The Humble Spider – A Measure of Moral Character in Physical Education

In this week’s blog post we take a closer look at the Dunfermline College of Physical Education Archives and attempt to join up the dots between the humble spider and the history of physical education in Scotland. Starting with the spider…

There are more than 45,000 species of spider found world-wide. An arachnid, they belong to a class of arthropods that include scorpions, mites and ticks. They can range in size from 0.11 inches (the tiny Samoan) to almost a foot (the Goliath birdeater tarantula). Metric, that’s around 2.5 mm up to 30.5 cm, or from a pin-head up to the length of your average class-room ruler. While a handful are dangerous to humans, the vast majority of spiders are harmless. They are critical to controlling insect populations.

The Jumping Spider - which can jump up to 50 times its own length

The Jumping Spider – which can jump up to 50 times its own length

Take a closer look at the humble spider and you’ll discover some surprising athletic prowess. The jumping spider can jump up to an impressive 50 times their body length. That’s the equivalent of a human jumping higher than a 25 storey building. The male Peacock spider lifts its legs and shakes its body in synchronised movements in order to attract mates. And every spider produces silk, the strong, flexible protein fibre which they use to build webs, to travel, to anchor themselves for jumping, and to float serenely along in the wind. Allegedly, the silk is so strong that it can absorb three times as much energy as Kevlar, the material used to make bulletproof vests.

Since ancient times, throughout the world, the spider has featured in folklore and cultural tradition. This nifty creature has been assigned a variety of moral attributes and character traits. In some cultural traditions, the spider is seen as an evil arch-intriguer, weaving webs of duplicity, designed to entrap the innocent. In others, it is cast as a model of industry, wisdom and foresight. From Persia to Poland, spiders and caves have featured in the folklore of Kings and Prophets. A Jewish story tells of a spider protecting King David, who was hiding from King Saul, by weaving a protective web across the mouth of a cave. The Story of Hijrah from the Islamic faith tells the story of a spider spinning a web in a cave to protect the Prophet Muhammad.

Here in Scotland, many will be familiar with the fabled encounter of King Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) with a spider, first popularised by Sir Walter Scott in his series ‘Tales of a Grandfather’ (1828-1830). The story goes that after defeat by Edward I at the Battle of Methven (1306), a dispirited and demoralised Bruce fled into hiding. Holed up in a cave, Bruce observed a spider stoically attempt time and again to spin its web. Every time the spider fell, it began again, until at last, the web was spun. Inspired by the tenacious spider, Bruce is alleged to have told his troops, prior to defeating the English at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again”. Bruce reigned King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329, and is somewhat revered as a national hero in Scotland.

Lithograph of Dunfermline Abbey by T. Picken after D.O. Hill, 1847-1854 (Corson P.4114)

Lithograph of Dunfermline Abbey by T. Picken after D.O. Hill, 1847-1854 (Corson P.4114)

Dunfermline, the former capital of Scotland, has a long standing connection with Scottish kings. On his death in 1329, Robert the Bruce was the last of seven Scottish kings to be buried at Dunfermline Abbey. Sensationally, his remains were uncovered in 1818 and then re-interred at the Abbey in 1819. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, in 1891, the pulpit at Dunfermline Abbey was moved back and a monumental brass inserted to indicate the position of the royal vault.

Andrew Carnegie, the wealthy Scottish-born American industrialist and philanthropist, was born in Dunfermline in 1835. Carnegie was born just over fifteen years after the re-interment of Robert the Bruce at Dunfermline Abbey and only five years after Scott published his ‘Tales of a Grandfather’ featuring the legend of Robert the Bruce and the spider. The works of Scott were prominent in Carnegie’s education, enthusiastically relayed to him by his uncle, George Lauder, Snr. Carnegie’s ancestors had also been tenants on Broomhall Estate, the family home of Robert the Bruce’s descendants.

An embroidered spider motif on the front cover of the Dunfermline College of Physical Education Old Students' Association Minute Book, 1912-1973 (Ref: EUA GD55/1/1/2)

An embroidered spider motif on the front cover of the Dunfermline College of Physical Education Old Students’ Association Minute Book, 1912-1973 (Ref: EUA GD55/1/1/2)

Perhaps it is no surprise then, that the Carnegie funded Dunfermline College of Physical Education (DCPE), founded in 1905, should adopt the humble spider as its emblem. Its motto “Efforts are Successes” a distillation of Robert the Bruce’s alleged message to his troops. By 1905, Robert the Bruce and his spider were embedded in Scottish cultural tradition as a symbol of perseverance in the face of adversity. It is also fitting that this little creature assigned with traits of patience, dedication, resolve and resilience, and seemingly super-power athletic ability should become the lauded symbol of the college graduates.

The DCPE spider pops up in all manner of places throughout the the institution’s archives. The first minute book of the DCPE Old Students’ Association (OSA), which dates from 1912, features the spider motif intricately embroidered on its cloth cover. Open the cover and you will find revealed a controversy around the college brooch and its spider design. The minutes of 29 March 1929 read:

The Dunfermline College of Physical Education Brooch, featuring the spider, lion rampant, foundation date (1905) and the motto "Efforts are Successes". Image courtesy of Lorna M. Campbell

The Dunfermline College of Physical Education Brooch. Image courtesy of Lorna M. Campbell

The question of our badge having been raised. Mrs Manifold [the President of the Association] said it had been brought to her notice that our badge, not being registered, could be sold by Messrs R.W. Forsyth to any one who asked for it. She also said that she knew of a small shop-keeper who was making our pocket badge and had sold at least fifty, not necessarily to our members.

