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The Editor's Choice


About The Blog

The Editor's Choice is the blog of the editorial team at Adam Matthew. Here we hope to bring you snippets from the fascinating collections that we have the privilege of handling on a daily basis, as well as posts about our own interests, conference news, new collection information and 'Object of the Week' posts when we share the best items from the week in the archives. Please follow and share!


Annoy the enemy upon all quarters!

Long experience has shown the human race that the surest way to provoke technological innovation is to fight a war. This being so, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find in the papers of Henry Knox, general in the Continental Army and artillery specialist during the American War of Independence, a design from about 1775 for an improved, and rather intriguing, type of naval vessel.

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Dance with the Devil: William Ellis, missionary, and Hawaiian hula

To the mind of the twenty-first-century tourist, Hawaiian hula dancing is symbolic of Pacific island paradise. Against a backdrop of golden sands and blue waters, we envision dancers bedecked in grass skirts, moving effortlessly to lilting ukuleles. However, if we travel back almost two hundred years, to over a century before Hawaii became an American state, we see the hula at the centre of a moral battleground.

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The power of celebrity

The Institute for Motivational Research often employed ‘depth interviews’, an approach to consumer surveys that asked quasi-psychiatric questions to expound the sub-conscious motivations behind consumer choice. In the reports for Quality Bakers, Dichter and his team asked their pool of respondents to describe the qualities they associate with famous actors, with the final report ranking the considered endorsers in terms of appropriateness for the wholesome, energy-giving qualities they wanted Sunbeam bread to embody.

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The End of the World

“Ch’iaot’ou is a market of about 100 families and gives the impression of being the end of the world, as it is near the limit of settled Chinese penetration in those parts, and beyond is nothing but t’ussu ti, the wild tribal territory of the Sawbwas.”

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The Children's Guide to Harpooning Whales

Anyone exploring the many maritime logbooks in our resource China, America and the Pacific will know how gruesome and perilous whaling voyages could be in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (I refer you to Paul’s grisly and fascinating post from November). Lots of blood, lots of screaming, lots of death… Definitely post-watershed stuff, I’d have said, wouldn’t you?

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Whilst I was visiting the Big Apple last week on business I ventured to Central Park to visit Strawberry Fields; an area of the park that pays tribute to the late John Lennon. The ‘Imagine’ mosaic which lies in the centre of the area is adjacent to the Dakota apartment building. Lennon was returning home to the Dakota building when he was shot dead on December 8th, 1980. Strawberry Fields is a living memorial to the world-famous singer.

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Food: Accept No Substitute

Every January without fail, I am inevitably left feeling the pinch – not just of an empty purse but of my favourite pair of jeans that take a little extra ‘persuading’, shall we say, to fasten (usually holding onto the waistband and jumping a few centimetres into the air whilst breathing in will do it). Therefore, every January without fail, I resolve to do something about it.

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Dishes and Diplomats

In 1947, one would have thought that diplomats and civil servants were fully occupied restoring, rebuilding and rethinking the world after several years of a somewhat destructive war. Well in this case one would be a little mistaken as documents unearthed in the Global Commodities collection reveal. A file from the British Ministry of Works shows a lengthy exchange over a controversy between the British Ambassador to the United States of America in Washington and the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London’s premier museum for the decorative arts. You may wonder what this spat about.

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Happy New Year!

I don’t tend to make New Year’s Resolutions. I’m never at my best during the cold, post-Christmas months, and thinking positively amidst snow, credit card bills and the pervading smell of Olbas Oil is a difficult business. Instead, I make my resolutions in September. Maybe it’s a throw-over from school days, when autumn meant the start of a brand new school year. True, we’d just had an enormous summer holiday to rejuvenate and inspire us, with plenty of time to spend trolling off to W H Smith for shiny new stationery. If only it was so easy now!

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A Quiet Christmas: Mass Observation and Wartime Festivities

With shortages in nearly everything considered necessary for a ‘proper’ Christmas, Mass Observers during WW2 needed to balance the traditions of the festive season with the strictures and austerity of wartime. Mass Observation set out in a series of reports to gauge not only the morale of the population, but how war would affect their festivities.

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The Sinking of the 'Essex’; or, The Whale

Last night’s BBC drama ‘The Whale’ told the story of Thomas Nickerson and the crew of the whaling ship Essex. The story of the attack and sinking of the vessel by a sperm whale also inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Reading the original accounts of the crew shows that the true story was more exciting, terrifying and harrowing than any work of fiction.

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Pox in the Pacific: Syphilis and the Hawaiian Islands

Upon Captain Cook’s arrival in 1778 the population of the Hawaiian Islands was estimated at around 500,000. By 1848, however, this number had fallen to less than 90,000. Explanations for this exponential decline vary quite considerably, with many historians citing war, famine, and disease as potential factors. Yet contemporary narratives largely focus on one primary cause; the arrival of syphilis. In his study of the Islands in 1853, G W Bates...

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Silence is Golden...

