Royal Geographical Society

Royal Geographical Society

Royal Geographical Society

It’s hard to believe that today was our last official class visit… it’s also hard to believe that I woke up this morning having my fourth heart episode in nine days. (I’m sure you’re all bored with the heart information, but really I’m keeping track of these episodes for my own benefit).

However, I am ecstatic to say that our class toured the Royal Geographical Society (RGS)! This was not on our initial itinerary for the trip, but Dr. Welsh and Dr. Griffis did promise us a few surprise visits…

You may remember that the girls and I visited the RGS back on the 3rd to see their photography exhibit, and I am very interested in the society after reading about it in The Lost City of Z. The RGS was founded in 1830, and is a highly specialized body that focuses on advancing the geographical sciences; it is a membership organization, with over 15,000 members and Fellows in 100 countries. Dr. Welsh is actually a Fellow of the Society, and so we were able to have an in-depth tour of some of their collections in the Foyle Reading Room.

RGS’s collections encompass nearly 2 million items, which include artifacts, books, maps, manuscripts, and personal effects from famous explorers whose expeditions were partially or fully funded by the Society. Eugene Rae, the Principal Librarian, created what he called a “Hot and Cold” exhibit, meaning it covered exploration from the deserts of Africa to the Arctic and Antarctica. We were shown the sketches, compass, sextants, and hats of famous African explorers David Livingstone and Henry Stanley, items left behind from Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated final Antarctic expedition in 1912, and the boot and goggles from Mount Everest explorer George Mallory, who died on the mountain in 1924. We were not allowed to take pictures of these amazing items, but I encourage you to explore their catalogue – type in any of the explorers I mentioned above, limit to Artefacts, and you’ll get a detailed description of the boxes of materials and items RGS has in relation to that person.

Although the Society is essentially a members-only organization, use of the collections and archives is encouraged, though researchers must undergo a registration process. In addition, the Society still issues travel grants for expeditions, fieldwork, student research, and teaching. Lastly, various exhibitions are opened to the public throughout the year at the Society’s facilities, and I have now had the chance to see two: the Environmental Photographer of the Year, and the Travel Photographer of the Year. (Click on the links for pictures) Both exhibits beautifully showcased breathtaking images and films from around the world. Fun Fact: Did you know that actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes have a cousin named Ranulph, who is arguably the world’s most famous modern-day adventurer and explorer? Check him out – his various record-breaking feats are fascinating, and he is speaking at the RGS in September.

The RGS is probably one of my favorite places we’ve visited on this trip, as it’s really unlike any other library, archive, or museum we’ve seen. I am highly interested in exploration, and love reading about historical non-fiction adventures; they’re often so exciting and seemingly unrealistic that they read like a fiction book. But seeing the actual artifacts of explorers solidified the realness of their lives for me, and I appreciate that these men literally sacrificed their lives for their country, their honor, and their often fanatical desire to explore and further the realm of knowledge for mankind. To experience a glimpse of the driving force behind these men, I encourage you all again to read The Lost City of Z, which details the life and mysterious death of explorer Percy Fawcett.

After our final visit, I grabbed a quick lunch from Pret (sadly quite possibly my last ham and egg sandwich here in London), and trekked back to the Wesley Museum to do more research. In true explorer fashion, I had mapped out my route on the Tube, which was quite simple in theory – from the South Kensington Station, which was right down the street from the RGS, I would hop on either the Circle or District line, take that to Monument Station, where I’d then take the Northern line up to Old Street. Easy, right? WRONG. The Circle and District lines are now the bane of existence, and I was incredibly unhappy with London after my tube fiasco today. I did finally make it to the museum, though I could only spent an hour there since they closed at 4. To make myself feel better, I decided to do some shopping, but that too, ended disastrously, so I promptly gave up and treated myself to some Ben’s cookies for dinner. Because, why not? Sometimes a girl just needs a giant cookie and then the world is ok again…

Here’s hoping for a better tomorrow, which I know will happen, because the girls and I are headed to Warner Bros Studios for THE MAKING OF HARRY POTTER! I’ll try to contain my excitement, but can make no promises.

