Picturing Places at The British Library: Georgian Places

The British Library has announced the launch of Picturing Places, a new free online resource which explores the Library’s extensive holdings of landscape imagery.

PANORAMIC VIEW of that part of Ratisbon west of the cathedral, painted in water-colours by G. Scharf, sen.; 1845. Paper; 6 ft. 1/2 in. X 1 ft. © British Library

Picturing Places will help researchers interested in the Georgian period to visualise the eighteenth century more clearly. One of the leads on the project, Felicity Myrone at the British Library, was recently a King’s Research Fellow on the Georgian Papers Programme. Felicity’s project is focused on the topographical map collection of George III and this work contributed to the Picturing Places resource.

The British Library’s huge collection of historic prints and drawings is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. Picturing Places showcases works of art by well-known artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and J.M.W. Turner alongside images by a multitude of lesser-known figures. Only a few have ever been seen or published before.

This is the first time that a large and important body of such materials from the Library are being brought to light. While landscape images have often been treated as accurate records of place, this website reveals the many different stories involved – about travel and empire, science and exploration, the imagination, history and observation.

As well as over 500 newly-digitised works of art from the collection, this growing site will feature over 100 articles by both emerging and established scholars from many disciplines. As part of the British Library’s ongoing Transforming Topography research project, films from the Library’s 2016 conference exploring the depiction of place are also accessible, providing revelatory insights about the history of landscape imagery.

Moreover, the Picturing Places project emerged out of two larger programmes of ongoing research at the British Library that may be of interest to Georgian researchers.

King’s Topographical Collection Cataloguing and Digitisation

Perhaps most significantly, there is the King’s Topographical Collection Cataloguing and Digitisation. George III’s extensive ‘K.Top’ collection of around 30–40,000 maps and views reflects changing impressions of place and space across the 16th–19th centuries through manuscript and printed atlases; architectural drawings and garden plans; maps and records of military campaigns, fortifications, barracks, bridges and canals; records of town and country houses, civic and collegiate buildings; drawn and printed records of antiquities including stained glass, sculpture, tombs, mosaic pavements and brasses; and thousands of drawn and printed views.

The collection includes the work of familiar names from Hollar to Hawksmoor, alongside the works of a host of lesser-known artists and amateurs and much anonymous or unidentified material. The British Library has received support from a number of generous donors to make this material available digitally.

The core aim of the ongoing King’s Topographical Collection Cataloguing and Digitisation Project is to provide free online access to George III’s maps and views. The main outputs are the ongoing creation of detailed and searchable catalogue records on the Explore catalogue and high quality digital images, which will be available there in 2018. This project has also involved sharing our records with other institutions and initiating research projects.

A 2017 PhD placement will initiate the study of George III’s parallel collection of sea charts and atlases. This project will be known as the King’s Maritime Collection.

A pocket map of the citties of London, Westminster, & Southwark: with the addition of the new buildings to this present year 1725. Thomas Bowles. © British Library
Transforming Topography

Secondly, there is broader work on understanding the relationship between society and the landscape. This is being explored in the Transforming Topography project.

Topography is an emerging and dynamic field in art historical scholarship. The core aim of the Transforming Topography research project is to stimulate research in this often-overlooked field. It presents topographical art as complex imagery which needs to be explored and understood in relation to the shifting motives of all those involved in its creation.

Rather than seeing topographical art as marginal compared to the landscapes in oils or watercolours by the canon of ‘great artists’ or more imaginative and Sublime images, a growing number of scholars are embracing the historical study of images of specific places in the graphic arts. This is sparking a lively debate around nationhood, identity, and cultural value, or what John Barrell describes as ‘the conflict and coexistence of the various… “stakeholders” in the landscape and in its representation’ (Barrell, Edward Pugh of Ruthin, 2013).

