The Great Debate: Ancient vs. Modern

After having a few days to let our trip to London and Edinburgh settle in there is much to reflect on. When this course began I was hesitant to jump into the 17th and 18th centuries due to what I have always considered a “boring period”. I was incredibly wrong. Focusing around the Enlightenment and Commercialism I have learned an incredible amount about this period as well as the philosophical and commercial ideas of the times. What I would like to do is take you on a tour and visit some of the locations that I have previously visited and explored, as well as the larger theme that binds these places and lives together.

The main theme I would like to revisit is the Ancient vs. Modern theme. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a debate was prevalent among natural philosophers (what we would today consider scientists), artists and intellectuals about the importance of classical learning (Ancient Greek and Roman societies) and new ways of learning. Should the ancients be abandoned while progress is being made in the world through science, art and trade? Or should they be left to dwell upon as a foundational basis for learning? At the opening of the Royal Academy on January 2, 1769,  Joshua Reynolds, the first president of the Royal Academy in London, said: “For it may be laid down as a maxim, that he who begins by presuming on his own sense has ended his studies as soon as he has commenced them.” Reynolds was stressing the importance of learning from the wisdom and examples of art from past. He believed students must master the brushstrokes and techniques of those before them prior to moving forward in their disciplines.


Joshua Reynolds – Sculptor/Artist

We will now be visiting the British Museum in London. This is a great example in which the Ancient and the Modern is presented together and mixed into one. As you approach the building itself you can see the influence of the Ancients through the columns that adorn the entrance of this great building.


The British Museum Entrance. “The Progress of Civilization” visible at the top of the building.

The top of the structure of the entrance to the British Museum that contains figures is called a pediment. These were common in Ancient Greek architecture, most notably the Parthenon in Athens.


The Parthenon in Athens, Greece. This structure served as a temple.

Though it was designed in the 1850s, it marks a stark contrast, along with the columns to the inside of the building, which is very modern in design. Greeks used these pediments to adorn building such as temples, and the figures or reliefs in these pediments were associated with the purpose of the building, for example a place of worship or a monument to a military victory. In this same way, the scultupor, Sir Richard Westmacott uses these scultpture to represent the use of this building.


Sir Robert Westmacott – Designer of the British Museum Pediment titled “The Progress of Civilization.

Titled The Progress of Civilisation, it depicts the creation of man and his progress throughout history by being visited by the Angel of Enlightenment, which brings to him land cultivation and husbandry. He next expands his knowledge through architecture and sculpture, painting and science, geometry and drama and music and poetry. The man at the center of the pediment is supposed to represent a fully educated man who is now able to “dominate the world around him”.


West Entrance Pediment Close Up. Interestingly enough, the central figure of the learned man is actually a woman!

As we step into the museum itself we see an entirely different setting altogether. While the center and the ceiling are entirely modern in nature, the outer walls are in the classical style containing columns and statue-less pediments.


The lobby of the British Museum.

The layout of the museum itself is categorized into distinct categories, periods, and geographic locations. This is very important in terms of scientific categorization. This center room however sees the mixing of Ancient and Modern.

Ironically, in the far West Wing of the British Museum are the actual sculptures that adorned the Parthenon’s pediment and building, known today as the Elgin Marbles.

Adam Ferguson, author of An Essay on the History of Civil Society writes, “[I]n the human kind, the species has a progress as well as the individual; they build in every subsequent age on foundations formerly laid; and, in succession of years, tend to a perfection in the application of their faculties, to which the aid of long experience is required, and to which many generations must have combined their endeavors.”

Much like today, this Ancient vs. Modern theme was a great debate. What Ferguson argued was that we only have the knowledge and scientific progress we have today because of the Ancients who went before us. Essentially society is the product of generations of experimentation, failures and successes. Those who were criticizing the past in the 18th century were failing to realized this essential fact. The problem was that there were groups of people, educators, natural philosophers etc. who wished to abandon the thinking of the past and concentrated on the present and the future. Another side wanted to focus specifically on the past and use what they learned from the Ancients to apply to their daily lives. Another and probably smaller group believed it was necessary to acknowledge the importance of the past but not dwell too much upon it, while leaving room to apply new ideas and new ways of thinking.

In  Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels,  the protagonist visits many distant lands such as Laputa where he visits the Grand Academy of Lagado. A satire on The Royal Academy, Swift portrays the members as impractical in their scientific methods. All the buildings in the fictional Laputa were improperly built because the inhabitants practiced “impractical” or theoretical geometry. A strong advocate of the Ancients, Swift believed that new ways of thinking by natural philosophers were in many ways superficial and not beneficial to society as a whole.


The Royal Academy today. A statue of Joshua Reynolds stands atop a pillar at the center.

This Ancient vs. Modern theme is also prevalent in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. The city had two very distinct neighborhoods at its core. Conveniently named Old Town and New Town, these two parts of the city of Edinburgh highlight the separation of the Ancient and Modern. Whereas London has been updated overtime building upon older sites, Edinburgh has its older section of the city preserved in its original medieval layout and reformation-era buildings.

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Old Town visible from the top of the Walter Scott Monument on Princes Street.

New Town had been constructed in a grid pattern designed by James Craig in 1768. It was and and is still considered to be the most efficient and organized city layout of the time. This became the model for many parts of London and other major cities in Europe.


Blueprints for New Town.

