Category Archives: SSSA @ 70

SSSA in 70 Objects: Bha Là Eile Ann

Response by Fraser MacBeath

Hello, I’m Fraser MacBeath, a sound artist/electronic music producer from the Isle of Lewis, currently a postgraduate Sound For The Moving Image student at The Glasgow School of Art and a follower of the archive for the past 5 years or so.

Image: Fraser MacBeath

I became aware of the archive while working at An Lanntair Arts Centre on Lewis. I had been looking for ways in which to integrate aspects of Hebridean life into ambient/electronic music and the archive offered a unique sonic resource to draw inspiration from.

This work was created in response to an open call for soundworks from Radiophrenia Glasgow. I’d always found the folk stories and lore really fascinating. The sense of mysticism alive in the culture with talk surrounding the existence of fairies, mermaids and witches that has been very much stamped out in modern culture is something that seemed worthwhile to try and contemporise. I wanted to further dramatize it however by also building atmospheres and using music to formulate it into a kind of sonic journey. Creating a more immersive listening experience inspired by the kind of emotions and environments that might have surrounded the stories when they were told.

The finished piece is a fully homegrown product of Scotland, although unfortunately I’ve had to rely heavily on the English material due to my very limited understanding of Gaelic at this point, but everything heard is either sourced from the archive or recorded on the Isle of Lewis. The music is made from recordings of small snippets of various traditional instruments and other sounds you might hear floating around the islands. Once recorded there are an infinite number of things that can be done to twist the sound into any kind of music you can think of. The compositions here are made primarily from looping very small segments of audio, after which these can then be time stretched, pitch altered and mapped to the keys of a keyboard, allowing a new instrument to be born out of virtually any sound while still retaining the source texture.

It’s a bit of a crude first attempt production wise, In the future hopefully more of these will materialise with a bit more Gaelic. My hope is that It could develop into an interesting topic for a dreamy podcast series, whilst also providing an educational resource for folklore enthusiasts and Gaelic learners to immerse themselves in the language.

Hope you enjoy it.

 

You can find more of Fraser’s work on his website: Home | Fraser MacBeath – Music & Sound Design (wixsite.com)

All archive recordings used from SSSA as listed below:

Contributor Title Fieldworker
SA1973.160 Betsty Whyte A changeling baby banished and the real baby restored Peter Cooke and Linda Williamson
SA1976.109 Betsy Whyte A fisherman saw a mermaid sitting on a rock, Linda Williamson
SA1975.107 Betsy Whyte A man was changed into a woman and had a family before being… Linda Williamson
SA1972.176 Duncan MacKinnon An Ataireachd Àrd Ian Paterson
SA1957.041 Essie and Alec Stewart Essie Stewart gives a description of a fairy she saw. Hamish Henderson
SA1955.094 Brucie Henderson A woman was rescued from a cliff prison by her lover. Calum Maclean
SA1957.043 Alec Stewart The contributor discusses his fondness for storytelling. Hamish Henderson
SA1989.045 John James Santa Cruz Margaret Bennet and Stephanie Smith
SA1964.067 Gordeanna McCulloch The Shoals o Herrin Norman Buchan
SA1971.072 Dolina Maclennan Dh’fhàg mi ‘n Seo na Shìneadh e Peter Cooke
SA1985.057 Thomas David Edgar Unknown/Gypsy Woman Peter Cooke and Jo Miller

Upcoming Events Celebrating SSSA at 70

As part of our ongoing celebrations for our 70th Anniversary, we are delighted to announce some events which are coming up in August.

Fieldwork & Creative Engagement: Oral History of Port Glasgow Women

Thursday, 12 August 2021, 14:00-16:30.

Online, via Zoom.

Free, but ticketed via Eventbrite:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/157935676861

Our two presentations are rooted in the lived experience of women in the shipbuilding communities of Port Glasgow, recordings of which are held in our collection. Through our presenters’ fieldwork – undertaken almost 30 years apart – we see the importance of fieldwork, the collection and preservation of oral history recordings. It is from this perspective we will explore the value in creative reuse of archive recordings.

