SSSA in 70 Objects: Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig recordings by Rev. William Matheson

The Words and the Tunes

by Dr Anja Gunderloch

Back in the mists of time, in the second year of my undergraduate degree, the highlight of my week was the Gaelic poetry class with Ronnie Black.  We were working our way through songs from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, unpicking tricky bits of grammar, hunting in Dwelly’s dictionary for the best words to use in our translations, testing each word for its role in the rhymes and alliterations, discovering aspects of Gaelic history entirely unknown to us until then.  The material stretched us but it was also hugely rewarding when things finally clicked into place, sometimes through our own efforts, and sometimes with Ronnie resolving the conundrum for us with a flourish.  William J. Watson’s famous anthology Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig was our textbook, and I still recall my keen delight when I managed to acquire my own copy from ‘Wee Thins’ on Buccleuch Street for what was even then the quite acceptable sum of £4.20.

As we reached the end of each song, Ronnie would position a tape recorder so we could hear clearly and play a recording.  Every time, it felt like a reward for our efforts in making sense of a song.  Sometimes, the tune would go round and round in my head all day.  Suddenly, there was another dimension that we had not quite appreciated even as we took turns to read each stanza aloud before translating.  Not only did the tune show us the metre in greater clarity, each beat falling on a word that was then revealed to have a relationship with another one, it also spoke of the mood of the song, or of listeners of long ago joining in a chorus, or of a poet crafting words and tune into a whole that still resonated after so many years, as singer after singer learned and passed on the songs.  The recordings we listened to came from the Archives, of course.

Black and white image of a man sitting to the left of the frame. He wears a suit and tie. In front of him is a microphone and on the table in front of him there is a reel to reel recording machine

Reverend William Matheson. Image: SSSA Photographic Collection

The singer was the Rev. William Matheson, singing unaccompanied and unhurried, each word clear, important, relevant, just a few stanzas from each song, to illustrate how tunes and words interacted and complemented each other.  I still have my own copy of that cassette tape, latterly transferred to a CD when technology moved on.  It seems that all the songs in Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig that Matheson, a noted scholar of Gaelic song in all its manifestations, knew or tracked down a tune for are represented there.  Nowadays, my first port of call for these songs is Tobar an Dualchais where there are many more recordings of Matheson’s singing.  There is the pleasure of revisiting the songs as I first heard them, and then there is the thrill that comes with listening to another version that Matheson recorded, sometimes a longer one, and sometimes with subtle differences in words, tune, or emphasis, just as would happen in a ‘real’ performance.  I have learned so much about these songs over the years, and I still keep learning and understanding more about the words and the tunes.

 

Dr Anja Gunderloch graduated with First Class Honours from this university in 1990 as the first student who took the then new degree in Scottish Ethnology and Celtic. Anja is lecturer in Celtic at the department of Celtic and Scottish Studies. 

There are 750 tracks by Rev William Matheson – including material from Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig – on Tobar an Dualchais. You can listen online by following this link.

Queering the Archive: Drag in the School of Scottish Studies Archives

For our second blog and part two to the last blog Queering the Archive, join us as we celebrate the cultural records of ‘drag’ in the archives.  

Drag is described as a gender performance artform for entertainment. The term itself developed in British theatre circles in the 19th century but drag has been around as a theatrical and performance artform since ancient history. Drag as performance in Britain is often cited back to being historically popularised in theatre and the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. As was the same with performance in ancient Greek plays, male players could take the stage and thus would have to dress as women for their performance. While drag on stage was acceptable, off the stage is another story entirely. Cross-dressing was illegal and clothing was strictly regulated to gender, and arrests were made if individuals were not viewed as wearing enough articles of clothing within their perceived gender. Generally, theatric circles were one of the only places where drag was accepted in the general public sphere. LGBT+ identities were kept underground due to criminalisation and societal attitudes. Drag was kept in the sphere of performance, literature, bawdy tales, ballads and broadsheets with a few popular and break-out drag and impersonation performers. Drag itself has thrived in queer circles throughout history and has been an important aspect of queer art, performance, and transgression and identity. The first person to self identify as the ‘queen of drag’ was William Dorsey SwannIn the UK, the first drag queen is credited as Princess Seraphina and was a staple of “Molly Houses.” In British stage circles, male impersonation was popular in the Music Hall scene and elsewhere with performers such as Vesta Tilley. 

