I’ve been involved in plenty of other projects in the last few years, working alongside some incredibly able colleagues. Here are details of some of the most exciting and enjoyable ones.
A Secret Golden Age
Most people have heard of the most famous Edinburgh writers – Walter Scott, say, Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark, J. K. Rowling or Ian Rankin. But for centuries before any of these were writing Edinburgh was a busy hub for the writing and reading of literature of all kinds. This website and app feature a series of walking tours through the city, offering residents and visitors the opportunity to explore some of that great heritage through their phones or laptops.
It features the works of some of the finest medieval makars writing in Scots and English (plus the occasional guest from down south), and the tours are themed to allow you to let you follow several different topics. Pictures and audio illuminate the texts. It’s the work, primarily, of the hugely talented Dr Fionnuala O’Neill, ably supported by the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust and the AHRC.
Exhibiting the Written Word
What are the difficulties involved in putting books and manuscripts on display? Are there challenges unique to the task of exhibiting such artefacts? What kinds of pressures and demands do librarians and curators face? How do policies and frameworks aimed at connecting archives, libraries and museums with communities shape our approach to staging such exhibitions?
With the support of the AHRC, a cross-professional team of librarians, curators and academics came together to discuss the issues, compare notes and share case studies. The discussion generated a report, which we hope will benefit anyone involved, or interested, in staging such exhibitions. You can download or read it here.
A Place for Words
The meeting point of journey, place and literature has been fertile ground for centuries. But literature, and the idea of a journey, can be used now to create rich experiences for visitors to heritage sites. Working collaboratively with James Carter, and provoked by our work on Ben Jonson’s public, performative walk from London to Edinburgh, Anna Groundwater, Julie Sanders and I organised a unique one day conference bringing together interpretation professionals, academics, curators and heritage managers to share experiences and insights in working with the relationship between literature and place, and to hear about innovative and successful projects. The event gave rise to some excellent discussions and some inspiring instances, all of which fed into an illustrated report which will be published soon.
Digital technologies present many exciting new avenues for humanities research and engagement. As well as enabling access to archival materials through digitization, they offer an emergent set of computational methodologies for the study of cultural artefacts, narratives and histories: from text mining large corpora in order to identify patterns and trends, and mapping networks of relations between objects, people and institutions, to creating dynamic visualizations that let us see objects and data in new ways. At the same time, they enable data and findings to be shared in innovative and engaging forms, breaking down the traditional distinction between academic research and public engagement.
This project, on which I collaborated with my incredibly talented colleagues Dr Lisa Otty and Dr Tara Thomson, consisted of a series of three workshops funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. We sought to provide a forum in which to discuss these methods, the opportunities and challenges they present to those working in different sectors, and how they might be used to increase access to, knowledge of and engagement with Scotland’s collections. The presentations and discussions, as well as information on speakers and projects, are archived here.