On Wednesday, 25 April 2012, Rachel Hart (Muniments Archivist and Deputy Head of Special Collections) and post-graduate placement student Ian Lumsden met with members of the Kate Kennedy Fellowship to engage first-hand with the history of the University. Rachel and Ian brought along some of the founding documents of the University, as well as some of our more interesting treasures. What follows are reactions from two of the Fellowship’s members.
“…handling these items, reading them and even just looking at them puts me in direct contact with the making of our institution…”
It is not at every university that you meet the people in charge of highly fascinating and rare library artefacts. It is not at every university that you can so easily meet a group of likeminded individuals who think that this kind of thing is fun. But, it is not at every university that you talk about the impending 600th anniversary. Well, this is St Andrews, and St Andrews is not just ‘every university’. Personally handling the much mythologised ‘Papal Bull’ that granted the right of our institution to exist is not something I will not forget in a hurry. Neither will I regret seeing the ‘Reminiscences’ of the 1920’s, with which I worked so closely for my undergraduate dissertation, being so keenly read by others. And what a special moment when, in the comfort of a small room and from Rachel Hart herself, I learned of the recent acquisition of Principal James Irvine’s letters with J.M. Barrie, recently donated by the former’s grand-daughter, Julia Melvin. But it’s not just handling the 16th century bindings and centuries of Court Minutes that made this day, and the Special Collections in general, stand out. It’s that handling these items, reading them and even just looking at them puts me in direct contact with the making of our institution. Here are the shadows of a six hundred year student experience. And we not only get to interact with it for an afternoon, but as students, alumni or staff, we play with being a part of this for the rest of our lives.
–Freddie Fforde, Coordinator for Historical Education, Kate Kennedy Fellowship
Freddie is a fourth-year History student and recent President-elect of the Students’ Association
“The power of these items isn’t just their age, their beauty or their uniqueness, but the wealth of self-knowledge they are able to transmit about ‘us’ as St Andrews and St Andreans.”
In the few minutes that elapsed between meeting Rachel and Ian (of Echoes fame) outside the Arts Building and when we began to unpack these gems of the muniments collection in an upstairs seminar room, I was struck by a modest wave of postgraduate ennui, and wondered whether or not I would be moved by the experience of these items. I’d seen some of them before, years ago, during a GRADSkills course on research with rare and early printed books (also convened by Rachel). That course was what had compelled me to approach her about arranging this session in the first place, but could I really be excited by the bull, the psalter, the warped little packets of vellum? Again?
I will never forgive my brain for responding to the sight of the first volumes with half a line from Titanic : ‘You can be blasé about some things . . . ‘, but not about this. The power of these items isn’t just their age, their beauty or their uniqueness, but the wealth of self-knowledge they are able to transmit about ‘us’ as St Andrews and St Andreans. Matriculation registers spanning four centuries reveal a University that has been international almost since birth, but also one that has until relatively recently been a community of tens or hundreds rather than thousands. Intimate letters between one of our most esteemed Principals and perhaps our most celebrated Lord Rector remind us that great and lively minds – whether young or mature – easily find friends here. What I enjoy the most though, is the humour and humanity that seem to be woven into so many of these items; from the tiny faces hidden in the decorations of the St Andrews psalter to exquisitely doodled marginalia – my favourite in the form of a hand pointing from a cowled sleeve – there seem to be reminders everywhere that the stuff of this institution is fundamentally human, and boy do these guys (they are mostly guys) have a lot to say.
Innumerable thanks are owed to Rachel Hart for arranging this introduction of the muniments to the Fellows. We look forward to continuing our special relationship with Special Collections and are planning some exciting collaborations for the coming academic year.
–Meredith Harrington Lynch, Coordinator for Community Engagement, Kate Kennedy Fellowship
Meredith is a final-year PhD student completing her dissertation in Cultural Identity Studies and Modern History