Prompted by Black History Month, we trainees have come together to share contributions from Black voices across our libraries and different disciplines. We invite you to look through our selection, consider them through the coming months, and continue celebrating Black history within your reading throughout the year.
Lizzie Dawson, All Souls College Library
Amo, Anton Wilhelm, & Abraham, W. E., Inaugural philosophical dissertation on The “[apatheia]” of the human mind, Accra: Department of Philosophy, University of Ghana. (Psych.18)
While researching All Souls Library’s collection, I found this translation presented by All Souls’ first African-born Prize Fellow, William Abraham (born 1934).
At first sight, this unbound dissertation is easy to overlook, tucked away on the shelves in the book stacks, but it too is an example of a first.
This document is a translation into English by Abraham of a dissertation by Anton Wilhelm Amo (c. 1700-c. 1750) – born in what is now Ghana, enslaved, and then gifted to the Duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel – he became the first African person to earn a PhD in philosophy at a European university.
On the 16th of April, 1734, at the University of Wittenberg, Amo defended his dissertation, De Humanae Mentis Apatheia (On the impassivity of the human mind), in which he investigates the logical inconsistencies in René Descartes’ (1596-1650) res cogitans (mind) and res extensa (body) distinction and interaction. One of the 18th century’s most notable Black philosophers, Amo went on to teach philosophy at the Universities of Halle and Jena. You can read the original version of the dissertation with an English translation here.
An influential champion for the cause of abolition, Amo ultimately became embattled by racism and opposition to his beliefs. In 1747, he sailed back to present-day Ghana, where he remained for the rest of his life.
An emeritus professor of philosophy in Ghana and USA, William Abraham is one of the few Fellows whose portrait hangs in the dining hall at All Souls.
Dwight Lewis, ‘Anton Wilhelm Amo: The African Philosopher in 18th Europe’, APA blog (8 February 2018).
William E Abraham, author of “The Mind of Africa”.
Georgie Moore, St John’s College Library
Lorde, Audre, Sister Outsider, London: Penguin, 2019. (DE / POL / 261 / LOR)
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) self-defined as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. She was also a School Librarian in New York during the 1960s. As a feminist and activist for the rights of Black and LGBTQ people, Lorde directly challenged white feminists and Black male intellectuals who neglected the experiences of Black and lesbian women.
Although the term ‘intersectionality’ was not coined until the late 1980s, Lorde’s work repeatedly stressed the danger of neglecting differences between women. Sister Outsider (1984) features essays and speeches including her landmark “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House.” In this essay, Lorde argues that although women have been taught to use these differences to separate themselves from other women, or else ignore them, it is only by acknowledging these differences that women’s oppression can be understood and overcome.
Lorde also comments that women are expected to educate men, and Black women are expected to educate white feminists. Reading and listening to the voices of Black women helps people of all races and genders understand how Black women’s experiences are impacted by race, gender, sexuality, class, and age, but relies upon the emotional labour of often marginalised writers. As Lorde writes, poetry is the most accessible and economical form of literature because it can be written ‘between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway and on scraps of surplus paper’. Her perspective challenged me to reconsider poetry, a form I had often associated with elite white male writers, a legacy perhaps of the kind of poets still studied most widely in schools.
Sister Outsider is part of our Diversity & Equality Collection, which showcases writing by and about people in underrepresented and marginalized groups. This collaborative project began last year, with members from across the College making book recommendations. The Collection includes various disciplines, from History and Politics, to Classics, Music, Languages and more. My predecessor as Graduate Trainee was involved with the beginning of the Collection, helping reclassify items in the existing Library catalogue and acquire new material. Now, when I process our latest acquisitions, I am involved in helping the Collection grow.
Heather Barr, St Edmund Hall College Library
Babalola, Bolu. Love in Colour: Mythical Tales From Around the World, Retold. London: Headline, 2021. (S33 BAB:Lov (A))
“It’s important to be able to see Black people and people of colour in love – and in these hopeful contexts that aren’t mired with darkness and strife […] reality is that we’re just living our lives and we’re falling in love as Black people”
(Bolu Babalola, ‘Interview: Bolu Babalola on Love, Diversity, Redefining Romance’ (2020)
Joining the Black History Month 2021 campaign ‘Proud to Be’, Teddy Hall Library worked closely with student BAME Officer Jeevi Bali (2019, Jurisprudence) to showcase Black authors this October. Bolu Babalola’s debut book Love in Colour was one of the books bought new for a display specifically celebrating Black British authors.
In Bolu’s own words, Love in Colour is a “step towards decolonizing tropes of love”. Through brand-new tales and retellings of love stories from history, folklore and mythology, Bolu explores love as at once intrinsically universal, and complexly personal. We move with Bolu and her characters across time, continents and genres; as she brings together West African folklore, her own bad date experiences, Greek mythology, and her parents’ romance. Perhaps most moving in the collection is Bolu’s attention questions of sight. Who is seen, who wants to be seen, who is allowed to see, are questions which circle all love stories, and they are questions which Bolu beautifully considers and handles throughout her collection. For Bolu, Love in Colour is at its core about romance. To potential readers, she says: “If you like romance, you’ll like this book; it’s as simple as that”.
