THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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

21 August 2017

Soldaderas y Revolucionarias

The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that we recently updated our blog image and twitter profile picture.  When we were asked by the Library's web team to provide a fresh image, we thought long and hard about what would suitably represent the pan-continental remit of the blog, the strengths of the collections, and make for a striking image.  We finally settled on this wonderful photograph by Mexican photographer Agustín Víctor Casasola titled 'Soldadera'.

 

Blog cropped soldadera l_f_31_b_696_p186
'Soldadera', in 'Mirada y Memoria: Archivo Fotográfico Casasola. México: 1900-1940', Shelfmark LF.31.b.696

Casasola's work is a striking record of a country undergoing the social, political, and cultural transformations of modernity in the first half of the twentieth century.  Taken circa 1915, in the midst of the Mexican Revolution, this portrait particularly stood out as encapsulating these historical markers while also touching on contemporary concerns.

 

Mitin Obrero
Mítin Obrero (worker's meeting), circa 1920

 

 

Accordingly, and given the Revolution's continental impact (which included direct foreign interference) and historic legacies, it was unanimously agreed that this selection touches on many of the historical shifts taking place aross the Americas at the turn of the century.  The photograph also flags the collections' strengths in the humanities and social sciences, which is reflected in the thematic political and social focus of the photobooks and artists' books in our holdings of which Mirada y Memoria is one.

Of course, the 'soldadera' is a popular figure who, while representative of the Mexican Revolution, was also a figure of defiance.  Women participated in the Revolution in various capacities and many soldaderas had prominent leadership positions, records show that many chose to take on a male persona.  While we do not know any more about this particular woman, what we can tell from the image is that she is likely indígena.  Further, from the stocky shoes, tailored trousers, and loosely buttoned shirt, to the slight man-spread, slight crook in the hanging arm that is all too ready to reach for that hip revolver, and her steady gaze and stern facial expression, Casasola's subject has claimed the external signifiers of masculinity for her own revolutionary purposes.  One is left wondering how content she was to be photographed with an earring, and jauntily tilted sombrero with prettifying political ribbons.   The book positions this image opposite a portrait of Venustiano Carranzo taken in 1914, who was later to become president. 

Venustiano
Venustiana Carranzo, 1914

The two figures couldn't make for a more marked contrast; yet they are also comparable in their assertion of a masculinised military identity.  Our soldadera thus presented a historical challenge but also addresses a contemporary audience with her defiant assertion of female indigenous agency.  It is a message that is also germane for our work as curators with oversight of a national collection.

- F.D. Fuentes Rettig,

Curator North American Published Collections

 

For further reading on female revolutionaries in Mexican history in the Library's collections see:

Carballido, Elivira Hernández, Mujeres Independientes Mujeres Revolucionarias, shelfmark YF.2014.a.3139

Sanchez, Evelyne et al, Revolucionarias Fueron Todas, shelfmark YF.2016.a.11361

Poniatowska, Elena, Las Soldaderas, shelfmark YA.2003.a.22974

Valdés, José Yurrieta, ¿Una Revolucionaria Zapatisa? Chona, la Tequerra, shelfmark YF.2014.a.20977

14 August 2017

Black Power: Reading, Roots, and Rhythm in the British Library

Rowan Hartland is a 2017 Eccles Centre Visiting Postgraduate Fellow and a doctoral candidate at Northumbria University. He will participate in the Eccles Centre Summer Scholars seminar series on 14 August, with a paper titled 'Black Power Culture in the American South 1967-1975'.

I have just finished a successful research trip to the British Library supported by an Eccles Centre Fellowship. The project, Black Power Culture in the American South 1966-1975, examines Black Power organising and activism in the under-researched and often marginalised regions in the American South. Black Power culture, rather than politics in the South, is largely excluded from historiography despite its national and international legacies. I have been able to solidify my argument and conduct research from a range of databases, catalogues, microfilm collections, and magazines at the British Library. Here is a snippet from my week.

Monday 14 August (2)

Free Southern Theater publicity image, c. 1970.

 

My first point of reference were two bibliographical booklets; the invaluable resource created by Jean Petrovic from the Eccles centre, United States and Canadian holdings in the British Library Newspaper Library [2719.k.1795]; and the online resource also created by Petrovic, African American History and Life: 1877-1954 [m02/16735]. The latter resource did expand chronologically to include early 1960s works, which were useful for a framework for my Black Power study, and also provided a geographical index of published works- useful for my work on the South. The United States and Canadian Holdings resource led me to the Mississippi Free Press and Inside New Orleans newspapers (located in the ‘African American Newspaper Series 1827-1998’ section on the e-resources) which I delved into whilst on the computers in the Reading Rooms. For anyone working on African American history pre-1966 or post-1978, these collections will provide fruitful material; and I hope to utilize these in the future.

