Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Libraries Are the Coolest Things Ever (and Other Musings From the Halfway Mark)


Monday was the first day back with the whole group after a weekend full of travel. It was really cool to meet up with everybody and exchange stories about the weekend, and everything that we have done. Three day weekends feel so much longer here! I think it is because every experience we have is a new one.

We started the day with a quick tour of Manchester Central Library. It is very near to our hotel, just a quick three minute walk, and has some incredible facilities. We saw the interactive exhibit about Manchester, and then went up to the reading room. It is absolutely amazing (floor to ceiling walls of books). The reading room also has great acoustics, if you drop something you can hear it echo across the room. Our professors took great joy in showing us that feature, and I have to admit it was pretty great. Here is a photo to show just what the reading room is like:

Not a great photo, but imagine a huge round room like this

After the library we went to Manchester Art Gallery. We were there to look at art made by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. There was some really beautiful work by Ford Maddox Brown, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. There was a painting displayed there that was once slashed by suffragists in an attempt to gain media coverage. I might not agree with that ploy, but you can't argue that it isn't effective. 

To continue the art theme, we took a tram into Salford to see The Lowry, a museum and media space that has a huge exhibit of L.S. Lowry's art. It was absolutely incredible! I hadn't seen any of his work before, and I was absolutely blown away. His style is amazing, I highly recommend looking it up. 

Here I am in front of The Lowry

We were given the afternoon free in order for us to work on research projects. Emma and I deferred that a little bit so that we could go to the Imperial War Museum. It was fascinating. The museum traces the UK's involvement in wars since the outbreak of World War I. In the section of the museum focusing on World War II they showed news footage of Manchester after it was bombed. It really took my breath away to see the destruction in a place that I now find so familiar.  The museum also had a exhibit entitled "Fashion on the Ration" detailing fashion on the home front during the 1940s. We weren't able to go through the exhibit today, but I want to go back and see it. 

The outside of the Imperial War Museum

I really loved this poem

Right now we are sitting in Caffe Nero (what a shock) and working on schoolwork. Emma is reading for our class discussion and I am working on the blog (as soon as I'm done I'll start research for our presentation). 

Tuesday was our class discussion of Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. Mary Barton is classified as a "condition of England novel." The novel details the story of a working class family and their struggle for greater recognition in the mill society. The political atmosphere the novel centers around is also very interesting, it describes the union delegation to Parliament and the Chartist movement. I find it really interesting that Elizabeth Gaskell and Friedrich Engels are talking about the same events, and that by using a different style and addressing their works to different audiences they enable greater segments of the population to understand the conditions of the working class.

After class discussion a few of us went out to Wagamama's for lunch. There is a virus going around the group, and we decided to get some soup to try and kill the virus. I don't really know if it worked, but the food was pretty good. 

We also toured the John Rylands Library. It was absolutely incredible! As soon as we walked up the stairs and into the library we were hit by the best smell ever, that of old books. The library was commissioned by John Rylands' widow after his death, and took 10 years to complete. Every part of the building was made to her specifications, including the locks. 

The library has an incredible collection (including two First Folios)! It also has a fragment of the gospel of John found in Egypt in 1920, it is the oldest known written record of the New Testament. It wasn't identified until 1935, and is now displayed in one of the galleries. It was absolutely breathtaking to see something that  old. I just cannot believe it has survived for that long. 

We were only in the library for a small amount of time, and I doubt we even scratched the surface. I am really looking forward to going back and conducting some research. I can hardly imagine the wealth of information the library holds. 

Here is a glimpse into the Historical Reading Room (one of our professors wrote a book here)

After our library tour Emma and I did a little bit of shopping at Primark and grabbed a quick dinner at BarBurrito. The whole group is doing something tonight, so we are about to go hang out together. 

Wednesday was one of the easier days we have had thus far in the class. We had a free morning to do research, so Emma and I traipsed over to Central Library. We ended up doing our research in the music archives (mostly because we needed outlets for computers). The research was absolutely fascinating! I can't believe some of the stuff the family did, it is incredible (and a little concerning). 

After our morning research session, we took part in our second tour with Ed Glinert. This tour focused on Marx and Engels in Manchester. It was incredibly interesting, but unfortunately most of the buildings they would have been in are no longer in existence. 

St. Anne's Square

My favorite part of the tour was Chetham's Library. It is the oldest library of continual use in the UK! It was built in the 1400s, and is now the site of Chetham School of Music (a very prestigious school). The library itself is unbelievable! We saw a bookcase made out of a bed that Bonny Prince Charlie slept in, sat around a table with chairs that Charles Dickens sat on, and saw the desk where Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto. All of the books are behind bars, or chained to the shelves (the aesthetic was fantastic). We were only there a short amount of time, but I could have stayed there for hours. 

This is the whole group sitting where Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto

Outside of the library

Bookcase made from the bed where Bonnie Prince Charlie slept

Chained books

Room with Dickens' chair

Hallway of books

Tonight we have an optional dinner at our professors' house. They are screening the first episode of The Mill so that we gain a better understanding of the conditions of the working class. 

Wednesday officially marks our halfway point of being in Manchester. I can hardly believe that! It simultaneously feels like we have been here forever and for no time at all. It is really incredible to think about all the experiences we have had, and how many more are to come.