This part of the city is adorned with Neo-Classical and Georgian architecture. New Town became home for Edinburgh’s wealthy citizens who were ready to leave Old Town and stop living among the lower classes of society.


New Town overlooking Princes Street.

Through this brief tour to locations in both London and Edinburgh, we have examined the debate about Ancient vs. Modern and the different contrasting features each presented towards society. The British Museum, the perfect example of the mixture of Ancient and Modern is a culmination of appreciating both sides of the argument. Featuring both ancient and modern pieces and artifacts (including the building itself) it allows us to appreciate both aspects of the debate and how it influences the way we view the past, organize it and apply it to modern times. The creators of the museum intended for the public to become educated through this public institution. In J. Dodsley’s Account of the British Museum he writes. ” Nothing can conduce more to preserve the Learning which this latter Age abous with, than having Repositories in every Nation to contain its Antiquities, such as is the Museum of Britian . . .” The British Museum has over the years experimented with acting contemporary modern pieces and art. Here are two examples:


This modern sculpture contrast greatly with the Parthenon looking entrance to the British Museum.


Notice the contrast between Ancient and Modern with the famous Easter Island statue Hoa Hakananai in the background and Ron Mueck’s Mask II in the foreground.

It seems that British Museum has greatly embraced the joining of the Ancient and the Moderns. Our comparisons earlier between the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh highlighted the extreme differences between Ancient and Modern ways of thinking. Two entirely different layouts for these cities make walking over the bridge from side of town to the other quite a shock (especially when one side has an enormous castle and the other side  luxurious homes) but also stand as a testament to the joining of Ancient and Modern if not mixed together, at least side by side. I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour and consider in the future how societies are still having this debate between ancient and modern and how it affects the way we live and the way we present ourselves as peoples and nations.


The British Museum:

An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767) by Adam Ferguson

Speech Delivered at the Opening of the Royal Academy, January 2nd, 1769, by the President Joshua Reynolds

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

The Pentlands on a Free Day

June 19, 2013

Free Day

For my second free day, I slept in until 10:15 and got downstairs just in time to get breakfast at Bar 50. After scarfing down hash browns, a bowl of cereal, ham and some 4% milk, I went upstairs to get dressed for the day. Adam and I were originally planning on biking at the Pentlands, but were not able to find a reasonably priced bike shop. After abandoning the biking plan altogether we decided to look up and see if there were any buses that went to the Pentland hills. After walking around Princes Street, we realized we did not know exactly what we were looking for. Adam decided to get lunch at Starbucks, while I walked back to the hostel and grabbed a travel guide called Essential Edinburgh. I had previously seen a bus map that looked similar to the London Tube map and see if that would help us out. It did.

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A Lothian Bus map I found in Essential Edinburgh travel book that resembles the London Tube map. Also pictured: My left opposable thumb.

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A Lothian Bus route for bus # 4. From the previous map we were able to find out which bus number we needed to take and where it would pick us up. This pamphlet contained all the arrival times for this particular bus.

We easily discovered where we should go to the wait for our specific bus. The fare was £1.50 one way and we believed this to be a fairly reasonable price. The ride took twenty minutes and we were soon hiking up the Pentland hills. We soon discovered our folly in trying to rent bicycles when we saw the trails. There were few human beings who could have possibly cycled these hills.


A view up the hills.

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This little guy let us know how high we really were.

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1,617 feet high! In comparison Arthur’s Seat can be seen near the top right peaking at 823 feet.

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Arthur’s Seat dwarfed just below the horizon.

We stopped at each successive peak to get a glance of the city of Edinburgh and snap a few photographs. As we kept hiking we were rewarded with a better view than the previous time. We saw a few hikers and trail runners on the way up. The climb was well worth it. Along with the landscape, we saw many sheep and some black goats. The force of the wind was amazing and blew my cap down the hillside, luckily it was snagged and I was able to rescue it.

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Looking south towards the rest of the Pentland Hills. In the center there is a house along a river. It looks even better in real life.

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Sweet Panorama.

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Sheep grazing on the hillside. A handful of the sheep had been sheared and rest were fully woolly. We tried to get closer but we scared them off with our American accents.

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The Firth of Forth and the heavens to my back.

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The tiny city of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth behind Adam. He was performing a dancing ritual on his pilgrimage.

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Facing the Pentlands with the wind gusting.

After jumping over barbwire fences and running across golf courses we finally made it to heavy brush which we navigated through to a road. In the distance we saw the bus and made a run for it. Thanks to the bus driver texting on his cellular telephone we were able to make it in time and didn’t have to wait another 20 minutes for the next bus. After getting dropped off we made our way back to the hostel and called it a night. After taking a shower I headed down to catch dinner with everyone else and called it an early night. Adam said he had a great birthday.

Appropriation of Culture

 A quick preface – bear with me please. The number of times I have nodded off to sleep whilst writing this final blog entry happens to be way more than I’d care to admit (literally just woke up from a 13 hour “nap”). Since our meeting Monday, I have come down with something and am not feeling well at all (obviously America hates me). So, since my head is in utter shambles right now (as I’m fully medicated and it refuses to stop pounding), hopefully what follows below will make some sense.

