London Is Calling!

Julia’s Final Project – Learning Analysis Blog Post

Day 1 and Day 2

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The first and second day on our international adventure were, as I expected, awesome… and rather overwhelming. Having just arrived in a brand new place I took it all in hungrily. It was information and sensory overload. The first two days forced a hurried adjustment to the constant walking and constant barrage of information and altogether these days were a blurred whirlwind. This was a city unlike anything I had seen before. It was massive, old, and beautiful. I had never seen so many people in my life, neither had I seen a place that presented such a long and rich history. In our time spent exploring the city in these first two days, we met up to see the collection of historical manuscripts at the British Library. Seeing the actual Magna Carta laid out in front of me, to see something so old and so familiar from history class just right there was really quite profound. It was one of those times when I could actually see history and be in the presence of it instead of just imagining it and seeing secondhand pictures. The British Museum was astounding as well. The sheer magnitude of the building, how packed it was with people, the thousands of displays thankfully unencumbered by too many distracting “DO NOT TOUCH” signs, and the fact that I got lost about three times made it difficult to appreciate everything I saw but I felt like because of those factors, the museum was almost daring me to learn as much as I could – because it is actually somewhat challenging.

Day 3 “Our lives were in the hands of the gods, / though we could tinker with them, if lucky.”

The first book, The Emperor’s Babe, was one that I read toward the end of the booklist before the trip and I wish that I had read it first. This book is the perfect historical base for our study of Englishness. Before reading this I had absolutely no idea that London was created by the Romans. The term ‘Londinium’ was completely new to me and I honestly wondered when I first started this book if the author took great creative liberties in regards to history. This caused me to do some research which was very helpful to know in understanding Englishness. I found this novel challenging because I had never read a verse novel before. In keeping with the verse format, Evaristo had to find creative ways to write the story that weren’t perhaps as straightforward or explicit as prose would be so sometimes I found it a challenge to interpret what was really going on or what the author is alluding to.

That afternoon found us at the Museum of London, a place I greatly enjoyed. The Roman gallery gave proof of the incredible presence of Roman influence in London which, I now knew, dates back to the inception of London itself. I really loved the museum’s blending of modern elements with the historical setups. It perfectly reflected the architectural space of London, in which so many structures look nearly the same as when they were built decades or centuries ago, but now they mingle with modern structures. The following is a video created by the Museum of London. Though the video is specifically about Londinium’s Roman Fort, the beginning offers some interesting background on Londinium itself.

Londinium’s Roman Fort

Day 4 “I have spent my life waiting for something to happen, and I have come to understand that nothing ever will. Or it already has, and I blinked during that moment and it’s gone. I don’t know which is worse – to have missed it or to know there is nothing to miss.”

Our reading of Falling Angels and our perusal of the Suffragette Gallery in the Museum of London the day before gave me a pretty good understanding of Victorian England. This was one of the few tastes of Empire that I got from our readings and Empire is something I have found very useful in my study of Englishness. Earlier I had wondered why the author made the cemetery the primary focal point of the novel and when we went to Highgate Cemetery that afternoon, I got my answer. It is so easy to take the cemetery for granted. The very fact it is taken for granted should be reason enough to think about it again and consider the spatial practices of a cemetery. The novel showed class divide, gender inequality, and radical ideas versus deeply-rooted tradition and in our time at Highgate, I realized that the cemetery is a unifying place, it is the place of total equality, where everyone is faced with mortality and no one has the answers. The stone representations people leave of themselves still reflect class and status but regardless, the spatial practice of the cemetery levels the playing field.

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Day 5 “Before, she’d been easily led, / one of the crowd… Not anymore. Now / she could roar.”

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I didn’t find Feminine Gospels to be very useful in understanding Englishness mostly because Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry and the themes therein are so universal. The little snippets of poetry paint a picture that is very honest, self-critical, and outwardly critical of sexism and inequality that we can see throughout all human society. This collection challenged my mindset because though I am an ardent feminist, throughout my life I couldn’t help but pick up on the many stereotypes (i.e. using ‘girly’ or ‘you’re such a girl’ as a derogatory term, etc…). I don’t say things like this very often but when reading this book it was the first time I realized that my use of this at all is perpetuating sexist stereotypes at the same time as I’m trying to demand equality. Also, some of these poems are challenging to get through, not because of content, but because they are so dense. I love the poem “The Map-Woman” but I still don’t quite know what to think of it.

Day 6 “London is immigrant city… [it] was created by migration”.

