A fish that makes memories

Tenualosa Ilisha (Ham Buck) BPM 1553 Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: BPM1553

“The Ilisha frequents the Bay of Bengal and the large saltwater estuaries of the Ganges, and in the rainy season, ascends the larger rivers to spawn. I have seen it as high as Agra and Kanpur, but so high up it is very rare. At Patna on the Ganges and Goalpara on the Brahmaputra, it is pretty common, but rather poor and exhausted. About Calcutta and Dhaka it is in the utmost abundance and perfection and is the richest and highest flavoured fish that I know.”

These are the words of Francis Hamilton, who was one of the first scientists to formally describe and identify this fish, which he called Tenualosa Ilisha, known and revered by generations of Bengalis as Ilish, the best and most delicious of fishes.

Hamilton describes the Ilisha’s scales as “oblong, striated, indented on the edges and easily rubbed off”. He writes that “the back and the belly are nearly equally arched and that the pectoral fins are much shorter than the head.” With the typical confidence of the 19th century colonial explorer and administrator, he is able to categorise and define the Ilish; he knows what it means.

As an expatriate Bengali member of the St Andrews community, however, for me it is a strange experience to see this fish presented here simply and uncomplicatedly as a zoological sample. The neatness and precision of Hamilton’s description and of the display here makes me think of the messiness of the Bengali fish market and suddenly I am ten years old again, holding my father’s hand, standing in front of the fishmonger as he slices off the fins and scales using the black curved blade known as a bonti.

The Ilish season is also the rainy season, so my father and I would go back home in the rain where the Ilish would be cooked, fried, steamed in banana leaf or poached in a mustard sauce. As a delicacy it would usually be saved for special occasions. So these memories are also family gatherings; loud, messy affairs full of so much fun. How different that sense memory feels to this poor, solitary, lifeless specimen in a museum display case.

Contrary to Hamilton’s easy confidence, objects and indeed fishes do not mean one thing, cannot be safely put into boxes and can always surprise you.

As for fishes, so for people. The landscape that Hamilton is describing has changed quite a bit since 1822. Calcutta and Dhaka are now separated by an international border. In 1947, Bengal was split into West Bengal, which became part of India, and East Bengal, which became East Pakistan in 1972. East Pakistan changed again to Bangladesh as new nations and new categories emerged in the form of national identities.

Reading Hamilton’s account of the Ilish traversing the length of the Ganges, caring not a jot for the national borders that would one day divide the people, is poignant in the way that he could not have imagined. For millions of Bangla Bengalis, like myself, whose family origins lie in what is today Bangladesh, but who have lived for 75 years in what is now India, the Ilish is so much more than just a delicacy.

Many Bengalis in their 80s and 90s still salivate at the memory of the fish they had eaten back home seven decades ago. No fish of today can compete with those memories. “What a taste,” they will say, “you young people have no idea.”

Hamilton might have complained about the innumerable small bones and that the fish is heavy of digestion, but for these old people, it sometimes feels like these memories are what keep them going. Because the memories are about much more than the fish. They are about home and belonging. About the helplessness of having one’s nation reorganised by someone else and against one’s will.

As I look at the specimen today, that is what I think of – of home and homelessness, about belonging and unbelonging. Uprooted as a family when we were forced to move westwards to Calcutta in 1947. Uprooted again as I moved further west to Britain in the 21st century. This fish reminds me at once of how far I have come and of what I have left behind.

Written by Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri, School of English, University of St Andrews

Why are we Re-collecting Empire?

Re-collecting Empire exhibition logo ©University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums

Empire has some tangled legacies. For some people colonial expansion brought glory, power and a great deal of wealth. For others it spelled disaster. And there were many people who occupied positions in between these two extremes.

These legacies are also still with us today, in street names, memorials, statues, and the buildings that surround us. If you look in your kitchen cupboards you’ll probably find products that became popular as a result of the British Empire’s expansion, like tea, chocolate and sugar. You’ll get a hint of it through who has power and influence today, and the power structures that usually dictate this.

You’ll also see these legacies in museums. In many museums some of the objects on display or in storage came to the collection from imperial or colonial contexts, legitimately or otherwise. These objects embody stories of peoples, countries and cultures who were subsumed into one empire or another. Some museums were specifically established to tell stories of empire, or to demonstrate the power of colonialists over the colonised.

Museums still perpetuate these legacies, and this can still cause hurt. The stories we tell about objects from colonial contexts can ignore or marginalise the voices of those who used or made them; the way objects are stored might be disrespectful to the originating culture. We might misunderstand an object completely.

