As we move into May, the regular pattern of visiting classes using Special Collections materials comes to an end. We have enjoyed bringing original material to a wide variety of sessions this semester for both undergraduate and taught Masters students. We have worked with our academic colleagues to discover resources which have helped explorations of Tennyson, Romantic Gothic novels, Persian manuscripts, photographs of the near and far East, the early Tudors, the French enlightenment, anthropological stories, the continental reformation, books of hours and illuminated manuscripts. In addition there have been core courses on Material Bibliography and Palaeography continuing throughout the year. Our group visits change during the summer to conference delegates, alumni reunions and family groups.
As the final fling on our Medieval Palaeography module, Dr Margaret Connolly of the School of English and Institute of Medieval Studies and Rachel Hart, Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments (who team teach the palaeography courses), arrange an annual visit to see 15th century manuscripts held elsewhere. This is an integral part of the course, as it supplements our own holdings with which the students have become familiar. Our class field trip has previously been to see some of the wonderful medieval manuscripts held at the Glasgow University Library. This year we decided to go to Aberdeen, and on an unseasonably cold and snowy day, we ventured further north than most of the students had previously been!
We are most grateful to our colleagues Andrew Macgregor and Jane Pirie at the University of Aberdeen’s Special Collections Centre for their welcome. We were able to see the wonderful facilities in the lower ground level of the impressive new Sir Duncan Rice Library, and to spend time with a selection of spectacular 15th century manuscripts.
We had chosen, from the catalogue, manuscripts with text in vernacular languages and which featured illumination or decoration. Margaret produced a summary handout for the students to use. This gives extra information on the manuscripts featured in this post, and full details can be found on the Aberdeen Special Collections catalogue here.
The visit was topped off with a tour of the ‘Cover Stories’ exhibition, curated by Jane, which featured some beautiful bindings from the Library’s collections and some innovative engagement ideas. We were made to feel very welcome and were very envious of many aspects of the library, and interested in how it differed from St Andrews – not least that the automated book return sortation device, with its robotic action, was visible through glass walls in the entrance hall!
After lunch we walked through Old Aberdeen to the Humanity Manse to visit the collaborative project working on UNESCO-designated records of national significance. The Aberdeen Burgh Records Project is a collaboration between the University, the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives and the National Records of Scotland (NRS) that has been in place since 2012. After two pilot studies, a major Leverhulme-funded project is now underway (2016-19). More details can be found here: https://aberdeenregisters.org/.
Research Assistants Dr Claire Hawes and Dr William Hepburn gave us a fascinating insight into their work. They are transforming the heavily abbreviated handwritten records into an accurate Text Encoding Initiative representation of textual meaning and structure, which will make the records digitally available to scholarship. We marvelled at their ability to transcribe the handwritten Burgh registers from 1398-1511, and they set us exercises to test our palaeography! We were delighted to be able to tell the students that Claire had originally learned her palaeography through courses in St Andrews and honed it in work on Burnwynd-funded projects.
We were joined by Aberdeen City Archivist Phil Astley who had very kindly brought three of the original registers, digital images of which have been used by the project. We had a chance to see the transcription, encoding and mark up process and even to have a go ourselves at the project workstations. The whole day provided a journey from the 15th to the 21st centuries, from wonderful original documents to the way that they can be made accessible in new formats today for all kinds of research. Maya said:
“I thought it was really neat to see a real-world application of the skills we’ve learned. The project Claire is working on was very interesting and insightful about the future job-related possibilities of palaeography”.
Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments