I am currently spending a few weeks north of the border, giving the Geddes-Harrower lectures in Aberdeen. I have to confess that (unlike a number of my colleagues) I have never been one to go weak at the knees at the mere thought of the banks and braes of Caledonia, etc etc . . . In fact, I am none too keen on the great outdoors, and have always been a little suspicious of the Scottish weather, the cult of tartan (et al) and all that whisky-buffery (the 'nice little island malt' stuff).
So Aberdeen has been a nice surprise. Not in terms of the weather, which is pretty dark and rainy. But I haven't come across a single piece of tartan. I have eaten my first pot of stovies (thanks, Chris and Liz). And even more important there have been some real intellectual discoveries and satisfying coincidences.
My lectures are on various forms of nineteenth-century engagement with classical archaeology, and I have been looking for Aberdonian connections to my usual themes.
These have come in abundance -- coincidentally and unexpectedly.
Start with Jane Harrison. She got here first degree (an honorary LLD) here in 1895 (fixed up, I guess, by her old friend William Ramsay); I am going to go along to the University Library and see what records they have about the discussions lying behind this.
Then there is the Alma-Tadema connection. I have been thinking in my lectures about the visual re-presentation of the classical world in the late nineteenth century. It was great to discover the connection of Alexander MacDonald (whose collection and benefaction lies behind the City Art Gallery) with Alma-Tadema. He commissioned a nice little piece called the "Garden Altar", as well as a neat self portrait. (How on earth is this great art-philanthropist NOT in the DNB?)
More surprisingly, though, I found out that one of the versions of Alma-Tadema's big "Vintage Festival" (at the bottom was on show here for two weeks in 1871, in a special exhibition at Hay and Lyall's, the local picture framers -- to considerable local excitement.
But, for me, the best discovery has been something a bit more arcane, I have long been interested in a woman called Amy Frances Yule, who compiled the 1884 edition of Murray's Handbook to Greece. Quite unlike the earlier and later editions, it extends to two volumes (no brilliant for a pocket guide). The reason for the length is that it includes as much on Byzantine Greece as on Classical (a radically female decision, I think).
She was the daughter of Henry Yule, the translator of Marco Polo. I knew that, after a time in Greece, she lived in Scotland. But I hadn't realised that she lived in Tarradale House, Ross-shire -- until 2005 a field-station of the University of Aberdeen.
I'm hoping they still have some of the stuff from the house.