British Library Visit

Each student chose a a document on display at the British Library. Here you can read our responses.

Britain’s Ultimatum to Germany, WWII Draft, by Tylerww2

This document was written by Foreign Secretary, Viscount Halifax. The only difference between this draft and the final draft was the addition of a time restriction (the British government only gave Germany until 11 A.M. after they sent it to respond; they did not). Nine days prior to this document, Britain pledged to guarantee Poland’s independence and recognize the nation as an ally. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, forcing this document to be made. Two days later, this was issued to Germany by the British Ambassador, Sir Neville Henderson. The famous line from this letter reads, “the U.K. will without hesitation fulfill their obligations to Poland.”

I was instantly drawn to this artifact because I have such an interest in WWII—the motivations behind it, what was going on behind the scenes, and any shocking discoveries. This document is so professionally written as a “declaration of war,” and I could feel the amount of times this letter had to be revised. I doubt that this was the only draft with this heavy of a topic. Seeing the pencil marks and the thought processes by scratching out words and adding some in is peculiar to me. It spoke to me that even people in high government positions make mistakes and must revise their own work. (Though, a mistake on an educational paper of mine is much less detrimental than a mistake on an official government document). However, the most seductive aspect about this letter is how nerve-racking it must have been writing it. Britain is threatening war with Germany, and everything in this one-page letter must be precise. The effort and craftsmanship it must have taken to perfectly word what they wanted to say is impeccable. War is no joke and neither was this letter—it gave me chills reading it (especially imagining a high German official reading it and ignoring it). The fact that the library had a draft of this is amazing. It was never thrown away, ripped up, or torn; it is in perfect condition.

The Tale of the Night Attack on Horikawa, By Nigel

horikawaPublished in the Edo period (1640-1680) and now on display at the British Library is the remarkable depiction of a samurai attack on Horikawa. The Samurai in question is Tosabo, sent to assassinate Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the younger brother of the shogun. Though the history of this piece is quite confusing, requiring a master of Japanese history that I do not have at present, I still found it appealing. The first thing that caught my attention was the beautiful craftsmanship involved in its creation and its remarkable preservation. Japanese culture has always been of interest to me, I even have a tattoo inspired by The Book of Five Rings which was written by Miyamoto Musashi. Considered one of the greatest samurai to have ever lived. I found this piece even more interesting as an actor, as the samurai depicted is said to have become an architype for the ideal hero. Understanding how architypes are developed is an important task for actors in order to get a better grasp on future roles. It gives valuable insight into a society’s moral and ethical compass of the time, which provides meaningful description to interpret and develop characters. There is also something profound about the depiction of ancient combat that draws me in. A brief glimpse into the fiery passion that spur men to kill and die. These men fight for the honor of another, the honor of themselves, and their family. Yet they were not some violent monsters who just enjoyed killing. They were stepped in religious practices that inspired peace inwardly and out. They were poets, craftsman, artists, and so much more. To understand these men is to understand the code of Bushido, which is a practice difficult for outsiders to comprehend. I myself have spent years studying Bushido and have only begun to scratch the surface. To look on an ancient work such as this is to glimpse another time and place, and marvel at what life than must have been.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets, by Mitchsonnets.jpg

The book that I chose to respond to from the British Library was Sharing Shakespeare’s sonnets. Sonnet 8 and it was written around 1612-1630. The description states: Shakespeare’s sonnets first appeared in book form in 1609. Prior to their printing the sonnets were shared from person to person, being written down by hand in notebooks, much like this one. Here Sonnet 8 has been transcribed with a Latin title: ‘In praise of music, and in contempt of its despiser’. The handwriting is likely to date from the period between 1612 and 1630 and the text of the sonnet differs from the 1609 version. This shows that Shakespeare’s sonnets were still being shared in this way, even after the printed authorial version was available. After looking around the British Library, I came across the Shakespeare section. I have always loved Shakespeare, so I decided to take a look and I found this book. I knew that Shakespeare wrote sonnets and after seeing the book and reading the information given, I can now understand Shakespeares love of music. It shows in the title and once I read the description, I was immediately drawn to the book.