Inquiries were made to the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust (who owned the badge) to permit the spider design to be registered. Forsyth’s (a department store with premises in Edinburgh and Glasgow) offered to pay for the registration and were ‘prepared to protect their registration even to the point of a law-suit’ so strong were their feelings about the matter. Forsyth’s also committed to only sell badges to proven DCPE OSA members.

DCPE was founded as an instrument for improving the general health of the child but the story of the spider tells us it was about more than physical health. DCPE students and graduates were encouraged to align themselves to values of respectability, refinement, poise, deportment, and decorum. The moral standing and character of DCPE students was central to their teaching and their distinct identity in this area the source of some pride and cause for protection.

With growing secularisation, questions around how we shape the moral character and civic duty of society are as important now as ever before. Social and moral concepts such as loyalty, dedication, sacrifice, team-work, good citizenship, fairness, justice and responsibility are all tied up in the ethos of sports. But has the development of specialist sub-disciplines such as bio-mechanics, exercise physiology, sport psychology and motor learning led to a marginalisation of the social dimension of physical education? Has the renaming of physical education to ‘schools of exercise’ and ‘sports studies’ diluted its moral character? Does it matter? Asking these questions might lead us not just to a better understanding of the history of physical education, but of the human experience as a whole.

There are many ‘spider’ like stories to be found in the archives. This is one of thousands just waiting to be discovered. It is by uncovering and examining these stories that archives can help us to understand our past and our present, and subsequently, shape our future.

The records Dunfermline College of Physical Education and its’ Old Students Association are held at the University of Edinburgh Archives. You can search the catalogues of the Old Students’ Association online:
Dunfermline College of Physical Education Old Students’ Association
The catalogue of the college records will be made available online soon as part of our Wellcome Research Resource-funded ‘Body Language’ archive cataloguing project.

Sources and further reading:

  • The National Geographic – Spiders
  • On Walter Scott’s ‘Tales of a Grandfather’
  • Isabella C. MacLean, The History of Dunfermline College of Physical Education, (1976).
  • Phillips, M.G., Roper, A.P., History of Physical Education in ‘Handbook of Physical Education’ (2006).
  • On Andrew Carnegie

With thanks to Clare Button for her background research of the minutes of the DCPE OSA (Ref: EUA GD55/1/1/2).

The Forsaken Mermaid

This week we dig a little deeper into the story behind a document that was conserved in the course of our project work in 2018, and discover legendary sea creatures and a folk-tale inspired Scottish ballet.  

In 2018, project archivist, Clare Button, made a discovery: Margaret Morris’ copy of Erik Chisholm’s musical score for ‘The Forsaken Mermaid’, the first ever full length Scottish ballet. Clare made the remarkable find during her tenacious work to sort and catalogue over 300 boxes of archive material which make up the Margaret Morris Archives. The collection, which covers almost a century of movement, dance and art in Scotland, was donated to the Fergusson Gallery in Perth in 2010. It forms one of three collections included in our ‘Body Language’ project.

The Forsaken Mermaid manuscript before treatment (Ref: 2010.718)

The Forsaken Mermaid manuscript before treatment (Ref: 2010.718)

On discovering the manuscript, which is dated to around 1936, Clare found it in rather poor condition. There were multiple tears to the edges of the paper and evidence of some well-intended but rather non-expert repairs. She carefully packed up the fragile volume and arranged for it to be transported by expert couriers to specialist conservators at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections.

On arrival at the University of Edinburgh’s main library, the volume was unpacked by the conservation team in the bright, clinically clean, fifth-floor conservation studio. Amidst a hive of conservation activity (from re-binding rare seventeenth-century books to repairing early twentieth-century glass plate negatives), this curious manuscript met with experienced book and paper conservation student, Lisa Behrens.

Book and paper conservation student, Lisa Behrens, carefully removing adhesive tape from the Forsaken Mermaid mansucript

Book and paper conservation student, Lisa Behrens, carefully removing adhesive tape from the Forsaken Mermaid mansucript

Lisa’s first task was to dry-clean the volume and then, over two days, she painstakingly removed multiple layers of adhesive tape and binding threads. Each of the individual sheets were repaired using Japanese paper, pressed overnight and then re-sewn using a French sewing technique. This ensured that the conservation treatment did not damage the volume further and helps to protect it from further damage while still allowing it to be accessible to researchers.

A University of Edinburgh alumni (1931 and 1934), Erik Chisholm (1904-1965) was a leading Scottish modernist composer. Glasgow born Chisholm jointly founded the Celtic Ballet with Margaret Morris. At the age of 34, he was appointed Celtic Ballet’s director of music in 1938, although he had composed the musical score for ‘The Forsaken Mermaid’ earlier, in 1936. The choreography for ‘The Forsaken Mermaid’ was by Morris and the set and costumes by the artist, and then principal of Glasgow School of Art, Andrew Taylor-Elder (1908-1966). Celtic Ballet performed ‘The Forsaken Mermaid’, their inaugural production, at the Lyric Theatre, Glasgow, on 6 December 1940.

