Object of the Month: A Love Song

Courtin ma love is a comedic music-hall folk song that tells the story of a man who tumbled from his beau’s window as he was wooing her. Between the dumbfounded stare of the parents and the brother’s alarm, it is hard not to smile to the songs lyrics and hum to it. The picture the song evokes is one of innocence and spectacle. It lifts the heart for us to imagine this man risking his skin for the person he loves. After all, who has not done silly things when in love.

She wheeled me in with a wheelbarrow,

My mother and father was at the door, and by God did they stare!

My brother Job came running out, he says, “Man, what have you done?”

I was courtin ma love, my bunny wee love, and fell and cut my bum.

Courtin ma love, Sandy Scott, 1960. Tobar an Dualchais

June is summer. It is a time for flowers to bloom, sun to shine and love to be celebrated. It is also the month dedicated to commemorating the actions and legacy of the LGBTQI+ community. The sixth month of the year thus invite us to ponder and reflect upon the cultural narratives we tell of love. Considered in this light, beyond its whimsical cuteness, this simple love song is a testament to the ways in which love move us to act despite scorn or shame.

The last verse of the song recounts how the entire village came to laugh at the man. Shouting at him as he was wheeled through the village to the doctor by his girlfriend. We can imagine the reaction of the villagers. Some might have been amused by the sight. Others might have been horrified. Nevertheless, it is obvious that though the details of the courtship might have been private, it is a ritual which involves not only the family but also the community as well.

Our concern with love and the behaviours surrounding it are governed by a set of social norms which is enforced by our communities. During the 1950s, in response to public outcry to the escalation of “urban vices,” the Wolfenden Committee determined that medical practices and psychological treatment should be introduced in the legal codes to curb the menace that was homosexual love. Like the villagers who were horrified by the actions of the couple, social stigma and shame were the tools by which communities readily maintained control over expressions of love.

Lark in the Park, Edinburgh, Prince Street, 1988. Equality Network

Yet this does not mean people were silent. Rather, in a thousand ways, individuals dissented from the norm and expressed their love regardless of shame and stigma. Cities became havens for expressions of love, as within the crowds, one could find relative safety in spaces like cafes and clubs for sexual exploration. Action groups could be form to pressure governments into action. On 28th May 1988, hosted by Scottish Homosexual Action Group, the first Lark in the Park event was held in Prince’s Street Gardens. The largest such event held at the time, the festival hosted comedy and musical acts. Here, like the man in the song, instead of hiding the events of his courtship, the man instead decided to eternalize his love by expressing it through music. In the process, what was supposed to be shameful is remembered and normalized as an act of love.

Today, this collective declaration for freedom to love as one see fit is still with us. Pride Edinburgh traces its roots directly to that first Lark in the Park and the organization continues to celebrate love each year. Like the couple in folk song, in the face of stigma and shame, we still bravely declared our love for one another. More than its catchy qualities, Courtin ma love should rather be heard as a proud anthem of love.

Written by Morris Chou

References

Aldrich, Robert. “Homosexuality and the City: An Historical Overview.” Urban Studies, Special Issue: SEX AND THE CITY: SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC EXPLORATIONS IN URBAN SEXUALITY, 41, no. 9 (August 2004): 1719–37.

Davidson, Roger. “‘Cure or Confinement’? Law, Medicine and the Treatment of Homosexual Offenders in Scotland, 1950–80.” In Illicit and Unnatural Practices The Law, Sex and Society in Scotland since 1900, 129–52. Edinburgh University Press, 2022. https://doi-org.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/10.1515/9781474441216-010.

Equality Network. “Lark in the Park,” n.d. https://www.equality-network.org/pride-in-scotland-history/lark-in-the-park-3/

National Records of Scotland. “LGBT History Month,” n.d. https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/learning/features/lgbt-history-month.

Pride Edinburgh. “Our History,” 2022. https://prideedinburgh.co.uk/our-history/.

Sandy, Scott. Courtin Ma Love. Audio Recording. Dunfermline, 1960. Tobar an Dualchais. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/53345?l=en.