Within the School of Scottish Studies Archives, we have examples of ballads, songs, and cultural tradition that describes drag as performance and entertainment. While the records I have selected are not evidence of queer transgression and identity that comes with drag and gender performance, it is evidence of what exists in the Scottish public sphere of tales and cultural life alongside the previous blog of the ‘Cross-Dressing’ ballads. These oral history accounts describe cultural aspects and accepted fluidity of performance and tradition.  A kind of  ‘drag performance was relatively popular in some Scottish cultural traditions. Through Christmas and New Year’s guising and galoshins customs, both children and adults would often dress in a form of drag for fun and fancy-dress. Guising involved groups of people going from door to door or taking part in singing, playing music, dancing and festivities. Hugh Jamieson, recorded in Gott, Shetland, describes some of the outfits when recorded by Alan J. Bruford.  ‘The guisers dressed in home-made outfits with false faces [masks] bought from the shop. The men dressed as women and the women as men. They would dress in wigs and wide skirts, with whiskers made from sheepskins.’ (SA1974.216) Jamieson fondly recalls this custom when asked of dressing up and guising and the fun that was had. 

Wat Ramage, recorded at Westruther, describes the songs that were sung and traditions of guising, and how as children: ‘the laddies were made to dress up in women’s clothes, and the lassies would dress in the boy’s clothes.’ (SA1977.205)

Drag and dressing up as characters and creatures was also common in galoshin’s plays themselves and drag in Scottish cultural tradition and customs can be viewed as a form of shared fun and taking part in festivities and theatrics. Of course, drag was not the term that would be used, but the theatrics of dressing up is remembered fondly and put quite simply by Jamieson and Ramage. Drag is also something that exists in many other culture’s traditions and plays outside of Scotland and can be an example of how drag has been shaped by cultural tradition and forms of theatrics and has always existed in different forms in the accepted public sphere throughout history.

Of course, this is just a brief example on the history of drag and performance as well as Scottish cultural traditions and is not a complete history. Drag goes beyond the binary and remains a transgressive artform that is a key part of queer history and the history of performance and tradition. This blog is an attempt to illustrate how our records can show fluidity and societal attitudes in Scottish cultural tradition and theatric spaces.

 

The records selected from our collection can be accessed via Tobar an Dualchais. This includes but is not limited to: 

Hugh Jameson, ‘Guising at Old Christmas anNew Year’. Recorded by Alan J. Bruford. (SA1974.216) http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/48475 

Donald John MacDonald, ‘Duan na Callaig’. Recorded by John MacInnes. (SA1966.064) http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/57790  

Wat Ramage, ‘Galoshins’. Recorded by Dr. Emily Lyle. (SA1977.205) http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/42571 

 

 

 

This blog is part of the ‘Queering the Archive’ initiative, which involves intervention workshops as well as blogs of application of queer theory. See past blogs for further details of ‘Queering the Archives’. If you are interested in taking part in the workshops, or if you are interested in researching LGBT+ recordsusing our collections for your work, or working with us, please contact eholmes@ed.ac.uk  

 

Written by Elliot Holmes. 

Elliot is one of the Archives and Library Assistants at the School of Scottish Studies Archives and uses He/They pronouns. You can also find him on twitter @elliotlholmes  

Follow @EU_SSSA on twitter for updates and sharing our collections. 

Queering the Archive: Cross-Dressing Ballads in the School of Scottish Studies Archive

As the first in our series of blogs as part of ‘Queering the Archive’ initiative, I discuss some infamous ‘cross-dressing’ ballads within our collections.  

Here at the School of Scottish Studies, we hold many records of the popular cross-dressing ballads that exists in Scottish oral tradition and traditional songs. Protagonists of these forms of ballads and songs are often women. These ballads involve a humorous tale of women in forms of drag and concealment as a way to engage in male public life or work. Common forms of this are cross-dressing sea-ballads that describe the protagonist entering the workforce. Women were excluded from joining the ranks of the navy and any work at sea was relegated into different roles for men and women. As such, the selected ballads can be viewed as a way of subverting gender roles and societal expectations through drag and cross-dressing. While these are not necessarily queer stories, we can apply queer theory to these records thus allowing us to queer the archive and Scottish sounds. 

