Behind the Scenes at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood: A Look at the Technical Side of Accessing Collections

What secrets can the skills of a cataloguer unlock about a book collection? In this blog, Kathryn Downing, MSc student in Book History and Material Culture at the University of Edinburgh, shares some fascinating insights from her experience working with some of the oldest books in the Museum of Childhood’s archive in the ongoing process of making its treasures more accessible.

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One of the biggest barriers to conducting research can be an un-catalogued collection. It is not often – if ever – that libraries and museums let you peruse their stacks or stores to your heart’s desire. Researchers, then, often become experts at navigating catalogues and databases in an effort to locate the right resources. In many cases, the strength of someone’s research is dependent on the strength of the records they can access.

If you’ve been following SELCIE’s work at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, then you’ve witnessed one of those rare times when a museum does let researchers into a store to peruse its contents. During the SELCIE team’s time collaborating with the museum, they have produced a publication and an exhibition in addition to pursuing individual research topics. More valuable than even these tangible outcomes, however, is the process they began of sorting and organising the thousands of books residing in the City Chambers. Simply knowing the extent of the collection is the first step towards facilitating public access to it.

Although SELCIE has made great strides in uncovering the treasures of the City Chambers book store, much still remains hidden. The sheer extent of the Museum of Childhood’s book collection (an estimated 15,000 items) has means that many important details associated with the books remain unrecorded. While publications and exhibitions are a fantastic way to bring collections to the community, knowing what to write or display next can be challenging when there are thousands of items and no way to search through them efficiently.

Enter the cataloguer! Continue reading

‘myn yonge barne’, or the Child on the Shore: Growing Up in Medieval Scots Literature

Initial C: The Massacre of the Innocents; Unknown; Paris, France; about 1320 – 1325; Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 16.7 x 11.1 cm (6 9/16 x 4 3/8 in.); Ms. Ludwig IX 2, fol. 142

 

Certain things stay with you. I have always been touched by this description which I came across a long time ago. It’s from a narrative of the life of Mary Magdalene — found in a late 14th century Scots collection of saints’ lives — and portrays a moment of child’s play.

& as thai yed one the sand,

A child thai saw hym playand,

As yonge childir ar wont to do

And as they went onto the sand/they saw a child playing/just as young children are inclined to do…

This is no ordinary little boy — he’s the offspring of a king and queen, a longed-for child miraculously granted by the Magdalene in return for their conversion to Christianity. This vision is a key moment for the story’s medieval listeners and readers, expressive of a specific spiritual framework – confirmation of the saint’s intercession and of divine grace. But it is also a humanly beautiful one, for the father had believed that his child was dead. Instead, the little boy is very much alive, playing in an unselfconscious, instinctively child-like way, as the storyteller notes. This is a religious marvel; but also a little wonder of love resurrected.

Coming across this image again made me think about where else, if at all, we find children in medieval Scottish literature. Where do we see states of infancy, childhood and youth, and the bonds between parents and children, portrayed? Much work has been done in the past two decades to recover the material and social lives of children and adolescents in a range of medieval cultures, and thereby to begin the vital work of restoring visibility to a group traditionally so underrepresented in historical and cultural scholarship.

Yet it was only in 2015 that a volume solely devoted to Scotland’s medieval and early modern young was published; this is Elizabeth Ewan and Janay Nugent’s groundbreaking collection, Children and Youth in Premodern Scotland. As they write in their introduction ‘young people were everywhere, and their experience and lives have much to reveal about medieval and early modern society’. Amongst many things young lives, as Ewan and Nugent point out, recalibrate our understanding of ‘urban economic development, consumption patterns, clan politics, personal piety, medieval kingship, court life, slavery, constructions of gender, the history of emotions, and the dynastic concerns of noble houses’ (p. 3).

As the volume’s essays illustrate, imprints and traces can be mined from records, archives, and other material sources, though it is harder to hear directly hear the voices of children and young people themselves. The image of the boy on the shore seemed to crystallise that sense of how the child-figure in medieval writing is somehow remains elusive, vivid yet just out of reach. Perhaps in literary texts above all, this sense of near absence, or distant intimacy, is heightened.

Literature, of course, isn’t straightforwardly mimetic of historical experience. So a poem composed in the voice of a father to his son, as we shall see later, can only suggest how representations of the young are mediated through a series of aesthetic conventions and ideological viewpoints, frequently shot through with uncertainties about authorship and transmission. In that respect, any portrait of the young in medieval Scots writing is a partial and cracked mirror. But for that very reason even the most fragmentary surviving text can tell us much about the imaginative matrix of desires — emotional, social, cultural — which cluster around children and young people. And, at the end, I’ll return to the ‘yonge barne’, the little boy, on the shore.