A curious folk-tale, ‘The Forsaken Mermaid’ features those legendary supernatural sea people, human from the head to the waist but with a fish tail instead of legs. There are many folk-tales of love stories and marriages between a mermaid and a man, some have even claimed descent from such a union. This particular story takes place under and on the water and partly on land.  ‘The Forsaken Mermaid’ tells the story of a mermaid who fell in love with a man when she is caught in a fisherman’s net. But the man grows tired of her and she returns to the sea in despair. The sea-people seek revenge in a terrible storm, drowning the fishermen. The mermaid pleads for the life of her love.

Subsequent Celtic Ballet productions were set to Scottish themes and incorporated elements of Margaret Morris Movement, Scottish country and Highland dance styles. Celtic Ballet went on to tour in Europe, Russia and the United States of America. They were one of the first British companies to perform in France after the second world war.  Chisholm went on to be appointed the Principal of the College of Music at the University of Capetown where he remained until his death in 1965. He held a lifelong interest in Scottish music and published a collection of Celtic folk-songs in 1964.

The Forsaken Mermaid manuscript after treatment (Ref: 2010.718)

The Forsaken Mermaid manuscript after treatment (Ref: 2010.718)

This annotated manuscript is evidence of just one of multiple collaborations with artists that Margaret Morris spearheaded, which can be found throughout the collection. Since undergoing successful conservation treatment, it has now been returned to its home at the Fergusson Gallery at Perth. While the gallery remains closed for the time-being (July 2020) in line with Scottish Government guidance on coronavirus restrictions, there are lots of sources online where you can find out more.

  • You can read more about the conservation treatment of the volume on Centre for Research Collections conservation blog ‘To Protect and (Con)serve’.
  • We love this fantastic video footage from 1923 showing Margaret Morris Merry Mermaids, showing dancers at Harlech beach performing mermaid inspired movement, courtesy of the British Film Institute.
  • Artist Donald Bain’s painting ‘Celtic Ballet: Forsaken Mermaid’ can be viewed on the National Galleries Scotland website.
  • The Celtic Ballet and its history feature in this opinion piece from ‘The National’ newspaper.
  • There is some fascinating reading around Erik Chisholm and his career to be found on the Erik Chisholm Trust website.

We Are Still Here!

We are delighted to announce that thanks to generous support from the Wellcome Research Resource Fund, our Body Language archives project will now run until January 2021.

It seemed a very different world when we began our Wellcome Research Resource-funded ‘Body Language’ project back in September 2017. The aim of our project is to catalogue, preserve and make available three significant collections relating to movement, dance, gymnastics and physical education in Scotland and beyond. The collections include the Margaret Morris Archives, the records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education and the records of Scottish Gymnastics. You can read more about the project and collections on our ‘About’ page. The project was originally due to complete in July 2020 – but we are still here, and I am very pleased to report that we are not going anywhere soon. Thanks to a generous grant supplement and project extension from our project funder, our ‘Body Language’ project will now run until January 2021.

Image showing the Margaret Morris Collection in situ at the Fergusson Gallery, Perth

We miss discovering daily delights in the archive – the Margaret Morris Collection in situ at the Fergusson Gallery, Perth

In February 2020, my main focus was centred around completing the cataloguing of the Margaret Morris collection. The cataloguing, conservation and preservation of both the Dunfermline College of Physical Education and Scottish Gymnastics collections were largely complete. I was working on final edits for those two collections, alongside the work on the Margaret Morris collection. The work required a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between boxes, creating the last of hundreds of box-lists, crafting and implementing a new intellectual arrangement for the Margaret Morris collection, and numbering the physical collections. I was also working with colleagues from our Digital Imaging Unit on the digitisation element of our project and with colleagues from our Library Digital Development team, developing the technical infrastructure for our new project website. The website will host the collections catalogues and provide contextual information for public engagement and research based around the collections.

By the middle of March 2020, Europe had been identified as the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic and it was becoming increasingly evident that we may have to move to home working at very short notice. With the prospect of no physical access to the collections for an indefinite period, I began to capture as much information as possible about the remaining uncatalogued material. I hastily created box-lists and took photographs of the physical layout and arrangement of collections, to act as a memory aid and to allow me to continue project work from home.

Image showing the view from our project archivist's home office

View from our project archivist’s home office

I have been working from home since 18 March 2020. While I have been able to continue work on many of the outstanding project tasks at home, I and others on the team have been unable to physically access collections to complete essential cataloguing and digitisation work. And like so many people, our team are also facing some of the many and varied challenges that have come along with lock-down, such as increased childcare commitments, home schooling, and caring commitments.

We are delighted therefore (and a little relieved) that Wellcome have offered to supplement our original grant and to extend the project end date by 6 months. This will help enormously to mitigate some of the impact and challenges that we have faced, and continue to face, in light of the current global health crisis. We hope to be able to return to working with the physical collections before the end of the project – we miss them (and our colleagues).

The extension provides an opportunity, over the coming months, for us to share more here; about the collections, our work, and to highlight some of the interesting discoveries that we have made. We’ll be posting something every week, (with perhaps a guest post or two). Please join us on our journey as we work our way through the concluding stages of our project.

