Tag Archives: open

From Scotland to Morocco⤴


One of the great things about openness is that when you release something under open licence, you never quite know who’s going to pick it up and what’s going to happen to it. I know this is one of the things that can make some colleagues apprehensive about using open licences but to my mind this serendipitous aspect of openness is one of it’s unique benefits.

One lovely example of this is that following the Morocco Open Education Day hosted by Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech as part of the OpenMed project, a forum of Moroccan scholars came together to draft the OER Morocco Declaration, which is based partially on the Scottish Open Education Declaration which I had a hand in writing in 2014.

Colleagues in Morocco have made significant progress since then, so I was delighted to be invited by Dr Khalid Berrada to attend the 2nd Morocco Open Education Day, which is taking place in Marrakech today, to give a talk about the Scottish Declaration.  Unfortunately due to work and family commitments I’m not able to attend in person, but thanks to the University of Edinburgh’s fabulous Media Hopper Create service I was able to record this video contribution to the event.

The Scottish Open Education Declaration is an output of the Open Scotland initiative which is supported by the University of Edinburgh and ALT Scotland.

Open Education and OER – A guide and call to action for policy makers⤴


Towards the end of last year I had the pleasure of working with ALT to develop a policy briefing on Open Education and OER.  Open Education and OER – A guide and call to action for policy makers was co-authored by Maren Deepwell, Martin Weller, Joe Wilson and I and it can be downloaded from the ALT Open Access Repository here https://repository.alt.ac.uk/2425/

Executive Summary

ALT has produced this call to action to highlight to education policy makers and professionals how Open Education and OER can expand inclusive and equitable access to education and lifelong learning, widen participation, and create new opportunities for the next generation of teachers and learners, preparing them to become fully engaged digital citizens.

Open Education can also promote knowledge transfer while enhancing quality and sustainability, supporting social inclusion and creating a culture of inter-institutional collaboration and sharing.

One of ALT’s three strategic aims is to increase the impact of Learning Technology for the wider community and we are issuing this call to action for policy makers to mandate that publicly funded educational resources are released under open licence to ensure that they reside in the public domain and are freely and openly available to all.

This will be of wide benefit, but in particular will enable education providers and learning technology professionals to:

  • Keep up to date with the rapid pace of technological innovation
  • Develop critical, informed approaches to the implementation of Learning Technology and the impact on learners
  • Scale up knowledge sharing and its benefits across sectors.

CC BY @BryanMMathers for ALT

2017 Highs, Lows and Losses⤴


I ended up taking an unscheduled break from blogging and social media over the holidays as I was laid up with a nasty virus and its after effects.  Bleh.  So in an attempt to get back into the saddle, I’m taking a leaf out of Anne-Marie’s book with this “What I did in 2017” post.  So in no particular order here’s a ramble through some of the things that made an impression on me, for one reason or another, over the last year.


OER is my conference.  I’ve never missed a single one since the conference kicked off in 2010.  They’re always thought provoking and topical events, but OER17 The Politics of Open was particularly timely and unexpectedly emotional. I was fortunate to take part on several panels and and talks, but the one that will always stay with me is Shouting from the Heart, a very short, very personal, lightning talk about what writing, openness and politics means to me.  I’d never given such a personal talk before and, not to put too fine a point on it, I was fucking terrified. I was supposed to end with a quote from the Declaration of Arbroath but I bottled it and had to stop because I was in danger of crying in front of everyone. It was a deeply emotional experience, but the overwhelming response more than made up for for my mortification.   I was also extremely grateful to meet up with many old friends and to meet many new friends too.

International Women’s Day

I was honoured to be name checked on International Women’s Day by several colleagues who I respect and admire hugely.  I’m still deeply touched.  Thank you.

Mashrou’ Leila  مشروع ليلى

Mashrou’ Leila مشروع ليلى are a Lebanese indy rock band whose lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay and a vocal advocate for LGBTQ issues, women’s rights and contemporary Arab identity. Mashrou’ Leila also happen to be one of my favourite bands of the last year so I was over the moon to be in London when they played an amazing open air gig at Somerset House in July.  It was a fabulous night and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a diverse crowd at a music event.  I got quite emotional seeing the rainbow flag flying over Somerset House. Sadly, when Mashrou’ Leila played in Cairo a few months later, seven concert goers were arrested for raising that same rainbow flag and were subsequently charged with promoting sexual deviancy.

