American Collections blog

8 posts categorized "Social Sciences"

11 February 2017

The Flint Sit-down Strike, 1936-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Flint wikimedia meal

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

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

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

 Witch hunt CIO

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

AFL Communist party

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

  UAW local

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

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

Jean Petrovic

07 April 2015

Team Americas bookshelf: How much did Carl Jung learn from his trip to India? (pt II)


Carl Gustav Jung, image from Wikipedia

[Ed: This is the final part of Matthew Neill's reaction to 'Jung in India', stay tuned for more 'Team Americas bookshelf as well as some sad Lines in the Ice news later this week]

The British Library naturally has an impressive collection of the works of Carl Jung, books about Carl Jung and his psychology, as well as more personal accounts of his life. As a Curator at the British Library responsible for Book Selection for South Asia in English, I was interested to see that a book about Jung in India had been written by Sulagna Sengupta called not unsurprisingly: Jung in India.

My own interest in Jung is both personal and professional. I am a Licenced Practitioner of Neuro-linguistic Programming and was taught personally by Richard Bandler the co-creator of Neuro-linguistic Programming. In this context, Jung has given me a richer understanding of the workings of the human mind at the level of the unconscious and conscious aspects of our reality.

Naturally I was excited by the prospect of reading Sengupta’s book, and I have in one earlier blog written about Jung’s itinerary in India, drawn from the researches of Sengupta. To be sure, Sengupta has written a book that has been meticulously researched. It is a good book. However, rather than showing us how Jung’s Indian trip fed the development of Jung’s ideas, it is in fact quite the reverse. 

What one can say is that the book has unearthed an accumulation of archival evidence that Jung made a trip to India. Sengupta does highlight Jung’s profound interest and respect for Indian spirituality. She shows, however, that India at the time, had little interest or understanding of Jung’s ideas. Jung simply failed, in general, to register upon the antennae scientific India.

It is apparent that Jung published nothing about India after his return. Most of his lectures in India, which were not understood, were recapitulations of his earlier lectures in Europe and his views on Indian spirituality were already formed and written about in his works.

Jung’s visit, made possible by the British Indian authorities rather than Indian psychologists, had virtually no effect on the development of his ideas. His ideas on India had already been formed years before by reading Indian texts. Thus, his trip was an unexpected opportunity to confirm his convictions but it produced no new writing.

What it did produce in Jung was the very clear, the view that Indian spirituality was wholly incompatible with the development Western psychology. As Sengupta suggests: “Jung did not dwell on the unpleasant aspects of his journey in his writings, [in fact, his writings on India predated his visit to India] nor did he leave a commentary on Indian psychology, Freud’s links with India, British science, or his encounters with the Indians with whom he shared contentious views. Instead he spelled out the differences between East and West in his writings and explained the differences between his psychology and Freud’s.”[i]

Jung’s view of India was thus:

‘India’s civilization and psychology resemble her temples, which represent the universe in their sculptures, including man and all his aspects and activities, whether as a saint or brute… India represents the other way of civilizing man, the way without suppression, without violence, without rationalism.’

Those mysterious truths that were so evident to Jung in Indian temple art, architecture and iconography seemed to have bypassed Western Society altogether. By contrast, Jung argued that the comparative quest for scientific and technical explanation of knowledge in Western history had achieved a separation between the conscious and unconscious faculties of the human psyche. By contrast, this had remained more integrated in the Eastern mind.

Although it is not brought out clearly enough in Sengupta’s book Jung’s trip to India didn’t alter his views, they really just added further definition to his pre-1937 views as expressed in his writings. Sengupta is unclear on this. Since all his writings concerning India were written before the trip and he wrote nothing after we could assert that the visit itself made no contribution to Jung’s ideas.