 

This blog was originally created in mind to not only provide my own point of interest in just some of the examples of the ‘queer’ in the archive but to introduce application of theory and some of my own thoughts to the records. Though I do not see these as records of particular LGBT+ identity, they are examples of the ‘queering’ of records and application of queer theory. 

Content warnings apply within this blog and for some of the sound material for sexual content, issues in consent, and themes and depictions of gender that some may find uncomfortable. 

 

The first ballad to be discussed is The Banks O’ Skene, which describes how a young female protagonist sought work in the navy and disguised herself in “men’s clothing”. The protagonist is apprenticed to a heckler and sings of how “the girlies all fell in love with me below The Banks O’ Skene.” This can be seen as subversion of expected gender roles and exploration of sexuality and performance that wouldn’t often be afforded to women. However, later in the ballad the protagonist is discovered by her master and the ballad continues with bawdy descriptions of exposure of identity, drinking, and her master, “taking her maidenhead” and the ballad ending in pregnancy and marriage. While intended as a humorous tale, it reflects issues and attitudes of the life of women working on ships and the reasons given why women working aboard naval vessels were frowned upon due to notions of sexual relationships, pregnancy, and conflict. Through application of queer theory, this turns into a tale of a female protoganist gaining freedom in male fields of work and performance, but ultimately having to fall to her expected female role of sex and marriage. 

Another example of a similar style of cross-dressing ballad is The Handsome Cabin Boy, in which the female protagonist disguises herself as a young cabin boy. She is described by the sailors as handsome and pretty in most versions of the ballad, while she is still ‘disguised’ as male. Her identity is only ‘discovered’ once she gives birth to the Captain’s baby. This song is similar in style and content as The Banks O’ Skene, again singing of the benefits of navigating the world disguised as a man, and later the problematic exposure narrative and relegation of roles of birth and marriage. A different queer narrative can be applied to this in the example of the hidden sexual relationships of sailors and the attraction the other sailors felt towards the protagonist when she was viewed as The Handsome Cabin Boy 

There is also another known cross-dressing ballad of Billy Taylor, or Willy Taylor. A jilted lover of Billy Taylor disguises herself as a man and finds work aboard his ship. She discovers Billy with another woman and shoots him. The Captain of the ship is so impressed by the bravery and act that he makes her commander of the ship and gives her a hundred men. This ballad is different from The Banks O’ Skene and The Handsome Cabin Boy, as while it does involve the typical problematic and often times literal exposure narrative of these ballads, it does not feature a sexual relationship that ends in discovery and pregnancy. It instead follows the ballad and protagonist archetype of a romantic heroine that takes revenge on her cheating lover. This ballad begins and ends with subverting gender roles through taking on work as a man of lower status on the ship to ultimately becoming highly ranked to a Captain when the protagonist is no longer ‘cross-dressing’. 

Not all cross-dressing ballads follow a life at sea. There is also the ballad, The Famous Flower of Serving Men, in which the female character of ‘young Ellen fair’ cuts off her hair and becomes ‘young Willie Dare’ after an attack on her life and child by her step-mother. She later goes to find work dressed as a man, and gains a job in the castle, initially as a stable boy. However, because Young Willie Dare is so handsome, which is acknowledged by her Master and the working men, she gains rank as a serving man. The Master later finds out her identity and marries her because she is so beautiful and handsome. Other ballads follow the young protagonist entering the military, such the group of ballads, “The Female Drummer”, “The Solder Maid”, and “Wi my Nice Hat and Feather”. The groups of ballads also involve similar narratives of entering the male sphere of work and roles in the military, with some queer attraction. In the version of “The Female Drummer” sung by Margaret Jeffrey, it is noted that “Although [the protagonist] pretends to be a young man, she is so beautiful that another girl falls in love with her”, however it is also related to aspects of heteronormativity by the end of the ballad, “She is told that if she ever gets married and has a son, she should send him to learn to play the drum.” 

We also hold many more examples of these types of ballads, as well as examples of cross-dressing ballads where men were dressed as women. This is also often used as a form of anecdotes and tales, where men were dressed up to escape a skirmish or the authorities. The most famous of these songs surround Bonny Prince Charlie dressing up as a female maidservant to escape to the Highlands, which includes the songs Moladh Mòraig‘ [Marion’s Wailing’, and many more. Other examples of this cross-dressing narrative, includes the tale of Mac Iain Bhàin Ghobha and the robbers”. The Gaelic tales describes how Mac Iain Bhàin Ghobha’s partner leaves for America to find where work as a servant. She is later captured and taken to a cave of robbers, in which she finds Mac Iain Bhàin Ghobha dressed as a woman. They fight and deal with the robbers and gain money for bringing them to justice. They both marry once they return to Scotland with their new riches. The majority of these ballads or tales are Romantic in nature and feature a brave heroine, a daring protagonist, or forms of escapism and running away and heroics. It is notable that most of these ballads and tales also end in finding love in heterosexual marriage, thus relegating any subversion of binary gender roles or examples of any kind of sexual fluidity and exploration back to the traditional heterosexual spheres of marriage. 

 

We can apply queer theory to these records in the sense that the ballads often explore subversion of binary gender roles and include some form of queer attraction and aspects of fluidity. However, these ballads are often told and passed down through a cisgender and heterosexual lens. Some ballads reduce queerness and cross-dressing to mockery, and at times, dangerThemes of deception can be common which can make some an uncomfortable listen when considering themes and narratives of these forms of ballads. Almost all of the ballads in our collections end in a heterosexual marriage and raises questions about the context of expected societal roles and views of fluidityQueering the Archive will allow us to analyse these records and more through queer theory within the workshops and beyond. 

 

The records discussed in this blog are available for listening on Tobar an Dualchais: 

 

“The Banks o Skene”. George Hay recorded by Hamish Henderson. Aberdeenshire, Skene. SA1957.17.A3 http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/20800  

“The Handsome Cabin Boy”. Jeannie Robertson recorded by Hamish Henderson. 
SA1954.72.B8  http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/2363 

“Billy Taylor”. Robb Watt recorded by Arthur Argo. 
SA1960.255.A4 http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/82824  

“The Famous Flower of Serving Men”. Jeannie Roberston recorded by Hamish Henderson, SA1954.103.A1; SA1954.103.A2, 525  http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/38037  

“The Female Drummer” Margaret Jeffrey recorded by Hamish Henderson.
SA1956.123.A5,  http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/20185  

“The Female Drummer”. Donald George Gunn recorded by Donald Grant.
 SA1963.87.A9  http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/48437  

“The Soldier Maid”. Rob Watt recorded by Arthur Argo.
SA1960.253  http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/59181  

“The Drummer Maid” James Laurenson recorded by Alan J. Bruford.
SA1973.62.A5   http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/75663  

“Wi my Nice Hat and Feather”. Jimmy Taylor recorded by Hamish Henderson.
SA1952.32.B18 (B25) http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/46812  

“Moladh Mòraig”. Pipe Major Robert Bell Nicol recorded by Pipe Major Neville MacKay.
SA1964.264.B2  http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/71946  

“Mac Iain Bhàin Ghobha agus na robairean” Angus MacLellan recorded by Donald Archie MacDonald, SA1963.57.A2  http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/78752  

 

(There are also other versions of these ballads on Tobar an Dualchais. To find our records, select School of Scottish Studies only within Advanced Search. All of our records will be listed under SA.) 

 

 

If you are interested in taking part in Queering the Archive workshops, or if you are interested in researching LGBT+ records or using our collections for your work, please contact eholmes@ed.ac.uk  

 

Written by Elliot Holmes. 

Elliot is one of the Archives and Library Assistants at the School of Scottish Studies Archives and uses He/They pronouns. You can also find him on twitter @elliotlholmes  

Follow @EU_SSSA on twitter for updates and sharing our collections. 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Òganaich Dhuinn a Rinn M’ Fhàgail

Contributor: Barra Waulking Women

Fieldworker: Thorkild Knudsen

Reference: SA1965.109.004

Response: Louise Scollay

I have a lifelong love – some might say obsession –  of textiles and craft and often this spills over into our collections.  I am always seeking out the hand-made in our archives.

Whilst working from home, I have been listening to material from the sound collections related to wool and spinning. The song Òganaich Dhuinn a Rinn M’ Fhàgailwas performed in Barra as a waulking song – beat-driven songs, performed by women during the process of fulling the newly spun cloth . It is noted that this particular song was also used to accompany spinning and, upon reading that, I didn’t need much convincing to get my spinning wheel out and give it a go myself.

