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162 posts categorized "USA"

05 September 2014

Farthest North Cricket (and other Arctic sports)

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Cricket on the ice

Above: HMS Fury and Hecla in winter quarters near Igloolik (1822-23). Frontispiece to vol. 1 of Parry's account, 'Journal of a second voyage for the discovery of a North-West Passage...' [BL: G.7394]

Last week two Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers reached the North Pole. In and of itself there's nothing unusual here as planes, ships and subs have been reaching the Pole for a long time now. What made the news story, though, was how the Canadian crew celebrated - with a game of hockey at the North Pole.

Interestingly, while this is a news-worthy pastime, it is not a new way of celebrating a milestone or just filling time in the High North. For many years sports have been played to celebrate reaching notable locations (when the German ship Polarstern reached the North Pole in 1991 a game of football ensued) or just to pass time while locked into the ice. Such was the case during the search for the Northwest Passage where the monotony of long periods of time spent locked into the ice were broken up with many activities, not least a bit of sport on nicer days (i.e. when not snowing, foggy, blowing a gale, etc.).

At the top of this post you can see a plate depicting a scene near Igloolik in 1822-23, where sailors pass the time standing around, hunting, working with local Inuit (right in the background) and playing a spot of cricket. We can only imagine how it must have felt, so far away from home and in such an alien environment, to break out the cricket bat and be taken back to memories of leisure time cricket on the green wickets of an English summer.

Farthest North Football (Cameron)

Above: Inuit children from the Arctic Red River area play football during the summer. In, 'The New North' (p.232) [BL: 010470.ee.18]

A later photograph from the travels of Agnes Cameron captures what she calls, 'Farthest North Football' and it's a reminder of how much cultural exchange was instigated by whalers, traders, prospectors and explorers making their way north in ever greater numbers. Unfortunately Cameron's work doesn't make it into 'Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage' but Parry and his cricket playing crew do; so for more on them, the history of cricket in the Arctic and the expedition's interactions with local Inuit make sure you come along to the exhibition once it opens on November 14th. 

Finally, it's worth noting that Santa has also (unseasonably) visited the icebreakers' crew, but that is a story for another blog post and for his (more timely) appearance in 'Lines in the Ice'.

[PJH]

08 August 2014

50,000 Moths and Butterflies Died in the Making of this Post

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Attacus

Printing takes many forms. We mostly think of books as something created by moveable type, and then by more automated means, such as linotype or, more recently, digital production. But it can also incorporate the more handmade, corporal, and in the case of this post, lepidopterous.

The volume next to me as I write this post has been in our collections since it was purchased for the British Museum Library in 1900. It is copy number 259 of a limited edition of 500, printed in Boston, Mass., and the two volumes have been bound as one in dark green and black leather. Its title? The relatively unassuming Moths and Butterflies of the United States East of the Rocky Mountains, by Sherman F. Denton (Boston, Bradlee Widden, 1900) [shelfmark K.T.C.27.b.14].

It is a remarkable thing. Denton perfected an existing technique for preserving the wings of moths and butterflies in paper. As the Boston Evening Transcript (1899) explained, Denton sketched and engraved the bodies and outlines of his individual specimens.  Then, the wings of the once fluttery creatures were soaked in various gums and waters and then delicately laid onto prepared paper.  Weights were applied, and after 24 hours, the wing frame was gently brushed away, while the scales had transferred to the page in a form of lepidine transfer process. Along with 400 photographic illustrations, Moths and Butterflies contains dozens of such colourful – and slightly creepy – butterfly wing prints.

Photo 1

Denton, an American naturalist who also produced a series of models, books and prints for the United States Fish Commission at the Smithsonian Institution and the New York Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission, was attempting to show 'our native butterflies and moths not as dried and mutilated specimens in a cabinet... but as one sees them in our woods and fields, fresh and lovely.'  His text that accompanies his specimens demonstrates his genuine fascination and love for the creatures. He also thought his extraordinary work might have wider interest or use:

From the standpoint of the artist and the decorator, the study of the designs and color patterns on the wings of butterflies may be of valuable assistance. Such combinations of pleasing tints are rarely found in the handiworks of man. What better school could be found for the colorist than is within the reach of the humblest aspirant for fame as artist or decorator? Think of students copying the dingy works of the old masters year after year, when at their own doors the grandest combinations of colors that Nature can reproduce are passed by without a thought!

