American Collections blog

181 posts categorized "USA"

26 November 2015

A Thanksgiving Proclamation

Add comment Comments (0)


In terms of presidents, we normally think of FDR rather than TR when it comes to Thanksgiving; indeed, the portmanteau 'Franksgiving' coined by an Atlantic City mayor in 1939 is a reminder of the president's decision to move the holiday a week forward in a late effort to boost retail sales in the face of the Great Depression. American presidents had declared an annual day of Thanksgiving since Abraham Lincoln in 1863, but Teddy Roosevelt's 1905 proclamation, shown here (shelfmark 1865.c.7.(30.), image in the public domain), was the first to attribute the custom to the 'first settlers'. Before this date (and, indeed, until long after), States celebrated Thanksgiving in different ways, with by no means all invoking the story of Puritan settlers and American Indians.

Perhaps appropriately, the Declaration shown here (which now I've seen it, will be recommended for some conservation assessment) is bound in a large volume of similar proclamations from around the world, including announcements of days of mourning for British kings, the inauguration of the Second French Republic of 1848, and this reminder (in facsimile) of the backstory of the relations with the native peoples that Thanksgiving (yes, we always think of that scene in The Ice Storm).


By the King. A Proclamation forbidding the disorderly Trading with the Saluages in New England in America [24 Nov 1630. A facsimile] 1865.c.7.(54.).

More straightforward holidaying is, however, available in the Souvenir of Thanksgiving Day (London, 1896), shelfmark, produced by the American Society in London.


Members included Henry S. Wellcome and the 'patriarch of the American colony in London', Benjamin Franklin Stevens (whose brother, Henry, helped us build our collections). Typical of the souvenirs published by such societies at the time, it contains a menu for the main event, including, of course, turkey with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, as well as an amusing history of the colony and a series of cartoons reflecting on Anglo-British connections. The volume is also bound in leather, with a remarkable embossed roundel, shown here: souvenir

Not much fun if you're a turkey, of course:


But however, and whatever, you celebrate, 'Happy Thanksgiving' from us.



[Matthew Shaw]

07 October 2015

Curator, North American Published Collections

Add comment Comments (0)

[27/10/2015 Please note, the application deadline has now passed]. You may have seen Phil's valedictory post as he moves to his new role as Digital Mapping curator ('HC SVUNT DRACONES'). We're pleased that he's still very much around in the Library, but also that we are able to advertise a slightly rijigged version of his post (it now concentrates on the US and Canada, with an emphasis on the post-1850 and contemporary). If you are interested in working with the Collections and Curation team at the Library, then you may want to look at the job description on our website (here's the job description (.pdf)). Applications are due 26 October, and we'd also be very happy to talk more about the role (and yes, we really mean this).

Earlier in the year, Phil did a YouTube film about working at the Library. It links to a couple of other curators' experiences of their work, too. Good research material for any application...



-- Matthew Shaw

05 October 2015

More Animal Tales: Ozzie the Eagle

Add comment Comments (0)

Bald eagle

Bald Eagle (captioned 'White Headed Eagle'), from James Audubon's Birds of America [British Library shelfmark N.L.Tab.2]. Image: public domain.

For several years, a Floridian bald eagle has been the subject of a popular webcam. Fans of Ozzie could follow his day-to-day activities at the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam, observing the comings and goings of the bird along with those of Harriet, his partner of some twenty years.

But last week, we received the sad news that Ozzie is no longer with us. Discovered injured in a North Fort Myers backyard, the famous bird of prey died a few days later from infection from the wounds he received fighting off another bald eagle (as well as a possible entanglement with barbed wire). While such eagles are often said to partner 'for life', they do sometimes go their separate ways if they fail to breed. Courtship, notably, included dramatic displays of flight and free-fall, sometimes plummeting to a few feet off the ground before soaring into the sky once more. It is presumed that a final battle of aquiline love (or pride) finished him off.


'Wild Turkey', from James Audubon's Birds of America [British Library shelfmark N.L.Tab.2]. Image: public domain.

