Student Placement Experience – Tara Laubach

Find out what it is like to be a work placement student in the conservation studio in this week’s blog…

My name is Tara Laubach. I am currently studying the two-year masters course in the Conservation of Fine Art, specializing in paper, at Northumbria University in Newcastle. I completed my second work placement at Edinburgh University Library conservation studio under the mentorship of Emily Hick, Special Collections Conservator, from 9-20 September 2019. My placement was generously funded by the June Baker Trust and the Santander Learning and Employability Fund.

The week began with a tour of the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) main areas, including the store rooms, the digitisation lab, the conservation studio and an introduction to handling training and basic health and safety practices in the studio. I received a folder of relevant and helpful information, including a detailed rota so I could prepare for my placement assignments.

View from the Conservation Studio

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From 15th – 17th October, Library & University Collections played host to FORCE2019 – a leading international conference bringing together an interdisciplinary group of professionals interested in scholarly communications, research data management and open science.  This is the annual conference of FORCE11 (Future of Research Communications and e-Scholarship).

We hosted a day of workshops at the Edinburgh Grosvenor Hotel followed by the main conference at Murrayfield and an evening reception at Ghillie Dhu.  A small group of delegates also visited the library on Friday 18th and were impressed by the digital wall, the makers space and our Nathan Coley artwork.

More than 300 delegates from 23 countries attended the event and initial feedback has been excellent in terms of the content, the venue and the organisation.  Two comment which spring to mind were that this was “a real A-List conference” and “a splendid event and a galaxy of gathering”.

The local organising team, chaired by Fiona Wright have every reason to be incredibly proud of doing such a fantastic job to bring this conference to Scotland, and to the University of Edinburgh.

The programme was jam-packed with superb speakers, including Professor Lesley McAra as our opening keynote.  I don’t have time for a fuller write-up right now but you can see lots of great ideas on Twitter via the hashtag #FORCE2019.

-Dominic Tate, Head of Library Research Support

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On trial: Chatham House Online Archive

Thanks to a request from staff in HCA the Library currently has trial access to Chatham House Online Archive from Gale. This digital resource contains the publications and archives of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), the world-leading independent international affairs policy institute founded in 1920 following the Paris Peace Conference.

You can access Chatham House Online Archive from the E-resources trials page.
Access is available on and off-campus.

Trial access ends 11th November 2019.

With approximately half a million pages of content, Chatham House Online Archive provides a searchable research environment that enables you to explore close to ninety years of expert analysis and commentary on international policy. Subject indexing allows you to quickly retrieve and review briefing papers, special reports, pamphlets, conference papers, monographs, and other material relevant to your own teaching, learning or research. Read More

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Lyell Rocks! Saving & Sharing the Charles Lyell Notebooks

Sir Charles Lyell (1797 – 1875) was a Victorian Scottish geologist, recognised as one of the outstanding scientists in an age of remarkable thinkers.

He’s best known as the author of Principles of Geology (1830-33), which has been called the most important scientific book ever,  and which presented to a wide public the idea that the earth was shaped by natural forces over a very long period of time not unique catastrophes – such as Noah’s flood and other biblical events.  He pioneered an explanation of climate change and is credited with providing the framework that helped Darwin develop his evolutionary theories.  So it is for this and more that Lyell is counted amongst the founders of modern geology.

Lyell’s 294 notebooks are his field notes and they capture, in remarkable detail, his daily engagement with scientific and social issues. They contain travel accounts of his journeys all over the UK, Europe, and the US and are full of queries and discussions on the letters and books he was reading at the time. As a result, we have his thoughts on social and political issues such as slavery in the United States of America, women in science and university education. There are also geological observations, long essays on earthquakes and volcanoes, real sense of the man standing there in front of Mount Etna or in Pompeii, observations on glacial moraines, lists of fossils and shells and notes on threats to species diversity, and letters to Darwin.

Earlier this year it came to light that, having been kept safely in the Lyell family for generations, the Sir Charles Lyell notebook collection was at risk of being sold abroad.  The Government set an export bar giving us until 15th October 2019 to buy the books at a cost of £966,000. The University of Edinburgh began a campaign to save the notebooks for the nation and mounted an awareness and fundraising campaign with our colleagues in D&A. Lectures, advocacy events, a website, social media campaign and a flurry of meetings, phone calls and funding applications were done at speed. Support and funding was secured from leading institutions, groups and over 1000 individuals who pledged donations and, as a result, we have been able to buy the notebooks.

