American Collections blog

19 posts categorized "Travel"

15 November 2012

From the Collections: Captain Cook and the Nuu-Chah-Nulth

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 View of Habitations in Nootka Sound

‘A View of the Habitations in Nootka Sound’ plate held at BL: 456.h.24

Public Domain Mark 
This work (A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean...,London: W & A Strahan, etc., 1784), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

 Once again I’ve been calling up some of the many works of Captain James Cook from the Library's storage areas, this time to look at his notes and illustrations relating to his searches for the fabled 'great southern land' and the North-West Passage. While my reason for calling the items up was more concerned with the frozen seas of the Arctic and the Antarctic, as usual I was waylaid by some other writings and illustrations that I came across.

In October I was able to take something off my long ‘to-do’ list when I visited UBC's Museum of Anthropology. The collections held there, together with the various economic and political issues affecting today’s inhabitants of British Columbia made me think of the dramatic changes that have happened subsequent to Cook’s contact with the area. With this in mind I let myself wander to a series of plates dedicated to the people and material culture of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth.

Various Articles at Nootka Sound
‘Various Articles at Nootka Sound’ plate held at BL: 456.h.24

The illustrations of the area (I think done around Yuquot), its people and material culture, are both interesting and useful records. But, as with many travel accounts of the period, they (together with the notes and images which document all of Cook’s three voyages), are indicative of an imperial way of seeing the various peoples encountered, an emphasis being placed on their 'Otherness' to European eyes.

Indie of a Hippah
‘The Indie of a Hippah in New Zeeland’ plate held at BL: 456.h.24

The materials relating to Cook’s voyages have been published in many forms, including the exhaustive ‘A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean…’ [BL Shelfmark: 454.h.9 -11], with which these plates are associated [but stored separately at BL Shelfmark: 456.h.24]. The Library also holds various accounts of Nuu-Chah-Nulth culture and post-contact history, although many of these need to be searched for using the term Nootka (as used in the works’ titles).


30 October 2012

Post the Post-Tropical Storm

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Apple Store in Philadelphia
An electronics the morning after Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully the sandbags were unnecessary. Photo: M. Shaw

Thankfully my fellow Fellows' predictions didn't come to pass, and we kept power during the storm (although some in south Philly lost theirs).  The cops came out to check some jerry cans left in a truck opposite the repository of some of the nation's most precious books and manuscripts, but deemed them safe.  A chunk of metal got blown down from somewhere, and then clattered about the street for the night.  The merlot was disappointing.  But, that, thankfully was it.  We were lucky.

It was another story for pretty much everything east of the Delaware (and, indeed, elsewhere). You will have seen the reports from New York that look like a slide from an Al Gore presentation.  Several million are still without power.  People have died.  The governor of New Jersey has proposed delaying Halloween, and absentee ballots have been extended in several of the worst-hit counties.  Long Island will have some tales as bad as 1938, if not worse.

Twitter, I think, told the most telling story, as the snark drained from people's timelines as news from the several feeds reporting on police scanners spread across the internet (the NYTimes's David Carr called it right).  Earnest debunking of rumours and hoaxes (a shark in New Jersey, anyone?), along with expressions of concern, verified reports, and official updates instead filled up the timeline.  Usually active friends and colleagues fell silent as power outages, server fails and iPhone batteries drained.  They'll be back soon enough; that's the American way, as politicians and governors have been keen to say.  And they are right.

Here's just one tweet from the night. I like the screen grab. 

And, the last word from Joshua Lyman.  

20 August 2012

Breadfruit, Rum and Mutinies: the career of William Bligh

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Breadfruit [store]

 Plant accommodation on HMS Bounty [BL Shelfmark: RB.31.c.503(1)].

I’ve been doing further reading on Australian history this week and you can’t cover early nineteenth- century Australia without coming across William Bligh. Bligh became Governor of New South Wales in 1806 but prior to this he had already undertaken a number of missions for the British Government in European, Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific waters. One of these missions provides Team Americas with another blog on the links between Australasia and the Americas.

While in Tahiti as part of Cook’s first Pacific voyage, Joseph Banks noted that the local Uru, or breadfruit, had potential as a source of cheap, high energy food that could be cultivated in British colonies. Banks successfully promoted his idea after returning to London, and Bligh was dispatched with HMS Bounty to acquire plants for use in the Caribbean. After one mutiny, a trip back to London (via Koupang) and two trips to Tahiti for specimens, Bligh finally delivered the breadfruit plants to Jamaica.