For this short post, I have chosen a small handful of texts for illustration from imaginative literature composed in Scots from the 14th to the early c16th centuries. ‘Medieval Scottish literature’, of course, encompasses much more linguistically and culturally than this. The rich and diverse body of Gaelic material in this period needs a post of its own so is not, for the moment, discussed here. For simplicity’s sake, I have modernised Scots orthography and provided English translations; all references to primary sources are given at the end. My thanks to Jane Bonsall who provided the illustrative images for this post.

The allegorical child

We needn’t look far before we find the figure of the child portrayed in emblematic and allegorical ways. William Dunbar’s well-known and bleak poetic litany of death’s powers, familiarly known as ‘Lament for the Makaris’ [Lament for the Poets], shows us ‘the bab full of benignite’ [the baby full of goodness] lying at his ‘moderis breast sowkand’ [sucking at his mother’s breast] — a fragile symbol of mortal innocence.

Dance of Death: Image of child dying of the plague. Hans Holbein (1497-1543) Woodcut, before 1538. Facsimile, London, 1892. Annotated by Shona Kelly Wray.

In one of Robert Henryson’s lyric poems, ‘The Thre Deid Pollis’ [The Three Death Skulls] , the young are darkly exhorted to remember their mortality by gazing on the ‘gaistly sicht’ [horrible sight] of their ‘holkit ene, oure peilit pollis bare’ [our hollowed-out eyes, our skinned, bare heads] which, once upon a time, were much more alive and lovely. Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid famously gives us one of the most potent and horrifying visions of death and the maiden.

Now is deformit the figour of my face;
To luik on it na leid now lyking hes.
Sowpit in syte, I say with sair siching,
Ludgeit amang the lipper leid, `Allace!’

[Now the outline of my face is disfigured/Noone is now inclined to gaze upon it/Absorbed in sorrow, I say with a heavy heart, ‘Alas!’, resident amidst the leper folk]

 If the child/youth-figure in these moralistic poems is a haunting reminder of the ruthless potentiality of death, we find a counterpoint in vernacular religious literature. There is a strong Marian lyric tradition in late medieval Scots poetry which ornately evokes adoration both of the Christ-child, and the maternal love of the Virgin Mary: liturgy, prayer, and nurture can be tenderly combined, as in this example:

Blist be thi haire hed eyne face & neise

Blist be ye halss breast bane bak & rib

Blist be thi palpis yat couth this one appleiss

Blist be thi handis that wande him in the crib […]

Blessed be the hair, head, eyes, face, and nose/Blessed be the neck breast bone back and rib/Blessed be the breasts that could satisfy the son/Blessed be the hands that embraced him in the crib […]

Nativity of Mary:
A midwife presents St Anne, naked except for a white cap, with the baby Mary. Ranworth Antiphoner, (1400s) fol 257.

 The temptations of youth

Looking beyond these allegorical and emblematic representations brings us to an imaginative world where the focus is fixed on the very human and earthly dimensions of the bond between the young and adults – parents, caregivers, teachers in loco parentis. We find boys and young men being instructed, implored, and besieged in all kinds of ways in medieval Scots writing. In The Spectakle of Luf, for example, ascribed to one ‘M.G. Myll’, in St Andrews on the 10th day of July in the year 1492 (the epilogue is very specific!). The text is presented as an example of ‘wisdom’ literature based on an unnamed Latin source which, for ‘gud and proffitable’ [good and instructive] purpose, needed to be translated ‘in to our wulgar and matarnall toung’ [vernacular mother tongue] — and, he adds, if any ‘ladyes and gentillwemen’ [ladies and gentlewomen] in particular want to complain, they can do so to the Latin author, not himself. The reason why they might soon becomes clear.

The young male reader of the treatise is subject to a fierce litany of advice, all of which largely pivots on the central core frailty of susceptibility to desire — explicitly defined as the ‘delectatioun of luf of wemen’ [salacious pleasure in the love of women]. In that sense, the Spectacle reads as an angry echo-chamber of the standard warnings, caveats, and expedient advice encased in the traditions of medieval antifeminist writings. Conceived as a conversation between a father and son, ‘a gud old knycht’ and a ‘yong squyer’ [a good old knight and a young squire], it’s divided into seven discreet sections. These neatly reflect the successive ‘categories’ of womanhood — increasingly stratified by age, social class, and religious status — who are bound to set about the son’s corruption.

Artfully, the father summons the toppling weight of scriptural, philosophical, and literary exempla to convince his son how reasonable he is. So he implores that ‘for in this warld Is na maire evillis na thar Is in young wemen quhen thai be set thereto as I sall mak ye till understand and thar be ressoun in thi brest’ [for in this world there are no greater evils than those in young women when they are so inclined, as I shall make you understand, and thereby implant reason in your breast]. Then he reaches first for his book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Here, he tells his son how he can read of Stella, the ‘dochter of young age’ [the young daughter] of King Nysus who beheaded her father whilst he slept because she desired the love of King Mynos who, at the time, happened to be besieging her father’s city.

