Current Maughan Library exhibition
Imperial designs: technology and empire in the 19th century
The Weston Room
London WC2A 1LR
Thursday 10 October - Saturday 14 December 2013
Monday to Friday 09.30 - 17.00
Saturday 10.00 - 18.00
In our current exhibition we explore some of the technological achievements of the period when Britain arguably experienced the peak of her imperial and industrial power. In the years 1815 to 1870 she was undoubtedly the ‘workshop of the world’, and there was no rival posing both a military and an economic threat.
The Great Exhibition of 1851, coming three years after the 1848 revolutions had violently disturbed Europe, reminded visitors that Britain had already completed its first industrial revolution when most other European states had barely embarked on theirs, and was reaping the ostensible benefits of a markedly lesser degree of political and social unrest. Many Victorians, however, viewed technological and economic progress as a harbinger of, not a barrier against, social instability; the railways are a case in point. We look at developments in railway and maritime transport, in telegraphic communication, in architecture and in civil and sanitary engineering, and also at the role of scientific enquiry in furthering technical advance.
Highlights of the exhibition include details of two abortive projects which issued from grandiose dreams. Cecil Rhodes' plan for a Cape to Cairo railway which would have marked the final realisation of British territorial ambitions in Africa was detailed in five sumptuous volumes published in 1923, one of which is on display in the exhibition. The French engineer Joseph Aimé Thomé de Gamond’s heroic efforts to survey the depths of the English Channel in the 1850s resulted in extremely detailed and rare plans, which are shown in the exhibition. They demonstrate how tantalisingly close the Channel Tunnel came to being built in the 1870s. The brochure of the Orient Line shipping company reflects the new social and economic expectations and opportunities engendered by the revolution in transportation. As this item was intended to be ephemeral, it is also rare.
In the podcast below, Adam Ray, Special Collections Library Assistant and co-curator, talks to Owen Proctor-Jackson, Senior Library Assistant at the Maughan Library, about the exhibition and its highlights.
The podcast is available to download here (right click and 'save link as ...' to download).
Our choice of exhibition theme reflects the leading role which King’s has long played in the study of imperial and Commonwealth history and its more recent involvement in another academic discipline, that of the history of science and technology. King’s has a proud record of success in scientific research, exemplified in this exhibition by the work of Sir Charles Wheatstone, one of the inventors of the electric telegraph.
In curating this exhibition we have drawn on various holdings of the Foyle Special Collections Library: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Historical Collection, the Early Science Collection and Wheatstone’s own personal library.
If you are coming from outside King's, you are advised to contact Special Collections staff on 020 7848 1843 or visit our web pages for the latest exhibition news before you travel.
Admission and access
Access to the exhibition is free. On arrival at the Maughan Library, please follow the signs to the Weston Room. Please note that visitors who are not registered members of the Maughan Library are required to complete an exhibition ticket on arrival at the Library. The exhibition ticket is available to print below, as is a guide to the exhibition. Copies of the guide are also available to pick up in the Weston Room.
The exhibition will be closed on the following days:
Tuesday 10 December (closed all day)