How true. We wonder if Damien Hirst has a copy?

The scientific response was less happy. The method, which can be traced back to the eighteenth century, has not been replicated, with the exception of a collection of Sri Lanken wings (Lionel Gilbert Ollyett Woodhouse, The Butterfly Fauna of Ceylon (Colombo, [1950]) [shelfmark STB (B) G 70] . For scientists, the method does not preserve the membranes of the wings, and the glorious lustre and sheen aside, the colours and shapes can be replicated by other printing methods (such as chromolithography in Denton's day, or even hand-colouring). The cost in numbers of creatures gently put to sleep by potassium cyanide is also very great. Denton states that he used 50,000 butterflies and moths in the production of the print run.

Photo 3

 (a photograph attempting to show the shimmer in the wings)

Photo 2

(not forgetting the moths. All images in the public domain)

Read more:

Boston Evening Transcript (3 March 1899).

A digital copy of the text can be found at the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Cowan, CF, 'Butterfly Wing Prints', Shorter Notes, Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History (1970), 389

Cowan, CF, 'Butterfly Wing Prints', Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History (1968), 368-69

[Matthew Shaw]

11 July 2014

Remembering Babe Ruth

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  Babe ruth
New York, 1928; BL shelfmark VOC/1928/KENDIS

One hundred years ago today, on 11 July 1914, George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth, Jr made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. During the next five years – which included three World Series championships – Ruth transitioned from pitcher to powerful slugging outfielder, and in September 1919 he broke the MLB single-season home run record. Yet three months later, in a move now regarded as one of the worst transfer deals in history, he was sold to the New York Yankees. 

On 1 May 1920, just weeks into the new season, Ruth hit a ball out of the Yankees’ home stadium, a feat only previously achieved by Joe Jackson. His second home run came the very next day. By the end of May he had broken the record for home runs in one month. In June he broke this again, and on 4 September he both tied and then broke the organized baseball record for home runs in a season (previously held by a player in the minor Western league). In his fifteen years with the Yankees, Ruth established himself as one of the greatest players of all time, with records including: career home runs (714); slugging percentage (.690), which remained unbroken until 2001; and runs batted in (RBIs) (2,213). 

Although not noted for its baseball holdings, the British Library holds a significant collection of early twentieth century sheet music extolling the virtues of America’s national game. Several songs focus specifically on Ruth, including Jas Kendis’s ‘Joosta Like Babe-a-da Ruth’ (New York, 1928; BL shelfmark VOC/1928/KENDIS) which tells of a protagonist so good at baseball that, just like Ruth: ‘He smack-a da baseball up-a so high / He smack ’em in June, it’s come down in July’. Another evocative item, published the year after Ruth retired from MLB, is Babe Ruth’s Baseball Advice (Chicago, 1936; BL shelfmark 7915.w.6), which must surely have been one of the most-desired Christmas and birthday presents for young boys across the United States.

Babe ruth2
Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1936, BL shelfmark 7915.w.6

The Library’s recent acquisition of the Mike Ross Baseball Collection – which includes several hundred books and programmes and a run of the UK Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) Examiner – significantly boosts our baseball holdings and future blogs will keep readers posted on its accessibility. 

[J.P.]

23 June 2014

World War One: Inter-Allied Games

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Inter-Allied-Games

Tentative Programme for the Inter-Allied Games Dedication Day. Public Domain Mark

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions. - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/americas/2014/06/new-exhibition-enduring-war.html#sthash.qtQ45UqO.dpuf Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions. - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/americas/2014/06/new-exhibition-enduring-war.html#sthash.qtQ45UqO.dpuf

We opened our free Folio Gallery exhibition, Enduring War: grief, grit and humour (19 June-12 October) last week.  The exhibition is international in scope, although naturally enough, its focus is British. That said, we have included a number of Canadian items, as well as West Indian material: Phil has already blogged on Squidge. We had a number of US items lined up (the United States entered the war in 1917, as you know), but the demands of the space and exhibition storyline meant that they were returned to the stacks.  However, we can take advantage of this, and begin an ongoing series of items that didn't make it into the gallery.

