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Identifying Historical Figures: Putting Names to the Caricatures in "The Egyptian Red Book"

Module by: David Getman, Paula Sanders. E-mail the authors

Summary: Visual materials such as cartoons, drawings and photographs can be invaluable resources for research, but often they lack clear information about what they depict. For instance, the "Egyptian Red Book" is filled with cartoons that do not identify their authors or the characters they represent with their drawings. Identifying the characters is one of the first steps toward understanding the meaning of the cartoons and, thus, the message of the "Red Book" itself. Here we will provide a guided exploration of the research process in search of the identities of the many characters found in "The Egyptian Red Book."

Introduction

"The Egyptian Red Book" (1885) is one of the many resources about ninteenth century Egypt available through the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA). This satire of Britain's handling of the siege of Gen. Charles Gordon's forces in Sudan (then part of Egypt) contains a number of cartoons, along with quotations from England's leaders. The figures in satiric cartoons typically are obvious to informed readers during the time period when they were published, but are likely mysterious to non-experts in later generations. As we flip through the pamphlet, one question repeatedly comes to the fore:

Figure 1: "The Three Graces" ("The Egyptian Red Book")
Figure 1 (cars1.png)
Figure 2: "The Military Authorities" ("The Egyptian Red Book")
Figure 2 (cars.png)
Who are these guys?
Figure 3: "The Mummy Government" ("The Egyptian Red Book")
Figure 3 (cars2.png)
We will use library resources to answer that question as well as to determine how these particular personages fit into the larger story contained in the "Red Book." If you would like to begin with the story itself, please visit our Getting the whole story behind the Egyptian Red Book module.

Going to the Source: Works by the Same Publisher

Figure 4: Back cover of "The Egyptian Red Book"
Figure 4 (EgyRe-c03b.jpg)

If we take a look at the back cover of the Egyptian Red Book, we find two other publications listed that are, according to the publisher, "Uniform with the 'Egyptian Red Book." These are "The Gladstone Almanack" and "The Liberal Mis-Leaders." Let's take a look at what else we might be able to find by the publishers, William Blackwood & Sons, on WorldCat. If you are unfamiliar with WorldCat, please visit our WorldCat module for a brief tutorial.

Searching by Publisher

To begin, visit the WorldCat homepage. Type in the title "Egyptian Red Book" and then locate it in the search results. We want to find as many similar works by our publishers as we can. Open a new window and try performing a search for William Blackwood under publisher and caricatures and cartoons under subject. Your query should look like this:

Figure 5
Figure 5 (blk.png)

We find many promising sources right away:

Figure 6: "The Irish Green Book" (1888), by George Stronach and George R. Halkett
Figure 6 (grn.png)
For a brief discussion of "The Irish Green Book," see the What is a Red Book module.
Figure 7: "A Diary of the Gladstone Government" (1885), by George Stronach and George R. Halkett
Figure 7 (dry.png)
This seems to be just the thing, as does the following.
Figure 8: "The Caricatures of Gillray" (1818), by James Gillray
Figure 8 (glr.png)
Because the "Egyptian Red Book" provides no information about its author(s), we cannot be certain if George Stronach and George R. Halkett created it as well as "The Irish Green Book." But the connection with William Blackwood is strong enough to investigate the possibility.

Since our library does not have these works, let's place a request with interlibrary loan to procure them. If you are unfamiliar with interlibrary loan, a method for borrowing works from other libraries, please visit our interlibrary loan module for a brief tutorial.

