(This video can be downloaded from Media Hopper Create.)
Fraser Parkinson is an administrator of three nostalgia based Facebook pages, Lost Edinburgh, Edinburgh Places and People, and Spirit of Leithers. The Facebook pages are essentially a hobby where he shares historical photographs, and provides narrative histories about them. He works as an Educational Manager during the day.
Norman Rodger is project and innovation manager for the university library, Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh. Part of his remit is to manage the digital imaging unit, in the main library.
Tell us about the ‘Spirit of Leithers’ project
The project is based on a set of photographs which were salvaged in Leith. They had had a very long journey. They had travelled to New Zealand and back again. In that time they were not taken care of in the best possible way.
The photographs date back to 1924 when there was a drive to gather evidence needed for improvement in the Leith harbour area. They record the conditions in Leith at this time, and show the conditions of the housing and the social conditions in which people were living. These are not posed photographs, but social records or ‘snaps’ by the photographer to try to capture the conditions of the housing, the streets and so on, with a view to improvement.
When Fraser discovered them he was keen to get them out to the people of Leith in particular, but also a wider audience, as he felt they were an important record of social history and a window into the past. When you look at these photographs you are basically looking into the day-to-day activities of ordinary people in the streets of Leith, which are now long gone.
How did the university get involved?
The university got involved a few years ago. They already had some photographs from a collection called the ‘Baldwin Brown’ collection and had been given the task of digitising the images. However, they did not know where the photographs were taken or who was in them. The university put the images on Facebook and eventually got into contact with Lost Edinburgh. Lost Edinburgh helped raise awareness about the photographs and, through community engagement, they helped to identify the locations.
The university maintained this initial contact with Lost Edinburgh, and it was through that relationship that Fraser was able to approach them with this new set of photographs from Leith, to see if they were able to do anything to restore and archive them.
Is it possible for any member of the public to approach the library with their resources?
The university library itself has limited resources to work on projects like this, so they would only get involved with a project like this if there was a valid reason. Part of the reason for working with this material was that it tied with the Geddes Collection, which is a collection of photographs taken in the city of Edinburgh at the same time. At that point Edinburgh and Leith were separate places. So, these photographs were of interest to the university because they complemented that collection and extended an already existing piece of research by the university.
A university is unlikely to take on any historical photographs or other artefacts, unless they complement other collections already owned and researched by the university.
Where are the original images now?
They original images are now within the University of Edinburgh archive and the digital images are within the University of Edinburgh Image Collections.
How many people get access to the images now?
It is difficult to estimate how many people have seen each image. However, a number of the images have been presented, alongside some narrative commentary, on the different Facebook pages Fraser administrates. The Lost Edinburgh page has around 150,000 followers, Spirit of Leithers has another 20, 000 and Edinburgh Places and People has around 25,000 followers. As well as the Facebook followings there have been a number of articles written about the story of these photographs, and their journey through time and across the world.
So, significant numbers of people have looked at the photographs, asked questions about them, and because they are now held at the University of Edinburgh, and have links with the university, people will accessed them there and researched them too.
Activity 1: Looking at old photographs to find the story
Do you have any old photographs, perhaps some that record your own family history? Perhaps you have an album of photographs that go back as far as the First World War. Perhaps your photographs are related to the Leith photographs in some way. Do you know the stories about each of the people or the places in the photographs? How would you gather their stories? Much of this will be forgotten if it is not recorded.
Looking closely at your photographs, see if there are any details that you can find, that will give you more information about the location, the event or the people who are featured. Are there other photographs in the album that may be connected? Can you identify the connections and begin to sketch out a story?
Activity 2: Visual blogging
Do you have an interest in any other images that might make a good subject for blogging? This may relate to a place, a particular group or community of people, a point in history, or the subject. It may even relate to the type of image, like lithographs, embroideries, watercolours or landscapes. Do you already know a lot about the subject, or are you keen to find out more?
Brainstorm to think of images that you would like to blog around. Write all your ideas down.
Find out more
- Lost Edinburgh Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/lostedinburgh/
- Edinburgh Places and People – https://www.facebook.com/Edinburgh-Places-and-People-1413937658905453/
- Spirit of Leither’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/The-Spirit-of-Leithers-333309933448600/
- The University of Edinburgh Images Collection Website – http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/
- The University of Edinburgh Centre for Research Collections – http://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/library-museum-gallery/crc