Whilst visiting the big smoke last weekend I witnessed one of cinema’s greatest triumphs – Abel Gance’s thrilling six hour silent epic, Napoleon. Now, I have to admit, I was slightly sceptical. Six hours of silent cinema does not sound like the best use of a frosty Saturday in November, but the 1927 film opened my eyes to the vibrancy and passion of early cinema. Napoleon (played by Albert Dieudonné) tells the story of the first 27 years of...

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'My Leg Has Got to Come Off': Amputations at Sea

During the many Pacific voyages documented in China, America and the Pacific, a regular feature was death and injury onboard the ship. Crew members shattered their skulls from falls, and had limbs mutilated by breeching whales. Many of these men faced immediate death, however a minority faced a punishment that was arguably far worse, as this extract from The Life of Tristram Coff[y]n shows: In 1800 … in the capture of a large sperm whale, Captain...

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Commodities of the China Trade: Bechè de Mer, Shark Fins and Gold

Below I have shared one of my personal highlights from China, America and the Pacific, which has just been released. This new multi-library collection provides an extensive range of archival material connected to the trading and cultural relationships that emerged between China, America and the Pacific region between the 18th and early 20th centuries. During the eighteenth century American merchants sought to establish trade with China. Their...

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Who Killed JFK?

Bowling Green State University At 12.30pm on Friday 22 November 1963, three shots rang out over Dealey Plaza Park in Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald had fired three 6.5mm Carcano bullets from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, two of which struck President John F. Kennedy. Thirty minutes later JFK was dead. That’s the official story. The Warren Commission set up to investigate President Kennedy’s death...

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Lest We Forget. Remembrance Day 2013

It is that time of year again, when poppy sellers fill the streets and shops and even cars begin sporting the distinctive red flowers. In our First World War resource, the second module of which, Propaganda and Recruitment, has recently been published, there is a wealth of material to be explored regarding the armistice of 11 November 1918, from both the joyful celebrations of peace, to the commemoration of and mourning for those who had...

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Kung-Fu Monthly and the Felix Dennis Legacy

On a recent visit to the in-laws’ we passed a verge of trees in Warwickshire just west of Leamington Spa that was pointed out to me as “Felix Dennis’s forest”. Most familiar with Felix Dennis as the creator of the magazine Maxim and the first person to say a certain very bad word on British television, I was surprised. As it turns out, the site belongs to The Heart of England Forest, a charity created to maintain and preserve native...

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Barbie: the formative years

Nowadays, almost everything in the current market for children’s toys seems to require batteries; if it hasn’t got flashing lights, touch screens and loud electronic noises emanating from it, kids aren’t interested. A far cry from my own childhood when Gymnast Barbie (complete with co-ordinated gym bag, sweat-bands and multi-coloured leotard) was enough to keep me entertained for hours!

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National Baking Week: Mass Observation and the Rise of Celebrity Chefs

It’s National Baking Week, and all things foodie are on my mind. With bumper autumn crops allowing me to indulge my old-fashioned passion for making jams and chutney, and The Great British Bake Off gracing our screens, I am in cookery heaven. In these times of financial austerity, we’re all looking to save money on our food bills and filling the store cupboard with foraged tasty treats gives you such a glorious feeling of preparedness. Like a squirrel with a particularly sumptuous hoard of nuts.

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The Forger: J. M. Stuart-Young in Africa

‘I beg leave to advise you that I stand under sentence of Deportation’ begins the letter, written in Liberia in 1923 and addressed to the British chargé d’affaires. The writer is a representative of a trading house who has got into some kind of difficulty with the authorities.

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The Art of Visual Persuasion: Powerful Propaganda and the Great War

With the centenary of the Great War on the horizon, the second resource within our First World War digital portal, Propaganda and Recruitment, is due for release later this month. Building on the rich and extensive material within our first resource, Personal Experiences, this new collection offers a vast and fascinating array of primary documents relating to various forms of propaganda, censorship, public opinion, recruitment, training and morale, all drawn from world-class libraries and archives.

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What’s in a Name? Etymology and Names in American Indian Culture

A quick Google can tell you a lot about yourself – or more specifically, your name. In my case it reveals that my first name is a Hebrew word meaning gracious (naturally), and my surname denotes that one of my ancestors was the son of someone named Philip (thrilling). While the etymology of our own names might be a slightly narcissistic preoccupation, names and naming systems can provide a fascinating insight into cultural history.

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Go West, Young Man!

Martin Prior Boss left home in 1867 aged 22. He left behind a comfortable, established life as a farmer on the east coast of America, to seek his fortune in the mines of Nevada and California. His letters home are part of a collection from the California Historical Society which is being added to our Global Commodities project this year. They’re adorably newsy and affectionate, and my personal favourite is the one he writes with the news that he’s just become engaged and has decided to stay permanently in the West.

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The Myth of California

California! What other state occupies such a mythical space in our imagination? Despite earthquakes that rumble and tech bubbles that burst, California still draws the restless and wild, just as it’s always done.

