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

11 September 2018

‘Beautiful’, ‘impeccable’, ‘fantastic’, ‘wonderful’, ‘complex’, ‘superb’, ‘energetic’; a bookbinding by Sol Rébora

  Sol Rebora 1

 

Sol Rébora, image taken from her web site http://estudioRébora.com.ar/

 

The terms quoted in the title are just some of the words used to describe the bindings of Sol Rébora. The British Library Latin American Collections and Printed Heritage Collections jointly purchased an example of the work of this outstanding Argentinian multi prize-winning bookbinder on a copy of The Noble Knight Paris & the Fair Vienne (California: The Allen Press, 1956). The binding was a prize winner at the Designer Bookbinders Third International Competition 2017.[1] The opportunity to briefly review the progress of the craft in that country with reference to Sol’s career is too good to miss!

  Sol Rebora 2

Upper and lower cover and spine of C.188.b.124, The Noble Knight Paris. The image is courtesy of Sol Rébora.

 

Sol began to work with bindings at the age of 17 and learned basic techniques at secondary school in Buenos Aries.   After graduation, Sol was fortunate to find Juan Gulin, at 83, was one of the few teachers of bindings in Argentina. Despite there being an association of binders, EARA, (founded in 1989) and the Bibliophiles Society of Argentina, who encouraged collectors, there was no active interest in design bindings.   For Sol, the solution was to reach out to practitioners abroad to expand her knowledge.   She drew from a rich source of know-how and encouragement provided by some of the finest contemporary binders in Canada, the USA, Switzerland and France, including Monique Lallier, Deborah Evetts, Sun Everard, Louise Genest and Betsy Eldridge.

 

Practical work at the bench is not enough to create a successful bookbinder. Sol’s belief is that whatever the support given by generous colleagues ‘you have to build your own university… it is not only knowing diverse bookbinding techniques… Learn from different teachers and then take the things you like and find your own way to work with books.’[2]  

 

In 2001, Sol had to do just that due to an economic crisis in Argentina. For several years, she could no longer afford to enrol on courses abroad so she established her own business in Buenos Aires and used what she had learned.   Thankfully Sol was later able to resume her travels and visited South American as well as American and European binders. Her studio is now on a firm footing but Sol continues to learn and to teach both traditional and non-conventional binding techniques.

 

There are now several workshops which are flourishing in Argentina. Some binders have been taught by Sol herself, including Florencia Goldztein, Valentina Villela, Sofia Mendizabal and Magdalena Gasquet. Not only do Sol (and her fellow binders) teach students from all over Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico, they also invite established binders (notably Pascale Thérond, Kathy Abbot and Helene Jolis) to pass on their knowledge. Furthermore, there is an official channel by which the craft is taught, the Diploma Programme in Bookbinding at the National Library in Buenos Aires. It is certainly over-subscribed. Last year there were 800 applications for 30 places!

 

It is not only the challenge of creation that inspires Sol. Her interest in the history of her craft is shown by the recent publication of a short article ‘Bookbinding in Argentina’ in the Designer Bookbinders newsletter.[3] Another concern is restoration. This has resulted in her development of new methods to preserve book structures. Such innovation is demonstrated in the British Library’s recently-acquired binding on   The Noble Knight Paris.

 

 Note the series of ‘reversed stubs’ projecting from the head band and head cap in the image below. Sol devised this method to ensure the easy opening of the book enabling the pages to lie flat.

  Sol Rebora 3

It is not possible to do justice to a binding through a description or an image. A binding is three dimensional and you must be able to hold it in your hands. This is particularly true of Sol’s work. The contrasting feel of the grain of the grey goatskin and of the cut away strips (comprising Japanese paper painted with acrylic) become obvious as you handle the book. Shape is also important. The inspiration for the decoration derives from the clothes in the illustrations, and the typography of the lettering.

Sol Rebora 4

 

Enlargement of goatskin cover incorporating pink and green painted strips.

The pink and green, the spine lettering (achieved via the partial application of pink foil) and the headbands reflect the tones used in the hand coloured woodcuts of the text. This repetition leads to a calm and harmonious progression from cover to text to cover. The grey reflects the stone used in French chateaux (a reference to the text).  

 

Sol does not neglect the intellectual underpinning which precedes the creation of a design binding. She has laid out her vision; “I think the openness and the preservation are the most important points in the construction process of a contemporary design binding, together with “good techniques and aesthetic criteria”…The design and the aesthetics or the artistic expression of the binding should be integrated to create one piece with intellectual and sensory reading from the outside. Finally, I would say the construction techniques of the structure, along with the design of the cover and applied materials, play together to achieve this.”[4]

 

The thinking process is of obvious significance to Sol, however it is important not to overlook the emotional response. With the bindings of Sol Rébora, this is usually a smile!

