Student Object Highlight – WWI Medals

Student curator of our current exhibition ‘The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life’, Sebastien tells us about his favourite objects in the exhibition and why he finds them so fascinating:

ABDUA 10327 - Medals.jpg‘These four objects are part of a collection of First World War medals awarded to Charles Luther Gordon, a 2185 Private Gordon highlander soldier. Private Gordon served in 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders and later joined the regiment in Accrington, Lancashire. These medals include the 1914-15 Star, a British War Medal 1914-20, a Victory Medal 1914-18, and a ‘Dead man’s penny’ for a soldier killed in action on 2nd March 1916.

ABDUA 10327 - Dead Man's Penny.jpgI chose these objects as I wanted to research something a little different from the objects that highlight home-life in North East Scotland which make up a large amount of the exhibition. While these objects represent an integral part of the history of North East Scotland, I feel the medals are equally as important. The Gordon Highlanders were an integral part of the British Army since the Napoleonic Wars in 1794, under Duke Gordon’s tutelage. In my opinion, these medals are a very important to exploring north East Scotland’s importance as a region in a wider context.

I found the link of these medals to the novel Sunset Song particularly interesting as well. For example the 1914-15 Star is used to represent Chae Strachan and his excitement when the war began, resulting in his early departure to the Western front. This early period also represent’s Chae’s brief exposure to the traumatic experiences of war and how this completely changed his personality, frequently questioning the Kinraddie community’s behaviour and wrongdoing. Moreover ,the British War Medal and Victory Medal could both represent Long Rob and Chae for participating in the First World War itself. Finally, the Dead Man’s Penny represents Long Rob and Chae’s commemoration of their brave deaths.

Thanks you for reading and stay tuned for more discoveries at the exhibition, hope to see you there!’

Written by Sebastien Raybaud, Student Curator



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‘The Land Endures’ Review

With the opening of our latest student exhibition ‘The Land Endures: Bringing sunset Song to Life’, Andy Hall, a director of the Grassic Gibbon Centre tells us what he thought of the student’s efforts.

ggb 8As a director of the Grassic Gibbon Centre in Arbuthnott, I was delighted to attend the opening of the exhibition “The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life” at King’s Museum, Old Aberdeen Town House. I was particularly impressed by the imitativeness of the presentation of the exhibits, the meticulousness of the display and the rigour of the research behind the project. 

Most, if not all, of the students hadn’t read Sunset Song before this project but had become very knowledgeable and had a clear understanding of the essential relationships between the characters, their community and the landscape of the Mearns. The work of these young people from all over the world has made a valuable contribution to the appreciation of Sunset Song and to perpetuating the memory of James Leslie Mitchell. 

Sunset Song for webThe exhibition remains open until the 30th of November 2016. For those people with an interest in Scottish literature or in the social history of Scotland, an hour would be very well spent appreciating the efforts of these talented young people in the appropriately historic and characterful surroundings of Old Aberdeen.”

Come along to see the exhibition for yourself in King’s Museum, The Old Townhouse, Aberdeen.

Opening hours Tuesday-Saturday 11.30am – 4.30pm

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Museum Students Visit to the Grassic Gibbon Centre

With the opening of their new exhibition today, one of our Museum Studies students tells us about the class trip to the Grassic Gibbon Centre in order to find out more about the theme of their exhibition, Sunset Song:

‘In preparation for the new student curated exhibition The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life the team took a daytrip to Arbuthnott to visit the Grassic Gibbon Centre in order to gain a deeper understanding of Lewis Grassic Gibbon as a person and what inspired him to write his iconic Sunset Song.

ggb 4The exhibition space of the centre tells the life of the author, describing the most important events of his life through the use of original objects and items from the period. Among the many facts that we discovered on our trip what we found particularly interesting was that although Lewis Grassic Gibbon was his pen name, his real name was Jamie Leslie Mitchell and published 18 novels and short stories, an impressive feat for a man of only 34!

ggb 6After visiting the centre, we visited a rural church nearby in which a grave is set in the memory of Lewis Grassic Gibbon. This gave us the chance to explore one of the local settings used in the film adaptation of Sunset Song (2015) by Terence Davies, which was partly shot in Aberdeenshire.

Thanks to the sunny weather the countryside of the North East appeared hard and astonishing at the same time, with a breathless combination of warm and cold tones. Seeing this amazing countryside was a great opportunity for an adventure for the team and has inspired us even more in our mission to bring Sunset Song to life.

The team strongly recommend a visit to the Grassic Gibbon Centre for the accuracy of the exhibition space and the friendly staff!’