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Knit One, Purl One… Willing Hands and Willing Hearts

Recently there has been a change in the office. The gentle clicking of needles can now be heard at lunch time and conversations about the Bake Off or weekend plans are interspersed with advice on increasing and decreasing, or deciphering a pattern. Over the last few years knitting has become fashionable once more, with clubs popping up all over the place and celebrities gushing about the craft.

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Spanking, Social Control and Souvenirs

Whilst delving into an intriguing batch of Chinese artwork for our project China America and the Pacific, I was arrested by the sight of a man’s bare buttocks. Said buttocks were receiving a thorough spanking via the medium of a bamboo paddle administered by a law enforcement officer who looked decidedly happy in his work.

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Patriotism of the Pals Battalions

It’s always fascinating when you come across old photographs of your local area. Not only can you see how a place has been completely modernised, but they also serve as a captivating snapshot of the past, particularly if they show a particular event or people in motion.

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It was The Wipers Times

The BBC’s long-awaited First World War drama ‘The Wipers Times’ airs this week, written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman. Taking its title from the trench journal of the same name, the 90-minute drama is “based on the true story of Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson who, in the bombed-out ruins of Ypres in 1916, discover a printing press and use it to create a satirical newspaper to raise the spirits of the soldiers.”

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Fur Trading on a Frozen Land

Think of a shopping centre today and the image in the below photograph does not immediately spring to mind. This photograph is of a remote shopping centre in Canada owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the early 1900s. The Hudson’s Bay Company is still in existence today but ran as a fur trading business for much of its existence. Developing trading posts and buying land, the Hudson’s Bay Company came to dominate the Canadian fur trade by the eighteenth century.

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The Belle of the Reservation

Gi-aum-e Hon-o-me-tah looks cosy wrapped up in her Kiowa blanket. Her cheeks are redder than her lips thanks to traditional face paint, and her eyes stare calmly into yours. Elbridge A. Burbank had a talent for capturing eyes; in his portraits of elderly chiefs he conveys solemnness and defiance, but with Gi-aum-e the impression is altogether different. Young and beautiful, her eyes look to the future, not the past.

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The Oily Swindlers of the Pennsylvania Boom

Edwin Drake’s discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1859 is considered one of the major catalysts of the oil boom in the United States, but there were some who had already found ways to turn this seemingly useless substance into something profitable. Samuel M. Kier was one such character, and his “NATURAL REMEDY”, or panacea, to aid practically any given ailment (including total blindness, burns, rheumatism, chronic coughing, cholera, dysentery, sprains, bronchitis, asthma, tooth ache, deafness and piles) consisted of bottled crude oil at 50 cents a pop.

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Life in the Valley: American Indians of Yosemite

One year ago I found myself in one of my favourite places in the world, scrambling around the monstrous peaks of Yosemite National Park, California, generally gawping in awe of the picturesque landscape that enriched my view. So it has been exciting to be reminded of the park and descendants of its first inhabitants whilst indexing some evocative photographs belonging to the Newberry Library’s Ayer Collection, featured within Adam Matthew’s forthcoming publication American Indian Histories and Cultures.

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At Anchor in Bandit-Infested Waters

One of the things I love about working with the Foreign Office Files for China, 1919-1948 from The National Archives, Kew, is the discovery of fascinating stories tucked away amongst financial reports and shipping regulations. Diplomatic correspondence, whilst generally formal and polite, often hints to more emotional undercurrents, as seen in the numerous manuscript annotations and surprisingly frequent exclamation marks! This is particularly apparent when a document is passed between several correspondents, each of whom add a line to the bottom instead of beginning a new letter, rather like Facebook chat.

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Peek-a-Boos Need You!

What a treat it was to dive into a world of adventure when I was a child; of course, I still do that as an adult, with many novels by my bedside, but bright illustrations and light-hearted storytelling certainly played a huge part in whisking me away to a land of fantasy and endless possibility. For children during World War 1, the topic of war was ever-present in the classroom as well as in the comfort and cosiness of home. Whilst flicking through hundreds of fascinating items for our forthcoming First World War resource.

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The Battle of Little Big Horn through America’s Cultural Lens

One of America’s most famous battles concluded 137 years ago today. The battle saw an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, while almost half the entire 7th Cavalry Regiment was wiped out, including George Armstrong Custer. In the media fallout Custer was declared a hero, while the Sioux were described (by the New York Times, at least) as “cruel, cowardly robbers”.

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The Sailor and the Stolen Pudding

Whilst researching for our forthcoming China, America and the Pacific project I came across a book entitled ‘Fore and Aft; Or Leaves from the Life of an Old Sailor’, by a chap called William Dane Phelps. As a teenager I sailed on the gaff-rigged pilot cutter, the Jolie Brise. Whilst my adventure on the high seas was fun, it was also at times testing. I was intrigued what it was like to be an actual sailor in the eighteenth century. And the answer is considerably harder!

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