The news of Ozzie's demise went global, but perhaps struck a particularly American chord.  As the Washington Post noted, the death 'sent shock waves through Ozzie and Harriet’s loyal following, not only because of the eagles’ regal beauty as a couple, but also for what they represented: America, of course, and strong family values.' Famously trumping Benjamin Franklin's turkey proposal, the Bald Eagle has been America's national bird since 1782, appearing on the original Great Seal of the United States, thirteen arrows grasped in one talon, and an olive branch in the other:


Great Seal of the United States. Image: public domain.

It's a fitting choice: the eagle also plays an important, sacred part in many Native American cultures (for some of the museological consequences of this, see this fascinating post on 'Birds of a Feather' at the National Museum of the American Indian). And, of course, the bald-headed eagle makes a striking appearance in that great monument to Anglo-American natural history printing, James Audubon's Birds of America (image at the head this post). Here, the eagle is surrounded by the head and entrails of the scavenged dead fish that forms a large part of the bald eagle's diet. (Like Franklin, Audubon favoured the Turkey as the national bird.)

We didn't include Audubon (or indeed his precursor, Alexander Wilson) in our Animal Tales exhibition. More about this and the reasons for it next time. You can also see some of Audubon's Birds of America as part of our Turning the Pages project. You'll need a big iPad or monitor to duplicate the impact of the the double elephantine folio, though.

-- Matthew Shaw

24 August 2015

Team Americas meets Reverend Jesse Jackson

Add comment Comments (0)

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)


06 August 2015

Voting Rights Act Fifty Years On

Add comment Comments (0)


President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 while Martin Luther King and others look on.  Image in the public domain and made available by the LBJ Library and Wiki Commons.

The Voting Rights Act Fifty years ago today, on 6 August 1965, President Lyndon B Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act – arguably the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by the US Congress. Yet the journey to this point was bitter and hard-fought.

In 1870 – five years after the Civil War – the Fifteenth Amendment had prohibited federal and state governments from restricting voting rights on the basis of race, colour or previous condition of servitude. By the 1890s, however, southern states were enacting laws that, while superficially colour blind, were explicitly designed to stifle black electoral participation and re-establish white political supremacy.

Six decades later the tide was finally beginning to turn: federal legislation passed in 1957, 1960 and 1964 included voting-related provisions; a series of Supreme Court decisions – most notably Baker v Carr (1962) – began applying the Constitution to overturn disenfranchisement via unfair redistricting practices; and public outrage at both the murder of the three voting rights activists in Mississippi in 1964 and the attack by state troopers on peaceful marchers at Selma, Alabama in 1965 persuaded Congress and the President that effective voting rights legislation could no longer be delayed.

We hold numerous databases that can be used to explore all of these issues further:

America: History and Life: indexes articles on US and Canadian history, culture and current affairs published in over 1800 journals. It began in 1964 but many of the journals have now been retrospectively indexed, including the American Historical Review (1895– ), Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1914– ) and Journal of Southern History (1935– ). It also provides citations to books and book reviews.

PAIS International: indexes journals, books, government and international agency reports, conference proceedings and web-based information sources covering social issues, economic issues, politics and international relations, environmental and energy policy. Its indexing dates back to the 1970s and it currently contains more than 600,000 records.

International Political Science Abstracts: contains details of articles in more than a thousand political science journals and yearbooks published worldwide, 75 of which are indexed in full. Social Sciences Full Text: includes full text articles from more than 330 journals and indexes over 750 periodicals, more than 700 of which are peer-reviewed.

Finally – and somewhat tangentially, though in keeping with the Animal Tales exhibition that opens here tomorrow – readers might be interested to know that we hold a 23 second recording of a domestic goat (capra hircus) living on the Lyndon B Johnson Ranch near Stonewall, Texas in 2010! It was a sunny 28 degrees on the day of the recording, insects can be heard in the background and the goat was apparently standing one metre from wildlife sound recordist, Richard Beard.

– Jean Petrovic


31 July 2015

Three American Libraries from Homes of American Authors (1853)

Add comment Comments (0)

Some real estate for Friday: Homes of American Authors (New York, 1853). A collection of somewhat florid travelogues composed by several writers and published by G. P. Putnam & Co. as a 'gift book', this work successfully began the America vogue for peeking into the homes of the talented, rich or famous. It's a habit that that is continued today in numerous glossy magazines, TV shows and popular blogs. Putnam followed up the success of this publication with Homes of American Statesmen (1854), which included the first photographic illustration in an American book.

