The Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway used to run from Newington to Brunstane to the east of Edinburgh. Opened in 1831, the line was built to bring coal in to the city. It started to carry passengers as well, and became very popular. It was known as the Innocent Railway because the trains were pulled by horses. It was quickly overtaken by steam-powered railways though, and closed to passengers in 1847. It stopped carrying goods in 1968, and reopened as a foot and cycle path in the 1980s. The Innocent Railway Tunnel runs for 517m under Holyrood Park and is popular with grafitti and street artists. The entire length of the tunnel is covered with tags, murals, and slogans, and some of it is political.
Stockholm’s Political Stickers
The final stop on my Scandinavian jaunt was Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. There was a General Election in Sweden on the 11th of September 2022, and when we were there in mid-August the city was covered in campaign posters. It was interesting to think about how ‘official’ political campaigns use the streets to convey messages compared to political stickers. What it really emphasised to me was the wide variety of ways in which public spaces and city streets are politicised.
Oslo’s Political Stickers
The next stop on my Scandinavian adventure in the summer of 2022 was Oslo, the capital of Norway. Founded in around 1000 A.D., the city is now the political and economic centre of Norway, as well as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Turns out that it is also very good for political stickers!
Malmö’s Political Stickers
Malmö is the third largest city in Sweden. Previously heavily industrialised, it struggled to adjust to post-industrialism, but it has been thriving since the completion of the Øresund Bridge, a combined railway/road bridge and tunnel that connects the southern Swedish city to Copenhagen, 16km away across the Øresund Straight. I went on a day trip to Malmö whilst staying in Copenhagen in the summer of 2022. All of the stickers featured here were found in that single day.
Copenhagen’s Political Stickers
In the summer of 2022, I went on a tour of Scandinavian cities with my sister, and of course I photographed all the political stickers I could find! Our first stop was Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. We paid a trip to the Museum of Danish Resistance, which documents resistance to the Nazi occupation of Denmark between 1940 and 1945. To say I was excited when I discovered they have a machine in their collections for printing stickers with resistance slogans is putting it mildly – I had no idea that political stickers went back that far!
I would like to apologise in advance for any dodgy translation, I did the best I could with the help of Google translate, but I’m sure there are some errors. I will correct them if they are brought to my attention.
Edinburgh’s Political Stickers at the Festival of Social Sciences
On the 28th of October I ran an event as part of the ESRC’s annual Festival of Social Sciences. It was called Edinburgh’s Political Stickers: Creativity, Resistance, and Public Space, and it involved a sticker-making workshop. Inspired by photos of stickers taken in Edinburgh and a playlist of protest songs attendees designed their own political stickers. Everyone kept the stickers they made, but I photographed them for my sticker archive. Here, in all of their radical glory, are the results:
Dumfries’ DIY Statue
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a statue made of you? Unfortunately most people will never know, either because they are not considered worthy of a statue, or because they’re the kind of thing that tends to happen after you die. Well, if you are ever in Dumfries in southern Scotland, you can experience it for yourself with the DIY statue!
Situated near the Devorgilla Bridge over the River Nith, the DIY statue looks at first glance like a large, empty plinth. Look a little closer however, and there is a pair of shoe prints embedded in the top in front of the words ‘DIY STATUE’ and ‘DUMFRIES LOCAL HERO’ carved near the top. I was in Dumfries this summer with my parents, and when we found the DIY Statue I just had to give it a try. A man who was walking past as I did this gave me a cheer and a round of applause, which was a moment that was simultaneously lovely and highly embarrassing. The whole thing got me thinking about the nature of statues in public space, why we put them up, and how we interact with them.
Most statues are ignored by most people most of the time. If we pass a statue frequently it tends to fade into the background, and we stop noticing it, if we ever did in the first place. There are occasions where statues become the centre of attention, however. For example, statues have played an important role in the UK’s recent ‘culture wars’, with debates raging about what do about statues of people whose legacies we are no longer proud of (rightly, I think!). Perhaps the most well-known example of this in Edinburgh is the statue of Henry Dundas on a 45m tall plinth in St Andrew Square. As Home Secretary, Dundas argued against the abolition of the slave trade. Statues like the DIY statue encourage people to interact them without commemorating highly problematic people.
