Toys and the Movement of Peoples: What The Museum of Childhood’s Collections Tell Us About Material Culture and Childhood?

On 14 March 2017, the Graduate Workshop was pleased to welcome Dr  Catriona Ellis of the University of Edinburgh whose recent research has examined how childhood was constructed or imagined in colonial South India in the 1920s and 1930. Since submitting her PhD in September 2016, Catriona has volunteered at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood. A departure from the more traditional primary sources of her thesis, the experience has provided a fascinating opportunity to engage with a completely different – and contested – form of material culture.

In her paper, Catriona looked principally at the Museum’s Indian collection.  She considered what toys might reveal about Indian children and how toys might also reflect the experiences of children visiting India.  What do they tell us about universal values of childhood? She illustrated her presentation with images of dolls, transparencies and an authentically Indian tak taki.  But in many ways, it was the physical presence of a more contemporary Indian Barbie doll which she had bought for her own daughter, which allowed  Catriona to illustrate just how contested a “toy” might be.  Do we see “Jasmine” through the eyes of the child or the adult?  Is the Barbie simply a reflection of what society dictates, or something which appeals directly to the child’s imagination?  Perhaps she  might become a vehicle for diverse kinds of nostalgia, connecting one generation with another, or providing a link with Empire? In a museum context, does the approach of a collector, or curator (a point picked up in the Question and Answer session), affect its representation and our perceptions?

The Museum, which was opened in 1955 by Councillor Patrick Murray (1908-1981), was one of the first of its kind.  There are a number of non-British toys referred to in the Catalogues, but, frustratingly, provenances are often not recorded. Unfortunately, Murray’s passion for toys was not matched with an assiduous eye for their classification. Toys of Empire, however, clearly provide an identifiable grouping within the Museum’s collection.  In 1987, Diana unnamed (4)Horne donated a pull along buffalo which her father had bought for her in India in the twilight days of Empire.  Forty years on, she described it as “a lovely souvenir of our colonial days”, the buffalo evoking a palpable sense of imperial nostalgia.    But a toy might have had a more didactic purpose.  Catriona showed us examples of transparencies dating back to the late 19th century which appear to represent Indians in stereotypical terms.  Arguably, they were produced to convey a certain cultural message to British children whether or not they lived in India.  The Tak taki ,on the other hand, was an example of a toy which Indian children would have enjoyed.  As it was pulled along, its wheel drove a beating drum, giving the toy its distinctive name.  Catriona showed us an image of an example, probably dating to the 1880s, which had been brought back to Scotland, and known in the donor family as Polly’s Indian or Chinese Toy:  a distinctly Indian toy, traditionally used by Indian children, but in this context a vehicle (literally perhaps) for a sense of imperial nostalgia.

unnamed (3)By virtue of its size and the evident zeal of its collector, the Lovett collection represents a significant part of of the Museum’s overall collection.  In the late 19th/early 20th century Edward Lovett (1852-1933), a London toy collector, amassed 670 dolls from all over the world.  Originally, they were sold to the Museum of Cardiff but in 1961 they were given on permanent loan to the Museum of Childhood.  Lovett’s interest lay principally in Japanese and Chinese dolls but his collection also contains several Indian, mostly, rag dolls.  Catriona argued that the Lovett dolls represent “a material representation of (Lovett’s) understanding of racial and cultural hierarchies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries”.  As a collector, Lovett openly played down the artistic significance of the dolls, and implicitly suggested that they revealed gradations of cultural sophistication.  But, in his later writings, he appeared to be alive to the enduring commonality of the toy, and the universality of play.  Catriona considered the seventeen dolls in the Lovett collection.  With one exception, they are relatively simple rag dolls but, as Catriona suggested, their simplicity might have provided greater scope for a child’s imagination.

Catriona finished with Pachisi, a 16th Century Indian Board game, which is said to haunnamed (2)ve originated in the Mughal Court of Fatepur Sikri.  This complex adult board game, played exclusively by the upper castes, was later appropriated and simplified by the British.  It was the forerunner of Ludo.  Catriona showed us an example of the original, acquired in the 1920s and used by the donor’s family until the 1970s.  The evolution and packaging of the game may well tell us more about the attitudes of adults than the play of children.

