Beyond the Spectacle

native american

Native American in ink by wsilver

A new project between University of Kent and the University of East Anglia seeks to understand the role of the Native North American presence in Britain.

The project’s official website provides a great deal of information about the project, the research, and the potential impact that may come out of the findings.

From the About section:

“The main aim of the project is to generate an up-to-date picture of all forms of Native North American travel across the Atlantic, whether it resulted in return trips, onward movement into Europe, or even long-term residence in Britain. The project has an ambitious timeframe, covering the past five centuries, but its particular focus is on the last century and a half up to the present day, a period which has not fully been examined in any depth. In addition, the project will move away from the traditional focus on metropolitan centres, such as London, to examine how Native visitors travelled throughout Britain and established mutual relationships, economic exchanges, and cultural connections across the whole country.

Our objective is to look ‘beyond the spectacle’ in order to provide a more diverse and complete account of these fascinating interactions that includes Indigenous views. We aim to transform existing understandings of Native North American presence in Britain, offering fresh perspectives on a range of relevant issues such as colonialism, Indigenous identities, globalisation and the nature of ‘belonging’.”

If anyone has any information or is interested in learning more, please give the website a look and be in contact!

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Filed under American History, Online Resources

Saving Samson


Curators at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell are appealing to people with links to the Samson and Hercules to help them secure the future of the statue of Samson who stood guard outside the city centre property for centuries. The oak carved figure has recently been restored, and it’s been revealed he dates back to the 17th century. Now, the museum wants to display him permanently in their galleries, and is crowdfunding to raise the £15,000 needed for a display case.

The ballroom was hugely popular with American GI’s over 50,000 of whom were stationed in Norfolk, and delighted the local girls, many of whom ended up marrying their wartime sweetheart. During the Baedeker Raids in Norwich, in April 1942, Samson and Hercules maintained their guard over the front door of ‘The Samson’ club. Unable to take shelter, the bombs rained down; narrowly missing them on occasion.

By July 1942 there was a friendlier invasion. Samson would have looked on in wonder as the Liberty Trucks from the local airbases pulled up and disgorged their cargo of young American airman keen to play hard while they could. Up to this point ‘The Samson’ had been a club for our ‘Boys in Blue’ but there was about be a change in the colour scheme. The American uniforms, known as pinks and greens, comprised of an olive drab coloured tunic and pink-brown coloured trousers. The novelty of the new uniforms, plus the fact that they seemed smarter, the fabric of better quality than the RAF Blue, quickly drew both looks of envy and admiration from the locals. Many of the Americans also came equipped with money, access to rare, desirable commodities such as chocolate, tins of food, stockings; plus a confident gift of the gab, all of which they quickly put to use on the local girls.

Samson, standing as doorman with his cohort Hercules since 1657, must still have looked on in wonder as the Americans tried their bold chat-up lines on the war-weary girls with the local boys often taking them to task over it and the American Military Police, nicknamed Snowdrops because of their white helmets, being on hand to break up any fights. The local boys were gradually inclined to avoid the place but the girls knew which side their bread was buttered! By the end of 1942 the number of GIs in the city of Norwich had boomed. Through the Samson and Hercules there now followed a sea of green dancing to the popular Gerry Hoey and his Band.

Disaster struck on 18th March 1944. Despite their resilience to the German arsenal, Samson and Hercules’ long lives were nearly cut short when fire took hold of the building. With determination the fire was put out and Samson and Hercules were saved, however, the lack of building material available due to the war meant the new portal they were guarding was far less impressive. They must’ve felt somewhat overdressed for the occasion!

For the past seventy four years rumours have abounded that Glenn Miller and his dance band were welcomed through the doors of ‘The Samson’. We certainly know that he played at Chapelfield Gardens on the afternoon of the 18th August 1944 but did he ever venture into one of the GIs’ favourite haunts to celebrate his promotion to the rank of Major? If only Samson could talk we would have discovered much earlier that the rumours were indeed true! Samson would have regained his sense of purpose of welcoming the great and the good through his, albeit now depleted, doorway and he must have have felt his feet rock on his plinth as the place erupted with roars and shouts of appreciation as the band stayed up most of the night celebrating their leader’s recent success.

Glenn Miller

Picture from: Glenn Miller in Britain then and now by Chris Way, published by After the Battle in 1996.

