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Book Reviews Roving Reader

From the Horse’s Mouth

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The Roving Reader Files

 

Cartoon image of a horse reading a book saying 'Gee Pop, looks like the people really had it together in those days'Ever felt drawn to a particular shelf? Rummaging around in the Centre, I often get pulled to sections by a force beyond myself, and to be honest, now I just go with it. You never know what you might come across…

The other day I pulled out a massive tome, and what should I find lurking next to it but a comic book. Surprised? So was I.

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Book Reviews Finding Barrington Research skills Roving Reader

Finding Barrington. Part 2: Moss Side roots

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The Roving Reader Files

Ever found that once you set off in search of someone, signs of them are just about everywhere? That’s how it was for me as I began rummaging around the Centre trying to find Barrington Young. I must have been the only person never to have come across him in my travels…

And that’s the key to Barrington. Travelling. Is he a prime minister, pianist, brain surgeon, astronaut or footballer? No. He’s far more important than that. As well as being one of the most kind and humorous individuals around, Barrington Young was the first Black railway inspector in Manchester. What Barrington doesn’t know about trains and the railways of Britain just isn’t worth knowing.

So, where did I find Barrington Young?

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Book Reviews Finding Barrington Research skills Roving Reader

Finding Barrington. Part 1: Who is Barrington Young?

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The Roving Reader Files

Small, but a kaleidoscope of colour. That’s the only way I could describe it.

What I’d found was a gem of a book packed with lovingly evocative images of Jamaica – Jamaica: Photographs by Ray Chen. Thanks, Mr Chen! What vistas you’ve opened up! Beaches, sea, mountains, people… You name it, it’s there. And the fruit! Call me a smoothie-head, but whenever fruit’s involved, I’m addicted already…

image of Jamaica book - fruit marketimage of Jamaica book - dancersimage of jamaica book - flyleaf

But wait a minute, what’s this? Another intriguing dedication on the flyleaf? You know I’m a sucker for a mystery, so take a look at what I’d found:

Donated by Mr. Barrington Young
September 07

Who’s Barrington Young? And why would he give away such a breathtaking book, a visual feast inviting us to another shore? Not something I’d do…

Barrington Young… Just say it out loud… Has a ring to it, doesn’t it? With a name like that, this man has to be somebody. A prime minister or a jazz pianist, a brain surgeon or an astronaut, or what about a footballer? I resolved to do a bit of digging. Who knew what I’d find?

So follow me on a roller coaster of a ride through the rail network of Britain, interracial marriage, and the value of a rigorous education. In my next couple of posts we’ll swim like fish amongst fascinating oral history treasures unique to the Centre, not published ones this time, but manuscripts, recordings, and their transcriptions.

Are you ready for another journey? The quest to find Barrington will be our guide…


Jamaica: Photographs by Ray Chen was published in 1995. Ray Chen was born into the Chinese community of Jamaica and, although he lives and works in Canada, he counts Jamaica as his home. He is one of Jamaica’s leading photographers, having published a number of collections relating to Jamaica, its scenery and its history.

 

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Book Reviews Roving Reader

Guests from Overseas

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The Roving Reader Files

 

Thousands of students are flooding back into Manchester. Here at the Resource Centre we’ve been busy preparing for this enthusiastic new cohort of scholars. Thankfully the Roving Reader has had the time to take a more reflective view of proceedings.

Anyone who hasn’t noticed that Manchester recently exploded with students must have just come from Mars. So for any Martians out there – the academic year’s beginning, lectures are starting, and the buses are full to bursting. Take my advice. Add another half hour to your journey so you get to your destination on time…

But hang on a minute! Stand back and take a closer look. Have you ever thought how many in the fresh-faced crowd are from overseas?

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Book Reviews Roving Reader

Chinese Whispers?

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The Roving Reader Files

 

Three pounds of rice, four duck eggs, a pair of straw shoes, and a lonely trip over the mountains to 1940s Hong Kong. Long hours of labour in food outlets mushrooming on 1960s London high streets. What do these scenes have in common? The answer’s illiterate Chinese migrant Yue Kai Chung.

image of Yue Kai Chung

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Book Reviews Research skills Roving Reader

Black ’47, Bob and Me

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The Roving Reader Files

 

Get yourself a coffee and sit down. Here’s another intriguing tale behind what looks like an innocent volume parked on the Centre’s shelves…

Image of Black 47 coverHave you seen Black ’47. Britain and the Famine Irish by Frank Neal, with its bleak black and white cover and title printed in green? Haunted by the image of a gaunt famine-starved couple with a baby, it doesn’t look a relaxing read. Published in 1998, it appeared during the 150th anniversary commemorations of one of the most catastrophic transformational experiences ever to scar the collective psyche of any community in the world – the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s.