We know that the pledgers will want to see the notebooks as soon as they get here, so it is our duty to make them as accessible as possible as quickly as possible. We’ll do some initial work to make that happen including digitation and display.

The collection will join our existing extensive archive and geology collections, giving us an unrivalled Lyell collection. Working with our colleagues in Geosciences, we are considering the best ways we can make our extended Lyell collections accessible and used. We’re also going to virtually join up all the Lyell Collections across the world, mount an exhibition on climate change with cultural partners in Edinburgh, and make the books and the data open. Finally – in some eerie echo to the future: in notebook 39 in 1830 Lyell refers to his concerns about ‘present and future climate changes,’ in Paris no less.

Earth sciences are relevant to us all – given the impacts of climate change and the changing geographical environment – and understanding the Lyell story has huge potential impact on us all.

That is why Lyell rocks.


Jacky MacBeath
Head of Museums & Centre for Research Collections

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Edinburgh Research Archive Statistics: September 2019

Edinburgh Research Archive: September 2019 downloads infographic

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‘Not a Varsity Bird’: William Soutar’s Student Years

100 years ago this week, one of Scotland’s best-loved poets became a student of Edinburgh University. On 13 October 1919, the 21-year-old William Soutar added his name to the university’s Matriculation Album as a first-year student of English Literature.

Extract from Matriculation Album (EUA IN1/ADS/STA/2)

Like many young men of his generation, Soutar’s student years were delayed by war service. On leaving school in 1916, he joined the Royal Navy and spent two years with the North Atlantic Fleet. By the time he was demobbed in November 1918, he was already suffering from as yet undiagnosed ankylosing spondylitis, a rare and exceptionally crippling form of arthritis, which would lead to almost complete paralysis by 1930 and contribute to Soutar’s early death in 1943. Following a month in hospital, Soutar recovered sufficiently to come to Edinburgh in spring 1919 with the initial intention of studying medicine. Soutar appears to have attended classes without matriculating but found the anatomical specimens so ‘gruesome’ that he abandoned medicine after a fortnight, resolving to switch to honours English after the summer vacation. He found time, however, to contribute a poem to the 21 May edition of The Student, ‘Orpheus’, a lushly Romantic piece heavy with echoes of Keats and Shelley.

Extract from ‘The Student’, 21 May 1919

Soutar did not enjoy a distinguished university career. The first two years of his honours English course passed smoothly enough. He enjoyed Professor Herbert Grierson’s lectures on the English classics, particularly appreciating Chaucer, Wordsworth, and Donne. He read widely, ranging far beyond the curriculum, and as his taste developed, was moved to destroy most of his own teenage production. He wrote prolifically, devoting three months of his first academic years to a long poem ‘Hestia, or the Spirit of Peace’ in a vain effort to win the university’s Poetry Prize. Although he continued to suffer from stiffness of the joints, he was still sufficiently vigorous to sit as a model for his friend James Finlayson’s painting of the warrior-hero Beowulf.

At the beginning of his third year, Soutar was dismayed to discover how prominent a role Anglo-Saxon would play in the Junior Honours curriculum. Finding linguistic studies ‘musty stuff’, he contributed a letter-article to The Student of 21 November, arguing that Anglo-Saxon should be optional. Although it offered a ‘large field to the specialist’, Anglo-Saxon contributed little to the average student’s knowledge and appreciation of the literature of his country’. It occupied far too many of the undergraduate’s studying hours which ‘ought to be given to the far more significant study of the great masters of English literature’.

Extract from ‘The Student’, 21 November 1921

Soutar reluctantly attended third-year Anglo-Saxon lectures but stepped up his campaign against the subject in his Senior Honours year. He was granted an interview with Professor Grierson on 23 October 1922, but failed to convert him to his cause. At his parents’ insistence, Soutar dropped his public opposition to Anglo-Saxon, but ceased attending classes, having been assured that he would still be permitted to sit his honours exam. Although Soutar increasingly devoted his evening hours to cinema-going and card-playing, his final year was nonetheless of vital importance for his development as a poet. His first volume, Gleanings of an Undergraduate, was published in his native Perth on 9 February 1923. Meanwhile, influenced by Hugh MacDiarmid, whom he had met during the 1922 summer vacation, he extended his knowledge of Scots verse beyond Burns to the medieval makars. His work began to appear in the MacDiarmid-edited journals Northern Numbers and The Scottish Chapbook, which spearheaded what came to be known as Scottish Literary Renaissance.

