Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Royal Geographical Society & British Museum!

July 11: Royal Geographical Society

Our visit to the Royal Geographical Society may just be my favorite one yet.  It was so interesting! The society was founded in 1830 and was dedicated to scientific geography, which at that time meant travel, exploration, and cartography.  They wanted to collect accurate information to be published in the society’s journals.  Some of their most famous explorations are to find the source of the Nile, to Antarctica, and to Mt. Everest.  The collection consists of 2 million items, of which 1 million are maps.  They have 2,000 atlases; half a million images; 150,000 books; and 100,000 bound periodicals.  There is not a huge budget for digitized photos, but they try to digitize them when someone requests something.  The RGS has 1,500 objects and artifacts which are very interesting and in high demand for exhibitions.  When they loan out any of the objects, they are very particular of how they are packed, shipped, and stored.  Most of the items they acquire are donations.  They are more selective now because space is a concern.  They do not have a classification scheme here.  They just record the number of the shelf that the item lives on.  The staff consists of 8 team members, and they have a volunteer group that comes in once a week to clean the books.  We were told it is somewhat of a social gathering for the group to come there every week, which I think is so cute.  When necessary, they also have a professional conservationist that they can enlist the help of.  One thing I thought was really great was that the tables had round edges so that when maps are laid on them, they won’t crease if people lean on the table! What a great idea! It was so fascinating to see the collection of items that were brought out for our class.  We saw the hats that Mr. Stanley and Dr. Livingstone wore (Dr. Livingstone, I presume?).  We saw some of the clothing that Shackleton wore on his first trip to Antarctica.  There was also a pocket sextant that belonged to Darwin from 1835-36.  And many more really amazing things!

British Museum Archives

When we got to the British Museum, we had to split into two groups because the archives aren't big enough to hold our whole class at the same time.  I opted to go on the second tour, so I had some time to wander around the museum.  I have been to the British Museum a couple of times before, but it is always interesting to see.  I saw the Rosetta Stone again, and I always like seeing the mummies.  There were also some new exhibitions that I hadn't seen before.

I was very surprised by the archive because it was not what I expected, but it was very, very cool and the archivist is wonderful.  She is the only archivist for the museum's archives.  I think I was so surprised because I was expecting collection archives, but there are actually 8 collecting departments and each has their own archives.  The Central Archive is where they keep museum generated administrative records.  This includes the minutes from trustee meetings dating back to the foundation of the museum in 1753!  The minutes were really interesting to see because the trustees talked about everything.  Some of them were really funny too, because they would talk about certain patrons or other topics and everything was recorded. 

Another part of the archive holds property records.  We saw the records from when the land that the museum is currently on was purchased.  The mansion that was on the land at that time was called the Montagu House.  We saw drawers and drawers full of blueprint plans for the building of the museum after the Montagu House was demolished.  The builders would submit plans to the trustees and the trustees would give them feedback, so the builders would draw another plan.  There were lots of them by the end!  Another thing they keep in the Central Archives is information about their exhibitions.  They have about 12,000 photographs of exhibitions they have done in the museum since the 1960s. 

Some of my favorite things we saw were the records of the round reading room.  The reading room was very prestigious.  We saw the signatures of some of the readers, like Beatrix Potter and Karl Marx.  Another of my favorites was using a stereoscopic to look at photos and make them 3D.  It was amazing.  One picture was of the Egyptian Room in 1857. 

Some Shakespeare and the V&A

July 9 & 10: Stratford-Upon-Avon and The National Art Library at the V&A

We spent July 9 wandering around the beautiful city of Stratford, better known as Shakespeare’s birthplace.  I did a little shopping and then spent most of the day in their little library, working on blogging and research.  Later, I met up with some of the girls over by the river across from The Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  We sat in the grass and it was sooo nice outside.  Then we went to see As You Like It at the theatre that night.  It was an incredible performance and I loved it.  We ended up getting back to London around 2 am, which made for a rough morning the next day!!

