‘Behind the Tartan Curtain’: Edwin Morgan in the University of Glasgow Archive

Blog post contributed by Catriona Perry, Graduate Trainee, Archives &Special Collections

Edwin Morgan (1920-2010) was Glasgow’s first Poet Laureate and Scotland’s first National Poet (The Scots Makar), and had a long association with the University of Glasgow. To mark the centenary year of Morgan’s birth, we decided to trace him through the University Archive, as a student, tutor and contributor to campus publications.

GB 247 MS Morgan C/10

Edwin Morgan first arrived at the University of Glasgow in 1937, beginning an association that would last until his death in 2010.

As a Graduate Trainee at the University of Glasgow Archive Services, I am often tasked with tracking down a person in our collections. This might be in one of our many collections of business records or in our student records, which include both the University and the colleges that have been subsumed into what we now know as the University of Glasgow. You can find more about our student records here.

A search for Edwin Morgan in the Archive, then, begins like any other. As a man of some fame, we know the date that he graduated. His graduate schedule is easy to find, and contains details of the classes he took, and when. 

GB 248 ACCN 1906/110

As his studies were interrupted by the Second World War, his years of study are important for helping us trace where else we may find his records.

We can find his matriculation forms, completed in his own hand, for the years in which he studied. I found the change in handwriting interesting here, from the precise schoolboy to the more feverish writer. The script on the latter script is more recognisable from his drafts of poems (see third image below).

His graduate schedule tells us that he won the Bradley medal for English, but I decided to check the database of prize-winning essays. Edwin Morgan won two further University prizes. There were a small number of University-wide prizes that were offered each year, with a different title. Eddie (as he was known by some) won for two very different topics: one a poem on the subject of Mount Everest, and one an essay on ‘The Use of Words’.

We also know that he wrote for the Glasgow University Magazine and I spent an afternoon tucked away on the 3rd floor repository, poring over magazines from 1937 onwards. Eddie wrote under the pseudonym ‘Kaa’ (the name of the wise snake in The Jungle Book).

What became interesting the further forward I looked, was the amount of content that there was under his own name, once he became a member of staff, and especially once he became an established poet. Eddie used GUM as a place to test out his work, and to share it with one of his greatest audience: his students. There are excerpts from later, larger works; new translations. There are even original poems found in The College Courant, an alumni magazine.

If we weren’t already convinced of his creative and intellectual capacities, we would be pretty impressed.

Eddie joined the University as a member of staff in October 1947, having graduated in the summer of that year. He had the offer of a place at Oxford, but either his time away or his attachment to the city persuaded him to stay, and he became an assistant in the English department. 

GB 248 C1/1/54

In the Court Minutes, we find mentions of promotions, and sometimes permissions to take leave, for tours of foreign countries.

GB 248 C1/1/73

Both as a student and as a member of staff, Eddie contributed to life at the University of Glasgow, which is one of the reasons we can find so many references to him and his work in the University Archive. These records help us to draw links with his own collection of personal papers (MS Morgan), gifted to the University, creating a fuller image of his life.

Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Reflections


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