THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

4 posts from May 2010

17 May 2010

Colonial dress and a creative compass

Colonial Dress 
Colonial Dress © Susan Stockwell, 2009. Photograph © Colin Hampden-White, 2010


One of the things that has most interested me about the Magnificent Maps currently inhabiting our Paccar Gallery is its illustration of the myriad shapes, forms and situations in which we find cartographic objects. So, when I heard about the Royal Geographical Society’s (RGS-IBG) new exhibit, The Creative Compass and the innovative perspective it would cast on mapping I was intrigued to see what would result.

The exhibition is based on the work of Susan Stockwell and Agnès Poitevin-Navarre, who drew inspiration from the RGS archives to visualise different ways of engaging with and thinking through maps. While items such as a map of Afghanistan made of US dollars and a Proust-inspired map of London all caught my eye, I spent most of my time looking at Susan Stockwell's The Colonial Dress, which has Africa as its centre. While the RGS is an institution historically associated with male endeavour and derring-do, the piece is a tribute to the women who, while historically invisible, were a central part of the 19th- and 20th-century geographical and colonial endeavour. Whether it be Mary Livingstone helping the sick in Africa, Geraldine Moodie photographing the Arctic or Mary Kingsley exploring Africa, the colonial period was as much defined by these individuals as it was by their male counterparts. To cap it all, invariably they did their work in dress similar to the one above, quite a feat while hacking through the jungle or ploughing through the Arctic.

Stockwell’s dress stands in the RGS as testament to those women while also reminding us as to the many shapes and forms of the map. The design will please Tom, our own Curator of Antiquarian Mapping, who is itching for more people to visit Magnificent Maps in 'matching dress'. So, why not do both in the same day? The Creative Compass is on display until 2 July and Magnificent Maps runs until 19 September

[P. J. H.]

14 May 2010

The Future of the Polar regions

Arctic State Craft (G Moodie photographs Churchill battacks) 

Mounted Police Barracks, Churchill (Geraldine Moodie, 1907): Building Arctic Canada

Recently the British Library was host to a panel discussion on ‘The Future of Antarctica.' Chaired by Dr Gabrielle Walker, with Professor Klaus Dodds, Robert Culshaw and Sara Wheeler contributing, the event focused on what the 21st century might hold for Antarctica.

The panellists discussed the significance of the Antarctic as a wilderness, site of science and exemplar of international co-operation. They also highlighted the potential threats facing the continent, from global warming to resource exploitation and tourism, as well as the challenge of maintaining international co-operation, and the high standard of science done there in the 50 years since the Antarctic Treaty of 1959.

My thoughts were inevitably turned to how the Arctic can provide clues as to how things may turn out in Antarctica, since it has been explored and used by humans for much longer. Accounts such as William Baffin's journal of a search for the North West Passage, which is to be found, along with many other accounts, in Purchas' Pilgrimes (1625, Shelfmark 679.h.13), or John Barrow's Chronological History of Voyages into the Arctic Regions (1818, shelfmark 303.i.4) illustrate just how much probing has been done of the Arctic in the last 400 years.

One need only look at how the massive 20th-century developments in geo-mapping and submarine technologies have affected access to the Arctic to envisage how further advances could begin to affect a Pole considered more inaccessible. The increasing exploitation of the Arctic (not to mention flag planting), facilitated by environmental and technological change, is a persistent reminder of how even the most remote of places are inexorably drawn under human influence.

With this in mind, historical collections on the Arctic, such as those at the British Library, provide insight and even warning about how dramatically humans can impact on these most inhuman of environments. Over the coming months, the Library will host ESRC-supported discussions of the 'New Geopolitics of the Polar Regions'  and this interaction of thinkers and relevant historical materials will continue to be invaluable.   

[P.J.H.]

12 May 2010

Robin Hood

What does a Hollywood movie and the Taking Liberties exhibition have in common?  Find out over on the Taking Liberties blog.

[M.S.]

06 May 2010

Politics and Bookstore diversions

We have a General Election today in the UK, and this means that there are certain rules about what can be discussed on blogs by public servants.  But, I think I'm safe to say that in order to get into political zone, I watched a couple of episodes of West Wing, that great liberal fantasy, last night while bashing out a few stationary miles on the cycle trainer.

During the second episode ('In Excelsis Deo', series 1), President Bartlett visited a bookstore to pick up a few presents for Christmas.  Needless to say, his staff were not much amused by this scholarly expedition.

Would it be possible to recreate this scene at the BL?

1. BARTLET: Oooh! 'The Fables of Phaedrus,' 1886, first edition, red leather label, gilt lettering, engraved frontice. Phaedrus, you know, who was a slave, but later granted his freedom by Augustus, wrote his animal fables in iambic verse.

Not sure what is meant by first edition here, but there was a grammar school edition of Phaedrus published by Longman in New York and London, 1887 ([shelfmark 11306.aaa.33])

2. JOSH:A book which if I was stuck with it on a desert island, I still wouldn't read it, 'The Adventures of James Capen Adams, Mountaineer and Grizzly Bear Hunter of California.' I believe I would eat this book before I read it.

Conservation may have something to say about that. Published in San Francisco in 1860 at at 10882.bb.4. (Adams named one of his bears Ben Franklin, something Josh could surely have, ahem, joshed about).

3. BARTLET:All right. You know Zoey is starting Georgetown in two weeks, I was thinking about getting this for her. 'The Nature of Things. A Viviscalic Poem Translated from the Latin of Titus Lucrecius Carus.' Leo looks to Charlie with a disbelieving look.

Trickier.  It looks like Viviscalic is a transcription error, so that leads us to possibly this edition: 

Watson, John Selby. Lucretius on the nature of things : a philosophical poem in six books / (London : Henry G. Bohn, 1851.) [X3/2479]

Later, Josh presents Donna with a gift:

3. DONNA: Skis would have killed you?

I assume Heimlich Beckengruber on The Art and Artistry of Alpine Skiing is as fictitious as Bartlett himself.

A survey of 'In the Thick of It', may, of course, have come up with some different results.

Anyway, go vote.

[M.S.]