Sengupta is to be credited with the realization that:

“…the differences he felt with India sharpened his feelings about his own culture. Jung came to respect his Western scientific stance and cultural roots more after his Indian intermezzo. The tenets of his empirical work, which did not strike him as anything unique in the Western milieu where he worked, turned out to be of extraordinary importance when placed alongside the theoretical notions of Indian philosophy. In Jung’s view, the scientific and empirical mind-set of the West was inherently opposed to the intuitive and idealistic attitude of the East. The fields of Western psychology and Indian philosophy were therefore disparate, and this realization brought for Jung positive affirmation of his work and a renewed regard for his empirical values.”[ii]

Thus, Jung left india and closed the book on the East. He did not open it again before his death in 1961.

[i] Sengupta, Sulagna. Jung in India. New Orleans, Louisiana, 2013. P.271.

[ii] Sengupta, Jung in India. New Orleans, Louisiana, 2013. P. 260.



30 August 2013

The Art of Occupy

Colectivo Cordyceps, Mexico City, Mexico (website: Justseeds Artists' Cooperative)

If you’ve been to our Propaganda exhibition (and if you haven't, you only have until 17 September), you might have spotted the above print. It’s in a fairly dark corner, so unless you looked at it carefully (or read the accompanying label) you might not have realised that it is a relatively recent poster coming out of the Occupy Movement. It was interesting to me that Ian, one of our Propaganda curators, should choose that particular poster out of a portfolio of prints that we acquired from Occuprint last year. Viewed up close, the text  'the 99% have no borders' is a bit of a give-away, but from a distance it looks like a fairly traditional political poster which could come from more or less anywhere (in fact it’s from Mexico) and from any period.

The use of prints and posters to disseminate views on political issues and causes is nothing new of course, – they’ve been employed pretty much ever since the invention of printing, but they really came in to their own in the early twentieth century as technological developments enabled the relatively cheap mass production of posters. And they remain a simple but effective way of reaching the public and getting a message or viewpoint across.

I’ve been fascinated by the sheer volume, diversity and creativity of printing that has come out of the global Occupy movement. The portfolio alone is a good example of this – 31 hand silk-screened prints by 31 artists/groups, chosen out of hundreds of submissions from across the world, but all reflecting the values and many concerns of the movement. A fundraising initiative for Occuprint (a non-profit group affiliated to but independent from the Occupy Movement), the portfolio has been issued through the Booklyn Artists' Alliance in an edition of 100. It is curated by Booklyn’s Marshall Weber and Occuprint organiser Jesse Goldstein, together with various other Occuprint editorial committee members. The portfolio also includes a copy of issue 4 (November 2011) of the Occupied Wall Street Journal, a special folio issue on the poster art of the Occupy movement, the curation of which led to the establishment of Occuprint itself. Occuprint’s website was also launched in November 2011 and now hosts hundreds of images, including the portfolio prints and submissions, all of which can be freely downloaded for non-commercial purposes. More posters continue to be added and the website offers not only a wide range of support materials for local activists, but a fantastic resource for studying the art of Occupy (and much more besides).


Creator: lots of people  #Occupy Wall Street NYC General Assembly

When Occupy Wall Street (OWS) sprang up in September 2011 with the occupation of New York City’s Zuccotti Park, its birth was announced with a particularly arresting and now iconic image – that of a ballerina on top of the Wall Street bull, which appeared in Adbusters, the Vancouver-based anti-consumerist magazine. The bull is just one of the many new symbols that has emerged out of Occupy graphic art, and it is joined by more traditional images (e.g. the raised fists in Fightback), plus appropriations and re-interpretations (e.g. the Guy Fawkes mask, and David Loewenstein's underground 'inverted' fist ).  As Marshall Weber has noted, there is evidence of a variety of historical art influences in the imagery -from Russian Constructivism to Latin American political graphic art to Pop. Although the quality of imagery varies enormously, there are some wonderful, memorable and humorous posters, and it is clear that poster-making is an important strategy for participants of the Occupy movement.  


David Loewenstein, Lawrence, Kansas.

