Americas and Oceania Collections blog

7 posts from March 2012

30 March 2012

Go Team Americas, Go Go Go!

Cheerleading,  Newt Loken, Ronald Press: New York, 1961, Second Edition [Shelfmark 72/16766] 
Recently I went to see my daughter in the end of term performance of her cheerleading class.  It was a superb spectacle full of pizzazz, pom-poms and endless amounts of energy topped off with a touch of self consciousness. It was a worthy reward for the audience of proud parents who had dashed to make the mid afternoon engagement.   

It got me thinking about what we have in the collections relating to cheerleading. According to The Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport (HLR 796.03), it is a sport in its own right, with professional teams, competitions and leagues, and can be traced back to the 1840s, where it developed as part of the military traditions of the U.S. Army and Navy.  In its earliest incarnations injured or substitute players would lead the cheering from the bench. By the 1900s the role of “yell leader” was created - a prestigious position to hold, comparable to the quarterback on the football team. 

It was not until the 1920s that women first started to become involved, and the University of Minnesota was one of the first to have female cheerleaders. But at the time, these women were perceived to be encroaching on male sporting territory and as a result, were often viewed as being too ‘masculine’. However, it was the post World War II years, and in particular, the forming of the National Cheerleaders Association in 1948 by Lawrence Herkimer that saw the development of the sport into what we recognise today.  By the 1970s, cheerleading was considered a 'natural' female activity, but it was still as late as 1971 that Harvard University finally permitted women cheerleaders.    

Complete book of cheerleading
The Complete book of Cheerleading, Eds. L.R.Herkimer and Phyllis Hollander, Doubleday & Company: New York, 1975 [Shelfmark:77/16045]

Explore the British Library  provides us with a number of useful resources which include cheerleading manuals and various articles in medical journals assessing the injuries one might sustain while participating in the sport. In addition there are numerous books and articles which examine the sport from a cultural context and which engage it from a sociological and/or feminist perspective, addressing the rigidly gendered perceptions of the activity and its political ramifications. Of particular note is the way that ‘radical cheerleading’ was incorporated into the marches of the anti-capitalist protest movements of the 1990s.

Further Reading:

Women, Sport, and Culture Eds. Susan Birrell & Cheryl L. Cole Human Kinetics: Champaign IL 1994 [YC.1995.b.6129]

Go! Fight! Win! Cheerleading in American Culture, Mary Ellen Hanson, Bowling Green State University Popular Press: Bowling Green OH 1995 [YA.1996.b.7135] 

Laura Grindstaff and Emily West, “Cheerleading and the Gendered Politics of Sport” in
Social Problems Vol. 53, No. 4, November 2006, pp. 500-518

Jeanne Vaccaro, “Give me an F: Radical cheerleading and feminist performance” Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Volume 14, Issue 2, 2005 pp. 43-50


20 March 2012

¡Que Viva La Constitución de Cádiz!

 Constitution of cadiz

 BL Shelfmark: 8042.a.34

Yesterday – March 19th – marked the bicentenary of the Spanish Constitution of 1812, also known as the Constitution of Cádiz. Here at the BL we have one of the original 1812 Cádiz imprints of the Constitution. It is considered a classic liberal document – ensuring universal manhood suffrage, national sovereignty, freedom of the press and free trade. One of the more interesting aspects of the drafting of the constitution was the debate that ensued regarding the relationship between the rights guaranteed in the 1812 constitution and the people of Spain’s colonies. The elite representatives from the Spanish colonies - known as criollos - pushed for greater representation and authority including limited suffrage for indigenous peoples and free people of African-descent. Some have argued that this was an attempt on the part of the criollos to secure their own political power vis-à-vis Spain without creating new republics – and new citizens. On the other hand, by partially accommodating the criollo representatives many peninsular representatives hoped they could thwart the ongoing movements for independence and the abolition of slavery. The historical momentum for independence was, however, too strong and the implementation of the constitution in the Americas laid fertile ground for the emergence of the Latin American republics. To this day the Constitution of Cádiz remains a key document in the history of Latin America.

For those of you interested in thinking more about constitutions and politics in the Americas you can check out Prof. Linda Colley’s lecture tomorrow: "Liberties and Empires: writing constitutions in the Atlantic World, 1776-1848.


19 March 2012

Published in Paris


We're dusting off the Delorean again. Following on from Naomi's post on Martha Gellhorn and her research on Hemingway's wives, we thought we'd revive a (slightly tweaked) post on publishing in Paris
and Hemingway's first collection of short stories.

Having worked with our Americas collections for some time now, I like to think that I know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. The internet has made it much easier to fill gaps than in the past, in the days when we had to compile lists of desiderata without too much hope of ever finding a wanted title. And the amount of material now available digitally has obviously also impacted on whether or not we decide to buy a print version of a missing title. But over the years, I’ve been struck by just how good some of the curators of previous generations were at spotting items and getting them in to the collections.