‘CRC Robert Blomfield exhibition: a student perspective’

Robert Blomfield: Student of Light, CRC exhibition poster. Photo (c) Estate of Robert Blomfield. 

Student of Light

On the 6th May, I was lucky enough to attend the opening night viewing of Robert Blomfield: Student of Light, the CRC’s newest exhibition at the Main Library. On arrival, I was warmly greeted by Bianca Packham, Exhibitions Engagement Officer at the CRC, who was delighted to tell me that she had just had to usher students out of the exhibition in time for its opening night party. I agreed that this was a wonderful novelty –most students respond to mention of the CRC with an expression of confusion – but that I wasn’t surprised; Blomfield’s photographs are uncomplicatedly beautiful, and they speak to the Edinburgh student experience in a way that no CRC exhibition has before. It seemed fitting that Edinburgh students should be the first to look in given that, unusually, the exhibition was open during the day before its opening night celebration. As Daryl Green – curator of the exhibition – pointed out in his speech, it also felt right that the CRC’s first sole photographic exhibition should be about an Edinburgh student, and that it should be hosted in George Square, which was under construction during Blomfield’s time as a student in the late 50s and early 60s. It turns out that this exhibition was conceived in Autumn of 2020: a time when the humanity and dynamism of Blomfield’s street photography could not have been a more welcome source of vicarious excitement, with Scotland in the midst of long lockdown blues. For Daryl, it was the “visceral emotion” and “electricity” of Blomfield’s work, in its ability to capture a mood in real-time, that drew him to it personally. 

If you want to learn in depth about the history of the Blomfield archive and the photographic technicalities of the collection, I cannot recommend highly enough that you attend Daryl’s next curator’s tour, which runs for free at 1pm on 17th June at the Main Library. With this in mind, here are my personal reflections on Robert Blomfield: Student of Light as a contemporary student at the University of Edinburgh and a new resident of this beautiful city, struck by both how much of the ‘Edinburgh experience’ is timeless, and also how much has changed for the better as Edinburgh has become a more diverse and inclusive student community. 

1. Levels and motion 

Cowgate from above: photo (c)Estate of Robert Blomfield. 

Blomfield’s street photography brings to life the overwhelming dynamism you feel when walking around Edinburgh as somebody new to the city: there’s always something different happening below you and above you, and nothing is flat, literally and metaphorically. 

2. Missing intergenerational connection 

An experience which marked my time as an undergraduate was the hyper-vivid portrait of life you can only get through being a student who is constantly and exclusively surrounded by other students. Although it’s exciting, I find it makes me prone to melodrama, and that I often miss connecting with people of other generations. These days as a postgrad, I make more effort to spend time outside student spaces to get some perspective on the world; it seems to me that Blomfield might also have felt this way while he was a student. Looking around the exhibition, more often than portraits of dazzling youth, you see the very young and the very old engaged in everyday acts of cosmopolitan joy. Talking to curator Daryl about this at a curator’s tour recently, he agreed that Blomfield seemed to have a particular fondness for little children and older ladies, and explained that Blomfield gravitated towards areas of the city like Stockbridge for his photography which were further from the student population. 

It’s through these street portraits that you get a sense of Blomfield’s interest in life: both in literally maintaining it as a medical student, and in how it feels to experience it at every stage from infancy to old age. Blomfield captured Edinburgh life at its most intimate and its most dynamic, and looking at these portraits, you feel you can get a sense of the mood of the photographer as much as his subjects. 

Nurse with a premature baby, 1964; Three ladies with shopping, 1965: photo (c) Estate of Robert Blomfield. 

3. Diversity 

Blomfield’s documentation of student life shows us that the student population in 1960s Edinburgh was not particularly diverse. The image below of a lecture theatre in the medical school stood out to me particularly because it was the only depiction of the student community featuring a proportion of women and students of colour anywhere close to my experience of Edinburgh University today. This stands in contrast to an image directly to its right of the ‘rectorial battle’ of 1960, an uncomfortably ‘old-boys’-style rugby match in Old College featuring shaving foam and apparently not featuring women, somehow contributing to the selection of a new rector for the university. 