Chinese Bell used in sacred and royal ceremonies, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: ET1977.110

Some of these things are a result of how these objects were acquired, and how they have been studied and catalogued since then. In St Andrews the first University museum was established by members of the Literary and Philosophical Society in 1838, who filled it with objects from around the world. Some of the people who gave things to the collection had lived and worked in colonised countries, but the information they recorded about an object was often scant, saying little of what it was or how it was acquired. A bell acquired at this time, for example, is recorded in the Society’s minutes simply as “hand bell” from China; nothing else is said about how it was obtained, which part of China it comes from, or what its original use was. The truth is that it’s not a hand bell at all, but part of a much larger set played with hammers, and in sacred and royal ceremonies. Described as a “hand bell”, this object was reduced to being a curiosity, its cultural importance removed.

This lack of information makes responding to the legacies of empire that we find in our collections difficult. Nevertheless, we believe that it’s important to tackle those legacies. That’s why we have written into our strategic plan that one of our goals at the Museums of the University of St Andrews is to “tackle institutional legacies and work for a more inclusive and equitable future”. Re-collecting Empire is a central part of this. However, the exhibition is not the end of this process; rather, it’s a statement of progress and of intention, as well as a starting point for conversations that we need to have.

The Re-collecting Empire exhibition at the Wardlaw Museum is the result of a lot of careful thinking and consultation about how we tackle the colonial legacies in our collection. It’s one of our first attempts to explore these stories publicly and trial new ways of telling them, with the voices of those who have often been excluded at the forefront.

Behind the scenes the Museums team have been doing provenance research to better understand when, how and in what circumstances objects came into the collection – a painstaking but important step in tackling those legacies. We’ve been talking to different communities to know how we should store and display the collections, and what the stories we should be telling about them should be.

The exhibition is a part of the process. We will probably get things wrong, but we will learn from it, listen to our visitors, and improve so that we really can work for a more inclusive and equitable future. It is part of a wider programme of work within the University, and one that will continue after the exhibition closes, building on the conversations we hope to have in the coming months.

Written by Dr Catherine Eagleton, Director of Libraries and Museums, University of St Andrews

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert: An insight into the artist’s mind behind our new photography collection

“You’ve got to know your boxes” I was once told by a photographer, meaning you’ve got to know what you’re photographing and what ‘box’ the images will go into. Then, once those boxes fill up, you may have the start of a project or a collection. The boxes could contain anything, portraits perhaps, or photographs of football culture, or images of shipbuilding, but in general for ‘boxes’ think themes.  

In late 2020 I contacted Rachel Nordstrom, then Photography Collections Manager at University of St Andrews, with a question about different types of boxes. I wanted to know about best practice for the archiving of negatives, of prints and contact sheets. What type of archival boxes should I be looking at to store negatives and prints in, and was there a best practice way of doing that, of listing the contents to those boxes? How does one turn one’s collection of images into an archive? I thought if anywhere knew, it’d be the University of St Andrews where they’ve been collecting photography since its birth in 1844.  

A black and white photo showing a woman in a coat and head wrapped in a scarf waiting inside of a bus shelter. A young man wearing light pants and a dark jacket is waiting outside on the right. A statue of rhinoceros stands on top of the shelter.
Scotland © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

My own collection of photographs that I’ve taken dates back roughly to 1988, from my college years in Glasgow where I studied photography, and from trips in summer vacations to the Middle East. Those were my first footsteps in photographing and travelling, and from those travels I began to think I could use photography as a tool to let me explore our world. Never did I think it would lead me to the adventures I’ve since had. 

A black and white photo showing two men in a shipyard looking at the belly of a large ship. Other workmen are in the background.
Kvaerner shipbuilding yard, on the River Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland, June 1993 © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

Over the following 30+ years until now I’ve been fortunate that my photography career has been kind to me and it’s taken me around the world to multiple countries, where I’ve been afforded opportunities to meet people from all walks of life, from the man in the street down on his luck to royalty, from cultural icons to household names from the world of business, and not only in the UK but with opportunities to gain insights into cultures the world over. And all the while I was photographing it all, documenting it all, hoping one day it would find a home. 

This has led to a large collection of photographs, many taken on assignments for newspapers and magazines, corporate and NGO clients, but also many taken on self-initiated projects. Overall, my collection of photographs now sits at roughly one million digital images, that’s the RAW shoots, edited down it’d be far less of course. And, from the earlier days of my career there are the thousands of rolls of negatives, with accompanying contact sheets, prints, and tear sheets of much of the published works.  

Colour photograph shows a woman holding a baby. The pair are facing to the right, walking away. They are in front of a wall which has 'Count your blessings' written on it in blue paint.
201010 Indonesia, Citarum edit, October 2010 © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

With the opportunities I’ve been afforded, the moments I’ve witnessed, there comes a certain responsibility to then care for the resulting images. What use are they if they sit in my office, unseen? I owe it to the people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, those who offered me glimpses of their lives and let me photograph, to tell their stories, to share the resulting photographs with others. If others then find merit in the work, then perhaps it will all mean something, perhaps the photographs can help break down barriers across the world between differing peoples and cultures.  