Sleep tight,



National Library and National Archives

Part 1: The National Library of Scotland

Now, normally, I am not at all excited about Mondays – but I’m in beautiful SCOTLAND, so that’s something to be excited about! I’m also pumped about my free and delicious breakfast I had this morning  – complete with scrambled eggs, bacon, a croissant loaded with Nutella, and some fruit… yummy.

Today we made two class trips – first to the National Library of Scotland (NLS) in the morning, and then to the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) after lunch. The two buildings are only blocks away from each other, and are located right off the Royal Mile, which is composed of the main streets of Edinburgh, and is the major shopping and restaurant district. Traveling from our dorms at the University of Edinburgh is easy. Though there’s no tube, Edinburgh uses a bus system that is similar to London’s, with one slight difference – our daily bus pass tickets are scratch-off, like a lottery ticket! Ha.

Shops along the Royal Mile

Shops along the Royal Mile

We were not allowed to take pictures in the NLS, but I’ll have other pictures to show you later. The NLS is actually spread among several buildings throughout Scotland, but we were in the primary one, which is in fact 15 stories high! It’s the largest library in Scotland, and the place to go if you want to research Scottish history and culture. Similarly to the British Library, the NLS is also a legal deposits library, which if you don’t remember, means they are able to have any book published in the UK if they desire. However, the difference is that the NLS must actually claim these published materials directly from the publisher, and so they do not own every book (unlike the British Library, to whom publishers automatically send books).

As opposed to venturing into the stacks and touring the facilities like we’ve done with other libraries, we instead focused on the John Murray Archive and exhibit. This particular archive is composed of materials from the John Murray Publishing House, which was founded in 1768. The website says it best:

“The archive contains manuscripts, private letters and business papers from authors who shaped the modern world through their writings on: Publishing, politics and society, literature, travel and exploration, and science.”

There are many famous people whose works and personal items appear in the archive, including David Livingstone, Charles Darwin, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Byron, and Jane Austen. The archive is currently composed of 1 million items, crosses every genre, and includes materials in a variety of formats. The exhibit itself is unique and interactive; the exhibit room is quite dark, with custom lighting – displays are only lit when someone approaches the item. Diminished lighting of course helps to preserve these items on display. After all, the primary goal of the archive is to preserve these treasures for future generations, and thus focus on conservation and preservation. Hearing about the “best practices” policies of such prominent archives, libraries, and museums will never get old to me, and I love absorbing the information about budgets, strategic plans, collection development and acquisitions policies, digitization plans, and all other management and administrative issues. I think my 704 class (Management of Libraries) has really rubbed off on me for the better!

Part 2: The National Archives 

After a lunch break, we walked down the National Archives, which is the Scottish government’s official archive, and is also known as the National Records of Scotland. Initially established in 1774, the archives merged with the General Register Office for Scotland back in

National Archives of Scotland

National Archives of Scotland

2011. The General Register Office for Scotland contains numerous materials, including demographic statistics and censuses (records of births/marriages/deaths), deeds for estates and land, business records, and numerous resources and databases pertaining to Scottish genealogy. The archive contains additional items from the 12th-21st centuries, including old parish registers, wills and testaments, taxations records, maps and plans, church records, state and parliamentary papers, government records, court/legal documents, family papers, photographs, etc. Currently, the archive is in possession of 78 km worth of historical records, and they are adding approximately 1 km/year. An interesting note: unlike most libraries/archives/museums, this archive has the power to weed and devaluate records, which is a tricky practice, and according to our guide, has “resulted in poor decision making in the past.” I’m not sure that I would ever feel comfortable simply throwing away or destroying documents – the exception being if there were duplicates. Too much responsibility!