Here are my top three descriptions of writers' libraries from Homes of American Authors.

1. Edward Everett

  Everett library

Always a favourite on this blog (mostly for his heroic, and forgotten, Gettysburg Address, hours longer than Lincoln's), Everett's 'career is most justly indicated by a view of his birthplace, which at once suggests a life of mental activity and patriotic devotion, and of the interior of the library where the best hours of an honored maturity are passed, eloquent of that wealth of attainment and literary culture, which has been the source both of his extensive usefulness and wide renown.'  

2. Ralph Waldo Emerson (summer house shown below)


 'Mr. Emerson's Library is the room at the right of the door upon entering the house. It is a simple square room, not walled with books like the den of a literary grub, nor merely elegant like the ornamental retreat of a dilettante. The books are arranged upon plain shelves, not in architectural bookcases, and the room is hung with a few choice engravings of the greatest men... It is the study of a scholar'. In here, the local villagers noted, 'he has a huge manuscript book, in which he incessantly records the ends of thoughts, bits of observation and experience, and facts of all kinds, -- a kind of intellectual and scientific rag-bag'.

 3. William Cullen Bryant

'The library occupies the northwest corner... and we need hardly say that of all the house this is the most attractive spot... because it is, par excellence, the haunt of the poet and his friends. Here, by the great table covered with periodicals and literary novelties, with the soft ceaseless music of rustling leaves, and the singing of birds marking the silence sweeter, the summer visitor may fancy himself in the very woods'. In here, the poet could turn 'from the dryest treatise on politics or political economy, to the wildest romance or the most tender poem -- happy in a power of enjoying all that genius has created or industry achieved in literature.' You will be pleased to note that the 'library has not, however, power to keep Mr. Bryant from the fields, in which he seeks health and pleasure a large part of every day that his editorial duties allow him to pass at home.'

[Matthew Shaw]

All images in the public domain, and taken from our copy of Homes of American Authors held at shelfmark 816.e.26. The Cornell University's copy is online via the HathiTrust or via Google Books.

On Putnam & Co., see Ezra Greenspan, George Palmer Putnam: representative American publisher (University Park, PA., 2000)

29 July 2015

Loyalist Lawyers: Exiles from the American Revolution

Add comment Comments (0)


Above: A Copy of Paul Revere's engraving of the Boston Massacre, The Massachusetts Calender, for...1772...By Philomathes [from our 'American revolution' web resource]

[This year the British Library Americas Blog and U.S. Studies Online will be publishing a series of posts as part of the Eccles Centre’s Summer Scholars 2015 series of talks. The articles are based on talks given by a range of writers and scholars conducting research at the British Library thanks to generous research fellowships and grants awarded by the Eccles Centre. This first post it by Sally E. Hadden, Western Michigan University, on part of her research into lawyers living in 18th century Boston. A schedule for the remaining Scholars talks can be found here]

For my current book project, I’m investigating lawyers who lived in 18th century Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston. Towards the end of the century, these individuals took a leading role in conducting the American Revolution, and also in the creation of the legal structures that became new state governments and the national government of the United States. As lawyers, they were also a bit of a closed community, speaking an arcane language filled with terms that others could not understand unless they shared the same training: words like fee tail male, executrix, intestacy, writs of attachment, or tripartite bonds were their stock in trade, plus Latin tags for every occasion. Being part of this community of men trained in the same field held them apart from all others, as well as holding them together in a sort of invisible association.

This invisible association of men traveled together for weeks at a time, four times per year. Colonial lawyers who wanted to earn their livings could not stay in their offices and expect clients to always find them—they needed to travel on circuit, going from town to town as the judges did, visiting the far-flung parts of a county to bring justice with them. Imagine this cluster of men, traveling as they did on horseback for a grimy day or two, then setting up camp in the taverns and inns of a new place. It was a sort of traveling circus, and within the circus, the men who were judges and lawyers formed a tight-knit group, with friendships formed there that often lasted a lifetime. Even after the Revolution, John Adams still spoke with fondness about Jonathan Sewall, a man he shared a bed with while traveling on circuit, his friend of many years—who became a loyalist.

