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Over the last month, conservation has been playing host to two rather notorious and unsavoury characters, namely William Burke and William Hare. Thankfully for us not in person but rather in the form of a scrapbook containing original documents and cuttings from their capture and subsequent tail and execution.
The most interesting and macabre of all of these is a letter written in the blood of William Burke – as it (helpfully) states “This is a letter written with the blood of Wm. Burke, who was hanged at Edinburgh on 28th Jan. 1829 for the Murder of Mrs. Campbell or Docherty. The blood was taken for his head on the 1st of Feb. 1829.” Unsurprisingly, the scrapbook, and this letter in particular, has caused a lot of attention, and has recently appearing in a number of newspaper and websites. I have found myself in the rather unusual position of combining conservation with press calls – the conservation life is not always quite so glamorous!
The scrapbook has a pamphlet style of binding with the cuttings pasted into its pages, the larger of which have been folded in order to fit within the volume. Overall, the scrapbook was in a reasonable condition and it was decided therefore to take a minimal interventive conservation approach with treatment focused on surface cleaning, tear repair where necessary and rehousing. The aim was to stabilise the object allowing it to be stored and accessed with minimal risk, at the same time as maintaining its authenticity.
The first stage of treatment was to surface clean the pages. This was done with “chemical sponge” – made of vulcanised rubber which (despite its name) contains no chemicals – which works by gently lifting off any surface dirt on the pages. This has not only aesthetic benefits but, more importantly, will remove any potentially damaging substrates. Surface dirt can contain acidic particulates, cause abrasions, attract moisture, and become a food source of mould, all of which can affect the long-term preservation of the object.
Secondly, I carried out tear repairs where necessary using Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. The tears where primarily on the larger format cuttings that had been folded in position within the scrapbook and found in areas where the paper had become weak, especially along the folds or along edges where the cutting has projected beyond the edge of the scrapbook. Again, as with surface cleaning, repairing tears will not only improve the appearance of the pages, but will also provide structural stability making the paper easier to handle and reduce the risk of the tear getting caught and becoming worse.
The last stage in treatment, and arguably the most important, was to address the housing needs of the scrapbook. As well as providing physical support to the item, choosing appropriate storage has the added benefits of giving an extra layer of protection from accidental damage, as well as acting as a buffer to atmospheric pollutants, dust and light, and any fluctuations in environmental conditions. It is important to know and understand what the materials you are using are made from as poor quality materials that are in close contact with collection items can cause severe damage. Acid from these materials can migrate to the object causing discolouration and embrittlement and hastening the its deterioration.
I decided, therefore, to house the detached, fragile and vulnerable front and back covers of the scrapbook in polyester sleeves allowing them to be easily consulted without being removed and so would drastically improve handling whilst minimising the risk of any tears getting worse. Because of the poor quality and acidic nature of the paper cuttings contained within the scrapbook, the individual pages were interleaved with a light-weight acid-free paper to reduce the transfer of any potential harmful elements within the sheets. The scrapbook itself – alongside some loose-sheet material contained within – were rehoused in acid-free paper folders which, in turn, were placed inside a four-flap enclosure made from acid-free card.
And the blood letter? Well, it is certainly not every day that I come across something so unusual, interesting and, quite frankly, a little unsettling. However, by applying general conservation principles of minimal treatment and the use high-quality and appropriate conservation and rehousing materials, I was able to treat the letter, and scrapbook as a whole, very much like other paper-based material. Perhaps with just a little more murder and intrigue this time…
Post by Emma Davey, Conservation Officer
We’re in a bit of a stationery frenzy here.
Look out for our Sherlock and Library Cat posters and postcards going up and going out around the University.
You can’t miss the big poster as you come in the entrance gates at the Main Library.
Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library Biblical Texts is on trial until 24th June. It presents a complete Hebrew transcription and English translation of the Biblical texts, together with high-resolution images (scalable). Access is available for all biblical fragments, including photos of the fragments, texts derived from the fragments in Masoretic order (bible books), English translation from the texts on the fragments and full Hebrew Scripture.
