University Business magazine mention for EDINA and UoE

Last month I had a request through for an interview on social media for University Business magazine, which focuses on (as the title suggests), the business and administration side of universities. That request proved to be a really good opportunity to look back and reflect on what has been happening with social media across the last 5-10 years, including some awesome innovative activities at the University of Edinburgh, many of which – such as social media guidance and advise – EDINA have been part of.

Front cover image of University Business Magazine.

The front cover of the latest issue (81) of University Business magazine.

I’m really pleased to see that some of my comments on the use of social media at Edinburgh and in the wider HE sector have made it into the latest issue (Issue 81, pp 65-8). And I’m particularly glad to see that the Managing Your Digital Footprint campaign is part of those comments as it is a really ambitious project that will hopefully have findings of use for the much wider sector.

You can read the full article – which looks at social media at a number of institutions – online here (pages 65-68).


SUNCAT updated

SUNCAT has been updated. Updates from the following libraries were loaded into the service over the past week. The dates displayed indicate when files were received by SUNCAT.

  • Brunel University (01 Oct 14)
  • CONSER (22 Oct 14)
  • Cranfield University (20 Oct 14)
  • Directory of Open Access Journals (10 Oct 14)
  • Edinburgh University (21 Oct 14)
  • Glasgow University (06 Oct 14)
  • King’s College London (02 Oct 14)
  • Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (17 Oct 14)
  • Southampton University (19 Oct 14)

To check on the currency of other libraries on SUNCAT please check the updates page for further details.

Exploring Jisc MediaHub – September’s Most Popular

This is the fourth post looking at the most popular search terms, items and subjects that people have been browsing and searching on in Jisc MediaHub. Clicking through to the ‘Most Popular’ page allows you to take a closer look at the most recent popular items, searches and subjects. Here is a selection from the previous month (September 2014).

Image of Jisc MediaHub's "Most Popular" page, captured on Wednesday 1st October 2014.

Jisc MediaHub’s “Most Popular� page, captured on Wednesday 1st October 2014.


As well as the more general subjects of ‘sport’ and ‘football’, you can see that the more specific search on ‘St Helen’s Rugby League Challenge Cup Final 1961′ was particularly popular. This final was played at Wembley, where St. Helen’s beat Wigan 12-6. It is unclear why the 1961 Cup Final in particular has been so popular, so if anyone has an idea please let us know!

I particularly like this Rugby League Cup Final poster from an earlier year, 1934, which was designed for Transport for London and can be found on the Exploring 20th Century London website.

Image of a Rugby League Cup Final poster, designed forTransport for London in 1934.

Rugby League Cup Final – Poster. Transport for London, 1934.

The First World War

Britain’s Effort‘ is the most popular item viewed in Jisc MediaHub last month. For more details on this wonderful cartoon take a look at last October’s Most Popular blog post! Also proving very popular is the search for ‘First World War cinema’. During the First World War (1914-1918) the popularity of cinemas grew quickly, along with cinema stars such as Charlie Chaplin. However, the war also had a negative impact on cinemas, with many being damaged or destroyed here in the UK and over on the continent. Below is an image taken on the 9th October 1918 showing some men of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in the wrecked interior of a German cinema in Cambrai. This item  is part of the Imperial War Museum’s First World War Collection available via the Culture Grid.

Image of three members of the patrol of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in a wrecked interior of a German cinema theatre in Cambrai. Taken during the First World War on the 9th October 1918.

Ministry of Information First World War Official Collection. IWM First World War Collection, 1918.

Another popular item is a short report from Gaumont Graphic created in 1929 entitled ‘In Memory of the Victims of War‘, which shows a memorial service held in Berlin for the victims of the First World War.

Logic and Ethics

Not only do people search for people, things, events in Jisc MediaHub, but they also search for concepts and systems such as ‘logic’ (8th most popular subject this month) and ‘ethics’. If you carry out a search on the subject ‘logic’ you get back programmes from the Logic Lane series in Jisc MediaHub. This is a series of films tracing the development of philosophy at Oxford University from the 1930s to the early 1970s, featuring eminent figures such as Sir Alfred Ayer, Bernard Williams, Iris Murdoch and Sir Isaiah Berlin.

