From the archives: Decline and Fall

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

One of the gems of our rare books collection is a complete copy of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which was published in 1789.

12 beautiful leather bound books
Twelve books of Decline and Fall

It’s a six volume work. Each volume is split in two making twelve books in total. The complete work covers the story of the Roman Empire from the second century CE (the time when Gladiator was set) to the fifteenth century. It’s not just a history of the Roman Empire but the history of much of Europe, Africa and Asia during this long period.

The first volume was published in 1776, the same year when the United States of America declared Independence. The final volume was published in 1788 (the year before the French Revolution). This was a time of both great change and disruption, but also continuation and tradition.

This period is sometimes called the Enlightenment. During this time scholars around the world (especially in intellectual centres like Birmingham, Edinburgh, Paris, London and Boston) wrote books and articles which challenged previous ways of thinking. Gibbon was part of this movement. He  believed that the fall of the Roman Empire was caused by, and caused, the growth of medievalism. He thought this was a bad thing and that the Roman Empire was a good thing. The Roman Empire was built on colonialism and slavery and saw massive inequality.

Decline and Fall is both an epic work and a piece of sustained scholarship, however it is of its time. Some of Gibbon’s conclusions are not necessarily followed today, but he is still praised for a fine and vigorous prose style.

frontispiece image
The frontispiece

The state of scholarship

This map shows the relative knowledge of Italy and Egypt. Italy was a stopping point on the infamous Great Tour and many rich Britons would have visited it. Very few Europeans had traveled to Egypt at the time Gibbon was writing his work. Now a days a lot more is known about Egypt, almost more than Italy or Greece, due to discovery of extensive papyrus records.

A line drawing map of Eastern Mediterranean
A map of the Eastern Mediterranean
Greece and Italy map line drawing
A map of Greece and Italy
Egypt map line drawing
A map of Egypt

The author

Gibbon was briefly an MP in parliament but his greatest achievement was this history. He was noted for the critical use of primary sources and was a great example of the value and importance of a solid underpinning of information literacy.

He was also a very well traveled man and a part of that great European Republic of Letters which has survived even to this day in places like City, University of London which value and support the importance of internationalism.

Author portrait from frontispiece

For many people, perhaps, Gibbon’s legacy can be summed up in the apocryphal words of King George III ”Another damned big black book, Mr. Gibbon. Scribble, scribble, scribble – eh, Mr. Gibbon?” It’s certainly a big book, bigger than anything by Tolstoi, but just as readable.

In the 240 odd years since its publication, even though few have read it and the world has changed, many of Gibbon’s presumptions and ideas have become commonplace. Returning to the beginning and learning good information literacy, we can learn to challenge many of these ideas and begin to write our own histories.

The most wonderful films of the year

Christmas is a great time to bring together everyone, to wrap up warm, open a big tin of sweets and enjoy a cracking film. Whether you like modern comedies or classic weepies, we’re got something for you.

shooting star

Elf [BoB]

“Its hilarious”

 

Muppet’s Christmas Carol [BoB]

“It’s just so jolly! Love the songs… love Gonzo and Kermit, generally… it gets me in the spirit!”

Christmas with the Kranks [BoB]

“It highlights commercialism and the work involved, but shows the true meaning of community and sharing at the end. We are better and stronger together”.

A Christmas Story [BoB]

“This 1983 holiday classic about a working class family in the American Midwest struggling through Christmas in the 1940s has become an institution in the canon of American films.”

Snowman [BoB] 

“A happy/cosy time with my children”.

“It’s too sad really but pretty cold”.

Home Alone [BoB]

“It’s a classic, ’nuff said”.

The Family Stone [BoB]

“Very relatable when you have to visit your OH’s relatives at Christmas”.

Anything 80 or 90s with a shopping scene at Bloomingdales or Saks

Nightmare before Christmas [BoB]

“I went to see it in the cinema when I was little and loved the songs”.

Meet Me In St Louis [DVD]

“It’s a sweet, happy film, with memorable characters and the famous song ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas'”.

The Wizard of Oz [BoB] 

“What’s not to like?”