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The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life will be open in King’s Museum from 7 June – 30 November 2016. Opening Times Tuesday – Saturday 11.30am – 4.30pm.

Written by Museum Studies Student, Marianna D’Onofrio



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World’s first whole body MRI scanner now on display in Univeristy of Aberdeen

The world’s first whole-body MRI scanner – the Mark 1 – has just been put on display in the Suttie Arts Space in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) was developed in the late 1970s by a University of Aberdeen team. The revolutionary technology allowed the team to analyse an entire body – inside and out – in what was a medical first. MRI is considered to be a safer diagnostic tool than X-rays and is more suitable for soft tissue, building up a picture of the human body by using high frequency radio signals.


Mark 1 with Professor Jim Hutchison and Dr Meg Hutchison. Meg is now and Honorary Curatorial Assistant with the University Museums carrying out research and documentation of Scottish prehistoric human skeletal material.

On its first use in 1980, this machine obtained the first clinically useful MRI image of a patient’s internal tissues. Although initially an experimental machine, it was then also used by Aberdeen Royal infirmary, scanning more than 1000 patients as well as being used for further research. The technology is now in use throughout the world as a staple of medical diagnosis and study.


Mark 1 has now been acquired by University Museums, and is on display in the Suttie Arts Space thanks to the Grampian Hospitals Art Trust, who have also commissioned filmmaker Rob Page to create a documentary film of the people involved in the making of the Mark 1 and also those who now work in the modern day service of MRI imaging.


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A Student’s Night at the Museum

Museum Studies student, Jen tells us about her role in our recent Night at the Museum event:

IMG_1577.JPG‘The University of Aberdeen Museums latest event, Night at the Museum – Animal Armoury was a very fun-filled night. As a Museum Studies student it was part of my studies to develop some crafts and activities for the night. With the idea of camouflage in mind we developed a Jungle in 90 High Street event space to set the scene for object handling and many more fun activities we had planned!

jen blog 2Many of us spent a lot of time over the past few weeks preparing the jungle so we were so happy that the night was a success and so many visitors came to the jungle to get involved. They had a great time trying to spot the camouflaged animals in our interactive game on display and match the weapons with the animals that inspired their creation.

The opportunity to hold ancient weapons (and some ancient animals) from the Museum’s collections was very popular; visitors had the chance to handle and model a 19th century shield from Burma, a sawfish rostrum and an antelope’s skull so that they could learn more about weaponry and how animals have inspired them.

jen blog 1This large family even was very popular and enjoyable for all ages, getting the opportunity to see the museums at night and get involved in the activities on offer was great fun even as a volunteer, I will definitely be coming to the next one!’

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East European Performance Art in Scotland: the Legacy of Richard Demarco

Branko 1The exhibition currently on view in the MacRobert building at the University of Aberdeen, “East European Performance Art in Scotland: the Legacy of Richard Demarco” attempts to display the impossible: it attempts to display the relationships among colleagues and artists across Scotland, the UK and Europe over the past several decades.

The exhibition came about as an effort to explore the phenomenon of documenting performance art, to create a red thread through events related to performance art that took place in Aberdeen throughout the academic year 2015-2016. In October 2015, two performances occurred at the University of Aberdeen in the context of the conference “Performance Art East, Northeast, West.” Those performances were documented by local photographer Blazej Marczak, with the am of exhibiting them later in the year.

IMG_4308I see many parallels between my curatorial practice and that of Richard Demarco, a Scot of Italian origin (based in Edinburgh) who was the first to invite pioneering artists from Europe to Scotland and the UK. Long before I arrived in the UK (I am originally from the US), Demarco invited many of the artists that I currently research, in my work on performance art, to perform and exhibit in the UK. In addition to conducting research and organizing performances and exhibition, I am also attempting to build and foster relationships between artists and arts practitioners in Europe with the hopes of bringing them to, or showcasing their work in, the UK. While Edinburgh and Glasgow are the usual destinations for artists, I think it is important to recognize that art is something that is happening and can happen in many places – including Aberdeen. Demarco felt similarly, and invited artists to perform not only in Edinburgh, but in Aberdeen and across Scotland, even in the Highlands.