Speakers:

Dr Hugh Hagan, Head of Public Records Act Implementation at the National Records of Scotland, is passionate about the shipbuilding communities of Port Glasgow and Greenock on the lower reaches of the River Clyde, particularly in the inter-war period. These towns, being removed by some distance from the large and diverse economy of Glasgow, depended entirely on shipbuilding and they developed a very particular sense of community. This was the subject of his PhD research at the School of Scottish Studies in the 1990s and he will draw on that research, specifically the role of women in these communities, in his talk.

Martine Robertson and Hannah Wood, of GaelGal Productiions, were undertaking studies at the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, when they attended a lecture by Hugh Hagan, about his Port Glasgow work. They were galvanised to revisit this fieldwork, recording new material with the family of Cassie Graham, one of Hugh’s contributors. They have also been inspired to take these stories to centre stage, lifting the voices and experience of women of the Port Glasgow community and using these recordings in their creative practice. The presentation at this event is but one postcard-sized venture into their ongoing creative piece, What A Voice.

Q&A

After the presentations we shall have a short break, followed by a chaired question-and-answer session with our presenters. Participants are encouraged to submit questions in the chat facility during the papers and the break.

This session is open to anyone who wishes to attend and those with a particular interest in collecting, researching, or creating with oral history recordings. Please register for the event via the link to Eventbrite. Joining instructions will be sent with your ticket.

colour photograph of a reel to reel machine in action. The focus over the reels is blurred to show the fast movement

SSSA at The Edinburgh International Festival

There will also be two special events centring on the work of The School of Scottish Studies (Celtic and Scottish Studies Department) and on music, songs and singers within the collections here at SSSA. These events are hosted by EIF, and you can buy tickets from the website links provided.

A Folk Song Sharinghttps://www.eif.co.uk/events/university-of-edinburgh-a-folk-song-sharing

Sunday, 8 August, Old College Quad. 15:00

An intimate intergenerational exchange of songs and their stories: three artists share their favourite songs, how they came to sing them, the story behind each song and how their interpretation evolved. Features performances from Nancy Nicolson (Scots song and story), Josie Duncan (Scots, Gaelic and original song) and Arthur Cormack (Gaelic song).

 

The Living Archive – https://www.eif.co.uk/events/university-of-edinburgh-the-living-archive

Sunday, 8 August, Old College Quad. 20:00

A range of song, music and dance inspired by material from the School of Scottish Studies Archive. Performances inspired by material from the School of Scottish Studies Archives from Kirsty Law (Scots song), Mary MacMaster (clarsach, electro harp) and Mike Vass (fiddle, tenor guitar) with Sophie Stephenson (dance).

 

To be kept up to date with the events happening for our 70th anniversary, please follow our blog here or find us on twitter https://twitter.com/EU_SSSA

#SSSAat70

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SSSA in 70 Objects: CROW PIE: COOKERY FROM THE MACLAGAN MANUSCRIPTS

The Maclagan Manuscripts

Collected by: Elizabeth Kerr

Residence: Port Charlotte

Locality of Collection: Highland

Reference: MML0772b

Chosen by: Theresa Mackay

Five years ago I was completing my MLitt dissertation at the Centre for History, UHI, and like any student who is passionate about a topic, I couldn’t stop researching. The end result was one dissertation submitted for my degree—on the presence of female innkeepers in the early nineteenth-century Highlands—and a big pile of “extra” research on food. This data on what innkeepers cooked two hundred years ago kickstarted my Ph.D and led me to study The Maclagan Manuscripts at the SSSA.

The Maclagan Manuscripts (MM) consist of more than 9000 items of folklore from the western Highlands and Islands. Spearheaded by Dr. Robert Craig Maclagan in 1893, this project saw a team of collectors handwriting and submitting folkloric points of interest over nine years.

I have spent much time studying the MM to understand nineteenth-century foodways and practices of Gaelic-speaking women in the western coastal communities and I have to say this recipe for crow pie collected by Elizabeth Kerr is one of my favourites:

Pithean-cnàimheach. (crow pie.) Ingredients. The legs and breasts of a dozen crows. Two ounces butter; two tea cupfuls of flour; a little Baking powder; salt, pepper, and water.

___Method. Par-boil the meat in very little water, with a pinch of salt added. Put into a pie dish with the gravy and pepper. Make paste in the ordinary way, and cover the pie dish with it. Put a griddle on the fire, on which put the pie, and place a common pot over it, with its mouth downwards. Bake for Forty-five minutes.