Our collection holds the world’s most extensive and important collection of British topographic materials: from handwritten notes by antiquarians to rare first editions, extra-illustrated books and unique compilations of plates, text and drawings by named collectors. The full extent and depth of the collections are only now being properly recognised and explored.

Enlightened Princesses: Exhibition & Symposium 2017

Image: Sir Godfrey Kneller, Queen Caroline of Ansbach, when Princess of Wales, 1716, oil on canvas, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Between 22 June and 12 November 2017, Historic Royal Palaces and the Yale Center for British Art will be hosting a new exhibition at Kensington Palace entitled ‘Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World’.

The exhibition was hosted at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, earlier this year and now the collection has travelled across the Atlantic to join us here in London.

Further information about the exhibition.

Accompanying the Enlightened Princesses exhibition will be an International Symposium 29 – 31 October 2017 at Hampton Court Palace, Kensignton Palace, and the Tower of London. Co-organized by Historic Royal Palaces, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London.

Call for papers

Caroline of Ansbach (1683–1737), Augusta of Saxe Gotha (1719–1772), and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744–1818), three Protestant German princesses, became variously Princess of Wales, Queen Consort, and Princess Dowager of Great Britain. Recent research has explored how in fulfilling these roles they made major contributions to the arts; the development of new models of philanthropy and social welfare; the promotion and support of advances in science and medicine, as well as trade and industry; and the furthering of imperial ambition. While local contexts may have conditioned the forms such initiatives took, their objectives were rooted in a European tradition of elite female empowerment.

This symposium, Enlightened Princesses: Britain and Europe, 1700–1820, seeks to investigate the role played by royal women— electresses, princesses, queens consort, reigning queens, and empresses—in the shaping of court culture and politics in Europe of the long eighteenth century.

Papers that explore some of the following themes are invited:

  • Royal women as political agents
  • Royal women: networks and conversations
  • Royal women: education, charity, and health
  • Royal women as patrons of art and architecture
  • Royal women and science
  • Royal women: mercantile culture and the wider world
  • Royal women as political gardeners

The conference will take place 29–31 October 2017 at Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, and the Tower of London.

Please send proposals of 400 words maximum, for papers of 25 minutes, together with a short biography of 100 words maximum to samantha.howard@hrp.org.uk.

The submission deadline is 15 May 2017.

Further information about the International Symposium.

The American Revolution in King’s College London’s “Revolution!” exhibition

By Heather Anderson, Special Collections Assistant in the Foyle Special Collections Library at King’s College London and exhibition co-curator

The Revolution! exhibition runs until Saturday 20 May 2017 in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library at King’s College London.


To mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution, King’s College London’s Foyle Special Collections Library is holding an exhibition in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library on the theme of revolution. Further details are available here: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/library/archivespec/exhibitions/maughan.aspx

The exhibition draws on the unique and distinctive holdings of the Foyle Special Collections Library, including the historical library collection of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to explore events of 1917 which led to the rise of the Soviet Union, and to explore the concept of revolution more broadly.

The exhibition covers several significant political revolutions of modern times, including the American Revolution of the late 18th century. This post will focus on two items currently on display relating to the American Revolutionary War.

(1) Extract from The Boston evening-post, of September 2, 1765.  [Sl: sn, 1765] 

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection FOL. HF3025 GRE

The American Revolutionary War arose from tensions that had been building between colonists and the British authorities for more than a decade. Prior to the outbreak of the war in 1775, colonists had protested against taxes imposed by the British government, arguing that only their representative assemblies could tax them. One such act imposed was the Stamp Act, a tax on all printed documents in the American colonies introduced in 1765. Objectors to the tax resorted to mob violence in opposition, aiming to intimidate stamp collectors into resigning. The Extract from The Boston evening-post, of September 2, 1765, held in the Foyle Special Collections Library and currently on display as part of the Revolution! exhibition, contains extracts from proclamations and letters on the subject of riots occasioned by the imposition of the Stamp Act.