When searching under the subject ‘ethics’ many of the results are interviews from radio broadcasts. These are part of the London Broadcasting Company/Independent Radio News audio archive, consisting of 7,000 reel-to-reel tapes in a collection that runs from 1973 to the mid-1990s and relating to news and current affairs. Topics include the question of press freedom on the one hand and people’s privacy on the other, as well as sleaze in UK politics. Examples include: Princess Diana photographed in gym and one of several interviews on the Nolan Report, where he gives recommendations of his report on sleaze in UK politics.

North Sea Oil Sites

One very topical popular item is the news report on the auctioning of North Sea oil sites back in 1971, which was shown on ITV’s News at Ten. Oil and gas reserves in the North Sea was one of the issues raised as part of this year’s Scottish Referendum, which was held on the 18th September.

Still of a news report on the auction of North Sea oil sites, which took place in 1971. The image shows the auction delegation sitting in front of a map of the North Sea.

North Sea Oil Sites. ITV Late Evening News, 1971.

It is very interesting to hear about the process of auctioning oil sites, especially as it has such a bearing on Scotland’s future, particularly since the debate over oil revenues around the Scottish Independence Referendum which took place in September. The reporter in this ITV Late Evening News film says that “the North Sea can be stormy, but is politically calm“, which is of great importance to oil and gas companies. It was also reported that the Treasury was £37 million richer as a result of the sale of the plots in the North Sea.

Donald Campbell’s Bluebird Raised from Seabed

Another popular item is a news report on the raising of the wreckage of Donald Campbell’s ‘Bluebird’, which was used in an attempt by Campbell to break his own world water speed record back in 1967 in Coniston Lake. It ended in disaster when the craft somersaulted out of control, resulting in the crash and the loss of Sir Donald Campbell’s life. This short report includes an explanation of how the wreckage was brought to the surface and to the shore of the lake. ‘Bluebird’ will be restored through a volunteer-led project and shown at a local museum as a symbol of British endeavour.

Still from a news report on the raising of the wreckage of Sir Donald Campbell's 'Bluebird' from Comiston Lake. Image shows diver Bill Smith who discovered the wreckage back in 2000. Report by ITN in 2001.

Donald Campbell’s Bluebird Raised From Seabed. ITN, 2001.

Interview: Professional Shoplifter

A particularly fascinating and entertaining entry in our top ten most popular items this month is this interview with a professional shoplifter, as you don’t normally get to hear from people who shoplift for a living!

Still from an interview with a professional shoplifter, who is wearing a suit and sunglasses. Taken from the News at Ten, 1970.

Interview: Professional Shoplifter. ITV Late Evening News, 1970.

The questions asked as well as the answers are brilliant! Examples include: “What are your credentials for this job?“; “… You have spent 13 years in jail, so it might be said that you weren’t a very good shoplifter.“; and “to the petty thief it [closed circuit television] is a deterrent, but to people like myself this is a joke.


One of the most intriguing search terms from last month is the rather enigmatic ‘holes’! One example of a search result our 8th most popular search term will find is a photograph of a coal hole during the strike of 1926, taken by Barrie Whittamore. It is great to be able to find out, by reading the description on the ‘Picture the Past‘ website, that the man in the hole is called Ernest Preston.

Image of a coal hole during the 1926 miner's strike, showing four miners sitting around the hole and one miner in the hole. From the 'Picture the Past' Collection.

Coal hole, during 1926 strike. Picture the Past Collection, 1926.

I particularly like the magnifying glass feature on the ‘Picture The Past’ website! We also have our own version on the Jisc MediaHub website, offered where possible. See the image below for an example.

Lal Kafir Images in Pakistan

This Lal Kafir images in Pakistan of carved men and horses, from the Royal Geographical Society is another very popular item. As you can see, it is possible to zoom in to see specific areas of the image on the Jisc MediaHub website. Of the 63,670 image records MediaHub hosts 61,903 of them are zoom-able, so there is a 97% coverage. Those which are not zoom-able are either too small or have been uploaded by users and so do not support the zoom tool.

Detail of an image showing Lal Kafir carvings of men and horses in Pakistan. Photograph taken in 1918.