Breadfruit [illus]
Illustration of breadfruit in Bligh’s A Voyage to the South Sea [BL Shelfmark: : RB.31.c.503(1)]

Following success as a Naval captain in Europe, and having earned Nelson’s favour at the Battle of Copenhagen, Bligh was appointed Governor of New South Wales. Arriving in 1806 Bligh immediately had to deal with the New South Wales Corps, the standing regiment for the colony which had set up a decent sideline in profiteering illegal trade items – namely, rum. Eventually this led to the 'Rum Rebellion' of 1808 and Bligh was forced to take another ignominious trip on the sea (this time to Hobart).

Breadfruit [map]
Map of Bligh’s journey, in A Voyage to the South Sea [BL Shelfmark: : RB.31.c.503(1)].

While mutinies grab popular attention, Bligh's career offers a good example of the way in which many individuals in the British Navy helped to developed global networks of exchange and control which underpinned the British Empire. He’s also a case study of what binds Team Americas and Australasia together.

I’ve noted in an earlier blog the Library’s collections on Cook and his expedition, and there is also a significant collection on the expeditions of Bligh; for starters see, A Voyage to the South Sea, 1792 [BL Shelfmark: RB.31.c.503(1)] and A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board His Majesty’s Ship Bounty, 1790 [BL Shelfmark: G.3066].


24 May 2012

Exploring Nouvelle-France: the voyages of Samuel de Champlain

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 Nouvelle France (small)

A small chart of Nouvelle-France, printed in; 'Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain' (1613) [BL Shelfmark: C.32.h.9]

One of the perks of curating is occasionally having the time to put on displays of materials for visitors to the Library. Ahead of yesterday's Eccle's Lecture on Quebec, travel and the Jardins de Métis, I had one such opportunity and it would be a shame not to share some of the items displayed more widely. The selection looked at materials in the Library which relate to exploration and travel in Quebec from 1545 - 1900.

The Library holds a number of important works relating to the early history of Quebec, the most significant of which is Jacques Cartier's Brief recit & succincte narration de la navigation faicte es ysles de Canada [BL Shelfmark: G.7082]. Published in Paris in 1545, this rare work recounts the earliest exploration of North America. It also inspired the endeavours and accounts of Samuel de Champlain, the man who would later be known as the 'father' of New France.

Quebec (area chart)

Chart of Quebec's location, with notes on geographical surrounds and neighbouring settlements. Printed in; 'Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain'  (1613) [BL Shelfmark: C.32.h.9]

Of particular interest for this post, not least because of its incredible level of illustration, is de Champlain's Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain, a two volume work published in Paris in 1613 and 1632 [BL Shelfmark: C.32.h.9]. The work provides details on the geography of New France, the indigenous cultures encountered, as well as the economic possibilities and hazards to be found. All of this is recounted in great detail, both in text and maps. The work also includes detailed illustrations of Algonquin and Huron groups friendly to the French colonial project.

Algonquin individuals (de Champlain)

Illustration of Algonquin dress, printed in; 'Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain' (1632) [BL Shelfmark: C.32.h.9]

In many ways Cartier and de Champlain's texts can be seen as beginning a significant vein of publishing regarding exploration and travel in Quebec, one which would be well developed in the centuries to come. Other notable early texts in the Library's collection include, to name a very few: Francois Du Creux's Historiae Canadensis [1664, BL Shelfmark:], which is an illustrated translation into Latin of Paul Le Jeune's Brieve relation du voyage de la Nouvelle France [1632, BL Shelfmark: 867.c.1] and Lewis Hennepin's A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America… between New France and New Mexico [1699, BL Shelfmark: 979.l.23.].


13 March 2012

The Voyage of HMS Beagle: zoological views

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Beagle zoology (birds)
Illustration from the birds focussed volume of, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle'

A couple of weeks ago I spent a Sunday afternoon at Down House, where Charles Darwin lived and wrote his famous works. Many things struck me that afternoon but the map of the Beagle's voyage reminded me that Darwin's journey is a piece of history which provides a link between all of us here in the Americas and Australasian Studies department. Duly motivated, I decided to do a short blog on the Beagle's presence in the Library's collections.

