In November the reading room hosted Professor Guenther’s history course Britain in the Age of Enlightenment, a look at the “long eighteenth century” which brought drastic changes in industrial and social revolutions, scientific advancement, and a new culture of book culture. For an afternoon the Reading Room and Print Drawing Study Room transformed into 8 miniature libraries, each station inspired by the types of reading spaces where Enlightenment readers could be found.
Students explored the ‘Royal Society Library’, books of science and world exploration like would be found at this British society collection and dug into botanical books at the ‘Oxford Physic Garden’. The imagined country estate library featured beautiful books from a medieval illuminated manuscript to fore-edge paintings, books about genealogy, society life in London, and beautiful bindings. The ‘Burling Book Society’, a reading society library found moralized books and novels deemed ‘suitable’ for all readers, counter the risqué reputation of salacious novels and literature that could be found at lending libraries like ‘Lane’s Circulating Library’. Our lending library included contemporary works by Byron and Henry Fielding alongside a treatise on the art of dancing and guide for house keeping. A book shop challenged students to locate original prices marked on books and use a historical currency converter to learn more about the investment purchasing books was for Enlightenment readers. (Check it out at nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency-converter! An 1822 edition of Confessions of an English Opium Eater in the collection cost 5 shillings.) A corner of the PDSR transported to ‘Lloyd’s Coffee House’, an integral location for intellectual discussion and trade along with the circulation of political pamphlets and periodicals alongside art from William Hogarth, an English printmaker and satirist who immortalized London culture, including coffeehouses in scenes and satire. Hogarth’s father for a short time ran an unsuccessful London coffeehouse. The final imagined library was the ‘Royal Academy of Arts’ library, where books about art, collections, and instruction were complimented by a gallery wall of Enlightenment era artists like JMW Turner in the Museum collection.
Take a closer look: furniture, fashion, and fabric samples, oh my!
At the gallery and arts library station were three volumes of the Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics, or Ackermann’s Repository. This periodical was published between 1809 and 1829 and distributed as single pamphlets. Many surviving today were bound into compendium volumes, such as these in the Salisbury House Library Collection. SHLC is home to 5 volumes with issues from 1810-1813. Among the pages of the magazines are reports of the newest fashions, advancements in architecture, and samples of literature. They include many detailed images that were hand tinted and samples of fabrics that have survived in excellent condition. See more from the Internet Archive.