Category Archives: Interns

Spotlight on Fiddles at St Cecilia’s Hall

Guest post from Olivia Thorne, a museums placement student at St Cecilia’s Hall

As a classically-trained cellist, the image that springs to mind for me when I hear the word ‘fiddle’ is a violin used by folk musicians to play jigs and reels. However, as I discovered during my internship at St Cecilia’s Hall, the fiddle family encompasses so much more. Organologists (that’s musical instrument specialists) use the term ‘fiddle’ to refer to any string instrument played with a bow. The more formal classification ‘bowed lute’ also applies to this class of instrument. Fiddles can be played held under the chin like a violin, held upright and rested on the knee, or played standing, propped on a spike. A wide variety of materials are used to make fiddles, from coconut shell to snakeskin to maple, ebony and ivory, and instrument designs vary from the simple to extremely complicated. Fiddles are a worldwide phenomenon, with most cultures possessing their own variation on the instrument, and fiddle-playing traditions connect groups of people from different corners of the globe. Over the course of this blog post, I will highlight some of the wacky and wonderful fiddles in the collection at St Cecilia’s Hall, and share some of the surprises that emerged during my research with these instruments. The examples discussed also reveal some insights into the process of identifying musical instruments, and the ongoing collection research which goes on behind the scenes in any museum.

One-string fiddle

A circus runaway – the mysterious case of the one-string fiddle

When I first unwrapped this instrument from storage, I was confronted with an enigma. What was this instrument? It seemed to be a chimaera of the string instrument world, borrowing elements from lots of different instruments to make one very unusual fiddle. The top half is shaped like a violin, with a wide, rounded lower half which more closely resembles a 19th-century guitar. The soundholes are in a shape commonly seen on the viola d’amore – a member of the viol family popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. The very long neck and single string presented even more of a mystery. Single-string bowed instruments are rare worldwide, and even more so in the Western classical tradition to which the violin and viol family belong. However, string instruments have been the subject of experimentation for centuries, and the form of even the violin continues to evolve. Could this be an example of experimental innovation? Little information was collected about this instrument when it entered the museum’s collection in 1982. Luckily, the National Music Museum in South Dakota holds a perfect match within their collection. Documentation from the NMM revealed this to be a ‘violon du cirque’ – a circus violin – made in France c. 1900. This explains the motivation behind the maker’s experimental design – creating an instrument with a high novelty, entertainment and humour factor. The details of the circus routines in which this highly unusual fiddle might have played a part can only be imagined!

Looks can be deceiving


Baton-shaped kit

At first glance, this narrow-bodied instrument resembles a kit – a miniature fiddle popular as a portable instrument for private dancing tutors during the 17th and 18th centuries. Kits come in two basic categories – those shaped like miniature violins and those with long narrow bodies described as ‘baton-shaped’ by some authors and ‘gondola-shaped’ by others. However, this example is too large to be a kit, and doesn’t quite conform to the usual shape of the baton-style version. In fact, this is a złóbcoki, and has a completely different cultural context to the kit. While you would find a kit at home in the refined drawing rooms of London polite society in the 18th century, the złóbcoki is the folk fiddle of the Górale people of the Tatra Mountains in Poland. The złóbcoki was traditionally played at celebrations, weddings and marches, alongside a drum or basy (a Polish bass fiddle broadly comparable to the cello), and sometimes local bagpipes. This example demonstrates that within the twisting family tree of musical instruments, two instruments with very similar forms may have very different cultural contexts. However, the baton-shaped kit is thought to have evolved as a modification of the older rebec, a bowed instrument played widely in Europe during the Medieval and Renaissance eras. It is possible that future research may reveal that both the złóbcoki and the kit have their origins in the rebec – however without further data we can only speculate.


