Saturday, 13 July 2013

Free Time in London

Day 16:

I started this morning with a tour of Parliament.  I learned all about the British House of Lords and House of Commons and how the government is formatted.  We got to see the Queen's route to her throne and heard that she is not allowed in the House of Commons room.  Instead, she sends her servant as her representative.  Also, while the Queen is at Parliament, a member of Parliament volunteers to go stay at Buckingham Palace as almost a hostage until she gets back home--just in case. 

Oliver Cromwell statue outside Parliament
View of Big Ben from inside Parliament's Courtyard

I learned about all of the monarchs and saw statues of each of them.  The statue of Queen Victoria is accompanied by a representation of "justice", but justice's scales are missing.  We learned that when a vote is finally called, the representatives have exactly 8 minutes to return to Parliament from wherever they are to vote in person.  A bell announces that time is starting, and this bell rings not only in Parliament, but also in surrounding pubs and restaurants.  Representatives vote by walking down a hallway that denotes either "yes" or "no" and their name is crossed off of a list as they pass through.

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After leaving Parliament, we got award-winning ice cream (who can pass up award-winning ice cream?!) and headed to Trafalgar Square to check out the Get Reading festival being held there.  As librarians, we felt it was our duty to support any reading initiative we could!  (Plus, Hugh Grant and Anthony Horowitz were supposed to be there!!!!!)  We walked around to the different vendors and checked out some of the storytelling from the National Art Gallery, which ended up being more like an art history lesson for kids.  We saw the Nook book signing area and realized that Anthony Horowitz wouldn't be there until way later, so we would probably miss him.  We watched dancers and readers on stage and on a big screen performing and saw kids getting their faces painted and eating ice cream.  

Even the Cat in the Hat showed up!

 *   *   *
Each of us had afternoon plans, so we left the square to set off on our other adventures.  I headed back home to meet another few people to head back out on a Shakespeare archeological walk in Shoreditch.  Of course, we choose the hottest day of the year in London to do all of this outdoor activity!!  After a bit of a mishap with the bus, we made it to the meeting point just in the nick of time to catch the tour group just as they were leaving.  Our tour guide took us to the two archaeological sites where The Theatre and the Curtain Theatre are being excavated.  Both are important to London history and of particular interest to Shakespeare scholars.  Along the way, he talked about where actors and writers lived and worked.  The walk was interesting, informative, and enjoyable (despite the heat!).  Many of the places are now only represented by plaques on the wall since many modern buildings have been built since the 17th century on top of the sites of old theatres, pubs, houses, and roads.  The hand-out was helpful because it had maps from different time periods along with pictures of archaeological digs and of the people the guide was discussing.

Plaque commemorating The Theatre
Pub near what was probably the entrance of The Curtain Theatre

*   *   *

The rest of today will be spent packing up to head to Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye for next week.  I'm looking forward to spending some time in Scotland before we head back to London for the last week.  I have thoroughly enjoyed London so far, but I think I'm ready for some non-city time, too.   By the way, it reached 32*C here today...which is close to 90*F (not normal London weather, at all!!!!). 

Friday, 12 July 2013

Mummies, Music, and Ministry

Day 15:

We started today at the British Museum Central Archives.  Our guide is the only archivist on staff at the museum, and she is in charge of taking care of the records.  They maintain trustee records, financial records, staff records, Reading Room records, and building records.  The majority of the records are trustee records, which are very detailed minutes that describe the inner workings of the museum.  The trustee records date back to the beginning of the museum in 1753.

The British Museum is divided into eight different collections departments, and those departments maintain the collections of artifacts and objects, while the archives maintain the collections of letters, journals, etc.  The trustee books include letters, Christmas cards, financial reports, minutes, and other information about the museum.  Also, they have letter books which have transcriptions of out-going correspondence so that researchers can read the entire conversation.

Trustee Book
Letter Book
The museum archives only has staff records up to the 1920s, and anything more recent is kept by the Human Resources department instead.  These are particularly useful for family history inquiries.

In addition to paper records, the archives also maintains 15,000 photographs, which are hard to catalog when there is very little annotation about location and subject.  Some of the photographs are from 1854 and Roger Fenton, who was the first official museum photographer.  He took stereoscopic view pictures, so you have to have the stereoscopic viewer glasses to see them in 3D.  I got to look through the viewer and look at a picture of an Irish deer.

