An intern’s first impressions

Archive cataloguing project intern, Sorina Mihai, relays her first impressions from her busy first two weeks with our ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment and Equilibrium’ project.  With a jam-packed schedule, and jumping right in at the deep-end of core archive work, Sorina is already making a significant and valuable contribution to our project.  Read more about her initial experience and learning in this thoughtful and considered blog post.

Selection of correspondence from the Patrick Geddes papers (Ref:T-GED12/3)

Selection of correspondence from the Patrick Geddes papers (Ref:T-GED12/3)

I was very excited to start my archives cataloguing internship with the ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’ project two weeks ago. I am delighted to be part of a collaborative project between the universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde which is instrumental in reuniting, preserving and cataloguing the two collections of papers of Scottish polymath Patrick Geddes. My eight-week internship is based predominantly at the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Strathclyde. I will be creating new catalogue descriptions for a discreet series of records within the collection, which pertains to the correspondence related to Patrick Geddes’ educational projects. My contribution will help to enhance the discoverability and usability of the Geddes collection.

I am looking forward to familiarising myself further with professional archive standards and becoming more confident in using them in my daily work. My previous experience as a volunteer with the ‘Evergreen’ project helped me to get acquainted with these standards and professional practices. I feel I am going to benefit considerably through having to use them continuously over a sustained period of time during my internship.

Archive cataloguing project intern work-station at the University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections

Archive cataloguing project intern work-station at the University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections

One of my main objectives is to become aware of and understand the challenges related to archive cataloguing and ways of facilitating access to archive collections. At the beginning of my internship I had the chance to meet with and speak to a range of information and curatorial professionals from both universities.  At the University of Edinburgh, I had conversations with Joe Marshall (Head of Special Collections and the Centre for Research Collections), Grant Buttars (Archivist: University Archives and Technical Systems), Louise Williams (Lothian Health Services Archive), Jenny Duffy (Project Archivist), Lorraine McLoughlin (Appraisal Archivist), Fin West (Rare Books), and Emily Hick (Conservation). At the University of Strathclyde I met with Victoria Peters (Head Archivist), Rachael Jones (Assistant Archivist) and Carol Stewart (Special Collections Library Assistant). I also had the opportunity to shadow staff in the archive reading rooms at both institutions.  These conversations have allowed me to broaden and deepen my general understanding of the professional field, and I have been able to see how various departments can work together. For example, Lorraine’s new system of appraisal not only helps save precious storage space, but it also greatly facilitates and helps colleagues from other departments keep track of how much stock they have and how much space they still have for new acquisitions. Grant’s efforts for securing funding are paramount for cataloguing, conservation or digitisation projects in order to make valuable collections available to the public both online and on site.

I am particularly interested in developing skills related to collections promotion and advocacy which are areas I have not yet explored. I strongly believe in the value of the Patrick Geddes collections and their importance to national and international cultural heritage. The collections cover most of Geddes’s life, nearly all the places where he lived and worked, and are a testimony of his many fields of activity, such as sociology, education, urban planning, and nature conservation. They also reunite a vast collection of correspondence in various languages from notable scientists, academics, sociologists, artists and writers from across the world.  They are an invaluable record of Geddes’ global thinking and many interests, the fervent exchange of ideas across borders and joint efforts for improving education, urban planning and the wellbeing of citizens…just to name a few.

Promoting the Patrick Geddes collections to University of Strathclyde library staff

Project intern, Sorina Mihai, helping to promote the Patrick Geddes collections to University of Strathclyde library staff

I realise the ever-increasing importance of promoting collections to patrons and justifying the value of archival services to stakeholders. Archives offer communities the opportunity to learn, explore, interact and can inspire people to become more active in their communities. This is why I would like to develop the ability to engage with different audiences, develop and improve my presentation skills, such as presentation structure and delivery, and body language.

On a personal level, I hope to enhance my decision-making and time management skills, particularly in relation to how to prioritise competing agendas, and successful multi-tasking. I am also looking to gain networking skills which are so valuable in creating and sustaining connections with fellow professionals, enabling innovative and engaging collaborations, projects or initiatives. I would also like to further develop core skills such as work-planning, analysis, interpretation and research.

