THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Americas studies 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

14 August 2014

"Na-no, Na-no!"

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Mm cover

Richard J. Anobile, Mork & Mindy: a video novel (London, 1980 ed), Shelfmark X.958/21638.

For obvious reasons, one of Team Americas favourite films is Night at the Museum. It was playing on one of the TV channels on Monday night, and once again I enjoyed Robin Williams doing his turn as Tedddy Roosevelt. Like most people, I suspect, it was surprisingly sad when I woke up the next morning to hear the news of Williams' death, something that has been reflected in the extraordinary amount of column inches and screen time that followed the news.

I wondered what we might have in the collections from happier times, and called up the volume shown above (saving the The World According to Garp for another day). It's billed as a 'video novel', a rather unusual form of publication which riffs off the novelty of the new-fangled video recorders of the 1970s, and tells the story of everyone's favourite Orkan (Mork) and his Coloradan housemate, Mindy, via 'photographs taken from their smash-hit show', Mork & Mindy (which ran 1978-82). Apparently based on an hour-long special, it uses what looks like frames taken from a VCR to tell the tale in comic-book fashion, complete with speech bubbles. Our copy arrived via Hong Kong, a legacy of colonial copyright legislation. You can read more about the novel on Chris Pearce's comics blog.

Naturally, and now somewhat poignantly, the final pages show Mork calling his Immenseness with his final report, signing off as ever with his Orkan salutation:

'Na-no, Na-no!' 

 

[MJS]

13 August 2014

Sampaio: public works, protest and the Brazilian nation

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Pic
Frontispiece, Historia da Fundação da Cidade do Salvador. Bahia: Tipografia Benedita Ltda., 1949 (BL shelfmark X.805/2453)

While working on entries to the forthcoming Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography I have been exploring our collection of writings by the Brazilian engineer, geographer, cartographer, architect, and ethnographer Teodoro Fernandes Sampaio (1855-1937). 

Many of you may have been following the recent debates and protests regarding the massive public investment in the World Cup and Olympics in Brazil. Indeed, public works projects have historically been at the centre of re-inventions of the Brazilian nation and usually a source of controversy. And the work of Teodoro Sampaio is a fine example of this. Sampaio lived through some of Brazil’s greatest historical transformations: from slave-society to industrial capitalism, from the Imperial era to the Vargas nation-state. Sampaio not only lived through these transformations, however, but was at the heart of many of them – including designing and overseeing the creation of railroads, mapping and surveying the contours and boundaries of the nation, designing urban sanitation systems, and founding many of Brazil’s first historical and geographical institutions. 

Sampaio also anticipated many of the great social problems that Brazil would face throughout the twentieth century. His engineering and geographical studies focused on the creation of economic opportunities and social integration. Through his research and writings Sampaio attempted to give voice to the poor and marginalised people of Brazil’s interior and Brazil’s indigenous communities.

One of my favourites of his publications that we hold here at the British Library is the Vocabulario geografico brasileiro - O tupi na geografia nacional (BL shelfmark X.700/22900). The book is essentially a dictionary of Tupi words, however each entry includes an geographical and cultural analysis of the word or phrase. Sampaio systematically unpacks the ways in which social roles and cultural concepts are bound up with geography, and the way geography and landscape shape cultural paradigms. Sampaio also recognised that the Tupi had a detailed and historic knowledge of the Brazilian interior that would be essential to the success of new public works projects. Sampaio studied the local and indigenous knowledge of Brazil’s terrain in order to create some of the best maps and charts and river navigations that anyone has ever done of the interior of Brazil. The Library holds many of Sampaio’s works including the classic O Rio Sao Francisco e a Chapada Diamantina (BL shelfmark X.808/36311). 

Next week, King’s College London will be hosting the annual Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA) congress – the first time that it has been held in Europe. I'm looking forward to it and I hope to see some of you there.

[E.N.C.]

08 August 2014

50,000 Moths and Butterflies Died in the Making of this Post

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Attacus

Printing takes many forms. We mostly think of books as something created by moveable type, and then by more automated means, such as linotype or, more recently, digital production. But it can also incorporate the more handmade, corporal, and in the case of this post, lepidopterous.

The volume next to me as I write this post has been in our collections since it was purchased for the British Museum Library in 1900. It is copy number 259 of a limited edition of 500, printed in Boston, Mass., and the two volumes have been bound as one in dark green and black leather. Its title? The relatively unassuming Moths and Butterflies of the United States East of the Rocky Mountains, by Sherman F. Denton (Boston, Bradlee Widden, 1900) [shelfmark K.T.C.27.b.14].

It is a remarkable thing. Denton perfected an existing technique for preserving the wings of moths and butterflies in paper. As the Boston Evening Transcript (1899) explained, Denton sketched and engraved the bodies and outlines of his individual specimens.  Then, the wings of the once fluttery creatures were soaked in various gums and waters and then delicately laid onto prepared paper.  Weights were applied, and after 24 hours, the wing frame was gently brushed away, while the scales had transferred to the page in a form of lepidine transfer process. Along with 400 photographic illustrations, Moths and Butterflies contains dozens of such colourful – and slightly creepy – butterfly wing prints.

Photo 1

Denton, an American naturalist who also produced a series of models, books and prints for the United States Fish Commission at the Smithsonian Institution and the New York Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission, was attempting to show 'our native butterflies and moths not as dried and mutilated specimens in a cabinet... but as one sees them in our woods and fields, fresh and lovely.'  His text that accompanies his specimens demonstrates his genuine fascination and love for the creatures. He also thought his extraordinary work might have wider interest or use:

From the standpoint of the artist and the decorator, the study of the designs and color patterns on the wings of butterflies may be of valuable assistance. Such combinations of pleasing tints are rarely found in the handiworks of man. What better school could be found for the colorist than is within the reach of the humblest aspirant for fame as artist or decorator? Think of students copying the dingy works of the old masters year after year, when at their own doors the grandest combinations of colors that Nature can reproduce are passed by without a thought!

How true. We wonder if Damien Hirst has a copy?

The scientific response was less happy. The method, which can be traced back to the eighteenth century, has not been replicated, with the exception of a collection of Sri Lanken wings (Lionel Gilbert Ollyett Woodhouse, The Butterfly Fauna of Ceylon (Colombo, [1950]) [shelfmark STB (B) G 70] . For scientists, the method does not preserve the membranes of the wings, and the glorious lustre and sheen aside, the colours and shapes can be replicated by other printing methods (such as chromolithography in Denton's day, or even hand-colouring). The cost in numbers of creatures gently put to sleep by potassium cyanide is also very great. Denton states that he used 50,000 butterflies and moths in the production of the print run.

Photo 3

 (a photograph attempting to show the shimmer in the wings)

Photo 2

(not forgetting the moths. All images in the public domain)

Read more:

Boston Evening Transcript (3 March 1899).

A digital copy of the text can be found at the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Cowan, CF, 'Butterfly Wing Prints', Shorter Notes, Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History (1970), 389

Cowan, CF, 'Butterfly Wing Prints', Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History (1968), 368-69

[Matthew Shaw]