Detail from ‘Lal Kafir Images in Pakistan’. Royal Geographical Society and IBG, 1918.

It is also possible to see where this image was taken on a map. This feature is only available if there is specific location information for the item. Jisc MediaHub uses two types of location data:

  • Coordinate based – 68,286 records have at least one geographic coordinate associated with it, of which 10,200 are considered unique locations and are visible on the ‘Explore By Place‘.
  • Text based – 148,932 records have a “place” associated with them, a word rather than a coordinate, of which 129,969 have at least one country associated and the remaining 18,963 have other forms of location associated (area, city, region etc.).
Lal Kafir image and a Google map overlaid showing where the image was taken, in this case Pakistan, on the Jisc MediaHub website.

Lal Kafir Image and Google Map showing where the image was taken. Jisc MediaHub, 2014.

Jisc MediaHub also has a “locations” crowdsourcing feature just beneath the map thumbnail of an item if it is not sure whether a particular location is correct. Users can help Jisc MediaHub improve location data associated with a record by telling us whether the suggested location is relevant e.g. ‘France International Cat Exhibition‘.

This feature was developed using the Unlock service, which enables you to extract placenames and locations from a text and turn those placenames into coordinates on the map. These locations tend to be pretty good but we know they aren’t always perfect, so the “locations” crowdsourcing feature enables Jisc MediaHub to validate these suggestions.

As you can see from the highlights above and in previous months there is always a diverse range of subjects and types of materials, but there are also some general themes that emerge. It is really interesting to explore how the most popular search terms, items and subjects change each month. You can also further explore Jisc MediaHub in other ways, such as by collection, by place, and by time.

If you would like a closer look at what people have been searching for and viewing, just take a look at the Most Popular page on Jisc MediaHub. We would also love to hear your thoughts on why some of these items are popular – just let us know in the comments below or share your theories on Twitter with the hashtag #MediaHubTop10.



Celebrate World Pasta Day!

This Saturday (25th October) is World Pasta Day. Celebrate the great Italian staple, so popular throughout the world, by eating your favourite pasta dish! (Mine is spaghetti al pomodoro.) Alternatively, feast your eyes on these weird and wonderful pasta, pizza and Italian cooking titles found in SUNCAT.

A photograph of a plate of linguine with red prawns, herbs and cheese.

Authentic Roman linguine with red prawns, herbs and cheese

  • Pasta & C.
  • Pasta & basta.
  • Positively pasta! : the newsletter on pasta.
  • Pasta press : the newsletter for connoisseurs of flavored pasta — with a healthy twist!.
  • Worldwide Cookie, Cracker & Pasta Mfg Industry Report.
  • PMQ’s pizza
  • Jazz at the Pizza Express.
  • Dominos Pizza (UK) Case Study: Building From a Platform of Scale & Innovation to Grow During Recession Guide to UK pizza and Italian restaurant brands.
  • Black Book – Equitable Companies, Inc.: Will The Pizza Lady Deliver?.
  • Pizza Hut Case Study: Repositioning Fast Food as a Healthy Option.
  • Macaroni journal.
  • Your guide to 57 decadent cooking holidays in Italy.
  • Slow : the magazine of the Slow Food Movement.

Why not take a look in SUNCAT for more pasta and pizza titles, as well as other weird and wonderful journal titles?


Visualising OS MasterMap® Topography Layer Building Height Attribute in ArcGIS and ArcGlobe

In March 2014 Ordnance Survey (OS) published an alpha release of the much anticipated Building Height Attribute (BHA) dataset, which is an enhancement to OS MasterMap Topography Layer. You can read all about it in their blog post. In this blog we’re going to show you how to integrate the BHA dataset with buildings in the OS MasterMap Topography Layer to create a heighted buildings dataset and visualise it in 3D. We used ArcGIS 10.2 and ArcGlobe to do this but other software could be used.

The first alpha release of BHA included buildings covering approximately 8,000km2 of the country. A second alpha release of BHA was published in July 2014 which covers around 10,000km2 of the major towns and cities in Great Britain. OS publish an interactive map which shows the extents of the areas covered by the alpha release, so you can check if your area of interest is included.