Berrington, Katie. ‘Bolu Babalola On Love, Diversity, and Redefining Romance. Net-A-Porter. 28 August 2020. www.net-a-porter.com/en-gb/porter/article-7c1c1f03ff1c3129/lifestyle/culture. Access-ed: 28 October 2021.
Iqbal, Nosheen. ‘Interview: Bolu Babalola’. The Guardian. 2 August 2020. www.theguardian.com/books/2020/aug/02/bolu-babalola-it-was-mortifying-meeting-michael-b-jordan-after-my-tweet-about-him-went-viral. Accessed: 28 October 2021.
Izzie Salter, Sackler Library
Himid, Lubaina, Lisa Panting, and Malin Ståhl. Lubaina Himid: Workshop Manual. London: Koenig Books, 2018 (N6797.H5635 A4 LUB 2018)
‘Using her theatre background Himid construct ambiguous scenes, at times populated and other times not. We are not quite sure if what we are presented with is a safe place or a place of danger, if the protagonists are under threat or are in control of the situation. The vibrant colours and beautiful patterns, clothes and landscapes attract the viewer into situations that are not yet fixed. Himid’s protagonists are mostly black, and well dressed in clothes that point us to different moments and contexts; inviting us to consider our position and role in histories and what we subsequently do with them.’
(‘Introduction’, Lisa Panting and Malin Ståhl, p 52)
Lubaina Himid is a Zanzibarian-born British painter, based in Preston. She has spent the course of her career exploring untold stories and Black history through reams of colour and carefully-composed figures. Indeed, her singular work championing Black creativity, institutionally obscured throughout history, lead to Himid winning the Turner Prize 2017. She was the first Black female artist to win the prize, and continues to celebrate other Black artists through her work in curation and activism.
Lubaina Himid: Workshop Manual is a collection of Himid’s work and writings, encompassing over four decades of canvas painting, cut-out figures, and installation art. Although varied, her works tie together in a kaleidoscope of colour and vibrancy. Readers can see British crockery overpainted with maps, faces, and west African patterns; selected pages of The Guardian show how images and words connect in the press to harm perceptions of Black identity; painted planks of wood which celebrate the importance of one’s own past, which she reflected on when travelling in South Korea. Each are incredibly meaningful and evocative. Unfailingly, her works prompts viewers to consider hidden narratives of Black history within British culture and beyond. This is the crux of Himid’s work, creating an internal response within others and reminding them of the true world they live in.
The Manual includes ‘The Lost Election Posters’, a series of paintings mimicking typical political campaigns. Himid intends – and successfully, too – to evoke questions of who is represented across powerful institutions. In her own words, the later part of the series ‘are essentially portraits of potential power’ (see photographed). These comprise some of my personal favourites in the book, and I would recommend anyone in the Sackler taking time to appreciate it.
‘I make this work, and have always made it, for other black women. These conversations are and have always been important. I want to show that our lives are complex yet ordinary, filled with the same weight of what has been done to us but at the same time normal and boring too’ (‘A Conversation between Lubaina Himid, Lisa Panting and Malin Ståhl, Hollybush Gardens’, p 293-299)
You can read more about Lubaina Himid here: https://lubainahimid.uk/
Jemima Bennett, New College Library
Marechera, Dambudzo. The House of Hunger. Harlow: Heinemann,2009. (LIT/MAR)
‘My whole life has been an attempt to make myself the skeleton in my own cupboard. I have been an outsider in my own biography, in my country’s history, in the world’s terrifying possibilities.’
Novelist, short story writer, and poet, Dambudzo Marechera (1952-1987) was born in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. A student at New College, Oxford, from 1974, he was eventually sent down after a turbulent two years and repeated clashes with staff and students. Shortly afterwards, in 1978, his first book, The House of Hunger, was published, winning the 1979 Guardian Fiction Prize. Two more of Marechera’s books were published in his lifetime, Black Sunlight (1980), Mindblast (1984), with three others, including a collection of poetry, published posthumously.
The House of Hunger, a collection of short stories, consists of nine interlinked stories concerning Marechera’s childhood and youth in a Rhodesian slum, with the rest of the stories focusing on his time in Oxford. Marechera leaves his readers in no doubt of the sense of otherness and alienation which he felt while he was in Oxford: the story, ‘Black Skin What Mask’, begins with the statement ‘my skin sticks out a mile in all the crowds here’. His writing has been described as abrasive and he himself called his experience of writing in English, rather than his first language Shona, as a matter of ‘discarding grammar, throwing syntax out, subverting images from within, beating the drum and cymbals of rhythm, developing torture chambers of irony and sarcasm, gas ovens of limitless black resonance.’
