This Is (Almost) The End

A brief update on the final stages of our Wellcome Research-Resource funded project, read on to find out what to expect next….

Our Wellcome Research-Resource funded project ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’ is very near to its conclusion. While officially, the funding came to an end in the middle of March 2020, there are one or two loose ends that we continue to tidy up.

A black and white photograph showing Patrick Geddes at the Scots' College, Montpellier, France

Patrick Geddes at the Scots’ College, Montpellier, France (Ref:  Coll-1869)

The collections at the University of Edinburgh have now been fully catalogued and we are just running some final checks before the new online catalogue goes live. You can look forward to browsing over 2000 catalogue descriptions and we will look to link digital objects to the catalogue descriptions wherever we can so that you can view some of the collections material online.

The new online portal to both the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde’s Patrick Geddes collections is undergoing final tests.  We are working hard to make this live as soon as we can but you can expect it online in early May, 2020. This means that you can look forward to searching for material across both collections in one place and lots of useful information to help you contextualise and navigate the collections.

A final report highlighting all of the achievements and successes of the project will be available via the project blog and the new online portal once it goes live. Thank you to all of our stakeholders, researchers, project staff and followers for your continued support and patience. Watch this space!

Murdo MacDonald's 'Patrick Geddes's Intellectual Origins' front cover, published by University of Edinburgh Press, March 2020

Patrick Geddes’s Intellectual Origins, front cover

In the mean-time, we recommend exploring Murdo MacDonald’s latest publication, Patrick Geddes’s Intellectual Origins, which came hot off the Edinburgh University Press last month (March 2020).  Murdo Macdonald is Emeritus Professor of History of Scottish Art at the University of Dundee. He was editor of Edinburgh Review from 1990-1994 and the author of Scottish Art in Thames and Hudson’s World of Art series. He has written extensively about Patrick Geddes over many years and we were very fortunate to have him as our academic adviser throughout the duration of our project. You can also read an interview with the author on the Edinburgh University Press Blog.

The Japanese Garden

Journey with us to 1908 as Patrick Geddes and Frank Mears’ look to Japan and the East for urban planning inspiration.  Archives volunteer and MSc Library and Information Studies student, Tara Copic, shares with us her collection highlights from the Patrick Geddes Archives.

Archives cataloguing volunteer, Tara Copic, reading one of her favourite discoveries from the Patrick Geddes correspondence, a letter from Frank C. Mears to Patrick Geddes, 1908.

Archives cataloguing volunteer, Tara Copic, reading one of her favourite discoveries from the Patrick Geddes correspondence: A letter from Frank C. Mears to Patrick Geddes, 22 Jan 1908, which discusses the Japanese Garden. (Ref: T-GED9/818).

Since October 2019 I have been volunteering with the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde’s collaborative archives cataloguing project ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’. I am an MSc Library and Information Studies student at the University of Strathclyde and I volunteer with the project for a few hours once a week at the University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections. When I started volunteering, I received training on how to use professional archive description standards and cataloguing software AToM.

After 5 months of volunteering with the project, I am now familiar with and have practical experience in working with professional archive catalogue standards and systems.  I have enjoyed working with a series of correspondence, identifying correspondents, correcting inaccuracies and adding content.  In total, I have helped to enhance over 120 catalogue descriptions, making the collection more accessible and easy to navigate.

Working through this series of correspondence (currently I’m in 1908!), has given me a fascinating insight into the rich life and work of Patrick Geddes.  I am getting to know better his wide network of friends, colleagues and associates, that range from teachers and academics, to scientists and more. One of my favourite discoveries is a letter from Geddes’ son-in-law, the architect and town planner, Sir Frank Charles Mears (1880-1953) to Patrick Geddes at the Outlook Tower.  In the letter, Mears discusses the beauty of the Japanese garden in relation to Japanese Town Planning Practice:

Extract from a letter from architect and son-in-law, Frank C. Mears (1880-1953) to Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) discussing the Japanese garden.

Extract from a letter from architect and son-in-law, Frank C. Mears (1880-1953) to Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) discussing the Japanese garden.