A note of caution, this is an alpha release of the data and OS do not guarantee that BHA is error free or accurate. Additionally the dataset is not subject to update and maintenance. However in time OS intend to include BHA in OS MasterMap Topography Layer so in future it will be supplied and maintained as a part of the Topography Layer.

Attributes supplied by OS

BHA attributesA number of attributes are provided for each building as shown in the image :

  • ground level [AbsHMin]
  • the base of the roof [AbsH2]
  • highest part of the roof [AbsHMax]

Using these three values two additional relative heights are calculated:

  • relative height from ground level to the highest part of the roof [RelHMax]
  • relative height from ground level to base of the roof [RelH2]

Data availability

OS publish the data as a single CSV file containing over 20 million records. This is a very large dataset and can cause data management problems in a desktop environment so EDINA have split the dataset up using the OS 5km grid allowing you to download the data in tiles for your study area. The data is available in CSV and KML formats. To use the data in GIS or CAD packages you should download the data in CSV format; KML is used to visualise the data in Google Earth.

OS 5km gridThe ‘Show Grid/Overlay’ menu on the right hand side in the Data Download application displays the OS 5km grid. This will draw a grid with each square containing the OS 5km tile reference, as shown in the image.

Please note: BHA data is not currently available for the whole country, you should consult the interactive map published by the OS to see if data exists for your area of interest.

Using the data

OS provide an excellent Getting Started Guide which explains in detail the process of getting BHA data in to GIS for subsequent analysis. The main steps are described below but please refer to the Getting Started Guide for full details.

The data is supplied as CSV files. Each record in the file has a unique TOID which can be used to join the data to building features in OS MasterMap Topography Layer.

Getting started
  1. Download OS MasterMap Topography Layer data for your area of interest from Digimap using the OS Data Download application. Select the ‘File Geodatabase’ format for your data as this is a native ArcGIS format and doesn’t require any conversion.
  2. Download BHA data for your area of interest from Digimap using the OS Data Download application (BHA data is found in the ‘OS MasterMap’ group), selecting CSV format.
  3. Open the OS MasterMap Topography Layer data in ArcGIS.
Preparing BHA data for use

If your downloaded BHA data is made up of more than one CSV file we recommend merging them all together in to a single CSV file first to make subsequent processing easier and quicker. Use a text editor such as Notepad or TextPad rather than Excel, as Excel can change the formatting of numbers which contain leading zeros.

Each object in MasterMap Topography Layer have a unique identifier called a Topographic Identifier, or TOID for short. TOIDs supplied by Ordnance Survey take the format of a 13 or 16 digit number prefixed with ‘osgb’ e.g. ‘osgb1000039581300′ or ‘osgb1000002489201973′. ArcGIS automatically strips off the ‘osgb’ prefix and adds three leading zeros to any TOID that has only 13 digits to make them all 16 characters long. In order to make it easier to join BHA data to building features in MasterMap Topography Layer the BHA files supplied by EDINA have two TOID values:

  • os_topo_toid_digimap is the TOID formatted to match TOIDs in ArcGIS
  • os_topo_toid is the original TOID as supplied by Ordnance Survey (this should be used in other GIS packages such as QGIS which do not modify the TOIDs in MasterMap Topography Layer)

Before BHA data can be loaded in to ArcGIS it is necessary to create a small text file (called schema.ini) that specifies the data type of each field so that ArcGIS handles it correctly. Specifically the schema.ini file is used to ensure that ArcGIS treats the two TOID  values as text rather than numbers. The steps required are detailed below:

  1. Create a new file called schema.ini in the same folder as the BHA csv file you wish to import.
  2. Open the file in a text editor such as Notepad or Text pad.
  3. Copy and paste the following text in to the file:
    Col2=OS_TOPO_TOID Text
    Col4=BHA_ProcessDate DateTime
    Col5=TileRef Text
    Col6=AbsHMin Double
    Col7=AbsH2 Double
    Col8=AbsHMax Double
    Col9=RelH2 Double
    Col10=RelHmax Double
    Col11=BHA_Conf Long
  4. The first section of code, in square brackets shown in red above, refers to the name of the csv file you wish to import. You should modify this filename so that it references your BHA csv file.
  5. Save your changes to the file. Ensure it is called schema.ini and is saved in the same folder as the csv file you with to import.
  6. Add your BHA csv file to ArcGIS through the Add Data function; this will add the data as a table in the map document.
Creating a heighted buildings dataset

ArcGIS JOIN windowIn order to create a new heighted buildings dataset from the building features in OS MasterMap Topography Layer and the BHA data we use the GIS ‘join’ function. A join links these two datasets together through a common unique identifier (the TOID) resulting in a set of buildings with height values stored as additional attributes.

