Nasty, Brutish, and Short
On Friday, Decemeber 9th, our group visited The British Museum, located only a few blocks the flats we stayed at in London. The Museum was old and beautiful, like most of the buildings we visited. When we arrived we were taken through a tour of the Enlightenment Gallery by a wonderful tour guide. It was an interesting tour, because it took place entirely in one room, but it was packed with history.
The tour began with the bust of a man none of us knew. He turned out to be Sir Hans Sloane, the progenitor of the Museum. A physician and naturalist, Sloane was also an avid collector, feeling that collecting objects held historical and educational value. He sold his collection of 71,000 objects to King George II for 20,000 Pounds, intending these objects to be for the nation. In 1753, an act of Parliament founded the British Museum, which would house these items; in 1759 it was opened to the public. Oddly enough, our docent noted that the bust of Sloane was the only object that had remained in the museum since its origin.
The gallery we toured contained everything from animal bones, to diagrams, to a copy of the Rosetta Stone. Its items documented wide roots of the origins of Natural Science. Also around the room could be seen books from King George's 'Old Royal Library' that he'd donated in 1757. The tour was particularly fascinating in illuminating how far we've come scientifically since that important period. During other tours we learned a lot about important people, and important theories and discoveries, but this tour showcased the small scale, experimental aspects of early Natural Science.
Reporter: Josh Beckelhimer
On our second day in Cambridge we went to the Fitzwilliam Museum in the afternoon. This was one of my favorite museums because not only was the contents beautiful, but the building and interior itself were breathtakingly beautiful. Richard, VII Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion donated his collections, of both art and books, to the University of Cambridge in 1816, hoping to help further learning. His collection included almost 150 pictures, 500 folio albums with engravings, 130 medieval manuscripts, and autograph music by Handel and Purcell (as well as other composers).
The building was actually designed to resemble a private house, and the curators have organized it and display the artwork in a way similar to how pieces would have been showcased in a private home. George Basevi designed the Founder’s Building, which was completed by C R Cockerell, and opened to public viewing in 1848. The museum’s collection has grown since then through gifts, purchases, etc.
We saw beautiful pieces representing Christian religion, an alabaster piece from northern Iraq portraying King Ashurnasirpall II, impressionist paintings by Georges-Pierre Seurat, Paul Signac, Eugene Boudin, and Vincent van Goph, and many many more paintings and sculptures.
Reporter: Onnie Middendorf
Photographer: Hannah Fereshtehkhou
On Saturday, December the tenth, we embarked on a ship to Greenwich pier located in the eastern section of London. Upon disembarking we were greeted by the spectacle that is the lovely village of Greenwich and it various trappings. Overlooking the village, upon the great hill, stood the royal observatory. The observatory and its surrounding complex covers the entirety of the top of the hill. It stands as a monument to classic English architecture.
After arriving at the gates we were greeted by a gentleman who proceeded to give us a tour of the facilities. The tour included the original structure, the museum, and the actual Prime Meridian. Each aspect of the tour was accompanied by delightful commentary regarding the history of time, timekeeping, and navigation. Apart from the gorgeous architecture, the observatory had much to offer in regards to historical significance as well as artifacts to the greatest force in the universe, time. It would be hard to find anyone who would not be interested by at least one part of the tour. Despite the inclement weather all of us on the tour had a wonderful time and would recommend it to any future visitors.
Often in our class, we discussed the art and aesthetics of the Enlightenment as a sort of cultural compliment to the matters of thought, science, and politics of the time period. In these discussions, we used the Enlightenment terms “sublime” and “beautiful” to describe the evocations art produces. Usually they are applied separately to different art; rarely can one be both sublime and beautiful.
St. Paul’s Cathedral shattered this dichotomy. Not only did the cathedral shock and awe, but it also contained moments of serene and complete beauty. Seeing the cathedral emerge suddenly from behind a clutter of financial buildings took my breath away, and the sheer magnitude and strength of the foundation and the dome (the latter of which can support the astounding weight of 65,000 tons, or eight Eiffel Towers) left us in a sense of disbelief. Although manmade and constructed over the course of many decades, St. Paul’s still showed the subliminal power that natural materials can provide. The beauty of St. Paul’s was mostly found in its interior, where ceilings of intricately tiled mosaics, perfectly fluted columns, and extravagant decorations and ornaments
Through our triforium tour of the cathedral, we were able to delve deep into its history and inner workings. Stopping by the library run by Jo Wisdom, who collected the secrets and knowledge of the cathedral, as well as the model room, where a complete model one-twenty-fifth the size of the actual cathedral allowed us to see beyond the surface of St. Paul’s and learn what an extensive and strenuous task it was to complete. Such a building would be a magnificent accomplishment in our own time, but the magnitude of this structure as it was built over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries seems to be the result of a near miracle, or incredible human ingenuity courtesy of the great architect Sir Christopher Wren.
