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At the Court of King George: the Georgian Papers Programme in the classroom

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.


King’s College London and its archives relating to the long eighteenth century

Patricia Methven, Programme Manager, Georgian Papers Programme, King’s College London

King’s College London was founded by Royal Charter in 1829 under the patronage of King George IV for which it is named. Sharing original goals with University College London, it sought to offer a metropolitan counterblast to both the perceived exclusivity and expense of Oxbridge and a practical education modelled on German practice. Where King’s differed in intent was on the matter of religion. Its launch meeting at the Freemasons tavern on 21st June 1828 set the tone. Chaired by the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, and attended by no less than seven archbishops and bishops the context of the College was firmly that of the Church of England although students were not required to be Anglicans. Focusing initially on the humanities, law, science and medicine, the vocational training of theology did not follow until 1846 when a need was recognised for an increase in the number of clergy willing to serve in the burgeoning number of city parishes.

Although hugely expanded in its locations on both sides of the River Thames, King’s original building is still in use located on Crown land granted to the College on a peppercorn rent, the site of the lumber yard of Somerset House. Whilst the suitability of the site raised questions in the press of the day, situated as it was alongside what we now know as the Dickensian rookeries or slums, it was also a burgeoning quarter of Georgian cultural interests. The original Somerset Palace, having been demolished in 1775, was gradually rebuilt and by the time the College opened its doors to students in 1831 was home to the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries, as well as the Navy Board. A number of members of these bodies supported the new College through serving as lectures or benefactors.

Amongst the earliest benefactors was William Marsden (1754-1836) a fellow of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries and between 1795- 1807 successively second and first secretary to the Admiralty. An early career in the East India Company including eight years in Sumatra inspired a fascination with language and a determined collecting interest in examples of early bibles in a variety of languages, a significant number of which were passed to the College in 1835. For more about Marsden and the College holdings of his print collection: Within  the Archives are held examples of 17th and 18th century grammars and vocabularies including examples in Welsh, Icelandic, Kannada, Tamil, Javanese and Tagalog; a manuscript letter from CTde Murr to Marsden , 24th February 1797 regarding the Bibliotheca universalis and accompanying translation; and an Ionian newspaper of 1805 concerning King George III.

Another early benefactor was Phillip Hammersley Leathes, an antiquarian, who the year before his death in 1838 donated a collection of books, papers and medals to the College. Leathes’s collecting interests were wide ranging and he was an active correspondent with other antiquarians. Materials and topics include the discovery of early brasses  in the foundations of St Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street; manuscript copies of a narrative by Mr Clare of the Lisbon earthquake, 1755; materials collected on the observations of the comets,1811-14; papers mostly relating to the provenance of the Portland Vase at the British Museum, 1811-25; devotional exercises, an illustrated autograph book previously opened by Casper Johann Northbeeg van Revel with entries dating between 1691-1702; manuscripts by John Anstis, Garter King of Arms, on memorials at Windsor Castle; funeral processions, women bearing arms and the manner of creation of various nobles; and a manuscript volume by Francis Harrison on the elements of navigation ,1757. Leathes interests are also reflected in a number of dictionaries compiled for different languages, genealogies, and examples of title deeds, wills, indentures and residency certificates, 1650-1770. Leathes’s collection also include papers collected in his capacity as the executor of John Carter (1748-1817) a fellow antiquarian and draughtsman. More workaday in nature than Leathes, these papers include samples of handwriting by way of trade cards, a number of drawings notably of architectural detail and memorials of and in chapels and churches and commissioned by wealthy antiquarians. Two volumes in particular (Leathes 7/4) are autobiographical in nature and include depictions of his patrons. They also reflect stories from his family’s history, as a gardener at Windsor Castle and the fortuitous damage to a sculpture in the family’s London premise occasioned by shot fired in pursuit of an escaping highwayman. A full catalogue to the collection may be consulted here:

Among the most remarkable holdings in the archives are manuscripts forming part of the King George III Museum collection. With the encouragement of Stephen Demainbray, astronomer and sometime tutor to the royal children, a private observatory was established in 1769 in Richmond in time to observe the Transit of Venus. This rare event had excited very wide ranging scientific interest with observations and readings being planned across the globe. Most notably the Royal Society of London commissioned Captain Cook to take readings in Tahiti with the specific intention of developing and testing an accurate way to calculate longitude which was regarded as essential to improving naval navigation out of sight of land.

First page of the manuscript notebook, ‘Observations on the Transit of Venus’ (K/MUS/1/1)

Closer to home, is the manuscript notebook (K/MUS/1/1) recording the detailed observations of the event made by the King himself and Demainbray on 3rd June, together with notes compiled by Abraham Gotthelf Kaestner, Professor of Mathematics and Natural History at the University of Gottingen at the Gottingen Observatory together with observations of an earlier lunar eclipse of 1768. These were observations were followed by further series  on the transit of the sun, 4th June -15th July  taken by Demainbray, Stephen Rigaud, Professor of Astronomy, Oxford and George Wollaston utilising a variety of regulator clocks (K/MUS/1/2) and of the solar eclipse, 4th June, taken by the Royal Astronomer, Nevil Maskelyne (K/MUS/1/3)  Associated volumes and texts reflect detailed work in setting up and testing equipment as well as observations reported by learned societies in Europe and made widely in Britain and reported  to the British press.

Another volume of 1772 (K/MUS/1/6) in the collection records measurements made during a test of the H5 chronometer created by John Harrison, the clock which finally offered critical accuracy in establishing longitude at sea. The most sustained observations made in the Observatory were the daily temperature, rainfall and pressure readings taken from 1773 to 1840 (see K/MUS/1/7-10).

Engraving of Prince Albert opening the George III Museum, King’s College London. 1843

The scientific equipment in use at the observatory eventually expanded to include mechanical demonstration equipment including spring balances, levers and an Archimedes screw; electrical apparatus including Leyden jars, electroscopes and batteries; and navigational and astronomical instruments including globes, orreries, theodolites, and telescopes. Some were plainly built and used in teaching by Demainbray, whilst others represented the finest examples of the instrument makers’ craftsmanship. In 1841 a decision was taken to disperse the collection. Some items were transferred to the British Museum and the Armagh Observatory and a small number retained by the Royal Household. The majority were presented to the College by Queen Victoria as the basis for a new King George III Museum where they could continue their use as a teaching collection and be available for public view.  Regular visitor books and accessions books were compiled (K/MUS/4). By 1926, however, the collection’s use for the teaching contemporary science had dwindled and the College transferred the collection on loan to the Science Museum. On display for many years, in 2018 significant items will form the nucleus of the Museum’s new Enlightenment gallery.

King’s College London’s own institutional archives include a rich record of its early days including minutes from 1828; correspondence; accounts and share certificates of early benefactors and contributors; title deeds from 1678 the earliest notably relating to properties near the original site in Strand Lane and Surrey Street; and student records from 1831. The twentieth century mergers of the College medical school with those of St Thomas’s and Guy’s Hospitals is reflected in in collections of prints, drawings, engravings and paintings of  people and hospital and nearby buildings in the Southwark and London Bridge respectively from 1720 and 1647 onwards. Student and pupil records date from the 1720s. Administrative records for both medical schools date from the early 19th century and for Guy’s there are also clinical records from 1801. Items of note for the 18th century include a surgical casebook, 1725-6, describing lithotomy and cataract surgery compiled by Charles Oxley and for Guy’s the papers of the weekly discussion group, the Physical Society, 1775-1851.