I am really happy to be able to work with these fantastic collections for a little longer. Thank you Wellcome!

Elaine MacGillivray
Project Archivist

Health in Motion: I move, therefore I am

As many of us face the challenge of managing our mental and physical well-being during the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we look to the doyenne of movement and pioneer of dance, Margaret Morris, for inspiration…

Scrabble letters laid out to spell out 'Mental Health'In 2018, a YouGov online poll (based on a sample of 4619 participants) recorded that 74% of people have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope, 61% felt anxious and 37% lonely due to isolation. A further 36% of adults who reported stress in the previous year cited either their own or a friend/relative’s long-term health condition as a factor, rising to 40% in adults over 55. Housing worries were another key source of anxiety. In 2013, there were 8.2 million recorded cases of anxiety in the UK.

Reproduction of an image illustrating CoronavirusIn 2020, we can now add the stresses and strains of coronavirus (COVID-19) into the mental health mix. There is little doubt that current measures around social distancing and restrictions on movement – in place to protect ourselves and others from coronavirus – are exacerbating the collective strain on mental and physical well-being. Mental health organisation websites (such as the Mental Health Foundation, Mind, and the Scottish Association for Mental Health) are all leading with how to protect our mental well-being during the coronavirus pandemic. On 27 March 2020, the Scottish Government announced an additional £3.8 million investment to expand support for digital mental health services specifically in response to further demand as a result of the current crisis.

As our first-hand experience of social isolation informs our understanding of its impact, many of us are developing a new found empathy for those who had been living in social isolation pre-coronavirus. For those of us accustomed to leading active lives and moving around freely, we are now having to consider carefully the new risks associated with moving and exercising outwith our homes. For many of us, physical movement will be at the very bottom of our priority list as we juggle all of our other commitments. After all, just thinking about how to incorporate physical movement into our new daily routine (if we have managed to establish one) can be mentally exhausting given our work, family, child-care, pet-care, carer, domestic, social media, volunteering, and the new plethora of video group-chat catch-up commitments. That’s before we even register the anxiety around actually becoming infected with or transmitting coronavirus.

There are many studies which have shown that doing physical activity can improve mental health by aiding sleep, releasing feel-good hormones, distracting our brains from intrusive and racing thoughts, improving self-esteem, and reducing the risk of depression. All even more important in the current environment. How then, at this time of crisis, do we move physical and mental well-being up the priority list? For help, we decided to look to our archives and into the past. We look to the great doyenne of all things movement and pioneer of dance, Margaret Morris (1891-1980), for some inspiration and guidance.

Reproduction of Front cover of Margaret Morris' Basic Physical Training, 1937, courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross

Front cover of Margaret Morris’ Basic Physical Training, 1937, courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross

Ideas around the integration of mind and body are not new. In the 1920s, Margaret Morris, a dancer, choreographer and teacher, was part of a wider campaign that promoted health via ‘movement, wholefood, fresh air etc’. Morris developed her ‘Margaret Morris Movement’ method in which students studied form, line, colour, movement, music, rhythm, sound and composition. When she was interviewed in 1926 for Architecture: the magazine of architecture, the applied arts and crafts, Margaret Morris highlighted one of the primary problems in the area of physical movement which was, (and still is), ‘how can physical exercise be made interesting?’ Morris remarked in her 1937 publication Basic Physical Training, ‘corrective exercises have…excellent results when persisted in long enough – but they are terribly boring to do…’ Morris was convinced that interest could only be done by bringing the creative or artistic element; which she argued was not so difficult or far-fetched as it may at first appear. Underlying her approach was the inter-relation and harmony of all the arts. ‘All movements performed for the establishment of health…must combine the aesthetic as well as the medical values of movement.’

Morris developed and refined her method throughout her lifetime. By 1938, four divisions of Margaret Morris Movement had been established: normal, medical, athletic and aesthetic, all of which were interrelated. Morris propounded the remedial and health benefits of dance and her particular movement method as she witnessed improvements in her dancers’ posture and general health. Morris developed a dance system which, she argued, was more natural than classical ballet and allowed for all the possibilities of movement, including spring and balance, without artificialities or contortions – to allow a true freedom of expression. Many of us are currently experiencing high emotional states, but may be finding it difficult to express ourselves in words. Dance allows individuals to express powerful emotions through their physical bodies perhaps more instinctively and intuitively, and our bodies provide a physical medium through which pent up emotion may be released.

Central to the Margaret Morris Movement method is the science of breathing, and she advocated the teaching of correct breathing before anything else so that the breath is synchronised with movement. Many of the movements she devised are based on a ‘twist of the trunk, with counter-balancing arm and leg movements’. Writing in her book Roar (2016), about female physiology, health and fitness performance, Dr Stacy T. Sims tells us that ‘when our entire torso (collarbone to hip) is strong and solid, so are you.’ Unlike many other sports or physical activities, dance develops core strength as the foundation of every other move. Morris underlines the importance of the lungs, the abdomen and feet in Basic Physical Training claiming, ‘their efficient functioning is unquestionably of the first importance for success in any form of physical activity whatsoever.’

A coloured drawing by Margaret Morris, showing muscles of the arm, drawn as part of her physiotherapy training.