The Mara Crossing. The simpler question might be: What DIDN’T I learn from this book? In this class and McVicker’s class we had spent so much time talking about the little details, especially because Englishness is defined by little cultural nuances, but this book expanded my thoughts on spatial practice to an international scope. Having such a small magnifying glass up to Englishness through the other books was enlightening but pulling back to get the wider perspective was just as much so, maybe even more. Spatial practices were a difficult concept to grasp but this book provided the perfect concrete illustration of the -at first- abstract concept: the illustration of bird migration. Bird migration is a set pattern that slowly evolves over time due to necessity. These patterns are spatial practices that help define a place. Furthermore, The Mara Crossing showed how elements combine to influence and evolve each other and that “everyone, given time, / changes everyone else”.

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The Natural History Museum was really incredible and helped to solidify the science content of The Mara Crossing but I enjoyed the Victoria and Albert Museum even more. I had thought that the British Museum and the Museum of London were massive but the Victoria and Albert Museum was simply astonishing. Throughout London I could see no greater tribute to the power of the British Empire than this museum. It held objects from every corner of the world and these were no mere trinkets. Most museums I had been to had little artifacts of everyday life and then a few select prominent pieces but rare was the small, seemingly ordinary artifact in the V&A Museum, instead it housed the finest of the fine, at least in my mind. I spent a considerable amount of time specifically in the gallery devoted to Victorian England and finally I could really see it. In class we had spent time talking about the Victorian Era but we discussed social constructs, burial practices, class divides, but we never talked about what it looked like. The gallery of course showed mostly the luxuries of the upper classes and aristocracy so we only really get to see a small portion of what Victorian England was like. I thought about this and realized that poverty tends to look very much the same throughout history whereas the look of privileged life was constantly changing with the fashions and trends. I found this museum to be very enlightening to my sense of Englishness because it provided more history and showed international influences through the ages.

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Day 7 “He thinks of all these conjunctions of knowledge and experience, these collisions of what is known and what is felt which flame within the head to create a private vision, but a vision which is coloured by the many visions of other people, by fact and error and received opinion and things remembered and things invented.”

I have to say that City of the Mind is the only novel that I read for this class that I can only vaguely remember the plot to. The way this book is written presents the plot but allows it to be a blurred background to the star of the show: the City of London itself. The novel captured the feel of London perfectly. “If the city were to recount its experience, the ensuing babble would be the talk of everytime and everywhere…” When you travel to a new place it’s easy to take things at face value but this book taught me to look deeper and to see not only a structure but also its history simultaneously. Having those added dimensions in seeing the city made the experience more dynamic and it got me to learn more about Englishness than I think I would have done before.

The Museum of the Docklands was one of my favorite museums that we explored. Just being in the docklands was a shocking sight because my assumptions of what it looked like stemmed from Virginia Woolf’s essay, which did not paint a very pretty picture. When we stepped out of the tube station at Canary Wharf I just stared and finally realized just how well Matthew Halland was doing to be designing a site in the docklands. The Museum of the Docklands showed the history of London through its main entry and exit point: the docks. Before this I hadn’t appreciated the immense importance of the docks in the creation of what we see as London today.

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Day 8 and Day 9

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Our weekend excursion to Stonehenge, Avebury, Bath, and Glastonbury was an incredible experience. The time we spent at Stonehenge and what we learned there reminded me of the Victorian era and the obsession with death. This took me right to Highgate Cemetery and what we read in Falling Angels. In someone else’s blog on our excursion to Highgate Cemetery, they described Victorian burial practices in which the deceased person would be removed from the family home feet first to make sure the spirit couldn’t convince someone to follow him to the grave and also so that he couldn’t reenter the home of the living. The Druids would take their dead to Stonehenge by way of the river Avon so that the spirits of the dead would be disoriented by the winding river and wouldn’t be able to find their way back to the land of the living. It’s a fascinating parallel.

Day 10 “Through my gold-tinted Gucci sunglasses, / the sightseers. Big Ben’s quarter chime / strikes the convoy of number 12 buses / that bleeds into the city’s monochrome.”

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Bloodshot Monochrome was an awesome collection of poetry to read and study for class. I think that, more than anything, these poems taught me about human nature and the human condition. The poems are like little windows into a scene of reality, complete with movement, emotion, racism, sexism, and others. The challenge I had with this book was figuring out how to relate it to the theme of the trip: Mapping Englishness. Agbabi’s book is about people, not places – not London specifically. I realized though that having a better understanding of human nature and the people how inhabit a place gives me a better understanding of the place itself.

Day 11

Punting on the Cherwell in Oxford

Punting on the Cherwell in Oxford

Oxford, England. The city dominated by Oxford University’s many Colleges. It was while  on the tour through Magdalen College that I realized how cool a place this is. This city has been a place of scholarship and research for nearly a millennia! It’s original spatial practice remains constant. The ancient higher system of education presented by Oxbridge is iconic of Great Britain, and it seems to me to be one of the few places with an unchanging spatial practice in the entire country (besides the spatiality of aristocratic structures). The structures are created or rebuilt, the way that education works has progressed over time, the people allowed to participate expanded over time, and what is being taught is constantly changing and developing but the scholastic, utilitarian practice of the space remains constant. How many other similarly expansive places can claim the same thing?