As 1945 progressed, the war drew to its end and the American airmen, who had become part of the scenery, gradually returned to their homeland, occasionally taking with them their new English brides, whom they would have met as Samson stood watch. They left behind them not only the odd broken heart and bloody nose, but more significantly an enduring connection to Norwich and fond memories of nights out at ‘The Samson’.

Samson, meanwhile, maintained his position as the decades rolled by until the early 1990s when his arm became detached and it was clear that now it was our turn to guard and protect Samson for the future. In 1993 both figures were removed for their protection, as they were in such a bad state of repair, and replaced by fibre glass replicas. And this is when an amazing discovery was made. Unbelievably, tests revealed that whilst Hercules was a Victorian replica, Samson dated from the early seventeenth century. Over the past couple of years conservators have removed countless layers of lead paint to unveil the most intricate of features, including curly long hair and strong arms bulging with popping veins and muscle.

Working in partnership with the Art Fund through their ‘Art Happens’ platform, the museum of Norwich at the Bridewell aims to raise £15,000 by 22nd March to Save Samson and proudly place him on permanent display, protecting this fragile and precious piece of the City’s heritage for the future. Now the conservation work is complete the museum wants to create a breath taking new display featuring a bespoke, state of the art, environmentally controlled case. Within the case, the very fragile figure of Samson will be supported by a new custom made, conservation grade mount. What’s more, specially designed lighting will enable visitors to see every curl and sinew in tantalising detail. Meeting the highest conservation standards, this new display will not only present Samson at his very best, but more importantly, will ensure this city icon remains in peak condition.

But the museum needs your help to make this happen.  By donating to this project, you can ensure Samson’s future will be secure for years to come and the story of this much loved Norwich night club can be celebrated and enjoyed by everyone.

What’s more, as a thank you to donors, the Art Fund offers desirable rewards for set price donations, such as exclusive campaign tote bags, limited edition signed prints by Leanda Jaine Illustrations and a behind the scenes conservator led tour to see Samson up close.

Find out more and join the campaign to Save Samson! #savingsamson

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Filed under Local Interest, World War 2

Another Letter From Vermont: Charles Walker Scholarship Recipient Charlie Pritchard

The Crumbling of the Mountain State

Donald Trump’s promises to bring back coal jobs to West Virginia tapped into sentiment which the dispossessed of West Virginia had longed to hear – that, if only for a few seconds, manual labour could once again occupy a standing of nobility in antithesis to the vexing realm of automation. West Virginia remains a woefully underfunded state – it bears disreputable statistics from the highest obesity rate, the highest smoking rate and the highest level of drug related deaths in the U.S. Throughout the twentieth century, West Virginia had been location of the most intense episodes of industrial strife, testified by such incidents as the Paint Creek Strike of 1912 and the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. Following the Great Depression and World War II, union activity continued, yet the environmental implications of contemporary struggles have shifted the debate dramatically. The development of mountaintop removal mining practised through automated technology has caused myriad problems for local residents. During the process waste is often disposed into nearby rivers leading to reservoirs, polluting drinking water and causing floods when these blockages break under heavy rainfall.

During the first week of February, myself and a group of Middlebury College students set out for the Appalachian South Folklife Center in the small village of Pipestem to work with local communities and activists and learn the contemporary struggles facing the state. The site is run by Tim, who is originally from Santa Barbara, California, who came to West Virginia during the Civil Rights struggle, where he met Don West, a radical unionist and preacher who founded the ASFC as a hideout for Left dissidents. The ASFC typically receives students from colleges across America during the spring and summer breaks, so our group largely had the Center to ourselves.



Appalachian South Folklife Center


Tim teaches music at a local elementary school and can often be found playing the banjo with his wife at an open-mic night in the local town of Princeton. Tim however works intensely at establishing cooperative relationships with community organisations; the Princeton Arts Collective, The Wade Center (a non-profit school for children) and the Bluefield Union Mission (a food bank and community welfare organisation). Tim seemed optimistic about the progress made in Princeton. Once a declining mining town, a group of local artists and musicians organised arts projects to stimulate the town’s economy. Down side alleys, they painted murals, and encouraged contributions from local painters. A common haunt is the Riff-Raff, the bottom floor a shop dealing in sculptures and crafts, and upstairs a club showcasing musical talent in the neighborhood.