Many of these records are housed in a classically simple, yet elegant room (seen above) with an impressive domed ceiling. Fun Fact: the head of the archives is known as the “Keeper of the Records of Scotland.” It’s such a legit title – I love it! Can you imagine that being on your business card? No big deal…

We were shown some interesting items from the collection, and our guide was kind enough to pull some letters, maps, and press clippings relating to America – including a map of the Charleston Harbor, along with a letter criticizing the British disposition towards South Carolina’s slavery legislation! I think sometimes it’s so easy for us to be consumed in our little bubbles, that we forget how history almost always reveals to have an impact on a grand scale…. who would think that documents relating to good ol’ South Carolina would be found in the National Archives of Scotland of all places?

Once we finished up at the NAS, we were free to explore Edinburgh. A group of us walked up and down the Royal Mile, which

Tea at Mimi's Bakehouse

Tea at Mimi’s Bakehouse

links the Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace. I’d love to visit both places and hope to have a chance to before we leave on Thursday! We went into several stores, and then Jessica, Jade, and I popped into a charming little place called Mimi’s Bakehouse for some afternoon tea and treats. After we’d explored the Royal Mile, we headed back towards the dorms, but stopped to order Chinese take-away. Though it was pretty chilly and windy, we sat outside the dorms to eat – I just love how clean the air is here!

Remember how I mentioned before that the campus is at the base of Arthur’s Seat? Well, Arthur’s Seat can be seen here in the background…

Arthur's Seat

Arthur’s Seat

It’s a little intimidating to say the least, but we are planning on conquering this gigantic hill tomorrow after class!




And on that note, I think it’s time to get some sleep, so I’m well rested before attempting the impossible tomorrow!

Miss you all,



Part 1: National Maritime Museum

Happy Wednesday!

Today has been one of the best and busiest days so far this trip. Where do I even begin?!

We walked to the South Bank this morning and hopped on a ferry to ride up the Thames to Greenwich. The sky was gorgeous and we passed some of London’s biggest attractions including the Globe Theatre and the Tower Bridge. I love this picture that I Tower Bridge on the Thamescaptured – with the Union Jack flag in the foreground and the Tower Bridge in the background. After a short ride we arrived in Greenwich, when it quickly became apparent that we had actually stumbled upon a movie set! Dr. Welsh did some investigating (if librarians are good at anything, we excel in locating information), and we learned that the film is called Grimsby, is directed by Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans), and stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong(!), Rebel Wilson, and Isla Fisher, among others. We were told to be on the lookout for Sacha Baron Cohen, who was running around in a green football jersey; a few were convinced they saw him in an upstairs window, but unfortunately we had no up-close celebrity sightings. Still, it was a neat way to start our day!

After the movie diversion, we headed to the National Maritime Museum. I’ll admit, just like with Shakespeare, I am not the biggest maritime fan. However, I quickly realized that the Museum heavily focuses upon Admiral Horatio Nelson, of whom I’m a HUGE fan. He’s a fascinating character in British history, and after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar, became known as one of Britain’s greatest war heroes. A monument dedicated to him stands in Trafalgar Square, and is one of the most prominent statues in London. But more on the Admiral later…

Inside the Museum we visited the Caird Library and Archive, which contains over 2 millions items, including 100,000 books, 12,000 rare books, and 80,000 maps/charts. The library uses Dewey Decimal Classification system, but the archive (like others we have visited) arranges materials by size and format. Many academic researchers use the collections, but also family historians — the collection is composed of 4 main groups:

1. Admiralty (government records)

2. Local Records (i.e. dockyard papers)

3. Business Records (shipping companies)

4. Personal Papers (admirals, officers, etc…. Hence the family historians)

Two highlights of the archive are the Titanic collection, which contains letters, pictures, and accounts from survivors, as well as a collection on the Spanish Armada. I was very excited about the Armada collection (as I think I’ve already mentioned, Elizabeth I is my favorite monarch), and a few of us who were interested were taken to see it after the class tour was over. Included is a copy of Queen Elizabeth’s Song, which she herself composed after defeating the Armada in 1588. Below is a picture I took of the document, but here is a link to the actual catalogue record, which allows a better view of the document: Queen Elizabeth’s Song