Before the trip, we read a wide array of articles, book fragments, and travelers’ accounts on visiting England and Scotland. Something that sparked my interest while still in class was this idea of appropriating culture – literally taking in a different culture from your own, consuming it in some form or another, and making it yours. There is a strong attraction, possibly even an infatuation in some cases, to someone or something that is unfamiliar, alluring, and exotic. There are many forms that I’ve seen and read about since starting this class: a woman obsessed with Chinoiserie; a group of Englanders fascinated by a true Highlander; a museum showcasing stolen sculptures in a building resembling that of which they were taken from; an Athenian monument built to commemorate Scottish soldiers in Edinburgh or the “Athens of the North”; and even tennis player Andy Murray(?).

 While in class we read a few examples of this consumption of culture and I will share two of those readings in this blog post. One example of consuming culture appears in Oliver Goldsmith’s The Citizen of the World. Described within is “a lady of diftinction” who is infatuated with anything and everything Chinese (38). When a Chinese man visited her home, “she inftanlly lifted her felf from the couch, while her eyes fparkled with unufual vivacity” (39). She was in awe by his mere presence, that a Chinese person was in front of her, and was bewitched by “the exotic breadth of his forehead,” and even his behind (39). She even asked him if he had “chop fsticks” and begged him to use them: “it will be fo pretty to fee the meat carried to the mouth with a jerk” (39). This woman is rather obsessed with collecting Chinese items, even though according to her they have “no ufe in the world,” and even seems eager to collect, or consume, this man (39). However, she becomes almost unruly when she hears from this Chinese man that these useless items, these mere decorations and potential mass dust collectors, actually perform beneficial and practical jobs in China (such as storing tea). Gasp! The horror!


Loch Katrine

In her travel journal, Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, Dorothy Wordsworth’s chance meeting with a Highlander again illustrates the consumption of culture through the unfamiliar. Unhappy with the journey thus far to “Loch Ketterine” and wanting to return to town, Dorothy’s group encounters a man who was so “uncommon and interesting” that he “would have fixed [their] attention wherever [they] had met him” (88). She was utterly blown away by this man who “was a complete Highlander in dress, figure, and face, and a very fine-looking man, hardy and vigorous,” and actually enabled them to “[forget their] errand, and only felt glad that [they] were in the Highlands (88). If this meeting were not to have happened, the group would have returned unhappy and exhausted with no success in their trip. However, “the Highlander upon the naked heath, in the Highland dress, upon his careful-going horse, with the boy following him, was worth it all” (88). This exotic and alluring man not only made their trip worthwhile, but also blinded them from their thoughts and, in turn, could do nothing but follow him onwards.


Wordsworth and her gang may have come across such a man as this. 

While in London, the class headed over to explore the British Museum. One of the questions we needed to answer for our journals that day included the history behind the Elgin Marbles. This collection immediately grabbed my attention and I quickly developed my own opinion on the whole ordeal. The Elgin Marbles, or the Parthenon Marbles, is a ginormous collection of Greek marble sculptures that was once found in the Parthenon, but now calls the British Museum “home.” There is much controversy surrounding the Elgin Marbles as they were actually stolen or, to put more kindly as the plaque at the British Museum does, “removed” from the Parthenon after it’s destruction. This is a very popular room at the British Museum, so no matter how hard Greece fights for these sculptures to return to their rightful home of Athens with the other pieces, England refuses to do such a thing. Not only is this one of the British Museum’s main attractions, but the actual main building oddly resembles the Parthenon as well. I understand that during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Greek revival was a popular architectural movement…but at the same time I find it rather amusing. It seems that because of the design of the main reason it gives the British Museum more reason to house the Elgin Marbles – somewhat of a strange relative to the original Parthenon.


British Museum Entrance


The Parthenon

Elgin Marbles

The Elgin Marbles found within the British Museum

London is not the only city we visited this summer that harkens back to ancient Greece. In fact, the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh, has even earned the nickname “Athens of the North.” There are many reasons why Edinburgh is often called this. Their landscapes and topography are extremely similar; Edinburgh Castle sits atop Castle Rock, much like that of the Acropolis. Other factors include the Scottish Enlightenment and the important intellectual figures of that time including Adam Smith and David Hume (go climb him!) and also the neoclassical architectural design throughout New Town, including the National Monument of Scotland found on Calton Hill. The National Monument is actually designed after the Parthenon, but unfortunately, was left unfinished. Although it is still a beautiful, yet incomplete monument, it actually looks somewhat silly. Since being deserted in 1819, there have been many attempts at having this monument completed, for all different reasons, but none have come to fruition. There is still hope!

National Monument

The National Monument of Scotland — Calton Hill

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


The Athenian Acropolis

Another form of appropriation of culture that I found I could finagle into this blog post happens to be in the form of the star Scottish tennis player — Andy Murray. While riding on “The Hairy Coo,” our ace driver-guide, Donald, made it clear just how much Murray meant to him – the guy seriously professed his love for him (which I do understand, though Murray can still be a wee brat). One of the things he brought up, however, was how Murray was categorized – Scot or Brit? Well, you see, that all depends on how the kid does (still call him a kid, he’s not). If he does well, say at Wimbledon, the papers may read: “BRIT ANDY MURRAY…” If he plays poorly and loses, or if he’s a total brat and throws a fit, they may relegate him to “SCOT ANDY MURRAY…” What will they do with the Scotsman?


Scot or Brit?


Scottish Brat or British Winner?

