Travel Series: Africa

This post was written by Tiffany Kajer Wright, research services assistant.

In the fourth installation of our blog series in conjunction with the Around the World in (Almost) 80 Days exhibit, we’re examining historical travel in Africa. At Special Collections Research Center, our Archives and Rare Books can bring the past to life and inspire future travel plans. Whether going on safari or seeking to understand other cultures and religions, travelling to Africa has been regarded with excitement and shrouded with mystery. From the Sahara to South Africa, travelers have recorded their thoughts, drawn maps, and photographed their way across the continent.

Always considered an exotic and wild place, Africa has captured the attention of Western cartographers and geographers going back to the Roman Empire. In the early 1700s, Herman Moll sought out the most well-traveled people of his time and constructed a book of maps and descriptions of lands and peoples. He called his compilation The Compleat Geographer. To the best of his ability, he included every bit of the known world, and Africa was no exception.

Moll, Herman, The Compleat Geographer, G114 .C74 1709, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahel. Travel is traditionally done by camel, and Bryon Khun de Prorok did exactly that in 1920. He and his entourage ventured into the desert, and he wrote about their adventures in Mysterious Sahara. Throughout the book are plates of his journey, including a stop at the Oasis of Nefta in Tunisia.

Khun de Prorok, Bryon, Mysterious Sahara, DT333 .K4, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

Dr. John Paden, a Clarence Robinson Professor of International Studies, donated his papers and books upon retiring. He conducted academic research in Nigeria during the 1960s, and has extensive materials from that time. Among the books and papers, he also donated a musical instrument called a yomkwo and several Qur’an (Koran) boards. These are boards used to help students memorize verses from the holy book, as well as practice their handwriting.

John N. Paden, Collection C0194, Box 132, Qur’an/Koran board, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

John N. Paden, Collection C0194, Box 132, Qur’an/Koran board, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The word “safari” comes from the Swahili for “journey” or “expedition,” and was likely adapted from the Arabic “safar,” meaning “to travel.” If one goes on safari, one goes to Africa to do so. Edith McChesney Ker did, and later donated slides of her photographs from Africa and around the world. Her collection spans from the 1950s to the early 2000s and is about 10,000 slides. She demonstrated an obvious preference for wildlife and nature shots on her global travels, including the wildlife of Kenya and Tanzania.

Edith McChesney Ker, Collection C0077, Box 28, Page 21, Slide 1, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

In February 2016, Atlas Obscura posted a story about the honeyguide – an unassuming bird that led hunters to bees’ nests practically upon request in Tanzania. Over the summer, the story gained ground as other news outlets ran similarly-themed pieces. However, this bird’s behavior was recorded as far back as 1881! Near the village of Kavimba, in the country now called Botswana, Dr. David Livingstone encountered this amazing bird in his travels during the mid-1800s. J.E. Chambliss compiled this tale and many more of the doctor’s expeditions – alone and with Henry Stanley – in The Lives and Travels of Livingstone and Stanley.

Chambliss, J. E., The Lives and Travels of Livingstone and Stanley, DT1030 .C44 1881, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts 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 speccoll@gmu.edu 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: Europe and Asia

This post was written by Tiffany Kajer Wright, research services assistant.

In the third installation of our blog series in conjunction with the Around the World in (Almost) 80 Days exhibit, we’re taking a look at travel in Asia and Europe. At the Special Collections Research Center, our collection of Rare Books and archival materials can take you to the far reaches of the globe, real or imagined. From France and Hungary to Tibet, India, China or Japan, travelers throughout history have collected stories told by others or written about their own journeys. The items below include images, a collection of fairy tales, and primary sources written by travelers or compiled afterward.

Imagine your country building a defensive wall so strong that experts said nothing could get through. Now, imagine depending on it to stop an invasion… but the enemy simply goes around it. The Maginot Line was the primary French defense against Germany during World War II. It was built in the 1930s for the express purpose of stopping a German invasion. The Maginot Line did exactly that – until the Germans figured out that they could simply go around through Belgium. The haunting image shows the forts a few years after the war ended.

France-Maginot Forts, 1948. Christine Drennon European Lantern Slides, Collection C0068, Box 2, Folder 13, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

The Csoda Album is an utterly fascinating work. Each illustration is more beautiful than the last, with gilding and brilliant colors like gemstones spilled across the page. Some of the artwork in this Hungarian book of fairy tales was first printed in the Andersen Kalender. Further, the illustrators, Heinrich Lefler and Joseph Urban, were lauded Austrian artists and designers. In fact, Urban went on to design many exemplary Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings, such as Mar-a-Lago and the Ziegfeld Theater among others.

Inside cover of Csoda Album. Szini, Gyula, Csoda Album, GR154.5 .S95, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

One of the most contentious figures in history purportedly traveled to China in the 1200s. His writings opened European eyes to the culture of Asia, particularly the areas along the Silk Road. Whether you believe Marco Polo actually visited the Far East or simply wrote what he heard from travelers, his tales of exotic lands and foreign peoples still make for fascinating stories. Centuries later, we’re still talking about his work and the influence it has had on what Europeans believed about Eastern cultures throughout history.

Reproduced map of Eastern Asia from 1300s. Yule, Henry, Polo, Marco, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, G370.P735 1875 v.1, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to wander the deserts, mountains, and steppes in Central Asia? You can read about how one French man did exactly that in the 1840s with no GPS or accurate maps – just locals who traveled with him as guides. The regions discussed by Evariste Regis Huc include modern-day China, Mongolia, and Tibet. His Recollections of a Journey through Tartary, Tibet, and China discuss his experiences living in a tent, herding camels, the climates he experiences, and of course, the food.

H.I. Harding traveled through the Himalayas from Srinagar, India to Kashgar, China in the early 1900s. He did this with the aid of guides recommended to him by another traveler in the area. The areas he passed through were – and continue to be – contested territory. Although Harding had a solid streak of romanticism and poetry in his writing, the regional political realities he discusses provide historical context for some of today’s conflicts.

Kashgar cloth cover (according to the author) or Fold-out map at the back. Harding, H.I., Diary of a Jouney from Sringar to Kashgar via Gilgit, DS 485.K2 H27x, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University.

It is perhaps the most recognizable mountain around the world, due to its unchanging beauty throughout the four seasons. Mount Fuji rises more than 12,000 feet and can easily be seen from Tokyo on clear days. Considered an active volcano, it draws more than 200,000 hikers to its peak every year. For some, viewing the sunrise from the summit is a spiritual practice in accordance with Shinto beliefs. For others, climbing this picturesque peak is simply a breathtaking experience. Images can be found within our Kjell Sandved collection, which includes many other breathtaking images from around the world.

All of these materials are open to patrons. 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 speccoll@gmu.edu 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 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.

* http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/EAL/stone/rubbings.html

**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 speccoll@gmu.edu 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.

Sources:

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 speccoll@gmu.edu 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.

Around the World in (Almost) Eighty Days

Summer is approaching and travel plans have been made! Special Collections Research Center holds many images and books that represent great travel destinations in the United States and around the world. That is why we have planned a new exhibit – “Around the World in (Almost) Eighty Days: Traveling the Globe with Special Collections” to show off these wonderful pieces and maybe even help those who are still trying to figure out where to travel in the upcoming months. The exhibit will run from June 5 until mid-August and a reception will be held in Fenwick Library on June 15 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Hope to see you there – Bon Voyage!