I feel very fortunate to be working within such an experienced and supportive team.  Across the project team and supporting staff I have access to a vast bank of knowledge and professionalism, and their dedication is extremely inspiring and motivating.  I very much appreciate the opportunity to learn in such a supportive and knowledgeable environment.

Promoting the Patrick Geddes collections to University of Strathclyde library staff

Promoting the Patrick Geddes collections to University of Strathclyde library staff

I have already started on cataloguing, have helped to deliver a training session which was designed to raise awareness of the project, collections and research activity around Patrick Geddes, and learned about reading room procedures at both universities. Helping to deliver the training session, I came to realise that a lot more time and work goes into delivering a presentation than I had anticipated. A lot of thought and work went into designing the content of the presentation for a particular audience and also in selecting the most relevant items to have on display in the reading room.  The items had to complement the presentation and be arranged thematically in such a way as to encourage and facilitate curiosity and discovery. This experience also made me realise that the process of physically selecting, retrieving and returning documents for my section of the presentation took a good few hours to complete.

The ‘Evergreen’ internship is a tremendous opportunity for me to start transitioning from libraries to archives, a profession I have developed a great enthusiasm and passion for. I am applying for a postgraduate course in Archives and Records Management this year and this experience will help me to develop a solid practical foundation on which I can build the theoretical knowledge delivered by the postgraduate course. I hope this practical experience, complemented by my academic training in Information and Library Studies and the future study of Archives and Record Management will provide a strong grounding for my future career as an archivist.

Meanwhile, I greatly enjoy discovering the vast network of correspondents that Patrick Geddes was in touch with. I was very pleased to come across correspondence from French Nabis painter Paul Sérusier, Scottish physician and academic Diarmid Nöel Paton, French Prime Minister Georges Benjamin Clemanceau, Belgian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Henri Marie la Fontaine, English pioneer of women’s higher education Constance Maynard, and French poet and writer Marc-André Raffalovich. Who shall I uncover next?

Patrick Geddes Archives project extended until March 2020

Paris: bird's eye view from the north of the Isle de la Cite

Coll-1167/A/6/8: Paris: bird’s eye view from the north of the Isle de la Cite

With immediate effect our project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, will be looking after two collaborative Wellcome Research Resource-funded archive projects.  Elaine will continue to work on our own ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’ project, and has taken on responsibility for another fascinating archives project ‘Body Language: movement, dance and physical education in Scotland, 1890-1990′. Elaine will be splitting her time 50/50 between the two projects which will see her working (usually) Tues-Wed on the Evergreen project and Thurs-Fri on the Body Language project.  This means that our Evergreen project will now extend until March 2020.

The extended time affords an opportunity to create and enhance even more catalogue descriptions, and to engage with more volunteers, interns and student placements.  We will also be able to undertake public engagement activity up until March 2020.  We are very pleased that this extended window will allow us more time to shine a spotlight on Patrick Geddes and his ideas, and to share with you some of the collection highlights uncovered during the project.

Like the recently re-discovered beautiful pencil and wash drawing shown above. It shows a ‘Bird’s Eye View of Paris from the north of the Isle de la Cite’.  The eagle-eyed among you may notice Notre Dame Cathedral minus its steeple.  This particular item is undated and we have yet to investigate the possible author.  If any of you can shed any light as to the origin and date of this item please do get in touch.  We would be delighted to hear from you.


Archives Internship Opportunity

Sample bundle of letters from the Patrick Geddes Collections, University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections

We are delighted to be able to offer an 8-week, archive cataloguing project internship opportunity, working with the Wellcome Research Resource-funded archive project ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’.  This is a fantastic opportunity for a student or new archive career professional to develop and demonstrate core archival skills. The internship will involve contributing to the enhancement of online archive catalogue descriptions relating to the fascinating correspondence of Patrick Geddes, helping to enhance and promote access to the collections. Closing date: 29 March 2019.  Interviews: 18 Arpil 2019.  Start date: 13 May 2019.