I cannot fully describe or illustrate my time spent in London and Edinburgh – it was absolutely wonderful! I was beyond ecstatic to return to these cities as an adult (nearly 15 years later!), but was also concerned that I wouldn’t enjoy them as much as I had before. What happened was far from disappointment. This trip confirmed my future plans of living across the pond and I cannot wait to return as soon as I possibly can. So, not only was I able to explore and absorb the many facets of these two brilliant cities, but I also gained so much knowledge about 17th and 18th century England and Scotland over the course and have yet been able to shut up about it since I’ve been home (parents probably want to rip out my vocal cords). So, thanks Lee and Kyoko. It was an absolute blast, a life-changing experience with unforgettable memories, and a fantastic class and group of people. Cheers.

Works Cited

Goldsmith, Oliver. The Citizen of the World. Web.

Wordsworth, Dorothy. Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, A.D. 1803. Ed. J. C.

     Shairp. 2009. Web.


Most were found on Google Images.

Evolving Cities

It’s been nearly a week since we began to pack our things and travel back to the United States from Edinburgh. Traveling home was bittersweet, really. Much of the class, myself included had begun to develop attachments to the cities and regions we had visited, but at the same time a certain degree of homesickness had started to set in by the time we had left. Edinburgh was a stunning city and similar to how I felt leaving London, I had begun to feel comfortable and could easily see myself spending more time here in the future. Of course, let’s not forgot the week that we also spent in London prior to Edinburgh. London had long been a city that imagined visiting and exploring and being able to do this was nothing short incredible. It has been a great trip. My classmates were all awesome people who I enjoyed spending time with and our professors were excellent guides who made travelling abroad comfortable and constantly educational. Both through reading and studying these areas through the perspectives of numerous 17th and 18th century authors as well as experiencing these cities firsthand, I feel that I have learned a lot and have much to take away from the experience. This final blog entry essentially serves as a reflection of the trip and our travels as well as some of the interesting information that I have learned.


The appearances of these two cities today as well as how they have developed, adapted, and evolved throughout the Enlightenment was a central theme that had caught my interest early on in the class. The arrangement of the cities, the contrasting architectural influences represented, and the reasons why these cities had developed in such ways are pieces of information critical to our era of study. The Age of Enlightenment, also known as The Age of Reason, was a movement during the 17th and 18th century that had begun in Europe. As the name implies, the use of reason was central during the movement. During this time, figures challenged old ideas and traditions and an intellectual reform began to occur as new discovers were found and the scientific method was established.

To begin with London, it’s easy to see how far they’ve come and how much the city has grown since the 17th century. Today, London is huge, but it wasn’t always that way. Before the mid-17th century, the city was much smaller and lacked many of the modern boroughs which encompass today’s Greater London and the city proper. The buildings were largely made of wood at the time and many had thatched roofs. Despite these building methods having been prohibited prior to the 17th century, a massive amount of buildings at the time featured these materials due to their cheap cost and abundant production. If one were to travel to London today, they wouldn’t many traces of these buildings left with the possible exception of the rebuilt Globe Theater. For London, it all started with a fire in 1666. As we all know, when a fire starts to burn, and it starts to spread, it can be difficult to put out. This was especially the case for the buildings in London during this time. The materials used to build the buildings as well as their close proximity with one another made for an unstoppable blaze that the volunteer “firefighters” couldn’t extinguish. At the time, there were no true firefighters let alone an abundance of proper equipment to attempt to put out a fire. During the inferno, many families would stay in their homes until they caught fire before they began to leave, but before attempting to gather their possessions. To make matters worse, many residential homes were built by stacking five or six gradually larger stories on top of one another. These “jetties”, once an attempt to condense more people in less space proved to be yet another hazard during this Great Fire of 1666.

The Thames from The Monument

The Thames from The Monument

As Sarah had mentioned in London during her presentation on the Great Fire, the fire stopped spreading after meeting the London Bridge and the River Thames to the south before the rest of the fire had burnt out over the next several days. Still, the result of the fire was devastating. A large portion of the city was utterly destroyed, yet some good still came from this disaster. During the time of the fire, a massive bubonic plague had been ravaging London and with the fire, a large portion of the infected rats and fleas which transmitted the disease were killed off. Both this development as well as the mass destruction of poorly designed wooden buildings helped to give London a fresh start. From the ashes of the Great Fire, London was able to rise again. This time, they had learned from their mistakes. New, more reliable, stone buildings and homes began to be built and before long, London was thriving on a new level.

The Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster

 Throughout my time in the city it was easy to see the contrast between the architecture which had survived the fire and the newer, reconstructed sections of the city. Along with the dominance of wooden buildings, Gothic architecture demonstrated in Westminster Abbey and other areas throughout the city was also common prior to the fire, yet unlike the wood, these Gothic buildings weren’t so easily destroyed by the flames. As I mentioned, Westminster Abbey is a breathtaking example of Gothic architecture. Like many Gothic buildings, The Abbey features an ornamented façade, tall columns designed to exaggerate the height of the building, and uses stained glass and other design elements to emphasize light in different ways. Despite being over a millennium old, this iconic abbey still serves as a church with various services while doubling as a part time tourist hotspot and museum-style attraction. The interior is equally as grand as the exterior and houses the graves of many noteworthy generals, politicians, scientists, and literary figures.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