 

  1. J. M. Marks

Printed Heritage Collections

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.designerbookbinders.org.uk/competitions/dbibc/2017/international_competition5.html.

[2] Pamela Train Leutz, The Thread That Binds, (New Castle, 2010), p. 136.

[3] No. 181.  Spring, 2018.  Notice. 4.

[4] http://www.herringbonebindery.com/blog/2014/11/09/bookbinder-of-the-month-sol-rebora-2/.

04 September 2018

Instapoetry & Twiction: social media, short form migrant writing & collection practices

Have you heard of Instapoetry? In recent years, a new literary phenomenon has emerged – writing via social media. The poetry shared on Instagram has helped boost poetry sales significantly. Rupi Kaur’s book of collected instapoems, Milk and Honey (2014), remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for over 77 weeks, was translated into more than 25 languages and has sold upwards of 2.5 million copies worldwide. Kaur, hailed as the “Queen of ‘Instapoets’” by Rolling Stone Magazine, is a Punjabi-Sikh who moved to Canada at age 4, and started her career writing short texts on Tumblr and Instagram in 2013.

 Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur on tour. Wikimedia Commons 2017.

After years of submitting her poems and receiving rejections, Kaur considered self-publishing.  As her number of Instagram followers grew – she now has over 2.9 million – she was picked up by an American publisher (Andrews McMeel Publishing).  Her style is distinctive: most of her texts are accompanied by a simple illustration, and she writes exclusively in lowercase in a nod to Gurmukhi script (one of the scriptures used by Punjabi Sikhs) and her cultural heritage.

 

Kaur
Instagram post by @rupikaur, 26/05/2018

 

 

Kaur is both the highest-selling and most controversial of Instapoets, but she is by no means one of a kind. Other influential instapoets include:

What I find striking in this list is that among these successful instapoets, the majority are, if not women, then openly feminist, and come from ethnic minorities or immigrant backgrounds. Regardless of the literary quality of these texts, what this suggests is that these authors, who may struggle to find mainstream publishers for their work, are finding a creative outlet and an audience using social media.

Supportive communities develop on online international platforms, where people of minorities can share their everyday experiences of gender and racial discrimination with each other, but also talk about universally relatable human experiences. For most of these writers, Instagram is a stepping stone into the publishing industry, but even once their texts are published in book form, they continue sharing new texts and interacting with their readers. Their Instagram pages thus form a kind of a digital anthology.

One of the purposes of my placement is to make sure the North American collections are keeping up to date with migrant writing and collecting important material.  Instapoetry and other online writing challenge our practices, as the Library cannot acquire and collect a website in the same way as it can a book.

The British Library hosts the UK Web Archive, however it is strictly confined to UK-based or relevant websites (either hosted on a uk domain or authored by UK residents) which it can collect through non-print legal deposit. Social media are more complicated to archive – for example Facebook is based in the US and blocks attempts to 'harvest' content.  The UK web archive can pull information from web pages that don’t have a UK based domain if, and only if, there is a clear link with the UK. And even then permission is needed from the creators of the content and copyrights need to be cleared.

UKWA
https://beta.webarchive.org.uk

The main problem with this situation is that the online space does not function like the print publishing world. Social media destabilise the clear-cut national boundaries that dictate our web archiving collection practices (as underwritten in UK law).  These are just some of the challenges that currently prevent the Library from collecting online literary phenomenons like instapoetry by non-British writers, and that significantly affects  our holdings.

The impact of social media on literature has been huge. The micro-poems, haikus and short texts shared and read on Instagram, and the flash fiction shared on Twitter within the 140-character limit (a genre sometimes called “twiction”), reflect the importance of technology in our everyday lives.  The shortness of these forms means that they are very suitable for reading during a quick break on a mobile phone screen. Arguably, this makes poetry more mainstream and less elitist – it is more accessible as it is easier to read: it is shorter, uses simple words and is sometimes accompanied by visuals.  But also, when shared on social media, it has the potential to reach a wider socio-economic audience than the poetry-buying public.  Instapoetry readers are able to interact directly with the writer and with each other, in a more democratic process.  It is no wonder then that a renewed popular interest for poetry has risen out of such social media writing.

The rawness of Instapoetry – some Instapoets claim they only post unedited texts – says something about our fascination with the instantaneous in a time when we are constantly connected with events taking place all over the world. Publishing on Twitter especially can be likened to speaking out: once something has been said, it is already gone and replaced by more recent tweets. Of course, you can scroll down these platforms and maybe you will eventually find what you are looking for. But the book form undeniably has a sense of long-term duration and inalterability to it.

