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Donation from the American Friends of the IHR

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A man in profile showing his enormous belly, holding a stick and with two dogs slavering at a dead fowl in his pocket.  1 October 1771 Etching

© Trustees of the British Museum

As the forthcoming issue of Past and Future details, a donation from the American Friends of the IHR  has enabled the IHR library to purchase a collection of printed sources from the acclaimed (expensive) publisher Pickering & Chatto.  All in all four different sets of primary sources spanning from 1609 to 1939 have been added to our Colonial and British collections.

  • Communications in Africa, 1880–1939 CLB.215 Sun
  • Ireland in the Age of Revolution, 1760–1805 part II BI.515 Iar
  • The Making of the Modern Police 1780-1914 part 1 B.797 Law
  • The American Colonies and the British Empire 1607-1783 CLAA.11 Sar

A fifth set, on Women’s Travel Writing, with sources drawn from the Chawton House Library, will arrive shortly and be found in the French collection.

Communications in Africa consists of five volumes documenting the establishment of railways and roads in Africa in support of Britain’s economic interests.  At first glance I found the contents pages very uninspiring: endless official reports on the extension of this and that railway in various African states, but as always happens, digging into some of the documents and having a proper read opens up a  whole new world. For instance, the full account of an  Informal conference with Mr. Bedford Glasier on the subject of the Lagos Railway that took place in 1903 at a Liverpool Hotel definitely delivers what the publisher promises: an illumination of the relationship between colonizers and the colonized. And that is only one aspect of the information one could pull from this specific source.

 “the native as you know is not fond of work – far from it, he resents work. I am speaking now of the educated native, and he is not blessed with those qualities of smartness, punctuality, and business aptitude which railway working requires.”[1]

The Making of Modern Police (only part one has been published so far) also offers a wide range of insights into the past. The three works deal with three different aspects of the making of the police as we know it today. Volume one, “The idea of policing”, includes John Fieldings, A Plan for Preventing Robberies from 1755, wherein the London Magistrate [2] brother of Henry Fielding outlines his plan for preventing highway robberies within 20 miles of London. In volume two, “Reforming the police in the nineteenth century”, both contemporary material and memoirs are listed, with many documents dealing with the implementation of the County Police Act in 1839, covering, for instance, the establishment of rural police in Essex. In the third volume, “Policing the Poor”, we find under the heading Tramps and Vagrants in Trafalquar Square 1887 [3] a letter  to the Commissioner Police of the Metropolis from Mr. T. Cavanagh relating his distress to find so many people sleeping rough in the Square.

…not only 200 but more were there huddled together in the seats, on the stones at the back of the seats, on the stones around about the fountains and under the lions, making I should say about the most terrible sight of open air misery to be met with in Europe : and this under the eyes of  the wealthiest visitors to London!”[4]

The American Colonies and the British Empire, 1607–1783 consists of eight volumes and deals with the development of colonial and imperial ideology. Nearly all the sources are reproduced in full and include pamphlets, reports, sermons and letters.  The publisher has tried to give examples of the often conflicting ideas of the people involved: the administrators, the politicians, the colonists to mention a few. The very detailed and comprehensive chronology in the first volume, beginning 1496 with John Cabot’s voyages to Newfoundland and ending in 1784 with the Order in Council to exclude American merchants from British colonial trade, is definitely worth checking out. I love it!  Sir Walter Raleigh here pops up in almost every volume and of course features in the chronology.[5]

Sir Walter Raleigh by 'H' monogrammist.jpg

Sir Walter Raleigh by ‘H’. National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 7

Closer to home, part two [6] of Ireland in the Age of Revolution 1760-1805  (subtitled “Ireland and the French Revolution”) promises to illustrate the impact of the French revolution on political issues in Ireland. Pickering and Chatto have selected ca. 60 pamphlets originally published between 1797 and 1805 for that purpose. In addition, other material is included; for example, there are a few excerpts from “Memoirs and Correspondence of Viscount Castlereagh” (1798) (the then Acting Chief Secretary of Ireland), one of them being ‘Communications passed between the Government and the State Prisoners’[7] which is followed by reports from the Committee of Secrecy of the House of Commons and from the  House of Lords in Ireland from August of the same year. [8] All material of interest to both readers interested in the history of revolutionary ideas and also those specifically interested in Irish history.

Come and have a look for yourself – the class marks are listed above, and all these sets have a brilliant consolidated index in their final volume.

