Saturday, July 17, 2010

Greenwich Maritime Museum Library-07/12/10

(Image availabe from

The National Maritime Museum houses the main museum, the Royal Observatory and the Queen's House. It became a World Heritage site in 1997. The museum was established by an act of Parliament in 1934 and was opened to the public in 1937.

Visiting the Observatory included viewing Astronomy Centre, Flamsteed House, and the famous sea clocks of John Harrison. Here I stood over the Prime Meridian of the World, at 0 degrees longitude! Just the climb up to the obersvatory proved to be worthwhile, as the view over the city below was magnificent. I also touched "the oldest thing you'll ever touch", a rock that is 4.5 billion years old.

I paid a quick visit to Queen's House and saw the Tulip Stairs. This is a spiral staircase that has no central support column, the first of it's kind in Britain. There are many paintings throughout the House, some portraits, some seascapes. The House was completed in 1638 and was a summer house for Queen Henrietta Maria the wife of Charles I.

At the museum itself can be found several galleries and exhibits including collections of ship models, the uniform coat (with bullet hole) that Nelson wore during the battle off Cape Trafalgar, and explorations of the world and oceans to name only a few. It is in the main museum that Caird Library is housed. It is possibly the largest maritime museum in the world, and includes materials on emmigration, navigation, piracy, voyages, and exploration. 12 staff members work in this publicly funded library. It contains four miles of shelving, houses 8,000 rare books, and has an archive catalog of 70,000+. Here I got to see a list of crew members and their positions on the HMS Caledonia. I also saw a weighted book, a tactic used where lead shot was placed in the spine of a book, so that it would sink rather than leave important information in the hands of the enemy. I also got to see and feel a series of little books made from the wood, which rumor has it was of the Royal George which sank. They are small volumes with leather bindings and silk ribbons and tell the accounts of the loss of the Royal George which sank in 1782 right in the harbour with the families of the sailors on board, killing 900 people. The highlight for me was viewing a book called "Buchanon's Domestic Medicine", written and used byBuchanon who was the ships surgeon on The Bounty (from "Mutiny on the Bounty")!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The British Library-07/08/10

What a day! Unbelievable. I came on this program with the hopes of seeing maybe one or two illuminated manuscripts (hopefully) and with the illusory dream of seeing the Pearl manuscript (pretty sure it wasn't going to happen). On this tour I got to see a massive number of illuminated manuscripts on display in the treasure room at the library. The little gem pictured above is from the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and although not the Pearl poem, it is the very manuscript (of the Pearl poet) that I had hoped to see. The manuscript Cotton Nero A.x actually contains Sir Gawain as well as three religious poems: Pearl, Cleanness, and Patience. I was awestruck and still cannot believe I was staring at this manuscript. It is unknown who the "Pearl" or "Gawain" poet was, but the manuscript became part of the Cotton collection. It is Sir Robert Cotton and the history of his collection of illuminated manuscripts that I will be doing my research paper on for class.

And then there was the rest of the treasure room...where do I begin? I saw the oldest and only known surviving copy of Beowulf; Common Place Book of John Milton; Jane Austen's "Volume the Third"; Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre"; a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (1454-55); Wordsworth's "Poem of Childhood"; many missals, psalters, and book of hours; the Codex Sinaiticus from the middle of the 4th Century which contains the Christian Bible in Greek and is the oldest complete version of the new testament; copy of the Revelation of St. John; a manuscript notebook of Leonardo da Vinci including studies of mechanics, notes on arithmetic, and notes on architecture; the original Alice in Wonderland (plus a Russian version, Walt Disney version, Salvador Dali version--interesting); Mendellsohn's "Wedding March" , Schubert's "An Die Musik"! This list could go on and on! (See more at: ). The exhibitions rotate and some items are at locations other than the British Library.

The library opened in 1998, it basically broke off of the growing Reading Room of the British Museum. It was amazingly built as part of St. Pancreas tube station and the Northern line actually goes through the middle of lower levels of the library and can be heard down in the basement. You still must apply for a reading card as you did back in T.S. Eliot's day (see previous post on British Museum), but once excepted you pretty much have access to anything you want, this fact I find astonishing. There is a mechanized system that brings items selected and delivers them to various reading rooms, depending where you are or which reading room you are using. Although no books have ever been lost on this massive belt system, rare books are not placed on these but are rather delivered by hand to the desired room.

Outside in front of the library are many sculptures including one of Blake and Newton that represents art and science. There is also a tree dedicated to Anne Frank.

(Image available at: )

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

British Museum-07/07/10

This was another great day! Our group split up into smaller sections for our tour of the archives, so we began by checking out the museum. There is so much in the museum, it was hard to choose what best to look at and be sure not to miss. The Rosetta Stone was a necessity and was close to the front of the museum (see picture above--image available from ). There were so many people trying to get pictures of it, a little bit tricky to maneuver through the area (worse than getting at the Mona Lisa, Kate). The stone is marked with an inscription dated 196 BCE. It was rediscovered in 1799 during a French expedition to Egypt.

