Wooden Spoon of the Month: Papyri…in my rubbish dump?

What is the Wooden Spoon section we hear you ask? Each month we celebrate a piece within our collections that leaves you thinking, maybe something is just slightly off here… but what?  

Each article will bring amusing stories, unwelcome additions, surprising annotations, damage to artifacts or the unsolved mysteries of our Collections and Archives. We’re wanting to highlight the unusual, the unexplained, the unfortunate occurrences and the downright ‘peculiar.’ Do you have a suggestion for a future ‘Wooden Spoon’ of the month? We’d love to hear from you at: voiceed@outlook.com but remember – we’re here to celebrate the weird and wonderful, not insult it! 

You may be thinking yes, you wouldn’t expect to see a scrap of papyrus in the collections of the University library, but it is historic writing material, and does appear to contain text. That’s not out of place in a library. You may be thinking ‘this isn’t that peculiar’ and ponder why it is this month’s ‘wooden spoon.’ There’s something up with this papyrus, and unless you can read Ancient Greek, you probably won’t know what.  

Found in an ancient rubbish dump in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt (modern day: el-Bahnasa), this scrap of papyrus was among thousands well preserved by the desert conditions. The dumps were excavated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by papyrologists Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt, and the Egyptian Exploration Fund donated 18 of these fragments to the University of Edinburgh in 1914. The texts uncovered range from lost poetic works to early biblical stories, ranging in date from the 3rd century BCE to the Muslim Conquests of Egypt in 640 CE.  

Most of the papyri were written in Greek (including our ‘wooden spoon’), but other languages found include Egyptian hieroglyphics, Coptic, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic, testament to the multiculturalism of Egypt in antiquity. With over half a million fragments found, it is estimated that only 2% of the texts have been studied, translated, and catalogued. But what about our ‘wooden spoon’? Luckily for us, this piece of papyri is numbered 309 in the 2nd volume of Oxyrhynchus papyri (with the 86th volume released last November!).  

So, what does it say? Is it an ancient curse? A lost verse of Sappho? What makes papyrus scrap P.Oxy CCCIX the ‘wooden spoon’ of the month is its unsuspectingly modern subject: it is a two-millennia-old tax receipt.  

The papyrus lists the various amounts of money, measured in drachmae and obols, a man called Thoönios paid in tax during the reign of the emperor Tiberius, giving the manuscript a precise date of 17-19 CE. While taxation had existed in Egypt for thousands of years, the start of Roman rule in 30 BCE led to complex developments in taxation. While Thoönios paid in cash, taxes could also be paid in kind, and appointed officials oversaw the implementation and collection of the deluge of small taxes an individual in Roman Egypt could owe. Perhaps their complexity was why Thoönios had to write them down.  

From ancient rubbish dump to the Centre for Research Collections in the University of Edinburgh, our 2000-year-old ‘wooden spoon’ of the month reminds us that our tax self-assessment deadline has just passed, and it is eternally important to write these things down.  

By Izzy Nendick  

Mesostic Interleaved: Alec Finlay’s Main Library Installation

Hurrying through the Main Library on George Square, University of Edinburgh students and visitors to the library often overlook the discreetly formatted blurbs which decorate the bookshelves of the building.

Hurrying through the Main Library on George Square, University of Edinburgh students and visitors to the library often overlook the discreetly formatted blurbs which decorate the bookshelves of the building. In search of a particular book or an empty desk, visitors often see the library through a narrow lens; a hasty scan of the shelves until their Dewey Decimal number is a match, a quick survey of the room to find the perfect window seat, or a mad dash to the water fountain for yet another refill. Caught in the frenzy of fulfilling some caffeine-fuelled mission, it is easy to navigate the library without really seeing it. But once one sees one of Alec Finlay’s poems, one sees them everywhere. Camouflaged in a patchwork of signage and QR codes, Finlay’s words can be found on the ends of bookshelves on the fourth, third, and second floors of the library. His cryptic strings of words are printed in an unassuming charcoal-coloured sans serif and sit below their corresponding barcodes. Printed on Perspex, they are pasted on to the ends of the shelves.  

Freud, ‘Mesostic Interleaved’, Alec Finlay. Carley Wootton Photo.

Titled ‘Mesostic Interleaved,’ Alec Finlay’s mixed media piece contains four parts: a circular poem carved outside the entrance to the library; a limited-edition book featuring the full set of 100 poems and barcodes; a scattering of 50,000 bookmarks featuring the 100 poems which were printed and ‘interleaved’ into the books within the library; and a showcasing of the poems pasted on the ends of the stacks in the library. The messages of the poems are at first cryptic, but on close reading their story unfolds. The poems are ‘mesostic’, meaning they are inspired by a stem word or name which is distinguishably highlighted within their one line. 

Finlay’s circular mesostic poem, displayed outside the entrance to the Main Library. The dots under the letters spell ‘thair to remain,’ a quote taken from the will of the University’s first benefactor.  
University of Edinburgh Photo.

Finlay’s 100 poems highlight letters which correspond to surnames of authors whose book(s) can be found in the shelves of the main library. The content of the one-lined poems take inspiration from a book by the author they highlight, shedding light on the content of the book as well as the name of its author. For instance, the poem below, ‘suffering from repression suppresses desire’, not only spells the word F-R-E-U-D, but also alludes to his theory in the Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1913. 

                          Freud, ‘Mesostic Interleaved’, Alec Finlay. Carley Wootton Photo.  

The poems also feature corresponding barcodes, which were inspired by the modernist architecture of the building and the realization that the entire collection was mapped by barcode. The barcodes were made by Finlay who had the poems translated into binary, allowing the poems to be ‘scannable’ in the way that one might scan a book to check it out of the library.  

Finlay’s work has a distinct appeal to mystery, it lets the viewer encounter his poems discreetly, revealing themselves bit by bit as one wanders through the stacks. The viewer can then come to decode the authors name and learn about their work through the elusive lines which allude to their books. As stated in the introduction to ‘Mesostic Interleaved,’ Alec Finlay’s work embodies the idea of ‘reading through books / writing through names’ . 

