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Bound, Unbound, Archived, Exhibited: Researching Illustrations and Books in the British Museum

  • Department of Prints and Drawings British Museum (map)

British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings and Birkbeck School of Arts
9 May 2017, 2:00-7:30pm

Objects in Focus: The Dalziel Albums, Robin de Beaumont Collection

Organizers: Luisa Calè (Birkbeck), Bethan Stevens (Sussex)

Additional facilitators: Esther Chadwyck (British Museum), Ed King (British Museum), George Mind (Sussex)

This workshop will explore the alternative orders of illustration within and outside the bindings of books and the engravers’ albums, focusing on two collections in the Prints and Drawings department of the British Museum: The Dalziel Archive, and the Robin de Beaumont collection. The Robin de Beaumont collection is an important collection of Victorian illustrated books and bindings (c. 1850-1870). It includes first editions of Rossetti’s Goblin Market, the Moxon Tennyson, and Trollope’s Orley Farm. It includes multiple copies of many books in different editions or bindings (e.g. Ruskin’s King of the Golden River) and examples of books as issued in parts, in original paper bindings (Dalziel’s Arabian Nights). The Dalziel Archive is a collection of engravers’ proofs by the Dalziel Brothers, the most substantial Victorian wood engraving firm. Their archive comprises a fine proof impression of every illustration they made between 1839 and 1893 –approximately 54,000 prints, arranged chronologically in 49 albums, including illustrations to the Edward Moxon edition of Tennyson (1757), Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (1865, 1871), and the works of Dickens.

Participants will examine objects in the museum, and discuss the processes of arrangement, dispersal, and recollection enabled by the forms of the bound book and the album. We will discuss the logic of collecting followed by both Robin de Beaumont and the Dalziel family. Following this we will consider strategies of research and interpretation, discussing forms such as the virtual exhibition.

In preparation for the seminar students will be asked to read a novel, a short story, or a poem illustrated by the museum’s collections, thinking about how the illustrations are anchored to the text, how they work outside the book, and what alternative connotations and narratives they acquire in their alternative arrangement in the archive. We will discuss how illustrations and bindings are subsumed to the categories of medium, technique, author, artist, collector, and provenance. Students will also be asked to plan their own virtual exhibition; this will be begun as a preparation task (drawing on the online catalogue of the Dalziels available through the British Museum Collections Online) and refined during the workshop.


 British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings

2-4pm, max eight students (an additional slot can be arranged for 11am-1pm depending on numbers)

1. Introduction to the British Museum Prints and Drawings (Esther Chadwick), and the Dalziel Archive (Bethan Stevens)

2. Introduction to the Robin de Beaumont Collection and the evidence of binding (Ed King, BM)

3. Seminar Discussion (moderated by Luisa Calè, Ed King, Bethan Stevens):

·         illustrations as separate plates

·         the order of the book (textual anchoring)

·         the album as a record of production (chronological arrangement)

·         archival practices, classifications, and orders (under the name of the author and the artist)

Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, Keynes Library (room 114),  


4.15. Tea and coffee

4.30-4.50pm ‘Alice to Alice’: Short presentation followed by Q&A with Bethan Stevens and George Mind discussing the challenges and possibilities of the digital exhibition.

4.50-5.10pm 'Interpreting the de Beaumont Collection': Short presentation followed by Q&A with Ed King, discussing the de Beaumont collection of illustrated books and bindings, from a material and digital perspective.

5.10-6.30pm Curate your own exhibition! (Workshop: 5 min student presentations and discussion)

In this final session students will present an idea for an exhibition through show and tell, followed by feedback and discussion.

6.30-7.00pm The Book Bound/Unbound (Round Table, chair: Luisa Calè) A final conversation about binding an undoing

7.00-7.30pm Drinks