Margaret Morris Movement was informed by Morris’ deep understanding of human anatomy, illustrated here in one of her many anatomical drawings, underaken as part of her physiotherapy studies.  Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross

From 1925 Morris began to demonstrate remedial qualities of her movement method to health professionals. In 1930 she qualified as a physiotherapist and by 1937 she was invited to join the National Council for Physical Education. By 1939 Margaret Morris had authored or co-authored a number of publications which described the Margaret Morris Movement method and explained its application to a range of physical activities including dancing, skiing, maternity and post-operative exercises, tennis and basic physical training. The continuing relevance of her ideas was recognised in 2013 in the New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy in which her ‘maternity exercises’ from 1938, are considered to translate well to the present day, with more evidence to support their use in some instances. Margaret Morris Movement dance teachers continue to teach her technique and dances today to encourage the love of dance and movement for health benefits, satisfaction and performance. You can read more about Margaret Morris and the current work of Margaret Morris Movement International Ltd on their website.

While our freedom of movement may be geographically constrained, why not let Margaret Morris and her dancers inspire you to explore a physical freedom of movement and expression within your home? There is wonderful video footage of Margaret Morris demonstrations to be found online via British Pathé. Perhaps put on some music, breathe a little more deeply and rhythmically, give your trunk a little twist, counter-balance your limbs, think a little less, move a little more. Dance your way physically, through your body, to a better mental space. Alone or with your family, or dare I mention it, shared via video call. Test the assumption of intellectual superiority suggested by Descartes when he declared “I think, therefore I am” and try out our favoured alternative: “I move, therefore I am”.

We hope Margaret Morris will inspire you to add a little physical movement to your day.  Stay safe, stay well, stay home – keep moving.

Elaine MacGillivray – Project Archivist

Acknowledgements
The Margaret Morris Archive was gifted by the International Association of Margaret Morris Movement to our project partner Culture Perth and Kinross in 2010. Images are courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross and Margaret Morris Movement International Limited.

The Margaret Morris Archive is being catalogued as part of our Wellcome Research Resource-funded ‘Body Language’ project. The archive is held at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth. The Gallery is currently closed in line with Scottish Government guidance relating to the coronavirus pandemic. Updated information regarding re-opening will be published on the Culture Perth and Kinross Museums web-pages when available.     

References
Morris, Margaret and Daniels, Fred, Margaret Morris Dancing, (Kegan Paul, 1926)
Morris, Margaret, The Notation of Movement, (Kegan Paul, 1928)
Morris, Margaret and Falkner, Hans, Skiing Exercises, (Heinemann, 1934)
Morris, Margaret and Randell, M., Maternity and Post-Operative Exercises, (Heineman, 1936)
Morris,Margaret, Basic Physical Training, (Heinemann, 1937)
Morris, Margaret, My Life in Movement (1969)
Power, Richenda, Healthy Motion: Images of ‘natural’ and ‘cultured’ movement in early twentieth-century Britain, in Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol 19, Issue 5, (Sept-Oct 1996)
Simpson, Betty and Whitfield, Frank, Notes on the theory of teaching Margaret Morris Movement (1936)
Sims, Stacy T., Roar, (Rodale, 2016)
Hay-Smith, E Jean C, Maternity Exercises 75 years on: what has changed and what does experimental evidence tell us? in New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy, Vol 41, Number 1, (March 2013)
Miss Margaret Morris at Crosby Hall in The Academy, (25 May 1912), p.658
Architecture, a magazine of architecture and the applied arts and crafts, Vol 4, Issue 10, (London, February 1926).
Margaret Morris Movement International Ltd website
Mental Health Foundation website
Mind: the mental health charity website
The Scottish Association for Mental Health website
The Scottish Government website (news web-pages)

‘Body Language’ exhibition launches to resounding gong!

Project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, dances us through the magic of the ‘Body Language’ exhibition launch.

Image showing 'Body Language' Exhibition opening times

‘Body Language’ Exhibition opening times

A sudden booming and magical gong hushed invited guests.  Its exotic timbre reverberated throughout the polished black granite, double-height, library foyer.  Chatting paused…drinks suspended.  All eyes turned to the small company of ‘MSc Dance Science and Education’ student dancers as they weaved their way through the standing audience to centre stage. Simple costumes of black leotards and tights were the perfect portal to an emotive and hypnotic choreography.  The audience was transported, invited to come along on a wonderful journey of movement in space and time, as the dancers responded to the percussive gong.  Finally, as the vibrations of the last gong strike gradually faded away, the audience applause occupied the vacancy.  This is how to launch an exhibition.

Last Thursday (25 July 2019) students past and present, academics, professional support staff, volunteers, senior university staff and project partners came together to preview and celebrate the launch of the Wellcome Trust funded archive exhibition ‘Body Language’.  Guests, from all over Scotland, were welcomed by Head of Special Collections and the Centre for Research Collections, Dr Joseph Marshall.  This was followed by opening speeches from Wendy Timmons, Programme Director, MSc Dance Science and Education at the University of Edinburgh, and then from Professor John Ravenscroft, Chair of Childhood Visual Impairment at Moray House School of Education.