‘Mesostic Interleaved’ Page 1. Carley Wootton Photo. 

To see the work for yourself, visit the library and have a wander through the stacks. Or, to see the complete collection of poems, you can find Finlay’s book here.  

The CSWC: Tom Colvin Papers

The Malawi and Zambia Collections in the Centre for the Study of World Christianity Archives (CSWC) are a collection housed in the CRC which ‘exists to advance high-quality scholarship in Christianity as a polycentric faith whose adherents are now far more numerous in the majority world than Europe or North America.’ The establishment and preservation of this extensive collection of endless material is a demonstration of how the heritage sector can present an alternative, more inclusive narrative that move away from traditionally Eurocentric perspectives.

The CSWC was established in Aberdeen in 1982 as the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World (CSCNWW) and consisted of 400m of archives that testify of Christianity’s reach beyond the Western hemisphere. The founder of the collection, Professor Andrew Walls, brought the collection with him when he began to teach in Edinburgh in 1987. The CSWC has been placed in the New College Library over a decade ago and then to the CRC in June 2018. It continues to be a resource for staff and students alike in their research. The CSCW states that its aim is to ‘to advance high-quality scholarship in Christianity as a polycentric faith whose adherents are now far more numerous in the majority world than in Europe or North America.’ Among the archives are records of missionary societies such as the Latin Link, Regions Beyond Missionary Union and the Sudan United Mission, as well as other individuals connected to the Christian missions. This article, however, will focus on one part of the vast collection: the Tom Colvin papers.  

Tom Colvin is a well-known name in Malawian history, and his works consist of four boxes of papers! Born in 1925 in Glasgow, he was active in service in Malawi and Ghana for many years before he became travelling secretary for the Student Christian Movement (whose archives are also in New College).  He was then ordained in 1954 and appointed headmaster of the Henry Henderson Institute in the city of Blantyre in Malawi. He was also associate minister of Blantyre Church and education secretary of Blantyre Synod. He then created the Christian Service Committee, an ecumenical group which brought together both Christian missionaries of varying sects and the secular organizations active in Malawi. Following eight years in London, he returned to Malawi and continued to advise the development of the Christian movement as well as helping the African church integrate their musical heritage with traditional hymns. 

Photo of moderator George MacLeod of Fuinary with the women of Zomba CCAP, Mvano, January 1958 (ref. CSWC 39/1/3.7) 

 The collection was donated in 2001 by his wife Pat, following Colvin’s death in 2000. She helped to organize the items and provided useful annotations. The archives cover the 1890s to 2001, including accounts from the beginning of the mission as well as publications, reports, letters, records of Colvin’s roles in Blantyre Synod and photographs. The photographs in the collection are especially rich and telling of those involved in the church movement during Colvin’s time. 

Colvin is simply the tip of the CSWC archive iceberg. The collection is a testament to the vast amount of material the CRC possesses that presents an opportunity of inclusive and holistic research to academics and students. The call for decolonizing collections starts with initiatives such as this, where curators and archivists preserve content that presents a global perspective on history. With over 35km of rare and unique material, the CSWC is another testament to the diversity that the CRC is moving towards with their archives. 

Written by Tessa Rodrigues.

More Resources: 

Archive Repository regarding the Malawi Writers Group:  https://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/473# 

The Papers of Thomas Colvin online:  https://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/5/resources/87169 


Stewart, Kirsty M. “Malawi and Zambia Collections in the Centre for the Study of World Christianity Archives.” 27 October 2018, Mayfield Salisbury Church Hall, Edinburgh. Talk. 


New Exhibition: ‘Edina/Athena: The Greek Revolution and the Athens of the North 1821 – 2021.’ 

2021 marks two hundred years since both the start of the Greek Revolution and laying of the first stone of the National Monument on Calton Hill. While these events were not linked at the time, this new exhibition shows how connected nineteenth century Athens and Edinburgh were, from the physical to the intellectual.

As the Duke of Hamilton, leader of the 1821 procession to Calton Hill, addressed the crowd gathered to watch the first stone laid, he was calling to what was an imagined Athenian heritage to the physical city and its intellectual energy. The National Monument was a planned facsimile of the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis, then occupied by the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, revolutionaries in Greece too were appealing to the western European notion of a shared Hellenistic heritage, as the revolutionary Alexandros Ypsilantis’ 1821 proclamation shows. As dissent was building in the Greek islands and eastern territories, Edinburgh was growing into its role as the ‘Athens of the North’ capturing both the neoclassical Greek style of new buildings, and the intellectual fervor and spirit. Soon, however, Edinburgh would also start to emulate their inspirations’ desire for freedom from Ottoman rule. 

Starting with a recollection of these two distant but related orations by the Duke of Hamilton and Ypsilantis, the exhibition utilises a range of material to tell the dual story of the fight for Greek liberation from Ottoman rule, alongside the Scottish auxiliary effort and cultural exploration. The scene is set in ‘Modern Athens,’ with the establishment of Edinburgh as the living embodiment of the Greek city, perpetuated by topographical comparisons, visualised in several landscapes by Hugh ‘Grecian’ William Williams, James Skene of Rubislaw, and Thomas Hosmer Shepard. The Dugald Stewart Monument, represented by an intricate elevation held by the University of Edinburgh, was based on the Choragic Monument of Lysikrates in Athens, highlighting that this evocation of classical Athens was indeed intentional as much as coincidence by the Scottish intellectuals. 

View of the Plain of Athens, Greece, James Skene.  
Edinburgh from Craigleith, Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.

However, once one turns to examine the subsequent displays, presented are the concurrent actualities of the native Athens. Starting with a dynamic depiction of the First Battle of Athens in 1821 by Dimitrios Zographos, the section titled ‘The Greek Revolution’ explores the conception of the struggle for Greek independence, and how its broadcast in order to gain foreign assistance. Notably, the first accounts of the Revolution written in English were both by Scots, Thomas Gordon and George Finlay, conveying the interconnectedness of the two countries. Not ignored is the role of women in the revolution, with reference to the naval commander Laskarina Bouboulina, who captained one of the largest warships of the period. A French commemorative plate depicts the women of Missolonghi, who took part in the third siege of the city in 1825-6, and although the town fell to the Ottomans, the tragic event drew the European public to intervene.  