In fact, much of the conversation/hype around Twiction and Instapoetry took place between 2013 and 2015, and many tweets and Instagram posts have probably been deleted since. Unfortunately, thus far, we hold no records of this in the UK web archive, and there are no entries for “instapoetry” and “twiction”, however you may be able to find and even nominate accounts of authors for inclusion.  The American internet archive (known as the Wayback Machine https://archive.org/web/) has a very limited number of entries for these terms, however you can find captures of social media accounts using this.

As a result, the BL collections are also missing the Twitter fictional initiatives taken by acclaimed Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole  between 2011 and 2014.

Teju Cole
Teju Cole, wikimedia commons

In January 2014, he orchestrated a short story entitled “Hafiz” about a man who has a heart attack in a big city (you can read the whole story here). Cole texted other Twitter users 36 ready-made sentences to tweet, which he then retweeted in the right narrative order.  

Earlier, he had already experimented on the same platform with his “Small Fates” project in which he imitated crime reports found in Nigerian newspapers, giving them an ironic twist. One goes “Ude, of Ikata, recently lost his wife. Tired of arguing with her, he used a machete”. Cole’s twitter page has been inactive since 2014, and shows nothing predating June 14th, 2014 (yes, I scrolled down to see how far I could go). This points to the ephemerality of such literary movements and how quickly they spring up and disappear. How then can our collections keep up if they are not equipped to collect these moments?

The fact that Teju Cole was already a well-recognized and published writer when he conducted these literary experiments shows that for many authors, social media is an interesting alternative to print. Rather than choosing social media only for its marketing value or its artistic value (as the space constraints encourage a different kind of creativity), for these authors part of the attraction is political. The online space is more flexible and democratic than the publishing industry. As minority writers, moving outside of mainstream distribution channels and privileging social media is potentially more radical and powerful than seeking publication.

This, however, also makes it harder for libraries to keep a record. Some writers such as the ones I have mentioned have received their fair share of attention in the media, so although web archives encounter practical challenges to collecting these primary resources, they are certainly picking up on secondary material discussing it. In this sense it is worth reflecting on strategies to ensure the Library’s web-archiving collecting practices remain diverse in form and content, and don't involuntarily under-represent a crucial literary moment to future generations.  One such tool is user input: the UK web archive allows users and authors to nominate sites to be added to its collections. It is a simple process, and can make a vital difference to ensuring these forms of writing aren't lost to future generations.

- Laura Gallon

Sources

UK Web Archive: https://beta.webarchive.org.uk

The Wayback Machine (the Internet Archive): https://archive.org/web/

Leetaru, Kalev. “Why Are Libraries Failing At Web Archiving And Are We Losing Our Digital History?”. Forbes, 27/05/2017. 

Qureshi, Huma. « How do I love thee? Let me Instagram it.” The Guardian, 23/11/2015.

Roberts, Soraya. “No Filter.” The Baffler, 24/01/2018.

Rupi Kaur Official Website

Walker, Rob. “The young ‘Instapoet’ Rupi Kaur: from social media star to bestselling writer.” The Guardian, 28/05/2017.

Zakaria, Rafia. “Warsan Shire: the Somali-British poet quoted by Beyoncé in Lemonade.” The Guardian, 27/04/2016. 

 


Laura Gallon is a PhD placement student at the British Library where she is working on a project assessing holdings of migrant narratives in the North American collections. She is in the second year of her PhD at the University of Sussex which is looking at contemporary American short fiction by immigrant women writers. Her placement is supported by the Eccles Centre for American Studies.


 

30 August 2018

Eric Fisher Wood: An American in Paris

Before Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron immortalised Gershwin’s production, there was another young American in Paris. When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914, Eric Fisher Wood, a young American student, was ‘quietly studying architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts’ (foreword, v). The journal he kept at the outbreak of war describes the capital’s rapid descent into near chaos and his quick assumption of responsibilities as attaché at the American Embassy then headed by Myron T. Herrick . His account is fascinating for its candid and sympathetic description of the sudden and complete upheaval for Parisians, his fellow Americans and for the German citizens who, mostly by chance, had the magnificent misfortune of being on French soil when war was declared.

Image 1. Cover
IMG 1. Caption: Eric Fisher Wood, The Note-Book of an Attaché, seven months in the war zone, 1915. 9082.ff.28.

As part of a PhD research placement, I have been working on a collection of French posters from the First World War and reading Fisher Wood’s account in tandem. The correspondence between his description of the period and the story told through the primary material in the poster collection is striking. On 2 August 1914, a poster was issued by the Police department prohibiting people from gathering (attroupement) in the streets.