Medical school lecture, 1964: photo (c) Estate of Robert Blomfield. 
Rectorial battle, Old College, 1960: photo (c) Estate of Robert Blomfield. 

4. Health and safety 

The hero piece for this exhibition used in its poster – picturing heavenly rays of light filtering through the windows of the Student Union, looking almost tangible – was made possible by the fact that during Blomfield’s time at Edinburgh, smoking indoors was still allowed. It also strikes you that everybody is dressed quite formally in suit, ties, and sweater vests, and that most of these students could easily pass for 30 years old. In a way, it’s a shame that my memories of the SU will never live up to this romantic vision, but ultimately I’m content to trade in period-drama gorgeousness for being able to eat my lunch in comfy jeans and without spluttering through a cloud of smoke. 

I leave you with my favourite image from the exhibition: a woman serenely snoozing on a sunny balcony in Stockbridge, in the hope that the weather improves and that this can be me in a few weeks’ time. 

Stockbridge sunbather, 1967: photo (c) Estate of Robert Blomfield. 

Written by Alice Adonis

The Double Seventh

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day. When we celebrate for international women, why don’t we take the time to learn about traditional festivals for women in other countries? In China, Double Seventh七夕节 is a traditional festival for females with a history of two thousand years. 

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day. When we celebrate for international women, why don’t we take the time to learn about traditional festivals for women in other countries? In China, Double Seventh七夕节 is a traditional festival for females with a history of two thousand years. 

Thousands of years ago, Chinese ancients started studying astrology. They found two special stars on the night of 7th July in the Chinese Calendar (normally in August in the Gregorian Calendar): the Weaving Girl Star织女, and the Cowherd Star牛郎. The stars were later studied by astronomers as Vega and Altair.  

Four constellations stone relief: the Weaving Girl (left bottom), the Cowherd (right), now exhibited at Nanyang Museum of Han Dynasty Stone Carvings in Nanyang, China. 

With the evolution of folk tales, the Weaving Girl Star and the Cowherd Star were personified into Chinese mythologies. There are many versions of the story, but the most popular one is that: the weaving girl, who had the best talent of weaving, was the daughter of the king of the gods Jade Emperor玉皇大帝, and she fell in love with a human who was a cowherd. They lived happily in the mortal world. The gods, however, found them and caught the weaving girl back. The cowherd tried to follow her, and the gods drew a silver river, known as the Milky Way, between them, while their love story touched the nature. After that, many magpies built a bridge for them with their bodies on the night of Double Seventh, so that they could be reunited. Since then, the weaving girl became the goddess worshipped by ladies on Double Seventh for her dexterous weaving skills and love. In a society where women were proud of their weaving skills, Double Seventh held a special place in the ancients’ hearts.

Double Seventh had many traditional activities which were recorded by paintings and literatures. The first record of how ancients celebrated Double Seventh is in a book called 西京杂记. The earliest tradition was the “Needle Threading”: ladies competed to thread needles. The lady who could effectively pray for dexterity would be the first one to thread all the needles. 

Kesi Tapestry of Double Seventh缂丝七夕乞巧图轴. The weaving girl and the cowherd reunited in the sky and ladies celebrated for Double Seventh. now exhibited at the Palace Museum in Beijing, China. 

In the Ladies Praying Under Parasol Trees, we can see four girls, on the left side, are watching a bowl, while they are doing a tradition of Double Seventh, the “Needle Testing (投针验巧)”: placing a weaving needle on the surface of water. The needle would not sink, and the needle shadow appears under the water. If the shadow forms a variety of shapes, such as curved, thick, thin or any other shapes, which means the ladies effectively pray for dexterity. Otherwise, if the shadow is unchanged, this means that the praying has failed.

Ladies praying under parasol trees桐荫乞巧. now exhibited at the Palace Museum in Beijing, China. 