The exhibition was declared open and dancers continued to move throughout the exhibition space, responding to percussive instruments, as guests enjoyed their preview exploration of the exhibition.  We were treated to a visual feast of contemporary dance inspired by learning from the (very) tangible past.  The dance students choreographed their work as a creative response to the film ‘The Gong’.  ‘The Gong’ film illustrates dance teaching at Dunfermline College of Physical Education in the 1960s (which included aesthetic and dramatic forms) and is featured in the exhibition.

University of Edinburgh Main Library Exhibition Gallery: 'Body Language' exhibition

University of Edinburgh Main Library Exhibition Gallery: ‘Body Language’ exhibition

The ‘Body Language’ exhibition offers a unique insight into the work and life of Scottish female pioneers in movement, dance and physical education.  We discover this through the archive collections of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (one of the first training colleges for female physical education teachers); Scottish Gymnastics (and its predecessors), and Margaret Morris (1891-1980).  The exhibition features film, photographic images, textiles, printed works and manuscripts from across these three archive collections. The archive collections of Dunfermline College of Physical Education and Scottish Gymnastics are held at the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh.  The Margaret Morris collection is held by our project partner, Culture Perth and Kinross, at their Fergusson Gallery in Perth.

The University of Edinburgh’s Main Library Exhibition Gallery buzzed with the chatter of guests, as members of Dunfermline College of Physical Education Old Students’ Association mingled with archive cataloguing project volunteers, current students with professional and curatorial staff, and academics with dancers.  Guests chuckled and nodded in agreement as Professor Ravenscroft compared a visit to the archives to that of a visit to Narnia. We agree that the archives are magical: a treasure chest, full to overflowing, with knowledge, ideas, learning and inspiration.  The curation and staging of this exhibition is the culmination of months, if not years, of collaborative work involving archivists, curators, academics and project partners.  But it is really only the beginning.  The seed has now been planted, from which will grow a range public engagement activities with a variety of communities; academic research, and an enhanced student experience. It is a shining example of how archive collections can inform, inspire, encourage and facilitate inter-disciplinary working, research and creative engagement.

Disclaimer: whilst we agree with Professor Ravenscroft that like Narnia, archives are magical, we must make absolutely clear that they are not fictional, and you definitely cannot access them via the back of your wardrobe.  We know, we checked.  You can however, get yourself along to the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library Exhibition Gallery to experience for yourself the magic of the ‘Body Language’ exhibition.  It’s free and you don’t even need a ticket!

‘Body Language’ runs from 26 July – 26 October 2019 at the University of Edinburgh Main Library Exhibition Gallery, George Square, Edinburgh.  The exhibition is open from Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm, with Sunday opening included in August. The exhibition forms part of the University of Edinburgh’s Exhibition programme as well as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme. You can view the student performance from the exhibition launch event here.

Elaine MacGillivray, project archivist.

All Change – Body Language project extended until July 2020

Margaret Morris dancers posing with tree

Margaret Morris dancers posing with tree

We are very pleased to announce that a new project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, has agreed to take on responsibility for our collaborative Wellcome Research Resource-funded archives project ‘Body Language: movement, dance and physical education in Scotland, 1890-1990’.  Elaine currently manages another Wellcome Research Resource-funded ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’.  With immediate effect, Elaine will split her time 50/50 between the two projects, which means that she will (usually) work Tues-Wed on our Body Language project and Thurs-Fri on the Evergreen Project.  This means that the Body Language project will now extend to July 2020.

The extended project period provides a wonderful opportunity to continue the cataloguing work, explore and highlight the collections further and to open up research opportunities using the collections.

Elaine’s predecessor, Clare Button, has successfully completed a significant amount of work on the project.  We are very grateful for the huge contribution that Clare made to the project and wish her all the very best in her new post as archivist at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, at Queen Mary University, London.

“Clare has undertaken a tremendous amount of work on the project to date and I very much hope that I can fulfil her ambitions for the project as I take her work forward.  I am also very excited to explore the commonalities between the two projects.  Firstly in terms of the ideas relating to movement, health, art and culture, but also in relation to the people found in the collections material.  I know Margaret Morris visited Patrick Geddes’ Château d’Assas, near Montpellier, at least once, and that they were both connected with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.” Elaine MacGillivray, project archivist.

Watch this space for the next update!

 

‘Moving forwards towards perfection’: Dunfermline College of Physical Education

Dunfermline College, original building. Part of the Records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (EUA IN16)

On this day (4th October) in 1905, the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust College of Hygiene and Physical Training (later renamed Dunfermline College of Physical Education) was founded. It was opened by the Marquis of Linlithgow (who was Secretary for Scotland) in the ‘palatial’ Carnegie Gymnasium in the presence of over 1,000 people. The ceremony was an important milestone in the history of the town of Dunfermline but also Scotland as a whole; this was the first college of physical education of its kind in the country.

Dunfermline had already been home to a number of health-focused amenities, thanks to funding from its native son, the Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. There was ‘The Carnegie Gymnastics Club’ for young men and, later, a new gymnasium, swimming baths and Turkish Baths on Pilmuir Street.

The Carnegie Baths. Part of Records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (EUA IN16)

Turkish Baths, Dunfermline. Part of the Records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (EUA IN16)

The idea of public health and fitness was a growing concern following the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training (Scotland) a year earlier. With widespread poverty and malnutrition, cramped, urban lifestyles and a lack of physical education in schools, the fitness of the general population was found to be severely lacking. The Report effectively recommended compulsory physical education in schools to help combat this.