Accompanied by the Wauliking Women of Barra, I spun prepared Zwartbles fibre (a breed of sheep from the Netherlands, which is well established in the UK) and then plyed that yarn with Hebridean wool. These were the two kinds of wool I had to hand – I wouldn’t ordinarily spin two similarly coloured breeds together. It was a pleasing spinning experience doing it to music – although it was hard to keep time  – some breeds of wool and different preparations prefer a slower tempo to others! That beat and the vocables though, stayed with me a long time after the spinning wheel was put away.

While the spinning was a pleasant experience, it was less easy to film oneself in the process at the same time. Nonetheless, here is my spun response to Òganaich Dhuinn a Rinn M’ Fhàgail. 

 

Louise Scollay is Archive & Library Assistant at The School of Scottish Studies Archives.

 

Is there an ‘object’ or connection to the School of Scottish Studies or our archive that you would like to write about or respond to? It could be a recording, an image, a manuscript or something else! Find more information here: http://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/sssa/sssa-in-70-objects/

 

 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Borders Ba’ Games

‘They do it yet!’: The surprise of Borders ba’.
Dr Emily Lyle

When I was talking with an old man in Denholm about customs, I had been reading about the ball game there and I asked him if he remembered them playing. I was totally surprised when he told me ‘They do it yet!’, and that was the beginning of the recording for the archive of this living tradition of the Borders for, next time the game was played at Denholm, I was there with the archive photographer, Lesley Davenport. Before the game, she took photos of the balls that were displayed in the windows, and the surprise here was that the game was played with multiple balls which were decorated with ribbons. The balls were provided by couples who were married or had celebrated an anniversary in the previous year.

 

1 A silver wedding ball with white ribbons at Denholm.

The game is handball and when each ball is thrown up to start play, the person throwing announces the sum that will be paid when the ball is returned, like ‘There’s £5 on it!’. We watched the first ball being thrown up in Denholm that day and then observed the players lying in a heap (the ‘strow’) for half an hour or so until we had to leave for an evening engagement in Edinburgh.

 

2. . The opening of play at Denholm.

 

3. The strow at Denholm.  This shows a heap of men on the ground with others standing round them.

The game does not require daylight but can continue after dark.

4. Playing in the twilight at Hobkirk.

 

The players are not distinguished by team colours. They are divided by geographical halves into ‘Uppies’ and ‘Doonies’ and they know each other. The goals, called ‘hails’, are natural or built features that can be more than a mile apart. The players do not drive the ball into the opposite hail but bring it into their own hail

 

 

5. A Doonie player at Ancrum returning after hailing the ba’ over the dyke that forms the Doonie hail.

After a ball is hailed, another is thrown up, but not all balls reach the hails during play for they can be hidden (‘smuggled’) in such places as a milk churn, a rabbit burrow, or the player’s clothing, deliberately worn loose for this purpose.

6. A player at Hobkirk being searched for a smuggled ba’.

 

When a player successfully smuggles a ba’, he is expected to take it to a hail before claiming the payment put on it and he does this when the action of the game is elsewhere.

7. A player at Jedburgh hailing a smuggled ba’ at the Uppie hail.

 

In Jedburgh, the game is played in the streets of the town and the windows are barricaded to prevent damage.

8. Players in a street in Jedburgh.

9. A boarded-up window in Jedburgh.

 

10: A Strow in Jedburgh

Sometimes there is a separate boys’ game before the men’s game.

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11. Boys playing at Ancrum

 

In Lilliesleaf  the game is played in the fields by school children.

12. Children playing at Lilliesleaf in the snow.

Visitors can take part in these games and are Uppies or Doonies depending on the direction from which they come.

 

The cluster of games in these locations takes place on various dates following the first new moon after Candlemas (2 February) and it is always very cold. The game that was played at Duns ceased in the nineteenth century when there was a snowstorm one year and, when it was resumed in the 1940s, it was as part of the town’s summer festival with barrels in the town square as hails.

13. One of the hails in Duns.

14. Players running through the square in Duns.

The game is generally played at a specific time of year but its early connection with weddings is preserved at Melrose where the game is played after the marriage ceremony. The ball has been updated to a Rugby ball.

15.  An announcement of a wedding ba’ in a shop window in Melrose.

 

If you didn’t already know about the Borders ba’ game, you may have found all this as surprising as I did!