Designs for the Monument to the Great Fire of London: Report by Sir Christoper Wren, 1675, by Ryan

Photo of physical Monument, plans not pictured

“In 1666 the Great Fire of London destroyed a large part of the city of London. To commemorate the fire it was decided to erect a monument near to where the fire had started. This letter details Sir Christopher Wren’s designs for the top of the monument for ‘a large ball of metal gilt would be most agreeably, in regard and it would give an ornament to the town at a very great distance’. However, Wren’s choice did not make it to the final monument and instead an urn issuing flames can be seen on the top of the monument.”


I found it very intriguing that Wren did not get what he wanted. I’m sure the project itself was a great undertaking, it stressed him out completely working day and night.

My main question that puzzles me so is if Wren was this “prized” architect designer. Why wouldn’t they follow what he wanted and go off of his original request. I believe the only answer I can give is that people are impatient and want things sooner rather than later, but you can’t rush good art.

The letter was sitting in a glass case, with a faint light hitting it. The words were faded but the writing of it was delicate and beautiful, it had a certain elegance to it. Next to the letter was a drawing of Wren.

Overall, it was a good experience and I connect to this specific treasure because of the information I already knew about the topic.

Letter from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage, earliest Computer program, by Kellylovelace.jpg

The British Library is home to many documents and pieces of literature that have been preserved for ages. One document that caught my eye while looking at the “Treasures of the British Library” was a letter dating from 1869 from an Ada Lovelace. The letter was addressed to Charles Babbage, who was the first to come up with concept of a digital computer. She was the daughter of Lord Byron, and educated in mathematics.   Lovelace worked with Babbage closely on the ‘analytical machine,’ as they called it. This machine is considered the first premise of a modern computer, which Lovelace details in her letter. Lovelace specifically suggests the possibility of creating a calculation that “may be worked out by the engine without having been worked out by human head and hands first.” Many consider this document to be the first piece of writing to propose a computer program.

This was extremely interesting to me. I do not know much about the history of modern computers and computer programming, but I did not know that a woman was so much at the forefront of the idea of something that has affected our lives so much. I am not sure if Lovelace is well recognized among those in computer programming. I had not heard of her before, which is why this letter and my new knowledge of this was so interesting.

Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, by Hannah

pulcinella.jpgI choose a sketchbook from the composer Igor Stravinsky. This sketchbook was for a ballet called Pulcinella that first performed in 1919.  Why I gravitated to this piece was because it was music for a ballet and the composers name reminded me of my favorite ballet composer, Tchaikovsky.  Does the name Pulcinella sound familiar? This is a stock character of commedia dell’arte that Stravinsky adapted into a ballet.  I just find any past musical scores fascinating because most likely it was all written by hand which is just incredible!



Map of the Forts of Gibraltar, 1779, by Connergibraltar

In the British library I found a map of the southern end of the forts at Gibraltar. At first glance it was hard not to recognize the location because the perspective chosen was quite expansive, and the map title was boldly written cross the top. The map was made in color though it was somewhat narrow in its color spectrum. The whole image was dull and I therefore could not tell if this was a painted map, a drawing, or produced by some other means. Regardless of its creation, it gives us a fantastic view of of the southern end of the British controlled area.

Featured in the center foreground is a stone complex titled on the map “new mole fort.” It seems the purpose of this map may have been to convey back home the position and function of this newly built fort because it shows every wall of the new fort and how the fort is positioned in relation to the docks which sit more middle ground and center. Between these two fortified points exists a wall that follows the bank all along the way. The wall is tall and strong looking, I’m sure trying to convey a feeling of safety and security to any who look upon the map.

If the map faces directly south, then westward of the docks you can find what looks like a walled city just slightly separated from the docks themselves and further west there is a tall mountain with walls going all the way from the docks themselves to a small fortification at the peak. Both are labeled with some titles, but unfortunately the text is so small I cannot make out what either says.

The information plaque by the map says that it was made by a man named William Skinner who was the forts head engineer. It seems to me that all the fortifications look in like they are in perfect condition, well defended, and logically organized. It makes sense that the head engineer would want his fortifications portrayed as such, but I do much wonder if any of that is true. The man making the map had every reason to make alterations and improvements on the true visage. Therefore, I wonder how accurate the map truly is.