Open Thinkering


Visit to London village

Strange fish

I went to London yesterday. To say that it’s not my favourite place in the world is somewhat of an understatement: why on earth anyone would want to live or work there is beyond me. Anyway, I still had a reasonable time and got to see an exhibition I’d be looking forward to seeing since earlier this year.

The reason I was down in London was for an Edexcel standardization meeting. I’m an examiner for one of their AS-level History courses so we have to make sure we know what the ‘standard’ is towards which to mark. The standard seems a lot harsher than in previous year, but that’s by-the-by…

Fortunately, the hotel in which the standardization took place was just round the corner from the British Library. Today (17 June 2007) is the last day for their A New World: England’s First View of America exhibition, which has been running since March. Ever since reading a book entitled ‘Big Chief Elizabeth’ I’ve been greatly interested in the attempts to colonize America in the late 16th/early 17th centuries. Although it sounds fairly dry and boring, the characters and personalities involved, along with the fascinating sequence of events is really interesting. In fact, I believe there’s a film coming out about it later on this year.

Big Chief Elizabeth book A New World

As it happens, the exhibition, despite being labelled by the Telegraph as ‘Unmissable’, was somewhat patchy. My expectations were raised when the first exhibit was an amazingly detailed and surprisingly accurate, absolutely huge map of the world by Descaliers from around 1550. I was told later in the shop that they sell these at the British Library, but when I visited the latter they didn’t know anything about it!

Statue outside British Library

However, the rest of the exhibition was a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. The story of the attempted colonization comes through a chronological understanding of the human aspect. The exhibit, unfortunately, was simple arranged into different types of watercolours by John White (one of the early attempted settlers) and Elizabethan paraphernalia.That was disappointing. I can see the problem faced by the British Museum: setting everything out chronologically would mean one route through for a large number of visitors. This would have led to queues and a poorer visitor experience. It did mean, though, that if I didn’t have the background knowledge I had that I would have found it pretty boring…

16th century book

As it was, I found some of the illustrations that were black-and-white in ‘Big Chief Elizabeth’ in full glorious colour. It was also interesting to see some of the reproductions of John White’s watercolours put side-by-side with the originals to see the fancifal additions made for general circulation! There were also some watercolours of some amazing creatures that White documented, as well as some details of an historical episode I need to investigate further: an incident which occurred at Frobisher Bay in 1577 between Englishmen and the Inuit.

Map from exhibition

I think what I’d really like to do is to create a unit for Key Stage 3 history on this topic, as it’s something that the students could really get their teeth into. Whether I’m likely to ever get the time to do so is a completely different matter!

St Pancras apartments

Finally, I saw as I walked past St. Pancras station that they’re converting it into a 5-star hotel, apartments, and – get this – a £10 million penthouse. Why on earth would you spend that much money to live right next to a train station in the middle of London? Madness, absolute madness!

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