Animals: Art, Science and Sound is the first major exhibition to explore the many different ways in which animals have been written about, visualised and recorded over time. Focusing on the British Library’s extensive natural history collections, the exhibition brings together chronologically and geographically diverse material produced over the past 2000 years, from some of the earliest encyclopaedic works on zoology to stunning high-resolution photographs of insects produced using the latest technologies.
The exhibition features over 100 objects selected from the Library's diverse collections and is divided into four main zones that cover darkness, water, land and air. As the name suggests, sound features heavily in the exhibition, both in terms of physical objects and sound recordings themselves. There are soundscapes playing in the gallery space that help create atmosphere and listening points where visitors can explore some of the more weird and wonderful recordings held by the Library. Published discs, field tapes, recording equipment and personal notebooks sit alongside historical manuscripts, paintings and printed works, and many of these items are on display for the very first time. There are objects of celebration, such as the first commercial record of an animal, but also objects of sadness, the most poignant of which is a reel of tape containing the song of a now extinct songbird.
Below are just a few highlights from this textually, visually and sonically rich exhibition.
The Holgate Mark VI bat detector which was one of the earliest portable models produced (British Library, WA 2009/018)
Illustration of the defects of a horse from Kitab al-baytarah (Book on Veterinary Medicine) by Abu Muhammad Ahmad ibn Atiq al-Azdi, 13th century (British Library, Or 1523, ff. 62v-63r)
Musical notation used to represent the songs and calls of birds, from Athanasius Kircher's Musurgia Universalis (Universal Music), Rome, 1650 (British Library, 59.e.19.)
Second edition of Julian Huxley and Ludwig Koch's Animal Language sound book, USA, 1964 (British Library, 1SS0001840)
An image of a 'monkfish' from Pierre Belon's De aquatilibus (Of aquatic species), Paris, 1553 (British Library, 446.a.6.)
An illustration of a fruit bat, painted at Barrackpore, India. 1804-7 (British Library, NHD3/517)
The Hip-po-pot-a-mus children's educational record published by the Talking Book Corporation, USA, 1919 (British Library, 9CS0029512)
A section in the Land zone displaying textual and visual accounts of animals appearing in countries beyond their usual geographic range.
A section in the Air zone exploring the history of recording bird voices including the first commercially released record of an animal from 1910.
Animals: Art, Science and Sound runs until 28 August 2023. Please visit https://www.bl.uk/events/animals to book tickets and to find out more about the exhibition's accompanying events programme. Thanks go to the Getty Foundation, Ponant, the American Trust for the British Library and the B.H. Breslauer Fund of the American Trust for the British Library. Audio soundscapes were created by Greg Green with support from the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and scientific advice provided by ZSL (the Zoological Society of London).