To share those images also carries the responsibility of looking after them, making sure the prints won’t get torn, the negatives won’t curl, and fade and the hard drives of digital files won’t get corrupted. Was keeping them in my office the best place, or would they be better placed in a facility geared and aimed towards best archival practices for photography? A place such as the temperature controlled archival facility at University of St Andrews. 

As Rachel Nordstrom and I discussed boxes, and archiving workflows, we began discussing the housing of my collection within the University’s prestigious collection of photography of Scotland, and of the world by Scottish photographers. We both felt it would be a natural fit.. There was cross over between some of the projects I’d worked on and work already within the University collection, thus adding to the research and educational potential for all the work.  

Importantly for me the scale of the St Andrews collection, and of their aims and ambitions for their collection, also fitted with my desire to keep all of my archive in one place. I had no desire to split my work up amongst varying institutions who would take one project, or two, but ignore the rest. I felt there would be merit in keeping it all together, thus a more rounded portrait of a working photographer’s life and career could be utilised by those who wished to view it, to hopefully find merit in it and the imagery and information it contained.  

Bringing order to my collection was first and foremost, but during Covid pandemic lockdowns it was a good use of my time, sorting, annotating, adding information, and bringing enough order to the work that it would be in a position to be understood by others. I always hoped my archive would be acquired by an institution, but I imagined it 20 or 30 years from now, at the end of my career. It’s been a little surprising it has happened now, but I think all parties are all the better for it.  

Now, as the University works with my photography and uses it for the common good and educational benefits, I’m on hand to add information, to answer questions when they arise. I get to see my work utilised, and we get to collaborate to jointly extrapolate more worth from that which I have photographed. Importantly I also don’t have to burden my family with looking after it all, making sense of it all, should something happen to me.  

A black and white photo showing an elderly woman in traditional Romanian costume retells stories  to her granddaughter, sitting next to her on the left.
Talia Mihai, mother of the chief of Sintesti camp, tells stories to her granddaughter Garoafa, inside the family tent in the Kalderash Roma camp of Sintesti, near Bucharest, August 1994 © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

Now that my collection is housed in St Andrews, birthplace of Scottish photography, I feel slightly freed up to look forward more easily to all the things I’m yet to experience and photograph. The sorting of my collection this past year or two involved a lot of glancing in the rear-view mirror, and while the work is undoubtedly now in a better place for it, looking back too much can bring certain feelings of nostalgia or melancholy perhaps – one side effect of preparing the archive that no one warned me about was the emotional aspect of looking back over it all. But perhaps that is a topic for another blog post.  

For now, let us jointly celebrate that my archive of photography has joined the already important and impressive archive the University has built. I look forward in coming times to exploring my work with the researchers and academics, teachers and students, and perhaps in further blog posts I can share the stories behind some of that which I’ve photographed, the cultures I’ve seen and the people I’ve been most fortunate to meet along  the way and who graciously let me photograph their lives. The celebration of the archive is primarily the celebration of the stories of all these people, without whom there would be no photographs, and no archival boxes to fill.   

Written by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2022. 

King Kenny!

For the first time since 2019, St Andrews University will be hosting in-person graduations. To mark three whole weeks of graduations – covering not only graduates from 2022, but from 2021 and 2020 as well – many high-profile names will be receiving honorary degrees.

Sir Kenneth Dalglish MBE will be one of them, receiving an honorary degree on the 21st of June in the Younger Hall in St Andrews.

Kenny Dalglish was one of Scotland’s greatest footballers, achieving great success at both Celtic and Liverpool in the 1970s and 80s, he then went on to manage both clubs. Aside from his glittering footballing achievements domestically and internationally, he is also known for his charity work, most notably founding The Marina Dalglish Appeal to help raise awareness and money to treat cancer.

With the excitement of graduation and what the future holds for our graduates, the University of St Andrews Boswell Collection of Contemporary Scottish Art offers a look back to the 1980s – to Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool and Scotland heydays.

Dalglish Round Neck Merino Jumper with Cream Silk Shorts (2015) by Atelier E.B (Beca Lipscombe and Lucy McKenzie), ©Atelier E.B

As the title of this artwork suggests, Edinburgh-based design company Atelier E.B. – artists Beca Lipscombe and Lucy McKenzie – were influenced by Dalglish’s Scotland career and of the male-dominated footballing culture of the 1980s. At the same time, by putting their own mark on the famous Scottish strip, it becomes markedly more striking as a commentary on gender, fashion, and representation.

Replacing the traditional shorts with cream silk shorts offers the viewer to think about the disjunction between womenswear and football wear, and how this plays an unconscious role in the suppression of women’s football from the cultural norm. By only very slightly turning one item of clothing, it turns ‘strip’ into ‘outfit’, ‘kit’ into ‘costume’; it instantaneously removes its male-dominated sportily function, rendered useless by the viewer’s unconscious bias.

