Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

"Mind the Gap, Please"

August 24th, 2009 · 2 Comments

And what a gap we’ve had to climb across. I’ve tried to compare the city of London to Philadelphia (near my hometown) with limited success. Certainly, there are in both cities museums, rich histories, congested traffic, great restaurants, distinct cultures, and hidden sights known only to the most astute tourist. Once I consider London’s inherent variety – cultural, architectural, personal, etc. – my comparison falls short. Nay, even dismantled entirely. Every venture into the surrounding city reminds me that I may never realize just how much variety comprises the massive city of millions of people.

Our walk through what was Roman London (Londinium) on Sunday gave me some solid evidence of the historical variety of London. Over the last 2000 years since the Romans invaded and settled in the region, London has changed leadership as various civilizations came to the dominate the area in turn. Even within it’s own boundaries, London has shifted from The Canterbury Tales to the development of green spaces to the bowler hat and, despite continued debate, the recent introduction of immigrants from around the world. London has not stood still since dropping the name Londinium and, given recent readings (See A.N. Wilson’s London: A History), I doubt it ever will.

Bloomsbury surrounds our hotel with parks, pubs, celebrated figures, and some of the most beautiful areas of London I have seen thus far. Sure, I’m still in the phase in which every part of this city (even the “rubbish” bins) fascinates me to no end. But these parks are just incredible. We passed through about a half-dozen through our walk. I’m sorry Rittenhouse Square, but as beautiful as you are, Tavistock Square may be your new rival.


Consider, too, the variety contained within London’s museums. I, not unlike some of my classmates below, enjoyed the Museum of London Docklands as providing a very different, localized perspective on the history of the city. The curators handled the controversial and well-debated enslavement of Africans during the 17th through 19th centuries with grace and decisiveness. This is important, as the subject never really left the forefront of academic research to this day. Just as Sarah noted in her post “London, Sugar & Slavery at the Docklands Museum,” the museum approached it’s survey of the slave trade without provocation. Even the aesthetics of the building gave support to this ideal. The ceiling structure of the museum offered some quiet reminiscence to the original use of the site – a warehouse used to hold rum, molasses, coffee, and other goods from the West India slave plantations. While I certainly found this exhibit moving and among the best I’ve seen, I do not want to repeat the thoughts already shared by my classmates, for I hold many of the same impressions (please see many of the posts below to get a better idea!).

I will comment on the final exhibit of the museum that covered the modern history of the Docklands from the Blitz to the Beatles to Container City. The twentieth century, just as any century in London, has brought an onslaught of change and variety to the city. The Luftwaffe attacks in 1940 brought solidarity, though sometimes brought on by propaganda. The Underground renovations brought a renewed transport system to an increasingly crowded city. Though immigration was not discussed to any great length in the exhibit, we know that this was the time of an increased Afro-Caribbean presence. Nevertheless, it was an incredible, aesthetically pleasing, and largely informative exhibit.

London has never remained put. I see it in the museums and the other areas I’ve visited in the last few days. The variety is simply inconceivable. At the very least, this guarantees me a new experience every time I venture out into the city. I mean, what more could I ask for?

Tags: Brandon