World Congress of Scottish Literatures

Last Friday we were delighted to welcome delegates from the inaugural World Congress of Scottish Literatures, which took place at the University 2-5 July.


The wide scope of the conference meant some tricky decisions had to be made when it came to selecting items for display. We chose 20 items, dating from the 15th century through to the 21st. These included well-known ‘Scot Lit’ names – Robert Burns, Walter Scott, Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead – as well as highlighting lesser-known figures, including the poet and playwright Joan Ure and the novelist Jane Duncan.

The earliest items on display were a 15th century chronicle of Scotland, the ‘Liber Pluscardensis’; a list of Scottish ports and towns compiled for strategic purposes by Henry V’s ‘spy’; a stunning map of the world by Venetian cartographer Baptista Agnese and a Scots translation of Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ – ‘a maist excellent buke’ – by poet and Bishop of Dunkeld, Gavin Douglas.


Illuminated map on vellum c 1542 by Baptista Agnese. The British Isles are shown top centre. (MS Hunter 492)

For admirers of Robert Burns we had not only the first Kilmarnock and first Edinburgh editions of his ‘Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect’ (the latter including annotations and additional poems handwritten by Burns himself) but also his personal copy of Adam Smith’s famous work on political economy, ‘An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations’.

Burns Poems Page 66

Annotations by Robert Burns in the first Edinburgh edition of his poems

Also on display was the 17th century  Làmh-Sgrìobhainn MhicRath / ‘Fernaig Manuscript’, a collection of Gaelic verse compiled by clan chief Duncan Macrae of Inverinate, Kintail. Alongside this we showed Alastair Mac-Dhonuill, Ais-eiridh na Sean Chánoin Albannaich; no, An nuadh Oranaiche Gaidhealach [‘The resurrection of the ancient Scottish tongue; or, the new Highland songster’], the first printed collection of secular Gaelic verse, published in 1751.

MS Gen 85.1_titlepage

17th century Fernaig manuscript of Gaelic verse

19th century material included one of our many chapbooks; a recent acquisition (a notebook of Paisley-born poet and ornithologist Alexander Wilson) and a letter from Joanna Baillie – poet, playwright and niece of Dr William Hunter. If you’ve been in a class or meeting in the Level 12 seminar room, you might have seen her portrait on the wall there.


Letter from Joanna Baillie in which she writes about her friends Walter Scott and the poet Thomas Campbell.

Material from the 20th century included works by Hugh MacDiarmid, medical man O H Mavor (the playwright James Bridie) and Ure and Duncan mentioned above.


Programme for The Anatomist by James Bridie (1931 production)

From the later 20th century we showed some of Alasdair Gray’s notebooks for his groundbreaking novel ‘Lanark’ and examples of poems and translations from the papers of Edwin Morgan. We also took the opportunity to let people know about a forthcoming project to digitise one of Morgan’s scrapbooks and investigate issues of copyright and rights clearance.


Play by Liz Lochhead, programme from the Scottish Theatre Archive

The most recent material on show came from the Scottish Theatre Archive: represented by Tartuffe (in Scots) and Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, both by Liz Lochhead and Black Watch by the National Theatre of Scotland.

It was great to collaborate with colleagues in Critical Studies for this event. Fortunately the weather cleared for our guests to fully appreciate the view from the top of the Library….


View from Level 12

Categories: Special Collections

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  1. Exploring Special Collections | University of Glasgow Library

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