An Ab Fab Addition to MUSA

In this blog post Matt Sheard, Learning and Access Curator at University of St Andrews, shares his experiences of creating a new hand held guide for MUSA: 

When I entered the museum profession one thing I never expected to have to do was teach Joanna Lumley the correct pronunciation of the word “mascle”. When I entered the museum profession I didn’t even know what a mascle was (it’s a heraldic term, in case you were wondering).  But that’s one of the slightly more surreal tasks that’s been involved in creating MUSA’s most recent addition – our new “Handy Guides”.

From St Andrew’s Day onwards all visitors will have the chance to borrow one of the guides free of charge and be shown around 600 years of history, innovation and student pranks by the former New Avenger and honorary graduate of the University.

The idea behind the guides, which were generously funded by a grant from Museums Galleries Scotland, is to bring life to the objects behind glass. No more will museums be considered dull and dusty!  The guide allows you to experience stained glass through music, ridiculous traditions though the eyes of those who took part and shows some of those who used and invented the items on display.  Our little handy helpers also include footage of the University’s more bizarre rituals, such as the May Dip, and of objects in use, including the birretum being used to cap graduands at graduation.

The new Handy Guides allow you to see objects that aren’t usually on display.
The new Handy Guides allow you to see objects that aren’t usually on display.

Joanna Lumley is joined on the headset by students, alumni and staff.  International Relations student Tom Emslie-Smith demonstrates the art of wearing a red gown, alumna Elaine Kilgour shares her memories of Raisin Weekend and lecturer Martin Milner describes some of the colourful characters who have taught biology, including a dancing professor with a great love of parrots.

You ask yourself a lot of questions when creating a guide like this.  ”What objects should we include?”, “Why does everyone think a ten minute section on Thomas Chalmers is a bad idea?”, “Will this project ever end?” and “How do  you pronounce ‘mascle’?”  were just a few of those I encountered.

St Andrew really enjoyed the guide.
St Andrew really enjoyed the guide.

The biggest worry, of course, was whether the British icon who would narrate the guide would like the script.  I’ll leave you with her words and let you decide:

“To be ‘capped’ by Sir Menzies Campbell at St Andrews with Gaudeamus Igitur ringing in the air is one thing: to be asked to record the commentary for the University’s excellent museum, MUSA, is another honour so great that I am still scarlet with pleasure.

“Because it was so beautifully written and prepared, I was able to record it in one take: and as I sat in the dark of a Soho recording studio I found myself yearning to be in the Museum, following my own instructions, as it were, unravelling the history of the marvels contained in every room and cabinet and case. One thing is sure: as soon as I possibly can, I shall visit what is now my alma mater, pick up a headset and dream my way through the treasures this ancient and glorious establishment guards for Scotland and for future generations.”

Why not pop down to MUSA and dream your way around with Joanna?


This post was originally published on the Museum Collections Blog

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