Using the Yale Center for British Art

This week marked my first time working with an actual William Blake manuscript, having looked at the sole complete copy of Jerusalem at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven. As a result—following (the always-insightful) Kelli Towers Jasper’s post on visiting the British Library—I thought I’d do well to write my own post on an equally wonderful, although similarly daunting (for some of us, anyway), institution.

Conduct Research Beforehand: Gaining access to the Center for British Art’s collection is both surprisingly easy and astonishingly free. Their prints, drawings, rare books, and manuscripts collection encompasses some 30,000+ objects. So, you can be assured there’s something in New Haven for just about any anglophile. No appointment is necessary to access the collections, nor is it required to let the Center’s staff know which works you’ll be accessing beforehand. That said, in order to make the best use of the collection possible, you’ll do well to take advantage of the Center’s fabulous search engine, which includes a wonderful “subject” component that may allow you to find works associated with whatever primary object(s) you’re visiting the Center to take a look at, in the first place.

Arriving in New Haven: It’s no secret that New Haven is inconveniently located in terms of accessible nearby airports. While you can fly into New Haven Tweed Airport, served by U.S. Airways Express through Philadelphia, your best bet will likely be to fly into Hartford Bradley International. It’s served by Southwest, every grad student’s favorite airline—in Windsor Locks, CT, 50 miles north. While the Yale University website alludes to shuttle service that serves the institution out of Bradley, I’ve yet to figure that one out. Your best bet will be to either rent a car, provided your research budget allows, or cab it from Bradley to the nearby Amtrak station and take the train into New Haven (my fav). Once in New Haven, the British Art Center is a fairly straight-shot by cab and your fare should be low.

Once at the British Art Center: All you need to do is arrive at the Center during the  Prints, Drawings, Rare Books, and Manuscripts Room’s open hours (Tuesday through Friday, 10.00a to 4.30p) with picture ID (a university ID or driver’s license will do). You’ll need to check your bag at the door, but will be allowed to bring whatever research materials you need (books/laptop or tablet/notes/etc.) with you. Once in the room you’re looking for—on the second floor—the wonderfully courteous staff will greet you and ask what object(s) you’ve arrived to see. From there, you’ll need to present your identification and complete a brief registration card. While the staff prepares the materials you’re after, you’ll need to wash your hands in the sink next to the front desk.

Working with Your Object: The Center’s staff, having prepared your study area, complete with an easel, will instruct you on how your object should be handled. In the case of Jerusalem, it was important not to hold any of the separate plates vertically, since not all of them had been matted equally. The staff will monitor your work closely, and gently coach you—should you start to do something wrong (which they assured me occurs almost inevitably when you’re working materials there for the first time). You’ll be able to take notes with a pencil and be free to search through materials you’ve brought with you or request additional items along the way. My advice is to plan your visit so that after an initial period of engaging with your object, you’re able to take a break for lunch in order to process what you’ve looked at thus far. The staff will keep your study exactly as you’ve left it and—at least in my case—I returned with a renewed sense of energy and clear mind to continue to wrestle with Blake’s art.

In Conclusion: Visiting the Center proved to be a great and astoundingly stress-free experience. I highly recommend seeing what their collection might offer with respect to enriching most anyone’s research. Cheers to any other NGSC-ers completing primary-source research this summer. I’d love to hear what you all have been looking at and what your experience was like, in the comments, as well.


See you all in Park City.