Monday, July 1, 2013

A Maritime Voyage

Track 7/01: The Shins: "Black Wave"

I would say we hit the ground running for our first academic day in the UK, but instead we hit the Thames! We set out this morning taking a clipper ride up the Thames to Greenwich. While our ultimate destination was the library at the Greenwich Maritime Museum, we took the opportunity to first look upon the Cutty Sark (a famous tea clipper that was undergoing conservation and was nearly destroyed by fire, and is now being restored), and to stroll the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College (now home to music and business schools). There also used to be a Tudor palace at this site.
We then went on to tour the Caird Archive and Library at the National Maritime Museum. The library is small but it is a focused collection of maritime resources. In addition to physical holdings and mircroform, they also have open access captain registers and naval lists for those doing academic or personal research. The library is arranged using Universal Decimal Classification, and items are grouped thematically within a numeric scheme from 0-940 in a more specified system than Dewey. The archive contains rare books, maps, charts, personal accounts and other historic objects all relating to to English maritime history, and while most items are not digitized, a small percentage of the ship plans have been scanned. The storage of these pieces used to be by collection, but instead now they are arranged by size and type (i.e. book, medium folio, boxes, oversize, and then the rare book collection). Surprisingly, they do not have a cataloger on staff. Cataloging is done as items arrive through entry into MIMSY, and there is also a back log to be cataloged that they slowly input as well.
They stress the distinction between information that can be found here versus in the National Archives as many seek to trace ancestors in the Royal Navy. While they collect personal accounts of naval history, it is the National Archives that keeps records for career details (with the exception of more notable figures such as famous captains - or certainly the beloved Lord Nelson!). We had an opportunity to examine and handle primary documents of various provenance after our tour. These included a journal describing pirate torture methods, a boatswain's whistle, an engraving of Blackbeard (whom we were told would light fuses within his beard prior to battle to make it smoke so as to look more ferocious -unfortunately, this did not prevent his defeat where his head was cut off and hung from the bowsprit of a ship), and a letter supposedly affixed to Lord Nelson's door describing the crew's appreciation of his leadership stating "we will share our last drop of blood" signed 'The Company' which the archivist humorously speculated might have been re-written out of pride by Nelson himself as the note was in elegant hand, pristine condition and had no marks to support the claim that it was in any way posted. My favorite of the selections was a handwritten text of the poem from 1588 "Look and bow down thine ear, O Lord"  that Queen Elizabeth I had composed to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada and commissioned William Byrd to set the text so it could be sung before her coming from Whitehall going to St. Paul's Cathedral through Fleet Street. Visiting this library was a unique experience and it was fitting to begin with our own river voyage.

We were free to wander in Greenwich for the afternoon, and having worked up an appetite during our morning excursions I set off to find lunch. Fortunately, this was no struggle as there is a Jamie Oliver Italian restaurant nearby that was DELICIOUS. It is also quite reasonable. I had a starter of baked chestnut mushrooms, and a small portion of land & sea risotto for my main (only £7!). Unfortunately these delicacies did not leave enough time to hike up to the Royal Observatory or straddle the prime meridian to be able to boast that I have been in two hemispheres at once, though I did poke around a couple shops before catching the bus back to central London. I made a purchase at the neatest store called Full of Joy: a 'jumper' with a cat wearing glasses on it (big surprise).

We needed to be back to the residence early in order to attend a welcome reception for our program at King's College that evening. There was a brief convocation in the chapel, and following our gathering, all of the library students assembled at The Thirsty Bear for pints. It all seemed like a great time but you know what they say, it's all fun and games until someone gets a wad of gum stuck in their hair. No? They don't say that? Well, upon returning to our residence I made this discovery on the back of my head and being practically on my scalp it was a painful strand by strand removal process which I did NOT enjoy. I am convinced it was the fault of some USM undergrad as there were two levels with railings to lean over both at King's and at the pub. Grumble.

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful! I'm revisiting old favorites with you and collecting ideas for future visits. What a fabulous opportunity, even with the gum.