Toys occupy contested territory but provide a further dimension to our understanding of childhood. Collecting strategies add an extra later of complexity, delineating, even directing our perceptions of childhood.  This well attended presentation stimulated animated discussion.  We wish Catriona well with her continuing research at the Museum of Childhood and look forward to seeing her again at the Graduate Workshop.

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Our next Graduate Workshop will take place on Tuesday 4 April when Grant Collie of Massey University, New Zealand will be speaking on  “Emigrant Scottish Miners in the NZ Tunnelling Company: 1916-1919”

Grant tells the story  of 62 Scottish members of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company who emigrated to New Zealand in  1880-1914.  Previously, many had worked as miners in the central belt of Scotland. But who were they?  And what were the reasons for their emigration?

The Workshop will take place at 1 pm in G 16 of the William Robertson Wing of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology (Doorway 4).

Everyone is most welcome to attend.

Crisis, Migration and Precariousness: The New Galician Diaspora as a Case Study

unnamed (1)On 28 February 2017, we were delighted to welcome Dr Maria Alonso Alonso to the Diaspora Studies Graduate Workshop.  Maria obtained her PhD from the University of Vigo in 2014 and is currently based at the University of St Andrews where she holds a a Xunta de Galicia International Postdoctoral Fellowship.  Her work focusses on the Galician diaspora. She has published widely in academic journals; her output also includes short stories, poetry and a novel in the Galician Language.  Her most recent book entitled Transmigrantes Fillas de Precareidade (“Transmigrants , Daughters of Precariousness”), published by Axourere in 2017, challenges an over positive image of migration in order to highlight  the feelings of vulnerability experienced by her own, younger generation.  In a stimulating paper Maria, explored the interconnected themes of crisis, migration and precariousness.

Traditionally, Galicia has been a migrant community.  As Maria observed, it is difficult to find a family unaffected by migration.  In the 19th century, Castile was a popular destination for migrants; at the time of the Spanish Civil War, Latin America, notably Argentina and Uruguay, provided a popular draw.  More recently, it has been Europe.  Factors have included poverty, political instability and unemployment.  Statistics, eloquent of a social crisis, reveal how Spanish unemployment has soared since the beginning of the millennium, rising from 8% in 2006 to 26% in 2012. The trend is most pronounced in the younger generation.  In 2015, youth unemployment (representing the  under 25s) stood at 51%; in the same year graduate unemployment stood at 30%; in Germany the comparative figure was 3%. Over the past five years, over one million Spanish citizens have emigrated; a significant number have come to the UK.  In 2015, on the basis of Spanish Government figures, 45,000 Spanish nationals were formally registered as living in the UK; most were between the ages of 25 and 35, and approximately 20% Galician.

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Maria’s family like many others were affected by migration.  This photograph includes a number of family members including her mother, aunts and uncles, and grandparents

However, as Maria argued, it is important to recognise the presence of a push and pull factor. In the late 1990s, Galicia became a host country.  Spain, which was undergoing a period of political transition, became part of the Euro zone.  It opened its borders to foreign labourers including Africans, Europeans (particularly the Swiss and Germans) and first and second generation emigrants to Latin America (the so called retornados).  Many of the new immigrants were employed in the construction and service industries; at the same time many professional Galicians emigrated to north Europe and the USA.   In many respects, the boom proved transient as images of Castellon airport and Santiago de Compostela City of Culture testify.  As much as nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, nobody ever expected the Spanish Crisis.

The New Galician Diaspora is characterised by a sense of precariousness as the title of Maria’s recent book suggests.  The Galician Government has promoted an official narrative based on a sense of Sentimentality for the home country from abroad.  Thus Galicians, in the words of Helena Miguélez-Carballeira, “are a nostalgic people…. (who) live in harmonious communion with their landscape…yearning for its beauty”.  According to this received view, emigration is not as traumatic as it might seem.  In fact, emigration is the equivalent of success.  However, this rigid agenda blots out stories of precariousness.  New narratives have developed to challenge the official line. The  stereopytoes and metaphors commonly associated with Sentimentality have been analysed and challenged in the work of Carballeira.    Since 2015, a flurry of publications have provided a critique of Sentimentality. Eloy Domínguez Serén, although comparatively unknown within Galicia, has demonstrated on the basis of his own experiences, how feelings of alienation become important in the context of migration.  The concept of Saudade, almost untranslatable into English, captures the vital angst of living abroad. Manuel Forcadela goes further.  For Forcadela, Saudade is like a form of castration.

