Living Knowledge blog

3 posts from March 2018

21 March 2018

Jane Eyre in Shanghai – part one


Dickens is big in China. So is DH Lawrence. As for Charlotte Brontë, having spent the past week in Shanghai I became increasingly convinced that Jane Eyre (Jian Ai) is even more popular among Chinese readers than she is in her native land.

The handwritten fair copy of Jane Eyre, along with other manuscript treasures from five of the greatest writers in the English language, have just gone on display in a major exhibition at Shanghai Library – Where Great Writers Gather: Treasures of the British Library.

DSC_5053Top and above: journalists at the press preview for Where Great Writers Gather: Treasures of the British Library, at Shanghai Library until 15 April 2018.  

The original manuscripts from the British Library were chosen by curators at both institutions working in collaboration, and reveal many different aspects of their creation and role in the process of publication. The Jane Eyre manuscript bears both the inky fingerprints and name of one of the typesetters who prepared the blocks of type for printing.

Letters from TS Eliot to his friend Alison Tandy and her daughter Polly include drafts of poems for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and show a playful intellect thinking through his creative ideas to sympathetic readers. The messy draft of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers are testimony to the fact that he was writing at great speed for serial publication and so hadn’t the time to produce a fair copy – much to the chagrin of a succession of long-suffering typesetters who struggled to read his heavily-worked scrawl.

Shanghai-exhibition-ts-eliot-letter-tandy-smallerOne of the British Library's star items: a letter from T.S. Eliot to Polly Tandy, dated 13 February 1940, British Library Add MS 71003, f 45r. © Faber & Faber Ltd. and the Estate of T.S. Eliot.

Shanghai-exhibition-dickens-cropDickens working at speed: the manuscript for part of chapter 19 of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, 1836-7, British Library Add MS 39182, f 2r. © Mark Charles Dickens, Head of the Dickens Family. Some rights reserved.

A 1915 letter from DH Lawrence to his agent James Brand Pinker discusses the possibility of privately printing his novel The Rainbow, after it was banned for obscenity. The manuscript of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet to Lord Byron shows how personal relationships between poets could be a wellspring of creativity.

These manuscripts are displayed alongside translations, adaptations and early editions from Shanghai Library’s collections. The work of more than 50 translators is featured – demonstrating the sheer scale of the Chinese market for English literature in translation from the late nineteenth century onwards.

DSC_4235One of Shanghai Library's printed treasures: Gulliver's Travels - published in 1872 and the earliest example of a novel translated from English into Chinese. The work of more than 50 translators features in the exhibition.

The earliest Chinese translation of an English or Irish novel was – appropriately enough – Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, published as ‘Tan Ying Xiao Lu’ in 1872. Multiple translations of the five featured writers testify to the longevity and scale of the Chinese public’s appetite for English literature, as well as Shanghai’s historic role as a gateway through which English works first arrived in China, subsequently finding an audience through the city’s strong traditions of translation and publishing.

Lead British Library curator Alexandra Ault worked with the team of Director Xiangong Huang, Shanghai Library’s head of historical archives, to pull together not just an absorbing and illuminating exhibition but also a handsome bilingual catalogue. QR codes embedded in the exhibition design lead visitors to additional materials on the featured authors at the British Library’s Chinese website:

The exhibition is the latest milestone in an ambitious three-year programme: The British Library in China: connecting through culture and learning which has already seen exhibitions at the National Library of China in Beijing and Mu Xin Art Museum in Wuzhen. Supported by funding from the UK Government, the programme has also enabled the creation of the Library’s first website for Chinese readers – featuring more than 200 digitised literary highlights, as well as articles, video clips and other contextual material.

Just as important as staging exhibitions and sharing resources with audiences in China is the process of working with our Chinese colleagues to share knowledge and expertise, which I will write about in the second part of this blog.

DSC_4504Xiangong Huang, Shanghai Library’s head of historical archives, and Alexandra Ault, lead curator of Western Manuscripts 1601-1850 at the British Library, who collaborated closely on the content of Where Great Writers Gather: Treasures of the British Library.

The first visitors and journalists to see the exhibition have responded with delight and surprise. Nothing matches the thrill of seeing original literary masterpieces first hand, but it’s also a genuine revelation to see the Chinese passion for English literature in translation captured in this way.

