by Karin Wulf See also An Analog King in a Digital Age Scholars of women, gender, family, domesticity, fashion, food, and so much more will have plenty of fodder in the Georgian Papers Programme. Queen Charlotte was invested in literature and learning, for herself and her children. She and the women around her generated important materials… Read More »
Katie Sambrook, Head of Special Collections, King’s College London
The rich holdings of the Foyle Special Collections Library at King’s College London include some 10,000 printed and manuscript items from the Georgian period. Their subject scope is broad, with particularly strong coverage of political history, exploration and travel, science and medicine.
The transfer to King’s in 2007 of the historical library collection of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) greatly enriched our holdings of material documenting the political history, both domestic and foreign, of the Georgian period. For much of its long history, the Foreign Office Library (formally founded in1782) fulfilled functions over and above those normally assigned to a library. The librarian not only acquired, documented and managed collections of books and papers; he had custody of all treaties with foreign powers, maintained correspondence files and undertook research on all aspects of international affairs at the request of ministers. The collection was thus very much a working tool of government, its contents handled and often annotated by government officials and used to inform and influence British foreign policy. Large bound volumes of declarations of war (1796-1813), treaties of peace (1814-41) and royal marriage treaties (1736-1893) were assembled by the Foreign Office for reference purposes; some of their contents are in printed form, others in manuscript. Other notable manuscript material includes a register of the correspondence sent and received by the Foreign Office during foreign secretary Castlereagh’s attendance at the Congress of Vienna from September 1814 to June 1815.
The library collection of the Colonial Office (formally founded in 1854) and its predecessor departments fulfilled a similar function for colonial affairs. Eight large volumes of printed and manuscript material with the title Colonial estimates document official budgetary allocations to the expanding British Empire from 1782 to 1890. A slim manuscript volume, entitled An essay on the commercial and political importance of ye island of Tabago [sic], dated 1810 and illustrated with charming watercolour maps and landscape views, represents a compelling but unavailing attempt by Tobago’s governor, Sir William Young, to persuade the London government to make this small island Britain’s principal naval and commercial base in the Caribbean. A folio manuscript volume of 1796, entitled Sketches of the political and commercial history of the Cape of Good Hope includes an introductory essay by Henry Dundas, then secretary of state for war, setting out his stance on how Britain should govern its newest overseas possession. The volume contains a circulation slip, initialled by members of the Cabinet to show that they had read it. Dundas advocates governing the Cape with a light touch, leaving existing Dutch government structures broadly intact and introducing any changes gradually. He states:
I lay it down as a fundamental principle that Great Britain must never attempt to hold possession of the Cape on the principles of a strict colonial connexion.
At this date Britain, preoccupied with its war with France, saw the Cape primarily as a strategic coastal staging post on the route to its Indian possessions. With the post-Waterloo peace would come a shift in thinking; Britain’s rule of the Cape would become more civil than military in character, as the Cape’s potential as a settler colony was realised, a development documented in such works as Richard Fisher’s The importance of the Cape of Good Hope as a colony to Great Britain (1816).
The printed holdings of the FCO Historical Collection amply reflect the main foreign and colonial policy questions of the Georgian period, with a particular emphasis on the latter. There is extensive coverage of colonial America and the American Revolution, particularly through pamphlet literature. Pamphlets include a 1776 London printing of Thomas Paine’s Common sense in which the publisher, John Almon, has left potentially seditious passages unprinted, the gaps in the text being subsequently filled in by hand, and a copy of Francis Maseres’ Considerations on the expediency of admitting representatives from the American colonies into the British House of commons (1770), annotated extensively by the leading campaigner for the abolition of slavery, Granville Sharp.
The operation of the Atlantic slave trade, its abolition in 1807 and the eventual emancipation of all slaves in Britain’s Caribbean colonies from 1833 were the focus of fierce debate in the pamphlet literature of the day, and the FCO Historical Collection contains hundreds of such publications, written by politicians, clergymen, plantation owners and others and reflecting every shade of opinion. Many of these pamphlets were printed in the Caribbean and are of considerable rarity. The Jamaican Maroon Wars of the 1730s and 1790s, the Haitian Revolution of the 1790s and the establishment by the Sierra Leone Company in 1792 of a settlement in West Africa for escaped slaves – all these developments are amply documented in books, pamphlets and parliamentary papers of the time, and again many of these items are of extreme rarity.
Complementing the multitude of pamphlets that poured off the presses of the Georgian Britain and elsewhere are more substantial works of political and economic theory, including some of incalculable influence on public discourse and events, such as David Hume’s Political discourses (1752), Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations (1776) Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).
Exploration and travel
The richness of our holdings in the literature of exploration and travel from the Georgian period is due in part to the strength of the FCO Historical Collection in this field, but also to another important collection, the former library of William Marsden (1754-1836), who gave his library to King’s shortly before his death.
