This exhibition is intended to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the accession of George I to the throne in 1714. His arrival in Britain initiated the Georgian period, which saw very significant changes throughout British society particularly for the middle classes. The exhibition has been in development, from the initial proposal to the final show, for about 3 years.

Fourteen lenders in all have contributed to the exhibition, which is based around the British Library’s extensive collection of material. The show looks closely at the explosion of the printing press in the 18th century, and while the Library’s unbeatable collection of printed material makes up the bulk of the exhibition, we really wanted to bring them to life with some contextual objects from other cultural institutions. We have borrowed some beautiful prints from the British Museum and eye-catching objects from the Museum of London, including a silk masquerade mask and shop signs.

Masquerade Mask. 1780s. (c) Museum of London

Masquerade Mask. 1780s. (c) Museum of London

From the curatorial point of view, the greatest challenge was the choice of topics and exhibits. The British Library’s collections for this period are truly encyclopaedic and we could have done several different exhibitions. We knew that we wanted to highlight those aspects of the period that influenced the way we live now, particularly with regard to our daily lives, our leisure and our entertainments. These are all aspects which have received relatively little attention from academics, although there are several notable exceptions. We also wanted to foreground our wonderful 18th and early 19th-century printed collections. That still left us with many different approaches. The exhibition evolved as we worked through topics and discovered which ones we could illustrate most tellingly from our collections, and which would be most accessible, most surprising, most interesting and most enjoyable for our visitors. The evolutionary process was rewarding, but hard work. It was a particular challenge to find suitable material for some of the topics we knew we wanted to include (some topics did not lend themselves readily to illustration, for example), while with others it was very hard to know which were the best items to include from a wealth of alternatives.

Pack of playing cards. 1775-1800. (c) British Museum

Pack of playing cards. 1775-1800. (c) British Museum

With regard to external suppliers, we approached four designers for the 3D / 2D design and appointed Urban Salon, based on their ideas, understanding of the storyline and content, and their approach to graphics. The build of the exhibition was carried about by TMP, who were chosen for their understanding of the build and design, and the graphic production was by Stylographics who grasped the finishes and effects we were trying to achieve well. As with most of our exhibitions, we also produced a series of talking head video interviews, this time with experts from the various industries featured in the exhibition, as well as ambient sound and soundpoints.

In terms of content, we had the unparalleled collections at the British Library to draw upon. The British printed materials from the 18th and early 19th century are the largest, most wide-ranging and overall the most important in the world. They cover an enormously wide range of subjects and include many very rare and unique items. We were also able to draw on the riches of the King’s Library – the library of George III, his reign is central to the period – and the King’s (George III’s) Topographical Collection – the amazing collection of prints and other materials that illustrate Britain at that time. The exhibition itself used this range as fully as possible. The exhibition covers a large number of seemingly disparate topics, which nevertheless prove to be linked together both subtly and obviously. Its focus on the middle classes, daily life and legacy make it very different from the other exhibitions which will celebrate the Hanoverian accession during 2014. We hope it will range across a number of different specialist audiences as well as those with a more general interest in history.

Contractors: Urban Salon | TMP | Stylographics

Full list of lenders: British Museum | Museum of London | Soane Museum; Foundling Museum | Victoria & Albert Museum | Northampton Museum & Art Gallery | National Portrait Gallery | National Trust | Tate Britain | Barclays Group Archives | Wedgwood Museum | C. Hoare & Co. | The Garrick Club | Staffordshire County Council.

Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain runs until 11 March 2014. For more information on this exhibition you can visit the British Library’s Georgian’s Revealed page which includes a downloadable map of Georgian London, a Georgian timeline and other additional information.

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