To the city, in the city, for the city: Patrick Geddes in India

Our project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, travels to India later this week to deliver presentations at the CEPT Archives (Architecture, Planning and Design) in Ahmedabad, and at the ARTISANS’ gallery in Mumbai. In advance of touch-down in India, we take a brief look at Geddes’ experience there.

Patrick Geddes and class of 1919, University of Bombay Department of Sociology and Civics (Ref: Coll-1869/11)

Patrick Geddes and class of c1919, University of Bombay Department of Sociology and Civics (Ref: Coll-1869/11)

Patrick Geddes first travelled to India in the autumn of 1914. He was 60.  Prompted by the success of Geddes’ urban regeneration projects in the Edinburgh Old Town, Lord Pentland, (the then Governor of Madras), had invited Geddes to travel to India to advise on urban planning issues.  In that first of many seasons that Geddes was to spend in India he was accompanied by his eldest son Alasdair.  Together, they travelled thousands of miles across the vast country, all the time surveying each of the cities they visited.  After arriving at Bombay, they headed north to Ahmedabad, Ajmer, Jaipur, Agra and to New Delhi before travelling across India to Lucknow, Cawnpur, Allahabad, Benares, Calcutta and then southward to Madras.

Geddes had planned to show in India, his favoured tool of civic education, the Cities and Town Planning Exhibition. He faced an unfortunate setback when the ship transporting his exhibition to India, the Clan Grant, was sunk near Madras by the German ship, the Emden.  Aided by friends and colleagues at home, a committee, led by H.V. Lanchester, collected and forwarded a replacement exhibition. The first shipment made it to Madras by December 1914.  The exhibition, comprising over 3000 maps, prints and photographs and set out on a quarter-mile of wall and screen, opened at the Senate Hall of Madras University on 17 January 1915.  Geddes went on to tour his Cities and Town Planning Exhibition across India.  The exhibits make up much of the Patrick Geddes archive collections now held at the universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde.

An example of the plethora of notes made by Patrick Geddes' on India, its' cities, institutions and culture (Ref:T-GED/12/1/191a)

An example of the plethora of notes made by Patrick Geddes’ on India, its cities, institutions and culture (Ref:T-GED/12/1/191a)

Geddes worked tirelessly to survey and compose reports on Indian cities and towns, 13 alone in Madras.  Lewis Mumford, in his introduction to Jaqueline Tyrwhitt’s Patrick Geddes in India (1947), wrote that throughout Geddes’ time in India he worked to promote his ‘broad humanistic outlook on the social aspects of civic improvement’.[1]  To quote Geddes himself ‘town-planning is not mere place-planning, nor even work-planning.  If it is to be successful, it must be folk-planning’.[2]

The measure of the success of a city survey depends on its appeal to the individuals that compose the city: upon its power to rouse each from his, often life-long, training of seeing himself as a self-interested economic man and therefore mere dust of the State – to realising himself as an effective citizen valuing…his contribution to his city, in his city and for his city.[3]

Cities and Town Planning Exhibition at University of Bombay (Ref: T-GED/1/7/21a)

Cities and Town Planning Exhibition at University of Bombay (Ref: T-GED/1/7/21a)

After a season of touring the Cities and Town Planning Exhibition, surveying and reporting on Indian cities, Geddes returned to Scotland in the summer of 1915 to fulfil his teaching responsibilities as Chair of Botany at the University College Dundee. Thereafter, he continued to travel to India each autumn.  In 1917 he was prevented from travelling home to Scotland due to the dangers of being attacked by German U-boats.  Geddes, at this point, was accompanied by his wife Anna and together they planned a summer school in Darjeeling.  They recruited renowned Bengali polymath, poet, musician and artist, Rabindranath Tagore.  The school opened on 21 May 1917, and marks the beginning of Geddes and Tagore’s friendship.

It was in India in 1917 that Geddes was dealt the harshest of blows. In April, he received a telegram to advise that his eldest son Alasdair had been killed in action in France.  He bore this news alone for four months, afraid that sharing the news with his dear wife Anna would accelerate her own illness.  Devastatingly, his dearly beloved and stalwart companion, Anna died at Calcutta in the summer of 1917.  She was unaware that she had been predeceased by her son.