Somewhat surprisingly there is nobody currently working on Galician Studies at the University of Edinburgh.  Maria concluded by suggested that important comparisons might be drawn between her native Galicia and Scotland, i.e. as communities existing within hegemonic powers.

This well attended paper provoked interest and debate.  Maria’s scholarly approach was enhanced by the authority of personal experience.  We look forward to welcoming Maria at future graduate workshops and research seminars.

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Spring 2017 Graduate Workshop Programme

We have now posted our spring 2017 Graduate Workshop programme. You can find full details of all five presentations on our programme page:

The  series  begins on Thursday 12 January 2017 at 1 pm in Room G16 in the William Robertson Wing, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, Old Medical School, Teviot Place (Doorway 4).

 Jennifer McCoy  of Federation University, Australia,will speak on:

Emigration: Scotland to Australia 1840 – 1870. Was the Effort Really Worthwhile?’

Everyone is most welcome to attend.

Franciszek Smuglewicz’s ‘James Byres of Tonley and his family’: A Scottish Antiquarian Network in Eighteenth-Century Rome: 29th November 2016

A Paper Presented by Dr Lucinda Lax:

On 29th November 2019, the Diaspora Studies Graduate Workshop was delighted to welcome Dr Lucinda Lax, Senior Curator of 18th Century Collections at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.  Lucinda is a graduate of the University of York.  Her doctoral research focussed on Edward Penny (1714-1791), first Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy 1768-1782.  Since her appointment to the SNPG in January 2014, she has developed a particular interest in the Scottish Diaspora and recently curated the Gallery’s Scots in Italy exhibition.  Her paper considered Franciszek Smuglewicz’s painting of James Byres of Tonley and his family.

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In late 18th century Rome, James Byres of Tonley (1734-1817) was the foremost tour guide of his day, celebrated in equal measure for his knowledge of art, architecture and history. The Aberdeenshire born Byres was the antiquarian’s antiquarian.  In 1766, he even started work on pioneering research into Etruscan tombs.  Amongst his illustrious clients, he numbered Edward Gibbon, the Hon.  Charles Greville and the Fifth Duke of Devonshire.  For twenty-five years, following the death of the English antiquarian James Russel, Byres was the leading Cicerone of his day. But what was the secret of his success? How was he able to exploit social, political, and even sexual networks?  In this fascinating paper, Lucinda argued that it was Byres’s ability to manipulate these networks which made him as much Cicerone as art dealer and cultural intermediary.

Franciszek Smuglevicz, James Byres of Tonley and members of his family (About 1780)

https://www.nationalgalleries.org/portraitgallery

Smuglewicz’s group portrait provides valuable context.  It was painted in about 1776-78. Byres is shown standing on the left.  On his right hand side, her hand on his shoulder, stands his sister, the recently widowed Isabella Sandilands. In the centre of the group are Byres’ parents: Patrick, standing to the left, cane in hand, and seated on the right,his bonneted wife Jane, whose upwards gaze is directed towards her son.  Patrick Byres was one of a number of Jacobite Scots who had fled to the continent after the failure of the 1745 Jacobite rising, which culminated in Culloden.  On the extreme right of the painting, James Byres’ business associate Charles Norton, looks on.  The inclusion in the picture of a non-family member may suggest a quasi-family relationship.  The backdrop to the painting is important:  a bust “not entirely unlike Charles Edward (Stuart)” sits in an alcove on the right hand side.  On the left, a sculptural representation of Ganymede looks down between father and son. The presence of several King Charles spaniels, rather than the more traditional Italian greyhound (often found in pictures of this type and period) may also be significant. Jacobitism, as Lucinda argued, re-enforces our understanding of the painting.  A second version of the portrait now in a private collection, provides a further insight into context.  Janet Byres sits pontifically enthroned, as it were, in the centre of the group whilst Saint Peter’s Basilica provides a conspicuous backdrop.

