Saturday, 6 August 2011

Royal Geographical Society

Librarian- Eugene Rae

The Royal Geographical Society was created in 1830 as a bit of a gentlemen’s club.  Members would get together, eat dinner, and debate and discuss issues concerning geography and exploration.  Its goal was to promote the advancement of geographical science.  In the 180 years since its founding, the goal of the society has not changed.  But, now there is a larger focus on research, publishing, and the physical collection the society maintains.  The society’s collection is housed on site and maintained by the library there. 

The collection is open to the public for a cost of ten pounds, but educational users and members get in for free.  In 2004 the collection was reorganized and the Reading Room was opened.  Originally, there were four different collections with four different catalogs, now everything is in one catalog, which is also online.  The library has over 2 million items onsite; this includes around 1 million maps, half a million photos, 1,500 objects, and a quarter of a million books and periodicals. 

We had the opportunity to see some of the society’s more impressive catalog items.  When the society was created in 1830 there was a great deal of interest in finding the Northwest Passage.  Many of its members attempted to find this passage and brought back items from their adventures.  One of the most interesting items we were shown was a can of meat from the ship named the HMS Resolute.  The Resolute was commissioned to explore the artic but got stuck in the ice and was abandoned.  It eventually broke free and was found by an American ship.  The Americans returned the ship to England, and it was eventually decommissioned.  Wood from the ship was then used to make at least three desks one of which was given to the President of the United States.  The Resolute desk has been used by almost every president since, and to this day it still sits in the Oval Office. 

The Society has many items from both arctic and Antarctic explorations including supply lists, different styles of sunglasses, magazines printed on board different ships, a bible, and even a pair of Inuit boots.  But, the society also has item and materials from places other than the Arctic and Antarctic.  There are sketch maps drawn by Lawrence of Arabia, Charles Darwin’s pocket sexton and a number of maps and photos searching for the source of the Nile in Africa.    


There is a small town on the River Avon where 450 years ago one of the greatest playwrights to have ever lived was born.  William Shakespeare was born in Stratford and is buried there.  His tomb is accessible at the Church of the Holy Trinity right outside of the city.  Stratford is a very beautiful city surrounded by the river and canals.  There are small boats that line the rivers banks.  These boats often serve as homes, but some have been converted into small shops and restaurants. 

While in Stratford, I attempted to go to the Shakespeare Library, located in the same complex as Shakespeare’s birthplace, but it was closed.  So, I took this opportunity to do a little shopping.  Stratford has many small boutiques and I was able not only get a few souvenirs, but indulge in a little selfish shopping for clothes and shoes. 

After an afternoon of shopping, I went to a play….a Shakespeare play of course….well maybe.  I went to see Cardenio.  Originally it was called The History of Cardenio, and was known to be performed in London in 1613.  But, the original manuscript did not survive.  The play is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s two lost plays.  In 1727 a manuscript was published claiming to be this lost play of Shakespeare’s.  Even though its authenticity is still questioned, the play was really enjoyable.  I went into thinking that it was going to be either boring or really hard to understand, by the end, I was glad to be wrong on both accounts.  It’s pretty cool to say that I went to a Shakespeare play in his hometown…well maybe. 


There was an opportunity for British Studies Students to travel to Paris for one weekend.  I took this opportunity and am glad that I did.  Unfortunately, I did not fall in love with the “city of love”, in fact; I didn’t really like it at all.  But, I was able to look past my feelings of disgust at how dirty the city was and enjoy some of the many sights it had to offer.   

I was able to visit the Louvre Museum and see the Mona Lisa, but I found the actual building to be even more impressive than the paintings and artwork housed there.  The Louvre is a converted palace.  There have been expansions and additions to the original building, but old structure is truly remarkable.  A rather long walk away from the Louvre is the Eiffel Tower.  The tower was built in 1889 for the World’s Fair.  It was built to be taken down after the Fair, as it was only to show what steel and iron are capable of, but it became such a hit, that the city decided to keep it.  An even longer walk away is the Arc de Triomphe.  The Arc was built to honor all those who fought and died in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.  It also houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WW1.

My favorite site of the weekend though was Versailles.  Versailles was home to the French Monarchy from 1682 until the French Revolution forced the monarchy back to Paris in 1789.  The building itself is quite impressive; although, I believe it has been damaged and ransacked since it was last used in 1789 by the monarchy.  Many of the walls and some of the decorations appeared to be replicas.  But, I found the surrounding gardens to be the most impressive part of the palace.  Included in the gardens are numerous fountains, a Grand Canal, and the Marie Antoinette’s estate.