Reporter: Sam Blizzard
Photographer: Alec Rampe
On Thursday December 8th, our class toured the 18th century collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum under the expert guidance of docent Anne Haworth. The V&A is a large and eclectic museum of art and design founded in 1852. It contains a 5,000 year span of art and artifacts originating from all around the world. Our particular focus was on the British galleries that chronicle the history of Britain from 1500 to 1900 through the lens of the objects that shaped and were shaped by British culture.
Anne shared her extensive knowledge of historical ceramics to illustrate how the cultural and technological revolutions of the 18th century influenced the design, manufacture and availability of pottery. The main narrative of the tour was the story of Josiah Wedgwood and his wildly successful application of scientific and industrial methods to the production and sale of pottery. It was a very detailed and specific example of how the principles and aesthetics of the Enlightenment were applied to the mass production of new kinds of goods that led to Britain’s growth as a manufacturing and commercial empire.
Reporter: Ethan Fitz
Friday, December 16.
We returned from Cambridge and had a few hours to ourselves before congregating at the Duke of York Bar in the Over-Seas House. Everyone looked very put-together.
It seemed appropriate to end the trip similar to how we started it; the two formal dinners acted as bookends to an eventful ten-day journey.
The food was impeccable, as was the company. It was a time to reminisce about our favorite aspects of the trip, what we’ve gained, and how we will use our new knowledge in the future upon our arrival home. The evening was full of jokes, toasts, and traditional Christmas crackers. Professor Grundy concluded the dinner with a thoughtful speech that tied the whole course together.
I think that we students could have planned a trip to England, but we never could have been granted entry into some of the places we were allowed to go. We are all very fortunate to have Professor Terry Grundy provide these unique opportunities for us.
We could not have asked for a better way to end the trip.
Reporter: Kaitlin Kelley
Anyone that is interested in history knows that there are countless different perspectives on any one subject and you can spend an entire career investigating what is seems to be just one very specific subject. The lecture given by Cambridge Professor Emma Spray was further proof of this. Originally, we were expecting a lecture on Enlightenment politics and political theory, an issue that after 15 weeks of discussion, we believe we had a good handle on. What we got was a new perspective that I don’t think any of us had anticipated.
In her lecture, Dr. Spray took a metaphorical approach to explain some political themes of the era. Her argument was based on the competing views of Enlightenment thinkers on the subject of nature and, more specifically, natural government. Which view the nation’s government adopted would shape the world in the 18th century and beyond. Dr. Spray focused particularly on France, who was the historic great rival of the British. The first perspective was that of a well-respected and well known Enlightenment thinker, Jean-Jaques Rousseau, who believed that nature was in a state of perfection when it was left untouched by humans. Rousseau also believed that the territory in which people lived provided sufficient resources for the population to survive.
The counter argument, put forth by Georges Butel-Dumont and others, focused on the idea that humans had the capability to improve nature. He believed that resources were unevenly distributed throughout the world and through agriculture, horticulture, and especially free trade, humans had the ability to improve the natural environment in which they lived by essentially evening out the distribution of resources. Another important theme of the Butel-Dumont train of thought was the idea of naturalization, where once a plant has been transplanted from its original habitat to a new one, over time it will become natural in that new habitat and work its way into the ecosystem as if it had grown there naturally.
These are two clearly differing opinions on how trade should be conducted and what would best suit individual societies, but a key part of the lecture was about how the ideas surrounding nature and agriculture translated into the creation of new government. According to the Rousseau rationale, each individual territory was able to discover what method of governing worked best for them. This would be the perfect state of natural government that should be left undisturbed by other societies. The opposing opinion would have the much greater impact. Like the distribution of resources, the Butel-Dumont line of thinking believes that you can transplant “modern” ideas on government into other societies. This was used as a justification for French imperialism at the time because they believed that by creating colonies around the world, they were creating a mutually beneficial relationship between France and the colonial populations. Then, through the process of naturalization, the improved, “modern” government, like transplanted fruit, will eventually become so ingrained into the new territory that it will eventually be regarded as the natural.
The history books have shown which argument drove the politics in the years following the 18th century. As students, I think we enjoyed Dr. Spary’s nuanced and alternative look at the events of the enlightenment. It added a new and creative element to a common theme that we have been studying all semester. Dr. Spray was an enthusiastic and engaging speaker that sparked everyone’s interest, no matter what their area of study. It was also beneficial to get a French perspective of the time period, since we have been studying almost exclusively British thinkers during our seminar. Most importantly I think all of us came out with a better understanding of the complicated politics of the era and at the very least, we all have a better appreciation for the complexity of Western European society during the era of the Enlightenment.