The son remains wonderfully obtuse throughout his seven stages of learning — he thinks it’s best to ‘luf in sic a place quhar It may be kepit secreit that akk be it childer be gootyn’  [love in such a way that it can be kept secret in case children are conceived]; his patient father suggests otherwise. At the end the latter presents himself as a model of how not to live a fully ‘masculine’ life: a man exiled from the ‘hushald’ [household] which he didn’t govern with enough ‘maistrye’ [power], now left with three gifts from his wife: ‘ane ald harr and dotand heid, ane emptyff and twme purss, and ane pair of beidis of sabill’ [an old daft weak-minded head, an empty and denuded purse, and a pair of mourning beads ie rosaries]. The Spectakle, then, manifests a great deal of anxiety around the process of growing up. The adolescent male is the site of such projected anxieties and fears but women are entirely to blame for this predicament.

Child’s play

Another, much lengthier ‘father-son’ dialogue exists in medieval Scots literature, entitled Ratis Raving, composed anonymously in the second half of the 15th century. But, at least in its prologue, seems to portray a much more curious and compassionate interest in childhood. Its prologue portrays maturation as a process as natural and organic as the growth of a tree — those figurative branches can grow strong and healthy provided there is the properly nourishing soil in which to take root; or become misshapen and withered if the proper moral and spiritual path isn’t followed. Although a conventional metaphor, the condition and potentiality of each stage in the young life-cycle is fascinatingly laid bare. In particular the poem charts the two defined stages of infancy and early childhood: from birth to 3 years old; and from 3 to 7. In the first we see how:

Than buskis child to spek ore ga,

And to wyt quhat is na & ya,

Sa lang can nocht ellis cheld think

Bot one the met, and one the drink,

On noryss, and on slep, thai thre;

Syk is the formest propyrtee,

Rycht as a best child can no mare,

Bot lauch ore gret for Joy & care,

Then the child attempts to speak / And to know what is no and yes / For so long the child can only think about food and drink / on nourishment and sleep, those three;/Such is the most definitive quality / that a child can do no more / But laugh away / heartily for joy and care

The infant’s basic primal instincts (for nourishment), and the capacity to articulate contentment or unhappiness, are here described, simply but engagingly, I think, in language which is almost gently rhythmic.

Holy Family at Work:
Holy Family at work in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves; Netherlands (Utrecht), c. 1440; Morgan Library MS M.917/945, p. 149.

In the next stage, the child’s developmental capacities are elaborated, and here we find — in a treatise so intent on the fostering of ethical and moral sense — what is a rather beautiful elaboration of child’s play. This is explicitly not the age in which the child’s morally reflective capacity or agency is yet developed; rather

Sa lang havis child wyl alwaye

With fluris for to Jap and playe;

With stikis, and with spalys small

To byge up chalmer, spens and hall;

To mak a wicht horss of a wand;

Of brokin breid a schip saland;

A bunwed tyll a burly spere;

And of a seg a swerd of were;

A cumly lady of a clout;

For a long time a child will always play with flowers / With sticks, and with small twigs / To build a bedroom, pantry, and hall / To make a strong horse out of a slender branch/or a sailing ship out of a piece of broken bread / A ragwort [makes for] a fiercesome spear / And a sedge a sword for war / a lovely lady [ie a doll] out of a cloth

Dolls, ships, swords, and the like ‘grow out of’ of the most ordinary everyday things. Naturally, given such creativity, the child’s day, the poem, acknowledges, is quite filled up; but there is no sense that this is not part of that ‘tree-like’, natural growth; these are activities which do not expressly nurture ‘gud Judgment’ (l. 1143) and make it neither the ‘best’ nor the ‘verst’ [worst] stage of human life. Rather, it simply accepts that the young child has a capacity for curiosity and inventiveness, for making and discovering ‘play’. It is very definitely not, I think, a negative depiction of ‘ignorant childhood’.[i]

But just as this child grows swiftly into the next stage of maturity (7 to 15), and into the period when ‘resone’ firmly implants ‘her’ roots (she is a feminised power in this text) instructing ‘quhat to do, and quhat enschew’ (l. 1227), so too does the text ultimately grow into a work of conventional, exemplary wisdom, akin to the Spectacle’s moral worldview. Still, Ratis Raving is very significant for the attention it pays to a distinct concept of early childhood and its developmental cognitive stages; and for doing so with an imaginative sympathy which brings ‘childlike-ness’ into nearer focus.

Girl with hobby horse and bells; youth with instruments
Bodleian Library MS. Douce 118, Psalter. fol. 034r, 13th century (end), France, Artois, Latin. “Marginalia. Crowned female with hobby horse rings handbells, and youth, in jester’s hood with bell, plays pipe and tabor.”

 

Children and emotion

I’d like to return to where this post began with the genre of the saint’s life. This was, of course, one of the most powerful and popular narrative forms of affective devotion in the Middle Ages. The traditions of insular hagiography in northern Britain have deep roots in the Latin, Irish, and Gaelic languages. Intended to praise, inspire, and teach these are, naturally, didactic texts, describing the miraculous work of saints. And if these lives portray the saint as a child or youth, they do so in ways which usually indicate their potential divinity or grace.