A syllabus of physical exercises was published for use in public elementary schools and the Carnegie Dunfermline Trustees provided male and female teachers to visit schools weekly and instruct children. However, there was a shortage of teachers specially trained in physical instruction and it was decided that a training college should be formed.

Miss Flora Ogston (daughter of Sir Alexander Ogston, Regius Professor of Surgery, University of Aberdeen from 1882 to 1909) became the first Principal of the College, which accepted women students only. Teaching at the College focused on theoretical and practical aspects of physical education, and included human anatomy and physiology, Ling’s Swedish system of gymnastics, remedial massage and, perhaps surprisingly, singing and voice production. The first 11 students to complete the two-year diploma course did so in 1907.

College Hockey Team, 1905-1906. Part of the Records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (EUA IN16)

Giving a toast to the College at a dinner following the opening ceremony, Alexander Ogston concluded with his vision of what it represented in terms of national achievement and improved human wellbeing:

Scotland does not stand where it did; where formerly it was covered with what were quaintly termed “foul moors,” it is now so altered that it presents in their stead scenes of charming beauty and fertility, or is filled with the evidence of man’s industry and genius. It is not too much to expect that the agencies now active in the amelioration of the physical condition of its people, among which we hope the Dunfermline College will play a great part, will result in a somewhat similar elevation of all its inhabitants, in the production of a higher, nobler, better race, moving forwards towards perfection.

The records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education are currently being catalogued and we look forward to sharing more stories from the archive soon!

Sources:

  • Addresses delivered on the occasion of the inauguration of the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust College of Hygiene and Physical Training on the 4th October 1905 (Dunfermline: A. Romanes & Son, 1905)
  • Dr I.C. MacLean, The History of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (Edinburgh: Dunfermline College of Physical Education, 1976)
  • www.victorianturkishbath.org

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A Prized Collection

We were recently rather excited to receive a significant accrual to an existing donation of records from Scottish Gymnastics. This includes over 100 books (some of them rare and inscribed), papers and photographs and an extensive collection of shields, trophies, medals, and other artefacts. A donation of objects like these in such a quantity is quite unusual for us and they make up by far the largest part of the Scottish Gymnastics archive. However the proportion of objects to paper records makes complete sense in the context of the organisation’s chief focus on local, national and international competitions.

The collection comprises a real mix of objects, including medals, shields, trophies and plaques, dating from the 1890s (when the organisation was new) right up to 2017. As well as objects which were given as awards, the collection also includes commemorative objects, particularly glassware, which were given to Scottish Gymnastics to mark their participation in particular events over the years.

Probably the most historically notable item in the collection is the Scottish Shield, an impressively decorated three-foot wide object bearing the Scottish Gymnastics logo and the names of the previous winners (picture below):

The shield was awarded as part of an annual competition between Scottish gymnastics clubs. The first winners, in 1890, were the Aberdeen Gymnastic and Rowing Club (the oldest of the Scottish gymnastics clubs). Jim Prestidge’s invaluable book The History of British Gymnastics also features this photograph of the shield in 1902, when it was won by the Dundee Gymnastic and Athletic Club (shield is on the far left).

At the time Prestidge was writing (1988), the Scottish Shield was still being awarded, and Prestidge states that it “is the longest serving Team Shield still in service”. It must certainly be one of the oldest gymnastics awards in Scotland, predating the famous Adams Shield (also featured in the above photograph, on the right) by nine years. We would like to find out more about the history of the Scottish Shield, so please do let us know if you have any information to share!

Artefacts like these form an important part of sporting heritage collections, but because of their unwieldy nature, they are often at risk of being discarded or forgotten, with institutions sometimes being reluctant to take them in. So it’s fantastic to now have this very tangible – and often downright beautiful – part of gymnastics history here at the Centre for Research Collections. The items are a valuable resource for understanding the material culture of gymnastics as well as giving precise information about individual, team and club achievements over time. It would be great to now see researchers begin to use this collection to its full potential.

The Scottish Gymnastics archives catalogue is currently being updated to include these new items. Once this is complete, the catalogue will be viewable here:

http://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/86677

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Sources

Prestidge, Jim, The History of British Gymnastics (British Amateur Gymnastics Association, 1988)

Margaret Morris and “La Divine” Suzanne Lenglen (1899-1938)

Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris demonstrating a tennis exercise, c.1937. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

Today marks the birthday of the tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, who was born in Paris in 1899. Regarded by some as the greatest female tennis player in history, Lenglen won 31 Championship titles between 1914 and 1926. She was also one of the first female international sports personalities and was nicknamed “La Divine” (The Goddess) by the French press. As a child however, she suffered numerous health problems including chronic asthma. Her father Charles suggested that it would be good for her to build up her strength by playing tennis and developed various exercises for her. Only four years later she was competing in the final of the 1914 French Championships, aged only 14.

Charles Lenglen’s approach would have found favour with Margaret Morris, who believed strongly that movement and exercise could be applied to improve the health, wellbeing and physical strength of anyone and everyone. She gave the first demonstration of her Margaret Morris Movement technique to doctors in 1925 and went on to train in Physiotherapy at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, passing with distinction in 1930.