Bereft, Geddes continued to work tirelessly to survey and report on Indian Cities, advocating and adapting his ideas on ‘diagnosis before treatment’, ‘conservative surgery’, and ‘regional survey for regional service’ to Indian traditions and values.  His attempt to study and understand the interaction between humans and their environment utilised a range of disciplines including biology, sociology, geography, geology, and town planning.  Sometimes he would only spend one or two swift days surveying a city.  In others cases, as for Indore, he would spend months, culminating in a two-volume planning report, published in 1918.

Geddes returned to Scotland for a period in 1919.  In the summer of 1919, he was offered the Chair of Sociology and Civics at the University of Bombay, by the then vice-chancellor, Sir Chimanlal Setalvad.  Now at the age of 65, Geddes accepted the offer.  By 1924, Geddes’ health had deteriorated and his contract with the University of Bombay was to come to an end. The success or otherwise of Geddes’ terms at the University of Bombay are debated.  Certainly, there is evidence that the University Senate expressed dissatisfaction at Geddes’ periods of absence (in some part due to his town-planning commitments in Palestine). Geddes left India in 1924 and settled in Montpellier in the south of France.

For more in-depth accounts of Patrick Geddes in India you may find the following publications a useful starting point:

  • Boardman, P., The Worlds of Patrick Geddes, (1978)
  • Fraser, B., A meeting of two minds: Geddes Tagore letters, (2005)
  • Tyrwhitt, J., Patrick Geddes in India, (1947)
  • Munshi, I., Patrick Geddes: Sociologist, Environmentalist and Town Planner, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 35, No. 6 (5-11 Feb 2000), pp.485-491

Elaine will be delivering presentations at the CEPT Auditorium, Ahmedabad on 1 March 2019, and at ARTISANS’, Mumbai on 5 March 2019.  For further information please contact Elaine

[1] Tyrwhitt, J., Patrick Geddes in India, (1947), p.16.

[2] Ibid., p.22.

[3] Ibid., p.35.

Read all about it!

Read all about our ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’ project news in our latest newsletter – out now!  All the updates; international visitors; collection discoveries (see below); what we’ll be doing next, and even some statistics (for those of you that like that sort of thing)! We hope you enjoy it.  Newsletter 2 – May 2018  Previous newsletters can be found on our Newsletters page

A cyanotype of unidentified plant within botany collections of the Papers of Sir Patrick Geddes held at the University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections (Ref: T-GED/18/6/5b)

A cyanotype of unidentified plant within botany collections of the Papers of Sir Patrick Geddes held at the University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections (Ref: T-GED/18/6/5b)


Lift your head and look out

“When we finally arrived at the boundary wall of the early 19th century cottage, now known as ‘Gean Cottage’, I found myself quite moved.  Here I was, where Geddes had been…albeit there was almost 100 years between our existence”. Recently, our project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, took some time out from her cataloguing work to reflect on Patrick Geddes in his native Perthshire environment.

Black and white photograph of Patrick Geddes and his daughter Norah in the garden at Mount Tabor, Perth, c.1899 (Coll-1167/GFP)

Patrick Geddes and his daughter Norah in the garden at Mount Tabor, Perth, c.1899 (Coll-1167/GFP)

Archivists bear a weight of responsibility in our privileged position as custodians of society’s memory; what we do will matter hundreds of years from now.  We aim to effectively manage collections by creating well-informed, reliable and detailed information about the content of the collections to ensure their long-term survival and access to the collections’ content.  To do this requires a deep understanding of the collection and its creator.

Archivists, as a breed, are renowned for immersing ourselves in the detail of our work and, whilst the detail is important, we are often guilty of forgetting to lift our heads to look to the big picture. Working so closely with the Geddes collections is a constant reminder to lift your head and look out.  The collections abound with illustrations of panoramic views of regions, cities and landscapes.  There are thousands of illustrations and diagrams which demonstrate the interrelationships and connections between and beyond the boundaries of specialisms.  Prolific correspondence and writings reveal Geddes’s beliefs, one of which was that, to better understand a place, one should view it from a position of outlook.