 

From MacGillivray’s British Birds (1837)

Here we identify birds eaten on Islay, but if you look closely at this record, and others found in the MM, they help us to understand foodways practices of the past. Looking at the main ingredients, this recipe calls for “legs and breasts of a dozen crows” which sparks us to think about how the birds would have been caught (a job for boys with a sling, perhaps?) and how the remaining heads and feathers would have been used.

The prevalence of certain “supporting” ingredients in these cookery records point to foodstuffs that were considered staples, such as bread, whisky, cream, meals of barley and oat, and butter and salt (as seen here). In this recipe we also see that the pie covering was made “in the ordinary way” causing us to explore what specific foodstuffs were used in this “paste” and what practice was the “ordinary way”.

In terms of cooking equipment, here we see a “pie dish” referenced, a note that helps us to understand how a kitchen was outfitted. Along with pie dishes, the MM suggests that kitchens also included various sizes of barrels, three-legged pots, and buckets and bags for collecting whelks at the shore, giving us an understanding of nineteenth-century material culture and cooking technology.

It is the idea that this simple recipe for crow pie tells us so much about how women in the Gàidhealtachd fed themselves and their families that appeals to me so much. A recipe by collector Elizabeth Kerr that may have taken her only a few minutes to jot down has forever preserved the foodways of the nineteenth century western Highlands and Islands.

 

Theresa Mackay is a Ph.D candidate in History at the University of Victoria (Canada). Her research centres on foodways and practices of nineteenth century women in the Gàidhealtachd along the western coastlines of the Highlands and Islands.

To find out more about The Maclagan Manuscripts visit: https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/library-museum-gallery/cultural-heritage-collections/school-scottish-studies-archives/manuscripts-collections/maclagan

To read Theresa’s article on female innkeepers in the Highlands and Islands, see the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies: https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/full/10.3366/jshs.2017.0218

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Plants used in traditional Shetland medicine

Contributor: Tom Tulloch

Fieldworker: Alan Bruford

SA Reference: SA1978.068

Chosen by: Jenny Sturgeon

My chosen object is a recording of Shetlander Tom Tulloch talking with interviewer Alan Bruford.

Recorded in Yell, Shetland (presumably in Tom’s house), Tom and his wife, Elizabeth, chat about the local Shetland names for plants. The recording opens with a list of plant names including arthie (chicken-weed) and blugga (marsh marigold).

I came across this recording whilst researching for a workshop I was running as part of an artist residency at the National Library of Scotland. Working with participants from across Scotland I ran four workshops exploring creative music and spoken word responses to a series of plant lectures given to University of Glasgow students in the 80s. Presented by Professor James Holmes Dickson, these lectures are housed in the Scotland’s Sounds archive and gave the group an insight to ecology and conservation of plants in Scotland. Alongside mentions of the common and Latin names of plants I was keen to explore local plant names and uses across Scotland, with particular reference to Shetland, which is where I live.

The thing that really endeared me to this particular recording on Tobar an Dualchais is Tom saying,  ‘I keyn the wirds but I dinna keyn deir proper names’. This struck me when I first heard him saying it because my interpretation is that he does know the ‘proper names’. It got me thinking about different names for plants and animals and how there is not one ‘proper name’. There is a Latin name, which is the accepted scientific name, but that does not mean much to a lot of people, myself included! Local names for flora and fauna root us to where we come from and there is a
cultural history and identity associated with them. Being able to delve into archives such as this is a way we can access and be inspired by our heritage.

Along with several other recordings from Tobar an Dualchais this recording of Tom features in one of the two pieces created during my residency. As with many of the recordings I came across from that time, you can clearly hear the ticking of a grandfather clock in the background. The finished sound pieces feature music, words and field recordings created by participants during the workshops.

