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 October 2014

Baseball in the Library

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As mentioned in the Babe Ruth blog back in July, the Library was recently pleased to acquire the extensive baseball collection of Mike Ross.  

Of its 300+ items, about two thirds were published in the 1980s and 90s – with the rest dating between the late 1940s and 2000s. In subject matter they span the panoply of baseball publishing. There are biographies and autobiographies of players such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax, to name but a few; team histories include the Red Sox, the Phillies, the Dodgers and the Yankees; there are books about the Minor Leagues, the Negro League, the American League, the 1919 World Series, the dead ball era and baseball during World War II; and there are works by those associated with the game as managers, owners, umpires, scouts, sports writers and broadcasters. 

Not surprisingly, given its vital role in summarizing performance and evaluating players, numerous works incorporate or are devoted to statistical analysis. In addition to annual editions of the American League Red Book, the National League Green Book and team media and information guides, there are also numerous works by Bill James whose innovative statistical approach – ‘sabermetrics’ – earned him a place on Time’s 2006 guide to the 100 most influential people in the world. 

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Finally, the collection includes literary works that take baseball as their theme, runs of  baseball journals including National Pastime and The Baseball Research Journal and – in addition to numerous works highlighting best player, moment, decade or season – there are a few that take a slightly more circumspect approach to the national game. 

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The collection is now on its way to Boston Spa where it will be catalogued by our colleagues – we will keep you posted on its progress!

[J.P.]

09 October 2014

Olaudah Equiano and the draw of the Arctic

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Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano (portrait)

Above: frontispiece portrait from, 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano' [BL: 1489.g.50]

When I started planning 'Lines in the Ice' there were certain stories I already had in my mind, events from history I thought would surprise the viewer and grab attention in the exhibition space. Alas, not all of these pieces of the narrative make it into the final cut for various reasons including space, the shape of the narrative or because another item tells a similar story better. One such event I wanted to discuss but has recently fallen victim to the hard decisions of exhibition planning is the Arctic expedition on which Olaudah Equiano travelled.

I must confess, before starting work as a curator, at no point had I ever sat down and read all of Equiano's 'Interesting Narrative'. Previously I'd read and discussed key sections but had never made time to digest the account cover to cover. That was until I held the Library's first edition copy and its details began to jump out, the portrait at the front, the extensive list of subscribers (filled with names sure to catch any historian's eye), etc. From then on I was hooked and Equiano's narrative has been one of my favourite items to talk to visitors about (the BL holds quite a few copies).

Equiano is well known to many as the author of 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano' and, as a result, prominent figure in the campaign against the slave trade. Fewer people realise that Equiano's life was underpinned by travel across the British Empire and beyond, as a slave, an indentured person and an independent businessman at different times. Indeed Equiano's travels were long, complex and varied - as evidenced by his presence on the 1773 journey of Captain Constantine John Phipps to Spitzbergen, part of an attempt to find a passage to Asia via the North Pole.

The connection between Equiano and this particular attempt on the North Pole was Dr Charles Irving, a scientist renowned for his work on water purification to whom Equiano was contracted. Equiano's opinion of the voyage is a wonderful critique of the deluded idea a passage existed via the Pole, stating the journey was, 'to find, towards the north pole, what our Creator never intended we should, a passage to India'. 

Nelson in conflict with a bear

Above: a dramatised depiction of Nelson's encounter with a bear. From, 'The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson' [BL: 1859.c.5]

It is a shame Equiano's role in this journey is little known today, especially given the frank opinions he expresses in his Narrative. Instead the journey is more often remembered for the presence of one Horatio Nelson, who attracted considerable attention with his ill-conceived hunting trip. That being said, the presence of both individuals underlines a point I made in a recent post about Franklin, which is how important these potential routes have been at various points in the histoy of the British Empire and Europe in general. Indeed, so notable were these journeys of exploration that they drew some of the greatest writers, thinkers and explorers of the time.

That Equiano did not make it into 'Lines in the Ice' is the fault of Phipps's destination; British attempts on the North Pole and Northeast Passage are not a focus of the early part of the exhibition. That being said, given the restricted length of exhibition labels, maybe Equiano's interesting journey is better suited to the extended space of a blog post. For those of you who'd like to read more about Equiano you can find copies of 'The Interesting Narrative' as well as Vincent Carreta's biography, 'Equiano, the African' [BL: m05/39533] here at the British Library.

[PJH]

26 September 2014

Wheel Outings in Canada

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Wheel Outings in Canada

P.E. Doolittle, Wheel Outings in Canada and CWA Guide (Touring Section of the Canadian Wheelmen's Association, 1895).  This work has been identified by the British Library as being free of known copyright restrictions. Public Domain Mark

Following on from our First World War exhibition, Enduring War: grief, grit and humour, and our work on Europeana 1914-1918, I was invited to speak last Thursday at a conference at York University, Toronto on the war and, in my case, digital commemoration. There were many stimulating papers and a tour of the Archives of Ontario's new exhibition, Dear Sadie, which follows the lives, some cruelly curtailed, of four Canadians during the war via their letters. Several papers also touched on Mary Borden, the American nurse and author of the initially suppressed The Forbidden Zone, and who is the subject of an Eccles Centre talk next week (3 Oct). As well as meeting colleagues, a particular highlight was the plenary lecture by Margaret Macmillan, 'Canada and the Great War'. During this, we heard a little bit more about how the two dominions of Canada and Newfoundland (of all the combatants, it was noted, the one nation without blame for causing the war) gained a greater sense of self- and nationhood.

After my talk, I had to come back to the Library in London. I had, however, a day spare, as it was too expensive to fly back without a Saturday night stay. It was time to explore the city and meet some Torontans (Torontonians?). The simplest way was to gatecrash the third annual Tweed Ride, which has been inspired by the original London Tweed Run and raises money for Bikes without Borders. It also proved an excuse to revisit Wheel Outings in Canada (picture above), which has been digitised by the Library  and whose adverts include 'perfect pants at panic prices'.  Perfect indeed for any neophyte tweed rider (p.12). Would it be wrong to admit that I had fun? In the spirit of contemporary collecting, I took some photographs, and in an a digital echo of the Canadian Colonial Copyright Collection of photographs (you can read Phil on the subject), I've added them to our blog in the modern mode:

 

[Matthew Shaw]