The British Library holds a lot of material which refers to or resulted from the work conducted by Darwin and others during the voyage of HMS Beagle. Not only are there many copies of, 'On the Origin of Species' but there are also less popularly know publications, such as Darwin's paper, 'The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, etc.' (shelfmark: 07109.i.13). Amongst all of this, my favourite publication related to the expedition is, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle' (which I also saw on display at Down House).

Beagle zoology (mammals)
Illustration of Australia's Mus Fuscipes, from the mammals volume of, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle'

'Zoology' is a detailed account of the animals and fossils encountered and collected during the voyage of the Beagle with each volume being drawn together by various authorities of the time. Between them, the five volumes provide accounts of the various specimens collected and are richly illustrated with examples from various parts of the voyage (although the lithographs of Galapagos finches are understandably the most eye catching).

The account also underlines the scope and scale of the Beagle's voyage and Darwin's collecting, neither of which were necessarily unique to the time but they do illustrate a globalised scientific process. Unfortunately, it's becoming something of a trend for me to blog about restricted items and once again the library's original 'Zoology' (shelfmark: 791.I.17,18) is on this list. However, there are also some very good reproductions available in the reading rooms, not least the Royal Geographical Society's 1994 commemorative edition (shelfmark: Cup.410.g.500).


07 March 2012

The Arctic Regions: William Bradford's ambitious book

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Arctic regions (cover)
Front cover from William Bradford's, 'The Arctic Regions'. Shelfmark: 1785.d.7 (restricted item)

Here at Team Americas and Australasian Studies we've been poring over a few acquisition catalogues recently, not to buy anything but to see what is happening on the antiquarian book market. During this process some items that we already hold jump out and make you think, 'I'd like to have a look at that'.

One such item can be seen above, William Bradford's publication, 'The Arctic Regions'. I was intrigued as I had not heard of the work before, so I thought I'd have a look at what makes it so special. Bradford was an artist who assembled an expedition to Greenland in order to photograph the area (although he actually used two Boston photographers, George Crichterson and John L. Dunmore) and produce a photographically illustrated book upon their return.

Arctic regions (Inuit)
Mounted internal photograph from, 'The Arctic Regions'

Bradford's publication idea was novel for the time and the end product is still stunning, the volume is very large and contains over 100 mounted photographs of various scenes from Arctic Greenland and North America. The depiction of the Arctic presented is romantic in tone and sometimes patronising to the people who were photographed (there is at least one disparaging comment regarding the appearance of local Inuit) but it is a notable early photographic view of the Arctic regions.

Unfortunately, due to the size of the item and the delicate nature of the mounted photographs the item is on the Library's restricted list and not easy to view. However, if you would like to know more and see more of the book's contents there are a couple of useful galleries online. There is a short selection on this wider gallery on the North West Passage while this gallery from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute provides a more detailed look and context.


16 December 2011

A Hankering to Travel: Charles Dickens and North America

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Charles Dickens
Portrait of Charles Dickens from J. Forster's 'The Life of Charles Dickens' (shelfmark: YA.1993.a.5369)

The British Library's Folio Gallery has a new exhibition up, 'A Hankering After Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural'. The exhibition has been put on to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Dickens, who was born on the 7th February 1812, and is well worth a look. While I paid the exhibition a visit the other day it reminded me of some of Dickens' writings, which I had been meaning to read for some time, the notes on his travels to North America in 1842.

 'American Notes for General Circulation' is a travelogue resulting from Dickens' travels and experiences in America and Canada, the Library holds a copy at shelfmark, Cup.410.g.25. The account is well worth a read for the author's flair and as an interesting travelogue in its own right. What caught my attention was Dickens' devotion of the final thematic chapter to the topic of slavery in America. Dickens is strongly critical of the practice and goes to great lengths to illustrate the horrors of slavery through the reproduction of adverts regarding run away slaves.

Dickens is withering in his criticism of Republicans who maintain a system at odds with their stated values, denouncing these individuals as thinking they, 'will not tolerate a man above [them]: and of those below, none must approach too near' (p. 41). He also notes there to be a significant proportion of this group who would, 'glady involve America in a war, civil, or foreign, provided that it had for its sole end and object the assertion of their right to perpetuate slavery' (ibid). While the causes of the later civil war are complex such a statement does seem unnervingly prescient.

Even though the Library's 'A Hankering After Ghosts' led me to call up Dickens' 'American Notes' this chapter caught my attention for another reason, the Americas department's collaborative doctoral award on slavery in Canada. The award is currently open to applications and anyone who is interested can find more information on this previous post.


03 June 2011