Parliament Rolls of Medieval England database is on trial until 20th June. The rolls of parliament were the official records of the meetings of the English parliament from the reign of Edward I (1272 – 1307) until the reign of Henry VII (1485 – 1509), after which they were superseded by the journals of the lords and, somewhat later, of the commons. The rolls, which amount in total to over four million words, were first edited in the eighteenth century and published in 1783 in six folio volumes entitled Rotuli Parliamentorum ( RP ) under the general editorship of the Reverend John Strachey.
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A list of all trials currently available to University of Edinburgh staff and students can be found on our trials webpage.
As mentioned briefly in a previous post (Unexpected Item of the Month) the Edinburgh-based psychoanalyst, William Ronald Dodds Fairbairn, was notable for the diversity of subjects he pursued with a psychoanalytical eye. One of the best represented subjects in the Fairbairn Archive is art.
The first evidence we have for Fairbairn’s interest in this subject is from 1937. The item in question is a talk, written and delivered by Fairbairn at a meeting of the Scottish Branch of the British Psychological Society and entitled ‘Prolegomena to a Psychology of Art’. This little-known paper was published in ‘From Instinct to Self’, the 1994 compilation of Fairbairn’s papers, co-edited by David Scharff and Fairbairn’s daughter, Ellinor Fairbairn Birtles. In it, ‘Prolegomena’ is described as being, ‘written largely from the standpoint of the pleasure principle…Fairbairn described art as play; thus artistic activity is making something for fun’. This starting point is important, because it would later bring Fairbairn into conflict with parts of the artistic world that objected to what it saw as a superficial treatment of the subject.
‘Prolegomena’ was quickly followed by ‘The Ultimate Basis of Aesthetic Experience’, also read at a British Psychological Society, Scottish Branch meeting, in 1938. Fairbairn re-worked both papers which were then subsequently published in the ‘British Journal of Psychology’ in 1938.
Although Fairbairn’s ideas on art did undoubtedly offend some in the art world, if his correspondence is anything to go by, they nevertheless received unexpected support from the then Director of the National Gallery of Scotland, Stanley Cursitor. In what could be one of the greatest letters in the Fairbairn Archive, Cursitor reassures Fairbairn that fun was indeed the correct attitude for the appreciation for a work of art and,
‘I am glad you take this line because to serious-minded people seeking the meaning of art, I have always contended that the fundamental meaning of a picture was the fundamental meaning of a plum pudding – and have been counted frivolous for it!’
Perhaps buoyed by such high-profile vindication, by the 1950s Fairbairn had hopes of writing a book on the subject. The working titles was ‘Art and Psychoanalysis’ and Fairbairn had undertaken quite detailed preparatory work in advance of its hoped-for publication. This included not only collecting items such as this picture postcard of the statue ‘Church and Synagogue’ in Munster Cathedral:
but also compiling this list of illustrations:
Fairbairn corresponded with a wide-range of people and organisations in relation to this proposed book, including Stanley Cursitor and T Elder Dixon, Vice-Principal of Edinburgh School of Art. Fairbairn was clearly attempting to learn more about the minefield that is ownership and copyright in relation to reproducing works of art. He also sought companies who had the requisite skills to reproduce the works, once permission had been secured. However, the book was not to be and Fairbairn’s contribution to this field has been largely, and perhaps not surprisingly, overshadowed by his work on object-relations. However, few papers in the Archive demonstrate such personal enthusiasm for a subject; art was clearly something of great importance to William Ronald Dodds Fairbairn.
For session 2015/16 the Library is making it easier to request core teaching materials. We are Beta testing using Resource Lists @ Edinburgh (Talis Aspire) as a single contact point for processing e-reserve requests, course (print) reserve and book recommendations.
