American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?


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

12 July 2018

Summer reading: Canada in the Frame

Above: 'The Globe Kittens' (1902), E. J. Rowley (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Those of you who have followed the Americas blog for a long time may remember the Library’s ‘Picturing Canada’ project, where the Library and Wikimedia Commons digitised and released into the public domain the photographs from the Canadian Colonial Copyright Collection. The keen eyed will also have spotted that this project has continued to evolve, as we worked on new ways to talk about the collection and won a BL Labs runner-up prize for our work in mapping the collection last year. I think, finally, we are coming to the end of our long work on this collection and that end is in the form of an open access monograph published with UCL Press.

Why open access? This seemed like the best fit for talking at length about a collection that now has such a wide-ranging life on the web, after all if the images are available to everyone then an analysis of the collection can be too. To mark the release of, Canada in the Frame: Copyright, Collections and the Image of Canada, 1895-1924 I have been going back through the images from the book to pull out a few that I have always found particularly interesting and that speak to the collection as a whole. The cats at the top did not quite make the cut but they tell us two interesting things; that much of the collection was produced and copyrighted to cater to a growing economy of frivolous photographic consumption in Canada and that cute cats predate the Internet by more than 60 years.

Above: 'Opening of the British Columbia Parliament buildings' (1898), J. W. Jones.

J. W. Jones’s photographs of the opening of the provincial parliament buildings in Victoria, British Columbia, are part of a common trope in the collection, where civic development and pride are celebrated through the work of the photographer. Jones is also one of the few photographers who we can see actively enforced the copyright he claimed on his images, taking a photographic competitor to court for copyright infringement in the early twentieth century.

 File:Canadian patriotic Indian Chiefs (HS85-10-30605).jpg

Above: Tom Longboat (1907), by C. Aylett and 'Patriotic Indian Chiefs' (1915), by R. R. Mumford.

The next two images highlight the complex ways in which individuals from First Peoples groups were photographed at this time. In both photographs the focus is on using First Peoples to perform different aspects of colonial nationalism, with Tom Longboat (Cogwagee, of the Onondaga Nation) posed and styled as ‘a Canadian’ after his victory in the 1907 Boston Marathon while the ‘Patriotic Indian Chiefs’ are here framed in a piece of First World War Propaganda. In both instances, complex indigenous identities are reconfigured by White photographers to communicate patriotic messages to urban consumers. That Longboat was only regarded as Canadian in victory (when losing he became ‘an Indian’ again to press commentators) also highlights the cynicism underpinning these images.

File:The wreck of the artillery train at Enterprise, Ontario, June 9, 1903 (HS85-10-14100-10).jpg

Above: The wreck of the artillery train at Enterprise, Ontario, June 9, 1903' (1903), H. A. May.

Trains were a popular subject for photographers in this period and images of train wrecks had an eager market of buyers. Notable among the photographs of wrecks found in the collection are those of Harriet Amelia May who took a series of photographs of the scenes after an artillery train derailed in the small town of Enterprise. Within a set of fairly standard photographs of the scene, capturing the derailed train, men looking industrious while trying to clear up, May also produced this image of a family with the ruin of the train invading their back garden. As a result, May left us with a unique image of how modernity could disrupt people’s lives in Canada at the beginning of the twentieth century.


Above: 'Homesteaders trekking from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan' (1909), L. Rice.

Finally, the collection covers the period of ‘The Last Best West’ and Canadian photographers devoted considerable effort to documenting the settlement of Canada’s plains provinces. many, like that of Rice (above) illustrate the efforts settlers went to in order to claim land and establish a home while others focused on the many new peoples, often from eastern Europe, who were making the west their home and becoming part of Canadian society. These are just a few examples of the topics covered in the book and the over 100 images that accompany the account, if you would like to know more, you can download a copy of Canada in the Frame from UCL Press by clicking here.

Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies

10 July 2018

Call for Applicants: Eccles British Library Writer’s Award

North America (John Rocque)

Above: John Rocque's, 'A General Map of North America' [Maps K.Top.118.32]

The summer marches on and while we are all tempted to kick-back and enjoy this unusual spell of consistent sunshine the writers in our audience may, nonetheless, want to have an eye on their plans for next year. The Eccles Centre’s call for applicants to the 2019 Writer’s Award is currently open and you have until the end of August to apply. For those of you who don’t know, the Award amounts to £20,000 for a twelve month residency at the British Library. Applicants should be working on a non-fiction or fiction full-length book, written in the English Language, the research for which requires that they make substantial use of the British Library’s collections relating to any part of the Americas (North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean). We are very excited to be broadening the horizons of the Award for this year and hope authors using the wider Americas collections will apply.

Wulf ander's choice C12682-03 (lo-res)

Above: Andrea Wulf (bhoto by Ander McIntyre) and an illustration of a monkey created by Humboldt for the account of his voyage (149.h.5.(1), from BL Images Online)

Previous awardees include Benjamin Markovits, Will Atkins, Andrea Wulf and many others. Each of our Award holders has used the Americas collections of the British Library to add extra depth to their research. For example, Will Atkins used the collections to research the history of exploration of deserts in the US as well as the history of events like the Burning Man festival. Meanwhile, Andrea Wulf drew from the Library’s collections, especially our printed book and maps collections, to conduct her research into the life and travels of Alexander von Humbolt. The Americas collections are broad in scope and potentially useful items can be found in the form of printed books, manuscripts, newspapers, government documents, photographs, maps, pamphlets and many more materials types. As a result, a wide world of inspiration awaits our 2019 Award holder.

If this has inspired you to leave the sun lounger and consider putting in an application, we would love to hear from you. For more information about applying for the Award, as well as insights into the work of previous winners, please visit our website. If you have any questions or would like to talk to someone about the award you can also get in touch with us at:

Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre

05 July 2018

The Forgotten Voyages: beyond Windrush

‘The S.S. Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury on 22 June 1948 with 492 Jamaican men on-board’ is a sentence that has been written and said, in some form, countless times. It exemplifies how the repetition of words can enshrine believed truths. Not only is this statement factually incorrect, it reduces a complex and historical phenomenon into a neat moment. Windrush was not neat, it was not just Jamaican, not just male, and crucially not just the boat that docked at Tilbury on 22 June 1948.

The post will flag up some of the forgotten voyages that brought men, women and children from all over the Caribbean to Britain. Some of these journeys are referred to in ‘The Arrivals’ section of the Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land  exhibition and can also be found in the library’s vast newspaper collection.

18.07.05 Forgotten Voyages 1
‘Jamaican's Seeking Work in England’, The Times, 2 April 1947, p.2


In April 1947, the S.S. Ormonde arrived in Liverpool. This article gave a sympathetic-paternalistic response to the 11 stowaways who came to Britain in search of work. In the context of severe financial problems in Jamaica, Sigismund Alexander McCarthy, an ex-service man from Kingston, described the need to come to the ‘Mother Country’. In the court hearing, the Chairman declared, “We have a good deal of sympathy with men like you who want work.” In many ways this set the tone for a partial acceptance of Caribbean people as temporary workers rather than citizens.

18.07.05 Forgotten Voyages 2
‘31 Coloured Men Stowaway to Find Work’, Southern Daily Echo, 22 December 1947

18.07.05 Forgotten Voyages 3

Later that year, the Almanzora docked at Southampton on 21 December 1947. It brought 200 West Indian passengers, including 31 stowaways – many of whom were ex-RAF. Unlike Empire Windrush, this arrival caused a local rather than national stir. There was no national press sent to ‘welcome’ the arrivals.

18.07.05 Forgotten Voyages 4
Immigrants from West Indies, The Times 24 June 1949 p.4

The British Nationality Act was passed in 1948 which explains why the majority of voyages arrived after Empire Windrush. The act conferred the status of British citizen on all Commonwealth subjects, recognising their right to work and settle in the UK. The Georgic, which arrived in Liverpool on 25 June 1949, had the 'biggest number of coloured colonial immigrants to arrive on one ship since the Empire Windrush'. The party of 254 included 61 women, 26 men who had already been to England, ‘mostly in the R.A.F' and 30 Trinidadians. Hence, this article depicted a diverse group of passengers, challenging the perception of voyagers as being single Jamaican men on their first journey to England.

In 1954, the Reina del Pacifico docked at Liverpool, bringing ‘More than three hundred Jamaican immigrants, men seeking work, or women coming to join husbands already established here’.[1] As waves of Caribbean migration continued, the number of women and children arriving overtook that of their male counterparts. A full-page spread in The Times, ‘West Indians Send for Their Families,’ illustrated this gender and age shift. By 1958, women and children ‘accounted for well over half of the 16,511 arrivals.’[2] The article mentions the 2,500 Barbadians (mostly women) who joined the British Hotels and Restaurants Association as part of the 1955 Barbadian Government sponsored training scheme, alongside describing the other important jobs that Caribbean people were doing – nursing, teaching and working on London’s transport system. By reporting work, housing and family life, the article presented an increasingly settled community, rather than a tale of migrants who were here to work temporarily.

In the months preceding the implementation of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 – a racialised law that would greatly restrict the rights of certain Commonwealth citizens – there was a migration surge. In the British Pathé newsreel from 1962, 'Immigrants Beat Clock' 

, lots of smartly dressed children are shown disembarking at Southampton, just hours before the act came into force. The narrator tells of how ‘in the last week, in addition to those coming by sea, 2000 flew in’. Perhaps some of these children are those that have faced profound citizenship-insecurity in recent years, as part of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy.

The so-called Windrush Generation was made of up a myriad of forgotten voyages which came via multiple routes – sea, air, mostly paid for and sometimes stowaways – and for different reasons – work, love and journeys of return.

- Naomi Oppenheim


AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library and UCL. Researching Caribbean popular culture and the politics of history in post-war Britain and assisted on Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land


[1] Immigrants Arrive from Jamaica, The Manchester Guardian, 19 October 1954, front page.

[2] West Indians Send for Their Families, The Times, 1 December 1959, p.15