Occuprint organiser Jesse Goldstein describes the graphic work coming out of Occupy as 'social movement culture,' quoting Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee’s definitition of this as work 'born from a context in which large numbers of people mobilized to achieve transformation goals.' He says that perhaps the single cohesive thread of Occupy’s cultural work is 'a self-assured dismissal of corporate media channels and the confidence that alternatives can be, and are being, built.' The graphic work is just one aspect of a growing number of cultural practices which include social media, public camping etc., and Goldstein goes on to say that, 'While it’s too early to tell, there does seem to be the possibility that Occupy will successfully reclaim a portion of the cultural commons from a media sphere that has thoroughly infected our everyday lives with ubiquitous branding, messaging, news cycles, and stylized uniformity.' He notes that many of the images on the Occuprint website were created for local use and then passed on to Occuprint, whilst others only exist in the virtual world -'copies without originals.'  He also emphasises the importance of the idea of imagining the future in this social movement culture. 'If anything, the work focuses on the future of the movement itself, and the constituent power that will be required to make the world anew.' - Alexandra Clotfelter’s poster The Beginning is Near, being a perfect example of this.

Alexandra Clotfelter, Savannah, GA  Website:

Goldstein acknowledges that 'The images on our site will one day be important, collected, preserved and themselves referenced, as the past is referenced today….The Occupy movement has become conscious of itself as an active producer of history, and this future potential permeates the social movement culture that is beginning to take shape. This, I believe makes the collection at Occuprint an archive of the future.' For me, there was never a doubt that we should have at least some of this material in our collections since it would be important for future researchers studying a whole range of subjects. Aside from the portfolio, we have collected placards, leaflets and other ephemera that help bring to life the movement, culture and a wide variety of political, social and economic issues. The images have in fact already appeared and been discussed and debated in a number of journals and blogs (see below for a few examples). So perhaps not only is the beginning near, the future is now.  

Jesse Goldstein, Occuprint: Archiving the Future, Socialism and Democracy vol.26, no. 2, July 2012 (available online in the library’s reading rooms)

Sarah Kirk Hanley Ink: Political Art for a Contentious Time art:21 September 14 2012

Nato Thompson, “Debating Occupy,” Art in America 100, no. 6, July/August 2012, pps. 99-103 (includes several images from the portfolio accompanied by statements from artists, curators, writers, and critics on the impact of the Occupy Movement).



24 January 2013

Let's Emigrate! To Canada

'Come to Stay' by Henri Julien, printed in the 'Canadian Illustrated News' [1880, copy in the BL newspaper collection]. Image from Wikipedia, courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.

It's that time of year again, when many of us start to think about what it would be like to live in a climate of year-round warmth. Oddly though, it's usually around this time of year when my mind meanders onto the large selection of British Library materials detailing the possibilities of emigrating from Britain to nineteenth century Canada.

While the Library's collections document, sometimes inadvertently or in passing, the migration experiences of the many different populations who moved to Canada it is in illustrating the opportunities for English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh families (and individuals) that it provides the richest source. Particularly for the mid-nineteenth century the collection holds many items that document the potential of Canada as well as alluding to some of the push factors causing people to consider taking a risk on the empire.

Locating this material takes a little doing, not least because, as with the above illustration, a number of interesting sources are articles or depictions that form part of a larger holding. However, there is a large cache of items that can be found using the search terms 'emigrate British North America' or 'emigrate Canada' in Explore (you can also do this by province). Items returned from this search include, 'Shall we Emigrate' [1885, BL Shelfmark:], 'Emigration Practically Considered' [1828, BL Shelfmark: T.1244(7)] and 'North America Viewed as to its Eligibility to British Emigrants' [1848, BL Shelfmark: 1304.a.12], to name a few. There is also a large sub-collection of microfiche material provided by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions which can be found using a subset search in Explore.

The Library also holds a few notable facsimile reprints, such as a 1971 version of Catherin Parr-Traill's, 'The Canadian Settler's Guide' [BL Shelfmark: X.955/2390]. As well as notes on the climate and agricultural prospects of Canada, which are common to many of the accounts (with varying decrees of politeness), Parr-Traill's account also includes notes on home-making, Canadian society and the opportunities for leisure. Such detail is perhaps why Parr-Traill is one of the best remembered writers in her field but the many other accounts found in the collections are worth looking at for their many details on the who, how and why of migration to Canada.


