News | November 30, 2017

2018 at the British Library: Major Exhibition on Cook's Voyages; Acquisition of Penelope Fitzgerald's Archive

London—Today we reveal the British Library’s cultural highlights for the year ahead, including:

  • James Cook: The Voyages, a major exhibition marking 250 years since Captain James Cook set sail on three voyages that changed the world
  • Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, a spectacular exhibition exploring the riches of Anglo-Saxon art and ideas over six centuries
  • The acquisition of Booker Prize-winning author Penelope Fitzgerald’s personal archive
  • A landmark exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Empire Windrush bringing hundreds of Caribbean migrants to their new home in the UK 

James Cook: The Voyages (27 April 2018 - 28 August 2018) 

To mark 250 years since Captain James Cook’s ship Endeavour set sail from Plymouth, this major British Library exhibition will tell the story of Cook’s three great voyages through original documents, many of which were produced by the artists, scientists and seamen on board the ship.  

From Cook’s journal detailing the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle to handwritten log books, stunning artwork and intricate maps, this exhibition will chart the three voyages, which spanned more than a decade, and shed new light on the experiences of people on the ship and in the places visited.

Today we can reveal that drawings by the Polynesian high priest and navigator Tupaia, who joined the first voyage at Tahiti and accompanied Cook to New Zealand and Australia, will be going on public display for the first time together, alongside works by expedition artists Sydney Parkinson, John Webber and William Hodges.  Tupaia’s paintings include a series of depictions of Tahitian society and culture, as well as drawings from New Zealand and Australia.

The exhibition will also examine the scientific work of the expeditions and will feature some of the original natural history drawings made on the voyages, including the first European depiction of a kangaroo drawn by Sydney Parkinson, on loan from the Natural History Museum.

The British Library holds distinguished collections of original maps, artworks and journals from the voyages and, alongside rare printed books and newly commissioned video content, the exhibition will seek to shed new light on encounters that completed the outline of the known world and formed the starting point for the following two centuries of globalisation.

Tickets will be available to buy on the British Library website from 1 December 2017.

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said:

‘From James Cook’s Endeavour to the Empire Windrush, we’ll be taking our visitors in 2018 on an unforgettable series of voyages and encounters, across cultures, continents and centuries - culminating in one of the most ambitious exhibitions we have ever mounted: the extraordinary treasures of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms.’

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (19 October 2018 - 19 February 2019)

In autumn 2018, the British Library will be staging a landmark exhibition on the history, art, literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England, across six centuries from the eclipse of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest.  

Highlights from the British Library’s outstanding collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts will be presented alongside a large number of exceptional loans.  

Today we are delighted to announce that Codex Amiatinus, one of three giant single-volume Bibles made at the monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow in the north-east of England in the early eighth century and taken to Italy as a gift for the Pope in 716, will be returning to England for the first time in more than 1300 years, on loan from Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence. It will be displayed with the St Cuthbert Gospel, also made at Wearmouth-Jarrow around the same time, and acquired by the British Library in 2012.

We can also reveal that we will be displaying a number of major objects from the Staffordshire Hoard, found in 2009, including the pectoral cross and the inscribed gilded strip, on loan from Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils.

Bringing together the four principal manuscripts of Old English poetry for the first time, the British Library’s unique manuscript of Beowulf will be displayed alongside the Vercelli Book on loan from the Biblioteca Capitolare in Vercelli, the Exeter Book on loan from Exeter Cathedral Library, and the Junius Manuscript on loan from the Bodleian Library.

Dr Claire Breay, curator of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, said:

‘The Anglo-Saxon period saw the formation of the kingdom of England and the emergence of the English language and English literature.  Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms will be the most spectacular exhibition to date of manuscripts and related objects covering the whole Anglo-Saxon period.’

Karl and Eleanor Marx Treasures Gallery display (1 May 2018 to 5 August 2018)

As part of the commemorations of the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, this Treasures Gallery display will explore the role the British Museum Reading Room, a predecessor institution of the British Library, played in the life and work of Marx and his daughter Eleanor, a notable writer and political activist in her own right. 

The display will include correspondence by Marx, his family and Friedrich Engels, covering both personal and political affairs, as well as rare copies of first editions of Marx’s writings, several of which he himself donated to the Library.  Among these is a copy of the first French translation of Capital, which is believed to feature annotations in Marx’s own hand. 

Michael Palin Treasures Gallery display (7 August 2018 - 11 November 2018)

Following the British Library’s acquisition of Michael Palin’s archive earlier this year, there will be a free display in the Treasures Gallery focusing on the development of his literary and creative career.

