Camel Leopards and the Lost Reading Room

The British Museum Archives

The British Museum was opened in 1759 and was originally housed a very large collection of natural history exhibits.  The museum was first started in the Montague House that was on the same spot of land the museum is currently on.

british_museum_entrance

Entrance to the Museum

The Montague house was bought for 20,000 pounds, and they decided on this house because their first choice, The Buckingham Palace, was trying to sell for 30,000 pounds.

As you go down into the archives you are taken over by a sense of you are now entering the bowels of this prestigious institution.  One of the first things that was shown to us was the “original papers” about the construction and start up of the museum.  These papers were once loose leaf type pages, but are now bound into large tombs and very hard to catalog in this state.  There was no catalog for the British Museum for over 200 years, so going through the collection for the current archivist is a huge undertaking.  Francesca Hiller, the current archivist has to comb through these articles to find out what they about and catalog them herself, which can get pretty interesting by some stories she told.  As a class I believe one of the stories that stuck with us is that she was trying to find out when giraffes were introduced to the museum, but could find no record of them.  She found out that they were not called giraffes at the time but instead called camel leopards

The British Library Reading Room inside the British Museum, Bloomsbury, before the move of the British Library to its current location at St.Pancras.

The Reading Room 

, because of their body type and markings.

One of the most interesting and saddening piece of information that was told to us, is that the infamous reading room that they have is closed to the public.  It is completely no longer in use, but they still house the library cards that were in use during the time that it was opened.  There are many influential people that used this reading room, such as Brom Stoker and Oscar Wilde.

There were fascinating objects that are housed in these archives and it was such a great experience to get to see some of them.

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