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Collect Britain

British Library
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Reviewed by:
Wayne Hanley
West Chester University
January 2004

This website offers 19 virtual exhibits and more than 90,000 digitized artifacts that highlight some of the British Library’s world-renowned collections. In addition to browsing collections, temporary exhibits, and “Themed Tours,” users may conduct user-friendly searches to find documents or images for any number of potential classroom uses. Curators plan to offer one additional virtual exhibit in the coming months.

From the homepage, visit current or past exhibits, such as “Building Bishops” about the medieval bishopric of Durham. “The Streets of London” and “Sing Along!” are representative of the organization and versatility of the digital collections. The former offers 1,200 historical maps of London originally assembled by Victorian designer Frederick Crace. From the exhibit home page, follow links to video or textual introductions or to browse the collection. To whet one’s appetite, the curator has selected a number of representative maps for sampling. Clicking on each map opens a new page accompanied by a sizeable thumbnail (which can be enlarged), bibliographical information, and a written description or explanation of the image and its importance. The reader may save any image to a personal folder for later reference or email a selection. Included in this collection are maps from the 16th century to the mid-19th century.

“Sing Along!” offers illustrated Victorian sheet music for 188 songs and piano pieces. It serves as a glimpse into the daily lives of 19th-century Britons, revealing much about British middle-class popular culture. How did news of the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal spread throughout England? Illustrated song sheets was one way, as the curator’s selection demonstrates.

The entire database (not just the individual collections) is also searchable using the user-friendly search tool. One can search by title, keyword, and other variables. “Advanced Search” allows users to narrow the topic by date range, library collection, genre, and medium. Twenty-six song sheets mention Napoleon. Thirteen mention Waterloo.

The “Themed Tour” option is also useful as the basis of a lesson or research project. The three tours currently featured deal with the “lost gardens” of 17th-century England, with the history of the “East End” of London, and with the 18th-century survey of England and Wales in response to the Napoleon’s potential invasion. Each themed tour breaks the topic into discreet subtopics, supported by a brief narrative and by various documents and images.

Your imagination is the only limit for this easy-to-navigate and remarkably rich Internet resource.

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