My own favourite items were the translation of Gulliver’s Travels, and the first Chinese translation of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, which was published in 1934. That one of the most (self-consciously) avant garde and difficult poems ever written in English should be shared so swiftly with the Chinese reading public highlights the depth and richness of the cultural relationship between the two peoples.

Lovers of literature in Shanghai and beyond have until 15 April to experience it for themselves.

Ben Sanderson

Head of Press and Communications


20 March 2018

Building up a new Shop range

Do you love the British Library’s building? Its five and a half floors of light filled space, designed by architects Sir Colin St John Wilson and M J Long, are full of sumptuous finishes such as travertine, oak, leather and brass, and provide the gateway to our magnificent collection.

Entrance Hall at the British Library
Entrance Hall at the British Library

We have woven some of these colours and textures into a new building range, now available in our Shop. Drawing inspiration from our iconic building, the range includes stationery, accessories and homeware.

Inspired by our architecture  a bespoke jewellery range by Victoria Myatt
Inspired by our architecture, a bespoke jewellery range by Victoria Myatt from Promises Promises

Details of our stairs are reflected in this pocket mirror     This bespoke tote bag echoes the red pillars around the British Library building at St Pancras
Pocket mirrors echoing the motifs of our stairs and tote bags drawing on elements found on the red pillars around our building

Jewellery designer Victoria Myatt from Promises Promises, who has created some handmade items exclusively for the range, says: ‘I wanted to take elements that were instantly recognisable from the building to build the collection around: the layers of stairs and balconies in graceful curves, the leather wrapped hand rails, the graphic shapes of the clock and landscaping. The final pieces have strong lines, layering and shapes that I feel echo the iconic nature of the building, both its structure and its purpose.’ As well as jewellery, inspiration from the interior design of the building can be found on notebooks, tote bags and mirrors in the building range.

Victoria Myatt's moodboard
Victoria Myatt's inspirations based on our architecture

The perfect place to find quirky books and gifts for the curious and literary-minded, the British Library Shop is also inspired by our collections and exhibitions. From rediscovered historical crime classics and our archive capturing the early days of punk, to the original Alice in Wonderland manuscript and our recent Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition, our award-winning themed Pop-up shops and product ranges create an immersive experience inviting visitors to get closer to our collections. Our Buying team is committed to supporting designer-makers and discovering new talent to create our bespoke ranges.       

To take a piece of the building home with you, pop in to our Shop or browse the collection online. Every purchase supports the British Library.

Shimei Zhou, Content and Community Team

08 March 2018

Women of the British Library

With International Women’s Day on 8 March, the Content and Community Team are introducing you to some of the women here at the Library, and the role they play in making us who we are.

Dr Cordelia Rogerson

Cordelia is the Head of Collection Management for the South (we have locations in St Pancras, London, and Boston Spa, Yorkshire) at the British Library.

Cordelia manages the care and conservation of the physical collection in the British Library – that is approximately 150 million books, manuscripts and varied artefacts ranging in date from 3000BC to the present day. Cordelia is also responsible for metadata creation (cataloguing) teams based in the St Pancras site. A team of 120 specialists support these activities. Cordelia’s aim is to ensure access to the Library’s collections for all our users as well as the long-term preservation of the items.

Cordelia Rogerson  Head of Collection Management for the South
Cordelia Rogerson, Head of Collection Management for the South

Cordelia has shared an amazing photo with us which gives you just a glimpse of her work here at the Library – being conserved and prepared for display for the Library’s 2015 exhibition, it is of the Magna Carta (dated 1215). Cordelia says, ‘I managed the project and it was the most fulfilling and engaging conservation project I have worked on.’

Magna Carta being conserved and prepared for the Library's 2015 exhibition
Magna Carta being conserved and prepared for the Library's 2015 exhibition


Jessica Pollard

Jessica is a Digitisation Conservator, her role is to support and enable the imaging of British Library material by ensuring their safety through all stages of the digitisation process, working very closely with Imaging Services, curators and the rest of the digitisation conservation team. Carrying out thorough condition assessments prior to imaging highlights any issues that may pose a risk to items during handling, and conservation treatments are completed where necessary to stabilise weak or damaged areas.

Jessica Pollard  Digitisation Conservator
Jessica Pollard, Digitisation Curator

Jessica says, ‘It’s an incredibly varied and busy role, and I never know what I’m going to see from one day to the next. In the last year alone I’ve assessed over 700 items including Ostraca fragments, pre-1200 illuminated manuscripts, embroidered Chinese scrolls and 20th-century photographs. I really couldn't pick a favourite item but just last week, while assessing a collection of Ethiopic manuscripts, I was excited to come across the original leather satchels which were used for both storage and transport. Each item was individual and beautifully crafted which helped make up for spending a Friday afternoon alone in the basement.’