You can listen to these pieces at the link below.
https://jennysturgeon.bandcamp.com/track/pushing-reaching-falling-replacing
https://jennysturgeon.bandcamp.com/track/as-far-north-as-anything-grows

You can listen to the original recording of Tom Tulloch on Tobar an Dualchais: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/81445

Jenny Sturgeon is a singer-songwriter based in Shetland. In addition to her residency with Unlocking our Sound Heritage, Jenny has recently collaborated on an audio visual project based around  Nan Shepherd’s book, The Living Mountain. https://www.jennysturgeonmusic.com/thelivingmountain

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SSSA in 70 Objects: “No Winder You Canna Catch Fish”

Response by: Holly Graham

Recording: Up Helly Aa peats replaced by tar barrels

Contributor: Katie Laurenson

Fieldworker: Elizabeth Neilson

Reference: SA1961.89.B74

© Gaada

My chosen object is a short audio extractan excerpt of a longer oral history interview with Shetlander, Katie Laurenson; held within the School of Scottish Studies online collection of archive audio. I came across it while delving through another gathering of materials that has become an archive collection in its own right, hosted online by Shetland-based art space Gaada. Over the past year or so, Gaada have been working closely with local activist group Up Helly Aa for Aa (UHA4A) to collect a range of matter that together tells a story of the island’s annual local fire festival and its historic exclusion of women.

This assemblage of scanned press-cuttings, screen-shots of Facebook posts, drawings, videos, photographs and more, exists as a Google drive of digitised ephemera, documentation and artworks built collaboratively with contributions from UHA4A members. I had been invited, alongside a small selection of other artists, to explore this collection and to develop some accompanying artwork in the form of a flag design, and pieces for a display unit – outdoor structures that could allow for socially distanced viewing in the context of Covid19. A selection of these artworks were later donated to Glasgow Women’s Library. 

As I read and surveyed images, a picture of the festival and what it meant to local people built in my mind – firearms, tar barrels, guizing, Vikings, community. The earliest festivals were “a highly ritualised form of mis-rule governed by the people” according to writer Callum G. Brown (Up-Helly-Aa: Custom, Culture and Community in Shetland, 1998); a show of what Brydon Leslie calls “disruption, devilment, and above all, flame” (New Shetlander, 2011). Brian Smith debunks the authenticity of what he terms the ‘bogus name “Up Helly Aa”’ and the festival’s links to Viking history, saying its inventors – young working men in Lerwick – ‘had their tongues firmly in their cheeks’ (The Shetland Times, 1993). Recent article headlines from local papers jostle and joust: ‘Is Up-Helly-A’ brazenly sexist, or is ‘the way it’s always been’ still acceptable?’ asks Peter Johnson in a 2017 issue of The Shetland Timesthere’s a ‘Burning desire for change’ says Zara Pennington for The Orkney News in 2018; ‘Leave it as it is’ reads the opener of a letter from Lerwick resident Jolene Tindall for The Shetland Times in a year later; ‘Up Helly Aa sexism under the spotlight’ reads a headline of a 2020 Sunday Times article written by Shetlander Sally Huband; ‘They call us backward’ claims a staunch member of the ‘remain the same’ camp in a short video feature by Huck Magazine posted on their site in the same year. 

There was a lot to look through, and I spent a number hours-worth of screen-time squinting at and zooming in on minute columns of newspaper text, lined by pixelated image boarders. The link to Katie’s sound file on the School of Scottish Studies website stood out to me as one of the only items in the Google drive present existing in audio format. It was a welcome pause from the glowing screen and I closed my eyes while I listened. Katie’s lilting narrative told of roots of the festival, steeped in sun-worship rituals. She spoke of flaming tar barrels and the healing properties of tar. She told her own anecdotes of being chastised for wandering to a neighbour’s house via a forbidden route. 

Postcards by Holly Graham

I often work with audio. I’m interested in story-telling and how individual voices present singular subject views, that listened to along-side others, can layer to build complex and nuanced narratives, versions of histories. I was intrigued by Katie’s recounting of her journey to the neighbour’s house and of how that mapped onto histories of the Up Helly Aa procession route, steeped in the superstitious belief that there was only one correct direction to move. Through Katie I learnt vocabulary that was new to me – ‘sungaits’, the way of the sun, also known as clockwise; and ‘widdergaits’, against the sun, or anticlockwise. She laughed at what ‘the old folks’ would say if they saw the present day Lerwick Up Helly Aa procession, weaving a figure of eight back and forth through the town centre. They’d think it was bad luck to travel in such a direction – they’d say ‘no winder you canna catch fish’. I liked this idea of tradition, superstition, direction, push-back and change. 