Folk songs of resistance and letters of appeal appear alongside these histories, culminating in two impressive loans to the exhibition. On one wall, a vivid and enigmatic portrait of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of the new Greek state; in the opposite case, a pair of repousse duelling pistols owned by the Mavromichalis family who would later assassinate Kapodistrias. For as much Scottish and foreign intervention there was, the revolution was viewed by the Ottomans as internal stasis, and even within the revolutionary groups there was inner conflict.

The Monument of Professor Stewart, Elevation. William Henry Playfair, 1831.

With the start of foreign intervention in the Greek Revolution in 1826, encapsulated in another Zographos illustration, the notion of the Scottish Philhellenes is introduced. While also united against the Ottomans by an alliance of Protestantism and Orthodoxy, a classical education and perceived cultural inheritance inspired many of the Philhellenes to rally for the Greek cause. Alongside an attempt at a Greek phrasebook belonging to Lord Byron, several documents pertaining to Scots in or interested in Greece show a deep fascination with Hellenistic culture, past and present, including archaeological research and political ephemera.

Stuart’s Ancient Edifices in Pola, Athens. James Stewart, 1750.

However, most significantly, this exhibition does not shy away from the relationship between the legacy of Classics and Imperialism. At first glance, a map of a Georgia Estate from 1856 is not congruent to the display, but it is the profits, and then the compensation from this estate worked by enslaved peoples that allowed Thomas Gordon to invest in the Greek cause and write its history. The exhibition does not relent in its thorough examination of the more unsavoury aspects of the Scottish relationship with Greece. Indeed, while many were invested in the Greek cause, it was also an opportunity to source and steal vast amounts of Greek antiquities, justified by Lord Elgin as keeping the artefacts safe during a period of destructive strife.  

The complex history of Scottish reflection and idealisation of Athens culminating in revolutionary assistance to the Modern Greek state is interlinked by the objects on display and reflected in Karen Cunningham’s commission Parataxis. The printed textile ‘Revolution is a living language’ visualises Hellenism and revolution through both a depiction of the Edinburgh Seven and images of classical Greece and emphasises the diminished role of women in revolution and the Enlightenment, harking back to Laskarina Bouboulina. The moving image work, ‘Looking and Being Overlooked,’ shows the same textile being unwoven, just as the mythical Penelope did each night, emphasising the role of gender to the changing narrative of history.  

Laskarina Bouboulina, artist unknown.

The exhibition details the intricate relationship between Enlightenment Scotland, revolutionary Greece, and how the invocation of the classical tradition. Both Cunningham’s Parataxis and a cast of Dr Sandy Stoddart’s relief of Edina and Athena from his 2016 statue of William Henry Playfair invite the viewer to question the legitimacy of Edinburgh’s Athenian identity. While Edina holds a mirror to reflect Athena, the exhibition has shown that the syncretism of both cultures was not accidental but incidental, and beneficial both to the fight for liberation and pursuit of intellectual learning.  

‘Edina/ Athena: The Greek Revolution and Athens of the North, 1821-2021′ represents a beautiful unity of material evidence and research, resulting in an insightful exploration of the Scottish role in the Greek Revolution. Furthermore, the exhibition was created and curated by a team working during the Covid-19 pandemic and is the first exhibition in the library space in two years. Loans from the National Galleries of Scotland, British School at Athens, the Royal Collection Trust courtesy of Her Majesty the Queen, and Benaki Museum, Athens, detail the exhibition, alongside archive material from the University of Edinburgh and Centre for Research Collections. Under the curation of Alasdair Grant, historical narratives, documentary evidence, artistic interpretation and accounts of remarkable individuals are woven into an exhibition that welcomes back physical visitors with remarkable impact. 

The exhibition is running from the 29th of October 2021 until the 29th of January 2022, in the Library Gallery Space, 9am to 4pm.

Written by Izzy Nendick.

Mindshift: A Review

MindShift: confronting a colonial collection’ eloquently exposes the University of Edinburgh’s contributions to Phrenology and the role it played in 19th century scientific racism. Mindshift ‘confronts’ the collection by examining its vast number of skulls, skull casts, and busts in tandem with the phrenological research being performed at the university.  

Photograph by David Cheskin.

‘Mind Shift: confronting a colonial collection’ eloquently exposes the University of Edinburgh’s contributions to Phrenology and the role it played in 19th century scientific racism. Mind Shift ‘confronts’ the collection by examining its vast number of skulls, skull casts, and busts in tandem with the phrenological research being performed in Edinburgh.

‘Phrenology’ is the now discredited science of measuring the grooves and patterns of the skull in order to determine character, intelligence, aptitude, etc. Though it was never formally taught as an academic subject at the University, the city of Edinburgh was the centre of Phrenology in the 1800s with some of the University’s graduates contributed to establishing it as a field. Among them, Edinburgh University graduate George Combe who founded the Edinburgh Phrenological Society; University Principal and Professor of Anatomy Sir William Turner who moved the phrenological collections to the Medical School on Teviot place; and Charles Darwin who participated in phrenological debates as a student and noted in the same notebook that would be used for his theories about natural selection: ‘one is tempted to believe phrenologists are right about habitual exercise of the mind altering form of the head, & thus these qualities become quite hereditary.’ (The M Notebook, 1838). The exhibition highlights how these figures lent this pseudoscience undue prestige and legitimacy.

In the 19th century Phrenology excluded Black people from narratives of civilization and progress by attributing superior capabilities to White people and inferior ones to Black people. This racist narrative provided a scientific basis for the civilising mission of the British colonies. Phrenology was not limited to Britain but also spread to the United States where anti-abolitionist thinkers employed phrenological justifications for slavery.