A Chrismas Carol [BoB], Oliver [BoB], Mary Poppins, Get Santa, The Santa Clause

“Juz love em!”

Trading Places [DVD]

“It is set at Christmastime but does not focus purely on Christmas, and it is very entertaining but has a serious message that is very relevant to our current times.”

Scrooge [BoB]

“How wonderful”

It’s a Wonderful Life [DVD]

“Makes me cry”

Gremlins [BoB]

“Makes me scared”. Chosen twice.

Disney’s Christmas Carol

“It was always on during Xmas, it reminds me of my childhood!”

Love Actually [BoB]

Samantha loves this film. She “has a detailed list of reasons why”. Another member of staff loves the scene with sneaky love rat Alan Rickman buying some jewelry in a high end shop up west, “best scene in a Christmas mover ever – handsdown”.

 

This year (2017) the Northampton Square Library will be open 27th – 29th December 10 am – 6 PM for self-service and reference only use. Check Library Services website for more information on library opening times.

Have we missed anything? What’s your favourite festive film?

The specials’ time of year

For some Christmas means one thing: Christmas themed TV specials. Nothing brings people together better watching than sitting around the box watching emergency births, surprise reunions and timely snow falls.

You can research the TV of Christmas past with this selection of excellent TV chosen by library staff.

Christmas crackers

Black Mirror White Christmas [BoB]

“This is such a cool series about technology and society in the future, this one is especially great if you need to get away from the sugar of Christmas !!”

“It twists a dark, compelling, and unsettling story around Christmas and technology”.

Extras Christmas Special

Arrested Development – the Christmas episode ‘Afternoon Delight’ [BoB]

“Whilst not the best ever episode of the show it has the key ingredients of a dysfunctional family, a bad Christmas party, and awkward moments, all put together with the running jokes that the series is famous for”

The Blackadder Christmas Special [BoB]

“It turns Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on its head and it hilarious”.

Knowing Me, Knowing Yule… with Alan Partridge [BoB]

“Love everything about this”

Ab Fab

“I like the Christmas special, the one where Patsy tries a little Turkey”

Peep Show Seasonal Beatings [BoB]

“I love that Peep Show where Mark’s parents come to them and Superhans goes as well.”

Family fun

Thomas and friends Ho Ho Snowman

“A lot going on in this one. Very deep”

Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special [BoB]

“It’s just so nice. At first. Then it’s hilarious”

Morecambe and Wise, Only fools and Horses, Gavin and Stacey

“Just love em!”

Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special

A festive glitterball competition

Worlds Strongest Man

“Not a Christmas themed show but something we would watch every year as a family”. All them glistening, oily muscles, oh don’t.

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Cold cut classics

Royal Family

“No idea if it’s still going  but I’ve always liked their Christmas Specials- mainly because it caters to the humour of both my parents, which makes it an easy one to watch as a family, which is rather lovely.”

It is still going. Recently one of the younger characters announced his engagement.

University Challenge Christmas Specials and Professor Higglespoon [sic], Ab Fab Christmas special, Only Fools and Horses when Del Boy falls down the bar, Year Wipe etc

“Just love ’em”

Morecambe and Wise

“Still find them funny even when they are repeated many times”

The Tractate Middoth [BoB]

“Have wanted to see if for a few Christmasses now but been unable to because my Christmas companions have thought of it, a funny name, but I absolutely love the book. I’m looking forward to getting a big plate of cheese, a well aired Burgundy and watching this one day”.

 

This year (2017) the Northampton Square Library will be open 27th – 29th December 10 am – 6 PM for self-service and reference only use. Check Library Services website for more information on library opening times.

What’s your favourite Christmas shows? Tell us in the comments below.