  1. Right click on the Topographic Area layer in the table of contents > Joins and Relates > Join. This will bring up the Join Data window which can be completed as shown. Remember to join to the TOID in the csv file that is formatted to match the TOIDs displayed in ArcGIS (os_topo_toid_digimap).
    Tip: to create a dataset which just includes the heighted buildings select ‘Keep only matching records’.
  2. Having joined the datasets together we can then export the result as a new Feature Class in our File Geodatabase for subsequent use and analysis. This is done by right clicking on the Topographic Area layer in the table of contents > Data > Export Data…  give your new dataset a suitable name and select your existing File Geodatabase as the destination.
Visualising the result in ArcGlobe

So far we have downloaded data from OS MasterMap Topography Layer and BHA data for the same area and joined the two together to create a new dataset containing just the building features which now include the various height attributes published by OS. Now the fun begins!

We can easily visualise the heighted buildings dataset in 3D using ArcGlobe or ArcScene. The following steps describe how to import the data in to ArcGlobe.

  1. Download the OS Terrain 50 DTM for your area of interest from Digimap using the OS Data Download application. This will be used as the base (ground) heights for the area to provide a more accurate terrain model than is available by default in ArcGlobe.
  2. Open ArcGlobe and add in the DTM. You will be asked if you wish to use the DTM as and ‘image source’ or an ‘elevation source’. You should select the ‘elevation source’ option:

ArcGlobe add DEM window

  1. The Geographic Coordinate Systems Warning dialog will appear as OS MasterMap Topography Layer data is in a different coordinate system (British National Grid) from that used by ArcGlobe (WGS 84):

ArcGlobe Geographic Coordinate Systems Warning

  1. You should specify the transformation used to ensure that the data is accurately positioned on the globe. Using the Transformations… button you should specify the ‘OSGB_1936_To_WGS_1984_Petroleum’ transformation:

ArcGlobe Geographic Coordinate System Transformation

  1. Adding your heighted building dataset from your File Geodatabase is achieved through the Add Data button. Once added you may need to zoom to the layer to view it: right click on the layer in the table of contents > Zoom To Layer.
  2. By default the data is not extruded vertically so appears flat on the earth’s surface. To visualise the buildings in 3D right click on the layer in the table of contents and select Properties and then click on the Globe Extrusion tab.
  3. Select the ‘Extrude features in layer’ checkbox and then in the ‘extrusion value or expression’ box enter the following:
[relh2] * 1.5

ArcGlobe layer properties

This will extrude the buildings using the RelH2 attribute with a vertical exaggeration of 1.5 times (i.e. buildings will be shown 1.5 times their actual height). We found using RelH2 (the relative height from ground level to base of the roof) provides a more useful visualisation over RelHMax (the relative height from ground level to the highest part of the roof) which can lead to some overly tall looking buildings where they include towers that extend significantly beyond the height of the rest of the roof.

The end result

The image below shows an area of Edinburgh including Edinburgh Castle with Arthurs’ Seat in the background. Aerial imagery from ArcGlobe is draped over OS Terrain 50 data for the region with heighted buildings drawn on top. Using the tools in ArcGlobe it is easy to explore the landscape, navigating across the surface and examining the relationships between buildings in the built environment.

BHA data in ArcGlobe

Further information

OS published Release Notes for the alpha releases of BHA. Additional information can be found in Annexe D of the OS MasterMap Topography Layer User Guide and Annexe E of the OS MasterMap Topography Layer Technical Specification.



SUNCAT updated

SUNCAT has been updated. Updates from the following libraries were loaded into the service over the past week. The dates displayed indicate when files were received by SUNCAT.

