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Posts Tagged ‘scotland’

I’ve recently been working through an 1820s Scottish trade directory, for a journal paper I’m developing. On the way through, while looking for book trade references, I spotted other interesting things. For example Prestwick in Ayrshire had a “florist & bird stuffer” – what a combination of jobs!

But two of the most interesting people, for me anyway, that I spotted were early telescope makers. One was listed as such in the directory: James Veitch, maker of telescopes, microsopes etc. at Inchbonny, Jedburgh, Roxburghshire. As a Borderer with an interest in the history of science I’d heard his name before, but hadn’t looked into him too much. But doing a little more online research discovered that he made wood tubed telescopes, and his customers included fellow Borderers Sir David Brewster and Sir Walter Scott.

The other telescope maker I found listed in the 1820s directory was in Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. Not only did Thomas Morton build telescopes to sell, but he had even built in Kilmarnock what was described by the directory as “A very fine observatory, some valuable machinery, and excellent telescopes”. He was still making telescopes as late as circa 1860, and his had very impressive looking metal tubes. The National Museum of Scotland has quite a collection of them.

I wonder if there were other telescope makers working in Scotland in the 1820s.

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Yesterday I attended the second day of this conference held at Perth Concert Hall. It was held in honour of my former PhD supervisor, Professor Charles McKean. Originally it had been hoped that he would be there, but sadly he died a few weeks ago. But it went ahead in his honour, in a positive manner.

Sadly due to my MS-like illness I could never attend both days, and had to choose one over the other. This meant that I missed a very moving appreciation of Charles by James Simpson, as well as Charles’s son Andrew talking about his father’s research. But overall I think I chose the better day for me, partly on timetabling terms, partly on subject matter. I am not a Renaissance or architectural historian, and the second day’s talks fitted better into the wider social and cultural context I could relate to.

The venue was good. I’ve never been there before, but I was impressed. I was using my wheelchair, and it was level access, and a good sized room for the 70 or so attendants (hardly any chairs free!). Catering was also good, including a nice buffet lunch. My husband accompanied me, to help me manage my wheelchair, and he was made very welcome.

The second day started with the second batch of coach tours to nearby castles. I didn’t go on these, partly for wheelchair reasons, but joined the conference at the first coffee break, before the first main papers session. And it was a good one, looking at castles and tower houses in the wider context of landscape, and European culture. I was particularly struck by Shannon Fraser’s presentation about Fyvie Castle and some of the architectural research that has been done there by the National Trust for Scotland. And Marilyn Brown’s presentation on Edzell Castle – I really must go there! It is not too far from me in Angus – and the iconography and imagery used, and still visible, in the Renaissance garden there. The way she was able to identify likely original European prints that were used as the basis of the designs still visible today was highly impressive. Indeed every time anyone mentioned the use of books by castle owners I would scribble frantically – book/reading historian in full mode. That included books on architectural design, garden design, military manuals, and so on. I also liked it when the speakers could say that the owner owned a particular book, which may have influenced the design of their home.

The second session, after lunch, looked more at interpretation of old castles and houses. This included a thought-provoking talk by Michael Davis, on whether the quest for authenticity is at the expense of castle preservation. I think he gave us lots to think about, and in an era where many Scottish castles are in dire need of preservation, but also people who can afford to pay for the work to be done, it was an interesting thing to muse over. He was followed by Fiona Fleming from Historic Scotland, who talked about how her organisation works with academics – historians, architectural specialists etc. – to understand the buildings that they look after, and to present an image of what they were like in the past to visitors. She closed with a recently created artist’s impression of a Renaissance feast, and there was Charles, in the front, depicted in hose and the rest, raising his tankard to the viewer. Quite a few of us nearly choked up at that point, but it was a lovely thing to close the session on, before the closing reflections by Professor Konrad Ottenheym, with the image of Charles plus tankard staying on screen.

If I have one criticism of the event it’s that quite a few speakers over-ran their time slots, quite considerably, 10/15 minutes, which with 20 minute slots and a fairly tight schedule caused timetabling problems. The pity was that it ate into the time for discussion and questions afterwards, in one case obliterating it, and I wish that hadn’t happened, because I think it’s at those times that the speakers and audience could have had a particularly productive discussion about taking the research forward that Charles has inspired so much.

That’s my one criticism, but in other respects it was a superb day. I’m really glad that I went, I want to learn more about Renaissance architecture and studies now, and I think it was a lovely tribute to Charles, and a very positive way of celebrating an active research area, that I hope will continue long after his time. I also thought it was lovely that so many of the speakers I saw included personal recollections of Charles in their talks, echoing memories for many of us.

