An Update from the Dreaming Spires: Adjustments and Expansions in Oxford

It’s been a while since my last blog post, and in that time, a lot has changed about my work environment and my research goals. Term has been over for only a few weeks here in Oxford, and it’s been bittersweet to watch everything I’ve worked on during term wind down and most of my friends go home, wherever that is for them. I’ve been trying to use this time to reflect on what I want to gain from being here in England more generally, beyond the time I’ve been logging in the Bodleian and what I’ve managed to do so far. I’ve also broadened my research focus to examine more instances of late-Tokugawa Japanese diplomacy and travel, beginning a few years after the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1854 until the official beginning of the Meiji period in 1868.

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Shelley’s “Ozymandias”

The past few weeks have been mostly just reading, from historical texts and documents to poems and literature, and making connections between them. The first of these came in the shower, the best place I find for coming up with ideas. I wasn’t even thinking of my project, when out of nowhere I realized the significance of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.” During the first half of the nineteenth century, the British Museum believed that the only high art of ancient times was the work of the Greeks and Romans. Anything from the near East or Egypt was simply considered a historical artifact, and had no artistic value or merit. Shelley’s poem works to change that. He takes the carving of the pharaoh Ramesses II in the British Museum, and turns it into a piece of art, through the art of his verse. In this way, the poem becomes a reactionary and revolutionary piece against the older, conservative policies of the British Museum, which fits in nicely with Shelley’s own political beliefs.

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British Musuem Archives

Hello everyone. In my first post I mentioned that part of my research is going to take place in the archives of the British Museum. However, at that time I was not entirely sure what would be in there. Well, I’ve spoken with Stephanie, the head archivist at the Central Archive, and set up an appointment, as well as found more about what exactly I’ll be looking at. There are the Trustees Minutes, documents I already knew about, which will provide first-hand evidence of policy building at the Museum. I’m really excited to delve into these, because I know there is going to be so many little gems and tidbits that I just wouldn’t be able to find in books. In connection with these are the Trustees Papers, which correspond to the Minutes and are the documents and personal writings of the Trustees. There are also early guides to the Museum, which will let me know exactly how the layout has changed through the years, showing what objects they highlighted, and what language they used to describe them. (I’ve already done a little bit of this, but only with how the Museum is currently laid out. Something interesting is that Africa is represented by a single room in the basement. Yikes!) Last I have the signature books of every reader in the Reading Room from 1795-1970. This is going to be a lot to go through, but I’ll be able to find out who was working there, and at what time. Plus I get to see the signatures of so many famous historical figures. Well, that’s my update for now. I’ll post more in future as my research comes along. Cheers!