Reporter: Alec Rampe
Photographer: Jake Ross
On our second day at Cambridge, we had the opportunity to have a discussion with Piers Bursill-Hall, a professor of mathematics, about the history of scientific inquiry. Our professor had described him as extremely smart and eccentric and he lived up to that description. He was able to command our attention with his ability to tell the story of scientific progress, while slipping in the occasional joke to keep the talk light-hearted.
In just one hour, I felt a profound yearning to want to understand more about history because I began to see how the story of the past has shaped the way that we think about the world. Several of us expressed the opinion that, “If half of the professors here are as amazing as Piers, we would absolutely love to go to Cambridge.”
After tea, our discussion continued, but proceeded with a much different focus. More of the students began to participate in the seminar as we mused over the current state of facts and logic in our everyday discourse. Pretty soon, the conversation turned to Trump and his effect on the situation and stayed there until Piers interjected, “How did we go from a talk about Parmenides to party politics? I’ve had similar seminars with American groups for over eight years and this discussion never happened when Bush or Obama were elected. We should be able to talk about intellectual ideas without defining them as ‘left’ or ‘right’.”
After that we switched gears and returned to the original topic, but I think the deviation left us with a profound takeaway: there few forums in America that are safe from party politics. Due to a variety of intentional or unintentional moves from public officials, the media, and social media, it feels like every idea has become polarized. It seems that we are now unable to have free debates about ideas because they have been anchored to policy or party.
Throughout the conversation, we came to have a greater understanding that studying intellectual history can give insights into how we might solve our current socio-political problems. At the same time however, our own evolution of the talk showed that we will have to work even harder in the coming years to do that research.
Reporter: Tony Bailey
Photographer: Trenton Davis
On our second full day in London, we were lucky enough to visit the RSA. The RSA was founded in 1754 by William Shipley. It has been a leader in the promotion of girl's education, environmental reform and countless other issues since its foundation. While at the RSA, we were treated to a tour of the building, which has been restored to look as it would during the time of the enlightenment. The highlight of the tour was when we were allowed into the archives. Our guide had generously pulled out over a dozen documents written by enlightenment thinkers nearly three hundred years ago. We were even allowed to see letters written by Benjamin Franklin himself.
Along with our incredible tour, we had the privilege of talking with the CEO of the RSA, Matthew Taylor. Taylor is a former Labour Party politician who has been the CEO of the RSA since 2006. He shared with us his insight on current political topics such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. He spoke on his belief that the outcome of both elections was because some people, particularly those from rural communities, felt they were being left behind the rest of their respective countrymen. Mr. Taylor also was not afraid to argue his point that it was education level, not economic status that predicted who individuals voted for. The discussion we had with Mr. Taylor was insightful from beginning to end, and was among the most stimulating experiences of the entrire trip.
Reporter: Sage Buchanan
On our final day at Cambridge, we were led on a tour by Dr. Nicholas James, the Director of Studies in Social Anthropology at Magdalene College, Cambridge. After a brief lecture on the history of urban planning with an emphasis on how the Enlightenment altered architecture, James led us through the town of Cambridge to better see the elements he discussed.
We began our tour just outside the walls of our home in Trinity Hall, where a few small stores and boutiques were found. We walked along the stone roads to the town square and the marketplace. James explained that the design of this square was over two-thousand years old, which displayed shops facing into the square and the church overlooking it. He claimed that this marketplace was mainly a tourist attraction, while the people of Cambridge chose to do their shopping in the mall a block away.
From the square James led us into Trinity College, where we were truly overcome by the beauty and history of Cambridge. After convincing the Porter to let us in the gate, James showed us onto the court, where a beautiful fountain stood in the middle. From here we visited the Trinity College Chapel, where we examined its gothic architecture.
The highlight of the tour was a visit to Sir Christopher Wren’s Library. Wren was ingenious in his design, for he created a library large enough to house thousands of books, while still allowing natural light to flow into the court and the view of the river to remain unobstructed. We were lucky enough to go into the library and view the large bookshelves and the towering stained glass windows. Most notably, Wren put two rows of busts down the main aisle of the library. On the right, there stood Ancient Greek philosophers, and the left displayed the faces of many Enlightenment scholars and philosophers. Much of the class agreed that this library, with it’s open lighting, revolutionary design, reverence for the Greeks, and focus on a new type of philosophy best exemplified the themes of the Enlightenment we were studying.
Photographer: Tony Bailey