The first of which is shown above, a programme for the Inter-Allied sports day that took place in France, 22 June6 July 1919.  It is a recent acquisition, and we also hold a volume  summarizing the organisation and the results from the games at RG.2014.b.13 (a digitised copy from Cornell is available via the Internet Archive).

The games were an inclusive event, and included tug-of-war to soccer, tennis, basketball, fencing, water polo, boxing and equestrian events, as well as track and field, many of which took place at Pershing Stadium at Vincennes, France.  Constructed by the US military in cooperation with the YMCA, the stadium was gifted by the Americasn people to France after the games. According to the editors of the companion volume, 'the games were played before crowds so immense that the number of spectators could not have been increased except by the use of aeroplanes or observation balloons.'

Indeed, the games were not limited to terra firma, but included an 'Aeroplane Parade' as a grand finale.  The planes flew in formation, west to east over the stadium, dropping parachutes with the flag of each nation participating in the fly past (France, Italy, Belgium and the US).  The five American planes included a captured Fokker, which was due to 'climb to a good altitude and engage in combat with two [US] spads].'

It didn't quite work out like that. The captured Fokker instead fell from the sky and crash landed at the nearby racetrack (with the unhurt captain displaying 'splendid airmanship in his enforced landing'). The crowd tore the plane to pieces for souvenirs.  A handwritten note on the tentative programme reads, 'I saw this plane drop. This is a piece of it. don't lose it or cut it.'

The note was ignored, and the piece is not present (fear not, it wasn't there when we acquired it either). 

To make up for this, if you can come to the Folio Gallery before 12 October, you can instead see a fragment of a Zeppelin, picked up in Essex, as well as progammes for other sporting events that took place during the war.

[MJS]

 

15 May 2014

Robert Frost in England

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Robert Frost (portrait)

Frontispiece from the American edition of North of Boston. New York: Henry Holt, [1919]. BL Shelfmark YA.1986.a.3199

 

In 1912, frustrated both by the demands made on him by teaching and the lack of response from American publishers, Robert Frost determined to leave the United States. He initially favoured Vancouver, while his wife preferred England. Apparently, a coin was tossed and within a short time, together with their four children, they were crossing the Atlantic. It proved to be the perfect gamble. 

The following year his first volume of poetry, A Boy’s Will (London, 1913; BL shelfmark C.194.a.26) was published by David Nutt and today – 15 May 2014 – marks the 100th anniversary of his second, North of Boston (London, 1914; BL shelfmark W.56/6735). Including what would become two of his best loved poems, ‘After Apple-Picking’ and ‘Mending Wall’ – in which the narrator questions his neighbour’s dogged acceptance that ‘good fences make good neighbours’ – critic and poet Edward Thomas declared North of Boston to be ‘one of the most revolutionary books of modern times’, while Ford Madox Ford described it as ‘an achievement much finer than Whitman’s’.

Such critical acclaim, together with the family’s difficult financial position and the continuing war in Europe, hastened their return to the States. Famously, within hours of their arrival in New York in February 1915, Frost was thumbing through a newsstand copy of the The New Republic (BL shelfmark MFM.MA57) when he inadvertently came across poet Amy Lowell’s pronouncement that North of Boston was ‘the most American volume of poetry which has appeared for some time’. Six months later the Atlantic (BL shelfmark P.P.6256) – which had rejected Frost’s work for years – published not only three of his poems but an essay predicting he was ‘destined to take a permanent place in American literature’. And in September, Harper’s (BL shelfmark P.P.6383.a) editor and ‘Dean of American Letters’, William Dean Howells, concurred that Frost’s volumes merited ‘the favor they have won’.

Responding to these reviews and the almost unprecedented demand they created, American publisher Henry Holt – who had tentatively bought 150 copies of North of Boston from David Nutt – hastily printed 1,300 copies of his own. A year and four printings later nearly 20,000 copies had been sold and Frost’s reputation – and his future as a poet – were finally secure.