In addition to this, the pixelated badge is a subtle yet intelligent way of casting light onto the censorship of women’s football in Scotland and in the UK in general through the 20th century.

From 1921 until December 1969, women’s football was banned by the FA. In the space of two years after the ban lifted, UEFA realised the pace at which women’s football was growing (much thanks to the efforts of England in the 1966 World Cup), and its governing bodies voted to create official status of women’s football in national associations (voted 31 for and 1 against, the sole vote against by Scotland).

Since 1971, the FA has reluctantly been handing over more opportunities, money, and interest into the women’s game – a sentiment of reluctance that reached into popular culture with the 1980 movie production of Gregory’s Girls: a naturally gifted striker who outshines her male counterparts despite the sexist misgivings of her coach.

Thankfully, the women’s game has come a long way since then, but there is still some distance to go before it reaches the popularity and fame that footballers such as the famous Kenny Dalglish – King Kenny – experienced as a player.

He remains a beloved figure of Scottish football, recognised for his achievements and charitable efforts on and off the pitch, and on the 21st of June with an honorary degree from the University of St Andrews.

Written by Struan Watson, Visitor Services Facilitator and Collections Assistant with University of St Andrews Museums

People, place, past: How photographers explore identity

Over the next two years the nine works in the groundbreaking Significant Others series of annotated photographs by artist, poet and all round polymath will be rotated at the Wardlaw Museum.

Throughout history, art has been used to express, whether it was to recreate what one was seeing in a landscape, portrait, or still life, or to create something completely new like artists did during movements like Dadaism or Surrealism. Artists have taken their chosen mediums and used their work to convey messages, and many have taken the brush, pen, or camera to represent themselves and their identities.

Black and white photograph shows a young black girl in white dress holding the hand of an older white lady in white shirt and black jacket. The pair are facing forwards.
Maud and Elsie from Maud Sulter’s Significant Others series. The series uses enlarged family photographs in annotated frames to explore Sulter’s identity.

Maud Sulter did just that; she reflected her identity and her experiences in every facet of her work – photography, poetry, curating, and more. Despite the unique qualities of her work, Sulter was certainly not the first to do such a thing; there is a history of photographers representing parts of their identities, either their personal identity or something larger, like communal or cultural.

Hugh Mangum

A relatively lesser-known, self-taught photographer working and living in Jim Crow era South-Eastern United States, Hugh Mangum’s (1897-1922) work offers a beautiful insight into the identities of the people of the United States. Mangum was a traveling portraitist working primarily in North Carolina and Virginia in the shadow of the segregationist laws of the time, and he welcomed his racially and economically diverse clientele into his temporary studios.

The rediscovery of his work in the 1970s brought an astonishing collection of anonymous portraits of people from the American South at an extremely tempestuous time in the country’s history. The glass plate negatives feature multiple images, a sign of the frequency of his work and the building of relationships between figures that were unlikely pairings. As art historian Deborah Willis stated, his photographs “show us lives marked both by notable affluence and hard work, all imbued with a strong sense of individuality, self-creation and often joy.”


Born Gyula Halász, Brassaï (1899-1984) was a Hungarian-born French photographer, known primarily for his dramatic photographs of Paris at night. Brassaï was passionate about exploring his beloved city of Paris. In the early stage of his artistic career in Paris, Brassaï disliked photography, but found it necessary for journalistic assignments and eventually found unique aesthetic qualities in the medium.

Brassaï began photographing the streets of Paris at night, dimly lit and seemingly desolate – very different from the Paris that was known during the day. Even with a lack of human subjects, there is a quality to Brassaï’s work that brings out the appreciation of a city that held his life and did the same for so many others. His post Second World War work, focused on a city rebuilding itself, emphasises the importance of place and refuge in one’s identity.

Ingrid Pollard

Ingrid Pollard (b.1953) is a British media artist, photographer, and researcher. Throughout her work Pollard has created a social practice concerned with representation, history, and landscape with reference to race, difference, and the materiality of lens-based media – similar to values of Sulter’s work. Yet Pollard has a completely distinct portfolio.

In the 1980s, she was part of a group of British artists, including Lubaina Himid and Maud Sulter, who championed black creative practice, showcasing her work in group exhibitions such as The Thin Black Line at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1985). Pollard’s work uses portraiture photography and traditional landscape images to explore what she believed to be social constructs, such as Britishness or racial difference. In much of her photography, Pollard references how the past has directly influenced what it means to be black in Britain through colonial connections—working the past into the present to reflect either her own or a familiar group’s identity and how it came to be.