The exhibition also highlights the important contributions of 19th century contemporaries who worked to challenge these views. Frederick Douglass actively spoke out against Phrenology, exposing it as a discipline concerned exclusively in perpetuating slavery. Douglass said, ‘by making the enslaved a character fit only for slavery, they [phrenologists] excuse themselves for refusing to make the slave a free man.’ The exhibition also highlights the work of the lesser known James Beale Horton, the University’s first African graduate, who challenged the work of phrenologist and anti-abolitionist James Hunt, arguing that his work was founded on prejudicial views of men. Mind Shift pays due recognition to the scholars who were active in disputing the pseudoscience of Phrenology and does not attempt to claim that its proponents were merely ‘a product of their time’ nor ignorant to contending research in their field.

The exhibition then turns to an examination of the objects of the collection itself, highlighting that not only were the findings of Phrenology part of a colonial agenda, but also that the acquisition of the skulls themselves were only possible as a result of colonial coercion. Many of the 1800 skulls in the collection were actively stolen from overseas colonies. The exhibition contains an interactive map of Africa, drawing attention to various stories of people whose remains were stolen across various parts of the continent.

Turning to the present day, the exhibition demonstrates how some of the skulls in the collection have been used by the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, where students have used the skulls for facial reconstruction projects that produce renderings of historical figures such as Pepe el Mallorquin, the notorious ‘last pirate of the Caribbean.’

In addition to archaeological studies and facial reconstruction, the University has been repatriating the skulls. Recently, Wanniya Uruwarige, Chief of Vedda in Sri Lanka, met with Principal Peter Mathieson to receive nine Vedda skulls taken from Sri Lanka in the 1880s.

Photograph by David Cheskin.

            The exhibition concludes with Tayo Adekunle’s Fitting the Character, a mixed media photograph completed this year. Adekunle graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art in 2020 and has been working as a visual artist and photographer in London. Fitting the Character aims to apply the phrenological blueprint to her photograph, highlighting the bias implicit in phrenological language and the prejudicial difference between how it is used to describe white men and how it is used to describe Black people.

            Tayo Adekunle, Fitting the Character, 2021.

The exhibition states, ‘This exhibition spotlights the work of academics, curators, students and artists to uncover and confront this colonial collection over the past decade, but this work is incomplete. New projects continue to dig deeper to understand the impact of phrenology in Edinburgh and abroad, and its lingering influence in other racial sciences.’ Mind Shift’s careful curation captures the colonial heritage of the University’s collections and its contribution to phrenological studies and scientific racism. However, the exhibition is only part of the picture and there is still more work to be done.

Nonetheless, Mind Shift ought to serve as a model for other disciplines within the University interested in ‘decolonizing’. An exhibition of this nature could apply to subjects ranging from Philosophy (looking at the philosophic racism Hume) to Economics (examining Adam Smith’s descriptions of ‘savage’ people in Wealth of Nations). Edinburgh and the University are complicit in academic racism and, taking after Mind Shift, ought to consider further projects in ‘confronting’ its past.

To find out more and explore the online exhibition, please click here.

Written by Carley Wooten.

Celebrating South Asian Heritage at St. Cecilia’s

In celebration of South Asian Heritage Month, Tessa has written about the interesting collection of South Asian musical collection found at St. Cecilia’s Hall. Inspired by Sarah Deter’s lecture on the relationship between the symbolism and sound of each piece, this article is a starting point for those interested in the kinds of South Asian collections we have at the CRC.

In celebration of South Asian Heritage Month in the UK, I thought it would be ideal to explore some of the collections we have at the CRC that relate to the region. Despite the significant distance from Edinburgh, there are a number of musical instruments from that region that are on display at our very own St. Cecilia’s Hall. Sarah Deters, the Learning and Engagement Curator, recently gave a fascinating lecture regarding the interconnected relationship between the symbolism and sound of four instruments on display at the moment.

The Mayuri

One of the instrument is a 19th Century mayuri from the Punjab region in India, also known as a mayuri veena or a taus. The names reflect the multicultural nature of the instrument, which is associated with a number of regions and belief systems within the South Asian area. Both the words mayuri and taus mean peacock, a rather obvious name when you examine the shape and style of the instrument. The feathers along the finger board of St. Cecilia’s mayuri are painted to emulate the bird, which represented a number of themes: knowledge, purity, immortality and often love, the latter specifically in poetry. The mayuri also relates to Hindu beliefs, as a peacock was often the vehicle of travel for a number of deities; one such deity was the goddess of music, Saraswati. Her South Indian iconography often places her on a peacock; hence, it is no surprise that a musical instrument such as the mayuri takes the form of the goddess of music’s favoured animal. In addition to Hindu connotations, the Sikh community also use the mayuri for devotional music. In fact, they believe the instrument was created by Guru Hargobind (c. 1595-1644).

However, because of the highly decorative nature of the mayuri at St. Cecilia’s, it has interpreted the instrument to have been used for courtly music in a Mughal court instead. The beak of the mayuri is actually an actual peacock beak, with a pearl placed within. There is also a cobra at the feet of the bird, which is likely to be a representation of the Saraswati’s partner. Unlike the sitar, another string instrument from India, which is plucked, the mayuri is played with a bow. The tambor of the instrument is influenced by the shape of the body and the sympathetic strings under the melody strings. The mayuri is still popular today, as seen by Sandeep Singh’s performance here.

Hailing from the country of Bhutan is the second instrument, a 20th Century dramyen. This highly decorated lute-like instrument is played in both Bhutan and Tibet; however, the seven strings and the distinct sea dragon head of the instrument indicates Bhutanese origins. It is held like a guitar but is plucked with a plectrum made from bone. Much like the Western lute, the dranyen’s strings are organised in pairs to be plucked together. Another fascinating thing to note about this instrument is that it can be folded in half! This is so it is easier to transport.