Yet — as shown by the opening example of the boy on the shore reunited with his father — we also witness the portrayal of children in ways which depict them as the locus of love, tied to parents and caregivers by bonds of affection, not just authority or chastisement. In the late 14th century Scots collection of saints’ lives, children are quite often an essential part of the narrative arc within each life. This is partly because of the close generic affinities between saint’s life and romance (and folktale too) for children are the agents of separation and reunion between families; longed for by childless kings and queens; or unwanted and cast off to sea in a casket to be ‘foderit’ [fostered] elsewhere. Here we also see children as ‘affective agents’ — possessed of emotion.

In the legend of ‘Theodera’ [St Theodora], the titular saint says goodbye to the child, whom she has fostered for nine years, when she knows death is near:

for-thi the barne scho tuk hir til,

& kyssit It with gud wil,

& sad: “dere sone, wit thu

That I mon pas of this lyf nou;

Thar-for to god I commend the,

That he thi helpe & fayre be.

& thu til hme pray Ithandly

& faste, as thu ma, gudely,

& to this brethyre of this abbay

Thou serwe treuly, I the pray!’

and then she took the child to her/And kissed him with good intention/and said, ‘Dear son, you need to know that I’m going to pass out of this life now/Therefore I commend you to God/that he help and look after you/and you have to pray very diligently to Him/ and intently and excellently/and I pray that you must faithfully serve the brothers of this abbey!

Later, the child is discovered grieving, or ‘gretand’ [weeping] beside her lifeless body. Even though she’s been received into the community of saints, she is still dead to the child. That irreducible knowledge registers poignantly in the child’s instinctive response towards Theodera — new-made saint but in that moment his surrogate-mother and carer.

This is an apt time to return to the little boy who plays on the shore in the life of Mary Magdalene. I suggested that this was significant in portraying a child instinctively at play. As we saw, this was also a celebratory moment for his father: the ‘resurrected’ child is the sign of new life and joy where previously he had been the bearer of death. In this earlier part of the story, the dying child is not portrayed as a static emblem or allegory but rendered in a vividly poignant way. Unable to care for the ‘yonge barne’ [little child], the king lays him to rest in the grave of his mother, at the breast which cannot nurture:

For to make a gannand grawe;

Thar-for thai socht & fand a cawe,

& of It in the maste priwe place

Thai lad that body, that ded was,

In riche atyre & dressit wele,

Wappyt in a furrit mantele;

& layde the chylde til hir breste,

Hed & mouthe the papis neste;

& gretan sar thine passit away, […]

They looked for a suitable grave, and found a cave, and in the most secluded place they laid the dead body; [she was] beautifully attired and dressed, wrapped in a fur mantle; they laid the child to her breast, his head and mouth nearest to her nipples, and then they moved away in tears […]

The loss of the child, as well as his mother, precedes (and, indeed, is the precondition of) the king’s penitential journey to the holy land and the visitation by St Peter. Both journey and vision bolster his wavering faith but the ‘lost child’ hauntingly remains an imagistic and emotional memory throughout this part of the narrative before the final reunion scene. The young boy is therefore a symbolically charged figure, invested with a great deal of the text’s spiritual and emotional energies.

I would suggest, however, that this isn’t a reductive symbolism. Whilst he is the site of affect, he is also an ‘affective agent’, possessed of emotion himself. We watch the little boy withdraw when he sees the father (whom of course he doesn’t recognise), and the boat’s crew, approach the shore:

& quhare his modir lay he socht,

& crape vndir hyre mantil rath,

In hope to hyd hym fra thar [the shipmen and father] skath….

and he sought out where his mother lay/and in distress crept under her cloak/hoping to hide himself from the danger they might bring

The men too are afraid, the story notes, unsure what they are seeing. Following the little boy, they find him seeking intuitive refuge in the body of his mother, laid out as she was when they left her:

Thai lyftyt upe the mantil-lape,

& fand the child at the pape,

lyand rycht as he sukit had,

bot he cane gret, for he was red.

They lifted up the flap/hem of the cloak/and found the child at the breast/lying as if he were sucking [at her breast] but he was crying because he was afraid.

This is another poignant and powerful visual moment, bringing the figures of child and mother into fetishised and distressing focus. But it leads to the further discovery that the Magdalene has assumed the role of foster mother, nourishing the child throughout the king’s two-year absence. He thanks her simply: ‘Thu has me gyffine this litil knafe,/& fed hyme twa yere one this hil.’ [You have given me this little fellow/whom you’ve fed for two years upon this hillside]. And, feeling ‘sa Ioyful’ [so joyful], he kisses ‘his sone, that he na cuth fyn’ [he kisses his son so much that he can hardly stop].

