Seeing Our History is a Heritage Lottery Fund-supported research project conducted in 2014/15 by the Royal National Institute of the Blind-Scotland and aided in practical terms by Lothian Health Services Archive and the National Records of Scotland. The basis of the project was a Register of Outdoor Blind people living in Edinburgh and the southeast of Scotland between 1903 and 1910. The Register had been poorly compiled with many incomplete entries, but this gave added incentive to research volunteers in their quest to reconstruct the lives of outdoor blind people – people living in their communities and beyond the patronage of the Edinburgh Blind Asylum and its workshops.
Members of the Seeing Our History research team
(Photo: Iain Hutchison)
|Selling matches in|
Edinburgh's Old Town
(Photo: City of Edinburgh Council)
The outdoor blind tended to be those blind people ‘disabled’ from working, or who, if they did work, earned insufficient money for it to provide meaningful self-support. They included elderly people, people who had lost a trade due to accident-related blindness, married women and widows, paupers confined to poorhouses, and the Mission’s so-called ‘migrant class’ whose claim to independence was in reality a precarious existence in lodging houses and temporary accommodation.
The primary output from the project was a book entitled Feeling Our History. The title emphasised not only the role of tactile print to people with sight loss, but the emotions affecting individual lives along with their tribulations, successes, and diverse social relationships. The book presented the project finds in two ways. One was through a selection of themes tracing the work of the Missions to Outdoor Blind and the broader experiences of blind people in such spheres as employment, education, poverty, communication, religion and charitable intervention. The second approach was to showcase the lives of ten of the people whom our researchers had explored in detail.
The book was produced in five formats in order to provide maximum accessibility to people with sight loss, and included large print, braille, audio and e-book formats. An interesting discovery was that people with total sight loss, in addition to other options, also wished to have a standard print version of the book so that it could be passed around their sighted friends.
The project had also undertaken to produce six podcasts for Insight Radio (now renamed Connect Radio), the radio station of RNIB. The podcasts, each lasting about ten minutes, were scripted in consultation with individual researchers and combined their case study investigations with a chosen broader theme.
|Lizzie Hoseason spent her final years in a|
mental asylum where this image was taken.
(Photo: Lothian Health Services Archive,
Edinburgh University Library)
The second opportunity was to produce an additional, smaller book, which showcased the podcast scripts. It was entitled Hearing Our History.
The podcasts and the books can be accessed at: http://www.insightradio.co.uk/seeingourhistory.html#.V3PPjfkrLIU
Iain Hutchison (2016): Seeing Our History – Outdoor Blind People in Edwardian Scotland. In: Public Disability History 1 (2016) 17.