Inquiring Minds: The Intrepid Explorer

(From time to time, we’ll feature the story of one of our many researchers here at the Library and the discoveries they made using our collections. The following is the story of Meg Kennedy Shaw, who conducted research on her father, a British desert explorer, botanist and archaeologist.)

Meg Kennedy Shaw has made many trips to the Library of Congress, “a favorite destination” of hers in Washington, D.C.

W. B. Kennedy Shaw taking theodolite observations from which to compute latitude and longitude. c. 1935. Courtesy of Meg Kennedy Shaw.

W. B. Kennedy Shaw taking theodolite observations from which to compute latitude and longitude. c. 1935. Courtesy of Meg Kennedy Shaw.

“Early on, I fell victim to the exquisite beauty of its great hall, staircases, Bibles gallery, the [Main] Reading Room and exhibitions,” she said.

Shaw accompanied her husband to the area in 2010, when he was awarded a one-year congressional fellowship working as a science advisor to a senator.

“Imagine my delight upon discovering that the [Main] Reading Room was open to all upon presentation of an easily-obtained Reader Registration Card!” she said.

It was during this time she began to research her father, W. B. Kennedy Shaw.

“When researching my father’s work in the Middle East in the 1920s and 1930s, in preparation for my family’s 2009 extensive expedition into Egypt’s western desert, I realized that there were many publications by and about him of which I was unaware,” Shaw said. “Then, when I moved to Capitol Hill for a year, it became obvious to me that if I were ever to find these publications they would be at the Library of Congress.”

According to Shaw, her father was born in 1901 and spent much of his early adult life as an explorer, geographer, cartographer, archaeologist and botanist in the deserts of Sudan, Palestine, Egypt and Libya. His knowledge and understanding of survival and travel in these waterless interior areas was so detailed that he was recruited in 1940 for intelligence work in a special-forces unit of the British Army.

Working with reference librarians at the Library of Congress, Shaw found scientific journal articles her father authored, both familiar and unfamiliar. These also led her to additional resources by her father, his colleagues and earlier explorers.

“I discovered many more publications by and about my father than I had previously known existed,” she explained. “Additionally I learned that he published not only accounts of exploration and mapping in Sudan and Egypt, but he also researched and made discoveries in botany, rock painting and engraving, archaeology, ethnography and geology – even one article speculating upon the political future of Libya.”

During his career, Shaw’s father also contributed to several British government maps, several of which are in Shaw’s collection.

“In preparation for our family’s Egyptian deep-desert expedition, I consulted those maps of my father’s that were in my possession,” she said. “One important map, though not unknown to me, was missing from my collection. On one visit to the Library, the helpful staff in the Geography and Map Division found this map in their collection, which they digitized and reproduced for me.”

W.B. Kennedy Shaw, left, with other participants in Sudan and Egypt expedition. 1935. Courtesy of Meg Kennedy Shaw.

W.B. Kennedy Shaw, left, with other participants in Sudan and Egypt expedition. 1935. Courtesy of Meg Kennedy Shaw.

Shaw believes her research conducted at the Library helped her gain a much better understanding of her father, particularly the importance and depth of his pre-war and wartime work accomplishments.

“It’s critically important for the Library to keep an eclectic and comprehensive collection,” she concluded. “In this way, research opportunities are available for that small number of people with an esoteric, specialized knowledge or interest, as well as for those seeking a more general education.”

One Comment

  1. Shahjahan Bhatti
    May 12, 2014 at 3:47 am

    Great treasure for researchers.

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