 I felt like Matthew Bramble from Smollett’s novel, Humphrey Clinker. Looking around the city, I enjoyed spotting varying designs of buildings and monuments and wondering about their purpose and origin. In observing London and the Gothic architecture of Westminster, Bramble writes, “Those British architects, who adopted this stile, don’t seem to have considered the propriety of their adoption. The climate of the country, possessed by the Moors or Saracens, both in Africa and Spain, was so exceedingly hot and dry, that those who built places of worship for the multitude, employed their talents in contriving edifices that should be cool; and, for this purpose, nothing could be better adapted than those buildings; vast, narrow, dark, and lofty, impervious to the sun- beams, and having little communication with the scorched external atmosphere; but ever affording a refreshing coolness, like sub- terranean cellars in the heats of summer, or natural caverns in the bowels of huge mountains. But nothing could be more pre- posterous, than to imitate such a mode of architecture in a country like England, where the climate is cold, and the air eternally loaded with vapours; and where, of consequence, the builder’s intention should be to keep the people dry and warm” (180). Like Bramble, I found myself curious about the purpose of such a variety of diverse buildings, but for me, their purpose wasn’t as important as how they looked within the city. Today, in a city with so much rich history and architectural variety demonstrated through the design of its buildings and streets, the much more modern architectural additions to the city stand in stark contrast with those of the past and add yet another unique element to the urban landscape.

Stained Glass inside Westminster Abbey

Stained Glass inside Westminster Abbey 

After leaving London, we headed to Edinburgh, Scotland. The train to Edinburgh lasted about 5-hours and as soon as we entered the city, it was easy to see what made it distinct from London. Certainly the city is smaller, but there is much more than that. Unlike London, we found ourselves walking more in Edinburgh due to the lack of underground transportation. Busses are a popular option in Edinburgh, but we didn’t really need to use them because many things from the center of the city are within walking distance. The busses were inexpensive and all fares were the same price. That said, the busses weren’t as quick as London’s tube which meant walking was often a quicker alternative unless we were travelling far. Our hostel was in Old Town Edinburgh, an area full of traditional architecture and small, winding alleyways called closes. These closes were quite distinct to Edinburgh. One of most well known of these alleyways was certainly Mary King’s Close. In the 17th century, this close would have housed numerous families and businesses. In a housing situation like this, entire families would share one small room without running water. With the lack of running water, these families would share a “waste” bucket which would routinely be emptied from the windows into the closes and streets. “Gardyloo!” they would shout as they tossed their waste into the streets below. Needless to say, it was a filthy, uncomfortable time to live. This was undoubtedly made worse for families living in such meager living conditions within these closes. Mary King’s Close was unique because it houses one of the most renown ghosts who presumably still haunt many areas in Edinburgh. While we were told ghost stories and led through the close by a guide, we were able to get a sense of how the inhabitants may have lived in the 17th and 18th century.

The class in Mary King's Close after the tour

The class in Mary King’s Close after the tour

While Edinburgh’s Old Town was filled with traditional architecture, narrow closes, and encompassed iconic landmarks like Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, these elements are juxtaposed by the exceptionally modern looking Scottish Parliament Building. Moreover, just across the bridge over the Princess Street Gardens (once the disgusting, polluted, Nor Loch), a sea of sleek Georgian architecture distinguishes the New Town to the north from the Old Town. Smollett’s character, Matthew Bramble documents his time in Edinburgh and even mentions the upcoming plans to extend the city to the north which would result in the birth of New Town. He writes, “Edinburgh is considerably extended on the south side, where there are divers little elegant squares built in the English manner; and the citizens have planned some improvements on the north, which, when put in execution, will add greatly to the beauty and convenience of this capital” (234). The improvements that he is referring to is the development of New Town and with it, the beginning of a fresh conglomeration of new Georgian buildings to stand in contrast with the traditional.

Old Town

Old Town

Old Town from The Scott Monument

Old Town from The Scott Monument

On one of our last days in Edinburgh we visited the well known Georgian townhouse simply called, The Georgian House. I felt that it was important to see this home from the interior because it contrasted many of the traditional buildings we had visited in London and in Old Town, Edinburgh. Unlike many of the traditional buildings we had seen, The Georgian House was extraordinarily spacious from room to room. In addition to this, the home was four stories tall and included a basement. The new Georgian architecture which filled New Town meant there were very few alleyways and closes like there were in the older section of Edinburgh. The streets were wider, the homes were bigger, and essentially, this new section of Edinburgh was very desirable during the time of its development in the mid-18th century. The wealthy began to leave Old Town and flock to new, more spacious and luxurious homes in New Town leaving the poor behind. It wasn’t just a matter of having the “new” thing. Old Town was becoming considerably overcrowded and as aforementioned, the living conditions were less than desirable. With New Town, the wealthy were able to enjoy a cleaner area with more space and comfort. Having said that, there was certainly a degree of status that one might acquire from moving into New Town. Despite many people living above their means in New Town during this time, the commercial revolution fueled the wealthy to buy more to maintain their image of status and success.

New Town

New Town

Whether the origins of evolution that caused these cities to progress was a result of tragic destruction as it was in London or convenience and commerce as it was in Edinburgh, both sites grew and adapted accordingly. Through studying these cities as they once were and then experiencing them as they are today, a unique identity of each city can be formed as an individual explores and learns their new surroundings. This has happened to me during my short time in London and Edinburgh. While there is still so much I have yet to see and do in these locations, the experience that I’ve taken away from the trip has undoubtedly been enriched through studying and learning more about these cities and how they came to be.