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman (b.1954) is an American photographer who works primarily in self-portraiture, depicting herself in various costumes and identities to make herself virtually unrecognizable. Sherman’s breakthrough series is considered to be her “Untitled Film Stills”, 70 black-and-white photographs depicting Sherman in stereotypical female roles in film.

In the 1980s, Sherman’s self-portraiture evolved to be a bit more extravagant. Sherman began using makeup, costume, lighting, and facial expressions to completely transform herself. Sherman conceals her identity while simultaneously being the star of her entire career. The photographs bend what we associate with identity—clothing choices, makeup, mannerisms, and more, things that make everyone an individual. Sherman studies these and imitates them in order to completely alter her own identity. Without the knowledge of who Sherman is and her practice, a large number of these photographs could deceive an audience.

Each of these photographers above explore identity in different ways – changing themselves, capturing their surroundings, or photographing their communities. How do you explore your identity through creativity? Is it through photography like Maud Sulter and these artists, or maybe writing poetry, or even something completely your own?

Written by Samantha Hillsman, a Masters student in Museum and Gallery Studies and part of the group who have curated Maud Sulter: Portraits of a Family Tree at the Wardlaw Museum.

Redefining the Legacy of William Scheves 

Most people do not know the name William Scheves, despite the fact that he was one of the most powerful men in Scotland in the late 1400s. Those who are familiar with the name may simply associate Scheves with his failed political career and his fateful friendship with the unpopular King James III. However, there is much more to Scheves than this maligned story would have it.  

Scheves was a true Scottish renaissance man with a great passion for both science and academia as well as arts and culture. As a leading Scottish intellectual in the 15th century, it is unsurprising that Scheves held deep connections to the town of St. Andrews. Scheves studied at the university during the 1450s and served as archbishop of the town from 1479 to 1497. In the period between his studies at St. Andrews and his tenure as archbishop, Scheves ventured abroad to continue his education, most likely ending up in Leuven, in modern-day Belgium.  

While abroad, Scheves’ education focused primarily on medicine and astronomy. When he returned to Scotland in the 1470s it was this medical training that enabled him to secure a position on the royal court, acting as a physician to King James III. The young king greatly favored Scheves and went so far as to instigate the removal of the then-archbishop of St. Andrews in order to appoint Scheves as his successor. Thus, Scheves reached the peak of his political career as both one of the king’s closest confidants and the new archbishop of the most important church in Scotland.  

Image 1: Illustration of King James III of Scotland, friend of William Scheves 
Public Domain License https://www.worldhistory.org/image/13277/portrait-of-james-iii-of-scotland/  

However, Scheves’ rise to power angered many. At the time King James was criticized widely across Scotland for his tendency to appoint his favorites to key positions of command, over better-born and perhaps more qualified noblemen. As it was rumored by many that Scheves was an illegitimate child of non-baronial blood, his rise to archbishop was nothing short of scandalous. In 1482, Scheves’ opponents attempted to remove him, citing his low birth status and lack of experience. While this operation failed, Scheves’ political career eventually came to a downfall six years later when King James III was killed in a battle against rebel Scottish forces, led by his own son. With the death of King James, Scheves subsequently found himself expelled from both the church and the state.  

While Scheves’ legacy is often characterized by his political rise and downfall, this story fails to acknowledge his contribution to art and culture. The bronze medallion pictured below exemplifies Scheves’ active engagement with the arts. 

Created by well-known Flemish artist, Quentin Metsys, the medallion was commissioned by Scheves when he visited Rome in 1491. While the artist Quentin Metsys is better known as a painter (and a famous one at that, with numerous paintings in leading museums like the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art) he was also known to practice metalwork. Fellow patrons of Metsys’s medals included prominent intellectual figures like Desiderius Erasmus, a famous Dutch philosopher and one of the leading academics of the northern Renaissance. The design of the medal itself was inspired by traditional Roman medallions reserved for celebrating important leaders in the Roman empire. As Scheves was depicted by such an acclaimed artist in the same manner as distinguished leaders and scholars, the medallion symbolizes both his esteemed status as an intellectual as well as his awareness of greater artistic and cultural trends across Europe. 

Image 3: Illustration of Flemish artist Quentin Metsys, the artist who created Scheves’ medal 
Creative Commons https://bit.ly/37hgVKK 

Scheves’ connection to artistic and intellectual circles in Europe is further illustrated by his extensive book collection. More than forty books bearing Scheves’ signature survive to this day, giving an impression of just how large and significant his collection was.  

