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

28 August 2015

HC SVUNT DRACONES

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Above: displays have always been a highlight. This was of our Edward Curtis materials, for students from NYU (image: PJH)

Well, after five years as part of Team Americas (nine, if you count my time as an MA and PhD student) I'm moving on to new pastures - even if they are still part of the British Library. Next week I'll be taking up the post of Lead Curator, Digital Mapping, and will be based with colleagues in the Contemporary British team.

It's a return to my founding discipline, as I'm a Geographer originally, but I will miss working with the Americas collections. Over the last five years I've learnt a lot through the Library's collections and the chance to wallow in their breadth has been fascinating. I can safely say there is more material here than you could ever possibly imagine. In many ways, and in contrast to doing a PhD, this is the joy of working as a curator; getting to stretch yourself out over a vast range of information about the history and present of the Americas and their place in the world.

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Above: looking over exhibition design proofs for Lines in the Ice (image: PJH)

This being the case I thought it would be a shame to leave without noting down some of my highlights working for Team Americas, mostly for nostalgia but also because some of it might interest you. So, here we go;

  1. Y'all: I wrote last week about it being an honour to meet Reverend Jesse Jackson but, while this is true, I can honestly say it's been my absolute pleasure to work with each and every one of you. The main joy of my role has been getting an inside view of what questions researchers on all levels are asking about the collections. As our Summer Scholars show, you're all doing great work.
  2. The Eccles Centre: most of you reading the blog know this already but many of us in American, Canadian and now Caribbean Studies would get an awful lot less done without them.
  3. Students: we hear a lot about how awful it is being a graduate student and, yes, the hours are long and the subsequent employment prospects are less than great. However, the amount of brilliant work PhDs in Americas studies are doing is astonishing and adds a huge amount to their fields and the broader understanding of the Library's collections. On top of this my own PhD students have been fantastic and a guaranteed highlight to any week I've worked with them.
  4. Events and exhibitions: I've been lucky during my time in the Americas collections and have run a number of events and displays, as well as one exhibition. Lines in the Ice was a privilege to put on but for all the academic praise it received the biggest achievement was getting younger children interested in the Arctic. Seeing young folk (be they 5 or 15) every day enjoying listening to the sounds of walruses under water or Inuit throat singing was a delight. The events have been great too, Summer Scholars was a hoot (especially when Naomi Wood was blasting out music next to the Conservation Centre) and events like 'Our Memories of the Uprisings' brought communities together.
  5. The societies: be it BAAS, BACS or SCS, the Americas area studies societies are an important hub for their respective disciplines. Make no bones about it, times are tough for area studies scholars and departments but the members of these groups keep bringing people together, innovating and, along with the Eccles Centre, providing a hub to keep on raising important questions.
  6. Australasia: my adopted charge. I took on these collections while we were without an Australasia curator and it was an immensely rewarding experience. I learnt that I knew as good as nothing about Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island history and got to rectify that by using original historical documents. A unique and exciting adventure.
  7. The collections: I'll be working with physical collections a lot less now but, even in a digital age, it's impossible to over-stress how important these are. Be they books, photographs, newspapers, maps or manuscripts each of these objects, produced yesterday or a thousand years ago, is a connection to the past. This connection is partial, obscured, provocative, confusing and many other things that stop it being (as we too often say) a 'window' onto the past but the fundamental truth that some other person touched this object, be they another reader, an eighteenth-century mapmaker or King George III, makes that connection tangible and personal.
  8. This blog: last but not least. Writing on here about what Team Americas has found, who has visited and what we're up to has always been enjoyable. It's tough to find the time, as it always is with writing, but the blog both inspires research and acts as a record of what has happened to Team Americas since late 2009. Hopefully I'll pop back up occasionally, but for a while it will carry on without me.

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Above: hopefully, I'll still be working with the originals of these. Occasionally.

This, of course, isn't everything and nor should it be as I'm not leaving the Library. There is a lot I still get to do and, thankfully, that includes working with the Americas team and the Eccles Centre, even if this doesn't happen quite as often. However, for now, this is goodbye to our time working together with the Americas collections.

I'm off to find some [digital] dragons.

[PJH]

24 August 2015

Team Americas meets Reverend Jesse Jackson

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William Wells Brown (portrait)  Olaudah Equiano (portrait)

Above: portraits from the works of William Wells Brown [BL: 10880.a.6] and Olaudah Equiano [BL: 1489.g.50], two items displayed for the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Last week Team Americas had the pleasure of putting on a small show of collection items for Reverend Jesse Jackson, who visited the Library's Magna Carta show ahead of his event on Friday evening. I've done more than a few collection displays while I've been a curator and it's always entertaining to collate a selection of material, usually on a tight timescale, from the Library's vast collections and making a narrative that will interest the audience and illuminate the significance of the objects on show.