Patrick Geddes and family at Mount Tabor, Perth, c.1899 (Coll-1167)

Patrick Geddes and family at Mount Tabor, Perth, c.1899 (Coll-1167)

In 1857, the Geddes family moved from Ballater, Aberdeenshire, to ‘Mount Tabor’, a cottage on the side of Kinnoull Hill overlooking Perth.  Patrick Geddes was three years old at the time and he remained there until he was twenty when he left to continue his studies. I recently had the opportunity to take to the Perthshire hills in his footsteps, to see the world through something of his eyes and experience.  This was also a chance to remove myself from the detail of collections cataloguing and to lift my head and look out.  I could immerse myself in quiet reflection in the natural environment and by doing so to deepen my understanding of Patrick Geddes.  I think he would have approved.

One rather fresh but clear weekend in early April a colleague and I set out from the Den of Scone on our Perthshire/ Geddes pilgrimage.  We began surrounded by mature trees and despite being spring there were not yet buds on the trees and the remnants of autumn detritus still covered the woodland floor.  We followed a muddy track (insert squelching noises) and to our right ran a burn.  We crossed the burn by a footbridge and then the path climbed more steeply eastward.  Occasionally we crossed a single track road banked by a high beech hedge on one side and spiked holly bushes on the other.  At Bonhard House we turned southwards and navigated the path alongside the ploughed fields which flank the eastern edge of the valley, stopping periodically to watch and listen to a buzzard being harassed by crows.

We ascended the steep Coronation Path and at the top took a rest and absorbed what we could of the impressive panoramic vista, looking west towards Ben Lomond and north-west toward Ben Lawers, Schiehallion and finally the snow-capped Grampian mountains in the far north. Having checked historical maps before embarking on our journey I mentally picked off the farms and place-names which would have been extant c.1860 and which Geddes would also have seen: Springfield; Parkfield; Limepotts; Muirhall; Corsiehill; Gannochy, and Kinnoull Hill. My colleague and I chatted about the probability of Geddes walking and exploring these very routes 150 years before us, all the time learning and forming the beginnings of ideas which hold such significance and relevance to us today.

We came by way of the back-streets of Corsiehill and here I tried to visually erase all of the new housing which post-dates Geddes’s time at ‘Mount Tabor’.  When we finally arrived at the boundary wall of the early 19th-century cottage, now known as Gean Cottage, I found myself quite moved.  Here I was, where Geddes had been.  This man that I had been working so closely with for the best part of a year, albeit that there was almost 100 years between our existence.

Black and white photograph taken by John Spark of Perth showingAnna Geddes, Miss Scott, Janet Cuthbertson, Norah and Alasdair Geddes at the garden gate of Mount Tabor cottage, Perth, c.1899

Anna Geddes, Miss Scott, Janet Cuthbertson, Norah and Alasdair Geddes at the garden gate of Mount Tabor cottage, Perth, c.1899 (Ref: Coll-1167/GFP)

Among the many wonderful family photographs there is an image by Perth photographer, John Spark, of Geddes’s wife, Anna and their children at the garden gate. The ivy has grown up and over the garden wall now and the garden itself is much more manicured.  I found myself placing my hand on the garden wall beside the gate, wondering how many of the Geddes family had touched the same spot.  And while I have never taken for granted the immediate and emotional connection to our past that archive collections can afford us, I was struck afresh by this new and very tangible connection to Patrick Geddes.

Photograph of Project Archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, at the garden gate of childhood home of Patrick Geddes, the former Mount Tabor cottage, Perth, 2018.

Project Archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, at the garden gate of childhood home of Patrick Geddes, the former Mount Tabor cottage, Perth, 2018.

I was able to experience first-hand much of the environment that informed Geddes’s understanding of place, ecology, botany and so much more and which was undoubtedly instrumental in the formulation of his geographical vision, the Valley Section.  I reflected on how Geddes was able to perceive the inter-connectedness and inter-relationships of just about everything, fueled by his place of outlook from Kinnoull Hill.  That interconnectedness and those interrelationships are so key to his ideas and beliefs that as archivists, we have a duty to find a way to reflect them through our archive finding aids and collections catalogues.  But that’s a whole other blog post.  The next time I lift my head and look out, I might write that.