Bostonians reading Stamp Act, 1765. By New York Public Library. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Political violence and protest

In one proclamation the governor of colonial Massachusetts, Francis Bernard (1712-79) reports riotous scenes that occurred on 26 August 1765 in Boston. Bernard reports how mobs attacked and pillaged the properties of several political figures of the province in opposition to the Stamp Act. The most brutal attack described is that against the property of Thomas Hutchinson, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Bernard describes how a mob forcibly entered Hutchinson’s home and destroyed fittings and windows, demolished and stole furniture, clothes and money, and even uncovered part of the roof:

…the said people continuing thus riotously and tumultuously assembled the whole night and until day-light the next morning, committing divers outrages and enormities and threatening the custom-house, and the houses of divers persons, to the great terror of his majesty’s liege subjects.

Riots and resignations

Similar riots broke out in other colonial towns, resulting in mass resignations of the stamp distributors. This made the Act incredibly difficult to implement, and led to its repeal just one year after it had been sanctioned. The issues of taxation and representation raised by the Act put a strain on the relationship between Britain and the colonies, with relations further deteriorating over the next decade until the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775.

(2) Thomas Paine. Common sense. Philadelphia, printed; London: re-printed, for J Almon, opposite Burlington-House in Piccadilly, 1776   

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection E211 PAI

When the American Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, the majority of colonists who took up arms against British soldiers did not desire independence. Colonial leaders hoped eventually to resolve the issues that had led to growing tensions between Americans and the British authorities, such as taxation without representation and the presence of the British army in the colonies. However, over the course of 1775-76 the independence movement grew substantially. This was partly due to the immense popularity of Thomas Paine’s pro-independence pamphlet Common sense.

Widespread circulation

Common sense was the most widely circulated pamphlet published during the American Revolutionary War. Within three months of its publication in 1776 it was claimed that 120,000 copies had been sold and second editions of the work were published within weeks. In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Paine’s life, it is recorded that Benjamin Rush, an associate of Paine and one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, recalled in July 1776:

Its effects were sudden and extensive upon the American mind. It was read by public men, repeated in clubs, spouted in schools, and in one instance, delivered from the pulpit instead of a sermon by a clergyman in Connecticut.

The pamphlet made the case for independence for the American colonies, arguing in favour of a democratic republican government. Paine argued that ‘government by kings runs contrary to the natural equality of man’ and that Americans should regard England as a ‘tyrannical oppressor’.

The text and seditious libel

The text’s accessible prose style and impassioned arguments garnered enthusiasm for the cause of independence, and even those opposed to Paine’s arguments were inspired by his devotion to the cause. The edition of Common sense held in the Foyle Special Collections Library, and currently on display as part of the Revolution! exhibition, is a first English edition of the pamphlet, reprinted from the original American edition in 1776. This copy has hiatuses (omitted words and phrases) throughout the text. It is believed that the printer omitted the most controversial parts of the text, which included personal attacks on George III, to avoid accusations of seditious libel. The hiatuses in this copy have been filled in with pen and ink, possibly by clerks employed by the printer to do so. This technique would have given readers access to the text’s seditious ideas, whilst protecting the printer from prosecution.

Plain truth

This edition is published with James Chalmers’ critical essay Plain truth, which was written in opposition to Paine’s arguments. There is a half-title page at the beginning of the work introducing both Common sense and Plain truth, but each work has a separate title page, albeit with the same imprint statement.

The advertisement in this edition states how Common sense has been ‘held up as proof positive that the Americans desire to become independent’ and that the publisher is ‘happy in this opportunity of publishing Plain truth; which we take to be as good a proof that the Americans do not desire to become independent’.


The Revolution! exhibition runs until Saturday 20 May 2017 in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library at King’s College London. It is open to the public Monday – Friday 09.30-17.00 and Saturday 10.00-18.00.

Bibliography

Mark Philp, ‘Paine, Thomas (1737–1809)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/21133, accessed 28 March 2017]