  • Bolton University (25 Aug 14)
  • British Library (26 Sep 14)
  • Cambridge University (02 Oct 14)
  • Cardiff University (29 Sep 14)
  • CONSER (15 Oct 14)
  • Dundee University (3 Oct 14)
  • Edinburgh University (21 Sep 14)
  • Exeter University (3 Oct 14)
  • London Business School (6 Oct 14)
  • London Metropolitan University (26 Sep 14)
  • Nottingham University (2 Oct 14)
  • Queen’s University Belfast (03 Oct 14)
  • Robert Gordon University (1 Oct 14)
  • St Andrews University (03 Oct 14)
  • Southampton University (12 Oct 14)
  • Strathclyde University (30 Sep 14)
  • Sussex University (6 Oct 14)
  • University College London (6 Oct 14)
  • Wellcome Library (15 Oct 14)
  • Wiener Library (1 Oct 14)

To check on the currency of other libraries on SUNCAT please check the updates page for further details.

New resource – investigating coastal changes with historic maps

To help Digimap for Schools users make the most of the service, we have a number of free resources available that have been written by curriculum experts. A brand new resource is now available which is aimed at using the modern and historic mapping to investigate coastal change.

‘Investigating changes to coastal spits’ written by Janet Hutson uses the annotation tools to mark the extent of coastal spits on the 1890s historic mapping. Then pupils use the modern map to annotate the current extend of the spit. These extents can then be compared on the 1890s and current mapping to provide evidence for conclusions drawn about any changes.

You can find Janet’s fantastic resource under the Key Stage 3 resources, on the Free Resources page.

Investigating coastal spit change using 1890s, modern maps and the annotation tools

Investigating coastal spit change using 1890s, modern maps and the annotation tools

Dancing with Data

I went to an interesting talk yesterday by Prof Chris Speed called “Dancing with Data�, on how our interactions and relationships with each other, with the objects in our lives and with companies and charities are changing as a result of the data that is now being generated by those objects (particularly smartphones, but increasingly by other objects too). New phenomena such as 3D printing, airbnb, foursquare and iZettle are giving us choices we never had before, but also leading to things being done with our data which we might not have expected or known about. The relationships between individuals and our data are being re-defined as we speak. Prof Speed challenged us to think about the position of designers in this new world where push-to-pull markets are being replaced by new models. He also told us about his research collaborations with Oxfam, looking at how technology might enhance the value of the second-hand objects they sell by allowing customers to hear their stories from their previous owners.   Logo for the Tales of Things project

All very thought-provoking, but what about the implications for academic research, aside from those working in the fields of Design, Economics or Sociology who must now develop new models to reflect this changing landscape? Well, the question arises, if all this data is being generated and collected by companies, are the academics (and indeed the charity sector) falling behind the curve? Here at the University of Edinburgh, my colleagues in Informatics are doing Data Science research, looking into the infrastructure and the algorithms used to analyse the kind of commercial Big Data flowing out of the smartphones in our pockets, while Prof Speed and his colleagues are looking at how design itself is being affected. But perhaps academics in all disciplines need to be tuning their antennae to this wavelength and thinking seriously about how their research can adapt to and be enhanced by the new ways we are all dancing with data.

For more about the University of Edinburgh’s Design Informatics research and forthcoming seminars see Prof Chris Speed tweets @ChrisSpeed.

Pauline Ward is a Data Library Assistant working at the University of Edinburgh and EDINA.


Edinburgh People

Every year Edinburgh holds an Open Doors weekend, giving public access to some of the city’s most interesting buildings. With lots of venues presenting talks, tours and exhibitions, it’s a great opportunity to visit some exceptional spaces and learn about the history and culture of the city. This year Palimpsest took part, bringing our wonderful Walter Scott back to life again and this time providing him with a charming companion in the form of Mrs Margaret Oliphant, one of Edinburgh’s most prolific and, in her day, most popular authors.*

Scott and Oliphant in the Playfair Library

Scott and Oliphant in the Playfair Library

Sitting in the enormously grand Playfair Library, listening to Mrs Oliphant recount the details of her eventful life and share her opinions on everything from on Scott’s work to the place of women in society, it was immedately clear how people and personalities can change the way we experience a space. The normally cavernous room was animated as the actors talked and strolled around: watching them promenade together and greet visitors, you got a sudden sense of what the library must have been like when it was in use, a grand social space in which countless people would not only consult books and study but also people-watch, make acquaintances and converse with friends.  No longer museum-like, the library seemed to come to life again, restored to its original character.