Our next blog will be another look at the library’s fascinating collections of travel writing.


[1] Communications in Africa, 1880–1939  vol. 1 p. 225

[2]Henry and John Fielding created the Bow Street Runners the first professional police force in 1749.

[3] National Archives , Kew London

[4] Making of the modern Police vol. 3 p. 176

[5] Index of The American Colonies and the British Empire p. 201

[6] Part I “Ireland and the American Revolution” was acquired in January last year.

[7]Ireland in the Age of Revolution Vol. 4 p.141

[8] Same p. 161 and 183

Slavery narratives in the Library

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Slave-NarrativesThis month’s long-awaited premiere of Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbinder and Benedict Cumberbatch, has spurred us on to look for sources for this topic in the library. Not surprisingly, we found a vast selection.

First and foremost we actually have the book the film is based on, the full title of which is Twelve Years a Slave – Narrative of a Citizen of New York, Solomon Northup, kidnapped  in Washington City in 1841, rescued in 1853 from a Cotton  Plantation  near  the Red river in Louisiana. A nice little Penguin Classic, it is a fascinating account of slave life first published in 1853 ‘by someone with the dual perspective of having been both a free man and a slave’.

Browsing the neighbouring shelves there are several other examples of printed accounts of slavery. Three stood out right away by their titles:

Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery by Henry Goings;

From Slavery to Salvation by Rev. Thomas W. Henry; and

Dear Master: Letters of a Slave Family by the Skipwith family

The first one, found and published by University of Virginia Library Special Collections, is similar to Northup’s account: a slave narrative of a man born in the same decade as him and written just 2 years later in 1855. But Henry Goings was born into slavery in Virginia and was not rescued but fled. Part of his narrative relates his journey and escape to Canada in 1840s.

Henry W. Henry’s autobiography, first published five years before his death in 1872, is the life story of a Minister of the African Methodist Church in Maryland. Also born into slavery, he was freed when he was 22 years old. The memoirs portray his dramatic life as a free African American and a Minister of an African church in a slave state, including a description of his difficulties in buying his wife and children from their owner.

The third offers a different angle, as some the events described take place in Africa, and in addition we are dealing with a group of people rather than an individual. It is a selection of letters written between 1834 and 1865 by the Skipwiths, a black American slave family. The majority of the correspondence consists of writings from Liberia where part of the family settled after being freed by their owner John H. Cocke, a Virginia planter. The letters are addressed to him and other members of the Cocke family so depicting the relationship between a master and his former slaves.

This is just a small selection from our US collection, and there is definitely material here for several other film scripts. Enjoy the film, which premieres on January 10.

You can consult the books here at the IHR, and view all the titles on our catalogue.

Also, watch this space, as my colleague Michael is currently researching a post on ‘The Slave Trade and its Abolition’.

See also

Our trainee last year found original documents about slavery in the British West Indies in our Colonial collections British West Indies slavery problem:
http://www.history.ac.uk/news/2013-03-22/british-west-indies-slavery-problem.

Research is also taking place upstairs in Senate House library on the same topic:
http://www.senatehouselibrary.ac.uk/2013/11/25/from-the-reading-room-11/.

A Biedermeier German Politician and his diary

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The library has just received the diaries of a German lawyer and politician from Hamburg, Die Tagebücher: Ferdinand Beneke.

Ferdinand Beneke was born in 1774 to a merchant family in Bremen. He graduated from Göttingen University in law and began a legal career in Hamburg. He was involved in the liberation of Hamburg during the Napoleonic Wars and the subsequent rebuilding of Hamburg government. In 1816 he became “Oberaltensekretär und Konsulent” (senior secretary and consultant) in the Hamburg parliament and held the post till his death in 1848, making him one of the most influential politicians in Hamburg during this period.

From 1792 until his death in 1848 he wrote a detailed daily diary, which has been kept in Hamburg State Archives and with its publication will now be available in the IHR library. It is an outstanding source to the political, social and literary development of the time and of the day to day life in Germany from the Napoleonic era to the pre-March period. [1]

So far only the first part has been published, covering the years 1792-1801. A further 3 parts have been planned with the publishing project to be finished by 2017. The diaries can be ordered from our onsite store, see library catalogue.

Further reading

About Ferdinand Beneke:

Other pre-March / Vormärz diaries and letters can be found in our German collections:

[1] The period leading up to the March Revolution in the states of the German Confederation in 1848, also known culturally as Biedermeier.