Morris began to notice the striking similarity between the physical positions in her own exercises and those which occur in sports such as football, cricket and tennis. She demonstrated that all athletic movements were based on the opposition of one group of muscles to another. This idea of ‘opposition’ was fundamental to Morris’s technique – and indeed the development of free dance as a whole – and was heavily influenced by the teachings of Raymond Duncan (brother of the famous dancer Isadora) on the ‘Greek positions’ based on the Parthenon sculptures.

Dancer Jack Skinner and cricketer Donald Bradman. Illustrations from the prospectus of the Basic Physical Training Association, 1938. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

Morris began to illustrate her demonstrations of opposition exercises with photographs of athletes, including Suzanne Lenglen. At one lecture in Paris, Lenglen, who by now had retired and was running a tennis school in the city, happened to be in the audience. Realising the potential for Morris’s exercises to be specially adapted for tennis and used as basic preparatory training, Lenglen invited Morris to collaborate with her. The pair developed exercises over a course of visits to Lenglen’s flat in Passy, where Morris was introduced to some of her tennis star friends.

Before leaving Paris, Morris taught the exercises to one of her teachers who worked each day at Lenglen’s school. It became compulsory for all of her pupils to learn the strokes by doing the exercises before they were allowed to pick up a tennis racket, as well as practicing the special breathing exercises developed by Morris. Lenglen apparently declared that results were obtained much faster and that the pupils had more endurance. Hearing of this, some of her tennis star friends, including “Bunny” Austin, began private lessons with Morris to improve their own style and technique.

Encouraged by this, Lenglen and Morris approached Heinemann’s to publish their exercises in book form and Tennis By Simple Exercises first appeared in 1937. It went into two editions and was later published in France under the title Initiation au Tennis. The Margaret Morris archive at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth has a number of first editions of the book, including Morris’s personal copy, as well as draft manuscripts, notes and correspondence between Morris and Lenglen.

‘Tennis By Simple Exercises’, Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris (Heinemann, 1937), 1st edition. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

‘Tennis By Simple Exercises’, Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris (Heinemann, 1937), 2nd edition. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morris later recalled being invited with Lenglen to a tennis party given by the politician and tennis player Domini, Lady Crosfield, and asked to demonstrate the exercises for the guests. When they had finished, Morris was surrounded by an admiring crowd clamouring “Now, of course, we are just longing to see you play!” Embarrassed, Morris was obliged to reply “But I don’t!” and had to explain to a sea of astonished faces that her varied and busy career gave her little opportunity to play any games herself!

Sadly, Suzanne Lenglen was diagnosed with leukemia in June 1938 and died only a month later, aged just 39. Reminiscing about their collaboration, Morris recalled:

She was a dynamic personality, stimulating to work with, and I never saw a sign of the violent temper she was reputed to possess.

 

Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris demonstrating a tennis exercise, c.1937. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

References

Margaret Morris, My Life in Movement (London: Peter Owen Limited, 1969)

“Suzanne Lenglen”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzanne_Lenglen, accessed 17 May 2018.

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Scottish Gymnastics collection catalogued

Coll-1842/6/1: Photograph of five male boxers [?] standing in a line, c.1950s

As well as cataloguing the Margaret Morris collection in Perth, I have also been working with the records of Scottish Gymnastics, which were donated to the University of Edinburgh last autumn. At 14 boxes, the collection is compact but extremely varied, giving a rich flavour of the organisation’s long history.

The Scottish Amateur Association of Gymnastics, Wrestling and Boxing, as it was originally named, was founded on 24 May 1890 by representatives of five Scottish gymnastics and athletic clubs. Prior to this, gymnastics in Scotland had close links with the British military, specifically the Army Physical Training Corps.

However, over the decades, Scottish Gymnastics increasingly broadened its remit to encompass the wider health and wellbeing applications of human movement. It has since gone on to compete successfully in many international competitions and to widen participation in gymnastics to school and pre-school children and people with disabilities.

The records catalogued include early minutes, a collection of publications, including some very early books on gymnastics and physical culture, photographs, audiovisual material, awards and medals. They are a fantastic resource for historians of sport and physical culture, revealing a century of shifting attitudes towards gender, fitness, exercise and education.

Coll-1842/5/6: ‘Pyramids for Strong Men Gymnasts &c’ by F.J. Harvey (Exeter, The Physical Training Publishing Company, 1907); Coll-1842/5/1: Coll-1842/5/3: ‘Manual of Physical Culture and System of Musical Drill’ by George Cruden (Aberdeen: Alexander Murray, 10th edition, 1902); ‘Gymnastics’ by A.F. Jenkin (London: George Bell and Sons, 1890).

We are also working with Scottish Gymnastics to encourage members to donate material, and are planning to host an event for members to view the collection and to help us identify some photographic material.

Parts of this collection will also receive conservation treatment and be selected for digitisation.

Coll-1842/8/6: Scottish Amateur Gymnastics Association Honorary Life Member pendant in presentation box, undated

The records of Scottish Gymnastics can be consulted at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh Main Library. The catalogue can be viewed here:

http://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/86677

I am now looking forward to beginning work on the records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education, and continuing to catalogue the Margaret Morris collection.

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Project Archivist