The craftsmanship of this dramyen is absolutely stunning with symbols upon symbols of Buddhism. The sea monster, known as a chusing, is quite a fearsome image to behold at the top of the instrument. However, this serves an apotropaic purpose. In a secular context, the dramyen is used to tell stories through song. This is believed to attract malevolent spirits, which the chusing protects the musician from. Apotropaic symbols continue on the soundboard of the instrument, as seen by the presence of the Wrathful Deity. One of the Bodhisattvas, the fierce face of the deity also wards the musician against evil spirits. Other symbols on the dramyen include dzi beads, which are usually worn as protective amulets, and the Three Treasures, which represent three pillars of belief in Buddhism. The instrument is also littered with auspicious symbols such as the right turning white conch shell at the centre of the body (representative of the thoughts of Buddha), lotus flowers on the lower half of the folding neck (representative of purity and enlightenment), endless knots at the top of the neck (also known as mandalas, which represent harmony), and a pair of golden fish on the right-hand side of the body (representative of conjugal happiness and freedom). Based on the extensive Buddhist iconography of the instrument, it is no surprise that the dramyen is also played in religious contexts. It is the only sacred stringed instrument found in Buddhist ceremonies in this region of the world. You can watch a group performance with dramyen here.

The Silver Dungchen
The Copper Dungchen

The third instrument currently on display at St. Cecilia’s may seem slightly familiar to you if you’ve ever seen an Alpine Horn. The dungchen is a long trumpet used in both Nepal and Tibet in Buddhist ceremonies. These horns are telescopic, which make it easier for storage and travel, and are usually made from metal. The two found at St. Cecilia’s are silver and copper respectively. The materials used to make the instruments are usually linked to the belief systems of the location. Unlike other brass instruments which have a smaller mouthpiece such as the French horn and trumpet, the dungchen has a flat mouthpiece which effects the vibrations created and the overall sound of the horn. American author Tsultrim Allione compared the sounds of the horn to the singing of elephants. You can hear the sounds of the dungchen at various times of the day in Tibet and Nepal, often as a call to prayer. The dungchens in our collections are beautifully decorated as well, a testament to how the horns are both functional and beautiful. One can see more auspicious symbols such as endless knots and parasols (representative of royalty and protection). Additionally, the telescopic joints of the dungchen are decorated with flower garlands. Click the link here to hear the horns being played.

The Rkang-Gling

The final instrument on display is another instrument from either Nepal or Tibet and is probably the most intriguing of the lot. The Rkang-Gling, also known as a thighbone trumpet, is exactly what it claims to be: a musical instrument made from a human thighbone covered in metal and wrapped in silver and brass embellishments. The human thighbone is usually made from the remains of a criminal, a victim of a violent crime or a respected teacher. While it may seem quite morbid, Tibetan Buddhism practices sky burials in which the remains of the deceased are left on a mountaintop to decompose naturally or be eaten by predatory birds. The bones are subsequently collected. The use of the bones of a leader or warrior is an honour to use in a ceremony; whereas the use of the bones of criminals allows for a chance of redemption as they are now being used in a sacred context. The Rkang-Gling is only used by Lamas, the title of Buddhist spiritual leaders, in chöd ceremonies alongside a damaru drum and drilbu bell.

The décor on the Rkang-Gling is just as extensive as the other instruments in the collections. Once again, one is able to draw clear connections between the symbology and the significance of the instrument. Lotus blossoms are used once again, as are images of chusings. At the top and bottom of the instrument are inlays of turquoise and coral. The colours are representative of knowledge and balance, as well as the sky and sea. The coral is an interesting to consider, as the landlocked location of Nepal and Tibet make it a semi-precious material of import. You can watch a Lama play the Rkang-Gling in tandem with a damaru drum and drilbu here.

These four instruments are only the tip of the cultural iceberg that is South Asian heritage in our collections in the CRC. There are some other instruments from the region that will hopefully be put on display soon but there are also other projects relating to the area, such as the Mahabharata Scroll digitisation project. You can read more about it here.

Written by Tessa Rodrigues.

50 Years of Tocher

Tocher, is associated with the School of Scottish Studies (SSS) and the School of Scottish Studies Archives (SSSA) at the University of Edinburgh. Both institutions are celebrating their 70th anniversary this year.

Above photo taken from the SSSA Twitter


The School and the Archives were set up in 1951 with the aim to collect, preserve and research sources, evidence and materials relating to traditional practices across Scotland. Scottish Studies has since been merged with the Celtic department at Edinburgh.

Since 2001, the Archives have sat under the umbrella of the CRC (the Centre for Research Collections) based at the University. For this reason the wonderful Rachel Hosker (deputy head at the CRC) is working alongside the Celtic & Scottish Studies department in order to celebrate these 70th and 50th anniversaries respectively.

Staff and students have, over the decades, collected for the sound archive which now holds over 33,000 recordings. There is a photograph archive, a manuscript archive, a film & video and a traditional narrative collection. The first floor at 29 George Square is taken up by a library. This means that staff, students and researchers can easily study and access sources that are far more specialised, relevant and applicable to their work, than the shelves and shelves in the main library of the University.

Some collections that have been focused on in the past now have some online access, meaning that some material is available during COVID restrictions (or if you’re far away from Edinburgh). For example, you can check out information surrounding the Scottish Tradition Series (a CD collection) as PDFS and booklets are available; Peter Cooke’s study of fiddle music from Shetland (Cooke’s PHD thesis from 1986) or the searchable catalogue of Calum Maclean’s notes from his recordings/fieldwork (over 13,000 manuscript pages – registration required).


Tocher was first published by SSSA in 1971. The journal is a way of celebrating songs, stories, customs, specific tradition bearers, beliefs or local knowledge across Scotland.  It is supported by volunteers, either through their time transcribing or financial contributions toward publishing costs.