Statues are a reflection of who society deems are important. As such, they also reflect society’s prejudices. One of my favourite facts about Edinburgh (not because I like it, but because it’s outrageous) is there are more statues of named animals in the city than there are of women. Recent research by Art UK has shown that just 2% of named statues in the UK represent people of colour. The DIY statue can be representative of all the people of Dumfries in a way that most conventional statues are not.
Another interesting question that the DIY statue raises is what kinds of acts make a person worthy of a statue. Most named statues are of people who did remarkable things in the fields of business, politics, sport, or culture. For example there is a large statue of Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet who lived in the town for a while, at the top of Dumfries High Street. Decisions about who ‘deserves’ a statue are not simple, uncontested things. As controversies surrounding some statues such as the Dundas memorial in Edinburgh demonstrate, these decisions can be argued against and even reversed. The DIY statue encourages us to think about the standards we use to define a ‘local hero’. Should it only be people who are rich and famous? Why can’t we recognise people who ‘just’ contribute to the local community? After everything that’s happened the last few years, I think we all deserve to be celebrated a little bit just for existing. Thanks to the DIY statue anyone who can climb onto the plinth (it isn’t particularly accessible) can be commemorated, even temporarily.
Even though they spend a lot of time being ignored by passersby and pooped on by birds, statues matter. The DIY statue may be just a fun piece of public art that encourages people to interact with public space, but I think it raises important questions about who we choose to commemorate and why. I haven’t been able to find out any information about the DIY statue, so if anyone knows when it was installed or whose idea it was, I would love to know!
Young People and Protest Exhibition at the National Justice Museum
On a recent trip south I wandered past the National Justice Museum in Nottingham and noticed that they had an exhibition on called ‘Young People and Protest’. I couldn’t resist going in to check it out, and I was pleasantly surprised. It is a small exhibition, but it does an excellent job of representing the concerns and interests of young people in an engaging and interactive way.
The National Justice Museum contains a Victorian courtroom, a Georgian gaol, and cells that date back to the Saxon era. You have to pay to visit these, but the museum also has some free exhibition spaces. The largest one of these, The Crime Gallery covers a broad range of themes including Protest, Riot and Terrorism. If I’m honest, this gallery was much more even-handed and critical than I thought it would be, encouraging visitors to think about what crime is, and who gets to decide what is (il)legal. This gallery contains a jukebox playing protest songs and a mural by local artist Neequay Dreph depicting local, national, and international protest events.
The Young People and Protest exhibition was co-produced with thousands of young people and is designed to continue to evolve and change as more people interact with it. It doesn’t contain many historic artifacts (exceptions include button badges donated or lent to the Museum, and a bludgeon used by protesters during the 1887 Bloody Sunday demonstration in Trafalgar Square). Instead, it features objects co-produced by young people and artists, including placards, a mural, and an ever-changing wall of images from social media. This has the impact of foregrounding the opinions of young people, which is quite uncommon for a museum exhibition.
The Gallery Guide is also worth checking out; it contains further information about the themes of the exhibition and highlights specific examples of recent protests that have been driven and shaped by young people, such as Black Lives Matter and the School Strike for Climate. It also hints at the huge variation of contexts for protest around the world, detailing the harsh treatment of young protesters in Tunisia, Belarus, Cuba, and Thailand. It may be becoming increasingly difficult to protest in the UK, but there are many other countries where the risks of protesting are even greater. Young people continue to accept those risks every day.
There are opportunities for visitors to interact with and respond to themes and issues raised by the exhibition, including altering newspaper headlines and answering the question ‘who has the privilege to protest?’ Sometimes these kinds of features can feel like an afterthought in museum exhibitions; either they are located right at the end of the exhibition, or the materials to take part have run out. This is not the case here – the activities are located in central spaces, and it feels like encouraging visitors to reflect on their own feelings and perspectives is a central goal.
The Young People and Protest exhibition demonstrates what can be achieved when museums adopt creative approaches and engage with the communities they are attempting to represent. It is vibrant, engaging, and centres the voices and priorities of young people. The exhibition is open until October 2022, and I highly recommend going to check it out if you’re in the East Midlands before then.
Turbulent Scots: Lady Agnes Campbell (~1526-in or after 1591)
Turbulent Scots is a series of posts about radical individuals from history who were either born in, or had an impact on, Scotland. Most of the Turbulent Scots I feature are women, because their contribution to history has so often been overlooked. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Scots posts are very welcome. Next up is Lady Agnes Campbell, a member of the aristocracy in the sixteenth century who was skilled at politics and negotiation.