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From Jamaica to England Research skills Roving Reader

From Jamaica to England – What happened next?

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The Roving Reader Files

 

Our Roving Reader has been investigating what happened to the people whose stories and writings she looked at in her journey from Jamaica to England.

 

Una Marson died in 1965, but she lived for many years in the London Borough of Southwark. In 2005, Southwark Council awarded her a Blue Plaque in recognition of her contribution to literature and broadcasting. If any of you go and see it, let us know. There’s some more information on the Southwark Council website.

Joyce Gladwell is still alive and kicking. Her Brown Face, Big Master was reissued as a Caribbean Classic by MacMillan in 2003. Joyce herself went on to become a successful marriage and family therapist in Canada, whilst her husband became a professor of mathematics. In 2009, a counselling centre was named after her in recognition of her work. One of her sons is the journalist and best-selling writer Malcolm Gladwell, who discussed his mother’s life in one of his books – Outliers: The Story of Success (published 2008). You might like to read more about Joyce and the counselling centre or  Malcolm Gladwell’s thoughts on his multi-racial background.

Concerning the Adult Literacy Projects, I don’t have updates about Louise Shore and the individuals who contributed to So This Is England. But you may like to know what happened to Centerprise, the organisation which published Louise’s autobiography Pure Running. A Life Story. It survived as the Centerprise Trust Community and Arts Centre in Dalston, London, until 2012. Unfortunately, its peppercorn rent of £10 per month was suddenly raised by Hackney Council to an impossible £37,000 per year. After much legal wrangling, it looks like it finally closed, to great disappointment all round. It had been open 41 years, and had helped many isolated immigrants in London. If anyone out there knows of any further developments on this matter, we’d welcome an update. You can read more about it on the Radical History of Hackney blog and the Hackney Citizen website.

 

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Book Reviews Roving Reader

Only 12 Years a Slave?

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The Roving Reader Files

 

Have you seen Steve McQueen’s Oscar and BAFTA-winning film 12 Years a Slave? If yes, you’ll know two things: one, it’s based on the true story of abducted free Black American Solomon Northup in the 1840s, and two, it’s not a barrel of laughs.

So to cheer you up, as an addendum to my last post, I’d like to highlight a couple of people featured in The Skull Measurer’s Mistake who made a stand against the kind of abuse Northup was subjected to – Granville Sharp and George Cable.

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Book Reviews Roving Reader

The Skull Measurer’s Mistake

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The Roving Reader Files

 

This title caught my eye: The Skull Measurer’s Mistake. Skull measurer? Mistake? What could this mean? We know it’s not great to measure our waists inaccurately, as we burst out of our clothes if they’re too small. But skulls?

Image of book covers

Once I’d picked up Skull Measurer (published 1997) I was hooked. The rest of the title tells you why: and Other Portraits of Men and Women Who Spoke Out Against Racism. Concisely and deftly Sven Linqvist navigates the intellectual currents around the ethnic stereotyping that characterised popular imagination on both sides of the Atlantic during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and those who opposed it.

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Book Reviews From Jamaica to England Research skills Roving Reader

From Jamaica to England – Part 4: Adult literacy projects as primary sources

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The Roving Reader Files

The fourth instalment in our Roving Reader’s journey from Jamaica to England, through the primary and secondary sources in our library collection.

Louise Shore and Her Literary Ambitions

So far, we’ve learnt from intellectuals Una Marson and Joyce Gladwell, as we travel from Jamaica to England. But are you, like me, asking what our poor underprivileged companions have got to say?

Well, the disadvantaged have historically left few records of their own due to illiteracy, so if we’d asked that question even a hundred years ago, we’d probably have been told, “Not a lot. Hard cheese.”

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Book Reviews From Jamaica to England Research skills Roving Reader

From Jamaica to England – Part 3: Primary sources and the autobiography of a ‘Middle-Class Brown’

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The Roving Reader Files

The third instalment in our Roving Reader’s journey from Jamaica to England, through the primary and secondary sources in our library collection.

