Before moving to Scotland, I graduated with a BA in Art History and a Digital Publishing Masters in France. When the time came to find a work placement for my Publishing Masters in Edinburgh, my hard-earned confidence went out the door, and in came the dreaded Imposter Syndrome. Would I be considered a liability in the workplace due to English being my second language? Why would anyone trust me to proofread or let alone create any kind of content?
I needed to grasp the nettle and get myself out there. After getting my CV UK-ready, I was offered a golden opportunity: producing a digital exhibition by myself from start to finish. The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections is currently working with students on digital exhibition projects and I found myself a part of the programme. This work placement allowed me to build a bridge between my knowledge of art history and my newly acquired understanding of content creation. Through this exhibition, I combined my love of books and the Arts.
The University’s incunabula collection is a treasure trove full of richly decorated books. The one that caught my eye is a 1486 collection of Aesop’s Fables in Latin which features hand-painted woodcut illustrations. Curious by nature, I decided to immerse myself in the history of early printing and Aesop’s mysteries.
To say this journey into Antiquity was eventful would be an understatement. To begin with, I re-taught myself the discipline of Latin translation. Spending hours deciphering the second fable in the collection, ‘The Wolf and the Lamb’, I found myself wondering how many students around the world had probably been in the same position throughout the years. The research process turned out to be a memorable exploration of ancient literature and engineering history. To this day, we do not know if, in the 6th century B.C.E., there actually lived an author named Aesop any more than we can be certain that, about 3000 years ago, a man named Homer wrote the adventures of the king of Ithaca in the Odyssey. Following the threads woven by historians and philosophers, I travelled through time to get a sense of who this man might have been. Further down the line, I explored early printing methods and the history of bibliophilia and book collecting in the 15th century.
Then it was time to tell the story of this book. Transmitting expert knowledge in an accessible way was the real challenge of this project. I questioned every word I chose, tried to find synonyms for obscure scholarly terms, explained technical processes clearly and concisely. This work placement taught me how to write. Not for an academic or business purpose, but for a large and diverse audience. Here is where my publishing and editing skills came into play. I approached this exhibition as I would a book. Creating a flatplan, multiple design drafts, and trying to follow the house style I noticed emerging from other exhibitions published by the Centre for Research Collections. Each step of my creating process was influenced by my experience of book publishing.
From not being able to pinpoint who Aesop was, to using a limited online platform to put together the exhibition, this project did not come to life without its frustrations. Am I both terribly anxious and excited to share this exhibition with the world? Absolutely. However, I am proud of the work I accomplished. With the support of Bianca Packham, Engagement Officer at the Centre for Research Collections, I have researched topics I knew close to nothing about, learned how to use a CMS I had never heard of before, and told a story that became very close to my heart. In the exhibition, I chose to focus on ‘The Wolf and the Lamb’, a fable that, coincidentally, ends up resonating with current affairs. The morality goes like this: Tyrants need no excuse. Proof that words stay relevant through time and stories that were written centuries ago can still teach us a thing or two.
Aesop: Study of a 15th Century Incunabula will be published soon on https://exhibitions.ed.ac.uk/.
Many thanks to Bianca Packham for her patience and support and to Elizabeth Lawrence for her help in researching early printing history.