From what I’d read in the Gaada and UHA4A collections of text, the main argument against women’s participation in the annual procession was one founded in tradition, in the notion that things had not changed before and should therefore not change now. But in light of Katie’s memories of the festival this case falls short. Katie was speaking in 1961, and her voice reaches us intact 60 years later, to speak some home truths to ‘this modern Up Helly Aa that you see nowadays’. And while speaking to us from the 20th century, Katie was born in 1890, just 9 years the first organised torch-light procession took place in Lerwick. Viewed through the span of a life and a voice – human for scale – we see the festival past as not so old, not so distant and concrete, impervious to change. We make traditions collectively, collaboratively. They are often built around small truths that in turn expand foam-like to form myths, and we pack further myths in around them, insulatory protective wrapping to transport them. They morph and change with time. Why would we not desire our traditions to be flexible enough to accommodate us, and to suit us societally as we move and shift, rather than remaining rigid restraints that constrict our collective growth? 

The work I made for the project pivoted around a verbatim poem I assembled from Katie’s words, channelling the push and pull, forward and backward notions held by the terms ‘sungaits’ and ‘widdergaits’. The flag featured a mass of spiralling ribbons, and the two words – one on either face – constructed from these ribbons and enmeshed within them. The display case held a collection of prints: a collage of newspaper headlines, a dictionary definition of ‘widder-’, screenshots of a subtitled documentary on the festival and it’s accompanying calls for change. I also worked with other fragments of archive from the Scottish School of Studies collection; field recordings of songs sung and music played in the processions, recorded by Peter R. Cooke in 1982 [SA1982.010.011].

I pieced together an audio piece or ballad of sorts, that combined Katie’s voice with those of contemporary UHA4A women – Debra Nicolson, Joyce DaviesLindsey Manson, and Frances Taylor – who echoed her words to form a chorus. The audio cycles, returning to familiar melodies played in reverse, words layered and repeated, the narrative is slippery. Together, tongues in cheeks, Katie and the UHA4A women chant: ‘No winder you canna catch fish!’ 

Holly’s flag flying at Gaada, in Bridge-End, Burra Isle.

 

________With thanks to Amy Gear and Daniel Clark at Gaada; Caroline Gausden at Glasgow Women’s Library; Louise Scollay at The School of Scottish Studies Archives and Library; Debra Nicolson, Joyce Davies, Lindsey Manson, and Frances Taylor of Up Helly Aa for Aa; Katie Laurenson and her family, and Peter R. Cooke. 

______________ 

Thanks to Holly and Gaada for use of their images.

You can visit Holly’s website here: https://www.hollygraham.co.uk/

You can find out more about the project on Gaada’s website: https://www.gaada.org/weemins-wark 

Up Helly Aa for Aa campaign:  https://www.facebook.com/S4UHAE/about/

Glasgow Women’s Library: https://womenslibrary.org.uk/

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Hò Ro Gur Toigh Leinn Anna 

Contributor: Peigi Anndra MacRae, Mairi Anndra MacRae 

Fieldworker: Donald Archie MacDonald 

Reference: SA1964.062 

Link: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/104487

Response: Dr Alison Mayne 

It’s extremely hard for me to pick one object from the School of Scottish Studies Archives.  I first discovered its treasures when Louise Scollay found a lever arch file full of clippings and letters about Cleekwork and she asked me to make a cleek glove based on a pattern found there.  This work developed into a Handmaking in the Archives event for the University of Edinburgh Festival of Creative Learning.  

Unsurprisingly perhaps, my interest in the SSSA focuses on the world of textiles and wool processing in particular.  The archive is packed with images, stories and songs of sheep, shearing, spinning and the transformation into cloth through knit or weave.  Louise herself selected a Barra waulking song as her favourite object, celebrating the community preparation of tweed.  Coming in a close second for my own favourite is the Tom Anderson 1960 recording of Rosabel Blance singing her own composition of ‘Roo the Bonny Oo which magically replicates the sound of a burring spinning wheel. 

However, I knew my special SSSA object had to come from Peigi Anndra MacRae.  With her sister, Mairi, Peigi opened her home to a young Margaret Fay Shaw in the late 1920s and introduced her to the crofting way of life, traditions, stories and music of South Uist.  After her marriage to ethnologist John Lorne Campbell, Shaw remained fast friends with Peigi Anndra as she developed the work which would become Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist. 

Mary and Peggy MacRae
Image used with kind permission from Alex MacRae.