Me using the stereoscopic viewer

Stereoscopic picture without the glasses
Building records are also maintained by the archives. Architectural drawings of Robert Smirke's designs for the museum are kept in shallow drawers.  Property records for the museum building and surrounding properties are also maintained by the archives.  The famed Round Reading Room (which is currently closed and used as an exhibit space and should be open sometime next year) records are part of the archives collections, too.  Over 200 boxes contain signature cards and signature books for users from 1790-1973.  Many famous names have come through the British Museum in those centuries, including Karl Marx (there are 10 instances of him signing in to the Reading Room), Beatrix Potter, E.M. Forster, T. S. Eliot, Bram Stoker, Rudyard Kipling, etc.

Rudyard Kipling's Reference Letter
Rudyard Kipling's Reading Room Request Letter

In 1941, the museum was hit by a shell during the Blitz in World War II.  The shell exploded when it hit the Coins and Metals display area.  I got to hold the exploded shell, which is heavier than I expected.

Exploded WWII Shell
Picture of the damage to the Coins and Metals Department from the shell

*   *   *

Before our tour began and after our tour was over, we got to explore the museum, itself.  Here are some pictures of some of the exhibits I saw while I was there.

Pharoah Amenhotep III
Rosetta Stone

Lely's Venus (Aphrodite)
Nereid Monument

Parthenon Sculpture

Illustration of how the Parthenon used to be painted


Stone Guardian from China (17th c)
Easter Island Statue

Hunting Tools
More Hunting Tools


Cleopatra (perhaps not Queen Cleopatra, though)

*   *   *

After the museum, we went to London Hard Rock Cafe' for lunch.  We were lucky enough to get into their vault while we waited for a table.  Then, once we were seated, we ate lunch beside a Queen gold record and beneath a guitar belonging to the Eagles guitarist, Joe Walsh.  Here are some pictures:

B.B. King's guitar
Bo Diddley's guitar
Jimi Hendrix's guitar

John Lennon's jacket

Temptations picture and lyrics

Bob Dylan's guitar and Les Paul's guitar

Elton John's outfit

Joe Walsh (Eagles) guitar
Sting's guitar

Queen gold record
Queen guitar

*   *   *

Finally, we headed to Westminster Abbey to see the church and all of the memorials to people buried there from Winston Churchill to Queen Elizabeth I to Charles Darwin.  They even have memorials to important Brits who aren't buried there such as William Shakespeare.  The church itself is so beautiful, and there is so much to see that it's hard to decide where to look!  We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but here are some pictures of the outside:


Can I Mapquest the South Pole?

Day 14:

Statue of Shackleton on the "cold" side
Statue of Livingstone on the "hot" side

Today we visited the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), which is one of the coolest places ever!!!!!  On the outside of the building, they have two statues of David Livingstone and Ernest Shackleton on the sides of what they call the "Hot and Cold Corner."  We got to talk to the librarian there, and he showed us some of the items from their extensive collection of over 2 million items.  Of those 2 million items, half are maps which means they have the largest private map collection in Europe (and maybe in the world).  2000 items are atlases, including their oldest atlas based on the work of Ptolemy and is from Germany in 1490.  The picture collection includes 1/2 million pictures, mainly photographs that document the history of British exploration of India, Africa, Central Asia, and the Polar Regions during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Only about 15,000 are digitized, because they tend to digitize on an as-needed basis for user requests or for projects due to budgetary issues.  They also have 20,000 glass lantern slides which were used to give lectures and presentations during the 19th century (kind of like PowerPoint is used now). The remainder of the collection includes 250,000 books and periodicals and the archives.  The archives consists of letters, logbooks, journals, diaries, correspondence, collections relating to specific people (such as Livingstone) or specific expeditions (such as Mt. Everest), articles, fellowship certificates, membership lists, etc.   The smallest part of the collection is, arguably, the most important--the objects and artifacts.  They have 1500 artifacts in the collection, and these objects can be borrowed by other museums to go out on exhibit if the borrowing institution agrees to follow strict guidelines for handling and care.

All objects and artifacts are received by donation, but they still buy maps and books to maintain current collections of those materials.  