‘“I got my things and left” is the coolest opening line in African fiction. Marechera is nothing like any African writer before him’ (Helon Habila)
All quotations taken from The House of Hunger (see reference).
Marechera, Dambudzo – Oxford Reference
A brief survey of the short story, part 54: Dambudzo Marechera | Short stories | The Guardian
Lucy Davies, Social Sciences Library
Boakye, Jeffrey. Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored. London: Dialogue Books, 2019. (HT1581.BOA 2019)
“Call me Black and you’ll remind me that, racially, I’m everything I’m not, which makes me everything I am. Call me Black and I won’t even flinch because I’m so used to calling myself Black that it’s become the invisible lens. A perspective that has hardened into an objective truth. Call me Black and I’ll welcome the definition, despite the fact that it denigrates just as much as it defines. Call me Black and I’ll flinch. Call me Black and I won’t even flinch.”
Black, Listed by Jeffrey Boakye is an exploration of Black British culture through the descriptors used by and for Black people in the UK. Boakye examines how words and labels can reinforce stereotypes or alternatively create a sense of community. He explores 21st Century Black British identity through an analysis of pop culture and autobiographical anecdotes. The book begins with Boakye recalling how he’s “been Black since about 1988”, the first time that he was made aware of the “otherness” of his skin colour by his classmates in primary school. The theme of Black identity in the UK being perceived as an otherness runs deep throughout the book, as Boakye explores how the Black British community has been represented, oppressed, celebrated and discriminated against.
Touching on everything from the Grime scene to global Black history and the experiences of the Windrush generation, Boakye provides an accessible and entertaining yet raw and insightful view of what it means to be Black in Britain today. I would recommend it to anyone looking to question what purpose labels serve, and in what ways they can be helpful and in what ways they isolate.
Sophie Lay, English Faculty Library
Marson, U. & Donnell, A., 2011. Selected poems, Leeds: Peepal Tree Press. (PR9265.9.M37 A6 MAR 2011)
Una Marson was born in 1905 in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica. By the time she first left Jamaica, she had published two poetry collections, founded the feminist periodical Cosmopolitan, and wrote her first play and had it staged. She bought her first ticket to London in 1932, but moved back and forth between Jamaica and London multiple times throughout her life. Outside of poetry, her career was busy and varied, with highlights including:
- Author and Director of the first Black production on the West End with her play At What Price.
- Editor of and Contributor to The Keys, the journal of the League of Coloured Peoples (of which she was a prominent member)
- Head of the West Indies Service for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
- Founder of the BBC’s ‘Caribbean Voices’.
- Speaker at the conference of the British Commonwealth League
- Speaker at the conference of the International Alliance for Women’s Suffrage and Equal Citizenship
- Secretary to Haile Selassie (Emperor of Ethiopia) during his exile to London
In the words of Alison Donnell, editor of this collection, Marson is not often enough noted as the “women poet whose works pioneered the articulation of gender and racial oppression, brought Jamaican vernacular voices alongside a Wordsworthian passion for nature, and ventured to give subjectivity to powerless and marginalised subjects.” (p.11) This collection pulls together a broad selection of her work (published and unpublished) to try to present a complete picture of Marson’s poetics – as contrasting as it is enlightening.
In total, Marson published four poetry collections. Her work as a poet is as varied as her life, with a wide range of influences from European forms and models of her earlier work to the use of blues forms and dialect in her later work. Thematically speaking, her poetry often focused on Black representation, gender politics, religion, immigration, nature, love, Jamaica, and war. Despite the heavy topics, she often dwells on beauty, hope, and the uplifting. See this extract, for example, from the deceptively titled ‘Black Burden’ (pp.146-147):
Black girl – what a burden –
But your shoulders
Black girl – what a burden –
But your courage is strong –
Black girl your burden
Will fall from your shoulders
Una Marson: Selected Poems is now available to loan from the English Faculty Library, newly acquired this month.
Donnell, A. (2003) “Una Marson: feminism, anti-colonialism and a forgotten fight for freedom,” in Schwarz, B. West Indian intellectuals in Britain, Manchester University Press, UK; New York. http://library.oapen.org/bitstream/20.500.12657/34986/1/341412.pdf
Marson, U. & Donnell, A., 2011. Selected poems, Leeds: Peepal Tree Press.
Snaith, A. (2014) “Una Marson: ‘Little Brown Girl’ in a ‘White, White City,’” in Modernist Voyages: Colonial Women Writers in London, 1890–1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 152–174. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139018852
So, it’s nice there’s a post regarding BHM, thank you. But, from my point of view, BHM shouldn’t be relegated to one post at the end of the month by the trainees. (And I would like to point out, there are more posts listed devoted to your trainees.) So, which is it? BHM is a month or it’s not?
Thank you very much for your feedback. We’ll take it on board for next year’s trainees to be aware of. Kind regards, the Graduate Library Trainees