 

Dr Emily Lyle is an Honorary Fellow in Celtic and Scottish Studies and has been with the department since 1970. Her main areas of research have been Scottish songs and customs and Indo-European mythology.

 

Photograph credits  
Please do not reproduce without permission

All images held at (C) The School of Scottish Studies Archives.

Images 1-3 Lesley Davenport

Images 4, 6-8, 11-14 Ian MacKenzie

Image 5 Gisela Stuart

Image 9 Neill Martin

Image 10 Tom McKean

Image 15 Emily Lyle

 

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Queering the Archive: An Announcement of a New Initiative

We are excited to announce the work on our new Queering the Archive initiative. This initiative aims to increase representation of LGBT+ records within our collections. 

Queering the Archive will hope to investigate the gaps in our collections and cataloging to improve LGBT+ representation with aims for further development and active archiving in the future. The initiative is a part of our 70th Anniversary plans and will be included in a series of events over the rest of the year. The initiative will allow us to go forward in improving marginalised and underrepresented voices and material. 

 

An image of progress pride. It Includes the rainbow flag design, with arrows to the left of the trans flag and representation of people of colour in pride and the community.

Progress Pride Flag


There are unfortunately little accounts of LGBT+ histories and recordings in the School of Scottish Studies Archives. 
In particular, there is little representation on queer folklore, folk narratives, or songs in a wider historical and archival setting. LGBT+ histories are sometimes ‘hidden’ histories, either through historical context on discussion of LGBT+ identity and topics, lack of archiving or archival interest, or a lack of appropriate and inclusive search-terms and cataloging that reflects queer identities.

 

Queering the Archive will begin with an intervention and discussion workshop.

 

The workshop will provide a starting point to actively work with the community to discuss our collections, representation, as well as crowd-source search-terms for improvement of cataloging developed by and for the LGBT+ community. 

Workshops will allow participants to engage with our records and active intervention through crowd-sourcing and discussion. It is our aim to work with the community, skill-share, and offer meaningful collaboration and discussion as much as possible throughout the initiative. It will introduce you to our collections, queer theory, and investigations into our LGBT+ and related records.

Workshops will be completely free and led remotely via Zoom, and will utilise other platforms.

Dates are to be announced. 

 

 

We will also be producing a series of blogs exploring the initiative and application of queer theory to our collections with further discussion. 

The next blog will explore queering the collections through the popular and infamous ‘cross-dressing’ ballads and exploring the queerness and issues of LGBT+ representation in the context of the selected ballads and traditions.

We will also be exploring the work ‘behind the scenes’ of Queering the Archive through our blogs and we will include other exciting material and updates!

 

 

If you are interested in taking part in the workshops, researching LGBT+ recordsusing our collections for your work, depositing your work and records, or working with us for Queering the Archive, please contact Elliot.Holmes@ed.ac.uk  

 

Written by Elliot Holmes. 

Elliot is one of the Archives and Library Assistants at the School of Scottish Studies Archives and uses He/They pronouns. You can also find him on twitter @elliotlholmes  

Follow @EU_SSSA on twitter for updates on the 70th Anniversary, Queering the Archive, and sharing our collections. 

#SSSA70 #QueeringSSSA

 

 

 

The term Queering has been used by many across the Gallery, Library, Archive, and Museum, (GLAM), sector with many launching queering initiatives to expand and represent LGBT+ histories. We will be using the term Queer as a catch-all term, and the term Queering in regards to application of queer theory and approaches. We will also be using the term LGBT+ throughout the initiative. 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: The Barnyards o’ Delgaty

Contributor: Enoch Kent

Fieldworker: Hamish Henderson

Reference: SA1954.33.a6

Link to the song on Tobar an Dualchais: http://tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/30120

Response by: Robert Fell

This Bothy ballad – rendered beautifully here by Enoch Kent in 1954 – holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the first examples of the genre I heard from The School of Scottish Studies Archives. At the time, I was working towards my undergraduate degree on the Scottish Studies 1B course ‘Creating Scotland’, where this track was used as an example of the unique repository of knowledge that the archives represent. From that moment on, I knew that my academic interests lay in the exploration of our archive and duly shifted the focus of my degree from English Literature to Scottish Ethnology. My current doctoral project has revealed to me that the diverse range of intangible cultural heritage embodied by the archives is truly breath-taking. This researcher, for one, has merely scratched the surface.

