Thursday, 3 December 2009

Archive Staff Recommend: Scraps...

Within our archival collections are scrapbooks that contain mainly newspaper cuttings relating to the University and its predecessor institutions, and these are fairly complete from 1880 to about 1967, when the University of Dundee was established in its own right.

Apart from tracing the development of university education in Dundee and the various political struggles and manoeuvres between Dundee and St Andrews, the scrapbooks provide insights into the relationship between town and gown. The style of writing in the local newspapers sometimes suggests that the students were often a curious and sometimes exotic elite in a predominately working class city.

Many of the cuttings are reports on public lectures and talks given by the College professors and teachers. They sometimes provide verbatim accounts that even note where there was laughter or applause. Nineteenth century graduation ceremonies could be more rowdy than is generally believed – for example in March 1895 even the presiding officials were subject to constant good-natured banter from the students. One particularly poignant moment from this ceremony however was when 19 year old Dundonian Agnes Forbes Blackadder, the University’s first female graduate, was presented with her degree resulting in “particularly vigorous applause” and a spontaneous rendition of a rare verse from the “Gaudeamus” that refers to women.

There are other descriptions, often affectionate, of student events such as charities week. In 1923, for example, there was an article in the Courier about the “Woman Students’ Ambush,” in which it was reported that: "The fair Collegiates literally laid an ambush, and figures arrayed in flowing red gowns and becoming scholastic mortar-boards, darted hither and thither among the market crowd in the High Street...Many a stout and hearty farmer was held up by a gowned damsel, and the mute appeal of the collection box, together with the charms of the collector, were a combination which none could resist."

There was greater threat in the performance of some students who visited Dens Park on the final day of the appeal, and who "with flourishing revolvers reaped all that they could from the spectators." And, rather ominously, "That awesome assembly - the Ku Klux Klan - dressed in their robes of white, made a speciality throughout the day of raiding the tea rooms in the centre of town."

The change in attitudes, fashions and tastes over the decades can be traced in the volumes and in particular the struggle of women to be regarded as academic equals is well documented. This is in spite of the 1895 Agnes Blackadder graduation. A quarter of a century later and a Courier article was still wondering if women should be allowed to become doctors.

The scrapbooks are a rich historical resource that is yet to be full exploited, we find something new every time we look at them. Some are in poor condition and we are hoping to digitise them in the near future to ensure their survival. Readers are welcome to consult the others in our reading room.

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