[J.P.]

08 May 2014

Olivia Laing: Leee Black Childers

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Cover

Leee Black Childers, Drag Queens, Rent Boys, Pick Pockets, Junkies, Rockstars and Punks, published by The Vinyl Factory/The Society Club

Archives are strange, and one of the strangest things about them is how lively they can be. On 6 April this year, the photographer Leee Black Childers died in Los Angeles at the age of sixty-nine. He was a legendary figure, a charming Southern gay man who captured the exuberant, seedy glamour of New York in the Sixties and Seventies, photographing drag queens, pop stars, rent boys, junkies, punks and miscellaneous downtown divas.

I first came across Childers by way of the Hall-Carpenter archive, a wide-ranging and insufficiently celebrated work of oral history about gay experience in the UK, which began in 1985 and is now housed at the British Library. Not all the participants were as talented or as well-connected as Leee, but they were meticulously interviewed and as such the archive forms a luminous portrait of queer life across a turbulent century. Still, Childers's long, roaming interview, recorded in 1990, must be among the most electrifying, providing six hours of gripping, moving and frequently scandalous listening.

Leee was born in 1945 in Jefferson County, Kentucky. At the beginning of his tape, he describes the grandmother who raised him, a puritanical figure who claimed she only had sex five times, once for each of her children, and who on seeing a woman wearing trousers remarked: 'Well look at that! They'll be gluing a doodle-whacker on next.' Leee, who began spelling his name with the eccentric extra 'e' as a small boy, fled this narrow-minded world in his early twenties, drifting to San Francisco, where he was involved in the civil rights movement and the hippy scene.

After a spell living with the Black Panthers, he moved to New York, where he began photographing drag queens and soon found himself drawn into the maelstrom of Warhol's Factory. Childers is refreshingly matter-of-fact about his old friend Andy, who he claims became an film maker in order to persuade attractive people to take their clothes off (On the subject of the 1964 Brillo Box sculpture, he comments wryly: 'It was a Brillo box. That's all it was. It was just a Brillo box.') Later, he worked as a tour manager for the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, taking iconic photographs of punk and New Wave figures, among them Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and Debbie Harry in a stripy bathing suit.

He lived at the heart of what was by any standards an extraordinarily flamboyant scene, and it makes for a disorientating experience to sit in the calm surrounds of Humanities 2 in the British Library, listening to Leee describe the goings on at the Anvil or in the backroom of Max's Kansas City, where the waiters used to complain that every time they went to get fresh napkins they'd find people having sex in the linen closet. Childers is a witty, affectionate guide to this lost period, with its curious mix of innocence and wildness.

He was always drawn to drag queens and they are the subjects of some of his finest work. He was present at the Stonewall riots, an uprising that kick-started the modern-day gay rights movement. The riots began in the early hours of 28 June 1969 in New York, after police raided the Stonewall Inn. 'They were lining the drag queens up behind the bar,' Leee explains. 'This is something I think people should realise. It comes down to drag. All the gay people were walking out meekly, when the drag queens behind the bar started throwing bottles. It was the drag queens who started that riot and it was the drag queens who led it... I wouldn't have missed it for anything.'

So what happened to this electric, electrifying world? In a word, Aids. Leee, who was living in London at the time of the interview, provides an intimate, agonising history of the Aids crisis as it obliterated his community, killing friends and acquaintances and destroying an entire cultural milieu. At one point, he comments: "Every time I open the mail, someone else has died." When I first listened to his tape, I'd been researching Aids and art for two years, but there were still names among his litany I'd never heard before, including the drag queen Brandy Alexander and the beautiful Hibiscus, who went from being a Sixties flower child to a radical performer in the San Francisco dance troupe The Cockettes, performing in full make up, dress and lavish beard.

I suppose this is the point of archives, and the point too of work like Leee's: that it resists obliteration, keeping what is always threatening to disappear in view. His subjects lived at a tilt to society, transgressing social norms of sex and dress and self-presentation in ways that remain subversive even now. His portraits capture this, exuding a magical liveliness, a reckless and informal solidarity. However edgy the subject matter, they're never prurient or voyeuristic. Tennessee Williams used to say: "Nothing human disgusts me unless it's unkind." The same non-judgemental sensibility informs all Leee's work, a kind of radical broad-mindedness that's getting rarer every day.

