Jenny Brown - Jeanie Daniel’s Autograph Book

Podcast Transcript

Jeanie Daniel's Autograph Book

The object I have chosen to talk about is Jeanie Daniel's Autograph Book, which is a tiny object but it's really powerful. It's a small autograph book and it's inscribed in the front page by Jeanie Daniel who lived on Leslie Terrace. And it starts off in a really traditional way for that kind of period of the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century. Her friends have written little rhymes, mottos, and things like that, and drawn little pictures. But later on, as we hit 1914, Jeanie is obviously working at Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen, which at this period is a military hospital for recuperating soldiers who've been returned from the Front and very often these guys would probably have lost limbs or they'd be very seriously injured to be returning to this part of the world. And the autograph book starts filling with signatures of soldiers. Some of them are drawing the most exquisite pictures and they are writing poems and I think what's so powerful about it is that some of them are writing what we would now think of as First World War poetry, but to them it's obviously very, very fresh. What they have just come from is the Front. So it's really interesting to see them using this poetry which we now think of as very commonplace. But they're also still doing very traditional mottos and rhymes and making light of their situation, which I think is a really wonderful contrast. These guys are probably stuck in their beds for a large part of the day recuperating, particularly if they've lost limbs or they've had very serious injuries, so perhaps Jeanie is nursing them and this is part of how they passed their days, they spend some time doing a beautiful watercolour on one of her pages. It's such a powerful object for me because it really is one of those objects where you hold it in your hand and you just think, oh my god, this is a hundred years old, and this is what these people were actually doing and thinking and feeling and it's really wonderful in that sense. And it's something we've worked with before in the past with school groups to try and talk to them about the experience of the First World War and we did a fantastic project with the Gordon Highlanders Museum where they learnt about life in the trenches, but then we sort of talked about, if you are far from home, and very often these guys would have been from anywhere, you're far from home, you're sick, what are you thinking about, who do you care about, who do you miss? And it was a really excellent project from my point of view because I think sometimes, as a curator, it's important to have those other perspectives. And particularly I think with school kids, they often come back with something you've never thought of and it was a brilliant project from that point of view.