Once a fortnight for the past two years I have been conserving 550 sheets of paper belonging to the Carmichael Watson Collection. These date from the late 1800s to the early 1900s and are all mostly in Gaelic, written by the scholar Alexander Carmichael. Most of the sheets needed quite a lot of attention. The majority of them needed surface cleaning. This entailed using a chemical sponge and gentle use of an eraser. There were also sheets which had rust on them where metal paper clips had been attached. Rust was removed with the tip of a scalpel using magnifying glasses. Great care was needed so that only the damaged fibres were taken away. Tears were repaired using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste with the pages pressed to ensure the ‘glue’ had dried. Finally all the sheets were placed in acid-free folders and housed in a low-acid board box.
Some of the sheets had interesting watermarks on them and as an aside from the practical element of this paper conservation I decided to do a bit of investigation in my own time. Some of the watermarks originated from a papermaker in Glasgow. I found out that the United Wire factory which I live near created the wireworks used for making paper, so it is possible that some of the paper on which I had been working might have been created on wires made in this factory.
Volunteer with The Carmichael Watson Project
I have been volunteering in Special Collections and Archives for a few hours each week since June 2011, with my work mainly focussed on the Carmichael Watson project. For those few hours, I usually find myself in the company of lowly crofters and paupers, scraping a living off the land in the more remote areas of mid-late 19th century Scotland. My work centres on researching and creating biographies of the people visited or mentioned by Alexander Carmichael in his many transcription and field notebooks. In these notebooks, Carmichael collected such things as spells, songs, charms, prayers and stories at the heart of the Gaelic culture of the time. Through studying their birth, marriage and death certificates together with census records, I construct a brief biography of the informants’ lives and ensure that significant dates are made ‘machine-readable’ for future researchers, as well as checking any reference made in the notebooks to each person; all these details are gradually being made available on the Carmichael Watson Project website. As well as my enjoyment of being a ‘detective’ in constructing the biographies, it also gives me great satisfaction to think that my work may be of use to those researching in the field of 19th century life in the Highlands and Islands, especially as I lived in the Highlands myself for around 15 years.