Copy of Queen Elizabeth's Song

Queen Elizabeth’s Song

The whole class was shown a variety of treasures from the archival collection; my favorite was probably the journal of Edward Mangin, a Chaplain in the British Navy during the early 1800’s. After reading through some of his journal, I saw that Mangin wrote with a sense of purpose, but he often included bits of humour (yes, humour with a “u”), and allowed his wittiness to shine through. Mangin was also quite an accomplished artist, which you can see in the cover page below:

Journal of Edward Mangin

Journal of Edward Mangin

After class ended, and us lucky few had the opportunity to see the Armada Collection, we were free to go! Laura Douglass and I decided however that Greenwich had too much to offer for us to simply scurry back to London. We thoroughly explored the Museum, and I have to say, that it is now one of my all-time favorites! Fortunately for me, the Museum is having an exhibit on the life of my main man, Admiral Nelson. From a future librarian/archivist perspective, the exhibit itself was probably one of the best in terms of accessibility that I’ve seen. Now, why do I keep talking about “accessibility?” Like I mentioned previously, I took a Special Collections class last semester, and for one of our final projects, we essentially semi-created a mock exhibit by making item label cards, etc. We also had to compare 3 different types of library and museum exhibits to see if they followed the Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design. Every little detail is discussed, from item labels to audiovisuals to lighting to furniture to floor space, etc. Now I can’t help but look at every exhibit I enter with a critical eye… but the National Maritime Museum passed the test!

Part 2: Greenwich and London Adventures

LD and I grabbed a quick lunch at a Mexican Restaurant (we couldn’t help ourselves – Mexican is a tradition for us!), and then View from the Royal Observatory made the not-so-fun hike up to the Royal Observatory. We were greeted by this awesome view from the top of the hill, and then proceeded to wait in line to have our picture taken on the Prime Meridian, which is 0 degrees Longitude and divides the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

Laura Douglass and I on the Prime Meridian

Laura Douglass and I on the Prime Meridian

Once we left the Royal Observatory, we began our hunt for book benches! Greenwich has its own set of book benches, and we were able to find a few, including Samuel Pepys’ Diary, Captain Scott’s Autobiography, The Jungle Book, Darwin’s On the Order of Species, and H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. The Jungle Book has been one of my favorites so far, and I made myself comfortable on the bench for a minute!

Resting on The Jungle Book bench

Resting on The Jungle Book bench

Finally, Laura Douglass and I decided that we had spent our time well in Greenwich and headed back to London…. but our day was not over yet!

Both of us are huge fans of London’s big, beautiful parks, but I had not yet had a chance to visit Holland Park. And within Holland Park is a special place called Kyoto Gardens, which I have been wanting to visit for some time (if you Google it, you can see why). Kyoto Garden was built to celebrate the Japan Festival in London back in 1992, and was a collaborative effort between the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (where Holland Park is located) and the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The garden is a quiet place – there is even a sign requesting that parents do not allow their children to play in the garden, and it is full of flowers, a waterfall, and even peacocks. After walking around, and throwing a 2 pence coin into the pond for good luck, LD and I found an empty bench and just quietly sat for some time, enjoying the sunny day and being completely immersed in the space. My favorite college professor, Dr. French, who taught my classes on Buddhism and Hinduism, would have greatly admired the zen-like nature of the garden, and I found myself thinking of him. I also thought of my Granny, who has quite the “green thumb” and always appreciates the simplistic beauty of gardens – I wish she was with me to see this. (Hi, Granny! Miss you!)

Kyoto Garden

Once we peeled ourselves off the benches in Kyoto Garden, LD and I left Holland Park and walked to the nearby Kensington Gardens, which of course houses Kensington Palace, the residence of Prince William and Duchess Catherine (and Baby George!). Unfortunately, the sun was beginning to set, so the lighting was pretty terrible for pictures, and we vowed to come back another day! Tired and hungry, we set off to find food, and ended up at probably the most tourist-y location ever… the Hard Rock Cafe! Fun Fact: Did you know that the London HRC was the original? I had no idea. So that made it feel a bit more legitimate.