Work Cited:

Smollett, T. Humphry Clinker. London and Glasgow: Collins, 1954. Print.

Ancient versus Modern

The eighteenth century in the European culture marked a very important time period in the areas of advancement and development, specifically speaking in England and Scotland. One of the focuses of our class this summer included, but was not limited to the theme of progress. Many of our readings this summer spoke of these developments and changes that went on to become records of historical background for the European Culture. We read for example part of Tobias Smollett’s novel, The Expeditions of Humphry Clinker where through the character of Matt Bramble we experienced accounts of the developments of the time. As I begin to elaborate on this idea of progress, it is important to keep in mind one other theme/idea, one that is very closely related to the eighteenth century progress, and that is reason. What do I mean by reason? Well, in other words, reason was one of the developments that rose from the eighteen-century culture; or as I learned in class what to many was known as the period of Enlightenment. Reason essentially allowed for people to begin this movement of progress, through questioning. The questioning of ideas became on its own a sign of progress in the eighteen century, as the culture began to learn more, the traditional way of doing things became a focus of deeper analysis. Through this deeper analysis the conventional way of performing things began to shift; moving away then from older fixed practices, rooted simply on exactly that, traditions. This of course began to enable conversations among the people, which in the long run resulted in changes that have marked the period with advancements and developments.


As with anything that advances and develops, as a result, such will almost always establish two new concepts, one old, which will mark the history, and the new, which will mark the changes. The developments leave then behind for us to experience a very important theme that we experienced at first hand this summer and that is, the ancient versus modern. While visiting London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland this summer, one of the big themes that guided our learning was that of the ancient and the modern. Before we can move further with this idea of ancient versus modern though, it is important that we understand what exactly guided the changes. We know now from what we have learned that reason established the possibility to question old practices; nonetheless there was a movement that influenced the logistics of these advancements, a movement known as Neoclassicism. A movement that focused on the developments of the aesthetic culture as influenced by that of the Greek and Roman cultures. This movement along with the developments in the use of reason worked together to bring what we to this day experience in the ancient versus modern.

During the course and later on during our trip we learned and experienced exactly what Neoclassicism did for the English and Scottish culture. Although the movement influenced other areas, one of the most noticeable is in that of architectural structures. Smollett through Matt Bramble allows his readers to get a better understanding of the changes that begin to mark the modern. In one of Bramble’s letters he displays his resentment through his description of these changes when he says: “London is literally new to me; […]. What I left open fields, producing hay and corn, I now find covered with streets, and squares, and palaces, and churches” (86). Here Smollett allows readers to see the changes from the very start on what the new era is bringing in to penetrate on the old. To better relate these changes then of which Bramble is speaking, the course placed us right in the middle of the changes. During the trip we got to experience indeed the modern and amazing influenced developments through some of the sites that we visited. One of the first places where I noticed the great amount of influence and representations of the ancient versus modern was in the British Museum.




The image above is from the indoor center of the British Museum. I am borrowing this image from our trip blog, which one of my classmates Natalie, took. This image is great as it represents a great contrast in having side by side the ancient versus the modern. Though the representation above is amazing since we learned in class that the outer walls that you see in the image are the original from when it was first established, it better establishes a current contrast, for the building on its own is one that I would consider to have been a modern establishment of the time. Although the picture is great because it shows in our eyes that the center structure is modern for our time, the walls and the structure on its own was a modern display in the eighteenth century. The image below, allows us to see a great representation of such modernism, in that one can right away identify the architectural structure as part of the Neoclassicism movement.



Furthermore, though, when we visited Soane’s House it was here that we really got to experience that theme of ancient versus modern. Soane was a famous architect in the eighteenth century. His house alone was a great representation of a something that was very modern. Nonetheless it was filled with contrast as his house was filled with both ancient and modern collections of art, sculptures, and other antiquities.


As we continued with our trip and class, we began to learn of the developments of Scotland. Edinburgh alone is probably the vivid world of the theme of ancient versus modern; the city alone has two parts that are known as Old Town and New Town. It was during the eighteenth century that New Town began its development. Through our many tours around the city we learned that because of the way that Old Town was structured, the city was becoming way too crowded; therefore the establishment of New Town began. It was then when the modern way of city-building began, for they adopted a new way of constructing that really differentiated in the way that Old Town was built. Robert Southey in his accounts written in Journal of a Tour in Scotland 1819” speaks about these changes in architecture when he says: “The good sense of this makes one wonder the more at the enormous length of the streets in the New Town, where there is neither protection nor escape from the severe winds to which Edinburgh is exposed. There is a new English Church at the end of Princes Street, in a highly ornamented Gothic Style […]” (15). The critique here of New Town allows readers to see the way in which the new town is different from Old Town.  


It is not only in the architecture though that one can see the differences in the theme of ancient versus modern. Although the structures of the two sides of Edinburgh have very obvious differences, furthermore the indoors of places demonstrate a display for this theme. The bottom picture is that of when we visited Gladstone’s Land. Here on the inside we got to learn about the way in which people lived in Old Town. The indoors alone though, allowed me to experience a small development in the ancient versus modern since it represented different rooms as times began to change.


This other image below on the other hand is located in New Town and is known as Georgian House. This house represents a huge difference between the image above in Old Town, and the new advancements from New Town. Not only then did these changes begin to be seen only in the structures of the city and the architecture, but began another advancement that we learned about in class that was big to the eighteen century, the blending of social classes.