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I’ve been learning Gaelic (Scottish Gaelic) on and off since about 1990. At the time I was prompted to start learning it by my appreciation for Gaelic music groups such as Runrig and Capercaillie, and wanting to understand their lyrics better. Even just listening to their Gaelic songs you start to absorb the language by osmosis. I bought myself a copy of Maclaren’s Gaelic Self-Taught. What I didn’t realise at the time was my future husband, from England, was doing exactly the same thing for the same reasons!

Sadly I fell ill in late 1994, with what would turn out to be a progressive neurological disease, similar to multiple sclerosis. This causes huge difficulties in learning new languages, particularly vocabulary, because of the memory problems from the brain damage. For example I signed up for a Latin course with the Open University about a decade ago, and was doing very well in the tutor marked assessments, but each time I was effectively having to start from scratch, being unable to learn and remember the grammar or vocabulary from the previous time. It became increasingly difficult to continue, and I dropped out.

Maclaren's Gaelic Self-Taught

But I still want to learn Gaelic. And I am going to give it another go. I’ve dug out my old self teaching book, and set myself the challenge this week of having a go at it for 3 days for 15 minutes each time. And I started today, in the coffee shop in the Angus Gateway above Monifieth. And it went very well. I was able to remember a lot of the things I had learned before my disease struck, and worked out a way forward. I am going to skip for now the less useful chapters like subjunctive cases, and jump ahead to those chapters that are of more use to me. Fingers crossed it works.

Gaelic learning in nearby coffee shop

I am still inspired by Gaelic songs when it comes to learning Gaelic. I recently bought a bargain copy of Anne Lorne Gillies’s book about Gaelic songs, which includes the original melodies in sheet music form, as well as the Gaelic lyrics and a parallel English translation.

Songs of Gaelic Scotland

And I am also looking forward to an upcoming book about understanding Gaelic place names. I was prompted to search for this on our recent drive home from Inverness to Dundee, the scenic route down the west side of Loch Ness and then across country. I was delighted to find a perfect book was due to be published in February. I have it on preorder, and am looking forward to getting stuck into it. But maybe I can improve my basic Gaelic before then.

Reading the Gaelic Landscape

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My husband and I recently returned from a trip north to Inverness. I was attending an academic conference, and giving a talk there, and we used the opportunity to have a break in the Highlands and a small holiday. On our way back to Dundee we called into Culloden, and then drove down the west side of Loch Ness for the scenic route.

Culloden battlefield lies to the east of the city. It’s near a small village of the same name, so there are a lot of modern houses around. But the battlefield itself is undeveloped, and stands as a permanent memorial to the lost in 1746. In 2008 a new visitor centre was opened at the site. It’s not the prettiest building by any imagination, but it’s very functional, and I was impressed at how it houses the exhibitions and information for visitors.

Once inside there’s a shop to the left, and a cafe with free Wifi, and then you are at the tickets desk and on your way in to the exhibition. There are scooters and wheelchairs available for people to use who need them, especially when going out onto the battlefield, but they could also be useful for people with mobility problems when going through the long winding exhibition.

The exhibition is based around a series of linked corridors, with display cases and exhibits in the centre and on the walls, and the two side walls telling respectively the stories of the Government forces and the Jacobites. This covers the background to the battle, the run up to it, with the Jacobites marching south into England, and then the time before Culloden itself, the battle and the aftermath.

It’s a very difficult story to tell. It’s complex, there’s a lot to take in, but I was impressed with the information boards and displays, and felt that they communicated things pretty well. I also liked the exhibits. As well as lots of maps and for example Stuart family trees there were clothes from the time, of course weapons, medallions, Jacobite emblems, books, basically lots of interesting personal items that made you feel close to the time.

It took us quite a while to work our way through this section of the visitor centre, taking in the information. Both my husband (English) and I (Scottish Borderer with Jacobite ancestry) drifted inevitably towards the Jacobite side each time. My main emotion was anger, growing all the time, at the inept decision making of Bonnie Prince Charlie which led to the huge sacrifice. We both learned masses. I also wondered if my Border Jacobite ancestor James Veitch was at the battle. He was apparently a life guard for the Prince, so may have been there.

After working through the visitor centre we reached the back door, where you can walk out onto the battlefield. There are regular guided walking tours around the battlefield, and one was about to start as we got there. I passed on this – due to my MS-like illness it was never going to be that feasible a thing for me to do, even if I’d used a scooter. Instead we went outside ourselves, and made our way up to the custom-built viewing area on the visitor centre roof, that gives you a 360 degree view of the battlefield. On the downside there were no seats there – I suggested afterwards to the visitor centre that they might like to add some. But we spent some time there, taking in the landscape. I also bought a guide book to study at home.

I’m very glad I went there. It’s horrific, and highly moving, but an important site. And I think the new visitor centre does an excellent job of communicating the history to visitors.

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Early this morning I sent off the revised version of an accepted journal paper to the editor. So that’s taken care of. Good. But I thought for my own benefit I’d make a note here of other things I’m working on, as an aide-memoire.

I’ve agreed to write a book review for a Scottish history academic journal. I was approached for this, because of the specific book, and my research interests. So that’s next on the list. I have the book in the house – my own copy actually – and just need to read it, and pull together some thoughts. That shouldn’t take too long, fingers crossed, and should be fun. The review is needed by the end of this year, but I should easily finish it many months ahead of then.

In September I’m hoping to go to a Guild of One-Name Studies regional meeting at Perth, and have offered to give a short talk about my Cavers one-name study. I’ve jotted down some ideas in a mind map already, but need to finish writing it, including the PowerPoint presentation I’ll use.

I’ve a series of articles ongoing that are a cross between historical pieces and roleplaying game ideas, and need to resume writing these. They were put on hold, as I battled the illness and completing other things. I’ve done seven articles so far, and am part-way through one on Montrose, with more planned. I’m hoping to publish them as a PDF booklet, once completed.

My interactive fiction game work in progress needs to be picked up again. I’d completed the prologue, and was at a point where I was going to start coding up the main middle section. I should be able to make good progress with this. I find writing the dialogue and interaction quite hard, but the coding side, in Inform 7 – a natural language programming language – is much easier for me. It’s funny, I can’t do much computer programming now, since the brain damage got really bad. But I get on well with Inform 7 – yay!

I have two other academic articles currently with journal editors and reviewers. One was derived from part of my PhD, the other from my MPhil. And I could hear back about those at any time. With luck I’d be offered some sort of revision, even a revise and resubmit would be good. But even if these editors reject the pieces outright I’d want to revise them myself before submitting them to a different journal. So I need to allow a little bit of space to be able to work on that.

I need to put together a proposal for the Community Libraries: Connecting Readers in the Atlantic World, 1650-1850 project. I can’t attend the colloquium in Chicago, about digital approaches to library history. But I hope to be able to attend the London colloquium in 2015, which is looking at libraries in the community. I could put together a good discussion piece for that, based on what I did for the library in Haddington, researching the readers using a huge range of genealogical and historical records, to be able to contextualise their borrowings properly. I’m also planning similar research in future for the Balquhidder Parish Library in Perthshire, and to that end am currently in the middle of a small-scale pilot study of another set of library borrowings. But I need to put something together for the London meeting, and submit it before the September 2013 deadline for abstracts.

I recently blogged about the 17th century poem I’m transcribing. I’d like to publish the transcript in an academic journal, with a suitable introduction and text contextualising it. So that’s another paper idea I’m working on. But I need to finish transcribing the poem first. For the record it’s massive. Three pages of two columns of tight text. Many many lines of poem.

I have another couple of paper ideas in progress, but they are at early stages, and unlikely to reach editors anytime soon.

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Before I discovered the joys of book history and researching historic reading habits, which I studied for a PhD, I did a part-time taught postgraduate Masters (an MPhil) in Cultural and Urban Histories 1650-1850. This was taught at Dundee University, mainly by Professor Charles McKean, ably supported by other members of staff, and was superb. The closing part of the Masters saw students do a dissertation on a topic of their choice. And I chose to study the local court records of Melrose in Roxburghshire between 1657 and 1706. These had been transcribed and published, and so were easy to work with. I built up a very large database of cases, pursuers and defenders. There were thousands of cases heard at the Melrose court in the period, and huge numbers of the (small) local population involved with the court. It was a very unusual type of local court, dating from the pre-Reformation Abbey control of the area, and provided low-cost convenient access to legal solutions to problems.

The Melrose court went through a lot of upheaval in the 1680s, after the Earl of Haddington who controlled it refused to agree to the Test Act, a measure by King Charles II to try to reassert royal authority, which was resisted by many peers in Scotland. As a result the control of this court passed to the Earl of Roxburgh, who appointed as his bailie-depute, in other words the sitting judge, local man George Pringle of Blindlee. Pringle would become one of the starring characters of my dissertation, as I showed how he changed the purpose of the Melrose court to now be primarily to root out conventicles, secret meetings for worship by people opposed to the imposed Episcopalian religion. And significantly Pringle also used the court to line his own pockets, as he fined the local population heavily, and seems to have taken deliberate steps to – wrongly – keep the money for himself.

So it was a delight to discover a contemporary poem written about Blindlee’s appointment to the Melrose post. It’s held in the National Records of Scotland, and as the catalogue says it’s called ‘A strange truth, a recommendation of Blindlie by the laird of Meldrum to the earl of Roxburgh, to be his depute in Melroseland’. The poem is undated, but looking through it looks to be pretty authentic to events of the changeover of 1682 as I know them already, and presumably was written by someone who knew the facts well.

I’ve started to transcribe the poem. It’s lengthy, not great poetry, almost McGonagall-like in places. But the rhyming helps as I battle to read the faint handwriting. I’m hoping to publish it in the form of a journal paper in future. I already have a paper with reviewers based on my Melrose court research in general, and hope to get that published in a good journal.

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I attended the Democratising or privileging: the future of access to archives conference yesterday. It was run by the University of Dundee’s Centre for Archive and Information Studies, and was held at the Apex Hotel beside the River Tay in Dundee. The conference ran over two days, the Thursday and Friday, but I could only attend one, due to my severely disabling neurological disease. And since I was speaking on the Friday that was the day. Even then I had to miss the opening talk, which was apparently a doozy, so I would still be strong enough to speak come the time of my talk at 1pm.

My husband accompanied me as my helper / wheelchair pusher, and we arrived about 10.10am, and parked in a disabled space in the hotel car park, near to the entrance. Once inside we registered, and had a coffee outside in the bar area, before wheeling in at the first coffee break at 10.30am. I was able to meet quite a lot of people I know through Twitter, and when the conference resumed at 10.50am we were able to get a good seat near the exit. My husband, a research fellow in computer science / space technology research, had his laptop with him, and happily worked on various things on there while I enjoyed the conference.

The next panel, from 10.50-12.20, saw three speakers talk, variously on privacy concerns, copyright and digitisation, and the archives situation in South Africa. I was particularly intrigued by the last talk, and the state of archives in a nation of political and social upheaval.

Then my panel was 12.20-1.30. All of the speakers sat at the front table, with Caroline Brown from the university archives who was chairing it. The first speaker was French Canadian, talking about the horrific archives experience in Canada at the moment, as the government slashes budgets and sacks archivists. I thought the next speaker, also Canadian, would be talking about a Canadian topic, but she talked about her PhD research in Edinburgh, using the NAS and Edinburgh City Archives. For the latter she praised the knowledge of the archivist and stressed how important it is to talk to archivists. But I just found it terrifying how that archive doesn’t have proper catalogues, and that only one archivist knows their collection inside out. What if something happens to him? And he must retire sometime.

Whereas every other speaker walked over to stand at the podium, I stayed seating on the front table, and used a portable microphone. I was quite weak, and struggling at times, but I got through, and inside my 20 minute slot. I managed to cover almost everything in my plan, and remembered to advance the PowerPoint slides. I think people particularly appreciated my list of recommendations for archivists to help them support disabled users better: I was told afterwards that some people were scribbling frantically at that point. And I had quite a few questions from the audience afterwards, who were really engaged with my talk. One was about archives and how they can support blind users, which isn’t something I specifically addressed in my talk, but had thought about, because of a blind student friend I have in America, who wants to trace his family history and wonders how he will access archives. So I was able to field that question.

After that it was lunch. Many people came up to me on the way to lunch, or there, or at coffee later, to thank me for my talk. They included archivists from Hawick, St Andrews (who sat by Martin and me over lunch), Aberdeen, Perth, and London. And also the former Keeper of the Records for Scotland (also Registrar General), who greatly appreciated my praise for the wheelchair lift they installed at General Register House. The archivist from Hawick, who now works at Edinburgh University, likewise appreciated my praise for the help their archive had given me during my PhD. I was also able to chat to Robin Urquhart from the NRS who helped me in various ways to get access to digital records, both in the past and now.

There were two main panels in the afternoon. I particularly enjoyed the presentation of Dr Karl Heinz from Austria, talking about international archival cooperation and specifically the Monasterium.net project to digitise medieval charters. I asked him afterwards, using the portable microphone to talk, about who could make changes to the meta data in their database, and how it was curated – via submission for moderation, by an expert.

Another inspiring talk was that of Amanda Hill, a Brit now living in Canada, talking of how her archive, Deseronto Archives in Ontario, has experimented in outreach through means such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, blogs and so on. All on a shoe-string budget, but highly effective. Should be a big lesson to better funded and larger archives.

After a quick coffee break, it was time for the closing panel, where final thoughts on the conference were presented. Then Caroline wrapped up with final closing thoughts, and we were done.

I was very weak by the end of the day, but pleased I had been able to stay for the entire afternoon session. Overall I’m very glad I was able to attend the conference. It was an eye-opening experience for users of how the archivist’s side of things work, as well, I hope for archivists of user issues, such as those of family historians, academic historians, and, in my case, disabled users. It was also nice to see such a strong Canadian contingent of archivists at the conference, particularly in a time of massive upheaval for archives in their country. They got a big cheer / clap at the end. It was also great to meet various Twitter friends, and to meet so many archivists who had helped me with my research and access needs in the past.

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