An East India Company official, who later became first secretary to the Admiralty, Marsden was an orientalist, numismatist, linguist and bibliophile, an active member of the Royal Society who enjoyed friendships with Joseph Banks, Alexander Dalrymple and others. His own published output includes an important Grammar of the Malayan language (1812) but perhaps his most significant achievement was the amassing of his collection of books and manuscripts, documented in Bibliotheca Marsdeniana philologica et orientalis: a catalogue of books and manuscripts collected with a view to the general comparison of languages, and to the study of Oriental literature (1827). As the title of this catalogue suggests, Asia is a major strength of the collection, which contains such works as Mountstuart Elphinstone’s Account of the kingdom of Caubul (1815), describing the British diplomatic mission to Afghanistan of 1808, George Fitzclarence’s Journal of a route across India, through Egypt, to England (1819) and a copy of Sir George Staunton’s Authentic account of an embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China (1797), presented to Marsden by its author.
Marsden’s collecting interests were by no means confined to Asia, however, and the contents of his collection range from a 1765 grammar of the Andean language of Mapuche, printed in Lima, to a manuscript notebook containing an Icelandic vocabulary compiled or Joseph Banks in 1772 by Uno von Troil, Swedish theologian and later archbishop of Uppsala.
The discovery and exploration of Australia, the establishment of British colonial settlements in New South Wales and its subsequent development as both a penal colony and a destination for free emigration are themes documented in depth in our collections, primarily through the extensive holdings of the FCO Historical Collection. Works by Dampier, De Brosses and Cook, among others, document the first European voyages to Australia, and there is extensive coverage of the arrival in New South Wales of the First Fleet and its results, through such works as governor Arthur Phillip’s account of the voyage of the First Fleet (1789) and surgeon-general John White’s Journal of a voyage to New South Wales (1790). There are extensive holdings of official or semi-official publications relating to the administration of New South Wales as a penal colony and the practicalities of convict transportation, as well as numerous pamphlets discussing the benefits and drawbacks of free emigration. The exploration and settlement of the Australian hinterland is also well documented, through such rarities as manuscript copies of surveyor John Oxley’s accounts of his 1817 and 1818 expeditions to trace the source of the Macquarie River and a copy of Gregory Blaxland’s Journal of a tour of discovery across the Blue Mountains in New South Wales (1823), believed to survive in only a handful of copies.
The naval officer and hydrographer Matthew Flinders is best known today for his circumnavigation of Australia and we hold a copy of his Voyage to Terra Australis (1814), but perhaps of equal interest is a large manuscript volume compiled by Flinders in 1807-8 during his imprisonment on the island of Mauritius; the volume mainly comprises accounts of Madagascar by other writers, transcribed, translated and commented on by Flinders. The exploration of mainland Africa is amply documented in our collections, which include such important publications as Mungo Park’s Travels in the interior districts of Africa (1799) and Thomas Bowditch’s 1819 account of the 1816 Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee.
We have extensive holdings of scientific publications from the Georgian period, with particular strengths in astronomy, engineering and natural history. Highlights include magnificently illustrated botanical works, such as William Curtis’s monumental Flora Londinensis (1777-98) and William Woodville’s Medical botany (1790-93), beautifully illustrated with hand-coloured plates by James Sowerby, and masterpieces of 18th century technical writing, such as A narrative of the building and a description of the construction of the Edystone [sic] lighthouse (1793), by James Smeaton. Works by Erasmus Darwin, Humphry Davy and Joseph Priestley, among others, are all well represented in our collections, and our copies of some of Nevil Maskelyne’s works on chronometers are from the collection of the King George III Museum.
Medicine is another strength of our Georgian period collections. King’s has a rich medical tradition, incorporating not only the foundation of King’s College Hospital in 1840 but the merger in the 1990s with two far older teaching hospitals, St Thomas’s (originally a medieval foundation) and Guy’s, founded in 1721. All these institutions assembled large collections of 18th and 19th century medical books, and there is surprisingly little duplication of holdings between their respective historical collections.
Many of the Georgian period medical books in our collection originally belonged to the Physical Society of Guy’s Hospital. Founded in 1771 and active until 1852, the Physical Society, membership of which was open to apothecaries, physicians and surgeons , held weekly meetings, hosted lectures and ran a lending library. It played an important role in fostering debate on medical and scientific matters, and many of its leading members, such as Astley Cooper, whose works are well represented in the collection, were also instrumental in establishing the formidable reputation of Guy’s Hospital as a centre for medical education in the early 19th century. Somewhat surprising to 21st century eyes is the presence in the Physical Society’s collection of a copy of the second edition of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English opium-eater (1823), bound with a copy of Samuel Merriman’s Synopsis of the various kinds of difficult parturition (1814).
The historical library collection of St Thomas’s Hospital is a similarly rich resource for the study of medicine in the Georgian period. The works of those associated with St Thomas’s are, as one would expect strongly represented, and include copies of William Cheselden’s magnificently illustrated Osteographia (1733), works on the plague written and formerly owned by the physician Richard Mead and a copy of Gilbert Blane’s Observations on the diseases incident to seamen (1785), inscribed by the author, a St Thomas’s physician who made pioneering discoveries on the link between scurvy and diet.
Many of our early 19th century medical books have now been digitised for the UK Medical Heritage Library.