An imposter amongst the fiddles – identifying a Tibetan lute


To tell the global story of music, musical instrument museums often collect examples from around the world. This means that organologists sometimes need to identify instruments from cultures other than their own, which can be confusing work. This striking red string instrument is carved from a single piece of wood, with a round resonator covered in hide which amplifies the sound of the strings. It was previously identified in museum records from the 1990s as a pi-wang, a type of bowed string instrument from Tibet. However, after a little research it became clear that this instrument did not have the cylindrical sound box of a pi-wang, and also had more than the standard two strings. Utilising the power of the internet, which makes finding reference images a breeze, I determined that it was definitely the wrong shape to be a pi-wang. After some further reading, another possible candidate emerged – the Himalayan plucked instrument called sgra-snyan (the name means ‘pleasant sound’). Traditionally, one of the roles of the sgra-snyan was to accompany nang-ma songs, associated with the music of the Dalai Lama’s court in the Tibetan city of Lhasa. Today, ensembles featuring the sgra-snyan along with the pi-wang and traditional flutes are played by the Tibetan community in exile in Bhutan and India, where the nang-ma repertory has been revived. Having revealed its true identity, this particular instrument can no longer be considered a fiddle. However, this example goes to show how the abundance of reference images and information on the internet has changed the task of musical instrument research between the 1990s and today. Understanding a museum collection is an ongoing process – there is always more to learn!

The varieties of fiddle held in the collection at St Cecilia’s Hall are far too numerous to research in a four-week internship, or cover in a single blog post. To explore more of the fascinating world of fiddles, visit the Laigh Hall or the Wolfson Gallery at the newly redeveloped museum.

Olivia Thorne

Further Reading

Cooley, T 1997, Ethnography, Tourism and Music-culture in the Tatra Mountains: Negotiated Representations of Polish Gorale Ethnicity, Doctoral Thesis submitted to Brown University, Rhode Island, accessed via ProQuest.

Durkin, R 2017, ‘The Dancing-Master’s Toolkit: a summary of the pochette of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and its role in society’, The Galpin Society Journal, no. LXX, pp. 65-79.

Halfpenny, E and Grame, TC 2017, ‘Stringed instrument’, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, viewed 13th July 2017, accessible at <>.

Helffer, M 2000, ‘Tibetan Culture in South Asia’, in A. Arnold (ed.), The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Vol. 9, Garland, New York and London.

Henrion-Dourcy, I and Dhondup, T 2017, ‘Instruments – Tibetan Music’, in Grove Music Online, viewed 11th July 2017, accessible via Oxford Music Online.

Remnant, M 1984, ‘Kit’, in Grove Music online, viewed 13th July 2017, accessible via Oxford Music Online.

Stęszewski, J 2017, ‘Instruments – Poland’, in Grove Music Online, viewed 10th July 2017, accessible via Oxford Music Online.


There are always flowers

There are always flowers for those who want to see them. 

Henri Matisse 

This week is British Flowers Week! This is a week-long celebration of British flowers and the UK cut flowers industry, and it has been making us think about all the flowers we have in our collections here. We have decided to feature some of our favourites below!

One of our most special items is this eighteenth-century harpsichord – the most famous harpsichord in the world! More copies have been made of this harpsichord than any other in the world, and it was used as the model for the first harpsichord built in the revival period. Look at the beautiful flower detailing on it:

Find more information here.

To turn to our manuscript collections, the flowers in the margins of MS 195, our fifteenth-century copy of Virgil’s Georgics camouflage a variety of interesting creatures:


© The University of Edinburgh. Find more information here.

We also have many modern fiction books that feature flowers. Why not borrow Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (PQ4865.C6 Eco.) to read this summer?  Alternatively, we have The Black Tulip, by Alexandre Dumas (PQ2229 Dum.)! What is your favourite flower-related book?

Remember, the library has more than textbooks! Flowers are everywhere if you look for them!

Thus strangely are our souls constructed

We had a fantastic time participating in Festival of Museums at the weekend! From photography to pirates, there was something for everyone!

Collection: University of Edinburgh; Persons: Tayler, Jared; Event: Animation Workshop; 'Ani-Adventure'; Place: Reid Concert Hall; Category: University of Edinburgh; events; Description: 14/05/2016; Reid Concert Hall; Animation Workshop; 'Ani-Adventure'; Jared Tayler

Ani-Adventure: Animation Workshop led by ECA’s Jared Taylor

The finale of the weekend was a talk by Gavin Francis, an Edinburgh University alumnus, who took us on a tour of the human body. He was also signing copies of his excellent book, Adventures in Human Being, based on his experiences as a doctor. Informative and moving, this book has been incredibly well-received.

Collection: University of Edinburgh; Persons: Francis, Gavin; Event: Adventures in Human Being Lecture; Place: Anatomy Lecture Theatre; Category: University of Edinburgh; events; Description: 15/05/2016; Anatomy Lecture Theatre; Adventures in Human Being Lecture; Gavin Francis

Adventures in Human Being with Gavin Francis in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre

Today, we have two signed copies of the book to give away! All you have to do is identify this quote, which Gavin Francis includes in Chapter One:

‘Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by such slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity or ruin’

To win, comment below, or contact us on Facebook or Twitter (#happylibrary) with the name of the book and the author! Need a hint? The library holds several copies of this 1818 book!

Remember, the library has more to offer than textbooks!

Collection: University of Edinburgh; Persons: N/A; Event: Mathematical jewellery workshop; 'Hidden Gems'; Place: Anatomy Seminar Room; Category: University of Edinburgh; events; Description: 13/05/2016; Anatomy Seminar Room; Mathematical jewellery workshop; 'Hidden Gems'

Hidden Gems: Mathematical jewellery workshop

Lions and snakes and penguins (oh my!)

As you may have seen in our earlier blog post, this weekend (May 13th-15th) is Festival of Museums! This year’s theme is adventure and we have lots of exciting events planned, from photography to pirates! For more information, see the website here.

To tie in with Festival of Museums, we have been having fun in the Foyer today, making some wild animals out of origami and colouring in pirate ships. If you missed out, you can find some origami patterns here, and the colouring pages here.


We have also been asking students to vote on their favourite adventure book! We have some great ones here in the Library:

Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe, PR3403 Def.

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, PR5486 Ste.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, PS1305 Twa.

Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott, PR5318 Sco

The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas, PQ2228 Dum.

The Odyssey, Homer, PA4025.A5 Hom.

Moby Dick, Herman Melville, PS2384.M6 Mel.

Gulliver’s Travels, Johnathan Swift, PR3724 Swi.

So far, The Odyssey is winning, with Treasure Island a close second. Disagree? Let us know what you think via Facebook or Twitter (#happylibrary)!

We will leave you this week with an engraving from one of the University’s holdings of another of these texts, but look out for us popping up again soon!


Steel engraving by R. Staines after a drawing by T. Allom of a scene from Sir Walter Scott’s  Ivanhoe. 1837. Corson P.3655. © The University of Edinburgh. See it here.

Frogs and foxes

Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see 

Paul Klee

Our relaxation table in the Main Library Foyer has been helping students relax while they are revising for exams. One of the most popular activities has been origami, which is a great way to take a little break and re-focus your mind. So far, we have been making bookmark hearts, as well as roses and skulls to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th birthday.

However, we have been getting requests for more patterns to try! There are some great websites that provide free origami patterns, such as and You can search there for whatever you want to make!

Otherwise, why not try some of our favourites? You could soon be the proud owner of a frog, fox, or penguin! Pick up some origami paper from our table today, and don’t forget to tweet us your creations (#happylibrary)!


That which we call a rose

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Juliet, Romeo and Juliet

Today is the first day of the exam period, so it is a stressful time for students. We have been trying to help out with our relaxation table, located in the Main Library Foyer. It has some things to help students de-stress while they are studying, like tea and aromatherapy. However, we also want to encourage students to take regular breaks while studying. As little as six minutes of a quiet activity can help us to relax, so we have provided some activities that students can try, such as puzzles and colouring in.

Today, we have been doing something a little bit different. To celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, which has just passed on April 23rd, we have been encouraging students to make some Shakespeare-themed origami!

All you need is a square or rectangular piece of paper, so why not try a rose, a heart, or a skull? You could even make a paper model of the Globe!

If you are looking for an even more productive break, you could come up to the Centre for Research Collections on the sixth floor, where all students are welcome to look at our Special Collections material. We have a lot of early English drama, including many editions of Shakespeare plays published before 1660, such as this  lovely 1631 edition of The Taming of the Shrew:

taming of the shrew

William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, 1631. JA3706. © The University of Edinburgh. See it here.