We don’t know for sure for whom these Scots saints’ lives were composed. They are likely to have been popular, being based on the most widely collected and translated collection of Latin saints’ lives in medieval Europe, Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend. And the fact that they exist in the vernacular already suggests a lay audience given the official position of Latin in the church. We know, too, that vernacular female saints’ lives were often intended, or held a particular appeal, for women; these saintly women were not only ‘aspirational role models’ but in their earthly struggles potential sources of emotional and empathic affinity. (Interestingly, a woman’s name — ‘Katherine Grahame’ — is inscribed in c17th century hand in the manuscript, suggesting one of its post-medieval owners).

I therefore wonder whether the particular narrative care with which these particular lives expound grief for lost children, and the grief of children, might be a consequence of this. This is not intended in a reductively essentialist way; grief is not exclusively gendered. I also recognise the problematic way in which these texts portray ‘mothering’, and the ideally productive female body as the adulatory locus of nurture, both physical and spiritual. Indeed, all the texts briefly touched upon here may only reflect back the prescriptive, authoritarian nature of models of youth and adolescence demanded by society, culture, and religion.

But if we look carefully in the corners or margins of these Scottish texts, we can also find surprisingly attentive configurations of play and creativity. And imaginatively they help us grow closer to understanding those relationships of being and belonging, love and grief, felt reciprocally between children and those who care for them.

This post written by Sarah

[i] As Takami Matsuda suggests in her study, Death and Purgatory in Middle English Didactic Poetry (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 1997) ,p. 184.

References

Legends of the Saints in the Scottish dialect of the fourteenth century, edited by W.M. Metcalfe, Scottish Text Society (Edinburgh, 1896), 3 vols

Ratis Raving and other early Scots poems on morals, edited by R. Girvan, Scottish Text Society (Edinburgh, 1939)

‘The Spectakle of Luf’ and the Marian poem ascribed to Walter Kennedy can be found in The Asloan Manuscript: a Miscellany of Verse and Prose, Scottish Text Society, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1923-5)

Elizabeth Ewan and Janey Nugent (eds), Finding the Family in Medieval and Early Modern Scotland (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008)

Elizabeth Ewan and Janey Nugent (eds), Children and Youth in Premodern Scotland (Martlesham: The Boydell Press, 2015)

Aspects of this work were first presented at the symposium, ‘Parenthood and Childhood in the Middle Ages’, University of Edinburgh 8-9 October 2015. My thanks to Dr Rachel Delman and Dr Phoebe Linton, co-organisers of the event, and all those who attended it for their advice and suggestions.

 

 

 

 

Children Pictured in Children’s Literature

In this blog post, I will explore how many factors – both technological and ideological – have affected changes in the development of the illustration of children’s books. Within contemporary children’s literature criticism, it is argued that ‘children’s books’ can be for readers of any age (Beckett 2008). This age crossover is obvious in the case of popular fiction titles across centuries, such as Robinson Crusoe, which has been adapted to children’s fiction, a pop-up version of which can be seen below. Whereas literature marketed primarily to adults has traditionally been adapted to the child audience, in more recent decades, children’s books have been making their way into the adult market[1] . But, how did a literature for children emerge and how do past messages contained in children’s books inform manifestations of books made specifically for children today?

A pop-up version of Robinson Crusoe on display in the Growing Up With Books exhibition at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood

Through my position as Artist-in-Residence at the children’s literature archive in the Museum of Childhood, I have been lucky enough to be able to explore this question for my personal research. As a starting point for this topic, I examined chapbooks held in the archive at the Museum of Childhood, which has bindings from the seventeenth century. Chapbooks were the first articles of printed literature that were affordable for families in Britain and had influence in their daily lives. The content was varied and covered many subjects and stories including nursery rhymes, morals and fairytales, but also, crude jokes and stories of an adult nature (more information here). These chapbooks were not usually made for a specific age of audience, it was only in novels of the twentieth century that illustration began to be omitted from books for adults (Michals 2014). Therefore, up until fairly recently, illustration was a part of most literary prints for all ages.

Illustration both for chapbooks and bound books had until the early nineteenth century been printed using woodblocks, which, though often skilful, were sometimes crudely printed. In the case of chapbooks, the woodblocks could often be worn and mismatched with colour sometimes painted by hand. Three examples of woodblock-printed chapbooks from the archive are shown below:

Chapbooks on display at the Growing Up with Books exhibition on display at the Museum of Childhood

The presses that were used to print such chapbooks were forms of the Gutenberg press, which uses a flat ‘platen’ and screw mechanism to exert pressure evenly on the paper below. The Gutenberg and similar designs of press that would have printed chapbooks were originally made from wood; later, they were made from cast iron, which made more precise prints. An example of a press used in Edinburgh is the Columbian Press; one of these presses is on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, pictured below:

Colombian Press at the National Museum of Scotland

As printing production technologies advanced, the illustration of children’s books became more detailed and explorative. By the late eighteenth century, illustrators’ drawings could be reproduced in books using the more refined process of metal-plate etching, a method capable of achieving finer detail than the previous woodcut (Whalley & Chester 1988). Etching, or ‘intaglio’[2] printing, could provide a reproduction of a much finer pen and ink drawing made by the illustrator, which would have been transferred to a copper plate by the engraver, and then printed using a ‘mangle’ type press. Colour could also be added using woodblocks to give hue and tone to the intricate linework achieved through the intaglio process (Salisbury & Styles 2012).

