Early Library Records

Our intern, Nathalie, is reaching the end of the project, working on the earliest of the library records.  She has achieved a great deal in the weeks she has been with us: we have a set of descriptions of the documents ready to transfer into the Archives cataloguing software, and the draft of a research guide to the early records ready to go onto the CRC web page.  These have already helped us answer enquiries about the early library collections.  We presented a short paper about the project and the records at the recent conference of the CILIP Library and Information History Group conference in Dundee. 

Nathalie reflects on the project and what she has learnt.  We wish her well as she goes back to her studies for the new academic year, and hope we have given her the bug for old library records!

 

The Early Library Records Project began as a project aimed at opening up a series of early records to make them easier to navigate. With just under 55 items to examine in 10 weeks, the project had clear objectives: the flagging up of items needing conservation work, or to prioritise for digitisation, the update of the information available on the online catalogue for early library records and the creation of a research guide to enable researchers, members of the public and CRC staff to understand early library records better. It is hoped that the results of the project will have far-reaching benefits. To enhance the data on the online catalogue, the type of information gathered from the records needed to be consistent, despite their being very varied in kind. The focus has thus been on: their approximate period of use, their purpose, their potential compilers and users and the language they are written in.

The diversity of these records is worth mentioning. The library possesses early press and author catalogues, account books, matriculation registers, borrowing registers, accessions books and subject catalogues. Some periods in the library’s history are richer in certain types of records, but overall, there is some record to be found for every half century up to now. These records not only give us precious general information about the management of the library, but also give us information about the university at large. They also contain numerous precious details which are at times surprising, comical, confusing or enlightening.

The project had its share of surprises. Scientific instruments such as telescopes, microscopes, globes and quadrants appeared from time to time, either in a list of instructions on how to use them, or in an account book when money had been spent to mend or purchase them. Equally, I met with volumes which had unexpected contents. Da.1.5 is such an item, as it is a collation of three different inventories: a manuscript author catalogue, followed by a printed version of the Nairn catalogue, itself followed by a manuscript list of pamphlets and other titles belonging to the library of the College of Surgeons. I was glad to come across a few references in Gaelic, such as the Gaelic translation of Dodsley’s work The Economy of Human Life and a few other entries, all in the 4-volume author catalogue compiled in the 1750s. Some of the earliest volumes exhibited physical conventions of early book production such as catchwords and folio numbers, while item Da.1.15 is a fantastic illustration of stationary binding, only used for certain types of records, especially ledgers. While working on the project, I became acquainted with several librarians through their observations, especially the Hendersons. Together, the father and his son were librarians to the university library for 80 years (1667-1747). Both left numerous notes in the catalogues and account books, and their comments, sometimes stern, allow us to get a glimpse into the day-to-day management of the library.
What is more, the outcome of the project goes further than suggested above. As a range of sources is now better known, new routes for future enquiry have emerged. As we know more about what kind of information can be had in these records, we can be bolder in our research questions. Interesting research could be done on the borrowing registers still surviving, and a study of the donations to the library could also be valuable. Beside these potential routes for future research, the project’s results have also challenged some previously-held beliefs. For example, it has been discovered that what was thought to be a 1636 author catalogue is in fact more likely to be a late 17th century author catalogue.

There have been challenges, for sure. Deciphering 17th century script was not always easy for me, as I did not have any previous experience in palaeography. Formatting the data I was compiling so that it would be easily transferable to Archives Space was also something I had to get my head round. Equally, I had to acquire some elementary knowledge about the university’s early history, its buildings and running, since these elements impacted on the library’s administration and evolution. Yet, these challenges have only had valuable outcomes, most likely because I was working in a particularly supportive environment.
Beside the benefits of the project’s results for CRC staff, researchers and members of the public, a significant outcome of the project is what it has brought to me, as an intern. I have not only learnt a great deal about the library’s management and history in the pre-Enlightenment and Enlightenment periods, but also gained experience in working with archival material. I have absorbed the basics of cataloguing, found out about digitisation projects, shadowed several people’s work and all this has given me an acute sense of what the CRC is about. This internship was a truly unique opportunity which has given me insight into the library and museum professional sector.

Oh Christmas Tree!

Main Library Christmas Tree

Christmas has well and truly arrived at the Main Library with the installation of a 12 foot Christmas tree. This year we decided to use images from the CRC collections to decorate the tree – a selection of images (taken by the Digital Imaging Unit) was printed and library staff crafted them into beautiful paper decorations. The tree was then decorated by Exhibitions Officer, Emma Smith.

