The beautiful thing about the Greenwich Royal Observatory is that it houses the Prime Meridian, the imaginary line that is the zero degree line of longitude. I found it kind of amusing to be waiting in line to stand on a line, but it was, nevertheless, really amazing to say that I was in the east and in the west. I found an interesting post on the Prime Meridian through the National Geographic. In it, it says, “Governments did not always agree that Greenwich meridian was the prime meridian, making navigation over long distances very difficult. Different countries published maps and charts with longitude based on the meridian passing through their capital city. France would publish maps with 0 longitude running through Paris. Cartographers in China would publish maps with 0 longitude running through Beijing. Even different parts of the same country published materials based on local meridians. Finally at an international convention called by U.S. President Chester Arthur in 1884, representatives from 25 countries agreed to pick a single, standard meridian. They chose the meridian passing through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. The Greenwich Meridian became the international standard for the prime meridian.” This I find very fascinating because it wasn’t something that was scientifically calculated from the beginning, representatives had to decide which meridian they thought would be the best location as the Prime Meridian.
This excursion was important to this course because it is referenced a handful of times in Ali Smith’s There But For The as a location that both Brooke and Mark visit. Brooke likes to see how fast she can run up the hill (which I give her a lot of credit for, that hill is a steep climb) and Mark goes to the park to think and to have mental conversations with his dead mother. (Psycho, anyone?) It was a beautiful park and wasn’t that far outside of London, making it an easy destination to travel to and see something from our history textbooks. It’s really important to be able to combine literary elements with the historical elements. It adds context and understanding to what you’re studying. There But For The accomplished exactly that and led us to an international imaginary line.
As far as mapping Englishness, how much better could the idea of mapping get than a place with a 0 longitudinal line? This place is all about mapping, whether it be from longitude, to time, to the International Date Line. On a more literary level, this is the kind of thing that Virginia Woolf is talking about in her “Literary Geography” article. It’s adding context and a physical place to our literary maps. In terms of Englishness, it’s kind of amazing that the 0 longitude line was decided for England and that this place, in general, exists. Flamsteed House is also on this location and is the “original Observatory building at Greenwich, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675 on the instructions of King Charles II.” (x) It also is the place where the Royal Astronomers and their families lived and worked. This existence of knowledge and power on the same location is what I think defines Englishness. Throughout London, there is the overwhelming love of knowledge. We have read this in our texts and have seen it firsthand in Oxford. This source of knowledge is something that England is proud of and definitely something that defines them. If this is the place that the Royal Astronomers worked and lived, this is the kind of place that epitomizes Englishness and the commitment to that love of knowledge and power.
Any space you visit where great minds once worked is a powerful place to visit and to be able to experience and we were fortunate enough to have that kind of experience.