Our guide showed us some of these artifacts and told us the corresponding story for each one.  He started with the "Hot Side" and the search for the source of the Nile.  The RGS became involved in the search for the Nile's source in the 1850s and sent explorers Richard Burton and John Speke to Africa to see what they could find.  They took an Bombay African (an African man living in India), called "Bombay" with them as a guide or helper.  The trio started near Zanzibar and headed to Lake Tanganyika, which Burton believed to be the Nile's source.  Once they arrived at the Lake, they were ill and needed to stay there to recover from their journey.  Burton's recovery took longer than Bombay's and Speke's, so they left him at Lake Tanganyika and headed off to another lake (which Speke called Lake Victoria).  This lake was Speke's choice as the source for the Nile.  Both explorers returned to the RGS and made their cases to the rest of the Society.  The RGS felt that Speke made a better case, so they sent him back on another expedition with James Grant to see if they could prove that Lake Victoria was, in fact, the source of the Nile.  They, too, were unsuccessful.  Finally in the 1860s, the most famous of the Nile explorers, David Livingstone, was sent into Africa to find the Nile's source.  He didn't believe Speke, though, and thought that Lake Tanganyika was the source.  He focused his search on Lake Tanganyika, discovered the Victoria Falls, and wandered around unsuccessfully for years without contact with the RGS.  Eventually, the RGS sent Henry Morton Stanley, a reporter for an American newspaper, on an expedition to locate David Livingstone.  When Stanley found Livingstone, Stanley reports that he said, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume," but there is no record of this exchange in Livingstone's journals or papers.  Livingstone died in 1873, and his body was mummified before being sent back to England and buried in Westminster Abbey.  Some of Livingstone's maps were the first published maps of a region.

Stanley returned after Livingstone's death and proved once and for all that Lake Tanganyika was not the source of the Nile by following the river all the way to the sea and realizing that it was really the Congo.  He then proved that Lake Victoria was the source.  He then became connected to King Leopold and the exploitation of the people in the Congo by the Belgians.  He, therefore, lost favor with the public.  

Compass the RGS would have sent with Stanley or Livingstone

Stanley's boots

Stanley's helmet
Livingstone's hat

The librarian showed us how to use a sextant, which is a tool that explorers would have used.  In order to measure distance, you point the sextant at the horizon (but you need a clear view of the horizon).  If you have an obstructed view, then you would need a second piece of equipment called an "artificial horizon" which includes mercury, a trough in which to pour the mercury, and a cover to make sure the mercury stays debris-free and doesn't spill.  There were many sizes of sextants, including a pocket-sized one that could be carried along with you very easily.


Box for Artificial Horizon
Parts of the Artificial Horizon

Smaller Sextant

Pocket-sized Sextant
Another "hot side" story is that of Percy Fawcett (who was born on my birthday in 1867!), who explored South America.  He was sent to South America in 1906 and 1909 to create a map and determine a boundary between Argentina and Brazil.  He returned and went again to South America in 1925, this time with his son in search of a lost city in the Brazilian rainforest he called "Z."  No one knows whether he made it to "Z" or not (or even if the city even exists), because Fawcett, his son, and his son's friend disappeared and were never heard from again.

Fawcett's map

From the "Cold Side" of the table, the librarian showed us Inuit boots and a visor that prevents snow blindness, both brought back to RGS by Sir William Edward Parry from his Northwest Passage expedition.
Inuit Visor

Snow Blindness Prevention

Inuit Boots
Another part of the "Cold Side" collection was the materials related to George Mallory and his climb of Mt. Everest.  The British became interested in Mt. Everest during their colonization of India.  They attempted to map Central Asia, but were not successful except in estimating the heights of the peaks. From the 1920s to 1953 (when the summit was reached by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay) the RGS sent many expeditions to attempt a successful climb to the summit.  However, the most famous was in 1924 when George Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine headed up toward the peak.  Unfortunately, Mallory and Irvine were last seen on 24 May 1924 heading into the distance on the last leg of the climb.  Mallory's body was found in 1999 preserved by the cold conditions.  No one knows whether they actually made it to the top or not, because his camera was missing.  The men who found Mallory's body decided to cover his body with stones and bring his personal effects (goggles, boots, glove, watch, pen knife, box of sweets) back from Mt. Everest, and after some time they ended up at the RGS.  They also never found Andrew Irvine's body, but they did find his ice axe near Mallory's body.

George Mallory's Watch
George Mallory's Personal Effects

George Mallory's Boot
 Mt. Everest is littered with the bodies of climbers who haven't made it to the top and who have died in the attempt.  The conditions on the mountain are brutal, and people can only spend a certain amount of time at the summit because of the lack of oxygen the cold temperatures, the pressure, etc.  Climbers first started using oxygen during the 1920s.

Other really cool pictures from our visits to the RGS:

Ernest Shackleton's Hat (made by Burberry)
A chocolate bar, a fox collar, and a biscuit from Franklin's Northwest Passage expedition
Washbowl from HMS Erebus

*   *   *  

In the afternoon, a few of us went to Camden Town to shop and just hang out.  We went to the World's End Pub and wandered around the Camden Market for awhile.