Title page of William Soutar’s first published volume, inscribed by the author (probably to art critic John Tonge) (JA 3537)

At the end of the spring term of 1923, Soutar fared disastrously in a preliminary exam on Shakespeare. When Professor Grierson subsequently remarked in a lecture that an honours course was not really for ‘Minor Poets, Geniuses or Journalists’, Soutar suspected that he was the target. Soutar’s final examinations were held on 15 and 19 June, and at the end of the month he learned that he had ‘scraped through’ with a third-class degree. Looking back, he suspected that aversion to Anglo-Saxon was not the sole reason for his low marks. In his exclusive passion for poetry, he had refused to read any of prescribed. It is also true that his medical condition, provisionally diagnosed as ‘rheumatics’, had worsened during his final year of study and may well have affected his academic performance. Soutar remained philosophical, reflecting: ‘I’m afraid I’m not a ‘Varsity bird’—one is apt to get cobwebs on one’s wings’.

Soutar graduated from Edinburgh University on 12 July 1923. Over the following months, his illness worsened, frustrating his hopes of becoming a journalist for The Scotsman. He began teacher training in October 1924 but had to return to Perth to begin treatment for his finally diagnosed ankylosing spondylitis. From then on, he was confined to his parents’ house, from which he would publish a stream of slim volumes containing some of the finest Scots verse of the 20th-century. The best-known perhaps are the ‘bairn-rhymes’, or Scots children’s verse, collected in Seeds in the Wind. Soutar famously remarked that ‘if the Doric is to come back alive, it will come first on a cock-horse’.

For Edinburgh University’s collection of William Soutar manuscripts, see: Papers of Willam Soutar (Coll-796)

All quotations from: Alexander Scott, Still Life: William Soutar, 1898-1943 (London: Chambers, 1958)

Paul Barnaby
Acquisition and Scottish Literary Collections Curator

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Losing the Heid… or not

The Parthenon Frieze at Edinburgh College of Art

Running around the walls of the Sculpture Court of Edinburgh College Art is a cast of the Parthenon Frieze, which was first acquired by the college’s predecessor institution, the Trustees Academy in the 1830s.  The sculpture court at ECA was built specifically to house and display this cast.

Earlier this year I began looking at the frieze with a view to creating possible projects around it but, as I compared it with images of both the original marbles (now housed in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, the British Museum and the Louvre) and other cast collections, differences began to emerge. Two sections immediately caught my eye – the casts of Sections VI and VII of the East Frieze.

This is a cast of Section VI, as displayed in the Acropolis Museum, taken from the original version displayed in the British Museum.

Compare that with the one at ECA – shown below

The differences in Section VII are also striking.

The original marble, on display in the Louvre, looks like this…

ECA’s cast, on the other hand looks like this!

So why the differences?

From the ECA records, it appears that Section VI was cast while the original was still on the Acropolis, made in 1787 by order of the French ambassador to the Sublime Porte in Constantinople, Count Choiseul-Gouffier. This version is also displayed at the Skulpturhalle in Basel, which has a complete set of casts from the Parthenon.

The original slab, taken from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin, is in the British Museum and on its website it displays the following text:

“These figures were sadly mutilated shortly before Lord Elgin’s men arrived on the Acropolis in 1801. They can be reconstructed with the help of casts from moulds taken by the French diplomat Le Comte de Choiseul–Gouffier.”

This would appear to verify that the cast of Section VI is original.  The real mystery was Section VII, not least as yet more versions exist. One, copies of which are in Glasgow School of Art, the Met in New York and Cornell University collections (fig 1), shows the woman second from the right with more hair than the original, while another, from the Caproni Cast Collection in Boston (fig 2), shows a different head on the figure on the left to the one on the ECA version.

Fig 1 – Cornell Cast                           Fig 2 – Caproni Cast

The ECA records suggest that the cast had been restored. Both Sections VI and VII of the ECA originate in the Louvre, though we have no acquisition date. The original slab appears to have been found beneath Parthenon by L. S Fauvel in 1784, a few years later than Section VII, so the question was whether this cast is as it was originally discovered or a later, restored version.  The only known drawing of these pieces showing them in place on the Parthenon was made by Jacques Carrey in 1674 (Fig 3). The drawings made by the architects Revett and Stuart in 1751 for their Antiquities of Athens books, appear to show that this section was already missing from the Parthenon, as there is a sizeable gap in their sketch of the East Frieze. Their drawings were made after the explosion in 1687, which destroyed much of the building.  The accuracy of Carey’s drawings have been questioned but from them it is easy to see differences in the hairstyles of the figures in Section VII.