Remember, the library has more to offer than textbooks and study space! 

Time to relax

The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it

Sydney J. Harris

Revision week is well underway and the library is getting busier and busier. Libraries are great places to study, offering a quiet, calm space to work. The Main Library is even offering extra study spaces for students during this time.

However, we have more to offer than study spaces! As part of our ongoing campaign to help students, we have been offering free hand massages today!


We hope that everyone who received a massage really benefited from it, but if you missed out, never fear! We have set up a Relaxation Table in the Main Foyer, which will be around for the next few weeks, offering fun activities such as origami, puzzles, and colouring. Remember, it is important to take breaks to stay focussed! There will also be aromatherapy, bubble wrap, and relaxing herbal tea for students to take away, among other things.  Don’t miss out, and make sure to Tweet or Facebook us your thoughts and creations (#happylibrary)!


Also, watch out for us on Friday, when we will be celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th birthday and World Book Night! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more details.

To get you in the party mood, here’s an image of Shakespeare from our collections:


Title page of The Works of Mr William Shakespeare, Vol.1, 1709. S*.30.1. © The University of Edinburgh. See it here.

Remember, we have more than just textbooks and study spaces! Happy studying!

The Adventure Begins…

Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: what more could you ask of life? Aviation combined all the elements I loved.

Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis


A model, with some wings, in the Playfair Library…. No, it’s not a new version of Cluedo, it’s this year’s University of Edinburgh’s Festival of Museums photoshoot!

With only a month to go until our One Last Adventure Festival of Museums weekend (13th-15th May), the adventurous times have begun with an action-packed aviation-inspired photoshoot with the fantastic Laurence Winram!


Fuelled by tea and coffee and with the model, Graham, dressed as an early aviation pioneer (complete with goggles and a pipe!), Laurence and his team worked tirelessly to get the perfect ‘adventurous’ shot in the wonderful setting of the University’s Playfair Library.

We can’t wait to see the results but in the meantime, if you fancy an adventure of your own, registration for all our events is now open – pirates, treasure, anatomy and bugs (yes really!) await so…

Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Just breathe

As part of our ongoing mission this term to let students know we care, we have been using some essential oils to help students relax today!

Aromatherapy has been around for a long time, for example in China and Egypt, where oil and incense have been used for up to 6000 years. A recent study by Lee Redstone, published by the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, has shown that essential oils can enhance mindfulness therapy by reducing stress and anxiety levels.

We hope that students felt the effects of our soothing blend of Lavender and Eucalyptus oil today – hopefully they had more luck smelling it than this statue from our collections would!


Gandharan sculpture fragment: Head of Buddha, 1st century, EU1343. See it here.

We will be popping up regularly next week during revision time and in the exam period following that. We have organised some very exciting events to help students relax, and also plan to celebrate a certain someone’s very special 400th birthday, so keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter! Also look out for our table in the Main Library Foyer, which will have aromatherapy as well as mindfulness activities for students to try!

Remember, your library loves you!

An apple a day …

To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear. Water surrounds the lotus flower, but does not wet its petals.


This week we have been thinking about how students can stay healthy during high-stress study periods. Most people opt for comfort food when they are stressed, something we catered for last week by handing out chocolate. While a little chocolate is fine occasionally, it is not the best thing to eat while studying!


That’s why we have been handing out some healthier snacks this week. Healthy sugars, such as those found in fruit and vegetables, and protein provide more long-lasting energy and are much better for our brains.

healthy snacks3

We were handing out some dried fruit and nuts, which are great options for study snacks, but here are some other food ideas from the BBC for boosting brain power:

  1. Fish, such as salmon and tuna
  2. Pumpkin seeds
  3. Tomatoes
  4. Broccoli
  5. Peanut butter
  6. Blueberries and blackcurrants

Other types of fresh fruit, like those in this still life from our collections, are good options too:


Fruit (Still Life) by Penelope Beaton. © The University of Edinburgh. Find it here.

Take care of yourself this week! Remember, your library loves you!