The exhibition is a collaboration between numerous individuals— between myself and Demarco, as it includes photographs from his archive—which he considers a gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art—that document the relationships that he fomented. It is also a collaboration with my three PhD students, Mariya Lanko, who helped curate the exhibition, and Jasmina Zaloznik and Denisa Tomkova, who assisted with the installation as well as providing creative insight and ideas. It is a collaboration with two artists from Eastern Europe, Bozidar Jurjevic, from Croatia, and Branko Miliskovic, from Serbia, who performed in Aberdeen in October 2015. It is also a collaboration between those two artists and the works of art in the University Collections, as their performances either interacted with or took place in the context of works from the collections, for example, Evolutionary Loop 517 and H.A. Crawford’s Let the Dialogue Continue. It is a collaboration between those artists, myself, and a local photographer, Blazej Marczak, who not only photographed the performances, but came up with the idea for the display of the canvas in the exhibition, and the passport photograph. Finally, it is a collaboration with faculty and staff across the University of Aberdeen, from Estates and Museums to Human Resources and Finance, to facilitate all of the travel and events—and this invisible labour should not be overlooked.

Anyone who has met Demarco knows that he, too, constantly endeavours to capture the fleeting traces of meetings, relationships and connections in photographs and text. Long before the camera phone or the selfie, Demarco was snapping photos of everyone he met, and of those he introduced. To this day, he wears a camera around his neck, ready to capture any moment. He also carries his trusty blue notebook, in which he will ask you to leave your name, contact details and comments – it is an important record of conversations and interactions that have taken place throughout the years, all in the circle of Richard Demarco.

The photographs and displays in “Eastern European Performance Art in Scotland: the Legacy of Richard Demarco” are a vain attempt to capture that which cannot be captured – precisely those relationships and connections that make art possible. These relationships involve much that is invisible: trust, good will, love, kindness, joy, interest, desire, and more. If even some small portion of the positive energy and love that has been exchanged over the last several months, let alone years, has been conveyed through this exhibition, then I will consider it to have been successful.

Tweet about your experience with the exhibition at #DemarcoEast

East European Performance Art in Scotland: The Legacy of Richard Demarco
Gallery Opening Hours: 
27th April – 27th September 2016, 9.00am – 5.00pm Monday to Friday

Special event: A Conversation with Richard Demarco, followed by a drinks reception and official opening of the exhibition in the MacRobert gallery at 7:30pm

Wednesday, 25 May 6:00pm, King’s College Conference Centre

The event on 25 May is free, but booking is required:

Written by  Dr. Amy Bryzgel, University of Aberdeen

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MLitt Object Selection and Research Team

Our MLitt Museum Studies students responsible for object selection and research tell us about their role in creating the newest exhibition to go on display in King’s Museum:

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Marischal College, Aberdeen

‘As responsible for object selection and research, we have the task of choosing objects for the exhibition and working out how they link to our theme. Although this can be difficult, it does mean that we are able to explore the fantastic stores of the Museum Collections Centre at Marischal College!

For us the process began with a lot of research. We were given the exhibition theme of Sunset Song, which gave us a broad starting point for our research; North East Scotland in the early 1900s.

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Exploring the collections

Farming life is clearly a prominent these in Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel and the University of Aberdeen Museums collections contain a great deal of agricultural artefacts amongst their collection of over 300,000 objects. We knew that we would be able to find items to fit this aspect of the novel, our bigger challenge was to find some which would reflect the rest of the book and give our exhibition a bit more depth and history.Once the team had decided upon the specific topics to be included in the exhibition our job became a lot easier! Social issues explored in the novel became a key part of our exhibition and this gave us a wide choice of possible objects that could be included. We were able to look specifically for artefacts that would fit in with these ideas and portray the exhibition’s story in the most interesting way.

Our search for objects mainly consisted of digging through boxes in the stores at Marischal, which was a lot more fun that we imagined as every box held new and exciting items! It was really interesting to have a first-hand look at the objects and then research them and think how they could be interpreted in informative and interesting ways.

Other than spending time in the stores, we also spent a large amount of time searching the Museum catalogue. This was an important tool as it gave us some information about the objects we had seen and allowed us to understand the objects some more. This resource if available to everyone and allows you to get access to the entire collection!


We had a great time searching for and selecting object for the exhibition and we hope that  you are excited to see the fantastic objects that we found! Come along from Tuesday 7th June 2016 in King’s Museum to see how we have interpreted some of these fascinating objects in our exhibition The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life.’

Written by Museum Studies Student Megan Fowler






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Orcadian Artefacts

Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark, University of York, tells us about some of his work on stone tools from Orkney:

ABDUA-14301_BattleAxe_smallThe prehistoric monuments of Orkney are well known, but the stone tools found on the archipelago have received far less attention. In order to redress the balance the Leverhulme Trust funded project ‘Working stone, making communities: technology and identity in prehistoric Orkney’, directed by Prof Mark Edmonds, University of York, has spent the last two years recording Mesolithic to Bronze Age Orcadian stone tools held in museum collections across Scotland.  This detailed analysis has allowed comprehensive descriptions of the full range of Orcadian flint and stone tools to be prepared, refining typologies, dating and our understanding of production techniques.