Read more about Patrick Geddes and Perth in this blog post from Professor Murdo MacDonald

Find out more about Kinnoull Hill and Perthshire in the time of Geddes by viewing historical maps online via the National Library of Scotland and a little earlier in the 1845 Statistical Account for the Parish of Perth



New Professionals – Skills Development

This blog post comes from one of our project volunteers, Daisy Stafford.  Daisy made a significant contribution to the project in her work data cleansing retro-converted catalogue descriptions.  As Daisy points out, this can be one of the more mundane archival tasks that can take up our time but equally an essential means to an end.  We were delighted to have Daisy on board and thanks to her great work we are ever closer to that end.  Thank you Daisy!

As a postgraduate student, working towards an MSc in Book History and Material Culture, there is nothing as invaluable as hands-on practical experience within your field. My course introduced the range of professional roles that surround working with special collections, but last summer I decided it would be useful to gain further experience within one particular collection. Having volunteered within the Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA), I was on the lookout for any other relevant archival opportunities. My time with the LHSA had also focused my interest on access issues surrounding collections, particularly how administrative and cataloguing tasks can increase the visibility and facilitate the use of a collection.

Frieze panorama of Paris; ink, chalk and colour wash by Adrian Berrington. 1914. (Ref: Coll-1167/A1.56A)

Daisy’s work contributed greatly to enhancing catalogue descriptions and consequently access to many beautiful collection items. One such item is this frieze panorama of Paris; ink, chalk and colour wash by Adrian Berrington. 1914. (Ref: Coll-1167/A1.56A)

I was subsequently introduced to the Patrick Geddes project, and working with Project Archivist Elaine, I committed a half-day a week to help with a data clean-up task. Using Optical Character Recognition, the data had been retro-converted from an historic printed catalogue into an Excel spreadsheet, with varying degrees of accuracy. The majority of the information was there, but the order was very jumbled and needed manually re-ordered, checked, and tidied to become comprehensible and fit for transfer to the online archive catalogues. Consulting the printed catalogue, and occasionally undertaking my own research, I methodically checked the details for each item, correcting where necessary. I then split the data into separate fields which complied with the International Standard for Archival Description (ISADg): including but not exclusive to; title; date; creator; format; dimensions; scope and content etc. This work would eventually enable the application of Encoded Archival Description (EAD), which would transform the completed spreadsheet into a fully searchable online catalogue. In total, I cleaned over 363 catalogue descriptions.  The prospect of increasing the access to and eventual use of this exciting collection is what motivated me through the occasionally monotonous data cleaning.

This task developed my previously non-existent archival cataloguing skills, teaching me to interpret, analyse and sort data, identify OCR errors and apply corrections, and generally increase my experience with Excel. It was also a supremely satisfying task for someone as committed to organisation and imposing order as I am. Overall, the experience may have dispelled any romantic notions I had of archivists spending their whole days looking at beautiful collection items, but it impressed upon me the importance of cataloguing tasks in the management of special collections.

Grant Buttars (University Archivist), during the collections stock-take, discovers the print mock-up for the Pepler Cities Exhibition, London. 1948. (Ref: Coll-1167/A.8.3)

An archivist looks at a beautiful collection item. Grant Buttars (University Archivist) discovers the print mock-up for the Pepler Cities Exhibition, London. 1948. (Ref: Coll-1167/A.8.3)

Since the end of my volunteering on the project, I completed a work placement at the National Museum of Scotland, where I was responsible for enhancing the catalogue records of the museum’s rare books collection. Although a very different cataloguing system, the Patrick Geddes project introduced me to the key data fields and showed me the level of detail necessary for this kind of work. It is an experience that will only increase in relevance as I progress in my career working with special collections.


The Metamorphosis of Patrick Geddes

Work continues on re-cataloguing the Geddes family photographs.  Working in such close proximity with these photographic collections has provided a rare opportunity to follow intimately the changing face of Patrick Geddes throughout his lifespan. We hope you enjoy the visual journey as much as we did.

