2. Visual Research: Finding what you need

(You can download this video from Media Hopper Create.)

How do you find what you need when doing research?

Emma travelled around India extensively to find out how palm leaf manuscripts were made and watching people in situ actually making new manuscripts. However, there are not many courses available that you can attend to learn the skill yourself. She was lucky to find a course this year in the States, that teaches how palm manuscripts are produced, and also other information such as the how styles differ in different areas.

Emma would like to take her interest in palm bindings further, to look at more examples, and get a broader knowledge through looking at online resources.  

Tell us about a time when online images helped solve a challenge.

Emma worked on a collection of articles that been on the Discovery, the ship that Scott sailed to the Antarctic. One of the items was a programme of events for a sports day that they had organised on board. There was something unusual about the article that she had never seen before.

The article looked as if it was typewritten, but obviously a few copies had been made. Because she had to treat the article, she wanted to be sure that she would not damage it. So, it was necessary to do some research to find out what it was. This involved looking up other images that looked similar and trying to find out how it had been made.   

The article turned out to be a mimeograph, which was something she had not heard of before. She then went further in her research to find out how mimeographs had been treated in conservation before. It was really interesting to have to learn a new process.

How do you get started in your research?

When she was working on the mimeograph, Emma started her research on Google. The search gave her some images that she could work with in terms of identifying what the process was.

She then moved on to researching the treatment of the work on CoOL or Conservation Online, which is one of the largest resources for searching treatments and other peoples experience with working with conservation objects.  However, there are quite a lot of conservation resources online like ICON (her professional body), which is the institute of conservation. It has access to a number of libraries and digital online resources.

Do you use the University of Edinburgh image resources?

Emma has worked at the University of Edinburgh conservation department previously. When she was there she had the chance to see, first hand, many of the resources through in their collections. She has also been there to do some work specifically for the collection on the Robert Burns manuscripts. That was a great project to work on and the items actually came to the studio in Dundee.

Activity: Search Challenge

Emma has talked about some of the work she has been doing like working on the Burns project, and searching through the images collections at the University of Edinburgh for bindings.  

The first challenge is to find out more about Robert Burns and the time when he was alive. The aim is to find objects that might help give some kind of background into what was going on in the time in which he lived. You must find out what is available from the University of Edinburgh collections and select items for an exhibition.

The second challenge is to search for bindings and see what interesting examples you can find. There is a particular Gaelic book, a manuscript that has a very unusual leather binding. It is not tooled in the normal fashion, but is scored. You must try to find out where the style of binding came from and if the style was used in other Gaelic bindings of the time. When you have found the book you will have to extend your search into other collections that might have something similar that you can compare.

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