14 August 2012

Team Americas looks forward to a great Fall events programme

We've been feeling decidedly down in the mouth after the Olympics - we’ve all enjoyed the last couple of weeks so much that it was inevitable that things would suddenly feel a bit flat. But we’ve now perked up considerably since we find ourselves not only very busy but with a lot to look forward to over the next couple of months. Matt and Carole are wearing their Beat hats as they prepare for the arrival of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road manuscript scroll in early October - how exciting is that! And then there is the accompanying programme of events, featuring a preview screening of Walter Salles’ new film of On the Road, and an evening with Amiri Baraka to mention just two. The full programme can be found on the BL’s website under events (check under each month), and details of the exhibition will be up very soon.

In addition to supporting some of the On the Road events/exhibition, our wonderful Eccles Centre for American Studies is sponsoring a fantastic range of autumn talks, including our Summer Scholars series (featuring e.g. Naomi Wood and Sheila Rowbotham, our 2 Eccles Writers in Residence), as well as events with Liza Klaussman (who, incidentally, happens to be Herman Melville’s great-great-great granddaughter!), Andrea Wulf, and Lord Putnam to pick out just a few. And how could we forget that there happens to be a big election coming up in the U.S. in November, and we of course have that covered too. For the full range of Eccles events see

And as if that wasn’t enough, we’ll be showcasing some of our artists’ books on 4 September at Inspired by Artists' Books, we have David H.Treece speaking about The Meanings of Music in Brazilian Culture for Brazil World Music Day on September 7, and we'll be celebrating Jamaican Independence on October 5th . Finally, the Olympics are still in our thoughts as we look forward not only to Rio, but to our conference Social Change and the Sporting Mega-event on November 5, organised in collaboration with our Brazilian colleagues.

Whew! Hopefully, you’ll find at least some of these events of interest and we hope to see you at the Library in the near future.

11 May 2012

Read, Ride & Be Happy: Collection Development with the Bike Snob NYC

Yesterday, between giving a talk at the Brighton Museum on Magna Carta and watching a two-handed Shona performance of Two Gentlemen of Verona at Shakespeare's Globe (brilliant, despite only catching the word for 'dog' (imbwa)), I needed some food.  Thankfully, the London cafe Look Mum No Hands was at the apex of the relevant railway lines.  But not only were they serving up some tasty food, they were also hosting a book-related appearance of the blogger and writer, Bike Snob NYC.



The Snob's blog hit critical mass during the late-naughties' hipster boom in Brooklyn and NY, a time that also saw a marked increase in cycling and bike 'culture' (with a consequent boom in periodicals, zines, blogs and books, such as this one published by the University of Oregon press and reviewed by the non-car-owning David Byrne). So much so, that the identity of the Snob became News That's Fit to Print, and was eventually 'unmasked' by the New York Times.


The Bike Snob enlightens cyclists

The Snob was in town talking about his second book, The Enlightened Cyclist, which reminds us that the daily commute is perhaps one of the only remaining contacts with have with our primeval state, and then takes the riff from there, bringing together some lame jokes, salient advice, acute observation about bike 'culture' (and some of the best writing I've read about 9/11) in well-designed book that reminds us of why the codex form can work so well.

After an illustrated talk about the indignities of commuting, there was the chance to buy copies, and to have then inscribed by Sharpie (and once again wonder what happens when and if all books are electronic).



Fortified by my supper, I stood in line, and explained that the British Library was something like the New York Public (without the lions), and that I would add the Snob's first work, Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling to the collections.  Would he care to add a message for the British people, and indeed to future generations of readers.  Here it is:

 Snob sig
Read, Ride & Be Happy (and Return on Time)

Good advice, especially for a Friday (although, clearly, this will have to be added to Document Supply, rather than reference, stock).

N.B., An earlier blog post talked about some of the resources we have on cycling; the Library's Sports Study Day is also looming (21 May). 