While Scheves is often looked down upon due to his association with King James III, this portrayal is ultimately unfair to his life’s greater work. As a physician, politician, clergyman, art patron, and intellectual, Scheves embodies the quintessential Renaissance man with his interest in both science and the liberal arts. Scheves’ embodiment of Renaissance ideals is particularly notable because at the time, Scotland was not widely associated with the Renaissance. Up until recently, the idea of the Renaissance as a cultural movement was often limited to Italy while Scotland and the rest of the northern region were afterthoughts within popular conception. However, Scheves epitomizes how Renaissance ideals spread beyond Italy into the Northern regions during the latter half of the 15th century. As a man that was ever learning and engaging with the contemporary issues and intellectual trends of his day, Scheves effectively marks himself as part of the often-overlooked Scottish renaissance. This embodiment of Renaissance ideals suggests that Scheves should ultimately be regarded as a figure of Scottish national pride rather than neglect and disdain.  

Written by Cally Wuthrich, University of St Andrews student and volunteer with University Museums.

The Year of Stories 2022

In 2022 we celebrate Visit Scotland’s Year of Stories, and the Wardlaw Museum has plenty of stories to tell through our vast collection and busy activities programme of exhibitions and events which can be accessed both in person and/or online.

Why is storytelling important?

At their root, stories help us form an emotional connection and make us care about our surroundings. The emotional connection formed by storytelling is so astounding that it can prompt our bodies to release Oxytocin, the ‘feel-good chemical’ and inspire people to make a difference in the world.

Storytelling is a way to pass on knowledge and tradition, allowing us to interpret history and expand our understanding of the world. Specifically, our museums use storytelling to share the significance of St Andrews’ contributions to the advancement of education, science, art, religion and more. With an everchanging line up of temporary exhibitions, there is no end to the possibilities for storytelling at the University of St Andrews Museums.

Why use different methods of learning?

Learning is not one-size-fits-all. Storytelling can take many forms, including through text, audio, images, video, or any combination of these formats. 

Employing a variety of storytelling methods is a fantastic way to reach leave a lasting impression many people as possible.

How do we currently tell stories?

Museums must hold storytelling at its heart to illuminate the wonders of a fascinating collection to every visitor.  Museums tell stories primarily and traditionally through exhibitions and coming soon we will have two exhibitions Church,Cult,City: Medieval St Andrews and an exciting touring exhibition from the British Library with Treasures on Tour: John Hardyng’s Map of Scotland. These exhibitions will use various methods of storytelling incorporating interpretive text and links to online information that can be accessed by visitors.

As technology has advanced, our museums have adapted to engage a broader audience through digital storytelling. On site, smartphone users can utilise our Smartify audio tours to explore stories behind collection highlights.  If you’re unable to make it to our museums, Smartify tours can also be viewed online from home.

Many more of the University of St Andrews Museums storytelling resources can be accessed from home, including:

Smartify tours of the Bell Pettigrew Museum https://smartify.org/venues/bell-pettigrew-museum

The Curiosity Conversation
The Curiosity Conversation Podcast The Curiosity Conversation • A podcast on Anchor

‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’ Video blog Wellbeing Wednesdays – YouTube

Why not try out some of these different storytelling resources for yourself and see how they inspire you?

Re-Collecting Empire: Laying the Groundwork

Dr Emma Bond, Reader in Modern Languages, Photograph courtesy of University of St Andrews, ©University of St Andrews

The Museums team and I have been busy working on the Re-collecting Empire project for nearly a year now. This preparatory work is often under-visualised within the final, public-facing outputs of any project, and decisions can feel quite tentative without much outside input. So it was exciting to have the opportunity recently to share our ideas with two external groups.

We held our first advisory panel, made up of University staff and students, external museum professionals and academics; and we hosted a workshop with an invited group of St Andrews academics who hold research expertise in histories of slavery, empire and colonialism. Both were incredibly inspiring.

Our advisory panel challenged us on our use of language and our definitions of key terms such as decolonization. They emphasized to us the importance of working with communities of origin and diaspora communities in Scotland, and they advised us on the support that may be needed to manage any negative responses to the project. Interestingly, one panel member questioned which empire we were referencing to, and whether there were implicit assumptions present in the working title to the project. But the academic workshop helped to show us that any focus on a singular empire may be counterproductive, since imperial histories are always entangled and often interdependent. Traces of multiple empires are present in our University collections, and affective histories of empire and slavery connect these multiple pasts to the contemporary experiences of different members of our St Andrews community of staff and students. From Mexican coins to magic lantern slides via fish specimens, our academic workshop helped to broaden out our scope of enquiry and filled us all with a sense of excitement for the next stages of the project.

The Recollecting Empire project is an important part of our strategic objective to tackle institutional legacies and work for a more inclusive and equitable future​. With a specific focus on Scotland, Re-Collecting Empire will explore present-day entanglements of cultures resulting from colonial encounters in the past, and how creative responses can add new dimensions to heritage objects through examining, re-telling their narratives with a diverse set of audiences. ​

Written by Dr Emma Bond, Reader in Modern Languages, University of St Andrews

Student to Staff: Being a St Andrews graduate 10 years on

Photo of three graduates in their graduation gowns, working along the pier at East Sands, St Andrews with St Andrews Cathedral in the background. © The University of St Andrews – Gayle McIntyre

Graduation has, and always will, be a special time when students celebrate all the hard work they have put in and finally complete their degree. It is a time to reflect, to recollect, and renew your plans and aspirations. St Andrews has many traditions for graduation, with soakings for when you finish you last exam, to being tapped on the head by John Knox’s ‘pants’ as you collect your degree.