Written by Huang Ninting.

Photo Sources:

Unidentified artist. Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) Nanyang Museum of Han Dynasty Stone. Available at: https://you.ctrip.com/travels/nanyang591/3349739.html.  

Unidentified artist. Qing Dynasty (1636 AD  – 1912 AD) Kesi Tapestry of Double Seventh缂丝七夕乞巧图轴. Available at: https://www.dpm.org.cn/collection/embroider/229459.html.  

Mei Chen (1738) Album of Tour Under The Moon: Ladies praying under parasol trees月曼清游图册: 桐荫乞巧. Available at: https://www.dpm.org.cn/collection/paint/228746.html?hl=%E6%9C%88%E6%9B%BC%E6%B8%85%E6%B8%B8%E5%9C%96%E5%86%8A.  

Object of the Month: The Governor’s Journal of the East Lothian Combination Poorhouse (1865-1898)

The image above is the cover page of McGowan’s transcription of The Governor’s Journal Of The East Lothian Combination Poorhouse (1865-1898). The whinstone building depicted is The East Lothian Combination Poorhouse, designed by the Edinburgh architects Peddie and Kinnear. 

Welcome back! To kick start the year, your first Object of the Month is The Governor’s Journal Of The East Lothian Combination Poorhouse (1865-1898), which offers a glimpse of how life was like as one of the poorest members of the Scottish society in 19th century.  

This governor’s journal is the only one of its kind to survive from the East Lothian Combination Poorhouse. It dates from September 1865 to March 1898, and is a detailed record of the house’s businesses. The book mostly comprises quarterly reports, containing information about the poorhouse’s population, detailing admissions, dismissals and deaths, the number of times each inmate had been admitted, and their conduct. The reports also include information about the poorhouse’s finances, and it seemed that the house was rather self-sustaining – inmates were employed to help around the house and in the grounds, some even worked outside to bring cash in. The Governor also used the reports to highlight necessary repairs, suggest improvements and request items. For example, on one occasion, the Governor requested a light hat or cap for an inmate who had to work outdoors during the summer months. Alongside the quarterly reports are shorter reports highlighting matters that required immediate attention (such as a faulty boiler) or noting something that would affect the house budget (such as a change to the milk order).  

According to the journal, special meals were served during the festive season. For example, on New Year’s Day, dinner consisted of 1½ pints Rice Soup, 6 oz fine bread, 1 Meat Pie and 4 oz plum pudding; and for supper, 6 oz fine bread, 8 oz Currant Loaf, 4 oz Cheese, 1 orange and 1 pint tea. This annual treat had been provided for the inmates since the poorhouse first opened in 1865. Beginning in 1889, thanks to the kindness of the rich, the inmates also received treats on Handsel Monday, which is the first Monday after New Year’s Day. On this day, farm servants were given the day off work, and small gifts (usually in the form of money and food) were exchanged.  

The East Lothian Combination Poorhouse in East Linton was opened in 1865. It was one of the seventy-ish poorhouses established in Scotland when the New Poor Law Act was introduced in 1845. Such houses housed “the aged and other friendless impotent poor, and also for… those poor persons who, from weakness or facility of mind, or by reason of dissipated and improvident habits, are unable or unfit to take charge of their own affairs.” To learn more about the day-to-day running of The East Linton Combination Poorhouse, read the governor’s journal here

Fun fact: The East Lothian Combination Poorhouse is now the East Linton Library!   

By Kok Huey Ying.

Call to Action – Flourishing in Auld Reekie: FAR Better project

Have you ever considered how heritage can support health and wellbeing sector? Would you like to get involved in developing an example? The Library and University Collections are looking for volunteers to support development of their Flourishing in Auld Reekie: FAR Better project. The output will be a self-guided resource for people living in Edinburgh (student and local communities) who are seeking ways to maintain wellbeing and flourish in this UNESCO World Heritage site city. The project will engage with the stories of the city’s diverse social, natural and industrial heritage that link to the University’s diverse collections.