Second, the vast Tuskegee Institute News Clippings File [MFM.MA410] spanning the turn of the twentieth century to 1966 (reference book in the Newsroom). This microfilm collection provided a range of themes and locations for research- prolific in 1930s and 40s material, as well as Civil Rights material and introductory Black Power news reports. The themes, ranging from Race Relations and Organisations, to Juvenile Delinquency and Riots, cover the whole of the US and are rich in Southern material. I spent close to two days glancing through these slides and found dozens of articles portraying the roots and articulations of Black Power culture (N.B. ask the folks in the Newsroom- they are super helpful).

After engaging with sources on race riots, southern police brutality, armed defence, and Black Power ideology a lot earlier than 1966, I moved into some research of magazines and ephemera. Whilst trundling through the main catalogue can be both daunting and arduous, it can provide some gems (advice- do all the sifting before you come to the BL!). Using the online databases to build a framework of search terms, then using the multi-functional filters on the sidebars makes life a lot easier. One magazine, which has left me with more questions about Black Power in the South than answers, is Rhythm. Whilst the BL only retains one volume (I am sourcing more), it is a rich piece of history with spasms of visual delight. It tells the story of the commitment of ‘revolutionary Pan-Africanism’ in the South whilst looking eagerly towards a new Africa of the twenty-first century. It is truly the personification of the heights of Black Power Culture in the South- ‘Rhythm sees African people as having no moral or legal responsibility to the west except to oversee its destruction.’ There are many newspaper and magazine titles available for those interested in mainstream and Northern Civil rights and Black Power, to name a few- Negro Digest, The Crusader, and The Menard Times (an interesting collection of prison newspapers).

The ‘Archive of Americana’, ‘History and Life’ online databases, and ‘African American Newspaper Series’ have provided an abundance of material for my project, from Black Power’s violence and rioting, to singing, poetry, performance and art. I intend to further delve into magazines and newspapers including Life, Billboard, The Chicago Defender, and Amsterdam News on my next trip for more mainstream perceptions, in addition to well-planned catalogue trawling and possible examinations of the databases ‘Underground and Independent Comics Collection’ (online) and ‘HAPI’ (online). The first-hand accounts provided in the magazines, newspapers, and records are invaluable evidence of Black Power in the South. This initial research has provided foundations for my research in the US and further research at the BL, and has provided sources for my Summer Series talk at the BL in August. Finally, a special thank you to Mercedes Aguirre and those at the Eccles Centre. I would not be able to research so efficiently and proficiently without their support and wonderful insights.

Rowan Hartland

09 August 2017

Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part one

Since when and why

In a little time I felt something alive moving on my left leg, which advancing gently forward over my breast, came almost up to my chin; when, bending my eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands, and quiver at his back… [1].


A particular from the book: Gulliver’s travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 15 [Shelfmark: C.100.I.14]

 

I like to report on my first encounter with the miniature books world as a moment that was like waking up from my ordinary library day of submersion in beautiful American artists’ books, and discovering an exciting alternative reality made of miniature items. I perceived that these objects almost animated, approximately three or four inches tall, kindly throwing darts of curiosity at me with their bows loaded with charm. I immediately fell enamoured with them, and it did not take long before my desk was busy with library materials on miniature books.

“For those of us who have been bitten by this particular bug” [2] there is nothing left to follow the appeal of the beauty offered by the small miniature art masterpieces.


Some of the books consulted for my research, and on top the little: A dog’s tail, printed by Anicka and Gaylor Schanilec, (United States: Midnight Paper Sales & Flaming Cat Press, 2004), measures 1 1/2” x 1 1/8” [on cataloguing process]

 

Wondering ‘why’, and ‘since when’ have been the guideline of my innocent journey into the history of the little items. One of the first things I learned is that as old as the discovering of the written world is its counterpart in the miniature form. Secondly, I acknowledged that this world is regulated by laws, and for that, you will define as miniature books only those which respect the standard of being possibly even less than three inches but no more than four, and almost as it was heresy, five.

Defecting from the established rules in fact, an item of four inches or little more would only be a pain for a purist, and a joke for all artisans involved, printers, binders, papermakers, illustrators, illuminators, and engravers who would give all the very best of their art under more challenging and extreme circumstances from one to three inches.

