Textual Archaeology

One of the best parts of working as an RA on the Burns C21 project is the opportunity to engage in really thorough and sustained textual archaeology. The production of a modern edition demands a comprehensive revision of the field, which in an area as diverse and extensive as Burns studies is no inconsiderable task.

A recent assignment of mine has been to produce a full catalogue of materials related to George Thomson held in the National Library of Scotland. The library, of course, has a long history from the Faculty of Advocates’ collection, leading up to the creation of the NLS in 1925 and beyond; while the origins of Thomson’s project lie in the 1790s. Items relevant to Thomson have been accumulating, then, in sporadic accessions for well over two centuries, making this a relatively complicated task involving cross-referencing different historical indexes. Once the material has been located, there is a further stage of sifting through it, to differentiate sources which speak to Thomson’s song project among his other papers. A meticulous man who was in regular contact with a large number of correspondents, Thomson has left us a substantial record, much of which is held in the NLS, with other significant collections in the British Library and elsewhere. Getting a proper grasp on this material is a crucial step in delivering a contemporary interpretation of his collaboration with Burns for the Oxford edition.

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