The project will provide a new approach for individuals to explore and connect with people from, and stories of, Edinburgh’s past that prompts awe, empowerment, wonder and reflection. The hope is to be able to expose those living in Edinburgh to hidden gems and less explored areas of the city, as well as some better-known sites. As someone who used to live in Edinburgh, I know the city has an endless array of nooks and crannies that are filled with cute cafes, interesting institutions and just beautiful views of the city itself. If I had this guide when I went to university in the city, I’m sure I would have been able to truly get to know the city.

Part of your volunteer role would involve exploring the CRC and Museums collections to identify objects and stories to relate to Edinburgh as a city to determine if it would be appropriate as a source for the F.A.R Better resource. You would be given a structured approach to follow in your research that works with a series of themes, and an opportunity to work collaboratively with community volunteers and organisations to connect the UoE collections with the local city community. The project will run from the 7th February to the 16th May 2022, and will only require the equivalent of 8 hours per month online.

There will be an information session Monday 7 February, 3.30pm, online. Volunteer opportunities for the F.A.R. Better project are open to local community members and students of any subject, from History to Social Work, Psychology to Architecture and everything in between. If you are interested, please email PrescribeCulture@ed.ac.uk with ‘subject’ FAR Better” by Friday 4 February 2022.

By Tessa Rodrigues.

Meet the 2021-2022 Team!

The VOiCE team is made up of student and graduate volunteers dedicated to showcasing the fantastic collections, staff and programmes of the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh. We also feature programmes and individuals from the wider heritage sector.

Carley Wooten

Carley is currently a fourth year Philosophy student at the University of Edinburgh. She believes in the power of archives to shape collective memory and historical narratives. After taking a course on decolonizing Philosophy and the legacy of Edinburgh’s David Hume, Carley is particularly interested in the role of colonialism in the Edinburgh collections and its relationship to the University, the city, and greater Scotland. As a member of VOiCE, Carley looks forward to digging deeper into the Edinburgh collections and sharing Edinburgh’s history. Carley spends her free time volunteering at her local Amnesty Charity Bookshop, practising and teaching yoga, watching films, and cooking with peanut butter. 

Tessa Rodrigues

Tess is a recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh, studying English Literature and Classics. She hails from the sunny island of Singapore and is borderline obsessed with fantasy and science fiction literature. With regards to her museum interests, Tess is passionate about the decolonisation of museum spaces as well as creating new ways in which the public can interact with exhibits that encapsulate inclusivity and celebrate all cultures. Working with VOiCE has given Tess the chance to explore these interests in museum engagement and outreach. Tess is located in Bethesda, Maryland, and spends most of her time trying to hit her 2022 reading goal of 100 books and drinking cold brew (regardless of the season).

Huey Ying

Originally from Malaysia, Huey Ying is now a fourth year Molecular Biology student at the University of Edinburgh. She has an eclectic range of interests, from genes and proteins to quirky museum items. Huey Ying joined the VOiCE Team to learn more about how Scottish people lived in the past and how this influenced modern culture. So far, she has been enjoying writing about the different archived objects available at the Centre for Research Collections, as this gives her the opportunity to learn the story behind each item. During her free time, Huey Ying visits other towns and villages near Edinburgh with her cheap film camera, goes around Edinburgh to try different foods, and learns Korean by watching K-dramas. She looks forward to the warmer weather (hopefully) and learning more about Scottish history in the upcoming months. 

Lily Mellon

Lily recently graduated from Edinburgh’s Celtic and Scottish Studies department, gaining a Research Masters with distinction in Scottish Ethnology. Whilst studying and volunteering, Lily also completed two internships with the Centre for Research Collections – transcribing oral histories for the Lothian Health Services Archives and researching early female students as part of the University Histories Project. Lily was one of the seven volunteers who helped form the VOiCE team in October 2020, as this allowed her to work closely with the Collections and Archives despite the COVID disruption. She is excited to continue working on all the content creation that the group have planned. Lily is based at the Edinburgh waterfront, drinks too much tea and loves playing board games (despite her lack of skill with them).