The Scientific Revolution

Visiting the UK was an awe-inspiring experience.  We saw so many cultural places and learned all about the 18th century. One topic that caught my eye was how London and Edinburgh showcased their scientific discoveries.  We visited a couple of these places, and here I will talk about them.    

The scientific revolution was shown as an important aspect of 18th century London and Edinburgh.  Science education was of secondary importance compared to the arts and humanities.  Much of common thinking was dominated by superstition, religious dogma, and tradition.  Little in the way of progress was being achieved in this rigid and unproductive environment.  It was against this backdrop that 18th century Britain attempted to embrace a new way of understanding that relied upon observation, measurement, facts, and replication.  An effort was made within academia and government to promote a scientific perspective and enhance its position within society. 



An important aspect of this scientific movement in England was The British Museum, established in 1753 in London, which houses human history and different cultures.  It is set up in many rooms that are themed by culture and/or time period.  In the Enlightenment Room I came across a display of many collectors artifacts.  From this display, I learned that before the scientific revolution came about, many people of the enlightenment merely speculated on items to determine their purpose, so the introduction to the scientific method was strange to them.  This was reflected in the writings of Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) in which he tackled major issues, one of which was rigid and systematic thought.  Swift allowed readers to embark upon a journey to many strange lands with the main character, Gulliver.  After discovering a flying island in the sky, Gulliver is introduced to the inhabitants, the Laputians. 


The Laputians were people who only valued music and mathematics, but failed to use them for practical purposes.  Gulliver described the people as “bad reasoners” (457) who lived in “very ill built” (457) houses.  Gulliver discovered that they were “perplexed in their conceptions upon all other subjects, except those of mathematics and music” (457).  The Laputians lacked thoughts that could achieve progress because they only held value in their systems.  To this end, Swift writes, “Imagination, fancy, and invention, they are wholly strangers to, nor have any words in their language by which those ideas can be expressed; the whole compass of their thoughts and mind being shut up within the two fore mentioned sciences” (457), indicating that they were unable to incorporate flexibility or “imagination” in their pursuit of progress because they were too focused on systems.  As you can see from this writing, the acceptance of the scientific method was far from popular.  However the scientists of the time and the government itself pushed scientific methods.  One of the great scientific achievements of this time was the Royal Observatory.


In London we visited the Royal Observatory, located in Greenwich, which was founded by King Charles II.  The observatory opened in 1675 and was built to study the stars and to map out the sky.  The first appointed astronomer was John Flamsteed.  He was hired to look at astronomy for practical purposes such as timekeeping and navigation.  He was able to make accurate astronomical predictions for the purpose of navigational welfare.  At the same time that Flamsteed was gathering information about the stars, Sir Isaac Newton was formulating mathematical theories of motion and gravitation, presented in an equivalent of calculus.  Newton and Flamsteed disagreed over the running of the Royal Observatory.  Flamsteed wanted the observations to be the best possible, he pursued grants to make the best equipment and took time to develop observing methods.  Newton wanted observations too, but quickly in order to test his gravitational theory of the planets and the Moon.  Flamsteed came up with a way to find location traveling by sea by measuring the moon to the stars, known as the ‘Lunar Distance Method’.  Although it was accurate on land, by sea it caused trouble because of the rocking motion of the ships, it made it difficult to measure correctly. A competition arose between trying to measure time by longitude and the stars.  The British government offered £20,000 for a solution that could provide longitude accurately.  John Harrison ended up doing exactly that.  He created a time piece, known as a clock, to aid in the navigation of ships. This period of competition for a systematic measure shaped how we keep time today showing how important scientific methods really were. 


When Lord Beilhaven was speaking to parliament about his apprehensions of losing the great assets of Scotland in their union with England, one of these was sure to have been the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.  It is one of the oldest surgical corporations in the world.  The college has dedicated itself to promoting the highest standards in surgical education, training and clinical practice.  Based upon sound principles of scientific methodology, the better methods of surgery were being explored.  This led to fertile grounds for competition to improve how surgeries were performed among three groups of people.           


After seeing the similarities and differences in England and Scotland, it is apparent that they share many cultural identities.  A common bond between the cultures has been their implementation and grasp of science and their drive to pursue the promotion of human welfare.  To establishments that embody this were the Royal Observatory and the Surgeon’s Hall Museum.  These institutions offer a great monument to the dedication of the many individuals that have gone before in their discoveries.  The scientific revolution could be viewed as their crowning achievement of both England and Scotland.

Work Cited

Belhaven, John Hamilton. Lord Beilhaven’s speech in Parliament the second Day of November 1706. On the subject-matter of an union betwixt the two Kingdoms of Scotland and England. To which is subjoined, Belhaven’s Vision. A Poem.. Edinburgh: Printed and sold by A. Robertson, 1766. Print.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Waiheke Island: Floating Press, 1726. Print.

Our Class, Our Trip, and Living Conditions

Our trip to London and Edinburgh was amazing, more than I could have wished for, the class time before hand… not so much. It was very useful in our travels, however, and it gave a lot more meaning to the activities of our trip. We would have had a great time without having to take the class but we now know so much more (more than we probably need to) about the 18th century and what it meant to live in London and Edinburgh during that time.