It is said that to reach the completion of the 1878 Dante’s Divina Commedia edition (Padua: Salmin), also known as the “Dantino”, many artisans were injured: the necessary operations of preparing and cutting the types caused a serious injury “to the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector. It took one month to print thirty pages, and new types were necessary for every new form.”. Around the 70’s of the 19th century, two brothers from Padua, Italy, together with a small team of professionals such as casters, compositors, and correctors, developed an unprecedented minuscule typefaces, which they named carattere a occhio di mosca (fly’s eye type), and that was firstly used for the micro Dante’s masterpiece. The measures of the book are 1 1/4” x 1 3/4”, and it is only readable trough a magnifying glass [3].






The book of the world, by Irene Chan (Baltimore?: Ch'An Press, 2000), measures 1” x 1” (box). The text of this miniature book consists of an excerpt of John Dalton's 1808 Atomic Theory. The illustration is an image of Dalton's elastic fluids drawing that looks like the eye [on cataloguing process]

 

Indulging in more technical details, you would call a miniature book a 64mo. A single leaf of paper folded 64 times, originally printed with 64 pages on each side of it, and then scrupulously folded in order to bring up the correct sequence of the pages. The size of the pages are obviously determined by the size of the original master sheet, but a 64mo would inevitable be around 3 to 5 inches [4].

The purpose of creating, producing and collecting miniature books is two-fold: firstly, the practicality and secondly, personal pleasure, and the sense of beauty in small objects. Before Gutenberg, for matters European, miniature manuscripts were periodically produced completed with illuminations. Subsequently, the production of miniature books has continued to reflect the latest progresses of print machines and processes. There were miniature books printed in early Gothic and incunabula type characters, or in the earliest Greek types, Hebrew and so on. As in a shrinking mirror they were reflecting all new type acquisitions and binding progress [5].

Little books were simultaneously produced in the centuries alongside regular standard, so that men and women of faith could easily bring with them their collection of psalms and devotional books, students could carry their small library in a pocket, smugglers of ideas could easily hide tiny booklets in a secret bottom of their cape, merchants could quickly retrieve from their belt a tiny but complete guide on the equivalence of grains prices, scales, measures and conversion, and foreign currencies value meanwhile closing a deal, or that sharp businessmen could brilliantly define a legal contract.

It has been for that purpose that some of the earliest examples of books on miniature support were produced during the Babylonian Empire, as for the case of two small cuneiform tablets of Ancient Mesopotamia which preserve an antique writing system and concern trade and administrative issues. One of them, a clay tablet dated back to the 7th year of the reign of Bur-Sin, circa 2325 B.C., comes from the region of Ur, today Iraq, and measure only 1 5/8” x 1 1/2”. It contains extremely useful information while dealing with barley and bran for sheep (1), and the other, a Babylonian clay tablet from Senkereh, now Iraq, is dated 2200 B.C., and measure 1 7/8” x 1 1/4”, it was also used in the trading of animals and provisions (2).


(1), and (2). Photographic reproduction of an illustration taken from Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, by Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison (New York: Abrams ; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), pp. 11-12 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071]

 

Another beautiful miniature object is the world’s first printing on paper. A very tiny scroll 23/8” tall obtained from wood blocks, is dated back to 770 A. D. and is well known as the D’harani prayer. Only the story of its origins is as enchanting as the scroll itself. With the aim of spreading awareness on Buddhism, the Japanese Empress Shotoku, gave order to print a million copy of these prayer-scrolls encased in charming wooden pagodas, then asked they be distributed all over the country divided among ten Japanese temples, a project which required over six years of continuous work [6].


A rare example of the D’harani prayer (23/8” tall) as illustrate by the Library of Congress Asian Collection




Annalisa Ricciardi is currently working as Cataloguer of the American Studies Collections. She is working on a heterogeneous collection of extraordinary interest and artistic value of American fine press and artists’ books, such as limited, numbered, and rare editions chronologically placed between 18th and 21st century.


[1] Gulliver’s travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 18 [Shelfmark: C.100.I.14].
[2] Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day (London: Sheppard Press, 1981), p. 3 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
[3] Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 93-95; and Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison, Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, (New York: Abrams ; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), pp. 47-49, 114. [BL Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071].
[4] Doris V. Welsh, The history of miniature books (Albany, New York: Fort Orange Press, 1987), pp. 5-11 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.1550].
[5] Welsh, The history of miniature books, p. 2.
[6] Miniature books from the collection of Julian I. Edison (St. Louis, Missouri: Washington University), pp. 1-2 [Shelfmark: Cup.406.j.11]. See a rare example of the D’harani prayer as illustrate by the Library of Congress Asian Collection page: https://www.loc.gov/rr/asian/guide/guide-japanese.html