Please note, if you don’t want to provide the extra information via resource lists, you can continue to publish your lists and make e-reserve requests and book recommendations in the usual way.
The options described below are for Course Organisers who want to manage requests for e-reserve scans, course (print) reserve and book recommendations via their resource list(s).
There are two options for ALL Course Organisers creating NEW resource lists for session 2015/16:
Option 1. Create the resource list yourself using Talis Aspire, include the additional information requested by the Library and publish your list by *7th August*. The Library will process any e-reserve requests, course (print) reserve and book recommendations.
Option 2. Send your reading lists to the Library by *13th July*, provide the additional information requested and the Library will process any e-reserve requests, course (print) reserve and book recommendations and hand the list back to you to publish.
Existing Talis Aspire users are asked to review and republish their lists by *7th August* and to use ‘Note for Library’ on Talis Aspire to provide the additional information required by the Library. The Library will process any new e-reserve requests, course (print) reserve and book recommendations.
NB: Deadlines are for Semester One resource lists. We will circulate further deadlines for Semester two in due course.
Guidance on how to manage new and existing resource lists (using Talis Aspire) and the information required by the Library to process any e-reserve requests, course (print) reserve and book recommendations is provided on the website: http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/information-services/research-teaching-staff/resource-lists/using-resource-lists/overview
I’m pleased to report that we now have access to digital collections from Oxford Scholarly Editions, including the seventeenth-century prose collection. This contains several titles of interest to researchers in Puritan history and thought, including the Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly 1643–1652 and the Calendar of the Correspondence of Richard Baxter, Vol. 1 & 2. Scholarly editions of the works of John Bunyan – Pilgrim’s Progress, Grace Abounding and the Holy War as well as thirteen volumes of smaller works by this Puritan writer are also now available. All titles can be access via the online library catalogue.
Christine Love-Rodgers – Academic Support Librarian, Divinity
Our blog post today comes from History of the Book student and CRC volunteer Allie Newman.
The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections (CRC) is home to over 300 examples of Western medieval manuscripts, ranging from single leaves and fragments to large bound tomes. While it can certainly be said that this collection represents some of the oldest material in the library, it cannot be said that everything in the collection has been exhaustively examined, even given the items’ relatively long existences. Despite the great age of the items, they are still producing new discoveries in terms of textual content and physical structure, both of which inform our understanding of their individual histories and book history as a whole. I recently made a very interesting, if very tiny, discovery that could hopefully shed some more light on the medieval scribal and artistic processes.
MS 33, a 15th century illuminated Dutch gradual (or songbook), is a large and somewhat unwieldy volume, and is known as the source of the illuminated piper that graces the logo of the Friends of Edinburgh University Library. The piper is actually part of a richly decorated floral border that surrounds a page of music, further embellished by a large illuminated initial (folio 10 verso).
When DiscoverEd launches in the summer, it will be time to say goodbye to the Library Catalogue – http://catalogue.lib.ed.ac.uk/
The current University of Edinburgh’s Library Catalogue has been in use for 16 years which is pretty old for a library catalogue and this got us thinking about what the catalogue was like in the early days of the Library.
Fortunately for us the Library’s Iconic Items site has given us a glimpse of the earliest Library Catalogue for the University Library.
It is hard to believe that more than a month has passed since the fantastic “2 and 3D: Practice and Prophecies” Conference at the Rijksmuseum in April. So much was packed into those 2 short days: standardisation in colour and targets (who knew standards were so non-standard?), mass-digitisation and bespoke object specific photography techniques, panoramas, multispectral and 3D imaging, digital asset management and the role of photography in heritage institutions. This was a heritage photography event not to be missed, which is why I was delighted when the Association for Historical and Fine Art Photographers (AHFAP) offered me their competition bursary to attend. I gathered so much information in Amsterdam that I am still sifting through the notes and links and chasing up my post –conference ‘to do’ list! However, I would like to share a few of my highlights from the conference. Read More