(This video can be downloaded from Media Hopper Create.)
What motivated Fraser to get this project started?
Fraser had made a personal commitment to some older friends who had given him the photographs with the confidence that he could preserve and archive the images for future generations. He knew about the skills and expertise that the university has because of a professional relationship that had developed through a previous project they had run.
The benefits were that he had a deep personal interest in Edinburgh and Leith, and the photographs were detailed enough to provide new channels for researching and exploring this area of interest.
He also appreciated the benefits of collaboration on a project like this. By examining the photographs together with other people, he was able to see new details that neither would have noticed on their own. The more people who were involved in examining the images, the more detailed the observations, information, and knowledge they were able to build up.
In doing this collaborative work they were connecting with the past and leaving a legacy for the future, so that younger people could connect with the images and better understand where they came from.
What was the University’s motivation for getting involved?
The University’s motivations were very much aligned to Fraser’s. They wanted to try to make sure that they were preserving the material because they realised the value and the importance of it. The photographs serve as a valuable resource to enhance other things, like the old maps of Edinburgh that are held by the National Library of Scotland, Edina and the University of Edinburgh archives. By plotting the photographs on to these maps you are able to bring them to life. Suddenly, an old map isn’t just a drawing of streets – it has people and places and is bustling with life. That is critical in helping people to understand the past.
What are the broader benefits to other people?
These are very much the same as the ones that motivated the university to get involved. On a map you might see ‘PH’, which means Public House, but with the photographs you are able to put a name to it. It might be Sowersby’s Pub. Then you start to build up the image in your head. The past is no longer something that just happened, it is almost a living thing.
The broader benefit is in the lessons we can gain from the past. This includes the awareness of social conditions, the awareness of how things have evolved and developed, the awareness of the mistakes we have made perhaps through the redevelopment plans in the 1920’s, but also the redevelopments that occurred in the 1960’s. We learn a great deal about the past from a simple project like this because it brings the past to life.
How have you shared the information?
The information has been shared on websites and Facebook pages. There are large followings on our Facebook Pages: Lost Edinburgh, Edinburgh Places and People, and Spirit of Leithers. The work has also been shared through newspaper articles. Fraser has been quite proactive in drawing the media’s attention to the project itself. This has proven to be very beneficial to the project as well.
They try engaging with people through a variety of channels. For instance, when they produce small historical publications they will go out and talk to people and try to raise awareness in general. In fact they are always interested in finding ways to reach out to more people because the more people who engage with the project, the more information and knowledge they will be able to build around each photograph.
What is the value that the University sees in the project?
The University it is all about disseminating knowledge and information about the past, to the present and preserving it for the future. A University is all about learning, and that is the bottom line. Universities are set up to educate, and this project is a great tool for educating people about their own heritage.
The University has an on-going role to try to make their entire resource archives link together. The Centre for Research Collections is working with film, printed material, letters, manuscripts, and other archives. If they can start to join these pieces together with linked information you get a much bigger and richer story. That is what the university is trying to do: tell the story.
How do you get started on a project like this?
A lot of it happens quite randomly. Small bits of information come in, somebody may hand you a photograph, or another small piece of source information. It grows and grows as you investigate. It is important to recognise the importance of every small piece of information that comes in, in order to build that bigger picture.
The key is finding out who you can go to that will help you to realise that project, and can support you in developing it. In the case of the Leith Improvement Scheme photographs, that was the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh, and their digital photography team.
What is the starting point from the University’s perspective?
From the University’s erspective it is very much the same. They are often given material and they have to try to assess the value of that material. They can’t simply take anything, because they would be swamped with personal artefacts and information that they would struggle to organise. The University needs to be more logical and systematic about how they receive and process information. So it is important to evaluate what has been given to them and why it is useful.
Sometimes projects get started because people will come in with new materials, at other times the University will rediscover material that is within their archive that they did not know they had. Some of it is astonishing!
You may have found some old photographs or other artefacts in the first exercise set for this topic, or you may have some other topic in mind that you would like to use as a starting point for a visual blog.
Start by listing the benefits of the different topic ideas as you see them. What benefits are most important to you? What are least important? What topics do you think will be easiest to resource? What topics will be most difficult?
Now think about what the first step would be to help get you started? Do you need to identify a good resource to ensure you have enough images, with a CC-BY licence to create a solid starting point? Do you need to reach out to a pre-existing audience that can help? If you do, where would you go to find them?
What other research would you need to do to develop the stories around the images? Where might you find useful resources to help you?
Note all your ideas and then get started!
Find out more
- NLS Map collection – http://maps.nls.uk/
- Capital Collections – http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/Collections/Capital-Collections
- 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