25 Summer films you really shouldn’t miss

You’ve seen what they read, you’ve seen what they watch on the small screen. Now we delve further into the library staff’s cultural beach bag.
Read more this summer #CityLibrarySummer.
In our latest CityLibrarySummer instalment we thought we’d share our favourite films and which films in particular mean summer to us. We’ve also highlighted where you can borrow films from our DVD collection or Box of Broadcasts [BoB].
  • Jonathan’s favourite film is Aliens (dir. James Cameron) [DVD] for its “excitement and great story line.”
  • Don’t you forget about… the Breakfast Club (dir. John Hughes) [BoB]. These kids did weekend detention in style while discovering a bit about each other (and themselves). This film reminds Jonathan of being a teenager.
  • Amelie (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet) [DVD] whimsical and most charming is the choice of another member of Library staff – enchanté. And Grease is their summer lovin’ choice.
  • Catherine loves Wayne’s World (dir. Penelope Spheeris) [BoB]  because it always makes her laugh. Catherine, we’re not worthy.
  • She also loves Point Break (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) [BoB] for its depiction of the technical art of surfing, she forgot to mention the top acting. Vaya con Dios Catherine.
  • Lynn loves that 90s classic Parenthood (dir. Ron Howard). “Family clashes, crazy parents and kids, teenage tantrums and old rivalries shown with humour. It always makes me laugh and it all turns out right in the end.”
  • Lynn’s favourite summer themed film is Something Wicked This Way Comes (dir. Jack Clayton). “The oppression in the film is not only caused by the heatwave but a sinister set of characters rolling into town.  A lovely view of the eternal summers experienced as a child.”
  • Alex G’s pick is the perennially wonderful Some Like it Hot (dir. Billy Wilder) [DVD]. He says “You can watch it over and over and it’s still so funny. Characters, script and performances are such quality.”
  • His favourite summer film is Jaws (dir. Steven Spielberg) [DVD]“Even though I laugh at it, even though I know what happens in the end – I still get SCARED!”
  • The Wizard of Oz [DVD] is good all year round for one member of staff.
  • May the force be with our library staff member who loves Star Wars (dir George Lucas) [DVDs] and also Cocoon (dir. Ron Howard) [BoB], this film about some rejuvenated retired folk gives them a warm summertime feeling.
  • Samantha is keen on The Princess Bride (dir. Rob Reiner) because “Swashbuckling. And the bit where they roll down the hill and end up with the RoUS. OH and the bit when he’s dead but not completely dead.”
  • Nobody is putting Samantha in a corner this summer as she has the time of her life watching Dirty Dancing (dir. Emile Ardolino) [BoB] “The music and the dancing is awesome, but mostly because it looks like a sweet entertaining cult chick flick but it’s actually a treatise on why you should trust your children and the importance of women’s healthcare and reproductive rights.”
  • Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen) [DVD] got the vote from another member of staff who sums up the vibe with a “La-di-da”.
  • This staff member’s favourite summer film is A Bigger Splash (dir. Luca Guadagnino) “Sunshine, singing and death all on the tiny Italian Island of Pantelleria.”.
  • Catie has recently been impressed with Baby Driver (dir. Edgar Wright) but she’s not thinking about films at the minute “When good weather blesses you with its presence as much as it has this summer, watching films is sacrilege.”
  • Nevertheless, her favourite summer films are Fast Times at Ridgemont High (dir. Cameron Crowe) or Wet Hot American Summer (dir. David Wain), “They are institutions. For real though they evoke the specific feeling of freedom and infinite possibility you get in the summer when you’re an adolescent that summer days could stretch on forever.”
  • Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (dir. Stephen Herek) [BoB] ranks high on another staff member’s list:
    “Got only 24 hours before a big presentation? This highly relatable story set in the world of San Dimas academia will show you how you can take your presentation from meh to wow, and if you start to lose your audience – end on a “City Uni football rules!”
  • Their summer favourite is Do the Right Thing (dir. Spike Lee)  which “takes place on the hottest day in summer. This is one of the greatest films of all time, it was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress who deemed it “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant””.
  • A Librarian recommends: Canterbury Tales (dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini) and A Canterbury Tale (dir. Powell and Pressburger) [BoB] – which is a very different film. The Twin Peaks prequel Fire Walk with Me (dir. David Lynch), which has a great David Bowie cameo, and Dazed and Confused (dir. Richard Linklater) – have you seen this one? It’d be a lot cooler if you did.
There are 3 films on this list starring Keanu Reeves, this has been duly noted and the data will be updated.
What’s your favourite film? Is there a film which makes you feel particularly summery, let us know in the comments section.