A student post by Lindsay Middleton, Collections Engagement Intern, The Hunterian.
Before the Scottish Fantasy Night at the Museum event, student volunteers were given the opportunity to indicate what areas we were particularly interested in helping out with. I immediately put myself down to help at the Special Collections table. Several library visits over the course of my undergraduate degree and Victorian Literature Masters had taught me how wonderful the library’s resources are, and I jumped at the chance to spend time learning about the collections. Naturally, I was delighted to then hear it was being turned into an internship! What could be better? A chance to choose texts from the incredible collection the University of Glasgow has, and what’s more, talk to people about them.
The bulk of my role was ‘behind the scenes’. I spent time on level twelve of the library, researching in the archives to see what material would suit both the Scottish Fantasy and Robert Burns Winter Festival events. Though there were endless books to look at and choose from, I had to think carefully about the kinds of texts a public audience would be interested in. I would conduct background research about the texts I chose, before displaying them during the Night at the Museum events. For the Fantasy evening, the John Ferguson collection was invaluable. Full of alchemical texts, I found some beautiful 18th Century illustrations that related to Nicholas Flamel – made famous by Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – as well as a magical text by Cornelius Aggripa that is mentioned in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. A vibrant dragon also demonstrated part of the process required to make the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. I also delved into children’s literature, choosing The Yellow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang and a non-fiction, 1691 account of the kinds of fairies and elves that live around Aberfoyle. The books were real examples of the texts that influenced the authors of our favourite fantastic fiction. Alongside the atmosphere of the museum, the enthusiastic volunteers and the fabulous performances, they helped create a magical evening.
The books I chose for the Robert Burns event were less visual, but highlighted the theme of ‘Burns in Translation’. I had the opportunity to display a first edition of The Scots Musical Museum, a text that Professor Murray Pittock has recently edited as part of the project ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century’ and had published by Oxford University Press. Showing the first edition alongside the brand new scholarly edition demonstrated how important these resources are to on going research at the University of Glasgow. In keeping with the ‘Burns in Translation’ theme, I also selected an 1826 dictionary by Robert Motherby, which translates Scots dialect into both English and German, for readers of Burns who needed help with some of the confusing words – like sonsie! I displayed the books in correlation with the Centre for Robert Burns Studies, and it was a fabulous night where I learned a lot about Burns from people who knew his work very well – some even in German.
Having the chance to be a Special Collections Intern was one of the best things I’ve done during my time at university. Getting to know the Special Collections department better was a pleasure, and to then present the texts and my research to interested members of the public was a joy. The events are a wonderful chance to learn from the people you interact with, whether you’re working or visiting, and when The Hunterian is lit up and full of music the atmosphere is wonderful. I would highly recommend attending future events, and getting involved in any way you can.
The Hunterian is grateful to Scotland’s Winter Festivals and the University of Glasgow Chancellor’s Fund for their generous support.