“I don’t think the idea of a Garden City could occur to a real Japanese, since with them every garden, and even flower vase is a microcosm, embodying their land and philosophy in one:- so, one would assume their towns are laid out in the same way.”

“The so-called irregularity of the Japanese lay-out seems to me to be of a high coordination, far above that of either the haphazard, or the formal methods of the West today.  I think therefore that a great deal could be learned there which would be useful to the “Cities” movement here – ”

Frank C. Mears (1880-1953) to Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), 22 January 1908. (Ref: T-GED9/818).

Planning for Humanity: Patrick Geddes in India, 1914-1924

This October we celebrate the 165th anniversary of Patrick Geddes’ birth (2 October 1854).  We bring you news of a series of upcoming events which commemorate Patrick Geddes and his long-standing relationship with India. 

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We are popping up!  We are offering a unique opportunity to view material from the Patrick Geddes Archives held by both the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde. Two small complementary displays are available to view at the University of Edinburgh Main Library and the University of Strathlcyde Andersonian Library (levels 3 and 5). Planning for Humanity: Patrick Geddes in India, 1914-1924, celebrates Geddes’ unique contribution to urban planning in India.

Both displays will run throughout October 2019 and are available to view by staff, students and members of the public, between 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.  If you are a member of the public, simply let staff at the front desk of the library you are visiting know that you are interested in viewing the display and you will be issued with a temporary visitors pass. Please note that at the University of Edinburgh Library you will be required to provide photographic ID in order to gain access to the library and view the display.

University of Edinburgh's South Asia Week 2019 Website graphicCongratulations to colleagues at Edinburgh Global who have compiled a fantastically full and varied programme as part of the University of Edinburgh’s South Asia Week 2019. Do not miss the Ahmedabad Walls exhibition! This is a unique opportunity see the history of Ahmedabad through the eyes of Mumbai based architect and aerial photographer Robert Stephens. Stephens’ aerial photography references Patrick Geddes’ 1915 observations of the historic walled city, and features excerpts from archive material from the Patrick Geddes archives and from Stephens’ own collections.

Robert Stephens first visited Scotland to research the Patrick Geddes archives in June 2018. During his visit, a chance conversation with our project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, led to the two collaborating on two events in March 2019, in India. Thanks to funding from generous University of Edinburgh alumni, Elaine travelled in the footsteps of Geddes, highlighting the Patrick Geddes archives and sharing project news with passionate and enthused audiences in both Ahmedebad and Mumbai. You can view Elaine’s CEPT University talk on YouTube.

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a selection of images from elaine and robert’s collaborative patrick geddes events with CEPT UNIVERSITY, Ahmedbad and artisan’s gallery, mumbai, which took place in March 2019.  Images Courtesy of ROBERT STEPHENS AND Tina Nandi.


The University of Edinburgh’s South Asia Regional Director Amrita Sadarangani aided the success of Elaine’s visit to India enormously. One afternoon, in the beautiful Ministry of New offices in Mumbai, Amrita and Elaine sat together discussing potential “Geddes inspired” collaborations. Amrita suggested that we connect Stephens with our very own School of Architecture colleague, Dr Dorian Wiszniewski.  Subsequently, and after a lot of hard work behind the scenes, we are thrilled that this October will see the opening of Ahmedebad Walls at the Matthew Architecture Gallery in Edinburgh. Thanks go to everyone who has helped to make it happen.

Ahmedabad Walls Exhibition Poster

“Ahmedabad Walls” Exhibition Poster

Robert Stephens and Professor Bashabi Fraser (Edinburgh Napier University) will be in conversation with Dr Dorian Wiscniewski on the evening of 2 October 2019. Set to be a fascinating discussion, which covers Geddes,Tagore and Gandhi, this event immediately precedes the official launch of Stephens’ Ahmedebad Walls exhibition. This special opening event will start at 6pm at the Adam House Lecture Theatre, followed at 7pm by a visit to the Ahmedabad Walls exhibition at the Matthew Architecture Gallery.  Ahmedabad Walls runs 2 – 25 October 2019 at the Matthew Architecture Gallery, Minto House, Chambers Street, Edinburgh.