The display will trace a line from his early days with The Frost Report and Monty Python’s Flying Circus to his successes across fiction, stage and screen, as well as exploring his humour, versatility, multi-faceted imagination and enduring appeal.

The archive covers 1965-1987 and includes over 50 ‘Python Notebooks’ containing drafts, working material and personal reflections relating to Palin’s Monty Python writing. It also includes his personal diaries kept during this period, and project files comprising material relating to his film, television and literary work.

Acquisition: Penelope Fitzgerald’s archive

The British Library is delighted to announce it has acquired a significant collection of papers belonging to the Booker Prize winning writer, Penelope Fitzgerald (1916 - 2000).  

Born into a distinguished family and confronted with domestic and economic crises throughout her life, Penelope Fitzgerald launched her literary career at the age of 58 and is now regarded as one of the finest British novelists of the 20th century.  

The collection comprises literary notebooks and drafts, including from her first novel The Golden Child (1977) to later novels including The Gate of Angels (1990) and The Blue Flower (1995), along with diaries and family and personal correspondence with figures including Muriel Spark, Rebecca West and Penelope Lively.  

The archive also includes Fitzgerald’s personal library, which comprises her heavily annotated teaching copies of editions of Beckett, Milton and Austen amongst others. 

Joanna Norledge, Lead Curator of Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives at the British Library, said:

‘The Penelope Fitzgerald archive includes a lot of unpublished material, particularly her ideas and notes on unrealised creative and critical projects, and is a great source to be mined.  From Fitzgerald’s notebooks and correspondence to her personal library, the collection provides significant research value as it elucidates her professional, intellectual and writing life.’

The archive is currently being catalogued and will be available in British Library Reading Rooms from late 2018.  For more information on how to become a Reader, please visit the British Library website.

Windrush (1 June 2018 to 21 October 2018)

Next year marks 70 years since the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex carrying hundreds of Caribbean migrants to Britain. It also marks the passing of the British Nationality Act, which established common citizenship and enabled all British subjects to settle in Britain.

Through literature, personal correspondence and official reports - from a 1940s suppressed report detailing labour protests and rebellions across the Caribbean to E.R. Braithwaite’s annotated typescript of To Sir, With Love - this free Entrance Hall Gallery exhibition will explore the significance of the arrival of the Windrush within a broader narrative of Caribbean history.  

Though the arrival of the Windrush was initially met with fear-mongering and prejudice, the ship has since come to symbolise the origins of British multiculturalism. This exhibition, however, will tell a different and deeper story of Caribbean people’s struggles for self-expression and recognition across the 20th century. 

We are delighted to announce that we will be exhibiting Andrea Levy’s manuscript of her award-winning 2004 book Small Island. The novel was loosely based on the experiences of Levy’s parents, who emigrated to Britain from Jamaica in 1948, and the manuscript will be displayed alongside other items her father brought with him on the Windrush.

British Library in China 

In 2017 the British Library took some of its most specular collection items, including Charlotte Brontë’s handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre and one of the earliest quarto editions of Romeo and Juliet, to China for the first time.  

The British Library will open further displays at Shanghai Library in March 2018 and in Hong Kong in November 2018, following the success of exhibitions in Beijing and Wuzhen.

The British Library will also continue to expand its online presence aimed at Chinese audiences with the Chinese language version of Discovering Literature now featuring more than 200 digitised items and 70 interpretative essays.

Discovering Literature: Medieval 

Launching in January 2018, the British Library will publish 50 medieval manuscripts and early print editions, including the single surviving manuscript of Beowulf and Caxton’s pioneering illustrated print edition of the Canterbury Tales, on Discovering Literature.  

The site will also investigate a range of themes including multilingualism, gender, faith and heroism, and cover key genres including epic poetry, dream visions and riddles.

Discovering Literature is a free website aimed at A-Level students, teachers and lifelong learners, which provides unprecedented access to the Library’s literary and historical treasures and has received over 6.5 million unique visitors since launching in 2014.

The British Library has already published collections relating to Shakespeare and the Renaissance, the Romantic and Victorian periods, and 20th century literature and drama, and will continue to add to the site until it covers the whole rich and diverse backbone of English literature from Beowulf to Zadie Smith.

Events programme

The British Library will be hosting a series of events to accompany the Library’s 2018 cultural programme; from Philip Pullman talking about his writing life to Harriet Harman discussing 100 years of women having the vote and Brian Eno showcasing a selection of music from his work as a visual artist in our Entrance Hall.  

Tickets for events between January and March 2018 can be purchased online from Friday 1 December by Members and are on general sale from Friday 9 December.