The first work to arrive takes about a week and comes from a library in El Paso, Texas:

Figure 9: A Diary of the Gladstone Government (Wm. Blackwood Sons)
Figure 9 (who5.png)
The first page proves that our efforts in procuring this outside source have paid off.
Figure 10
Figure 10 (who7.png)
A closer inspection reveals some familiar faces, compare the cartoons at the beginning of this module to the characters you see below, as well as to the names in the quotations in the Red Book.
Figure 11: Joe. Chamberlain, W.E. Gladstone, H. Labouchere, Lord Roseberg ("A Diary of the Gladstone Government" )
Figure 11 (who8.png)
Figure 12: Lord Rudolph (?), Lord Granville, C. Bradlaugh, J. Bright, Joe. Chamberlain ("A Diary of the Gladstone Government" )
Figure 12 (who10.png)
Figure 13: W.E. Gladstone, H. Labouchere, Lord Roseberg, Sir W. W. Harcourt, Lord Derby (?) ("A Diary of the Gladstone Government" )
Figure 13 (who9.png)
Now that we can identify some of the characters in the cartoons, we have a shot at understanding the message the Red Book attempts to communicate. For instance, the gentleman holding the card saying "W. E. Gladstone" looks suspiciously like the man at the head of the line in Figure 3, "Mummy Governmernt." Gladstone is quoted throughout the "Red Book," so the similarity is probably not coincidental. We can compare this image of Gladstone's and his colleagues with cartoons from the "Red Book" to identify other figures. A Diary of the Gladstone Government appears to be a satirical account of Gladstone's Government from 1880-1885 by the very creators of the "Egyptian Red Book." Before we can really understand the full story behind the "Red Book," however, we need to take a look at who some of these people really were.

Researching Biography Using "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography"

Figure 14
Figure 14 (who.png)
If you need to learn more about a prominent person, turn to a biographical dictionary. For instance, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is, according to its publisher the Oxford University Press, "the first point of reference for anyone interested in the lives of the peoples of the British Isles and their connections overseas, from the earliest times to the end of the year 2000. It is the product of research instituted at the University of Oxford and funded by the British Academy and by Oxford University Press. It is the achievement of 10,000 contributors and advisers staff in Oxford. The Oxford DNB aims to provide full, accurate, concise, and readable articles on noteworthy people in all walks of life. No living person is included: the Dictionary's articles are confined to people who died before 31 December 2000." I'd say that that about covers it. There are also similar biographical guides profiling people from other countries, including the US, Japan, and Germany, but right now we're interested in the British. Although we could get the DNB online, let's take a look at it in the stacks.

The DNB is organized alphabetically, so finding our characters is relatively easy. Let's start with William Gladstone, prime minister of England and author. In the scholarly DNB we find a very different representation of Gladstone from the contemporary satires.

Figure 15: William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), by Sir John Everett Millais (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)
Figure 15 (who2.png)
The entry for Gladstone spans over twenty-five pages, 383-409, covering many different areas of his life and career, including his education, early political career, and political service during different periods. The entries are divided by heading and are chronological so we can easily browse for what we are most interested in. Now let's look at Gen. [Charles] Gordon, the protagonist of the "Red Book."
Figure 16: Charles George Gordon (1833–1885), by Sir John F. D. Donnelly (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)
Figure 16 (who4.png)
We find that over half of Gordon's entry deals with his time in the Sudan. Gladstone's Government plays heavily in this text. Without our research into other satiric depictions of nineteenth-century Britain and into the biographies of important figures included in them, we would have more dificulty uncovering the story behind "The Egyptian Red Book," which is explained in the Getting the Whole Story From the Egyptian Red book module. This goes to show how the different aspects and methods of any research project can complement one another, adding to the overall yield of your research.

Combining the Resources You Discover in Your Research

At this point we have the means to identify each of the characters in the cartoons contained in the Egyptian Red Book and the sources of the many quotes throughout. We are beginning to unravel the story, its context and the critique represented by the caricatures.

Now, when you find a name that is unfamiliar in the "Red Book," you can locate it in the DNB. When you see an unfamiliar face in any one of the cartoons, you can look for a similar depiction in the other works published by William Blackwood. The sources that you come to in your research will probably be related in one way or another. Learning to correlate these sources and use them to explore others makes each more valuable than it would be alone.

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