Enoch’s ballad belongs to genre of narrative songs associated with the reorganisation of rural Scottish society during the ‘Agrarian Revolution’ of the nineteenth century. ‘Just as the growth of capitalist farming ensured that the farming units were split up into large farms and small crofts’, says David Buchan, ‘it ensured that rural society was divided into a small group of wealthy farmers and a large group of farm labourers’ (1972: 255). These labourers were often peripatetic and sold their labour to farm owners on a six-monthly basis, a procedure known as ‘feeing’. From the 1830s until the late nineteenth century, the feeing procedure was notoriously inequitable and exploitative, in favour of the farm owners, of course. The unmarried labourers would live in Bothan [Scottish Gaelic: ‘hut, cottage’] attached to the farms and pass their leisure time sharing songs.

 

A black and white image of a tightly packed street, with hundreds of people.

Turriff’s Feein Fair in 1890. Image from Peter Cooke’s Collection at SSSA

 

Thus, a ‘new-style ballad grew and flourished […] and the literate descendants of the oral-traditional singers created and sang ballads which have traces of the old style, and which, like the old ballads, grew organically out of a certain set of social conditions’ (Buchan 1972: 268). Buchan goes on, noting that ‘instead of escaping from the hard realities of everyday life by singing about another life’, the Bothy ballad singer ‘relieved his feelings by commenting directly and sardonically on the life he led, day in, day out’ (1972: 268). In The Barnyards o’ Delgaty, for instance, we hear about the poor condition of the farm’s horses, them being all ‘skin and bone’; the narrator rails against the perceived social control exerted by the famer, exclaiming ‘I can drink and no be drunk’ and boasting that he can ‘fecht [fight] and no be slain’; and the central importance of the feeing procedure is writ large by its incorporation in the expressive culture of the farm labourers. The promises of the farmer and the bleak actuality of the farm (Buchan 1972: 262) are thereby negotiated in song, giving us an unparalleled insight into the lived experiences of Scotland’s farm labourers during the nineteenth century. Even this terse examination hints at the rich resource the archives represent for casual listener and researcher alike.

 

Robert Fell is a doctoral researcher in Celtic and Scottish Studies working with the storytelling traditions of Scotland’s Traveller communities.

 

Work Cited:

Buchan, David. 1972. The Ballad and the Folk (London: Routledge & Keegan Paul). Online access via DiscoverEd

 

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SSSA in 70 Objects : The reflections of the windows in the stairwell of 29 George Square

Response: Louise Scollay, Archive and Library Assistant, SSSA

On a yellow wall there is a shadow from the window of trees in the garden

I have always had a love affair with these windows, or moreso the scene they project on to the wall.

When I studied at the School, when the Celtic and Scottish Studies Department was housed in 27-29 George Square, I would go from the Library into the 29 to pick up a recorder, or get something from the student pigeon holes and I would catch sight of the reflection and shadow play on the wall and be captivated.  A bit like Alice Through The Looking Glass , you almost felt you could step through. (Or had I taken my classes on liminality too literally?)

Circa 2011

When I returned to 29 George Square as Archive & Library Assistant , in 2017, I was captivated once more.

To be honest it takes me ages to climb all the stairs from the ground floor to my office on the third floor, but it takes even longer when the journey looks like this.  My phone is full of these images.

 

I love how depending on the season, or the time of day, we get a different image painted across the wall.

The different panes of glass are beautiful!

Face to Face services at SSSA have been closed since March 2020 and staff have only had limited access to the building. I have missed a lot of things about the service and the building, but I have really missed watching these shadows and lights grow and shrink on the canvas of the wall over the year.

In the past year the overgrown garden has been cut back, but when I was in recently to do a collections check, I was pleased to see that the shadows and reflections still are something to behold. It almost looks like water, like you could dive in!

 


Images © Louise Scollay

Is there an ‘object’ related to the School of Scottish Studies that you would like to write about or respond to? It could be a recording, an image, a manuscript or something else!
We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at scottish.studie.archives (at) ed.ac.uk

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Meet the Team

It is a pleasure to bring the SSSA blog into the world and given that this is our 70th Anniversary it would seem that introductions are long overdue.

