir, 1960: televised by BBC television. Organised by the West India Gazette.
Caribbean Carnival Souvenir 1960: televised by BBC Television, organised by the West Indian Gazette. Cover page with West-Indian musicians and dancers [BL Andrew Salkey Archive Dept. 10310, Box 33]

 

You can find out more about these beginnings at: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/claudia-jones-caribbean-carnival-souvenir-programme-1960. In 1966 carnival finally took to the streets in Notting Hill and has stayed there ever since. For three days, music and dance now bring together two million people in celebration of Caribbean cultures. 

My own initiation to the Notting Hill Carnival has been through Brazilian influence and close involvement with the Paraíso School of Samba, the most prominent school of Brazilian samba in London. Every year since its foundation in 2001, Paraíso has taken part in the Notting Hill Carnival parade, featuring costumed percussionists, dancers, and carnival floats.  Just like in Rio!

 

Paraiso School of Samba dancers at the Notting Hill Carnival 2017, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission. Image shows dancers of the Paraíso School of Samba in traditional Brazilian Carnival wear.
Paraíso School of Samba dancers at the Notting Hill Carnival 2017, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission

 

The president and founder of the Paraíso School of Samba, Henrique da Silva has since the age of eight been involved with one of Rio’s most traditional schools of samba: Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Estação Primeira de Mangueira or simply Mangueira. This inspired him to form a samba school in London following the same principles. The main idea of Paraíso is for people to celebrate and express their cultural identity through dance and music. To quote from Paraíso’s website  ‘samba is truly the popular art of people, especially in its inclusivity where everyone has a place. Paraíso plays samba as it is played by the baterias (percussions) of Rio’s samba schools.’

Samba music and dance originate from the Northeast of Brazil, where it was developed from the musical traditions of the African slaves. The style of Samba as we know it today, developed in the first half of the 20th century in Brazil’s urbanising Southeast, mostly its then cultural centre Rio. The style emphasises the polyrhythmic sounds of multiple percussion instruments, like African drumming music, which uses call and response.  This has become the pulsing sound of Rio’s modern carnival. The main driving force behind this style of samba were and still are organized groups known as escolas de samba (samba schools).  They are devoted to playing and dancing, as well as preparing for a yearly carnival parade. In Rio, samba is now inseparable from the Carnival.  

 

Paraiso School of Samba dancer at the Notting Hill Carnival 2018, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission. Image shows a close-up portrait of a smiling dancer of the Paraíso School of Samba. The dancer wears a dress made of blue coloured gems and feathers
Paraíso School of Samba dancer at the Notting Hill Carnival 2018, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission

 

My initial reaction to co-writing this blog was reluctance, as I have mostly stayed away from carnival on my visits to Brazil. Looking after the Latin American Collections, however, I felt I should give it a go and was rewarded with joyful browsing and listening on the internet for a couple of hours. I hope you’ll do the same for this year’s Notting Hill Carnival until we can take to the streets once more.

Our guide to the first decades of urban Rio carnival is Brazil’s most famous composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), a keen participant in his hometown’s carnival celebrations. During his lifetime, modern urban carnival developed and he knew its local protagonists and different musical traditions like no other person. In his own classical compositions, Villa-Lobos sought inspiration in the country’s popular cultural traditions to create a distinctive Brazilian style of music. He even composed two pieces of music on the theme of children’s experience of carnival: Carnaval das Crianças (Children’s Carnival) in 1919 and Momoprecoce (the precocious king of carnival) in 1928. The first, a work for piano describes in eight vignettes well-known carnival figures popular at the time like the diabinho (little devil) or the rei momo (king of carnival). The later work reinterprets and elaborates these themes into an orchestral work with solo piano.

Popular narratives of samba usually mark important milestones of modern urban carnival around similar dates. In 1916, Ernesto dos Santos, known as Donga, and Mauro de Almeida registered the first samba with Brazil’s National Library in Rio, while in 1928, José Gomes da Costa, known as Zé Espinguela, launched the first samba competition from the same Mangueira neighbourhood, where the famous samba school developed from existing older carnival groups.

Vanessa Rodrigues Cunha (2015) describes the different musical traditions from which samba emerges as predominant by the end of the 1920s. The music played at the time was slower, however, than the samba we know from later Brazilian carnival, which also developed different dance routines. A good way to experience the greatest musicians of the early time of urban carnival is through browsing the recent digital exhibition Native Brazilian Music: 80th anniversary: the history behind one of Brazilian music’s most iconic albums.

 

Native Brazilian Music Museu VL; Cover of the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ by Colombia Records, Museu de Villa-Lobos as reproduced in the digital exhibition
Cover of the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ by Colombia Records, Museu de Villa-Lobos, as reproduced in the digital exhibition

 

It tells the incredible story behind the famous recordings of Brazilian popular music organised by Villa-Lobos and Donga for the British composer Leopold Stokowski. His tour through Latin America was part of U.S. president Roosevelt’s ‘Good Neighbor policy’ and Stokowski had asked Villa-Lobos for help in finding Brazilian musicians for recordings. These took place in 1940 on board the steamship U.S.S. Uruguay in Rio’s harbour and would be released by Colombia Records in 1942. The exhibition contains some recordings, which give a good flavour of the musical style of the time. It is refreshing to hear them and you can see how they compare to the musical offerings of Notting Hill Carnival Online.

At the end of the weekend, you can sit down to listen to Villa-Lobos’ reinterpretation of the carnival theme with a recording (25 min) of his ‘Momoprecoce’ performed at the Proms in 2012 by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra with Nelson Freire at the piano and conducted by Marin Alsop. The recording includes a brief introduction to the piece by Alsop, and I could hear it over and over again. I’m sure that a weekend immersed in Caribbean carnival music will only enhance our appreciation of this wonderful ode to carnival!

Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager & Iris Bachmann, Curator, Latin American Collections.

Bibliography:

In the absence of access to our physical collection items, Vanessa Rodgrigues Cunha’s dissertation has been an invaluable, well-written guide to information on Villa-Lobos carnival pieces and the beginnings of urban Rio carnival:

Cunha, Vanessa Rodrigues. The Symbiosis Between Villa-Lobos's Carnaval Das Crianças And Momoprecoce: A Comparative Study. Dissertation. CUNY. 2015. Accessed 28.08.2020 https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/896/ 

Daniella Thompson’s research for ‘Stalking Stokowski’ (2000) http://daniellathompson.com/Texts/Stokowski/Stalking_Stokowski.htm underpins the digital exhibition on the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ and gives a more detailed account of its history and the marginalization of black musicians as samba goes mainstream.

Further suggested readings at the British Library:

Goldman, Albert. Carnival in Rio (New York, 1978). f78/3978

George, Terry. Carnival in Rio: samba, samba, samba! (Hamburg, 2005). EMC.2009.a.372

Hertzman, Marc A. Making samba: a new history of race and music in Brazil. (Durham, North Carolina/London, 2013). YD.2017.a.606 

Neto, Lira. Uma história do samba. (São Paulo, 2017). YF.2017.a.22063