Olivia Laing is the 2014 Eccles Writer in Residence at the British Library. She's the author of To the River and The Trip to Echo Spring and is currently working on The Lonely City, a cultural history of urban loneliness.

 See also the Lee Black Childers SaMI recording.

04 April 2014

Old bits of Trees by Andrea Wulf

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As a historian I get very excited about old letters, diaries, account books and inventories – but once in a while there are other ‘records’ that trump almost everything else.

I had one of those moments this week when I returned to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Over the past six years I have been many times to Washington’s estate in Virginia (just south of Washington DC) – first to research my book  Founding Gardeners and then to give talks about the book. By now I go there to see the changes in the gardens (of which there are many, such as the fabulous restoration of the Upper Garden) and to meet my friend Dean Norton who is the Director of Horticulture there. Dean always makes a huge effort to entertain me – for example, by taking me out on the Potomac in a boat or letting me drive around the estate with a gator [A John Deere utility vehicle, not a reptile - ed.].

Last Wednesday’s visit, however, was one of the most memorable. Within a little more than a month, three very old and important trees had come down. The most visible loss is the majestic Pecan tree next to the house. It was a shock to see Mount Vernon without the beautiful tree (145 feet high). It all looked a bit naked.

Pecan low

Mount Vernon’s Pecan before it was taken down (photo by Dean Norton)

Dean explained to me that they had finally decided to take down the tree because it threatened the house. One big storm and the Pecan might have crashed onto Washington’s house. No matter how old the tree (from the 1850s), the mansion and its content was of course more important.

It took four days to take the giant down – with a crane. They did a fabulous time–lapse film of it.

Click here to see the film.

At the same time they felled a white oak that had been killed by lightening a while ago. The white oak was in a less prominent spot but it was even older – pre–1770 and most likely planted by the great man himself. Another painful loss. At least the wood is now invaluable for restoration projects at the house.

And then, on 31 March, the next tree came down – crumbling under its own weight. This was a big swamp chestnut oak which grew at the ha-ha wall on the slope towards the river. Planted in the 1760s or 1770s it was probably also placed there by Washington. It was completely rotten from the inside and just needed that last bit of wind to crash down. It's so sad to see these giants lying broken on the ground.

When I scrambled around to pick up a bit of bark to take home as a memento, Dean got a chainsaw and sliced off a bit for me. Now I have my own Washington tree in my office. That’s the kind of history that gets under my skin.

Dean Andrea low

Andrea Wulf is a Eccles Centre Writer-in-Residence emeritus.

25 March 2014

Early American science

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Inoculation of the Smallpox (1174 d 46) (2)
William Douglass, Boston, 1730. BL shelfmark: 1174.d.46 (3)  Public Domain Mark  

By the early 18th century the American colonies were well established along the eastern seaboard; indeed, their political, economic and cultural development had been remarkable. Yet without the libraries, universities and endowed institutions of Europe their capacity to participate in the new scientific thinking was distinctly disadvantaged. Nevertheless, the ideas of the Enlightenment enthused many throughout the colonies, and their observations and descriptions of natural phenomena – including earthquakes, meteors, comets and the 1761 and 1769 transits of Venus – supported the greater scientific community.

The cause, prevention (for example, by inoculation) and cure of a wide variety of diseases also received much attention in colonial and early American scientific tracts, particularly the Boston smallpox epidemic in 1721 and the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic in 1793. Other topics of special interest included the climate and the natural environment, with observations about the unfamiliar weather and the challenging landscape appearing in the earliest colonial writings and being frequently linked to implications for human health and the ability to develop the land.

  Voyage from Boston to Newfoundland (8561 bb 19) (2)
Boston, 1761. BL shelfmark: 8561.bb.19  Public Domain Mark  

 A bibliography of our holdings of early American scientific writing on these and other topics may be found here.

[J.P.]