These traditions, sadly, could not all take place this year, though that does not diminish the importance and recognition of what graduates have achieved in these strange times.

Since the founding of the University with the Papal Bull in 1413, St Andrews has seen many students graduate. Some going on to make ground-breaking discoveries, some famous faces, and all of them have left their mark on the world.

Only a handful of degrees could be achieved at first, which expanded over the years as different colleges became part of the University. Until 1889 when the Universities Scotland Act was passed, only men could graduate. The Act made it possible for women to also graduate, and Agnes Forbes Blackadder became the first woman to graduate on the same level as men in 1894.

Since then, many other women followed Agnes in graduating from St Andrews, including several members of our museum team.

Photo of Sophie, standing on the stage at Younger Hall, St Andrews,
with others on stage, waiting to receive her degree

Ten years ago, I graduated from St Andrews with a MA. Hons in Mediaeval History. Fresh faced and unsure what I would like to do as a career, I went out into a world still recovering from a financial crisis. Jobs were not always easy to find, and I eventually stumbled into Retail Management, not exactly what you think an Historian might do. After that, I decided to take a few different career paths including working at a Castle, as well as trying my hand at the property sector.

Now, ten years on, the allure of St Andrews has brought me back and I now work as a University staff member as part of the Visitor Services Team for the Museums. I did leave Fife, for a bit, but my love of this wonderful corner of Scotland has brought me back and I thoroughly enjoy working with an amazing team at the museums and seeing the many wonderful objects in the museum’s collections. And most importantly, looking forward to welcoming visitors to the Wardlaw Museum when we open later this month!

Photo of the 7 University Mace bearers, dressed in formal wear, holding the maces and standing around the statue of Oor Wullie – Prince Wullie. © The University of St Andrews – Gayle McIntyre
You can see the Oor Wullie statue now on the Wardlaw Museum terrace

At the Wardlaw Museum, we have some of the most important objects that take part in graduation, the University maces. These are taken by the mace bearers for graduation and normally graduates follow these down North Street to Younger Hall. The maces then stay present throughout the graduation ceremonies. You can find out more about them in Gallery 1 when you visit the Museum.

Did I think I would be here, working at the Wardlaw Museum, ten years ago when graduating? No, likely not. I did not know where my life would go, though that was part of the fun of the journey! Things were tough, and I was not sure which path I wished to take and what I could do after I graduated. One top tip I would say though is please visit the University Careers Centre either as a student, or for up to three years after graduating. I went later as a graduate, and they were very helpful when I was seeking a new direction to go.

Things do seem odd currently, you may not know what you wish to do, but do not let that effect you. Everything will improve in time, you may go down a few different paths and double back, though you will get there. Graduating is but the start of another journey, and you have time to decide where that will take you. Enjoy the ride, and you never know where it might lead you. Even back to the place where it all began.

Photo of Sophie, in her graduation gown and hood, standing on the steps going down into the nave of the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.

Written by Sophie Belau-Conlon, Cultural and Community Engagement Officer/Visitor Services Supervisor

‘Bella, Bella!’ Reassigning Scottish Football Fashion

Dalglish Round Neck Merino Jumper with Cream Silk Shorts (2015) by Atelier E.B (Beca Lipscombe and Lucy McKenzie), ©Atelier E.B

For many years the most enduring image of Scottish women’s football came from Gregory’s Girl (1980), a touchstone of 1980s Scottish cinema and popular culture, in which schoolgirl Dorothy (Dee Hepburn) overcomes sexism by proving her skills on the field and replaces Gregory as centre forward in the school team.

The inspiration behind Dalglish Jumper, former footballer Kenny Dalglish, was Scotland’s most successful player who also enjoyed a lengthy and triumphant career playing for Liverpool. In England, Dalglish was acknowledged as a leading talent who contributed to Liverpool’s national and international success in the 1970s and 1980s. In Scotland, the reverence for Dalglish was even greater as he attained the highest number of caps and quantity of goals playing for the national team.

Dalglish is a man of few words, something of a sporting cliché, and like Dorothy preferred his tremendous skill on the pitch to speak for itself. This left a certain space around the man, not simply the aura of stardom but a zone in which his admirers could project their own feelings and values.