It was the friendships within this group that first drew my attention to loyalist lawyers. I began to turn up the names of individuals who had been part of this tight-knit invisible association, but whose politics led them to part from their friends, their profession (as they knew it), and take refuge during the American Revolution. As part of the exodus of (we estimate) over 50,000 individuals from the colonies, these men have sometimes been lumped in and studied with other loyalists—but they were a breed apart. Unlike the shoemaker or blacksmith, they could not readily find work in just any old town: they needed one with a courthouse, and enough people, to sustain their legal practices.


Above: drawing lines after the war, Mitchell The Red Lined Map, 1775, K.Top [from our 'American Revolution' web resource]

My work at the British Library involves tracking Boston men like Andrew Cazneau, Samuel Fitch, Benjamin Gridley, James Putnam, Ward Chipman, Daniel Leonard, Rufus Chandler, Abel Willard, Daniel Bliss, and even law student Jeremiah Dummer Rogers. Of the 47 lawyers working in Boston at the time of the Revolution, they split roughly down the middle in terms of their choices: about 20 stayed and took up the patriot cause, while about 20 left with the British and went overseas seeking to remain loyal. From Philadelphia, the sons of Chief Justice William Allen in Philadelphia, Andrew and James, trained in the law and wanted to continue practicing, but not under the new American regime. James Allen wrote in his diary June 6, 1777 that the laws of Pennsylvania were disregarded, the assembly was ridiculous, and the courts were not open. All of this made “a mockery of Justice.” He and others in his family took refuge with the British, and then eventually left America for good. Still, it was a smaller number of loyalist lawyers who left Philadelphia than in Boston. And in Charleston, the number of departing men was smaller still. Only eight or nine of the most prominent lawyers of the city chose to depart, most of whom were middle-aged, and inclined to conservatism, like their fellow loyalists. James Simpson, the attorney general, William Burroughs, the head of chancery, and Egerton Leigh all had large practices and departed, Charles Pinckney took protection under the British while they occupied Charleston—but the remainder of the men with the most numerous clients remained behind as patriots. One big question my study will eventually address is, why did so many more Boston lawyers leave for England than men in those same professions in Philadelphia or Charleston?

These men fled to a variety of destinations, including modern-day Canada, the Caribbean, and France. Most went to London. Clubs sprang up to provide these London exiles with conversation, a network of information, and recreation. By the summer of 1776, they had formed the “Brompton-Row Tory Club” or “Loyalist Club” which met for dinner, conversation, and backgammon on a weekly basis, in homes that lined the current day Brompton Road. They made claims to the Parliament loyalist commission, seeking compensation for their lost homes, libraries, and incomes. Thomas Hutchinson, whose diary and correspondence from this period are housed in the manuscript collections of the British Library, provides insight into the changing prospects of these men. Many of them had less and less hope that their former lives would be restored, as the war dragged on. They moved out of London for less expensive towns like Bristol, Sidmouth, Exeter, Bath, even South Wales.

A very few, like Daniel Leonard, chose to take up the practice of law again in London, though for Leonard it required undergoing the various meals and moots associated with student life at the advanced age of 37 to join the Middle Temple before he could do so. Most colonial lawyers—aside from those in Charleston—had not completed their legal training in London. Leonard became a barrister and in 1781 was appointed Chief Justice of Bermuda, where he lived for several years, prior to retirement and death in London.

Recapturing what happened to these men as they scattered to smaller cities, or spread out to other parts of the British Empire, forms an important part of my larger project. The riches at the British Library will undoubtedly reveal more about their choices, once the Revolution had turned in favour of the Americans in 1778.

[SH. More on Summer Scholars here]

04 July 2015

Celebrating Independence Day

Add comment Comments (0)


Above: 'The Red-Lined Map' [BL shelfmark: K.Top 118.49.b'

It's a Saturday so this one is short and sweet. Happy Independence Day from all in Team Americas, we hope it's suitably sunny and barbeque filled before being rounded off with the obligatory fireworks. For those who don't know the Library holds more than a few important items relating to the American fight for independence, from the British government's 'The Red-Line Map' to some of those notorious tax stamps, so we're worth a visit if you are after some early American history research.


Above: stamps designed for use under the 'Stamp Act' [more here]

Meanwhile, we off to enjoy the day's festivities. See you on Monday.