SIbbald Library Bliss

I have two weeks worth of Sibbald updates to write about here.

Last week my internship was postponed from Tuesday to Friday due to a computer issue (namely, that they only have one computer that I can use and someone else was on it.) But I didn’t mind and when I went in on Friday I got a peek at the poster for the exhibit I’m curating and drew up plans for how I thought the display should look. I also wandered around the building and took bunches of photos, but because of a computer issue at home I am not able to upload them at the moment. However, I did take a picture of the poster with my phone:

That was Friday. Today, Tuesday, was an absolutely fantastic day of writing, research, ogling priceless antiquarian books, and handling the canes.

It began with me needing to completely re-think my idea about how the display should look because it turns out that we will be sharing the space with a charity art auction, meaning that we won’t have any wall space and therefore must limit our display to cases. BUT, last week I thought we only had two cases and today I learned that we will be able to have four, which really makes up for the lack of wall space in the case of this particular exhibit.

Having all this new space, though, meant that I had to find things to fill it with. Iain had a couple ideas but mostly left it up to me to figure out what we should display and say about the artifacts. First I decided to tackle the descriptions of the canes because I had heard from several people how difficult it is to say anything meaningful about an item in 20-40 words. The first couple were tricky because at this point I literally know as much/more about these canes than anyone in the world (except maybe Iain), and how do you distill all that knowledge into 20-40 words? It is also a strange feeling because it is totally up to me to determine what is important enough to say about each cane, and even though this is a small display from a small collection, I still initially felt overwhelmed. But I took a deep breath and dove in and after the first couple of descriptions I got the hang of it.

After I finished the write ups Iain took me to collect the canes from their storage in the vault. We wound our way through servants halls and rooms full of books and boxes, and eventually through a locked and sealed bank vault door into what Iain called ‘the holiest of the holy;’ a hermetically sealed, temperature and moisture controlled room containing the rarest items in the libraries collection. I was in awe. I was so star-struck I can hardly remember any of the volumes Iain pointed out, and the ones I can remember I don’t know if I should mention.

After having my mind blown we gathered the canes and headed back upstairs. We experimented with laying them out in different ways, and pretty much settled on a couple layouts, then I set to try to fill the rest of the cases. This was another thing that I struggled with a little at first but eventually got the hang of. I chose a few books from the Sibbald Library collection, mostly from the 18th Century when the physicians cane was most popular, as well as a selection of primary resources. In looking for things to fill the cases with I stumbled upon a funny anecdote about one Edinburgh physician assaulting another with his cane in 1793. Dr. James Gregory was charged with assaulting Dr. James Hamilton (the two were well known to be enemies) and fined £100. When he was paying the fine, Gregory said he’d gladly pay twice that if he would be allowed to beat Hamilton again. I thought this was so funny! I didn’t think, though, that I’d be able to connect the story to any sort of material culture that we could display. But, after trolling the library catalogue for a while I uncovered a set of letters exchanged between the two physicians immediately after the assault. What are the chances?!

I ended the day by perusing early editions of John Kay’s book Originals featuring his delightful 18th Century satirical portraits of Edinburgh residents. Next week I will retrieve the items for display from the archives. I can’t wait!

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One comment

  1. Nimmy Dumm · ·

    I love the story about the two rival physicians! Especially that you found a series of correspondence they had exchanged afterwards. Great fortune!

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