It is a similar space in which Atelier E.B operate, whereby ‘the complex narratives that create each collection are expressed in different ways, leaving the wearer to imprint their own story onto the clothes.’[i] The fashion industry is often dismissed as luxurious yet meretricious, an accusation increasingly levelled at the art world. In working between both of these realms, Atelier E.B’s research-based artistic practice unpicks the hidden histories and signifiers of fashion, to create products and material exhibits that provide intellectual and visual stimulation. These are not mutually exclusive, providing entry points for different audiences, in opposition to art and fashion’s ‘gatekeeper’ exclusivity.

The apparently superficial is undercut by a rigorous and ethical approach to research, materials, fabrication and display. In their examination of sportwear, gender issues are analysed in ways fashion commerce markedly fails to address, and sporting history draws us into larger social histories.

Examined from a feminist viewpoint, archival research allows the artists to reveal hidden histories, especially the stories of marginalised women.[ii] The outfit is not merely a passing nod to the habits of young women for borrowing items of their boyfriend’s clothes. Lucy McKenzie has made clear that the design and reference to sports clothing in the work of Atelier E.B is concerned with its emancipatory qualities and with the rise of sports formerly derided or supressed by men such as women’s football, effectively banned in 1921, the Football Association stating ‘…the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.’ [iii] This repression was not lifted for 50 years, after which the sport struggled for acceptance and finance. McKenzie views the lack of support as a ‘silent norm’ whereby women’s pursuits are regularly curbed by the male establishment. [iv]

As artists and designers working and subverting within the worlds of fashion and fine art, Atelier E.B are intensely aware of the importance of display, as seen in exhibitions such as Faux Shop (V&A Dundee, 2020). They have turned their backs on the clichés of catwalks and collection shows to examine more neglected, quotidian areas of display. Far from confirming banalities or retro-ironic indulgences, their forensic research reveals new histories of window-dressing, mannequins and retail display, relishing the craft and skills that were involved and appealing for recognition for the unseen workers who attempted to create attainable dreams on the high street.

When Dalglish Jumper was included as part of the group show Rik Wouters and the Private Utopia, (Mode Museum, Antwerp, 2016), the overall installation was intended to resemble a teenage bedroom. The jumper was housed within a glass frame (as is the version in the Boswell Collection), bringing with it connotations of sports bars and domestic display, and was also signed by the artists to further emulate autographed sports memorabilia, the mark of authenticity that raises the mundane and average to a position of covetable value, appealing to the instincts of adult collectors just as Panini football stickers are attractive to children. 

The artists chose to frame these works for practical reasons, to aid conservation and maintain some degree of control over how the work is presented, the nature of display being a core research interest of the partnership.  In the context of fine art, the signature carries its own mark of authorial fidelity, unsigned works routinely being the subject of curatorial investigations and contested provenance. In this case, the lack of signature reflects what Lipscombe refers to as ‘tiny tweaks’ that Atelier E.B employ to tip the finely balanced references within their work one way or another. [v]

Likewise, Dalglish Jumper encapsulates a feminist challenge to the balance of power within a male dominated society. Sly humour mocks the man’s football strip by replacing shorts with frilly knickers, while what undermines masculinity flatters the female body in both form and sensuous material. Although the top is not designed to be worn on the pitch it maintains the utility of sportswear off the field, just as gymwear is as likely to be seen in the home or street as in a yoga class. Women’s reassigning of masculine clothing through stylistic appropriation is part of an evolving expansion of women into the male realm. Atelier E.B recognise this process of assimilation as an opportunity to lift the bonnet of fashion and examine the machinery beneath, to rejoice in process and detail, to pivot between sleek exteriors and intelligent interiors, the attractive and the hidden, and produce clothing and accessories that women want to wear. Through their process of interrogation of histories, techniques and gender politics, a set of propositions emerge in material form. It is the artists’ flexible, non-didactic approach that allows their audiences/customers to engage with the work at any level, whether a magazine reader, retail shopper, or a museum visitor, a feminist inclusivity that spans the perceived gap between art, fashion and sport – knitters, knickers and kickers.  As the character of Susan (Clare Grogan), Gregory’s eventual date at the end of the film explains, ‘It’s just the way girls work. They help each other out.’

[i] https://www.ateliereb.com/about-atelier-e-b/ [accessed 19 October 2020]

[ii] See Laura Gardner, ‘Social Fabric / Atelier E.B.’ Flash Art Online, 17 January 2017 https://flash—art.com/2017/01/social-fabric-atelier-e-b/ [accessed 19 October 2020]

[iii] Lucy McKenzie, ‘How do you know it’s a costume?’ https://www.ateliereb.com/texts/how-do-you-know-its-a-costume/ [accessed 19 October 2020]

[iv] Ibid

[v] Beca Lipscombe in conversation with the author, 16 October 2020

Author Details:

Andrew Demetrius is Visual Resources Curator at the School of Art History, where he is also researching a PhD project, The Public Art of Glenrothes and David Harding.