The results of these new reproduction processes enabled representations of stories depicted in books to become more exact and specific. Illustrators were able incorporate popular stylistic trends from the fine arts, such as in the art of Victorian illustrator and book designer Laurence Housman, who used of art nouveau in his drawings for Goblin Market (Rossetti 1862) seen below:

Goblin Market (1893)

As the nineteenth century progressed, a process of printing using oil-based ink and water-resist was invented called ‘lithography’. Lithography allowed for both linework and colour to be printed more quickly and efficiently. Printing as an industry boomed with steam-powered presses, and, alongside these technological advances, how society thought of children in the nineteenth century was also rapidly changing.

Generally speaking, before the Enlightenment period, children worked alongside their elders from the age of eight and assumed adult responsibilities and dress (Cunningham 2012). This changed as a consequence of industrialisation and urbanisation; campaigners began to seek to protect children from dirty and dangerous labour. Children began to be thought of as part of nature and, through the process of ‘becoming social’, joined the civilised, adult world (Prout 2005, p. 67). This idea was expounded by Rousseau (1762), who likened childhood to primitivity and argued that children are inherently ‘good’ and adult society corrupted (Whalley & Chester 1988).

An example of the art included in books for children in Children’s Stories from Shakespeare

Interestingly, Chester and Whalley point out that there is a visual change in the depiction of children in literature from the first publications during the nineteenth century:

“In the earliest books, children were shown as young adults … At the beginning of the 19th century they were depicted more as children … by about the 1840s, or even earlier, we sometimes get the feeling that the artist was making a conscious comment on the child: ‘See how quaint – cute – amusing – pretty’ he is saying to us, the onlookers’” (1988, p. 53).

As described by Chester and Whalley, examples shown in the pictures below show how illustration coded attitudes towards childhood by othering the audience they were made for. This change in adults’ view of young people is linked to children’s exclusion from the workplace and, the stress of living in close, dirty cities away from nature, as was described earlier.

Divine and Moral Songs (1830)

Divine and Moral Songs (c.1899)

In the first woodcut image by an unknown wood engraver, the child is dressed similar to the adult and their posture is similar; it shows the child learning from the adult, but does not portray the youth as naive. However, in the latter illustration by Mrs. Arthur Gaskin (c.1899) the children look almost like dolls; their dress is extravagantly floral and their faces are flushed with innocent expressions that looked oddly blank. Though the woodblock engraver was restricted in terms how detail and colour, it is a striking difference from the vision of childhood shown in Gaskin’s illustrations.

The romantic concept of childhood remains evident in the censoring of children’s books today, though there are signs of a changing notions of what childhood is in the twenty-first century. Notably, I Want my Hat Back by Jon Klassen alludes to the insincerity that children are aware of and perform in the same way as adults. This picturebook ends with the audience sharing in a sinister joke that the bear ate the rabbit and is guilty (Klassen 2011).

I Want My Hat Back (2011)

In today’s busy, scheduled lifestyles in modern, urban society, it is interesting that books such as Klassen’s are extremely popular. They appear to acknowledge that children are not faultless and are able to make moral decisions. This attitude to childhood is reflected by sociologist Alan Prout: “… the appeal of the idea of children as active and socially participative can be traced to the obvious advantage that such children would have in the everyday management of household timetables” (Prout 2005, p. 24). Additionally, this book and others by Klassen are bought for adult-reading too:

“The negotiations between what grown-ups and children want, and between what adults are familiar with and children are still apprehending, provide the tension that makes children’s books possible” (Sutton 2012).

These ideas challenge the long-established Rousseauian, Western view of childhood as innocent, as inferior and in need of civilising. The concept of contemporary childhood, then, has a direct effect on the way illustrators construct images for picturebooks.

To summarise, as is evidenced in Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood archives, literature made for children is continuously adapted to new demands and challenges within society. Contemporary books for children, such as Klassen’s, act as sites of tension between preceding generations and the next, exploring new ways of viewing and defining what it means to be a child. A selection of books from the archive are currently on display in the exhibition Growing Up With Books, open until December 9th!

This post was written by SELCIE Artist-in-Residence Katie Forrester

Works Cited

Beckett, Sandra (2008) Crossover Fiction: Global and Historical Perspectives. New York, USA & Oxon, England: Routledge.

Cunningham, H. (2012) The Invention of Childhood. London: Random House.

