THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Americas studies blog

4 posts from January 2012

26 January 2012

Picturing the Great Alone: photography and the Antarctic

Robert Falcon Scott (by Herbert Ponting)
Robert Falcon Scott on the 'Terra Nova' expedition, by Herbert Ponting. Image from Wikipedia.

Last year was a busy one for Team Americas and one of the many things we managed to do was take on some responsibilities for materials relating to Antarctica, thus adding a whole extra continent to our domain. This being the case, when an opportunity to view 'The Heart of the Great Alone' at The Queen's Gallery came up a couple of us jumped at the chance.

'The Heart of the Great Alone' covers various early twentieth century expeditions to the Antarctic, including that of the 'Terra Nova' during which Scott and his team perished. The main exhibition focus is the photography of Frank Hurley, photographer for Shackleton's 'Endurance' expedition, and Herbert Ponting, who produced the official photographs for the 'Terra Nova' expedition. I could write a lot here about these photographers and the expedition but the best thing to do would be to recommend a visit the exhibition itself or the e-gallery.

 Icebergs (by Herbert Ponting)
'Midnight in the Antarctic Summer', by Herbert Ponting. Image from Wikipedia.

However, as always with these trips, I had a mind to mull over the Library's materials relating to the Antarctic when I got back. The Library's collections from this area are not the largest in the world, with institutions such as the Scott Polar Research Institute and the Royal Geographical Society (to name a few) holding a wealth of material, but there is a noteworthy body of material which is well supported by the wider collection of Official Publications and Newspapers (especially in the case of an expedition such as the 'Terra Nova').

That said, there are some stand out items and a notable collection of miscellaneous materials held here. Captain Scott's diary is one of the Library's star collection items and the journal 'The South Polar Times' (shelfmark: Tab.444.d.6.) was the first publication printed on the Antarctic continent. Publications by Frank Hurley and Herbert Ponting also feature, including Ponting's 'The Great White South' (1921, shelfmark: 010460.g.1). These items contribute to a wealth of published material relating to the Antarctic and explorers such as Scott and Roald Amundsen.

As well as holding materials relating to the initial exploration of Antarctica, the Library has a significant collection regarding the continent in the later twentieth century; where scientific progress and international co-operation become the order of the day. Materials arising from events such as the Antarctic Treaty or organisations such as the British Antarctic Survey, as well as many academic texts and articles regarding the continent, are insightful on their own but also suggest an evolving relationship between global society and the frozen continent.

[PJH]

19 January 2012

Kodak: framing the last 120 years

Harrow Kodak Factory (British Library Kodak Archive)
'Kodak factory at Harrow, 1890s'. Photographer unknown. British Library Kodak Archive A.1787

The news that Kodak is formally filing for bankruptcy protection has been coming for some time but it still represents a significant moment in the history of photography. Ever since George Eastman marketed his company's first camera in 1888 Kodak has framed the personal, family, social and political histories not just of the Americas but of a significant portion of the world.

As such, I decided to dig around and see the mark Kodak has left on the British Library's collections. In short, it's a big one. Some of the earliest materials we hold relating to Kodak were published by the company itself, for example the Kodak Press publication, 'Picture Taking and Picture Making' (1898, Shelfmark: YA.1998.a.14770). This body of material is quite large and covers various subjects, from 'Motion Picture Laboratory Practice, and Characteristics of Eastman Motion Picture Films' (1936, Shelfmark: 778.1258 DSC) to the journal, 'Dental Radiography and Photography'.

Far larger is the body of material which owes a debt to Kodak equipment in its production, including a number of our photobooks, travelogues, newspapers, journals, and so on. Some early examples here include the Countess of Aberdeen's, 'Through Canada with a Kodak' (1893, Shelfmark: 10470.b.35) and Alfred Leader's, 'Through Jamaica with a Kodak' (1907, Shelfmark: 010470.e.5). Both also illustrate how quickly Kodak developed an intimate relationship with the international traveller and the travelogues many of them produced.

Shrimp Fisher (British Library)
'Shrimp Fisher (September 1908)', entry for Eastman Plate Competition by L. Hillier. British Library Kodak Archive A.1997 

The Library's Kodak related collections do not end with published material, however. Two collections of particular note are, 'The Oral History of British Photography' and the 'Kodak Ltd. Archive'. Kodak receives multiple mentions in 'The Oral History of British Photography', often as a reminiscence but also because of the interviewing of people such as Robert Lassam (former curator of the Kodak Gallery). The Kodak Archive held here was donated in 2009 and is the corporate archive of Kodak's UK arm, providing access to photographs and documents which illustrate the development of photography in the UK as well as the company's history.

Kodak's global reach and legacy is borne out by how pervasive materials relating to or facilitated by the company are in the collections of the British Library and libraries across the world. This, therefore, is one of the many ways in which the significance of today can be impressed upon us.

[PJH]

16 January 2012

War, Struggle and Equality: the Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee airman (poster)
War bonds poster featuring an unnamed Tuskegee airman (displayed on Wikipedia's Tuskegee Airmen entry)

On January 10th the Institute for the Study of the Americas hosted a screening of the documentary, 'Double Victory', an account of the Tuskegee Airmen and their exploits in World War Two. These pilots of the 332nd Figther Group and 477th Bomber Group of the U. S. Army Air Corps were the first African American aviators of the U.S. Armed Forces but they faced a struggle against institutionalised racism in order to fly, fight and be treated as equals during and after the war.

'Double Victory' is a documentary account of this struggle, narrated by Cuba Gooding Jr. and produced to be viewed alongside the film 'Red Tails' (both productions are Lucas Film projects). The high point of the evening, however, was the attendence of two Tuskegee Airmen, Le Roy Gillead and Alexander Jefferson. Gillead and Jefferson's recollections added a great deal to the evening, with Jefferson talking about the struggle for African American men to be allowed to fly and his experiences as a German POW and Gillead highlighting the struggle for equality undertaken by officers who did not see front line service.

Both men also talked about their pride at being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, along with roughly 300 other Tuskegee Airmen. During the award ceremony, President George W. Bush paid tribute to the airmen, saying, "The Tuskegee Airmen helped win a war, and you helped change our nation for the better. Yours is the story of the human spirit, and it ends like all great stories do – with wisdom and lessons and hope for tomorrow." A copy of the act bestowing the medals can be found here and Library holds a number of resources relating to the Tuskegee Airmen, their forces service and the relationship their actions had to the subsequent Civil Rights Movement.

The Library's collection of American newspapers contain a number of insights, with articles such as the Chicago Defender's, '332nd Flies Its 200th Mission Without a Loss' and many accounts of how the Freedman Field Mutiny and other incidents regarding racial equality were reported. There are also published service accounts, Alexander Jefferson's, 'Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free' (shelfmark: YC.2005.a.5960) is a good example, and various journal articles on the exploits and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen in Europe and the US.

[JJ and PJH]

04 January 2012

#Occupy

Bay area
99% posters and placards

Sf
In an odd way, the material culture of the various Occupy movements has already become commodified: thanks to one of our always helpful U.S. dealers, we've had an arrival of posters, pamphlets, newspapers and other ephemera from Occupy Wall Street, Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, Harvard and Boston.  We'll get them catalogued and available for current and future researchers as soon as possible; they may also come in useful for exhibitions in the future.

There are also efforts to create a digital archive at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.  And, in case you missed it, there was this fine piece by George Packer in the New Yorker (5 December).  Both links underscore the importance of the use of digital, as well as more traditional, media.

[M.J.S.]