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6 posts from December 2011

16 December 2011

A Hankering to Travel: Charles Dickens and North America

Charles Dickens
Portrait of Charles Dickens from J. Forster's 'The Life of Charles Dickens' (shelfmark: YA.1993.a.5369)

The British Library's Folio Gallery has a new exhibition up, 'A Hankering After Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural'. The exhibition has been put on to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Dickens, who was born on the 7th February 1812, and is well worth a look. While I paid the exhibition a visit the other day it reminded me of some of Dickens' writings, which I had been meaning to read for some time, the notes on his travels to North America in 1842.

 'American Notes for General Circulation' is a travelogue resulting from Dickens' travels and experiences in America and Canada, the Library holds a copy at shelfmark, Cup.410.g.25. The account is well worth a read for the author's flair and as an interesting travelogue in its own right. What caught my attention was Dickens' devotion of the final thematic chapter to the topic of slavery in America. Dickens is strongly critical of the practice and goes to great lengths to illustrate the horrors of slavery through the reproduction of adverts regarding run away slaves.

Dickens is withering in his criticism of Republicans who maintain a system at odds with their stated values, denouncing these individuals as thinking they, 'will not tolerate a man above [them]: and of those below, none must approach too near' (p. 41). He also notes there to be a significant proportion of this group who would, 'glady involve America in a war, civil, or foreign, provided that it had for its sole end and object the assertion of their right to perpetuate slavery' (ibid). While the causes of the later civil war are complex such a statement does seem unnervingly prescient.

Even though the Library's 'A Hankering After Ghosts' led me to call up Dickens' 'American Notes' this chapter caught my attention for another reason, the Americas department's collaborative doctoral award on slavery in Canada. The award is currently open to applications and anyone who is interested can find more information on this previous post.

[PJH]

14 December 2011

Canada walks away from Kyoto: another Official Publications post

Global Health Check (Durban)
Publicity photograph from Durban 2011, courtesy of 'UNclimatechange' 

Canada's intention to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol has been a badly kept secret for some time, as the BBC have pointed out. However, questions as to why and what the impact will be still arise; institutions such as the British Library and electronic repositories of official publications can provide a wealth of useful material to furnish answers. 

There are several online repositories that offer useful resources on the Protocol in particular and on the nature and impact of climate change more widely.  Much of this information can be found via the UN Climate Change Portal, which provides useful statistical overviews and links to more detailed reports and numbers from other branches of the United Nations. Information can also be found on UN Data, such as this Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data chart which illustrates output from 41 countries between 1990 and 2008.

The UN also makes available a wide range of materials from the recent Durban Climate Change Conference, these can be found here and provide a large amount of data on a complex and still evolving political event. Canada's withdrawal came subsequent to the Environment Minister, Peter Kent, attending the Durban conference and confirming that the protocol, 'does not represent the way forward for Canada'. Canada's significance as a carbon dioxide emitter is summed up by this graph, perhaps most importantly it also shows how much an economy dominated by oil exports also contributes in relative terms.

The Alberta Oil Sands (which have been on this blog before) have been suggested as a reason for Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol despite not being mentioned directly by the government. This is perhaps appropriate as such decisions rarely come down to a single issue, instead being the result of a complex assortment of social, economic and political pressures. As such, it may be worthwhile also paying attention to Canada's overall status as a pollutor, projected trade interests, demographic pressures and domestic energy needs, all of which could cause Canada trouble in adhering to the conditions set by the protocol and its potential successor.

The British Library holds a significant amount of material relating to climate change and the Kyoto Protocol produced in various countries and from myriad research backgrounds. In particular the Science, Technology and Medicine collections contain English language journals and academic monographs from around the world. There are also publications relating specifically to Canada, including Rodney White, 'Climate Change in Canada' (2010: YK.2011.a.16488) or the previous government's 'Moving Forward on Climate Change: a plan for honouring our Kyoto agreement' (2005, shelfmark: OPF.2006.x.35).

[PJH and JJ]

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