Fig 3  Drawing by Jacques Cary

The original slab, along with a number of casts, was transported from the Acropolis to Piraeus and then shipped to Marseilles in 1797, from where it was then moved to Paris. On arrival in Paris, however Fauvel was apparently angered to discover that the slab was missing its heads and insisted that they be found, implying that they had been lost in transit. However, in his personal papers, where he describes the find in January 2nd, 1789, Fauvel stated that the bas-relief only had two heads.

The slab was first displayed in what is now the Louvre in 1800 and the earliest drawing made in the museum was published in 1811 in A. L. Millin’s, Monuments antiques inédits ou nouvellement expliqués. No heads were shown. The earliest illustration with heads, didn’t appear until 1827 in Charles Clarac’s catalogue for the museum, Musée de Sculpture Antique at Moderne.  A later edition of this catalogue, printed in 1841, contains the text, “all the heads of this bas-relief are due to a modern restoration.” This illustration is very similar to the cast held by ECA.

Fig 4. – Musée de sculpture antique et moderne Tome 2, première partie 1841 –  Clarac

Half a century later, the 1896 catalogue for the Louvre contained a photograph of the slab with the heads once again absent (Fig 5).

Fig 5 – Musée du Louvre – Catalogue Sommaire – 1896

It appears that some restoration work was carried out around 1820, probably by Bernard Lange, who was then in charge of the Louvre’s restoration workshop, but there no evidence to confirm this. In researching this piece it transpired that the missing heads have long been puzzled over by archaeologists and art historians and indeed were the subject of a presentation made at a conference on the Parthenon frieze held in Basel in 1988. The presenters, Jean Marcadé and Christiane Pinatel, both from Paris, concluded that at some stage plaster heads had been added to the marble slab and that casts had been made, so it seems likely that this is the source of the cast at the College of Art.  Completing broken sculptures was fashionable in the early part of the 19th century but by the second half this trend was no longer acceptable so the additions would then have been removed. However, they also stated that “the modern parts that were removed at the end of the last century have not been found,” so does this make the ECA version unique? Certainly, having looked at numerous publications and online resources, there are no other images showing a cast with heads and when I contacted Tomas Lochman, the curator at the Basel Skulpturahalle, with an image of the ECA cast, he described it as “really astonishing.”

There is a slim possibility that this cast was made while the slab was still intact on the Acropolis but all the evidence would suggest not. Nevertheless, while it may not be original, the ECA cast may the only one of its kind and therefore, as evidence of 19th century restoration techniques, still has some value. Moreover, if we scan the section we may be able to verify this once and for all, as each cast has lines running through them, showing how the original mould was created If these run continuously though the figures then it is indeed an original. Time will tell!

Norman Rodger
Projects Development Manager
Library & University Collections


10 October 2019



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On trial: Bloomsbury Medieval Studies

I’m happy to let you know that we currently have trial access to Bloomsbury Medieval Studies, a new interdisciplinary digital resource with a global perspective which opens up the medieval world for students and staff.

You can access Bloomsbury Medieval Studies from the E-resources trials page.
Access is available on and off-campus.

Trial access ends 6th November 2019.

Bloomsbury Medieval Studies brings together high-quality secondary content with visual primary sources, a brand new reference work and material culture images into one cross-searchable platform. Read More

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Edinburgh Research Explorer Statistics: September 2019

Edinburgh Research Explorer: September 2019 downloads infographic

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XRF Internship at St Cecilia’s Hall

In this week’s blog, we hear from Despoina Papazoglou who was an intern at St Celilia’s Hall from April to June 2019. Her internship focused on the material analysis of a painted 17th-century harpsichord using XRF…. 

Hello! My name is Despoina and I decided to write this article to share my experience of an eight-week journey as an intern at St Cecilia’s Hall. This is the first time I have written something for a blog, so before I started I googled “how to write my first blog?”, and seriously, I couldn’t understand a thing…just for a moment, I believed that quantum physics was easier to understand!

Let’s start with when I found the vacancy for the internship. The title “Scientific Material Analysis of Musical Instruments Internship” sparked curiosity within me as my professional background is in the field of material science. After reading and re-reading the job description I knew I wanted to be part of the project, as I realised it would not only expand my knowledge but also expose me to new challenges that would help me achieve my future career goals. I was so excited about the job and wanted to be part of it so badly that I did extensive research and learnt all about the museum and the collections displayed within it. Long story short, I sent in my CV, attended the interview and was offered the internship. I was probably the happiest person on earth! One of my biggest desires came true, and I could finally work in a museum with people who share the same passion as me – the conservation and preservation of cultural heritage.

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