The British Museum was established in 1753 , beginning with the 71,000 objects collected by Sir Hans Sloane. Items in the collection included books and manuscripts, prints and drawings, and some antiquities including coins and medals, and natural history collections that have since been moved to create the Natural History Museum. The original site was at Montague House, a 17th Century Mansion, but this was eventually replaced by the new building which now stands. I was able to view several exhibits and items including: Egyptian sarcophogi mummies, Mayan bloodletting, the Enlightenment Room, and a very old copy of a Chinese scroll that is apparently the oldest landscape scene in existance, the original copy no longer exists. The mountain scene on it reminds me of a picture on one of my books on writing (Cameron), I will have to compare the pictures.

The tour of the archives was very interesting and covered the history of the museum itself. There are archival materials for governance, staff, finance, exhibitions, and reading room records. I saw photographs taken by photographer Roger Fenton, including pictures of damage to the museum during WWII and saw a shell (very large) that had landed in the building (see for more information on Fenton). I also got to see some very old photographs of zoological objects. The pictures remain at the British Museum but the actual objects are at the Natural History Museum.

The highlight for me would have to have been seeing the records of writer T.S. Eliot that are in the archive. "Readers" to the collections had to have references and an application approved before they could use the resources at the museum. The archive has his original request for a reading card, a very formal letter; his index card, #B7009; and signature.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Barbican Library-07/06/10

Today I visited the City of London's Barbican Library. At this site is perhaps the oldest public library service in England, known as Guildhall. There are several historical sites and ruins in the surrounding area including the church where Milton is buried.

Information on Guildhall can be found at the link below:

The rest of the center is very modern, it opened in 1982; with conference rooms, theaters, and a cafe. The outdoor areas are filled with flowerbeds and fountains.

The library includes the Main Library, Music Library, Children's Library, and Art Library. The first thing I saw in a display cabinet of the Music Library were vinyl records and pictures of...(guess who family)...Adam Ant! I took a couple of pictures. The music library also has a really great reference book. The librarian here stated that a lot of visitors come here trying to locate a song and actually try to sing it to him if they don't know the name! Funny. Anyway, he called the reference book an "up-down" book as you start with the first note then decide if the next note will be up or down from the first, and so-on until you derive at the song you were trying to locate (not sure of exact details). In the Art Library they allow mostly new artists to display their work for 15GBP per month. The library, in return, gets 20 or 25% of sales. I enjoyed the Children's Library as well. It had it's own glass door to the outside of the center making it very bright and cheerful inside, especially with all the colorful chairs and books, and the dangling planets that hung from the ceiling. There is a program partially funded by the government called "Book Start" in which every child that is born in this "city-within-a-city" receives a book bag from the library to get them started reading, as well as two more packets as they age.

The highlight for me at the Barbican Center was actually the theater show we saw later in the evening, "Nevermore: the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe". It was amazing, theater meets Poe meets Tim Burton...There was not a large variety in the musical portion, but it was well suited and some portions quite powerful for this dark performance. I hope to read some reviews on what others thought of the musical and would love to get my hands on the score if available somewhere!

(Image available at )

St. Paul's Cathedral Library-07/05/10

(image available from )

The above picture is an example of a psalter, similar to one I viewed at St. Paul's Cathedral library. This was very exciting, my first "in person" illuminated manuscript! The room was quite small and smelled wonderful (musty smell of old paper...nothing quite like it). We got to sit on benches and chairs in the library while our guide, the librarian Joe Wisdom (that really is his name) spoke to us about the library and the church. We viewed several other rooms on this level of the church and saw where some stone cleaning is done by volunteer students (overseen by the conservetor). There is one room, which is fairly empty, that they are unsure what it was originally used for. I inquired about it being a scriptorium, but due to the date that the church was rebuilt (after the Great Fire) printing had now begun, so they do not believe it was a scriptorium. I did get referred to the College of Arms ( ) that were still "hand script writing" at that time, so I might have to pay a visit if I get a chance. I also got to see the geometric staircase (I believe used in Harry Potter?) which was really great.

The Cathedral was beautiful, as well. I did not have time to climb to the top or to the Whispering Gallery, but did go down to the crypt. The crypt has a series of pictures that shows a timeline of events that have taken place in the cathedral. A few of my favorites include: 1621, John Dunne (poet) becomes Dean of St. Paul's; 1666, Great Fire of London; 1940, Blitz, Churchill declares St. Paul's must be saved; and 2001, after 9/11 becomes place of mourning. One other interesting item in the crypt was a memorial to the Korean Vets ("let them not be forgotten by God"). Possibly NATO was involved in this war? I was unaware and will have to check into.

A Cathedral has been at this location since 604AD, the current one is the fourth (after the Great Fire of London) and was designed by architech Christopher Wren. It was built from 1675 to 1710 and still holds an organ from 1695 which Mendelssohn played.