Maclean, Robert (2012) “Book illustration: engraving and etching.”  https://universityofglasgowlibrary.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/book-illustration-engraving-and-etching/

Michals, Teresa (2014) Books for Children, Books for Adults: Age and the Novel from Defoe to James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Prout, Alan (2005) The future of childhood: towards the interdisciplinary study of children. London, New York: Routledge.

Salisbury, M. & Styles, M. (2012) Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling. Laurence King Publishing.

Sutton, R. (2012) “Little Tug” and “This Is Not My Hat.” The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/11/books/review/little-tug-and-this-is-not-my-hat.html.

Whalley & Chester (1988) A history of children’s book illustration. London: J. Murray with the Victoria & Albert Museum.

For more information on book illustration: 

https://lithub.com/a-brief-history-of-book-illustration/

http://www.designishistory.com/1450/printing-techniques/

https://www.nls.uk/collections/rare-books/collections/chapbooks

[1] Most notably fantasy fiction authors such as JRR Tolkein, Phillp Pullman and JK Rowling.

[2] ‘Intaglio encompasses a variety of different techniques including engraving, etching, stipple, aquatint and mezzotint. While each of these techniques implies a different method of making impressions in the metal (usually copper) plate, they all share the same basic principle: an image is transferred to paper, under pressure, from the incised ink-bearing grooves of a metal plate’ (MacLean 2012).

A Thinking Space

In this blogpost, Niamh Keenan presents a personal perspective on what the Museum of Childhood exhibition, Growing Up With Books, means  —   and how it can be a space for our personal reflection on the books that made us, and a way of connecting us with others.

 

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you should be aware that the SELCIE exhibition had its launch on 31st of May. As one of the team, I was allowed to bring a plus one to the evening and I brought a person who was the one really to introduce me to the world of reading. My choice of guest was my mother. How could I not bring the woman who got rid of the television at home and instead insisted on books, with stories on tape being the order of the day during supper time? Being my parent, she was always going to insist how special the exhibition was but it was apparent to me that she was actually intrigued by the nature of the books on display inside the cabinets and how they had been curated. We had a long discussion about that.

While my mother grew up in 1950s Co. Antrim, and I am an Anglo Irish baby from the 1990s, we shared many books that defined us. One such example is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, found in the Other Worlds case; it is extremely close to both of our hearts and yet we appreciate different facets of it. Her funny bone is tickled with the jokes regarding logic and the mathematics that underpin it and I am brought to laughter by the nonsense verses.

This is what makes SELCIE so powerful, namely that it brings into focus how books create a sense of commonality, despite the threads of difference that, inevitably, run amongst us. At the launch, and now as the exhibition runs, visitors mill around and, rather than contain themselves as individual members of the public, anonymous to each other, men and women, families with young children, older couples, exchange reminisces about how this book meant something significant during his or her formative years or about that that volume is akin to one that provoked a visceral reaction when a child.

 

The quotation attributed to Edmund Wilson that ‘no two persons ever read the same book’ has a lot of truth to it and yet, in some ways, it is a rather superficial comment. It says nothing about how it is through these points of dissimilarity that texts impart to readers the attribute of common understanding.

There may be truth to the statement that we are more divided than ever and yet there is no need for fear in a world where people are open to literature. Books have the ability to bring people together to discuss differences in a completely non-hostile way, exploring who we are and why we are that way inclined. The SELCIE exhibition itself, just as with the volumes in it, provides a chance to look backwards, take stock and project forwards ideas and opinions. One can come to an understanding of another through his or her reading and interpretation and, from there, have discussions on the bases of the findings. Akin to a university tutorial, where various students express what a particular text means to them, the SELCIE exhibition creates a special space, where each person can explore what the text or the components of a case awaken in him or her.

I speak as someone who is fully aware of her bias when I recommend that you, dear reader of the SELCIE blog, visit our exhibition in the Museum of Childhood. Once there, perceive yourself through the texts and then engage with the inner world of another visitor.

                                                                    This post written by Niamh

 

For events inspired by the Growing Up With Books exhibition at the Museum of Childhood this summer, please see here for more details! The SELCIE team will also be at the Museum in July and would love to hear your own reflections, reminiscences, and reflections about your childhood reading! More information coming soon! 

 

 

The First World War Through the Eyes of a Child

There are many elements of the Museum of Childhood collections that reflect what was happening in the world at the time they were made – fashion can be followed in the costume collection, technology in toy manufacture and popular film stars in dolls and magazines.

The book collection, however, offers a unique insight into not just what adults were communicating with children about the world, but also what the child thought about what was happening and what they were being told. Through inscriptions, drawings and hand-made publications by children we have access to their perspective on the world around them.  The Museum holds a series of magazines called The Pierot made by a group of children across Britain in 1910-1914. 