A case in point is the writing of American authors in Paris in the twenties and thirties, that golden era of literary publishing when many of the giant figures of both British and American literature first got their work into print. These were often the ‘difficult’ books that had been rejected by more established publishers. The little Paris private presses were not only prescient in their championing of relatively unknown authors, but their owners often risked censorship and prosecution. The Library’s holdings from this period are excellent, the curators of the time being equally prescient in their selection. So, if you want to immerse yourself in the output of presses such as the Contact Publishing Company (e.g. Mina Loy’s Lunar Baedecker, 1923), Three Mountains (e.g. William Carlos Williams's Great American Novel, 1923), Obelisk (Henry Miller’s Black Spring, 1936), Black Sun, and a host of others, the BL is the place to come.

The rather sad looking copy of Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, shown at the top of the blog, was published by Three Mountains in 1924, in a limited edition of only 170 copies (you may have seen it in our exhibition Breaking the Rules: the printed face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937). It contains a collection of 18 short untitled chapters (6 of which had appeared in The Little Review). I don’t think you could really call Hemingway avant-garde (discuss) but William Bird, the Three Mountains proprietor, decided that a Dada-esque cover was required. The collage included a map and newspaper articles, in both English and French, pasted together, and is meant to reflect both the journalistic prose of the work and the chaos of the First World War and its aftermath, an underlying theme of the collection. And incidently, a copy of In our Time came up for sale a couple of years ago with a price that would make your eyes water.

Hemingway, along with Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Fitzgerald and Pound, not to mention James Joyce et al, were frequent visitors to Sylvia Beach’s little bookshop Shakespeare and Company, which first opened its doors in 1919. It was Beach, of course, who first published Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922, and The Letters of Sylvia Beach, edited by Keri Walsh and published by Columbia University Press a year or so ago can be found in the BL.

For those of you who are particularly interested in the presses mentioned, I would recommend Hugh Ford’s Published in Paris: American and British Writers, Printers, and Publishers in Paris, 1920-1939, published in 1975, but still indispensable (BL shelfmark: x981/10131).

And finally, you might want to check out Dorian’s web feature on American Literature in Europe, which has a little section on the Lost Generation.


16 March 2012

Naomi Wood, Writer in Residence: Martha Gellhorn & The Great Depression

Naomi headshot
Naomi Wood, Eccles Centre Writer in Residence

Naomi Wood is the author of The Godless Boys (2011) and is an Eccles Centre writer in residence at the British Library for 2012, working on a novel on Hemingway's wives.  She will be posting an account of her time here on the Team Americas blog over the coming months.

This is her post for March.

As an Eccles Centre Writer in Residence, I wanted to share some of the treasures I’ve found in the British Library’s North American collections over the course of my residency. These research ramblings may be rather dispirate, but they will broadly follow the course of my research as I write my novel!

The novel is historical fiction and looks at Hemingway’s wives. It is written from the perspective of each wife: having written Hadley and Pauline, (wife one and two) and been up to my elbows in their lover-letters, hate-mail and other billet-doux, I now find myself in the BL looking at his third wife: Martha Gellhorn.

Martha Gellhorn was the only wife to leave Hemingway rather than be left.  She was also the only wife who was also a fiction-writer, and it’s her fiction which has really been making me think this week.

A short time before she met Hemingway, in a bar called Sloppy Joe’s in Key West in 1936, Gellhorn had been touring the States to collect data for Roosevelt’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Her remit was to report back to Washington about how the Depression affected ordinary people.

On her travels, which took her from North Carolina to Rhode Island, Gellhorn was outraged by the poverty she saw and the bureaucracy that frustrated relief efforts. Her reports to the White House described in plain but vivid terms the ‘houses shot with holes, windows broken, no sewerage, rats,’ the children malnourished and syphilitic, the land dead and hope extinguished. From Boston she wrote that families were gripped by a ‘fear driving them into a state of semi-collapse; cracking nerves; and an overpowering terror of the future.’

After her tour, Gellhorn collected her observations and published them as a series of eye-watering short-stories in the 1936 bestseller The Trouble I’ve Seen.

I don’t say it lightly when I say reading her stories have made me appreciate that we are living in the recession of 2012 rather than the 1930s.

With tender clarity, Gellhorn writes about characters who have come beyond endurance. There is Mrs Maddison: a woman whose house it ‘shot with holes’ and so papers the walls of her shack with magazine advertisements for skin creams and cars. Then there is Jim, an unemployed man forced into begging, who has to compete with a blindman for the pitch.

But for me, the most remarkable moment I came across can be found in the short-story ‘Joe and Pete’. A woman comes into Joe’s office ostensibly to talk about the city strikes, but in reality she comes seeking warmth. She can no longer afford heating, nor can she afford to eat. It was this paragraph which stunned me and stopped me in my reading. Americans weren’t just hungry. They were starving:

Whatever reasons had moved him to bring her here were forgotten: her poverty and his, and the senseless waiting of their lives. He held her body with his hands, and drew her towards him. And, then, suddenly, he realised without wanting to that the bones of her naked body were an outrage. This was a half-starved woman, no matter how crisply and mockingly she might talk of her life.