ABDUA-16221_PestleMaceheadUniversity of Aberdeen Museums hold a small number of Orcadian stone tools including a fine late Neolithic pestle macehead and an early Bronze Age battle-axe. The macehead is one of only 100 from Orkney and its strongly concave sides place it in a small group of ‘Orkney’ pestle forms; like most examples from Orkney this macehead is broken across its perforation. The battle-axe is one of only ten from the archipelago and like many it is superficially well finished, but closer inspection reveals that the perforation was not completed.  Photographic illustrations and 3D models of these tools have been prepared for a web resource on Orcadian stone tools that will be launched in early 2017.

The 3D models can be viewed on Sketchfab:

Battle Axe from Longhope

Pestle Macehead from Orkney

Witch Stone from Orkney



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A Student’s Night of Ice and Fire

One of our Museum Studies students tells us what she thought of the recent Museum Late: Ice and Fire:

IMG_2099The University of Aberdeen Museums recently hosted their first Museums Late: Fire and Ice, an evening event catering to the 18+ crowd. Hosted in the Zoology Building, this event wonderfully combined all the fun of a night at the museum with an adult evening out.



Guests were able to take part in all the activities which included animal handling, face painting, object handling, science experiments and more! So often, I find that at similar events we, as adults, are not able to participate in some of the activities. Either we allow children to do them first and never get a chance or we feel a bit awkward taking spaces away from the kids to play with animals or get our faces painted. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that we often do not get to partake in as many activities as we would like. This event was a wonderful chance to release our inner child and guiltlessly partake in all the activities provided, which I most certainly did.

Version 2The activities themselves were engaging and captured my attention for the majority of the evening. I greatly enjoyed animal handling where they had a great mix of the cute and cuddly as well as the scaly and slightly creepy. The science experiments in the foyer were fantastic and great fun to watch. The academic side such as the glacier and volcanoes talk was also good fun; presented in an accessible and engaging manner so as to not just educate, but entertain. The object handling also added to the usual museum experience as you were able to touch and experience museum pieces in more detail, from Inuit carvings to the core of another planet!

The ability to buy and drink alcohol at the event also added to the evening; themed hot and cold cocktails were a fun (and tasty) addition and I can’t forget the amazing food on offer from the outdoor barbecue!

As a student of the university, it was a great experience to be able to spend time at the university after hours without any academic stress. At the price of only £4 for students it was a very reasonable night out. As several of my friends and fellow students also attended, it was a wonderful opportunity to let our hair down and enjoy some museum related fun. All of us had a wonderful time and we all plan on attending the next event.


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Student Favourites

Lunchtime talksStudent volunteers help out all around the museums; welcoming visitors to exhibitions, cleaning and cataloguing objects, and volunteering at our events. As well as this societies such as the Malt Whisky Society and the Celtic Society have been teaming up with the museums to participate in show-and-tells of historic objects during their events.

Now, the students that work with the museum have helped us to create an exhibition including all of their favourite objects from the collections. All the objects were selected, researched and written about by the students.

ABDUA 1863President of the Celtic Society, Tasha Madigan, was immediately drawn to this Gaelic prayer book and states:

“It’s wee objects like this that keep us connected to our culture’s history and it was wonderful to learn the story behind this book.”

ABDUA inuit goggles_img02King’s Museum volunteer Jana Bielikova loves these Inuit snow Goggles, describing them as:

“a wonderfully creative and simple solution to the problem of being blinded by the sun.”


ABDUA beads_img01.jpgAnja Meyer, the President of the Malt Whisky Society chose to include these Pictish beads in the exhibition, remarking:

“I admire the skill necessary to create the beads. Having a look at when in history people made these just shows how easy it is for us to underestimate our ancestors.”

ABDUZ_10810_Sea MouseZoology Museum volunteer Brendan Latham chose to include this Sea mouse from the Dornoch Firth as he grew up on the Isle of Harris and was fascinated to discover that these creatures were around him and he never knew:

“When life is difficult, I derive immense satisfaction from considering that there are always marvellous creatures somewhere out there.”

The exhibition ‘Student Favourites’ will be on display in James Mackay Hall Art Space in King’s College until September 2016. Come along to see more objects selected and written about by our students!


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