The authors were spread across the UK, with given addresses for Essex, Edinburgh, near Bristol, Yorkshire, County Down, County Derry, Fife, Suffolk, Kent and Hampshire.  The magazine was circulated by post, the cost of the stamp being the subscription fee, and each child would add their own contributions, remarks and advertisements, before passing it on to the next contributor. Those who held onto the magazine for more than 3 days were charged a fine of one pence for each additional day, which would be passed on to Dr Barnado Homes. There is an awareness of charitable acts represented throughout the magazines. It was common at this time to encourage children to raise money for charitable organisations and be aware of those less fortunate than themselves.

Seen throughout the editions of the magazine is the influence of the popularity of fiction and romantic stories, an interest in fashion with colour illustrations in watercolours, and poetry. The magazines are a creative output for the children, and they are also seeking validation from their peers on their efforts with pages for comments and votes for the best submissions at the back of the magazine – comparable to ‘likes’ on social media today.

The Camp at Lyndhurst written by Miss R Dent of Beacon Corner, Burley, Hampshire, on the edge of the New Forrest near the village of Lyndhurst, is a perfect example of the other subjects in the magazine, that of the children having an awareness of world events and an interest in them. As well as this article, there are several other references to the ongoing conflict in this edition and an advertisement that offers the sale of wooden toys with funds raised going to the Belgian Relief Fund.

The war had started in July of 1914, and by the autumn when this issue was circulated, the true horrors of what was to come had not even been grasped by the adults, let alone filtered down to children’s consciousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Camp at Lyndhurst is written as a jolly tale of chatting to the soldiers and the men are making jokes about what will happen at the front – was this what the men naively believed war was to be like or were they making the best of it for the benefit of the children? The author describes the landscape: ‘The whole of the moor and links are covered with hundreds and hundreds of tents, soldiers are to be seen everywhere & the road which runs through the camp is blocked by every kind of traffic.  Last week the 7th division was temporarily encamped there previous to starting for the front via Southampton – they were delayed owing to the presence of German submarines in the Channel.’ This shows a good level of knowledge about the activities at the camp and the shipment of troops, gleaned from newspapers or adult conversations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The first time we went over to see them we took about 100 appleswhich we threw to any soldiers we saw along the road.   One apple was badly thrown & it knocked off one of the men’s caps and hit him on the head A passing soldier said I hope the bullets won’t do that!  Everyman we asked if they were looking forward to going to the front answered with faces lighting up “I should think so” or “The sooner the better”’.  The author goes on to describe what batallions were in the camp, that they were marching in full kit for hours, what they wore, how there were big guns covered up and they were practising fixing bayonets: ‘It made one realize how very near the war was.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a fascinating postscript saying that since writing the article the Scottish troops had left for the front and have been replaced in the camp by Indian troops, reflecting the fact that soldiers from all over the British Empire were brought into the conflict. The author describes in detail what they are wearing, how they ride bareback, and that their shoes were heelless. It is possible they hadn’t been given their uniforms for the front yet and were still wearing clothes more suited to the warmer climate of India: ‘They nearly all have bare legs and heelless slippers and they look rather cold.’ They are described as wearing turbans and were probably part of the 130,000 Sikhs who saw active service in the conflict.  Although accounting for just 2% of the population of British India at the time, the Sikhs made up more than 20% of the British Indian Army at the outbreak of hostilities.

On page 29 of the magazine, Elegy of a Dying War-Horse by C. Turton  shows a more realistic idea of what war must be like – ‘All around us lie bodies of dead men and dying, Some passive, and others contorted with pain, And one Highland laddie – a mere boy of twenty, Is groaning, and moans for his “mither and hame”‘. The poem speaks of the hot sun in the Indian valley. The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson and tales of Clive of India would have been familiar to children at this time and would inspire heroic ideas about British soldiers and battles in faraway lands.

This September to October 1914 edition of The Pierot is the last one in the Museum’s collection. It isn’t clear if this was the last one made or not, but certainly as the authors got older their interests would have moved on. The magazines offer a wonderful insight into the lives of the children who contributed – their interests, concerns and creative talents – as well as a window into the world around them.

This post was written by Lyn

Chapbooks for Children: the missing link in the history of Scottish children’s literature?

 

little-jack

‘The Entertaining and Instructive History of Little Jack’. Courtesy of GUL Special Collections

Children’s literature has a long history of being ‘entertaining and instructing’. I’ve taken this week’s blog title from a specific chapbook: The Entertaining and Instructing History of Little Jack.  This copy belongs to Glasgow University Library’s Special Collections, and I am very grateful for their permission to include some images from their Scottish children’s chapbooks here.

 

The story of Aladdin was a favourite amongst Scottish chapbook makers! Courtesy of GUL Special Collections.

I first came across children’s chapbooks myself while working alongside David Hopkin, on chapbooks and broadsides for adults. As part of a teaching project, we digitised two hundred items from the David Murray collection: http://www.gla.ac.uk/0t4/~dumfries/files/layer2/glasgow_broadside_ballads/.  I noticed one or two titles which might appeal to children—a version of ‘Cinderella’, for instance, as ‘Catskin’, and mentions of pieces such as ‘Aladdin, or the Magical Lamp’.

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