We tend to think of aristocratic women in the early modern period as powerless pawns, to be married off for political or financial gain. There are several examples, however, that prove that the situation was not always that simple. Elizabeth I is perhaps the most famous, but I recently came across the story of another, Lady Agnes Campbell.
Agnes Campbell was born in around 1526, the second daughter and fifth child of Janet Gordon and Colin Campbell, the third Earl of Argyll. She was well educated at the Scottish court, learning to speak multiple languages. In 1545 she married James MacDonald of Dunyvaig and the Glens, chief of one of the branches of Clan Donald. Over the next twenty years she had five children. During this period there was a struggle between Irish, English, and sometimes Scottish aristocracy for control of Northern Ireland. The MacDonalds of Dunyvaig had started settling in Antrim, and sometimes worked with the local O’Neill clan against the English, but at other times their interests clashed dramatically. On 2nd May 1565 James and his brother Sorley Boy were defeated in battle and captured at Glenshesk in Ireland by Shane O’Neill. James died from his injuries in captivity in August. Shane was assassinated by the MacDonalds in 1567, and the relationship between Sorley Boy and Shane’s successor, Turlough Luineach O’Neill improved so much that on 5th August 1869 Agnes married Turlough.
Agnes took more than 1000 redshanks (Highland infantry mercenaries who fought for Irish chieftans) to Ulster when she got married. In 1570 and 1571, Agnes returned to Scotland to recruit more redshanks for her husband’s cause. The following year, Walter Devereux, the Earl of Essex, was providing military support to English colonists trying to settle in Ulster. In December Agnes left for Scotland, taking a large number of redshanks with her. The English hoped that Agnes’ marriage was collapsing, but actually she was swapping the men for fresh mercenaries. The Earl of Essex withdrew in 1575, after Agnes had negotiated significant land grants for Turlough. Agnes frequently acted as Turlough’s delegate in negotiations. This may have been because it provided him with distance from any agreements and allowed him to go back on his word if it became convenient later, but it was also widely acknowledged that Agnes was a skilled negotiator. Her support for Turlough was invaluable in driving away the Earl of Essex.
In November 1575, Agnes and Turlough met with Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland. Turlough offered to submit to Sidney’s authority in return for an Earldom, land grants, and recognition of Agnes’ sons claims to the Glens in Scotland (Sorley boy, Agnes’ former brother-in-law, also claimed the Glens). Despite Sidney demanding that Agnes stop bringing redshanks from Scotland to Ireland to fight for her husband, she continued to do so. The English believed she had significant influence over Turlough, and she was also seen as a powerful political force in her own right.
In September 1579, Turlough refused to negotiate with Elizabeth I’s representatives without his wife. Throughout the 1580s, Agnes continued to travel back and forth to Scotland to make sure that support for her husband remained strong. She also supported the interests of her sons; she negotiated land for them, and intervened in disputes. In March 1588 she traveled to Edinburgh to plead with James VI on her son’s behalf. She was back in Scotland in April 1590, but after that she disappears from the records.
The further back in time you go, the harder it is to find information about remarkable women. This is not because they didn’t exist, but because they weren’t considered worthy of being recorded. Lady Agnes Campbell was one such remarkable woman, and we do know a bit about her, probably because of her status as an aristocrat. She played a significant role in Irish resistance to English colonisation, she was a skilled negotiator, and a powerful political presence in her own right.
Sources and Further Reading
Barry, Judy. “Campbell, Lady Agnes. Last modified October 2009, accessed 17th May 2022. Available at https://doi.org/10.3318/dib.006945.v1
Undiscovered Scotland. “Lady Agnes Campbell.” No date, accessed 17th May 2022. Available at https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/c/agnescampbell.html
Walshe, Helen Coburn. “Campbell, Lady Agnes.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 3rd January 2008, accessed 17th May 2022. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/69172 [Subscription required to access].
Edinburgh’s Stickers: Ukraine
Since the Russian Army’s invasion of Ukraine on 24th February 2022, there has been an international outpouring of condemnation of Russia’s actions, and solidarity for the people of Ukraine. People have donated goods, time, and money to help those whose lives have been turned upside down by yet another senseless war. That solidarity has also found its way onto city streets in the form of ribbons, posters, and stickers, often using the blue and gold of the Ukrainian flag.