The relationship between folklorist / ethnologist and contributor is fascinating:  There are ethical concerns we are more aware of now which can make the uneven power relations between collector and singer feel uncomfortable; the mantle of expertise may have been borne by the fieldworker, but the incredible depth of knowledge lays with the singer or contributor.  In many ways, the interest lies for me in the process of collecting, not necessarily the item itself. 

Peigi Anndra’s singing of  Ro Gur Toigh Leinn Anna was recorded by Donald Archie MacDonald (who worked at the SSSA between 1962 to 1994) in 1964.  It tells of a woman sad that she is unable to take part in waulking the tweed and was composed by Mrs Catriona Campbell of South Lochboisdale. 

What I love is the uncertainty of memory, repetition and occasional pauses of Peigi Anndra’s singing, the quiet interjections of MacDonald where she forgets the words, Mairi calling corrections from across the room, the whirr and click of the reel to reel tape.  Recordings like this are not only significant in recording traditional song and ways of knowing, but in reminding listeners and researchers down the years of the process of recording.  It is a precious reminder that we should not forget the relationships and labour of collecting which have constructed the archive. 

 

Dr Alison Mayne is a researcher in everyday textiles and wellbeing, with additional interests in digital communities and design for older people. She holds awards from Women’s History Scotland, The Pasold Fund and is a University of Glasgow 2020-21 Visiting Library Fellow, supported by the William Lind Foundation.

@knittyphd

 

Image used with kind permission of the MacRae family. Please do not reproduce.

Further resources

There are further recordings from The School of Scottish Studies Collections featuring Peigi and Mairi MacRae. Many of these are available to stream via Tobar an Dualchais.

http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/searchByTrackId?id=SA1964.062

http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/searchByTrackId?id=SA1965.118

http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/searchByTrackId?id=SA1966.081

For more information about Margaret Fay Shaw and her relationship with the MacRaes visit The National Trust:  https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/stories-songs-and-starlings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SSSA in 70 Objects : A bird living in one of the houses on St Kilda, 1938

Chosen by Stephen Willis, Library Assistant, Centre for Research Collections.

On 29th August 1930, the island of St Kilda was evacuated due to its remote location and a dwindling population. The School of Scottish Studies Archives contains a photo album of St Kilda containing some bittersweet images of an ornithological visit made in 1938 showing the changes that had occurred.

The trip was made by naturalist and writer, Robert Atkinson, along with some people who had lived on the island, Neil Gillies, Annie Gillies and Finlay MacQueen and would return for the summer months. An image that caught my eye was of a wren, which had made its home in one of the abandoned houses.

B332 Robert Atkinson Collection – © The School of Scottish Studies Archives

It is amazing to think of such a tiny bird now ruling the roost in a house made for people. It is a beautiful composition, with the sun shining through the window and the bird looking up. It is perched on what looks like debris from the house which has deteriorated without being heated and maintained for 8 years. From another image in the album it looks like one of the birds, possibly the same one was caught and is being examined, before hopefully being allowed to go on its way.

B333 – The Robert Atkinson Collection © The School of Sottish Studies Archives

(Description: St. Kilda: Wren Caught by Neil Gillies in One of the Houses, July 29th 1938)

The bird seems to be sitting fearlessly in one of the visitor’s hands so perhaps this was because it had no experience of people until that day. As Atkinson said in his book Island Going (first published in 1949),

‘St Kilda wrens left the nest for a world without natural enemies. Their only mortality was accidental’.

Like many people, I have been watching birds more during lockdown and I have noticed how quickly they look to reclaim places that they have been chased away from by human activity. I saw a bird that was walking on the road last May and a car drove over where it was standing. Fortunately, it appeared uninjured and flew away, but it had no road sense because there had been so few cars on the road to learn to be afraid.

Perhaps it is most fitting to end with some words from Robert Atkinson’s on the wrens, which complement the images well:

‘They were so near it was like examining a bird in the hand; their St Kildan characteristics of larger size and stronger, greyer markings, robuster bills and legs, were plain. Pleasant to watch the stealthy bright-eyed approach to the nest, the gabbled transfer of caterpillars, the gentle receipt of the white sac; and to hear the invisible whirr of wings amplified within the dark hollow of the cleit.’

Reference: Robert Atkinson, Island Going (Edinburgh, Birlinn, 2008), Chapter 20

 

You can browse images from the Atkinson Collection on The University of Edinburgh Image Collection website. 

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 @ 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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