Tag Archives: Cotton Library

Cotton’s Library art, charts and maps

Cotton’s Library includes, by my count, a dozen pieces of artwork. The majority of it is my own work, in some sense, if only because I produced my own hand-renderings rather than pay for (or outright steal) rights-restricted digital images.

The situation is similar for three charts and graphs, though in this case I produced new computer illustrations more for a combination of quality and clarity. For much the same reasons, I’m going to post those charts and graphs online, here. The ebook format, after two go-rounds, just seems to me like it is not a great platform for images. It definitely is not a great platform for large and/or complicated diagrams. The Cotton’s Library epub omits a family tree that appears in the print editions, and the Kindle edition—which is even less friendly to images owing to a range of devices that render a given picture anywhere from thumbnail size to enormous—omits that plus a map.

I don’t want anyone to be shortchanged, though, if I can help it. So here are nice, big PNG files that should (at full size) make everything nearly as clear as the print edition. First, the context of Cotton House in Westminster c. 1630…

Map of Cotton House in historic Westminster (London)

Click for larger image. (Based on research by Colin Tite)

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Cotton’s Library release day!

The official release date for Cotton’s Library is here! You can buy my new book!

To review quickly, this is the story of an incredible 400-year-old collection that has gone through more lives than a cat, and needed them all. Today’s national treasure was repeatedly ignored, pilfered, suppressed, and threatened by fire throughout its long history. Cotton’s Library is the first book-length examination of the whole, mad epic.

The first! Ever!

Retailers should be listing Cotton’s Library soon, if they aren’t already, but you can buy hardcover, paperback or ebook editions here right this minute. Paper books are 20% off the list price, no special codes or gimmicks.

Please have a look at least! You can read a substantial free excerpt here.

n.b. Not entirely by coincidence, this is also the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth I’s Accession Day; though Sir Robert Cotton spent most of his career working for the Stuarts, it would be fair to suggest that both he and his library were products of the Elizabethan world.

Failed states

The coverYesterday brought me last week’s issue of The Economist, which promises coverage of “the Republican victory and what it means for America’s broken government.” The casualness of this reference to American government as “broken” is particularly interesting, to me, because I distinctly recall a different editorial stance from the same publication less than five years ago. Then, they noted a growing sense that “the political system is broken. America has become ungovernable,” before declaring that “we argue to the contrary.”

Poking into their newest cover story, the transformation is remarkable. Then, they allowed that various systemic problems “should be corrected. But even if they are not, they do not add up to a system that is as broken as people now claim.” Overall, they insisted, “the basic system works as intended.” The real problem was that “Mr Obama” would not compromise.

Fast-forward to 2014, and subheadline to their story is “Republicans have won a huge victory. Now they must learn to compromise [emphasis added].” This prospect, moreover, they categorize as an optimist’s hope, and a faint one absent systemic reforms. Now, The Economist warns that “even if the optimists are right [emphasis added], America faces a host of ailments that seem beyond the reach of today’s politics.” If this is to change, Americans “need to change the way they elect their leaders.”

So, I guess I won that argument. Progress. Splendid.

…oh, wait, the society I live in is breaking down. Actually this is terrifying.

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The Cotton library fire, Oct. 23, 1731

The wee hours of this Thursday, October 23* will mark the 283rd anniversary of the disastrous Cotton library fire of 1731.

This is probably a questionable occasion to celebrate… but, (mostly) by coincidence, it’s also about time for me to begin promoting my book Cotton’s Library, which devotes most of two chapters to the fire and its aftermath.

So, I am pleased to share this cartoon I drew about the fire. You’ve got to have a laugh, eh?

Do feel free to share it or re-post it anywhere. At some point here I will probably post some additional notes about it at my art and design blog… for now, though, please enjoy “A Night in the Cotton Library.” Read More →

On breaking up big museum collections

This morning I read a fascinating item by Hrag Vartanian, at Al Jazeera America, titled “Break up the major museums to save them.” I encourage reading the whole thing, but very very briefly, he argues that the world’s mega museums are already absurdly big, and that rather than trying to make them bigger yet it’s time to disperse their holdings a bit.

I have a number of thoughts on this, the greatest number being a product of my upcoming book Cotton’s Library, much of which is about a great collection that eventually ended up at a mega-museum, after a long struggle to prevent its dispersal. Having chronicled this struggle, I’m sympathetic to arguments against dispersal… but it’s really a lot more complicated than that.

For one thing, there’s a world of difference between the Cotton Library—even at its maximum extent—and the modern Louvre or British Museum or the Met. Arguing that one or two rooms’ worth of long-associated items should stay associated need not mean opposing the division of composite collections of millions of items.

What’s more, the story of the Cotton library actually touches on significant precedents for such division. Since the library arrived at the British Museum as a founding collection in the mid-18th century, the BM has spun off pieces of its collection twice. Its natural history collections departed by slow, slow stages to become the Natural History Museum; the Cotton library itself left the museum as part of the (sort of) more recent British Library. I certainly don’t regard the separate establishment of these institutions as losses.

Still, this isn’t entirely what Vartanian is getting at. In fact, he specifically eschews any advocacy for administrative division and instead emphasizes spreading around mega museums’ contents, not just to new buildings in the same city but much more broadly.

I largely support this suggestion, though it’s probably a bit of a tougher sell.

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Arriving this fall: Cotton’s Library

I have been thinking that I really ought to post something about my upcoming book, here, at some point. I already began building a mini-site a couple of weeks ago, but good form seems to call for some sort of formal announcement here on the main blog.

Front cover of Cotton's Library (links to minisite)So: I have written another book, and it will be available this fall as Cotton’s Library: The Many Perils of Preserving History. Very, very briefly, this is the story of a proto-national-library founded four centuries ago by Sir Robert Cotton, and its long, (sometimes absurdly) difficult journey from a DIY project to a world-class institution worthy of its contents. (You can read more here.) I am proud to add that, barring any surprise announcements in the next few months, this will be the first book-length examination of this important collection’s whole, incredible history, ever.

Today seemed like the right day to make this announcement, meanwhile, for two reasons.

One, the planned release date for Cotton’s Library is exactly three months from now, on November 17. Which date was long celebrated in England as (the Tudor) Queen Elizabeth’s Accession Day, and is therefore a particularly fitting date to remember Sir Robert Cotton and his library, both of them being products of the Elizabethan era.

Two, this morning brought the first outside reaction to the complete, relatively polished draft text… and it was very, very good. The reviewer is, admittedly, an old college friend, but it’s been around a decade since we’ve had much contact, and I don’t believe she would hesitate to share a negative opinion. I valued her judgment as both an avid reader and a librarian; today I got it. She made several small critical suggestions which I expect no difficulty in implementing in the weeks ahead. Overall, though, she “thought the writing in this book much stronger than Brilliant Deduction,” which fwiw wasn’t exactly a dud. She offered “thanks for the read,” noting that “I feel smarter now.”

This feels very encouraging. I’ve done my best to produce a good book, and haven’t necessarily been haunted by doubt. But I still feel a bit like Bryan Talbot in his behind-the-scenes vignette from Alice in Sunderland, after the spirit of Scott McCloud offers the nascent project a thumbs-up. “Yes! This can work!” It’s going to work!

Also, my friend confided that “I LOLed at some of the jokes. :)” and… well. Ahem. Good writing, advancing understanding and appreciation of some unsung heroes of history (maybe even making a buck or two?), all of this is very good. But, y’know. Really, there’s no overestimating the importance of teh lulz.