Day 12 “Ladies, here’s the shit:”

I enjoyed reading Formerly but admittedly I found it a challenge to relate to our class. Obviously Formerly is specifically about London and a few select places within it but the lack of context about the original places that were written about I found to be a bit frustrating. Formerly gave us a picture and a poetic assumption of what this place was like but after doing some research on the places I discovered that some of her poems didn’t really match the original place. The example that I wrote about in my blog response is probably the one that has the oddest juxtaposition: Quickie Heel Bar, which was a shoe repair place for which Yoseloff wrote a grungy, raunchy poem. Other poems of hers were spot on but when I originally read this collection before the trip I assumed these were slices of reality in the history of these little places in London, albeit with a few creative liberties of what was ‘formerly’ there. It wasn’t until we were in London and I was reviewing for class that I thought to do some research on the places. Perhaps that was Yoseloff’s intention: to encourage people to look past a picture and what is told to us about a place and make our own conclusions. I know that for me, this way I ended up learning more than I might have done before.

Day 13 and Day 14 “I was there. There I was.”

The Greenwich Royal Observatory was very interesting to explore and it’s claim to the Prime Meridian embodies Great Britain’s history of Empire and certainly symbolizes its power and the bragging point that the British Empire was the largest in history. The view made me feel like I was on top of the world (as cliché as that might sound) and it was really wonderful, after being right in the heart of London for nearly two weeks, to be able to step back and see it from a distance. Seeing London from that windy hilltop helped me put some of the pieces together because you can’t build a puzzle if you can only see one piece at a time.

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There But For The. Definitely the oddest novel that I have ever read. Probably one of the first things I learned from this novel has nothing to do with London, spatiality, or Englishness. I learned that apparently it is possible to write a 60+ page dinner party conversation that doesn’t noticeably further the arguably-existent plot without alienating all of your readers. I had a number of challenges with this text; the first being just getting through it. There is so much discourse between the characters; so much banter. There were plenty of parts of this novel that I enjoyed but plenty of parts also frustrated me. After I finished reading it I had absolutely no idea what to say about it so my second challenge was trying to relate it to our class. Throughout our days in London I would occasionally ponder why this book was chosen for the class and as I reviewed notes and flipped through the novel’s pages I began to appreciate There But For The. This story could easily have been set anywhere, so what is important is the social critiques that the author has imbedded into her prose: the consumer-driven culture, the overpowering presence of technology in our lives and the effect it has on human interaction, the complacency, and the oppression of imagination and divergent thinking (such as that which Brooke experiences with her teacher). Reflecting on the book I realized the expanse of the commentary that the author is giving us and the main point, which is constantly driven at throughout the book -especially in the dialogue- is that we need to question something, anything, everything. After realizing this I was able to, for the last few days of our adventure at least, question things more and contemplate them thoroughly. I questioned and contemplated things from my own mindset to the rippling effect of human and commodity migration, from the burial practices of Victorian England to the purely symbolic existence of the royal family today, from Londinium to the massive city before me. Honestly I think this book has helped me, at least a little, to live in the moment and to fight the lazy desire to be complacent and take things at face value.

The Final Days and Conclusions “For this is the city, in which everything is simultaneous. There is no yesterday, nor tomorrow, merely weather, and decay, and construction.” -City of the Mind

Being in London was an unforgettable experience but so was the class. Reading the books was so much more dynamic because we saw London, and London was so much more dynamic because we read the books. I know that all of us students at some point wanted be out exploring more of the city while we were sitting in class or we cursed having to get up early in the morning because we stayed out too late at the pub, but in retrospect I truly believe that the scholarly work we did made the experience more meaningful. We were traveling around the city with a purpose, instead of just randomly sightseeing. I don’t think I would ever have come up with a sense of Englishness without having been in England. About half of my preconceptions of Englishness that I garnered before the trip were obliterated during the trip, and the other half validated by what I experienced.

The Literary London gang and friends at Lord John Russell's

The Literary London gang and friends at Lord John Russell’s (:

The final days in London were hectic and bittersweet as we tried to cram in all the things we had wanted to do and found our ever-growing list far to long to finish. I feel like while I did so much while we were in London and I loved every minute of it, there are thousands of more possibilities, and I can’t wait to go back.

-Julia

P.S. Thank you so much Dr. McCormick, I learned a lot in your class and I had so much fun on this trip!

 

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