For Reverend Jackson's display I focussed on the long march to abolish slavery and attain racial equality in the Americas, which is extensively detailed in manuscript, book, newspaper and other collections held here. It was an opportunity to look at a number of items I know of but have not spent time with and also to show some of the notable interconnections between the items, collections and ideas that make up the wider Americas collections.

Spending time with material you've not read before is always fascinating and the Library's holdings of manuscript letters between King Henri Christophe of Haiti and Thomas Clarkson, written in 1816, are particularly so. Consisting mostly of a lengthy letter from Christophe to Clarkson there are two main threads to the message: Christophe explaining why the Haitian revolution was so necessary and also thanking Clarkson for dispatching some (reading between the lines) British teachers to support education in this new free state. The arrival of these teachers raises a question as to exactly what is going on here. Christophe is undoubtedly pleased with their arrival ('the greatest benefit' he calls them) but why, above all things, did Clarkson send teachers? Was he asked to? Did he decide they were an important part of, perhaps, shaping free Haiti into a recognisably European state? Or did he think educating free Afro-Caribbeans would make a useful case for his own abolitionist work?

Whatever the case, the letters remind us of a few important points: that the networks involved in promoting the end of slavery and subsequent racial equality in the Americas were international in nature; that they involved a large number of individuals with prodigious global contacts; that each party in these networks had their own aims and objectives; and that activism in these networks could spring up in the most unlikely of places. Another item on display was a copy of Olaudah Equiano's 'Interesting Narrative' and a glance at the subscribers in this work illustrates the above nicely. A recent blog post by our student Ellie Bird (whose research was also on display) illustrates the surprising locations involved, as authors promoting Underground Railroad publications found their way to the Lake District.

The only problem with these displays (as with these blogs) is that people are busy and there's never enough time to talk about absolutely everything that piques one's interests. Sadly, my time of doing these displays is coming to an end too as, at the beginning of September, I'll be taking up the post of Lead Curator, Digital Mapping, here at the Library. Given this will be one of my final displays I've decided to leave it on the blog for future reference and so the handout can be downloaded below. 

Download Freedom and Equality in the Americas (Rev Jackson display, final)

[PJH]

14 August 2015

Animal Tales exhibition list

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Animal Tales has been open for a week, and we're very pleased by the response so far.  We've had lots of requests for a list of what is on display, so here it is

1.       Looking at Animals

Gilbert White, The Natural history of Selborne and its antiquities, London, 1802. C.61.b.20 & Add. MSS 31852

Michel de Montaigne, Les Essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne. Paris, 1602. C.28.g.7

John Berger, draft of ‘About Looking: Why look at animals’, 1979–80. Add MS 88964/1/35 & John Berger, Why look at animals. London, 2009. Private collection

David Garnett, A Man in the zoo. London, 1924. 12631.h.14

Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. London, [1902]. Cup.402.a.4

Karen Bleitz, Dolly: edition unlimited. London, 1997. RF.2004.a.

2.       Traditional Tales

Esbatement moral des animaux. Anvers, [1578]. C.125.d.23

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Kinder-und Hausmärchen. Berlin, 1875. 12431.bbb.55

Ronald King & Roy Fisher, Anansi Company. London, 1992. C.193.c.8

Wu Cheng’en, Journey to the West. 15271.c.13

Antonia Barber, The Mousehole Cat. London, 1990. LB.31.b.4374a

Ted Hughes & Leonard Baskin, Crow: from the life and songs of the Crow.

London, 1973. Hughes 11

The Very hungry lion: a folktale. Adapted by Gita Wolf. Chennai, 2000. YK.2004.b.224

3.       Tales for Children

Johann Amos Comenius, Orbis sensualium pictus. London, 1659. E.2116.(1.)

[Sally Sketch], An Alphabetical arrangement of animals for little naturalists.