27 April 2012

Sports Day at the British Library


Luther H. Porter, Cycling for Health and Leisure, New York, 1895, cover

On 21 May 2012, The Library is hosting a Sports Studies Day (and, no, we won't be wearing just our pants and vests and holding eggs and spoons).  It's titled 'Sourcing Sport: Current Research; British Library Resources',and I've been starting to do some work in advance of the section on the right hand side of that semi-colon.

Rather than cover all of U.S. related sports, from basketball to Ultimate Frisbee (we have an ex-Royal Holloway Blue on Team Americas for the latter, btw), I've opted for what I thought would be a little more focused: bicycling.

I was mistaken, since that sport has generated a vast literature and, of course, dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century.  It also encompases a great range of disciplines, from multi-day track racing at the heart of Madison Square Gardens, the monuments of the Spring Classics and the Grand Tours to modern-day mountain biking and BMX.  And this is putting aside the history of leisure, class, and gender, all of which have been influenced by that world-changing two-wheeled invention.  This will all be boiled down to a short overview, with some pictures, too.

But since the London Tweed Run is not so very long away, I was particularly struck by this collection of wool fabric samples contained in a pamhlet of uniform regulations produced by the Cyclists' Touring Club in 1888 (recently renamed from the bicyclists' touring club because of the growth in popularity of tricycles).

CTC Tweed
Cyclists' Touring Club, Uniform rules & regulations, London, 1888.  Wool samples.

These could be run up into some rather natty outfits:


The American author, Luther H. Porter (whose book on the health benefits of cycling's cover has been meddled with at the top of this post) also offered advice on clothing, particularly on the liberating bloomers and other 'rational' female costumes.  Men were also advised: 'Stockings of dark gray or some plaid look best in the long run; black ones are more dressy, but show dust badly'.  Sadly, rain rather than dust is our current environmental enemy of sartorial success.  Bloomers below:

Cycling clothing

You can find out more about the consequences for life in America (and elsewhere) of such clothing in Sarah A. Gordon, 'Any Desired Length': Negotiating Gender Through Sports Clothing, 1870-1925', in P. Scranton, ed., Beauty and Business: Commerce, Gender, and Culture in Modern America, New York & London, 2001, as well as on the Annie Londonderry website (She's also graced the Team Americas blog).  Younger readers may also appreciate Shana Corey, You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer!, New York, 2000.

Expect all this, and more, on the 21st.  Including the Wheelmen's Patrol songbook cover:


And possibly cheerleaders.

Here's the blurb from the Library's What's On page (more also on the Sport and Society pages, which are also charting the summer Olympics):

If you are a sports researcher, a historian or simply interested in sport and its background join British Library curators and academic experts as they unlock the secrets of the Library's sports collections and showcase their explorations into the world of sports research.  

Participants will be given the opportunity to discover a wide range of sports resources: from sound files, ephemera, images and historical materials to publications from other countries including Russia and the USA.  

Speakers include Professor John Horne, Professor Andrew Sparks, Professor Matthew Taylor and Professor Kath Woodward.

It should be enlightening, fun; and the £10 registration charge includes Peyton & Byrne sandwich lunch and refreshments (and, for the cyclists, possibly a cakestop).



25 February 2011

High Society at the Wellcome Collection

Yesterday, Jerry and I took a trip down Euston Road, along with some of our colleagues in Social Sciences, to visit the High Society exhibition at the Wellcome Collection and to take a peek around the stacks and conservation studios in the company of some of the Wellcome staff.  The exhibition is only on until 27 February, so I suspect this weekend will be busy (it was pretty packed yesterday). 

For Americanists, peyote and Prohibition were present, and I was reminded of our strong collections of psychoactive and counter-cultural material held at St Pancras, as well as a huge range of sources for the study of Prohibition.   Recent acquisitionsfor the study of the role of psychoactive substances in society include Alice Lee Marriott, Peyote (New York, 1971) [YA.2003.a.33710] and Thomas Constantine Maroukis, The Peyote Road: religious freedom and the Native American Church (Norman, 2010) [YD.2010.a.12982].  I suspect some sort of guide is in order. 

Finally, the Wellcome Collections Library has an excellent blog, which comes recommended. 





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