Image 2. Attroupement
IMG 2. Caption: Poster prohibiting gathering and seditious proclamations and songs in public under the state of siege. Tab.11748.a.F1(5)

In his entry for Tuesday 4 August, Fisher Wood writes ‘One sees everywhere on the sidewalk little knots of people talking in low, troubled voices, and each time just as their conversation is well started they are interrupted by a policeman who reminds them that it is not permitted to s’attrouper in the streets and that they must move on.’ (13) Similarly, in relation to restrictions on opening hours for bars, cafés and the métro, he writes, ‘The Champs-Elysées is probably at present the darkest avenue on earth. (…) The sun seldom rises without revealing the ruins of one of these lamps and of an automobile, the two having mutually destroyed each other in the darkness.’ (37-38). Illustrating this, poster no 15 in the collection gives us the material evidence of these new regulations being implemented, plunging the City of Light into darkness.

Image 3. Curfew
Government poster ordering all establishments selling alcoholic drinks to close by 8pm. Metro stations are to close at the same time. Tab.11748.a.F1(15)

Reading Fisher Wood’s chronicle, we get a sense of just how much daily life and business was completely overturned. He says that all buses vanished from the city to be turned into ambulances and meat wagons, causing scenes of despair and panic for the hordes trying to flee the capital. All kinds of private property, including horses, carriages, mules and even carrier pigeons, were requisitioned by the army to support the war effort, and we have the artefacts of the announcements in the collection.

Image 4. Requisitions
Government poster calling for all heavy vehicles and cars that haven't already been requisitioned to be presented to the Commission of Requisition on 4 and 5 August 1914. Tab.11748.a.F1(10)

Alongside, Fisher Wood’s journal provides an additional layer describing how these requisitions manifested themselves in daily life: ‘All the fast private automobiles are requisitioned for the army, and one sees them tearing along vying in speed with the flying taxis, each one driven by a sapper with another sapper in the footman’s place, while one or two officers sit calmly behind, trying to smoke cigarettes in spite of the wind.’ (14)

During the War, posters constituted one of the principal channels through which information was disseminated to the public, which is perhaps difficult to imagine in our era of instant news feeds and instantaneous information sharing. Fisher Wood notes the ambient confusion and uncertainty that pervaded the population: ‘There are persistent rumours throughout Paris of battles “near Metz” or “on the borders of Luxembourg,” of “two hundred and thirty thousand French troops already in Alsace”, “ten thousand French killed at Belfort,” or “forty thousand German prisoners taken.” (14) In this atmosphere of insecurity, one can imagine just how important these posters were in keeping a fraught population informed of the war’s developments and of the steady stream of government pronouncements.

Image 5. Roger Viollet
Parisians huddled around a mobilisation poster. August 1914. Préfecture de Police, Service de l’identité judiciaire/BHVP/RogerViollet.

Fisher Wood remarks too that when Général Gallieni, military governor of Paris, was handed power, he took advantage of the new authority to usher through changes that had been hindered by ‘politics’ for years. The scourge of absinthe was suddenly outlawed as were slot machines, designed to ‘catch the hard-earned-sous of the workmen’. (39)

Image 6. Absinthe
Poster issued by the Préfecture de police announcing the decree of 7 January 1915 prohibiting the sale of absinthe and similar spirits. Signed by Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré. Tab.11748.a.F1(36)
 
 
 
Image 7.
Government poster detailing two articles of the law prohibiting slot and gaming machines issuing cash winnings or drinking tokens. Tab.11748.a.F1(22)

Eric Fisher Wood went on to serve in the British then American Armies, parts of which he recounts in the latter part of his ‘Note-book’. Following the war he returned to the United States and played an instrumental role in setting up what became the American Legion and later established himself as an architect. However the vivid, first-hand account of the experiences of this particular American, in Paris and beyond, especially when read alongside the primary resources of the posters, remains a powerful account of the civilian – and foreign – experience of the turbulent first months of war from the French capital.

- Phoebe Weston-Evans

 

References

[A collection of British and French War Posters.] 1914-1919. Tab.11748.a.

Eric Fisher Wood, The Note-Book of an Attaché: Seven Months in the War Zone (New York, 1915). 9082.ff.28.

Charles Lansiaux, Paris 14-18: la guerre au quotidien. Photographies de Charles Lanciaux (Paris, 2013). LF.31.a.5681.

Christine Vial Kayser and Géraldine Chopin (eds) Allons enfants! Publicité et propagande 1914­–1918 (Louveciennes, 2014). YF.2017.a.11967.


Phoebe Weston-Evans is a PhD placement student at the British Library where she is working on a project cataloguing a collection of French War Posters.  She is in the second year of her PhD at the University of Melbourne which looks at the author Patrick Modiano.  Phoebe is also a published translator.