Fran Baseby, CRC Services Manager

I am responsible for services that provide access to collections at the School of Scottish Studies Archive & Library, and the Centre for Research Collections. This includes our online enquiries, collections-based teaching, and virtual and physical access to collections. I love that my job enables people to access the collections and experience the immense heritage that they include. Listening to a sound recording or sitting in front of a manuscript creates a unique connection between us as individuals and our collective histories.

 

Colin Gateley, Audio Visual Resources Technician. Digital Library

I started here in 2006 digitising audio for the Tobar an Dualchais project and now I mostly work on the archive’s photo collection. I like the variety of work – digitising photographs, image processing, video editing, and other AV work. And the collection is such a treasure trove – a sometimes surprising record of former lives and culture.

 

Elliot Holmes, Archive & Library Assistant

Elliot sits in the library. There are shelves of books behind him

II am one of the Archives and Library Assistants with the SSSA and have been with the team since early 2020. I have particular interest in Welsh and Scottish folklore and I have written about folklore and the field for my undergraduate as well as my MSc in Information Management and Preservation. For the 70th Anniversary, I will be focusing on LGBT+ collections and developing representation and LGBT+ voices in the archive. One of the things I love about our archive and collections is the sheer amount of oral history and invaluable accounts from a wide range of voices, of which I hope to take even further this year.

 

Cathlin Macaulay, Curator 

I have been working at the School of Scottish Studies for the past twenty years or so, mainly in the Sound Archive, though more recently I have had the opportunity to become more familiar with the Photographic Archive. As Curator I help to care for the archives, to enable people to find material, to make connections and to contextualise the collections.The Archives are full of voices, each with a different story to tell, a different song, a different tune. With its rich variety of knowledge and artistry, the SSSA is a place of continual exploration.

 

Stuart Robinson, Audio-Visual Digitisation Technician 

Stuart sits to the right of a reel to reel machine. He is holding a booklet open and looking at it

II am an Audio-Visual Digitisation Technician for the School. I have been digitising the collections here for over 10 years, I also manage our digital file storage and contribute to our databases and technical systems. I came from a background working in community radio and commercial recording after studying Electrical Engineering.I enjoy working with and maintaining the fragile legacy audio and video carriers and the various devices that allow us to play them and transfer them to new (and hopefully) future-proof formats to ensure they can be accessed safely for many years to come. As a musician I also particularly enjoy hearing performances of traditional music and songs.

 

Louise Scollay, Archive & Library Assistant

Louise is standing in side profile in a card index. She is showing a card to the camera

I’ve been Archive & Library Assistant since SSSA opened the public service in 2017, but my history with the School goes back further as I studied there for my Scottish Ethnology degree and graduated in 2011.

It is an absolute joy working at the front-facing services of SSSA; I love seeing people connect and engage with our collections, particularly our sound archive, it’s like watching someone open a treasure chest! It’s hard to choose favourites amongst the collection, but I have a deep connection to our material from Shetland.

 

Kirsty Stewart, Archivist

I am Kirsty Stewart (Ciorstag ‘sa Ghàidhlig) and I’ve been the archivist for the School of Scottish Studies Archives, one day a week, since we re-opened in 2017. I have a degree in Gaelic Studies from Aberdeen University and did my postgraduate in Archival Studies in University College Dublin, next door to our old friends at the Irish Folklore Archive.

Initially my role was to re-establish the search room service and since then have focussed on managing the needs of our library/special collections and the manuscripts, in particular our administrative records, which tell the story of our 70 year history. One of my favourite things about SSSA is hearing different accents through recordings or their transcripts, these diverse voices that tell the story of our nation.

 

This year is our 70th Anniversary and we look forward to sharing events and content with you. If you would like to be kept up to date with our posts then please subscribe to get new posts straight to your inbox. You can find the subscribe box at the bottom of the page.

You can also follow us on twitter too https://twitter.com/EU_SSSA

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SSSA @ 70

 

In 2021 the School of Scottish Studies Archives celebrates our 70th Anniversary and we look forward to sharing exciting content, news and events with you this year.

We are also eager to hear from you, if you have any memories of The School of Scottish Studies, which you would like to share with us.

You can email us at scottish.studies.archives@ed.ac.uk and you can also find us on twitter: www.twitter.com/eu_SSSA.

We will be adding more to the blog soon, so please bookmark our URL or subscribe via email to receive new posts straight to your inbox.

 

For more information about The School of Scottish Studies collections, you can visit www.ed.ac.uk/is/sssa 

 

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