Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Edinburgh: Details

Well, I'm currently on a bus headed back south to London. I have about an hour and a half of power left on my laptop, so I thought I'd use this time to catch everyone (including myself) up on all the things that have happened in the past few days.As I mentioned in an earlier post, on Sunday we went to Edinburgh Scotland, which is a lovely and beautiful town. It was a long 9 hour journey on a bus. The bus itself was great, but I really felt as though I lost an entire day of the trip just sitting on a coach. I thought we were taking a train, but I was mistaken. At any rate, they showed movies, and we could stretch out a bit, so that was nice. And the weather was lovely, so I was able to see some of the beautiful northern English countryside. I have never seen so many sheep in my entire life. Much of the land around England reminded me of back home in northeastern Ohio. I woke up after a nap on the trip at one point and didn't know where I was.

I've also seen three rainbows in the last three days, which I believe is a sign...of some sort. I'll figure it out later. But they're very pretty. :o)But the first night we arrived in Edinburgh (Sunday), Rachel and I went on a “terror tour” that started at 10pm and took us around to the scary parts of Edinburgh, and ended in the underground vaults. It was interesting (to learn of a parking lot that covers what used to be a “plague pit” of thousands of dead bodies) and the vaults were spine-chilling. There were several separate rooms that were previously hideouts for the homeless, back when being homeless was a crime punishable by death. There is a supposed poltergeist in one of the rooms and there were other rooms that I wanted to RUN OUT of immediately after I'd walked in. It was creepy and scary....and loads of fun.

Monday morning we headed off to the National Library of Scotland. There, two individuals who work at the library spoke to us for about 2 hours. One of the speakers, David- was the conservator and (from what I gathered) the main coordinator of the John Murray exhibit. John Murray was a publisher who published some of the most famous British literature starting in the 1700s going through 7 generations to 2002. Some of the works published by Murray include: Darwin, Jane Austen, numerous famous politicians, Lord Byron, and many many others. The collection was valued at 45 million pounds, and eventually was sold to the National Library for 32 million pounds. The National Library acquired the collection with funding assistance (17.7 million POUNDS) from the Heritage Lottery, which was the largest grant/donation ever given.The John Murray exhibit far exceeded my expectations. Again, we had the opportunity to speak with individuals who were charged with the responsibility of putting together the collection, working alongside designers to create an innovative and entertaining exhibit for visitors. They explained their marketing campaigns to us, what they had hoped to achieve with this exhibit, etc. After the description of how it was put together, we finally were able to visit the exhibit and see how it all worked out.What they did was remarkable. Because the collection is mainly books, letters and manuscripts of famed authors, politicians, etc., they wanted to create something that intrigued people and didn't require an enormous amount of reading. The script that was written on these documents is difficult to read, and then there is also the transcript that one would have to read in addition to the item on display. In order to give the PEOPLE who wrote these items a historical context for the visitor, the library created individual exhibits for each author like none other I've seen. Inside each glass case with the manuscript/book/letters, clothing that represents the individual is hanging to illustrate the stature and presence of the person. Interactive touch screen computers then work with the lighting in the exhibit booths to highlight the items and list why they are being displayed with this particular person's work. For example- Lord Byron was known as a somewhat narcissistic ladies' man- so, they placed a hand-held mirror and love letters in his exhibit. Each author on display had their own “booth” of sorts that had a virtual likeness portraying them. The lighting, layout and interactive touch screen technology allows visitors to listen to audio or read the items in the exhibit, whichever they prefer.

Truly, I was astonished with how well this worked. And it has since increased my expectations of museum exhibits and the way they are laid out and designed. Because the John Murray collection is so large (roughly 200K items), and the space where it is displayed is so small, they plan to rotate the exhibits. I was particularly interested in the digitization (or digitisation) efforts underway with this collection, as they hope to make much of the exhibit available online. I was lucky enough to get David's contact information to email him with additional questions regarding this project. The people at the National Library of Scotland were incredibly kind and informative, and generous...with tea and biscuits. I love tea and biscuits breaks, and believe we should make them required in the states.

From the National Library, we then trekked over to the National Archives, which are currently undergoing renovations, so we weren't able to go around the building much. However, a specialist did give us a nice talk on their collections, which I found enthralling. Though we weren't able to access the archives themselves, they did bring certain books/scrolls/letters out to us for us to read. We were actually able to handle these items (carefully of course). One of my favorites was the first written instance (that they knew of in Scotland) of the ingredients being purchased to make whisky. The scroll it was written on dated back to the 1400s! And again I was offered contact information regarding their digitization projects as well. And again we were given tea and biscuits. So I'm a fan of Scotland. They're incredibly kind and generous with tea and biscuits.Tuesday we had a research day, which meant I spent it trudging up to Edinburgh Castle and paying nearly 20 dollars (11 pounds) to walk around inside. I was a little disappointed by it, but I'm not quite sure what I expected really. The view from the top was amazing, and walking the Royal Mile was quite exhausting. My throat had been hurting and I assumed I was allergic to some of the very strange plants they had on campus. But as it turns out the next day (Wednesday) I woke up feeling sick so I guess it's the common cold.

I stuck pretty close to campus Wednesday, after first doing a little more souvenir shopping and visiting the writer's museum. That was interesting, mainly because I really enjoyed the house the museum was in. It was a part of the Old City before it was turned into a museum, so it had really interesting layouts and the staircases were neat. One of the staircases had one step within it that was a little higher than the rest of the steps, in order to deter strangers (I'm assuming home invaders) from being able to get up the steps unnoticed by the home owners.The Writers' Museum had information about three main writers from Scotland: Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. I wish I had recently read some of their work so I would've found it a little more interesting. Most of the exhibits had interesting notes, letters and objects that were owned by the authors during their lifetime. But after having been to the John Murray exhibit, and understanding the amount of effort the National Library of Scotland put into that display, well I wasn't that impressed with the writer's museum. I'm glad we went, but I think between my head-cold and the rain and not having read anything recently by the prominent writers in the exhibit, I was ready to take a bath and a nap.

And now I'm headed back to London. And I'm so glad I finally got to talk to Ann last night, a friend who's coming to visit me here. I was really worried we wouldn't get in touch. I'm also hoping the weather clears up a little bit, as it's been raining all day and pretty dreary. I still don't feel very good but I suppose if I have to spend all day on a bus, the day I am sick would be the best day to do it, right?Alright that's all for now. I'll try to get more in later. I have a mini-break until July 31st. Miss you all!

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