Most importantly, Tocher was a way for the community to interact with transcriptions of the recordings away from the Archives. Not everyone always has the time (or the COVID-free world) to sit and listen to these recordings on-site. As Tocher was established decades before the internet was readily available to all, you can imagine how important these publications were for showcasing what lay within the Archives. Italsoallowed non-Gaelic speakers to interact with more material in translation and may have featured sources a reader hadn’t come across before. It provided representation of a number of Scots dialects which have now died out, featured images alongside many of its pieces and would supply interviews/information about the tradition bearers to accompany their traditional practices.

image of a blue pamphlet cover titled tocher: tales, songs, tradition: number 59. the cover depicts a black and white image of an elderly rural woman holding a bushel of grain.
Image taken from here.

Examples from Volumes

For this article, we thought it would be useful to look into a few examples from Tocher editions and, where applicable, these have been matched to recordings available on the Tobar an Dualchais websitethat way you’re able to listen to some of what you read about. Once on Tobar an Dualchais you can also search for the names of interviewers/interviewees mentioned or search a SA number from the Scottish Archives.

Volume 2 – ‘Cutters and Gaugers’

This edition featured four tales and a song about smuggling and illicit distilling – one from Tiree, two from Mull and one from Harris. For example, in 1968, Eric Creegeen recorded Donald Sinclair discussing a neighbour of his who was (illicitly) distilling in Tiree. The transcription is below:

This old neighbour of mine, he had a small pot of his own and the pot was leaking, and here comes this day an exciseman, and he would pay any man that would show him where a still pot was and this man says to him, “Well, I could show it to you, but I’m afraid – I don’t like to do it. ” “Well, ” he says, “you show me the pot and I’ll smash the pot and I don’t ask who the pot belonged to.” “So, ” he says, “I went with him and I showed him my own pot that was leaking and he told me to smash the pot and so I did, and he gave me £5 for my work. That got me a new pot and a few pounds in my pocket. ” That’s the way he had him deceived and he was none the wiser.

[SA1968/247 B5]

Volume 2 also featured Donald Alasdair Johnson, a tradition bearer who has 261 contributions on the Tobar and Dualchais website. He was a Gaelic storyteller from South Uist. You can check out his recordings here.

Volume 52 – Dedication

This edition was dedicated to the memory of Alan Bruford, a lecturer and fieldworker for SSS. There is an annual memorial lecture for Bruford held at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.

Tocher 52 gave a selection of his recordings which showcased the variety of what he collected. For example, interviews ranged from listening to how to butcher a pig in Berwickshire to hearing songs on South Uist. Below is an extract from the aforementioned song:

Extract: Air Taobh Loch Seile

‘S air là dùlth is tlàth’s mi an sgàth na Coille
‘S mi a’ sealltainn gach àit suas air à thaobh Loch Seile,
Còisir chòlmhor nan craob’s iad cho aobhail ‘s na meangain
Is a’ ghrian thar nan sgùrr togail smùid as an talamh.

‘S tha na bruthaichean cian deiseil feurach gu ‘m mullach
Tha gach lagan is cùil torach fliùranach lurach,
‘S tha na craobhan sa choill ‘s iad a’ boillsgeadh gu cladach,
Agus cuid dhiu le loinn ag ath-shoillseadh sa Chamas.

Extract: On Both Sides of Loch Shiel (Translated by Morag McLeod)

On a close, soft day when I was in the shade of the forest,
And as I looked at each place on both sides of Loch Shiel,
The melodious choir in the trees, so merry amongst the branches,
And the sun over the peaks raising steam from the ground.

And the slopes have always been well grassed to their tops,
Every hollow and corner lush, flowery and lovely,
And the trees in the wood swelling down shorewards,
Some of them splendidly reflected in the Camas.

[SA1967/9 A7]

image of a green pamphlet cover titled tocher: tales, songs, tradition: number 58. the cover depicts black and white images of a man beside the ocean fixing lobster cages.
Image taken from here.

Volume 31 – Traditional Tales

Within this volume Stanley Robertson (SR) discusses his method/process when telling traditional tales. This extract was recorded shortly after Stanley told one of his more well-known stories, ‘Tam of Pitsligo’:

SR: I never tell the same story the same wey twice: the next time A tell a story A’ll change the man’s name an aa that. A usually keep the basics o the story. I canna tell the same story the same wey twice, an it’s probably this is the art of storytellin, because if ye tell the same story the same wey twice it gets aafae borin tae the teller …… A’ll change names an change – A never change places. If a place is supposed to be connected wi the story, like ‘at story’s supposed to come fae Pitsligie, I jist keeps in the toon (?) – or “The Angel o Death” comes fae, ye ken, Ballater – A aye keeps in ‘at particular part (?) because it sort o characterises the story. But …… A niver dae drastic changes, I jist hiv a sort o stylistic changes. A’ll often change the folk’s names, unless it’s somebody specific ‘at A’m tellin – if it’s a travellin story A’ll hand it doon the wey it wis telt …… If A feel it’s too heavy, A mak it humourful ……

Fieldworker: But tell me you gave a very detailed description of how the Deil was looking when he came in to see the man, with his eyebrows meeting in the middle an a’ that is that your own invention more or less?” ……

SR: No ‘at’s by ma grandfather. Fan ma grandfather telt the story he wis very, very descriptive. And so that’s one trick I hiv learnt fae him …… See, fan I tell a story, I really visual- …… I see the character right in front o me aa the time, an fan I tell a story I jist hiv like fillum stars, to me it’s like a fillum being acted an I see this things happenin ……

[SA 1978/12]

Similar to Donald Alasdair Johnson, who was mentioned above, Stanley contributed many recordings to the Archives (multiple publications also sit in the SSSA library). You can listen to his tales and songs, of which there are 365 extracts, on Tobar and Dualchais. Just head here. Stanley is also featured heavily in volume 40 of Tocher.

Volume 45 – Student Projects

This edition featured the work of both undergraduates and postgraduates associated with the School and Archives. Here is the transcription of Michael Walsh (MW) recording Cathal McConnell (CM). This was for Walsh’s dissertation which focused on Cathal’s songs about emigration.