Living conditions in 18th century London and Edinburgh varied widely. They included anything from Mary King’s Close to Soanne’s House and even Georgian House. These are just a few of the places that we studied in class and actually visited on our trip. Like everything else in life, your living conditions depend on your social and economic class. Members of the gentry, or upper-class, would have lived in fancy and ornate houses while the lower classes would have lived in tenement style apartments in closes where they were packed in three or four families per room.

In class, we discussed a lot of the lower class housing. This is probably because that kind of housing was what was most noticeable to any travelers to the areas and it is what we now find the most interesting and appalling. Matt Bramble writes, in The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, about London’s streets saying “every corner teems with fresh objects of detestation and disgust” (118). The absolute filth in the streets of both London and Edinburgh was the result of the lack of any kind of sewer system, leaving the servants “a barrel with a pair of tongs…and at ten o’clock at night the whole cargo is flung out of a back windore that looks into the street or lane, and the maid calls gardy loo to the passengers, which signifies Lord have mercy upon you!” (Jenkins 220). This would happen every night in Mary King’s Close as well as around the two cities. When we went to Mary King’s close we were told that the filth from these nightly assaults would then slowly make its way to the man-made Nor Loch. The streets, however, would remain covered in filth, so much so that the people who used them would were shoes, like we saw in Gladstone’s Land, that were made with metal bottoms so that they’re feet wouldn’t become covered in it.

Mary King’s Close is an amazing little business that comes out of an eerie ghost story. It was originally a close, or narrow street, where many people lived in small rooms packed tightly together. The buildings have since been demolished to create a flat surface for the new Royal Exchange building, leaving the bottom floors of the close still intact. These rooms would have been were many of the poor lived and the guided tours give you a great example of what it would’ve been like to live there. Jose wrote about Mary King’s Close in his blog: Mary King’s Close.

All of us in the close after the tour

All of us in the close at the end of the tour

Gladstone’s Land is another place we went to that was originally part of a close but had been built onto during our 18th century time period. It is a wonderful property to visit in order to see the different ways in which multiple different classes lived even in the same house. There was a kitchen that really demonstrated how the lower classes would have lived with the bed there and the kids basically never leaving that room. This is where those metal bottomed shoes come from. The helpful volunteer told us that they were normally for the maid to use when she went out to fetch supplies for the family. The great thing about Gladstone’s Land was that there was also rooms like the dining room and bedroom that were obviously upper class and a bit later in the century. These rooms were very ornate and stylish for the time. The bedroom was covered in beautiful paintings and murals done all over the walls and ceiling while the dining room had fine china and screens to protect women’s (and men’s) makeup from the heat of the fire. Lindsey talks a little bit about Gladstone’s Land, among other places we went that day, in her blog: Rediscovering Words I Already Knew and The Edinburgh Finale.

The green dining room. (google image)

The green dining room. 

The ornate bedroom. (google image)

The ornate bedroom

On the same day that we visited Gladstone’s Land we also went a house in the New Town of Edinburgh, the Georgian House. This house is a great example of how the upper class aristocrats lived. These would have included wealthy families that lived off of inheritance rather than working. We were told that the family that lived here was most likely living far above their means so as to maintain their social grace and standing. Unlike Gladstone’s Land, the Georgian House was very large with many rooms set for one family. It was built in New Town where many of the upper class moved to get away from the filth of the closes in Old Town. Every room was decorated and outfitted to entertain guests so as to show off the home and its owner’s money. These are the kind of buildings that Robert Southey is talking about in his book Journal of a Tour in Scotland when he says “the people of Edinburgh a taste, or more properly a rage for splendid buildings” (15).

The Georgian House (google image)

The Georgian House


I’ve talked about Edinburgh so much because there was such a sharp contrast between the classes but London had this too. We did not, however, really visit many of the old “slums” like we did in Edinburgh but we did visit a very rich man’s house that was turned into a museum upon his death. Sir John Soanne was an architect who loved to collect basically anything and everything. His house is not that grand of a house like the Georgian House but it is filled to the brim with collectables. Just the sheer magnitude of stuff that he had collected in his lifetime was insane and I don’t even want to think about what it cost. In the satire A Visit to a Coffee-House, Edward Ward makes fun of another antiquary (collector of old, rare, or valuable trinkets) like Soanne saying “he’s a wonderful antiquary, and has a closet of curiosities that outdoes Gresham College. He tells ye that he has a toothpick of Epicurus…he has Diogenes lantern…he has Heraclitus’s tears, which dropped from him in a hard winter and are frozen into crystal” (146). This is what many people thought of Soanne’s collection but it was useful to him. He mostly collected things of architectural use and design. Things that he could use in his own business. We were told that he would bring some of his clients into his home and show them his collection. If they liked any specific room, he would then design their buildings around that type of architecture. Jenna talked about Soanne’s Museum in her  blog: Meet the Flint-stones…at the British Museum

One of the many rooms full of architecture.

One of the many rooms full of architecture.

All in all our trip sent us spiraling through time and the class structure of the 18th century. Both the class time and our travels gave us all a good idea of what it would have been like to live during that time no matter what class you were a part of. Personally, I am very glad that I was born a few hundred years later (I’ve grown particularly fond of indoor plumbing).

PS: unfortunately in all of the places I have included in this blog we were unable to take pictures. All of the pictures I have included, excepting the picture at Mary King’s Close, I found either through Google Images or on another blog post for this class.