Princeton, West Virginia


Much of the ASFC’s work, however, is devoted to home repairs for locals who are unable to afford ordinary repair services, often including households damaged as a result of mountaintop removal mining. The repairman Greg exudes enthusiasm for his job, at being able to work alongside students not only from elsewhere in the US but across the world. ‘Most of the people I get come from around Chicago, but I get people from all over’ he tells us, ‘even from China and Japan’. He set us off repairing the roof of a woman’s trailer which had been damaged from heavy rainfall, which we managed to fix in 5 days.

The next day, Tim introduced us to the Bluefield Union Mission, which donates food and blankets to struggling families. The Union Mission had been functioning since the Great Depression, though its diner dining hall had gradually transformed into take-away shelter. In the rear of the building, the Mission held services and allowed meetings with local activists and trade union leaders. As our group supplied the visitors with food, it was depressing to realise how much work the staff members would have on their hands at times when volunteers were unavailable, work that would go largely unnoticed by local authorities.

Afterwards we met with Tina, an activist who has campaigned vigorously for healthcare rights, though abortion laws in particular are the focus of her efforts. ‘There’s only one place in the state that can offer abortions now’, she tells us. ‘Most cross the state line into Virginia’. With recent Democratic victories like Doug Jones in Alabama, Phil Murphy in New Jersey, Ralph C. Northam in Virginia and especially Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected to the Virginia state legislature, she maintains an admirable degree of optimism. When asked about the prospects for Bernie Sanders in 2020, she replied ‘I like Bernie – I think it’s promising that he won more votes than Hillary in West Virginia, but I think we need some new blood’.

On the final day I visited the Wade Center in Bluefields, just a few miles from Pipestem. The Wade Center began as a conventional state school at which Tim formerly taught music. Eventually the school closed and the building was bought up to establish a non-profit school for disadvantaged children. The lack of employment opportunities coupled with opioid addiction leads many parents to delegate their roles as providers to day-care services like the Wade Center. Here, the children are fed in the evening and are given packed dinners to take home with them for the weekends. They also have a space to concentrate on homework given from other schools, and a safe recreational environment, although the playgrounds were mostly out of bounds. When staff members began to find syringes in the grass, they cordoned the space off. There were even bunk-beds where children could sleep for a few nights if they needed to. Nevertheless, In spite of the valuable support the Wade Center offers in every aspect of their lives, the next chapter leaves little reason for optimism for those without reliable home support to prepare them for high school.


The Wade Center, Bluefield, West Virginia


West Virginia is a state forgotten by those who govern it. Governor Jim Justice’s investment in the Russian coal and steel company Mechel using state funds have led to immense debts of $4.6 million which Justice shows little indication of settling in the near future, despite the state’s dire need of reformed infrastructure. Yet discussions of rural poverty in America are overshadowed outside the state – on college campuses and among Northern state activists. The awakening of activists such as Tina have indicated a growing momentum among the formerly disengaged. But we have yet to see a similar awakening in the Northern states – of the disinterested geared into motion with progressives prepared to communicate with senators and party candidates to shape an agenda for a presidential candidate of 2020.

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Book Review: Thanks Obama, My Hopey Changey White House Years

By Danielle Prostrollo

The last few weeks in the library have been a veritable book lover’s Christmas. A ton of new stock has come in, and picking one to highlight was difficult. I picked this one because the subject of the autobiography. The author is a speechwriter and ‘people behind the people’ stories fascinate me.

Thanks Obama: my hopey changey White House Years, by David Litt

thanks obama

To head this review off, I thought the book was great. The story centers around a White House speech writer, David Litt, and his journey from newbie underling to member of Obama’s trusted team. It would be easy to dismiss this book as an Obama love letter, but this is not about the former president. It’s not even actually about the administration. It is rare to get a glimpse into life on The Hill from someone who does not stand directly in the public light.  
Equally important and refreshing, is the writing style. The book reads without difficulty, like a buddy is filling you in on his day. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise, Litt is a speechwriter, after all. There is an unexpected amount of humor and relatability in the book. He talks about feeling invincible, about moments of awkward embarrassment, and the relatable moments of utter boredom. But, interspersed between these normal-person feelings are trips on Air Force One, nights out at Lincoln Center, and conversations with the President.
You don’t need to be a policy wonk to enjoy this book. Anyone interested in a little glimpse into the political life, enjoyed The West Wing, or reads every book that comes about The Hill, will enjoy this read.

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Filed under American Culture, American Politics, Books