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What is the Centre for Research Collections (CRC)?
The Centre for Research Collections (CRC) based in the University of Edinburgh library and is situated in the main library on campus. It is the part of the library that holds Special Collections. It houses rare books, manuscripts, museum collections such as the musical instrument collection at St Cecilia’s Hall, the art collections, and Lothian Health Service Archive. It also houses the digital imaging unit, which consists of a specialist photography team. It is a very wide range of resources.
It has a real wealth of information. It is primarily for research, so people can come in to do serious academic research, but a lot of the resources are open to the public as well. The online resources are particularly accessible. Anyone can get access to them, and many can be downloaded for use from there. However, there is a lot of material that can be used freely. Some come with open permissions, but some are without.
What was the process to get the Leith images ready to view?
For the Leith images the process was fairly complicated because the images were in quite poor condition when the library got hold of them. Most of them had been glued to cardboard, which had warped over the years, so it was difficult to flatten them out to photograph them. So there was a large conservation exercise that had to take place before the photography could take place.
The next step was to create metadata to describe what the photographs were. Luckily, lots of them did have some information on the back of the cardboard, so it they did not have to start from scratch. Some of the places were identifiable too.
Once the conservation work had been done the next step was to take the images through a high quality digital imaging process. The results are quite astonishing. There is very high quality kit in the department, and this led to a very high level of detail being captured in the finished digitised images.
Some of the images are quite small in reality, so it is difficult to see much detail with the human eye. So you might get a sense of old buildings and streets. With the digitised images you are able to zoom in to see the faces of individual people at windows or standing in doorways. You may even be able to recognise them from other old photographs. You can see a lot of activity going on and it is quite fascinating to see.
What was done to raise awareness after publication on the university website image collection?
Because the quality of the images was so high after digitisation, Fraser was able to zoom in on details within each photograph to find new information. Each photograph could be digitally cropped in a number of different ways and provide perhaps 6 or 7 really interesting images.
He wanted to bring out those differences and to show them to the public. The really amazing thing about the images is that people who are featured in them are the grandparents, or great grandparents, of people living today, and many of them are recognisable in the digitised versions. It was really important to try to publicise the images as widely as possible, as people today may be able recognise their family members from another old photograph they own.
So it was important to show the detail, especially the people and to showcase it where it would get the widest audience, on Facebook.
What else was done to showcase the images?
It was important to research as much as possible about each image. The National Library of Scotland was an invaluable resource; especially their digital maps, which give a footprint of buildings that existed at that time, but are no longer there. Using historical digital maps it is possible to triangulate between one image and another and build up a model of the different locations.
Another thing that was done was to identify the more prominent locations such as the Tolbooth Wynde, or Cables Wynde, help people to understand where the names came from, and write up a short history of that. Churches and other prominent and public buildings were also identified and linked to the photographs. All of these things helped people to remember stories about the area and what it was like before the improvements were made.
What were the most useful resources for additional information?
The most useful online resources were
- The maps in the National Library of Scotland were a very useful resource,
- Websites like Edinphoto, which is collection of photographs of Edinburgh
- Capital Collections, which is part of Edinburgh museum collections
History books were also very useful. Old and New Edinburgh is a really useful series with a lot of old engravings that showed the old scenes in Leith before photography was available. It is now available to browse online.
So you have to draw your research from a variety of sources before you can give a half decent narrative to people.
Activity: Search challenge
1. Find out more about Leith in the early and mid-20’s
The time in which the photographs were taken was a critical time in Leith’s history, when Leith amalgamated with Edinburgh after being a separate borough. Leith was a key port in Scotland and indeed globally at that time. In fact, prior to the development in Glasgow it was the premiere port in Scotland. In the 1920’s there was a great deal of traffic moving through the port of Leith. There will be a lot of letters, a lot of postcards, and lot of places around the world that traded with Leith, or were otherwise linked to the port.
The first search challenge is to use a library, university or other archive near you, and find out what links, if any, existed to the port in Leith in the 1920’s. This will build the story that surrounds the photographs.
Post what you find on the Spirit of Leithers Facebook page
2. Advanced search challenge for locals
All the photographs from the Leith Improvement Scheme are available to browse online at the University of Edinburgh’s Image Collection archive. There is a tool that allows you to zoom in, in fantastic detail. So, it would be a really interesting challenge for locals to zoom in on the individual faces that you see in doorways and in windows, and try to take those images to people in the community, who may be able to identify who may recognise relatives or friends from the past.
Similarly, you could work on identifying places. You can do this through finding names on shop fronts, streets or identifying public buildings. To do that you may need to zoom in on details really closely, and cross-reference those with images in the other resources that were mentioned earlier. You can also search through the metadata to help you cross reference the photographs with other images and resources from different collections.
Start by searching for the Leith Improvement Scheme on the University’s Image Collections archive.
Post what you find on the Spirit of Leithers Facebook page
Find out more
- Old and New Edinburgh – http://www.oldandnewedinburgh.co.uk/
- NLS Map collection – http://maps.nls.uk/
- Capital Collections – http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/Collections/Capital-Collections
- Edinphoto.org.uk – http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/
- 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