‘The bones of her naked body were an outrage’. I think I will remember that phrase for a long time. The Troubles I’ve Seen certainly casts the economic troubles we see in the twenty-first century in an altogether different light.

Because Gellhorn was, first and foremost, a journalist, I’d recommend this book to historians and literature-lovers alike; it’s a fascinating sketch of the period as well as a deeply empathetic take on human endurance through difficulty.


13 March 2012

The Voyage of HMS Beagle: zoological views

Beagle zoology (birds)
Illustration from the birds focussed volume of, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle'

A couple of weeks ago I spent a Sunday afternoon at Down House, where Charles Darwin lived and wrote his famous works. Many things struck me that afternoon but the map of the Beagle's voyage reminded me that Darwin's journey is a piece of history which provides a link between all of us here in the Americas and Australasian Studies department. Duly motivated, I decided to do a short blog on the Beagle's presence in the Library's collections.

The British Library holds a lot of material which refers to or resulted from the work conducted by Darwin and others during the voyage of HMS Beagle. Not only are there many copies of, 'On the Origin of Species' but there are also less popularly know publications, such as Darwin's paper, 'The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, etc.' (shelfmark: 07109.i.13). Amongst all of this, my favourite publication related to the expedition is, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle' (which I also saw on display at Down House).

Beagle zoology (mammals)
Illustration of Australia's Mus Fuscipes, from the mammals volume of, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle'

'Zoology' is a detailed account of the animals and fossils encountered and collected during the voyage of the Beagle with each volume being drawn together by various authorities of the time. Between them, the five volumes provide accounts of the various specimens collected and are richly illustrated with examples from various parts of the voyage (although the lithographs of Galapagos finches are understandably the most eye catching).

The account also underlines the scope and scale of the Beagle's voyage and Darwin's collecting, neither of which were necessarily unique to the time but they do illustrate a globalised scientific process. Unfortunately, it's becoming something of a trend for me to blog about restricted items and once again the library's original 'Zoology' (shelfmark: 791.I.17,18) is on this list. However, there are also some very good reproductions available in the reading rooms, not least the Royal Geographical Society's 1994 commemorative edition (shelfmark: Cup.410.g.500).


07 March 2012

The Arctic Regions: William Bradford's ambitious book

Arctic regions (cover)
Front cover from William Bradford's, 'The Arctic Regions'. Shelfmark: 1785.d.7 (restricted item)

Here at Team Americas and Australasian Studies we've been poring over a few acquisition catalogues recently, not to buy anything but to see what is happening on the antiquarian book market. During this process some items that we already hold jump out and make you think, 'I'd like to have a look at that'.

One such item can be seen above, William Bradford's publication, 'The Arctic Regions'. I was intrigued as I had not heard of the work before, so I thought I'd have a look at what makes it so special. Bradford was an artist who assembled an expedition to Greenland in order to photograph the area (although he actually used two Boston photographers, George Crichterson and John L. Dunmore) and produce a photographically illustrated book upon their return.

Arctic regions (Inuit)
Mounted internal photograph from, 'The Arctic Regions'

Bradford's publication idea was novel for the time and the end product is still stunning, the volume is very large and contains over 100 mounted photographs of various scenes from Arctic Greenland and North America. The depiction of the Arctic presented is romantic in tone and sometimes patronising to the people who were photographed (there is at least one disparaging comment regarding the appearance of local Inuit) but it is a notable early photographic view of the Arctic regions.

Unfortunately, due to the size of the item and the delicate nature of the mounted photographs the item is on the Library's restricted list and not easy to view. However, if you would like to know more and see more of the book's contents there are a couple of useful galleries online. There is a short selection on this wider gallery on the North West Passage while this gallery from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute provides a more detailed look and context.


03 March 2012

3 March 1931: O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner

O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner 9kb

O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner. New York: Geib & Co., 1817. H.1860.ww.(38)

During the night of 3 September 1814, while on a mission approved by U.S. President Monroe, Francis Scott Key witnessed the massive British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. As dawn broke Key was astounded to see the American flag still flying. To commemorate this stunning victory he immediately wrote a 4-stanza poem entitled "Defence of Fort McHenry". Recognising that the poem perfectly fit the popular British drinking song "Anacreon in Heaven", Key's brother-in-law had the poem published and it soon began gaining popularity as "The Star-Spangled Banner". On 3 March 1931, nearly 120 years after it was first penned, it became the national anthem of the United States. This edition, published in New York in 1817, is one of the earliest examples of American sheet music held by the British Library.

From the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library online exhibition, Singing the Dream.

Read more about the Star-Spangled Banner on the Library of Congress's Treasures pages, and we've also briefly posted on the origins of the tune here.