Joyce Gladwell Goes to London

Una Marson, through our secondary source, has given our Jamaica-to-England trip some context. Hurray! Now we can get comfortable, kick off our shoes, and learn a thing or two from the reminiscences of our companions. We’re going to thumb through some primary sources.

Primary sources come in many guises  –  letters, diaries, even old bus tickets, lists and catalogues. Archives are full of such things (often called manuscripts and ephemera), but for our journey, we’re going to look at the published variety; autobiographies  –  what people have written about themselves.

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Book Reviews From Jamaica to England Research skills Roving Reader

From Jamaica to England – Part 2: The secret of the secondary source

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The Roving Reader Files

The next instalment in our Roving Reader’s journey from Jamaica to England, through the primary and secondary sources in our library collection.

Delia Jarrett-Macauley unearths Una Marson

When you’re planning a journey, what do you do?

Some people just throw a few things in a bag, jump on the first train and go to sleep. Others want to look out the window, take in the scenery and understand what they’re looking at. If this is you, you’re just the candidate to dip into a secondary source.

Secondary sources are wonderful things. Some are huge and fat, others quite slim. Nearly all are written by kind souls who love to inflict on themselves the hassle of assembling and making sense of piles of information, just so people like you and me can become enlightened. Secondary sources give us firm foundations for understanding the context and broad issues of a subject.

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From Jamaica to England Research skills Roving Reader

From Jamaica to England – Part 1: An invitation

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The Roving Reader Files

In a new series of posts, our Roving Reader travels from Jamaica to England, through the primary and secondary sources in our library collection.

Here we are back after the break, having seen in another new year. Do any of you feel like going away for a holiday after all that exertion? I know I do. Just as well then, that in this series I’m inviting everyone on a voyage of imagination and discovery, from sunny Jamaica to dear old Blighty.

Image of boat sailing into the sunset

Now why would I do that? Well, as far as I’m concerned, the Centre is an ideal place to do a bit of research, and our journey will be a great excuse for getting stuck into introducing different types of published resources you’ll find here.

On the way we’ll find that each type has its own strengths, whether it’s a primary or secondary source, and each brings its own special perspective when read in conjunction with others. By taking a look at one or two examples in more detail we’ll start to see history spring to life, and we’ll meet Jamaicans who make their own unique contributions to the story of what it has meant to swap Jamaica for England.

By the end, I hope we’ll have greater insight into the triumphs and disasters of migration, as well as some of what the Centre can offer to shed light on the experience.

So keep your eyes peeled for the next post

 

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Book Reviews Roving Reader

‘A New System of Slavery’: A tale of three homes

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The Roving Reader Files

I often wonder how books find their way into the Centre. Sometimes it’s simple, but sometimes it’s not so straightforward. I’m always intrigued when individual items bear marks which give a little glimpse of their story. Here’s an example.

A New System of Slavery. The Export of Indian Labour Overseas 1830-1920, by Hugh Tinker, was published by Oxford University Press for the Institute of Race Relations, in 1974. It was the first comprehensive survey of how and why populations from the Indian subcontinent were resettled around the British Empire, providing the indentured labour that produced plantation crops after slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century.

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Book Reviews Great Lives Roving Reader

Basil Davidson and African Elephant Book no 5

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The Roving Reader Files

So here we are. It’s Black History Month. It’s 50 years since the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.  It’s 50 years (give or take a few) since many African countries gained independence.  So why, I hear you ask, talk about a dead white guy?

Well, Basil Davidson is no ordinary dead white guy (if any dead white guy is ordinary).  Writer, activist, spy, guerrilla fighter, academic, great explorer, media star – you name it, he did it. Without him would there have been any Black History Month as we know it today? Now there’s a question.

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Roving Reader

Who is the Roving Reader?

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She can be found here every week, settled in some quiet corner of the library brandishing a notepad and a quizzical look, or roaming around the shelves, picking up books seemingly at random, letting out sudden exclamations or shaking her head sagely…  we never quite know what she’s up to, but she’s agreed to report back on her findings as our very own reader in residence.

Look out for her guest posts, in which she’ll reveal hidden stories, make unusual connections and share her insights into using the collection for research.