Whew! What a busy Wednesday. I think we walked many, many miles today, but it was tons of fun, and worth every step!

Time to rest my feet,


London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre

Happy Monday!

Today our class visited the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC), which is part of the Museum of London (MOL) and located in Hackney. The history behind LAARC is a touch confusing, simply because it’s a branch of MOL, and receives funding from the Corporation of London, while the archaeological excavations themselves are funded by land developers. So for example, a developer decides to build on a plot of land and stumbles across a skeleton or pottery; then they themselves will hire archaeologists to excavate the site. A good example of this happened earlier this year, when skeletons of victims of the Black Death were unearthed near Charterhouse Square. Regardless, what is so special about LAARC is that it’s the largest archaeological archive in the world, and they have the Guinness World Record to prove it!

LAARC is full of storage areas that look something like the picture on the right, and it is apparent that the building is packed full of these treasures. Our tour guide, Adam, explained that the current building they’re in was opened in 2002 and is composed of several sections, including:

1. Archaeology – approximately 200 staff are employed here, with 35 specialists in the field; items include bone, glass, pottery, etc.

2. Social and Working History Collection – this collection contains about 250,000 objects alone

When items are brought to LAARC, they’re delivered to the outside gate, and then washed, dried, and bagged or boxed. Then specialists may start looking at the items, and they begin to be processed – they’re dated, archived, and catalogued.

The primary goals of LAARC are:

– Curating

– Research

– Leadership

– Learning 

To help fulfill these goals, LAARC has created a neat Outreach program in which they take various interesting items and collections to outside the city, where they can expose them to people who do not necessarily have the same regular access to cultural materials.

As our tour continued, we noticed more and more objects and shelving spaces. Apparently LAARC has over 10 km of shelving, which contains 200,000 boxes, and each box has roughly 50-100 items within it. Items are stored by the year they were dug up, regardless of the age/era of the actual item (Roman, Victorian, etc.), and storage began in 1972. In 1988 for example, there was a great deal of construction work done throughout London, so many objects were found; therefore, the “1988” section in LAARC shelving is much larger than the later 90’s, when London was suffering from an economic depression.

Adam graciously showed up several fascinating objects of interest: bones, dice, a Saxon hairpin, pottery, a footprint cast from the Roman era, an ice skate from the 1200’s (where the blade was fashioned from a cow metacarpal!), ceramic tile from medieval times, a Victorian pepper pot, and the list goes on…. But probably the most exciting thing was a brick that survived the Great Fire of London. The brick was black with soot, and we were allowed to touch it! Meaning I actually touched a significant piece of London history.

Brick from the Great Fire of London

Brick from the Great Fire of London

We were also taken into the Toys/Games and Telecommunications section of LAARC, where we saw the actual switchboard that used to be in Buckingham Palace! There were rows upon rows of toys, dolls, and games, and I spied some of my favorite board games like Sorry! alongside some games I have never seen (Westminster- The Election board game, anyone?)

Overall, LAARC was a wonderful place to visit, and I appreciate their mission to balance the storage and preservation of these precious items that so clearly tell London’s history, while simultaneously striving for access to these cultural treasures.

After leaving LAARC, many of us stumbled upon a market, where you could find almost any type of food you wanted! Italian, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese…. and once everyone was happy and full, we made our second class trip of the day. Unfortunately, I actually cannot tell you where we went for security purposes. (No, I’m not being dramatic, these were our explicit instructions). Just know that it was informative, and we enjoyed ourselves!

Once our long day was over, we all decided that we needed more Ben’s cookies, but soon fell victim to the Tour de France craziness that had swept through London! Yes, Stage 3 of the race passed through London today, and the amount of people in the city was insane! Public transportation was a bit of a nightmare to deal with, but we fought hard to get our cookies and made it safely back to the dorms. I am still unfortunately not feeling well, but Jade, Jessica, and I had a dance party in our flat’s kitchen because what else are you supposed to do when you’re feeling crummy?

Here’s to sweet dreams and a good night’s sleep!