History Reconstructed: Scotland’s Urban Past Workshop

A workshop combining presentations, lectures, and hands on workshop tasks, the History Reconstructed event was a fantastic, hugely informative day to be part of.

The event was organised by the team at Historic Environment Scotland’s Scotland’s Urban Past initiative. This is a Heritage Lottery Funding supported endeavor which attempts to help people from all occupations, from professionals to lay people, connect with the unique architectural and urban history of the nation. Two years into a five-year program, the initiative is still expanding.

Rather than a top down, heavily prescriptive initiative, Scotland’s Urban Past is remarkable in that it provides access, information and training to local groups to facilitate their own investigations into architectural and social history. This is co-ordinated and collated by the team, who provide professional and enthusiastic support.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the event, a trial workshop testing the more thorough training to be given to representatives from these community groups. Helpfully for my own project, the presentations and lectures given were in line with many of the resources I am using, or will use, in various research strands. The information and skills imparted on the day should ensure that a more thorough and exhaustive historical investigation is undertaken for Notional Identities.

Interestingly, these skills were then to be tested out. Divided into teams, each with a pack of historic information on a Scottish urban area, each group investigated the evolution of the urban morphology, and surrounding social history utilising the online services of HES and the national records of Scotland. This was honed further on investigation into the architectural history of a single building, and tracking both the designer and occupants themselves over time.

The event also allowed me initial access and a tour of the Historic Environment Scotland George Sinclair House Search room, a brilliant resource containing much of the recorded architectural history of Scotland (it also has the recently combined library of the RCAHMS Archives, which are integral to understanding past designs for Calton Hill).

The broad nature of the urban areas covered (a cross section of towns and cities across Scotland), revealed a research pathway that would be useful to explore for the project: namely commonalities between emerging and developing urban morphologies within Scotland over time. Architecture, when split and differentiated in terms of “styles” as it has historically been, allows this in (only in part) the form of individual buildings. In terms of the wider urban fabric, it will be useful to investigate a Scotland wide typological study on this, and how this relates to the idea of a uniquely Scottish identity. Moreover, it will be interesting to correlated those findings with Edinburgh… If Scotland’s oddly preserved capital city acts as the nation in a microcosm, it could further provide evidence of an  architecture reflecting the idea of a nation.

(Image provided courtesy of Scotland’s Urban Past)

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