  • Carte de Visite, studio portrait of Patrick Geddes, aged 10. May 1864 (Ref: Coll-1167/GFP).
    Patrick Geddes, aged 10. May 1864

Sticky Situations

Last week our Project Conservator, Nicole Devereux, wrote about how she had uncovered an unusual sticky situation among the Patrick Geddes Collection photographs.  Rising to the conservation challenge, Nicole explored some fascinating and experimental conservation processes in order to resolve this particular problem.  Read more about Nicole’s work here.

Cataloguing the Sir Patrick Geddes papers

Our project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, provides an update on cataloguing work.

One of the major aims of our Wellcome Research-Resource funded project is to catalogue the papers of Sir Patrick Geddes held at both the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde.  The completion of the cataloguing work will allow the remaining project conservation work to be undertaken and will facilitate the eventual virtual reuniting of the two collections of papers held at both institutions.

I am delighted to report that, after a 6 month hiatus, the cataloguing work which was started in 2017, has re-commenced in earnest.  I have been undertaking a stock-take of the Geddes family photographs that are held at the University of Edinburgh, along with creating descriptive content of these for the new collection catalogue.

The Geddes family photographs held at the University of Edinburgh are a fascinating series of approximately 175 photographs which range in size, format and content.  Photographic processes discovered include ambrotypes, albumen prints, Carte de Visite through to black and white photographic prints.  These illustrate not only Sir Patrick Geddes in formal portraits but also include informal compositions of his family and associates in a variety of locations including, but not exclusive to, their home in Perth, Scotland; the College des Ecossais at Montpellier, France; and also in Mumbai (then Bombay), India.  The collection contains original items, duplicates and some related items or duplicates can be found within our own collections at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde but also at other institutions, such as the National Library of Scotland.

Sample of photographic images held in the Sir Patrick Geddes collection at the Univesity of Edinburgh

Sample of images from the Sir Patrick Geddes family photographs held at the University of Edinburgh (Ref: Coll-1167/3/GFP).

To create a catalogue of a photographic collection, an incredible amount of descriptive content needs to be captured, not only in relation to the photograph subject matter but also in relation to the photographers; photograph formats; the photographic processes; and whether the items are original or duplicate (which is not always easy to establish!). I have also been looking to record the relationships with duplicate or related archive items held elsewhere in other institutions.  Thankfully, much of this information had already been captured previously in the extensive work undertaken by our colleagues at the former Patrick Geddes Centre.

Sample of legacy catalogues and indexes created by colleagues at the former Patrick Geddes Centre.

Sample of legacy catalogues and indexes created by colleagues at the former Patrick Geddes Centre.

Containing a phenomenal amount of information these inherited lists and indexes were previously only available as hand-written lists and were each arranged in a different way; some numerical, some chronological and some alphabetical and sometimes with differing descriptive content relating to the same photographic item.   A sometimes complex process, the descriptive information gleaned from the legacy catalogues and indexes, was however successfully captured and condensed into one electronic document. Creating an electronic and condensed version of these catalogues which combined all of their content has provided us with a fairly comprehensive interim catalogue of the Geddes family photographs.  This is already a fantastic step forward in enabling access to this part of the Sir Patrick Geddes collection.

Illustration of new electronic interim catalogue

Illustration of new electronic interim catalogue

A stock-take of the physical photographs is now well underway.  During the stock-take we will also assess the physical condition of the photographs to inform remaining conservation work (this will include re-housing the collection); and additional descriptive content and corrections will be added to the interim catalogue.  Once thoroughly checked and edited the content from the interim catalogue will be transferred to the University of Edinburgh’s online archive and manuscript collections catalogue and made available to the public. In the mean-time, we look forward to sharing many of the highlights from the Sir Patrick Geddes photographic collections that we discover in the coming weeks.

Black and white photograph of Sir Patrick Geddes sat in a window recess with a sculpture (unidentified) to his right.

Sir Patrick Geddes sat in window recess with sculpture to his right. (Ref: Col1167/3/GFP/5).

Can you help?

I would be very interested to hear from any Geddes experts who may be able to help me identify the sculpture in the background of the photograph above of Sir Patrick Geddes sat in a window recess.  If you can help, I would be delighted to hear from you, you can email your thoughts to me at