On July 10, we ventured over to the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum to visit the National Art Museum.  This is one of the top 4 art libraries in the world, and is the leading reference library on this subject in Britain.  They have 1 million items, and have 30,000 visitors a year.  Many visitors are history of art and design students.  Then there are members of staff and other people that check out books and research.  The library began in 1837 in Somerset House, and in 1884, moved to the V&A.  This is a closed access library, meaning everything must be requested online.  There are 2 rooms open to the public- the reading room and the center room.  One section of the library is being used for an exhibit, and we were able to see an aerial view of it.  Right now, members of the library can access databases inside the library, and they would like to make access available offsite as well.  Members of the staff collect requests every hour, on the hour.  Items are then reserved for 3 days.  They have an in house classification system by size.  All of their collections are on site except their children’s materials.  They have the largest Beatrix Potter selection (which we will see later on).  The National Art Museum has an annual budget of $175,000.  About half of their acquisitions are gifts.  They hold some collections for the British Library, and they also collaborate with other major institutions.  This is so they don’t all try to acquire the same material, and they are able to complement and supplement each other’s collections.  They have an international collection here.  43% is comprised of languages other than English.  The librarian said they would love to digitize the collection, but it really depends on how much money they receive in donations.  I loved seeing some of the items from the collection here.  I even touched a limited edition Picasso of which there are only 850 copies, maybe even less.  There was also a DaVinci facsimile worth about £20,000.  I also really liked that this library has a lot of information about preservation and conservation of their items.  The staff goes through a lot of training to handle these items.

Mortimer Wheeler House

July 8: Mortimer Wheeler House - Museum of London

The LAARC (London Archaeological Archive Research Center) holds all the items that are not on display elsewhere.  It is 11 years old, and the building was not originally built for archives.  For example, the building already had a sprinkler system installed so they had to worry about water damage to the materials.  LARC has over 25, 000 pieces in the collection, and they are constantly loaning them out to museums and other places.  This is the world’s largest archaeological archive!  99% of the pieces are donations.  They also have a really great volunteer program here, as they rely very heavily on volunteer work.  A lot of the volunteers’ time is spent re-cataloguing and re-packaging the items better.  They want all of the items packaged the same in clear bags so you can see them clearly.  The bags have two labels, one staple, and a piece of foam.  They are waterproof and rip proof.  The LAARC has set up YouTube videos of the process for their volunteers.  I thought this was a great idea. 

The archives are organized by year of the site excavation, and then alphabetically.  This is interesting because it is not by item category.  In the processing area, every excavation is given a three-letter code (the street area) and two numbers (the year).  Then it is given a context number of where it was found and which site and which level of ground.  The items all have numbers that can be looked up in MIMS (Museum Information Management System).  In the processing area, the items come in, are washed, and then labeled and packaged.  Researchers can find out anything about any excavation in the research library.  They can also remove items for photography, research, etc.  Researchers often come in the see clothing for reenactments. 

One of my favorite items we saw was the Buckingham Palace telephone exchange.  It was huge and there were so many rooms on the board.  Very cool.  I loved the toys and games room.  There was everything from old board games to furbies to royal wedding memorabilia.  We saw the original telephone booth model that is still present all over the city.  We also saw some of the 17th century things they are currently working on in the processing area.  We saw a 16th century spoon from before they started using forks.  There was also a stone cannonball that was used as a prop from the theatre where Shakespeare was an actor! Oh, and bones.  There were lots and lots of bones at the LAARC.  It was a great visit.  It is amazing to look at these historic items and gain insight into what life was like back then.

July 6&7

Friday and Saturday- July 6&7

 Friday and Saturday were non-academic days so I signed up to do they days trips through the BSP.  Friday we went to Stonehenge and Winchester.  Stonehenge was really pretty and it was interesting to listen to the audio tour they gave us.  It was a really nice day out so we got some good pictures.  Winchester is a very cute town and so historic.  We went to a pub that had original stonework from 1002.  It also had really good food! Then we went to the castle that has been there since Winchester was the capital of England.  We saw the round table from King Arthur.  Then we did some browsing through the shops on High Street.

Friday evening, I went to the river with 3 of the girls.  We sat on a bench and talked and people watched.  It was great J

Saturday we went to Dover castle.  It was really cool to see the white cliffs on the way there.  The castle itself is huge! There were so many different rooms as we made our way up to the top.  The view from the top was amazing.  We have been really lucky with nice weather so far! It is always mind-blowing for me when I think about how old the buildings are that we’re seeing. Some parts of the castle are from the 1st century!  After Dover we went to Canterbury.  I had read Canterbury Tales in high school, but I didn’t really remember or know all of the information about the town, and why there was a pilgrimage there.  I toured the cathedral, which was really pretty and really big.  I loved the stained glass windows, too.

Saturday night a group of us girls went to The Thirsty Bear and it was fun.  Then the rest of the night was a failure, including us getting stuck in Camden when the tube stopped running east for some reason.  We finally got a cab home so all was well in the end.

Sunday was another relaxing, non-academic day.  About half of our group had gone to Paris for the weekend, so some of the people who were still in London went to Wellington Pub for a traditional Sunday roast.  It was basically like Thanksgiving and really yummy.  Then we to the tube to Oxford Circus and did some shopping on Oxford Street.  It was so crowded but I found some clothes, and Oxford St reminded me exactly of Michigan Ave.