CM: There’s lots of emigration songs in Ireland. You know…fare thee well to wherever. “Farewell to Lissycasey” I think was one and “The Shores of Lough Bran” and all these songs. “The Rambling Irishman” and lots of songs where people are leaving and of course there’s great pathos and there’s great sadness in these songs. ‘Cause in those days they didn’t have Pan-Am or any of these aeroplanes or modern technology to leave from A to B to C and it was very dangerous leaving. I mean there was a very good chance they mightn’t arrive far side. Especially in the early songs anyway there was. It was a risky business going away…. Even if they reached safely over to the far side, and generally in most cases it’s America we’re talking about, they knew it would be a very long time till they came back again…. There’s various reasons, of course, of emigration. There was emigration because you wanted to better your situation…. Some of the other reasons that people left, well when the famine came along, of course that was a very extreme time ’cause people were starving by millions, by thousands anyway…. And apparently in those days when people were trying to get out from Ireland they called the ships they travelled on ‘Coffin Ships’ because there was so many people died of fever and they were so weakened from hunger and all that. There was a lot of them didn’t arrive the far side.

MW: Have you any particularly local songs…. Songs that would mention places around there like Roslea or Enniskillen or anywhere like that?

CM: There’s a song called “Roslea”. It’s a guy goes off, … leaves his true love and he goes over to Scotland. It come from a woman called Mrs. Mclntee who is a singer from Three Mile House, near Clones in County Monaghan. And of course Monaghan is close to Fermanagh as you know:

One night as I lay sleeping on my silent bed alone,
Some rakish thoughts came to my mind which caused me for to roam,
To leave my native country and the girl that I adore:
Sure I thought fit to take a trip strange places to explore.

At the leaving of the town, brave boys, and crossing the barrack hill,
It was there I met my own true love and her eyes with tears did fill.
I embraced her in my arms and I give her kisses nine,
Saying “If ever I return again, fair maid, sure you’ll be mine.”

“Oh it’s John, dear John, it’s darling John, what makes you go away?
Pray stay at home and do not roam from the green hills of Roslea.
My wages I will freely give when term time is o’er,
If you’ll agree to stay with me and leave your home no more.

“Oh it’s Mary, my love Mary, my ship lies in Belfast,
Tomorrow morning I will sail and you and I will part,
Tomorrow morning I will sail, although now not inclined.”
So straight away John sailed that day and left his love behind.

When John arrived in Glasgow the strangers gathered round,
Saying: “You may go home Roslea, brave boy, for the harvest is cut down,”
Saying: “You may go home Roslea, brave boy, for the harvest it is o’er,”
So straight away John sailed next day back to Lough Erne’s shore.

When Mary heard her John was home her heart did jump with joy,
Saying: “You’re welcome to my arms, my own dear darling boy,”
Saying: “You’re welcome to my arms, for you I have loved long,
And let them all say what they will, our courtship will go on.”

Where trout and salmon float about around Lough Erne’s way,
There John led Mary by the hand to the chapel in Roslea.
The lark and linnet tuned their notes, they sang them o’er and o’er,
As John got wed to Mary and left his home no more.


Volume 36 – New Year Custom

For the final extract featured here, we’ve chosen an explanation of Galoshins, a Scottish play and New Year custom which fell out of practice due to the second world war.

In 1979, Emily Lyle recorded Andrew Rennie about the traditional drama. Although this is from volume 36, the work of Emily Lyle was also featured heavily in volume 59 of Tocher.

Andrew Rennie was the last of a line of blacksmiths of the name of Rennie who worked in the old smithy in the village of Kippen, and he was well known locally for his lively reminiscences of the village as it was in the early years of this century.

Mr. Rennie was 92 (at the time of recording) and his memory of “Galoshins” went back to about 1900. The play was done by groups of schoolboys aged about 9-13 who went round the houses in the village and its vicinity in the evenings between Christmas and New Year, excepting Sunday. The boys blackened their faces with soot and wore their jackets and bonnets inside out, the two combatants having swords made of lath from the plasterer’s yard stuck in their belts. Only the doctor had a special dress, a black coat and hat, and he carried a bottle of water with him in one of his pockets. The play was sometimes performed by four only (without Keekem Funny, and, if this character was included, the part was taken by a boy who was younger than the others. He seems to have been regarded as an extra.)

Mr. Rennie said that the boys went round in order to collect the money and small gifts such as apples and oranges that they were given, and also “for the fun of the thing”. He himself took the part of Keep Silence who was “the boss” and was the one who knocked at the door and entered first.

In 1981, Mr. Rennie taught the play to five boys from Kippen Primary School (Craig MacDonnell, Cameron Sharp Thomas Cassidy, Tommy Smith, and Alan Edmiston) and a video recording called “Keep Silence and Company: The Kippen Galoshins” was made at Stirling University showing the boys’ performance. Andrew Rennie was interviewed by Tracey Heaton, a Folklife Studies student who had made a special study of Mr. Rennie’s blacksmithing […] The boys went on to give two performances at Kippen Cross during a “Street Fayre” in May 1981.

[SA 1979/150]

Searching for Galoshins on Tobar an Dualchais gives 22 results, many of these contributions feature Andrew Rennie with a variety of fieldworkers. You can view Rennie’s 34 contributions here.

image of a blue pamphlet cover titled tocher: tales, songs, tradition: number 57. the cover depicts black and white images of a man in traditional rural scottish garb and setting. he is using sticks as stilts.
Image taken from here.

Anniversary Celebrations

Those involved with the Celtic and Scottish Studies department at Edinburgh are no strangers to celebrating the Archives and people associated with them.

For example, in 2019 the community got involved with #Hamish100. These events celebrated the centenary of Hamish Henderson’s birth. Henderson, a lecturer, research fellow and fieldworker who was involved heavily in the Scottish Folk Revival, was instrumental in the setting up of the Scottish Studies School and Archives. The recognition and reflections on his extraordinary life involved the unveiling of a plaque in his honour at the door of the Archives and a night of tales, song and craic at the Queen’s Hall. Since then, like everyone right now, the surrounding community have gone virtual with their get-togethers and important dates. In August of 2020, the artist in residence at SSSA (Mike Vass) curated the ‘Archives in Light’ festival. All day and all night there were film screenings, talks, traditional music, storytelling and dance streamed straight into our living rooms.