London, 1821. 7207.a.11

History of the red-breast family: being an introduction to the Fabulous History written by S. Trimmer. London, 1793. C.193.a.126

Anna Sewell, Black Beauty: his grooms and companions: the autobiography of a horse. London, 1877. C.123.d.35

Anton Chekhov, Kashtanka. London, 1959. 12842.r.20

Anthony Browne, Gorilla. London, 1991. YK.1991.a.5346

Judith Kerr, The Tiger who came to tea. London, 2007. Private collection

John Agard, We animals would like a word with you. London, 1996. YK.1996.b.17152

SF Said, Varjak Paw. Oxford, 2003. Nov.2003/1912

T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s book of practical cats, illustrated by Nicolas Bentley. London, 1940. 11656.b.44 & Add. MS 71002, f. 53

Matthew Reinhart, The Jungle book: a pop-up adventure. London, 2006. YK.2011.a.15056

4.       Animal Allegories

Chinua Achebe and John Iroaganachi with Christopher Okigbo, How the leopard got his claws. Nairobi, 1976. X.990/9580

Mikhail Bulgakov, A Mongrel’s Heart, adapted by Stephen Mulrine, 1994. MPS 6265: 1994

Art Spiegelman, ‘Maus’ in Funny aminals. San Francisco, 1972. JB Rund Collection

Richard Church, A Squirrel called Rufus. London, 1941. 12825.dd.33

Munro Leaf, The Story of Ferdinand. London, 1937. 012802.cc.54

CS Lewis, The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. London, 1950. RF.2006.a.114

Laline Paull, The Bees. London, 2014. Nov.2015/1132

George Orwell, Animal Farm: a fairy story. London, 1995. YC.1995.b.7273

5.       Metamorphoses

Ovid, La Métamorphose d’Ovide figurée. Lyon, 1583. 11388.aa.24

Chris Ofili, Diana and Actaeon. London, 2012. LC.31.b.13013

Angela Carter, ‘Courtship of Mr Lyon’. Add. MS 88899/1/34, f. 14

John Keats, Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes & other poems. Waltham St. Lawrence, 1928. C.98.gg.16

Philip Pullman, I was a rat!...or The scarlet slippers. London, 1999. Nov.2000/93

David Garnett, Lady into fox. London, 1922. 12630.pp.12

6.       Call of the Wild

Jack London, The Call of the wild. London, 1903. 012628.cc.18

Henry Williamson, Tarka the otter: his joyful water-life and death in the country of the two rivers. London, 1932. 012614.d.27

Richard Adams, Watership Down. Harmondsworth, 1973. H.73/667

Jules Renard, Hunting with ‘The Fox’. With twenty-three lithographs by H. de Toulouse-Lautrec. Oxford, 1948. 12358.g.21

Barry Hines, A Kestrel for a knave. Harmondsworth, 1974. Private Collection

Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk. London, 2014. Nov.2015/1817

Ouida [Maria Louise Ramé], A Dog of Flanders: a photoplay. New York, [1924]. YD.2015.a.313

William Burroughs, The Cat inside. New York, 1986. RF.2008.b.7

Herman Melville, Moby Dick or The Whale. Chicago, 1930. L.R.50.b.1

Guillaume Apollinaire, Le bestiaire, ou Cortège d’Orphée. New York, 1977. LR.430.e.10

Pablo Neruda, Bestiary/Bestario. New York, 1965

Dave Eggers, The Wild Things: a novel. San Francisco, 2009. Cup.935/1546

Mark Doty & Darren Waterston, A Swarm, a flock, a host: a compendium of creatures. San Francisco, 2013

Ted Hughes, Cows. North Tawton, 1981. HS.74/2121

 Sound Points

Mole and Rat begin to mess around in boats in Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908), read by Alan Bennett (1989). 1CA0005431

Noël Coward reads ‘Elephant’ from Ogden Nash’s series of verses for Camille Saint-Saëns, Le Carnaval des animaux (recorded in 1949). 1CD0239907.

John Agard reads his poem, ‘Woodpecker’ (recording published in 1981). 1CA0014306

Benjamin Zephaniah reads his poem, ‘Talking Turkeys’ (recorded in 1998). 1CA0006901

TS. Eliot reads his verse, ‘Macavity the Mystery Cat’ from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. 1LP0054600

Ted Hughes discusses the ‘Crow’ poems on Poetry Now (BBC3, 1970). 1CD0286783

Art Spiegelman discusses Maus at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1987). C95/302

Ron King discusses the creation of the Anansi artist’s book (recorded in 1996) C466/47/01-21

Sound Scape

Atmosphere with Goshawk

Rain with Red Fox

Blackbird

Frog atmosphere

Cattle with cowherd

Waves & Sperm Whale

Exhibition list for Animal Tales

A British Library Entrance Hall Exhibition

7 August – 1 November 2015

Exhibition Design by NortonAllison

Curators: Matthew Shaw, Alison Bailey, Barbara Hawes