The prominence of Saint Peter’s may be significant. It is probable that the young James Byres converted to Catholicism during his time in Rome.  He arrived a Presbyterian but quickly came within the orbit of Andrew Lumisden, private secretary to James Francis Stuart.  Lumisden was well placed to assist fellow Scots.  Byres’s conversion to Catholicism would undoubtedly have reinforced Byres’s standing in the Jacobite community. The Lumisden circle included Colin Morison with whom Byres shared a house in the Strada Paolina.  With the death of James Russel in 1763, both Byres and Morison were well placed to fill the place vacated by Russel.  Their Jacobite connections gave them a crucial advantage over their English rivals.  A further key to Byres’ success was his manner.  Byres considered his clients not as his social superiors but as his equals.

There is another important clue in Smuglewicz’s’ picture.  Byres holds a copy of J. Rocque’s 1750 Map of Rome.  A closer examination reveals that Byres is pointing at the Mausoleum of Augustus (numbered 8 on the Map).  As Lucinda suggested, this appears to be an explicit reference to Byres’s profession as both Cicerone and antiquarian. It also highlights his particular interest in architecture.  Byres had originally trained with the German Bohemian Painter, Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) but, whilst remaining on cordial terms with Mengs, he abandoned his studies and turned to architecture.  In 1762, he won third prize in an architectural competition and six years later was elected to the Academia San Luca.  Byres was a highly skilled architectural draughtsman.

Whilst he may have achieved modest architectural success, Byres developed a further – lucrative – sideline to his Cicerone business.  He became an art dealer and consultant on antiques.  The cultivated young tourists, with whom Byres came in contact, represented opportunities for gain.  Byres became a broker for Pompeo Batoni, amongst others.  His dealing activities including handling the Portland Vase.  As Lucinda argued, the presence of the non-family member, Charles Norton, in the Smuglewicz painting becomes even more significant.  Norton had trained as an artist at the St Martins Lane academy. He effectively acted as Byres’s fixer and enforcer.  Moreover, he shared the Strada Paolina residence with Byres and Morison.

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Lucinda revealed James Byres as a multi-faceted character who had access to a number of important networks in late 18th century Rome and knew how to use them.  Her excellent talk provoked questions and generated animated discussion.  The complex world of James Byres of Tonley provides fertile ground for further research.

Happy New Semester!

Hello and happy new year,

As well as the graduate seminar series, the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies hosts a lecture series throughout the year. Please see the website for more information.

The first lecture of semester two will take place on Wednesday 14th January and will be Dr Hugh Morrison speaking on notions of Scottish cultural identity in missionary families in New Zealand.

We hope to see you at some of the SCDS events this semester – the first graduate seminar will be on Tuesday 20th January at 1pm.

Next semester, we have more…

Hello,

We are very happy to announce the University of Edinburgh diaspora studies graduate seminar series programme for Spring 2015.

20th January: Sophie Cooper (University of Edinburgh), ‘Contested identities: The Irish diaspora in Victorian Melbourne’

3rd February: Sean Murphy (St Andrews), ‘Verbal tartanry: Lowland language and the associational culture of the Scottish diaspora’

3rd March: Sarah Arens (University of Edinburgh), ‘Decolonising the Atomium: Diasporic writing in Brussels’

17th March: Kimberley Sherman (St Andrews), ‘A family affair: Kinship networks and Scottish emigration in colonial North Carolina’

31st March: Jerome Devitt (Trinity College Dublin), ‘Fenian footprint: Revolutionary Irish Nationalism and Victorian Bermuda’

The seminars will take place every other Tuesday between 1 and 2pm. They will be held in room G16, which is on the ground floor of the William Robertson Wing, Doorway 4, Old Medical School, University of Edinburgh, Teviot Place, Edinburgh.

All are welcome – especially fellow PhD candidates and ECRs.

This seminar series takes place with the support of the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies at the University of Edinburgh.