Perhaps this is why visitors to Edinburgh seem to have been struck by the people of the city as much as by the its architecture and geography. Sifting through nineteenth-century travel narratives and memoirs as part of the data curation for the project, we’ve come across lots of accounts that stress the distinctive character of the Edinburghers. When the American traveller Henry Brevoort arrived in March 1813,** for example, he quickly penned a letter to his friend Washington Irving relating the sights of the Scottish capital with its “promenades crowded with rival bellesâ€� and “old Thebans with hats quaintly cocked and renowned soap-boilers with greasy aprons.â€� Although home to these colourful metropolitans, the city that he described was also a place of culture, with the university’s influence on civic life apparent in its “shops and libraries stored with the treasures of the learnedâ€� and its “walks along streams consecrated to the muses by the melody of verse.â€� Indeed, for Brevoort, Edinburgh’s grandest figure was William Playfair, after whom the Playfair library is named: “Prof: Playfair is decidedly the luminary of Edinburgh;â€� Brevoort writes, “he is universally beloved & looked up to, & is not less distinguished for the simplicity of his manners than by his genius & profound knowledge.”


The city was not only inhabited by the learned and the fashionable, however. Writing in the late Nineteenth Century, the soon-to-be novelist Margaretta Byrde found herself intrigued and touched by the city’s waifs and strays. In her 1898 article ‘Small People of the Pavement’*** she describes the antics of the Edinburgh’s street children who, when they are not engaged in the rather alarming “species of tobogganing which they much affect on the steeper streetsâ€�, are to be found taking on odd jobs to earn a penny for Sunday School. There is, she writes, “a wonderful reticence—it would perhaps sound ridiculous to term it delicacy in a mere street boy—about some of the Scotch ladsâ€� who strike her as more polite, more honourable and more intelligent than boys of other countries. They are also surprisingly learned: mistaken for a Salvation Army singer in the Cowgate, she finds herself surrounded by children demanding a song

humbly explaining that I was merely a tourist and unable to oblige the company, I further lowered myself in its esteem by asking if they knew who Sir Walter Scott was. I don’t know the Scottish equivalent for ‘rather’, but, had American boys been asked of they had ever heard of George Washington, their facial expression would have contained much the same blend of pity and contempt.

Byrde writes, she says, to give “honourable memoryâ€� to the easily forgotten children of the street: her small people, just like Brevoort’s Professor Playfair, are remarkable for their honesty and simplicity, their intelligence and their respect for learning and culture. The Playfair Library stands in memorial to the famous professor and exceptional figures like Scott and Oliphant are remembered by many, but as Byrde’s article reminds us (and as the thousands of accounts, memoirs and descriptions of Edinburgh that we have for our project also make readily apparent) it takes multitudes to create the particular atmosphere of a city.  The patterns created over time by these multiple voices and personalities is precisely what we’re trying to reveal with Palimpsest, but perhaps there’s scope to take our historic reanimations further: tobogganing down Castle Hill anyone?


* Scott and Oliphant were reanimated by Artemis Scotland.

**Letter from Henry Brevoort to Washington Irving March 1st 1813. Letters of Henry Brevoort to Washington Irving. P. 70 – 72.

*** Margaretta Byrde ‘Small People of the Pavement’ The Living Age (Boston) April-June 1898 pp. 532-35.

Ordnance Survey teacher training sessions in Scotland

On October 29th and 30th, Ordnance Survey will be running two training events for teachers. Both primary and secondary teachers are welcome to come along. The sessions will give hand-on use of Digimap for Schools, an overview of GIS and a look at free teacher resources available from Ordnance Survey.

They will take place at:

The James Young High School , Livingston, EH54 6NE on Wednesday , 29th October 4-6pm. Please email Elaine Batty ( to book a place.

Perth Academy , PH1 1NJ on Thursday , 30th October , 4.30-6 pm. Please email Tan Logan ( to book a place.