There will be a futher opportunity to engage with Robert Stephens and Dorian Wiszniewski on Friday 4 October, when they host their ‘In Conversation’ event at the Ahmedabad Walls exhibition. You can find out about this event and all the other South Asia week events on the Edinburgh Global website.

Patrick Geddes Centre Autumn Programme Title PageLast but by no means least – as part of the Patrick Geddes Centre’s autumn programme, Elaine and Robert reunite on 2 October 2019. Together with Dorian Wiszniewski, and the Patrick Geddes Centre’s education officer, Russell Clegg, they will lead a public study day which includes presentations on Geddes and India, followed by archive and exhibition visits. For more information and to book a place visit the Patrick Geddes Centre website or Eventbrite. It’s going to be a busy month – we hope you can join us in the celebrations!

If you would like to know a little more about Patrick Geddes in India, visit our February 2019 blog post To the City, In the City, For the City

Connecting with Patrick Geddes and friends: the intern experience

Phew!  That was a fast 8 weeks! As our archive cataloguing project intern, Sorina Mihai, nears the end of her internship, we invited her to share the highs and lows of her experience.  Tasked with creating 640 new catalogue descriptions, cataloguing a discreet series of correspondence, creating social media content, presenting her work to peers (among other things) – Sorina certainly had her work cut out for her. Has working with Patrick Geddes and his archive collections changed her forever?  Let’s find out…  

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

It has been an exciting eight weeks which gave me tremendous satisfaction from the variety of tasks I was involved in, from handling 19th and 20th century correspondence to having access to the beautiful Patrick Geddes Collections. The internship enabled me to gain a deeper understanding and insight into the archives profession, and allowed me to think more broadly about archives cataloguing and its importance.  On a personal level, I have developed my organisational skills and gained more self-confidence. I can see how my work facilitates access and discovery to archive collections, enhancing the capacity of researchers to browse catalogue descriptions online to discover new correspondents and connections. My experience has helped me to understand that an archivist’s role is not just about preserving collections, but also about conserving, promoting and making information accessible to existing and new audiences. Archives not only provide evidence of activities and their context, they also increase our knowledge and understanding of individuals, history, ideas, theories and cultures. This was an immense opportunity to gather knowledge and experience to support my future career as an archive and information professional.

I have enjoyed cataloguing a series of correspondence which relates to Patrick Geddes’ educational projects and spans some 45 years, 1886-1931 (Ref: T-GED12/3). It reveals many of Geddes’ social and educational enterprises, such as providing comfortable and affordable lodging for students, making education more accessible for the working classes through the University Extension Scheme, and using historical theatrical performances to educate audiences through ‘Masques of Learning’. Other correspondence within this series discusses outdoor nature study, adult and teacher training, Summer Meetings and university work in Calcutta, India. Multiple locations are covered, from Scotland, England, India, and France, to the U.S.A. and Israel. The financial strains of the Town and Gown Association and Geddes’ University Student Halls in Edinburgh and London are also documented. In this series of letters, Geddes’ correspondents are mainly teachers, educators, social reformers, scientists, and academics. Discovering fascinating personalities such as Robert Smith (1874-1900), botanist; Jessie Mabel Dearmer (1872-1915), novelist, dramatist, children’s book author and illustrator; Helen Walton (1859-1945), artist; Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), art historian; and Maurice Paterson (1836-1917), educationist (to name only a few) was such a pleasure.

This series of correspondence also reflects Geddes’ deep interest in educational reform as well as his capacity to work on many projects at the same time. His London ‘Masque of Learning’ in 1913 was so successful, that after the original representations to the general public, it was extended for the benefit of schools and historians taking part in an International Historical Congress. Afterwards, Geddes made tentative preparations for staging ‘The Masque of Learning’ at the International Exhibition in Ghent later that year, while at the same time planning his own contribution to the exhibition.