Izzy Nendick

Izzy is currently a fourth year Classical Studies student at the University of Edinburgh, and is massively interested in all things ancient, old, and archival. Her own research is focused on food and dining in the Roman world, replicating how she spends her time in the modern world. When not eating, Izzy is focused on making heritage collections accessible both to those temporarily shut out by the COVID-19 situation, as well as those who face physical or social barriers to accessing historical archives and objects. Izzy is excited to tell more of the fascinating stories behind some of the objects within the university collections, with a particular love of the miscellany of the monthly ‘wooden spoon’ on the blog. Based around the Meadows, you can always find Izzy with a coffee and a rotating wardrobe of winter accessories (but no longer reading Presocratic philosophy).  

Andie Saint-Rouge

Andie is a fourth year student in English Literature and Classics at the University of Edinburgh. He is an avid collector of antique books, and studied bookbinding and leatherworking at the Scuola Del Cuoio in Florence, Italy. His love for antique books and their restoration and preservation led him to volunteering with VOiCE. He has greatly enjoyed learning about the museum and archive collections whilst helping to boost student engagement with the very materials he is so passionate about. Outside of academics, he enjoys collecting tattoos, writing creatively, and a nice glass of red wine.  

Morris Chou

Morris is a masters student studying history at the University of Edinburgh. Born in Taiwan, he spent his formative years shuffling between China, Vietnam and Taiwan. According to some sources, his passion began with an encounter with a video game when he was a toddler. Others say it was HBO’s 2001 World War II series Band of Brothers. Coming to Edinburgh after studying at the University of Hong Kong, Morris intends to further pursue his love for history. Within VOiCE, Morris aims to further share his rants concerning history with a bigger audience. Whether it be through writing articles or learning about objects, Morris is excited about it all.  On most days, you can find Morris curled up at home with a book about modern China. On others, you might be able to locate him at the library, hunting down another potential source.    

Alice Adonis

Alice Adonis is an MSc English Language student at the University of Edinburgh who has been obsessed with museums since the memorable year she saw both ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’ at the British Library and ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ at the V&A. Through volunteering with the Centre for Research Collections, Alice hopes to better understand how heritage institutions can recover histories which have been marginalised or misrepresented, and play a small part in bringing these histories to light. This semester, she is excited to start a decolonisation research internship with the CRC’s St Cecilia’s Hall. When Alice is not wandering around a museum, she can usually be found reading short stories or knitting with her flatmates. 


Dani Rothman

Dani is currently in her fifth year studying Fine Art at the University of Edinburgh/ECA. Her background in art (specialised in sculpture) and history of art. This has developed her interest in the accessibility of heritage collections, such as those within the CRC, and how the public engages with them. Dani joined VOiCE as a way of engaging with and learning more about the wide and eclectic collections within the University. Dani thoroughly enjoys card and bord games and can usually be found within the studios of Edinburgh Collage of Art making things!

Allie Dixon

Allie Dixon is an MA History of Art student at the University of Edinburgh, and a contemporary oil painter and mural artist. Allie enjoys museums and art galleries, reading fiction (especially from dusty old books), and writing and talking about art. By volunteering with the Centre for Research Collections, Allie hopes to gain experience in raising awareness about artefacts and their stories, engage in art and culture related discussions with the CRC team and its visitors, and learn how to keep museum and cultural heritage collections relevant in the rapidly changing technological world.

Huang Niting

Niting is a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, originally from China. Even though her major, Sport and Recreation Management, does not seem to have any connection with heritage collections, she believes she has enough interest and passion for them. Niting enjoys travelling in China, especially visiting historical sites and museums to appreciate the wisdom of the ancients. When she was younger, she only enjoyed studying Chinese history. But since moving to Edinburgh, she has been able to truly appreciate the incredible heritage of another country: the museums, the castles, the books, etc. There is still a lot more heritage she can discover.


Want to work with us?

%d bloggers like this: