We have had a busy few weeks supporting our academic colleagues during sunny conference season. The 600th anniversary has provided a big draw for conferences to St Andrews this summer. During a three week period from the end of June, we have been involved with three different international events. Our engagement with new audiences has been valuable and we have enjoyed showing off! We hope that the profile of Special Collections has been raised and that delegates have gone home to their own institutions asking questions like: ‘if they do that in St Andrews, why can’t we do that here?’
“The Middle Ages in the Modern World“ conference was organised by long-standing friends of the department Dr Chris Jones of the School of English and Dr Bettina Bildhauer of Modern Languages. We put on a display of some original medieval treasures along with some nineteenth and twentieth century imitations of the medieval. This multidisciplinary conference on medievalism in the post-Middle Ages focussed on the many ways in which the middle ages has been and are still interpreted and represented. Our bookstall, selling the Treasures of St Andrews University Library and Ever to Excel was at the heart of the refreshment zone and we had lots of interesting conversations over coffee.
Just a few days later we exchanged some of the items in the showcases for books and manuscripts relevant to the 13th biennial conference of the Early Book Society: Networks of Influence: Readers, Owners, and Makers of MSS and Printed Books, 1350–1550. Dr Margaret Connolly of the St Andrews Institute of Medieval Studies was our main contact for this event. Special Collections was heavily involved, as Daryl Green, blogmaster and our Rare Books Librarian (Collections Management) was involved with the planning from the beginning. He gave a fascinating plenary paper, headlining alongside Professor Andrew Pettegree. His beautifully illustrated talk on Book-Making and Book-Collecting in Late Medieval St Andrews played to a packed house! The exhibition ‘From the Vaults: Selected Treasures from Special Collections’ was introduced to delegates by Rachel Hart, Deputy Head of Special Collections. We were joined by Sokol Books who brought some amazing items for sale which added to the ambience of the inspiring surroundings of the King James Library that evening. The Roll of Kings and fragments of the Auchinleck Chronicle provoked lots of discussion. Margaret said of Friday evening that:
The whole Friday evening session in Parliament Hall and the King James Library showed off what we do in St Andrews very nicely … EBS delegates always want to see actual books and manuscripts, so it was very good to be able to include some of this in St Andrews
We brought manuscripts out for a demonstration on ‘10,000 Books, 10,000 Beasts: Biomolecular Analysis and the Parchment Heritage’, given by Dr Kathryn Rudy of St Andrews and Sarah Fiddyment from the University of York. They had used our manuscripts to demonstrate their new technique for analysing the origins of the parchment on which manuscripts are created. It is clear, from their early results, that the use of the term ‘vellum’ should be restricted to those documents which originate from a cow only. The use of sheep as the source of parchments seems much more wide-spread than previously thought so ‘parchment’ is a much more suitable general term. Both our Italian items were found to be on sheep skin.
For the Society of Biblical Literature’s International meeting organised by Divinity’s Professor Kristin de Troyer and attended by over 850 biblical scholars, we displayed a selection of books published by significant characters from the teaching of Divinity in St Andrews over 600 years – about which Professor NT Wright lectured (above). There were also some interesting examples on show of early translations of the Bible into Bengali, Chinese, Ge’ez and Gaelic (see below).
We ran two workshops where we laid out a specially chosen selection of materials for delegates to look through. This produced some very interesting conversations. We particularly wanted to take advantage of the gathering of eminent people to see whether they could help us find out more about items about which we knew little. An Arabic Christian manuscript from about the 9th century may not be as early as that date but its provenance (from the executors of Mrs Lewis and Mrs Wright, the Sisters of Sinai, twin sisters who catalogued the Arabic and Syriac manuscripts of St Catherine’s Monastery) proved a great talking point. Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson both received LLD from St Andrews in April 1901 and perhaps that is why we received this manuscript after the death of Agnes in 1926. The star of the show was undoubtedly a Hebrew Scroll, a partial Torah probably of German origin, probably 17th century. We will do a separate blog post to synthesise what we learned about this and will put up photos of the key sections of the scroll – thanks to those who were able to tell us which parts we should photograph – so that we might get more comments from the blogosphere!