February 20, 2014, by Mike Munro

Posters in Parliament

When third year Art History student Emma Hardiman first set eyes on Hubert the deer, little did she know that just a few short months later she would be invited to the House of Lords.

On Tuesday 25 February Emma will present at the Posters in Parliament event arranged by the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR).  Her poster summarises her final year research project which has seen her successfully transform deer skin in to vellum using traditional techniques.

Vellum typically refers to parchment derived from a variety of animal skins and was a popular material for medieval manuscripts.

From school dinners to medieval manuscripts

Emma’s project was inspired by the Art History in Schools project coordinated by Dr Gaby Neher from the University’s School of Humanities. Staff and students from the University visited a local school to raise awareness about fallow deer and their cultural importance. The session involved showing the children examples of medieval manuscripts before observing and participating in the preparing, skinning and butchering of a recently culled fallow stag.

The children were then asked to produce their own manuscripts and drawings about what they had learned while the deer also provided enough meat to put venison stew on the school dinner menu for two days.

Emma was tasked with digitally compiling the children’s drawings into a manuscript. “I really enjoyed trying to replicate the sense of humour and movement of medieval manuscripts that it made me think of how the manuscript would be perceived as an object.” she said. “I was interested in how the vellum was produced and if this affected the reception of these beautiful objects”.

The process of turning animal skin into vellum is little understood and in September last year, Emma embarked on the lengthy process with much excitement and a little trepidation. Over the course of 57 days, the skin was washed, immersed in lime solution, stretched and dried. The process threw up a number of challenges, including the skin developing mould, but Emma hadn’t banked on the risk of upsetting her neighbours.

‘I think most prominently [the challenge] was the smell. During the process the skin starts to break down and at its worst this was reported being smelled in the halls of residence across the road from where we were working’ she said.

At this stage, Emma has produced a number of sheets of vellum ready to be written on. Research has now begun into medieval ink in order to create as authentic a manuscript as possible.

Emma’s supervisor Dr Gaby Neher said: ‘The value of this experimental approach to learning about the past by making objects in authentic fashion has long been recognised, and Emma’s attempts at producing vellum have been a first for the School of Humanities.’

The BCUR promotes undergraduate research in all disciplines. A separate annual conference invites students to submit their papers, posters and performances to share their work with fellow students and academics. BCUR 2014 will be held at The University of Nottingham from 14—15 April.

Visit Emma’s blog to read more about her project.

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