Travel Series: The British Isles

The British Isles – made up of the United Kingdom of Great Britain (including England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland – are some of the most traveled and beautiful countries in the world. Though not officially considered a part of the British Isles by their own government, Ireland is often associated with this group of nations, and is equally stunning and rich in culture in its own right. For our summer exhibit “Around the World in (Almost) 80 Days,” we here at Special Collections Research Center wanted to ensure that one exhibit case was dedicated to those lovely islands across the pond, with as much representation from its various countries as possible.

Our exhibit case dedicated to materials about or from the British Isles.

Perhaps the most fascinating object in our British Isles case is the rubbing of a 13th century brass engraving. Seemingly made with butcher paper and a waxy crayon, this rubbing from the Bernard Brenner brass rubbings collection depicts a knight dressed completely in armor, a sword at his hip, with his loyal companion – a dog – sitting at his feet. 

Close-up of Brass Rubbing of a Knight in the British Isles exhibit case.

Rubbings of brass, stone, or other materials have been practiced for centuries, beginning in China in the 7th century when this method was used to make copies of inscribed stone records.* Perhaps the most well-known usage of rubbings today is gravestone rubbing (though somewhat controversial.) No matter the object, time period, or individual, the idea is essentially the same – to transfer information that the object provides into a more portable format, whether to collect, use later for study, or simply to admire. When it comes to British brass rubbings specifically, our finding aid on the Brenner collection offers some crucial information on this practice:

“Brass rubbing is a technique to reproduce exactly the engraving on a monumental brass. Rubbings are made by carefully pressing paper onto a carved or incised surface so that the paper conforms to features to be copied. The paper is then blacked and the projecting areas of the surface become dark, while indented areas remain white. In Europe the technique of rubbing is almost exclusively applied to monumental brasses. Monumental brasses are usually figures, inscriptions, shields or other devices, engraved in plate brass and laid as memorials. Brasses originated in Europe where they first appeared in the thirteenth century. Brasses in churches are an important source of heraldic information. It was formerly a custom to put a brass over the grave slab, and on this would be shown a figure of the deceased with his armorial bearings.” 

Detail of Brass Rubbing of a Knight.

Besides the image of a knight, the Brenner collection also contains some other fascinating figures. One such image is that of a clergyman, cut from its original paper and set against cloth. Gowned in flowing liturgical robes, this priest is clearly of a high rank. With his scepter, beautifully woven chasuble and stole**, prominent hat, and his fingers in the sign of benediction, he cuts an imposing figure.

Brass Rubbing of a Catholic Priest.

Brass Rubbing of a 13th Century British Man.

Another notable rubbing within this collection is petite in stature, but by no means in interest. This rubbing depicts a gentleman in regal attire, with a significant amount of fur draped around his shoulders. The man also boasts a high, lavish collar, a full beard, and holds a book in his hand, likely bound in wood and leather, with leather thong clasps and metal bosses on the cover.***

Detail of Book.

These rubbings as a whole provide snapshots of what life was like in the late Middle Ages, and as evidenced provide invaluable insight into British life during the 13th century.


**The outermost liturgical vestment for a Catholic priest, usually decorated/embroidered. A liturgical vestment made of cloth, worn around the neck.

***Thanks to our Research Services Coordinator Rebecca Bramlett for helping identify the book’s composition.

Our summer exhibition “Around the World in (Almost) 80 Days” runs through August 2017.

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts in our Travel Series on our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts.  To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.

Travel Series: The Americas

This post was written by Tiffany Kajer Wright. “I am a grad student in the English department’s Professional Writing and Rhetoric program. If I’m not cooking, I’m probably watching a historical documentary on Netflix. I also love traveling with my husband – I’ve been to 19 countries and counting. I’m brand new to the SCRC, but I look forward to contributing more blogs in the future!”

This post is the first in a series of blogs coordinated with our Around the World in (Almost) 80 Days exhibit. We’re highlighting some of our collections and books that focus on travel and can be accessed here at the Special Collections Research Center. In this article, we’re taking a look at North and South America.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see far-flung parts of the world? Two of our collections can take you virtually anywhere. The first is the extensive Edith McChesney Ker collection of slides, scrapbooks, and other documents covering her global adventures. The second is the largely insect-focused Kjell Sandved collection, of Butterfly Alphabet fame. Both photographers are notable for capturing animal and plant life, as well as striking landscapes.

Reviewing these collections can bring the distant and exotic corners of the planet a little closer to home. This is especially true for areas of the world that are difficult to access, such as Easter Island or Angel Falls. Other places, like the Galapagos Islands or Nova Scotia, have well-traveled routes but are no less fascinating. We’ll begin this week’s journey with Easter Island.

“Easter Island-Ahu Nau Nau”, Edith McChesney Ker papers, #C0077, Box 12, Page 28, Image 4, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

The six stand in silent judgement, backs to the ocean. Their eyes are gone, but most still have their topknots. One is missing his head, and only the base remains for another. They are the Anakena Moai of Rapa Nui – Easter Island, to those outside of the South Pacific. Since 1888, it’s been a territory of Chile, and the mystery surrounding the immense statues has attracted travelers since the island was discovered. More than 800 Moai can be found on the island today, and most are easily accessible to the 80,000 tourists that stop by every year.


“Waterfalls: Amgel Falls World’s Highest Venezuela,” in the Kjell Sandved nature photograph collection #C0020, Box 4, Page 24, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Water tumbles over the edge of a cliff nearly three-quarters of a mile high, often shrouded by clouds. Toward the bottom, the water dissipates into a fine mist before converging into the Rio Kerepacupai Meru. This is Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world, and it sits deep in the Venezuelan jungle. Named after American pilot Jimmie Angel, the first to fly over it in 1933, the falls draw visitors from all over the world each year.

“Fernandina Marine Iguanas and Bluefoots”, Edith McChesney Ker papers, #C0077, Box 13, Page 06, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

Home to some of the most specialized wildlife in the world, the Galapagos Islands have been the location for numerous scientific surveys for centuries. When a young geologist called Charles Darwin visited in 1835, he was so inspired by the variations of birds and other animals that he wrote On the Origin of Species. Scientists and researchers continue to visit this volcanic archipelago to better understand our planet’s history and evolution. Ecuador governs the islands today and has declared them a national park, drawing over 220,000 tourists per year.


“Peggy’s Cover Near Halifax Nova Scotia” in the Kjell Sandved nature photograph collection #C0020, Box 4, Page 22, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Nova Scotia is a breathtaking province, with Bay of Fundy and its extreme tides on one side and the battering North Atlantic on the other. Fishermen have done very well in this part of Canada for centuries, though not without cost. More than 5,000 shipwrecks are documented in the region. Despite this historical precedent, well over 2 million tourists visit Nova Scotia each year, with the percentage of Americans steadily increasing.


Easter Island History

Island Heritage

Easter Island Tourism

Angel Falls History

Galapagos History

Galapagos Tourism

Nova Scotia History

Nova Scotia Tourism

Our exhibition will be up until mid-August. Stop by anytime to view our materials on display. Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.