The Joys of Hindsight

One of the things I find most appealing about being a student is the access to resources, repositories, and archives that the job title bestows. It’s like a Top Secret Clearance badge that gives you many good opportunities (and some ancillary excuses) to delve into areas and institutions that not many people are allowed to investigate. In a resource-rich city like Edinburgh, being a student – or at least an independent researcher – is a wonderful thing, indeed.

Take this week’s excursion to the National Museum, for instance. They’ve got many-a-case filled with lovely, juicy historical artifacts to drool over. You name the period, they’ve got ‘em. Roman, Egyptian, African…SCOTTISH.

And, might I add, they also have a lovely café and roof terrace to examine the other rooftops of the city a bit more closely after you get *museum-head*.


But one well-placed e-mail with a request to more closely examine a few of their treasures, a blinding flash of my University ID card, and the appointment was made. An extremely helpful and kind facilitator gave a call into the National War Museum up in the Castle, and before I knew it, I had three days audience with the Order Books of Cholmondeley’s 34th Regiment of Foot and the Appin Stewart Regiment of the Jacobite Army. Does it get any better than this?

Every effort was made to make me comfortable, feeling well-taken care of, and happyhappyhappy. And I read every page of one book, and received a facsimile copy of the other to take home, so I may review it at my leisure. Maybe I was too excited…but this is the true meaning of pleasure, my friends.


There were a few interesting things uncovered in Cholmondeley’s. While I found it thrilling that the regiment had a problem with its men selling their stockings – an offence punishable by whipping – the best part of the reading for me was deciphering the ragged text. One would think that a unit of British Army regulars in 1746 would have had well-educated junior officers. I can now assure you this is not the case. Between the two Serjeants primarily responsible for transcribing orders, you can bet that it was no easy task to figure out what the hell they were on about. Adding their poor grammar and spelling to the archaic language of the 18th century, and it was indeed a chore at some points. Though I hung on certain words for nearly ten minutes trying to discern faded, curling letters within, when they finally hit me the enlightenment was that much more pleasing for the struggle.

I was graciously allowed to bring my camera in to snap some photos of pertinent sections, and while it would be wrong to violate the trust of the NMS by showing the text here without their permission, I feel that it would be acceptable to simply illustrate a couple of very interesting instances of penmanship without displaying the actual writing itself. If I get raided by the Kilted Docent Patrol, you’ll vouch for me, right?

The best part of this book is the human quality still extant within the pages. A Cheshire unit on campaign in the cold winter of Scotland. Young men marching and fighting on both sides, suffering great physical and emotional strain. Hanging and whipping always threatening disobedience. And yet both Serjeants, at different times, used the creamy, flat pages of their Regimental Order Book to practice their lettering. There would most likely be no other paper around, and this was as good a place as any. I find this utterly fascinating.



So imagine a world where you can walk through any old museum – let’s say in your favorite section, period, and context. You find a case filled with really cool things that you would love to look at, and touch, and understand. And then you point them out, and they put said artifacts in a room with you, and there you are. I wouldn’t mind doing this for the rest of my life…

Perpetual Studenthood. But isn’t that what we all want until we do it, and then the deadlines and the pressure make us wanna die?

12 Responses to “The Joys of Hindsight”

  1. 1oshminki Says:
    July 1st, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    i concur with studenthood being a fun goal but tiresome when you're there facing deadlines – however, studying abroad is indeed phenomenal
    i have been to edinborough many years ago (just a day after my current LJ photo was taken), it was wonderful. Have you gone on any of the late night ghost walks?

  2. FunkyPlaid Says:
    July 3rd, 2004 at 10:32 am

    You know, I've until now eschewed the ghost walks, as I'm quite sure that if one of those annoying little goths popped 'round a corner and tried to scare me, I'd instinctively pop 'im right in the nose.
    Wouldn't want to instill the timeless wrath of 'the ghosts', now. 🙂
    Honestly, I'll probably check out one of them before I leave. Nice city, eh?

  3. 1oshminki Says:
    July 4th, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    i wish i had spent more time there, we did a few days in Inverness and a few days in Edinborough back in 1998. However, the myriad late night walks that they offer are certainly interesting, most begin and end at the place of public execution.
    At any rate, enjoy the hospitality of the Scotts.

  4. zoo_music_girl Says:
    July 1st, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    I used to work in the Special Collections department at Glasgow University Library. I *loved* that job, shame the pay was absolutely terrible. I spent my whole day surrounded by fascinating books.

  5. FunkyPlaid Says:
    July 3rd, 2004 at 10:34 am

    Isn't that a stinker? All the best jobs in this vein are financially non-supportive. If only the dust betwixt the pages could be traded in for rent and VAT.

  6. seolta Says:
    July 1st, 2004 at 6:25 pm

    What a Joy!! To be able to touch and smell the things that thrill us when to do so is normally forbidden… sigh.
    I went to the museum not long after the new build opened. I wandered gazing and reading until i came across a wooden chest of some antiquity and of such beauty that, having been used to living in stately homes on holiday and freely wandering through the inner sanctuaries of my dad's churches, i instinctively touched the grain and lifted the lid. Of course i was at once admonished by the officous security guard who knew nothing of the care and admiration that i would have given the piece nor that i had entirely forgotten where i was to be so flouting the rules. Oh the shame!! And yet, a great injustice too 🙂

  7. FunkyPlaid Says:
    July 3rd, 2004 at 10:37 am

    Oh, yes! I couldn't agree more.
    Undoubtedly your reverence for such splendid artifacts rivals that of the docents and operators; there should be a scratch-n'-sniff exhibit at each installation.
    I hear the mummies would be especially good. 🙂

  8. kratkrat Says:
    July 1st, 2004 at 10:31 pm

    Adding their poor grammar and spelling to the archaic language of the 18th century, and it was indeed a chore at some points. Though I hung on certain words for nearly ten minutes trying to discern faded, curling letters within, when they finally hit me the enlightenment was that much more pleasing for the struggle.
    Man…. that is so amazingly wonderful!! Very, very cool.

  9. FunkyPlaid Says:
    July 3rd, 2004 at 10:38 am

    Sorry, I can't read your typing. You'll have to elucidate, you slob.

  10. spiffington Says:
    July 2nd, 2004 at 12:31 am

    perfect harmony
    The picture of your computer and that old, old book, happy to share the space together, is perfect…
    I love the idea of past and present, human and machine, coming together to make an exciting future 🙂

  11. FunkyPlaid Says:
    July 3rd, 2004 at 10:40 am

    Re: perfect harmony
    Yes, they do make a smashing couple, don't they?
    The funny thing was, when I stepped out of the office for a moment, there were some soft, mechanical groaning noises and the ruffling of ancient pages coming from just inside the doorway…

  12. spiffington Says:
    July 3rd, 2004 at 9:41 pm

    Re: perfect harmony
    … and the faint tune of a hairy choir close to your ear. 😉
    Imagine though, books and computers interbred. Wow. Now there's something that will never happen. Like horseless carriages, cos *sure* that's a reality 😉

Leave a Reply