Jessica also has a knack for snapping some spectacular photos of her work, here’s just a taster (follow her Instagram @mini_museum for more)…

A herbal undergoing repairs to enable safe handling during photography (Add MS 41623)
A herbal undergoing repairs to enable safe handling during photography (Add MS 41623)


Cheryl Tipp

Let’s delve into the sound archive. Cheryl Tipp is our Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds, and looks after the Library’s collection of natural history sound recordings which contains over 250,000 species and habitat from all over the world.

Cheryl Tipp  Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds
Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds

Cheryl says, ‘It’s a really varied role and can see me doing everything from cataloguing and enquiries to exhibitions and events. I’m currently involved with the Library’s HLF-supported Unlocking our Sound Heritage project which will see over half a million rare and at risk recordings from across the UK digitally preserved.’ Find out more about the project here.

With so much choice, what’s Cheryl’s favourite collection item? ‘I love the Gothic atmosphere of this Woodland in Winter recording’, she tells us.

Scottish wildlife recordings
Scottish wildlife recordings


Susan Reed

Meet Susan Reed, Lead Curator of our Germanic Collections which includes some 115,000 German books published before 1801.

‘I’ve been in the British Library for nearly 25 years – almost half my life! – and have always worked with the German collections: selecting books for acquisition, cataloguing, answering enquiries and using my knowledge of and research on the collections to raise awareness of our rich holdings from the German-speaking world.’

Susan Reed  Lead Curator of our Germanic Collections
Susan Reed, Lead Curator of our Germanic Collections

Last year Susan embarked on something very different – co-curating the Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths exhibition, a challenging but fascinating experience. She’s currently researching 19th-century Anglo-German newspapers for a seminar paper in June, and coming up with some new ideas for a future exhibition.

One of the 19th-century Anglo-German newspapers Susan's currently researching
One of the 19th-century Anglo-German newspapers Susan's currently researching


Amber Perrier

Amber is our Community Engagement Assistant. She started as a Community Engagement Trainee under the culture and heritage programme, Culture&. She spoke about her year of experiences at the Library at her graduation in 2017 – which included meeting Dr Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress.

Amber Perrier, Community Engagement Assistant and Dr Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress
Amber Perrier, Community Engagement Assistant (left), Dr Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress (centre) and Emma Morgan, Community Engagement Manager (right)

Now, Amber’s role is all about encouraging the local residents of Somers Town, King’s Cross, Bloomsbury and Regents Park to use the British Library and all the facilities it offers, including tours, show-and-tells, and collaborating in community festivals.

Amber tells us: ‘As part of the Community Engagement team, I am currently holding community tours for local residents who have never been to the Library before. We are working with youth groups and harder-to-reach communities to take part in the Library’s major events such as the 100 years commemoration of the Suffragettes. We are also working with different departments in the Library to have a walkabout in Somers Town to meet and greet local businesses!’

Amber and Chezerina Dhaliwal  Community Engagement Manager
Amber and Chezerina Dhaliwal, Community Engagement Manager


Maria Lampert

Maria Lampert is our Intellectual Property Expert for the Business and IP Centre and she helps raise awareness of the practical application of intellectual property (IP) in supporting the innovation and enterprise process.

Maria Lampert  Intellectual Property Expert for the Business and IP Centre
Maria Lampert, Intellectual Property Expert for the Business and IP Centre

Maria says, 'In short this means having one-to-one meetings with inventors and entrepreneurs to help them understand what IP they may have and the value it has for them or their business. I give talks and run workshops on IP for businesses and educational establishments outside of the British Library.’

Maria Lampert on The One Show
Maria on The One Show

Maria recalls, ‘I met Von Ryan Sy – inventor of the Nimble Babies Milk Buster – for advice sessions on many occasions whilst Von got to grips with his intellectual property needs. He had great belief in his product and, after using it on plastic travel mugs at home, I’m a fan myself! Von even wrote a post for us detailing his experiences.’

For Maria, working with inventors and entrepreneurs can be very rewarding especially when those same inventors and entrepreneurs go on to be a success.

Content and Community Team

(Rachael Williams, Shimei Zhou, Ellen Morgan)