Marie Bonnet, first on the left, with Edith Hilliard, Norah, Arthur and Alasdair Geddes (Ref: T-GED 22/3/15/2)

Part of my internship required me to create two comprehensive name authorities which document individuals and their relationships with other people within the collection, in accordance with recognised international professional archival standards. Historically, women have often been underrepresented in archive catalogues.  There is a vast network of female correspondents and collaborators to be found within the Patrick Geddes archive collections and drawing out the identities, stories and contributions of these women was an area which I was keen to contribute to.  With the support of project archivist Elaine, I elected to create a name authority description for Anna Geddes (1857-1917), music teacher and Patrick Geddes’ wife and constant collaborator, and the other for Marie Bonnet (1874-1960), a social reformer and close family friend who belonged to the Montpellier Geddes circle. The research process presented its own challenges, because of limited biographical resources, inconsistent dates in Marie Bonnet’s case, and fragmented information on Anna Geddes which focused mainly on her domestic life.  This required investing more time and effort in the research process, which made me reflect on my time management practices and the need to factor in buffer time to deal with unexpected challenges.

Undertaking research in order to create name authorities has enabled me to discover and use biographical online resources, as well as relevant biographies on the life and time of Patrick Geddes. It has widened my background knowledge on Patrick Geddes’ interests and network of correspondents, as well as the culture and social movements of the second half of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. This has helped me better understand, interpret and contextualise the correspondence and articulate this clearly in the catalogue descriptions.

Sorina Mihai, archive cataloguing intern, presenting her work to professional peers.

Sorina Mihai, archive cataloguing intern, presenting her work to professional peers.

The internship allowed me to hone my social media and presentation skills. As my experience in these fields was previously limited, this was an important development area for me and I feel I have benefited enormously from the experience. Tweeting collection highlights, participating in Twitter campaigns on ‘International Archives Day’ and ‘What’s in the Archive Box’, allowed me to understand how social media can be used as an outreach tool for collection promotion and discovery. Using photograph collages and Movie Maker apps to create visual content which reflected the collection, allowed me to experiment with new and innovative engagement tools.  Being active on social media also made me aware of the complex challenges presented by copyright legislation and compliance. I gained more knowledge surrounding the copyright of visual materials in particular, which complemented my training from the ‘Information Law’ module of my Information and Library Studies MSc.

Sorina selected a range of items for display, such as correspondence, leaflets, books and photographs from the T-GED Collection, University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections.

Delivering presentations about my work within the project has given me more confidence in myself and my capacity to speak in front of an audience. It was a good opportunity to develop the capacity to plan, structure, curate and exhibit materials needed for my presentation. My previous experience in helping project archivist Elaine deliver a presentation at the beginning of the internship was very useful in terms of time-planning, structuring, selecting and presenting items from the collections in a coherent and comprehensive manner. It also made me realise that the way we articulate and share information about what we do can influence the audience’s perception of the collection, communicate its importance and gather wider support from people in the community, professionals, and funding organisations.

The process of writing about my internship was a great way to reflect on my experience and consolidate my learning, as well as thinking through how I may apply that to my professional development. Additionally, blog posts are a useful outreach tool which allow people to find out more about the project and its goals, by providing new information about the collection, the work undertaken and present progress. Like presentations, they are useful advocacy tools for increasing visibility and demonstrating the value of archival work and collections.

What I’ve enjoyed most about the internship was the variety it offered, the opportunities to develop and enhance skills across a broad range of activities that reflect current and future practice within the archives field. I am grateful for the opportunity to have covered cataloguing, professional international archival standards, and legislation that impacts on archives. Audience engagement and development, advocacy, reflective writing, research skills, and having contact with so many professionals in the field in such a short time has also been immensely beneficial. I now feel more confident in using international archival standards, giving presentations, managing my time and multitasking. The tasks assigned were realistic and could be completed within the 8 week time-frame.

I also feel deeply grateful and fortunate to have worked with a team of such dedicated, talented and amazing professionals, who gave me constant support and shared so much of their knowledge and passion for their work as archivists. I wish to thank project archivist Elaine most of all for her constant support, encouragement, guidance and for making the internship so interesting and rewarding. I wish to thank the teams at the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh and the Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections for making the internship such a wonderful experience, it was a pleasure working with you all!

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