Experts open up beguiling world of books

Edinburgh researchers have been working in partnership with the City’s Museum of Childhood to chart an enchanting journey through centuries of children’s books.

Growing Up With Books is a new exhibition that explores children’s literature through the Museum’s book collection, which dates from the early 16th century through to the 1950s. 

The exhibition has been developed over the past two years by Scotland’s Early Literature for Children Initiative (SELCIE) at the University and Museum staff.

Exploring literature

The project team reviewed more than 15,000 books, which have been donated to the Royal Mile museum since it was founded in 1955.

A dedicated team of researchers– including PhD students Morgan Boharski, Danielle Howarth, Joanna Witkowska, Lois Burke, and Niamh Keenan, with Katie Forrester, an artist-in-residence at Edinburgh College of Art – pored over the books to gain fresh insights into the stories children have been reading for over 300 years.

The books – on show for the first time – had previously been in storage at the Museum archives in the City Chambers.

Rare books

As well as many rare books the exhibition includes academics texts, encyclopaedias, volumes of poetry, pop-up titles and handmade books.

The team found books featuring some well-known tales and much loved characters – including Peter Pan, Robinson Crusoe and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales.

They also made many new discoveries, including Gaelic fairy tales, and an early speaking toy children’s book that reproduces animal sounds.  

Much loved characters

While cataloguing the books researchers found messages scribbled in margins and souvenirs tucked away into book pages by previous owners, including pressed flowers and bus tickets.

The oldest book in the collection, Grammatica Philippi Melanthonis was written in 1554.

It carries the inscription – ‘David Peirson est huius codicis verus possessor’ which translates as ‘David Peirson is the true owner of this book.’

The researchers say the collection help charts the development of children’s literature overtime.

The collection is hugely significant for examining the development of children’s literature in Scotland, Britain and far beyond. It is a record of the variety of learning and educational experiences in past centuries.

Sarah DunniganSchool of Languages, Literatures and Cultures

The SELCIE initiative is a collaborative research project based in the University’s English Literature in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures.

This has been a wonderful opportunity to explore our book collection and reveal to our visitors the treasures that have been found. We have selected a fantastic range of books that will let visitors reminisce and also learn how children’s books have evolved and been used.

Lyn StevensMuseum of Childhood curator

The free exhibition runs until 9 December 2018.

It is accompanied by a series of workshops on storytelling, creative writing, and book illustration for children and adults.

Organisers are also providing an overview of the project in an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August.

Related links

Scotland’s Early Literature for Children Initiative (SELCIE) 

Museum of Childhood 

Book Festival event 

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