Stay tuned for many more anniversary events, you can read the new ‘SSSA in 70 Objects’ blog here. Also, an assistant in User Services, Elliot, has launched their #queeringthearchives project. Check it out as it develops here.

Further access to Tocher?

If you’d like to view more about Tocher then head here.  You can search by volume or by content type. The website may be somewhat of a major predecessor to Tobar An Dualchais but it does the trick, especially when physical access to the Archives is restricted.

If you’d like to listen to more then why not head to the Tobar An Dualchais lucky dip – with over 50,000 recordings available online – who knows what you might find.

Written by Lily Mellon

Introducing the Contemporary Art Research Collection (CARC)

To celebrate International Women’s Day (9th March) VOiCE is excited to be highlighting the CARC, a collection at the University of Edinburgh that explores how women’s experiences and feminist thought interact with the broader theme of globalisation. We will also take a closer look at one artwork and how it fits into the collection, Workers! by Petra Bauer and SCOT-PEP: a short film which focuses on the demands by Scottish sex workers to decriminalise sex work and secure their safety and rights as labourers.

Above: Petra Bauer & SCOT-PEP, Workers!, film still, 2018.

What does a feminist curatorial practice look like? Who is involved in the acquisition-making process? How can a collection support the development of the artists it showcases?

These are just some of the questions the CARC has grappled with since its inception in 2015. The collection – which was collaboratively established by the University Art Collection team and academics from the History of Art department – aims to be more than just a static amalgamation of artworks. It is research-led, meaning that students are heavily involved in developing materials for new acquisitions and the collection often commissions artists with specific research topics in mind. To date the CARC holds 18 works by 9 artists who identify as women and it aims to continue collaborating with those groups who are underrepresented in university art collections.

This representation-based approach to collecting is in part a response to the traditional curatorial practices at many Western universities and museums; with art collections that typically began pre-20th century invariably dominated by the work of affluent white men. And our university is no exception. Even after the older Fine Art collection merged with the more contemporary Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) holdings in 2012, roughly 90% of the artists represented remain white Western European1 and only 33% are women2 .

But representation alone cannot fully address the structural challenges of creating a feminist curatorial practice and (from my personal perspective) this is what makes the CARC so exciting. When making acquisitions the CARC tries to display artworks alongside any developmental materials produced by the artist, so that the whole process of producing and curating art becomes a form of research. This challenges the idea that the final “product” is the most important aspect of creating art, an idea rooted in a capitalist system that only legitimises and values labour which produces goods with tangible economic value. To encourage multi-disciplinary engagement with the CARC, it is themed broadly around globalisation, yet research focuses more specifically on social reproduction and women’s experiences within a globalised system.

Briefly put, social reproduction is a concept developed by radical feminist and Marxist thinkers: it posits that beneath the formal economy there are “feminised” forms of labour, such as housework and childrearing that are undervalued and under researched despite being necessary to support and reproduce life. In recent years, the concept has expanded to any infrastructure that underpins life – think education, or healthcare – to understand how, through coercion, ignorance, or active participation these often-exploitive social systems are reproduced across generations. The CARC uses this framework to constantly assess its own curatorial practices, asking who and what is being reproduced by the way it acquires and displays artworks. The works themselves examine and disrupt social reproduction, with themes as varied as the feminised gig economy to maritime spaces as sites of labour and death under colonial capitalism.

Workers! Petra Bauer and SCOT-PEP

fabric banner saying SCOT-PEP sex-workers unite established 1989
Artists: Petra Bauer; SCOT-PEP; Fiona Jardine. Photograph © The University of Edinburgh

Workers! is a short film co-authored by artist Petra Bauer and SCOT-PEP, which is a Scottish sex-worker led charity; they campaign for full decriminalisation of sex work and provide support for sex-workers to build collective power, which helps centre their voices in debates that affect their safety and rights. Sex work is a pertinent example of traditionally feminised labour being discredited, and the film revolves around sex-workers’ demands to be recognised as workers, to destigmatise sex-work, and to acknowledge sex-workers as the experts on their own labour and lives. By obscuring the faces of its subjects, the film insists we listen to what they are saying and pay attention to the filming location; it’s set in the Scottish Trade Union Congress in Glasgow, “a building rooted in workers’ struggles for rights and political representation”, which aids the film in exploring both historical and contemporary attitudes to women’s work.

The work, consisting of the film and its associated materials, was acquired by the CARC over the course of its development, allowing for a deep understanding of the themes behind the project. It was the first artwork in the collection to be acquired in this manner and it thus created the model for new acquisitions. Workers! has also been integrated into teaching at the university, specifically in a way that respects the request of Bauer and SCOT-PEP to create discussion around the film when screening it. This acquisition, I think, really reflects the CARC’s aims – working collaboratively to constantly remake its curatorial practices so they are better suited for research, teaching, and engagement.

The CARC doesn’t claim to have the answers to what constitutes an “ideal” feminist curatorial practice. Nor should we assume that this way of collecting is a new or revolutionary development. The CARC is heavily influenced by the work of Elke Krasny, who argues that 18th century salon owners like the Jewesses of Vienna should be considered curators, although they prioritised discussion and exchange over display of objects when it came to collecting. That this domestic, feminised form of curation has been historically overlooked whilst its contemporary – the masculine, public museum space – became normalised and legitimised speaks volumes about the importance of the themes that the CARC researches today.

Written by Connor Wimblett

(1) Specific percentage remains unknown, with data on nationality and ethnicity infrequently recorded.

(2)Though the figure of 33% is relatively high for a collection of its scope and scale, many of the ECA works were not ‘actively acquired’ – e.g. paid for, but were amassed as a result of students leaving things behind, or having works taken at end of year shows. This figure does not indicate investment by the institution in the artists, or a desire to be proactive or considerate in analysing disparity and creating equity

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