There is a poster on display next to the tree explaining what the images are, but if you’re unable to visit you can take a look at them after the jump… Continue reading

Musical Marginalia in Textus Logices

 We are delighted to be sharing a guest blog post by Elizabeth Cary Ford and Vivien Estelle Williams of Glasgow University who have recently been studying the marginalia of item De.8.83 in the CRC collections.

James Douglas’ copy of Thomas Bricot’s Textus Logices and its musical marginalia

Kenneth Elliott, the late eminent scholar, identified a basse danse written in the margins of a sixteenth-century book. The existence of the score of the basse danse was quite a well-known fact in academia; but the original source for it was not. We are pleased to say that we have been able to track the book in which the marginalia appears to the University of Edinburgh Special Collections, item De.8.83. The field of the basse danse in Scotland is certainly understudied, and we hope this finding will add a piece, however small, to the wider picture.

Basse danses were very popular in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. This type of dance probably originated in Burgundy. It quickly travelled to other European courts and was certainly known in Scotland after King James V’s second marriage in 1538 to Marie de Guise, if not before. It is reasonable to assume that this basse danse was part of the repertoire of the French musicians who travelled with the queen.

Kenneth Elliott transcribed the tune from the source and shared it with John Purser, who published a portion of it in Scotland’s Music. Elliott described the tune as “[a]n anonymous instrumental composition possibly of Scottish authorship and related to the basse-danse is recorded in an early-sixteenth-century source”. According to Purser’s note, the book was passed from Hector Boece to Theophilus Stewart and to James Douglas. This is confirmed by an inspection of the book, as well as the University of Edinburgh’s records of the book.

All we knew about this dance was that it was marginalia, and that Kenneth Elliott was the first person to call attention to it. Thanks to Dr Theo Van Heijnsbergen and Dr Nicola Royan we discovered that the volume in question was a little publication by Thomas Bricot: Textus Logices, c. 1513.

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The author of the book, Bricot, from the diocese of Amiens, studied in Paris during the late 1470s, where he went on to teach philosophy. His major publications were dedicated to the discipline of logics, as is our Textus Logices. The small volume, re-bound in the nineteenth century, was possibly intended as a teaching aid or a textbook; 136 beautifully-printed leaves on the subjects of logics, as well as Aristotelian and Porphyrian works. The various handwritings of the marginalia, and in the flyleaves and end-papers show that the book has passed through various hands.

Amongst the calligraphies and signatures a few are more clearly discernible: on the title-page there is a “Codex Hector Boethi” and a “Hethor Bethius”. Hector Boece, c.1465–1536, was born into a prominent Dundonian family. He was a historian and the first principal of the University of Aberdeen. He most probably came in contact with Bricot’s publication in Paris as a student at the Collège de Montaigu. The annotations in the volume are extensive, which may well indicate the mark of an informed reader. We doubt whether Boece would have written the score himself, as given his known persona a casual treatment of a book would be unlikely.

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On the fly-leaves are other ownership marks; this may indicate they were added after binding. Theophilus Steuart is mentioned in the Fasti Aberdoniensis as a “gramaticus”, as well as the Analecta Scotica, as “Maister theophelus stuart, master of the gremer skuill of ald Aberdeen”. This Aberdeen connection links Steuart with Boece, as both were based at King’s College.

It could be that James Douglas, potential source of the tune, was the Earl of Morton (c. 1516 – 1581) as he had dealings with the University of Aberdeen. David Stevenson points out that “The general assembly in 1574 requested that the then regent, the 4th Earl of Morton, to take orders that doctors may be placed in the Universities and stipends granted unto them”.

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The book contains two sections of musical notation. The first is a snippet of what could be a basse danse. The dance in full is scribbled in the back of the book, between annotations. The handwriting of the score would appear to date from the sixteenth century. Does this mean the dance was current and popular at the time? Did James Douglas himself compose it? As there is no searchable index of tunes for basse danse, unfortunately we have not been able to verify whether or not the tune was known and popular. What comes as no surprise is that French music was popular in Scotland in the sixteenth century, owing to the cultural ties of the Auld Alliance.

This marginalia is early evidence for the basse danse in a Scottish source, no matter who the author may have been. We will never know why this dance was scribbled in the fly-leaves of a philosophical treatise. It would be nice to think that, perhaps, the tune was popular amongst the students of the University of Aberdeen as a dance or a song – maybe we could picture a young James Douglas jotting it down, as his mind wanders, while at his desk during a lecture on logics!

For our finding and assistance with it we wish to thank: Denise Anderson, Francesca Baseby, Warwick Edwards, Luca Guariento, David McGuinness, Nicola Royan, Evelyn Stell, Theo Van Heijnsbergen, Janet Williams, Allan Wright.

This piece is dedicated to John Purser, our druid in the West.

Elizabeth Cary Ford Research Profile

Vivien Estelle Williams Research Profile