Find out more
This summary of our Georgian holdings can only provide a snapshot of the richness of our collections, which span the humanities, social sciences and sciences. From copies of the Tamil New Testament of 1715 (the first translation of the Bible into a language of India) and the Oriental miscellany of 1789 (the first printed rendition of Indian music in Western notation) to copies of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English language (1755) and volumes of 18th century English hymnals and chapbooks, our collections provide a rich and wide-ranging resource for anyone interested in the life and achievements of the Georgian period.
To find out more, please consult the library catalogue and the Foyle Special Collections Library’s web pages or contact Foyle Special Collections Library staff, who will be happy to provide further information.
Professor Arthur Burns, Vice Dean for Education, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Professor of Modern British History, King’s College London
As the first of the digital images of the papers to be released to the public through the Georgian Papers Programme are assembled for the launch, all those involved in it are caught up in the excitement that accompanies a big new research project. Here at King’s the academics associated with the GPP have had the opportunity to explore some of the papers in situ in the Royal Archives at Windsor, and we have all found unexpected items of interest. We’ve also had the opportunity to hear from those scholars visiting the Windsor archives under the auspices of King’s and our partners, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, as they have shared their own discoveries with us on subjects ranging from the agricultural reading of two Georges (King and Washington) via the menus for state banquets to royal responses to British involvement in West Africa. It all offers a teasing foretaste of the archival riches to come.
For all of us, however, being a researcher is only a part of our identity as academics: we are also teachers, continually seeking to find ways to share our enthusiasm for and delight in our disciplines as active researchers with our students. It is relatively straightforward and common for us to teach in the fields we are researching, or to use our skills as researchers to help students pursue their own interests in dissertations. At King’s we have also had the opportunity to involve individual students in academic research projects through our undergraduate research fellowships. But I at least have always felt that it would be wonderful to find a way to enable a whole class to feel involved at the heart of a major research project while it was still in progress.
As soon as the Georgian Papers Programme commenced, it appeared to me to offer a perfect opportunity to do this, as over a period of years it will roll out a rich and steady stream of newly digitized archive, some familiar, but much more previously unexplored. These will cover an extraordinary range of themes, from high politics to the purely domestic, and offer points of entry to students from the full range of humanities disciplines (and potentially beyond). Over the course of the next few years, the academics associated with the project at King’s and elsewhere will be identifying and interpreting documents with the potential to offer insights into the Georgian world; why should students not learn how to do the same?
And so was born At the Court of King George, which will be taught for the first time in the spring 2017 term at King’s to third-year undergraduate students from across the Faculty of Arts and Humanities as one of that faculty’s ‘Opportunity Modules’. These modules are all designed to appeal to students from all disciplines, and strive to offer innovative research-led teaching and imaginative assessments that will showcase the best work going on in the Faculty as a community of Arts and Humanities scholars.
In this case, as the assessment for the module each student will be asked to produce a digital edition of a document or series of documents which they have selected from those released by the Programme. In order to help them do this, rather than focusing on George III, the teaching on the module will concentrate on the skills needed to produce a good edition, and what a good edition should seek to achieve. Thus sessions will focus on palaeography, annotation, commentary, presentation and audience, as well as familiarizing the students, who are not expected to have any prior experience in working digitally, with the platform we will use to mount the editions. For this we will be using Xerte, a powerful open-source suite of resources for e-learning content authors, enabling the students to design and arrange their edition using simple wizards, and which also enable them to build in interactivity if they wish. This is not to say that the students will be unsupported when it comes to researching the materials they will need to produce the edition. They will be furnished with an extensive bibliography covering every aspect of the subjects contained in the papers. Pre-recorded interviews with leading historians and archivists familiar with relevant themes, such as the relationship with Hanover, the royal family and war, the court and the monarch himself as an individual, will introduce students to key issues and approaches; and there will be contributions in class from a member of the Royal Archives team to help them identify documents suitable for editing and which speak to the students’ own interests. Throughout the course, there will be classroom and online exercises in researching and sourcing materials to help them on their way. And, through such exercises, the students themselves will help enhance the resources available to future students on the module.
Aside from the opportunity to participate in the Georgian Papers Programme in this way, I hope the module will have other benefits for the students who take it. The task of preparing an edition obviously involves a range of important transferable skills. Quite apart from those linked to research and writing which arise in other forms of historical study, there are opportunities here to think hard about the ways in which to tailor the edition to a variety of different audiences and to make it valuable for different purposes. How best to arrange the text itself and the commentary upon it so as not to clutter or even obscure the original object with accompanying materials, while ensuring that the materials needed to extract maximum value from it are easily and attractively to hand? Could timelines or maps help the reader, and if so, in what form? Here the very fact that they will be working in an interdisciplinary environment, bringing to the module different skills and interests (and presumptions!) will help them explore these issues. And it is surely appropriate that, studying as they are at King’s College London, one of the most important and pioneering centres for digital humanities in the UK, they should acquire some experience of the possibilities the digital environment opens up for all our disciplines once aligned with some of the key values which have underpinned humanities scholarship over centuries. All these skills should be of enduring value to students regardless of their future career choices.
The course will certainly be challenging, and throw up surprises as we enter new territory. But I for one am looking forward to it immensely.