Mashrou’ Leila, Somerset House, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Wiki Loves Monuments

I’ve meant to take part in the Wiki Loves Monuments photography competition for years now.  I’ve taken hundreds of photographs of monuments over the years and they really should be in the public domain rather than languishing on various ancient laptops.  But it took my fabulous colleague and University of Edinburgh Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, to prod me into contributing.  Ewan made it his mission to get as many photographs of Scottish monuments uploaded to Wikipedia Commons as possible, and maybe try to beat the Welsh in the process.  The whole competition was hugely enjoyable and got very competitive. By the time it closed at the end of September over 2000 new images of Scottish monuments had been uploaded, and 184 of my old holiday snaps had found a new lease of life on Wikimedia Commons. Hats of to Ewan and Anne-Marie for the hundreds of amazing photographs they submitted to the competition.

A few of my pics…

Women in Red

In 2016 I was honoured to join Wikimedia UK’s Board of Trustees but it was in 2017 that I really started editing Wikipedia in earnest.  I created a number of new pages for notable women who previously didn’t have entries.  The ones I’m most proud of are:

Mary Susan MacIntosh, sociologist, feminist, lesbian, and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights.  MacIntosh was a founding member of the London Gay Liberation Front, she sat on the Criminal Law Revision Committee which lowered the age of male homosexual consent, and she played a crucial role in shaping the theory of social constructionism, a theory later developed by, and widely attributed to Michel Foucault. MacIntosh’s Wikipedia page still needs a lot more work, so please, if you can help, go ahead and edit it.

Elizabeth Slater a British archaeologist specialising in archaeometallurgy. She was the first female professor of archaeology appointed by the University of Liverpool.  Liz was also the only female lecturer teaching archaeology at the University of Glasgow when I was a student there and her lectures made a huge impression on me. I was chuffed to be able to build a Wikipedia page for her.

Open Tumshies

Mah tumshie appeared in The Scotsman online! And you can read about it here 🙂

Open tumshies ftw!

Audierne Bay

In July my partner drove our aged VW camper van all the way to Brittany and we spent two weeks camping in Finistère with our daughter.  While we were there we visited Audierne Bay, where the Droits de L’Homme frigate engagement took place during a ferocious gale on the night of 13th January 1797.  This engagement was the starting point for the book Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates, which I wrote with my dear friend Heather Noel-Smith.  The day I visited Audierne Bay was bright and sunny and the beach was filled was families and holiday makers.  It was a sobering thought to stand there and look out at the reefs where hundreds of men lost their lives two hundred years before.

Audierne Bay, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell


Finally, after years of procrastinating, I wrote my portfolio and became a Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology.  And I did it all in the open!

Me and inspirational ALT CEO, Maren Deepwell, CC BY, @ammienoot

UNESCO OER World Congress

In September I was honoured to attend the UNESCO OER World Congress in Ljubljana to represent the University of Edinburgh and Open Scotland, along with my colleague Joe Wilson. I’m so glad we were able to attend because, along with the fabulous Leo Havemann, we were the only people there from the UK.  It was a really interesting event and I hope the resulting OER Action Plan it will help to raise the profile of OER worldwide.

UNESCO OER World Congress, CC BY Slovenian Press Agency


In November I was invited to give a talk about OER and open education at UCLouvain. It was a brief but enjoyable trip and I’d like to thank Christine Jacqmot and Yves Deville for their hospitality and for showing me around their unique city and university.

Mural, Louvain-la-Neuve, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell


I don’t get to dance much these days, due to work, commuting, childcare etc, but I did get to have one or two tango adventures this year.

A wedding and a ridiculous frock

In October my sister got married in Stornoway and I promised to buy the most ridiculous vintage frock I could find for the wedding.  I think I succeeded.

Channelling Abigail’s Party…

These guys…

Nike & Josh, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Also these guys…

We had a family of foxes living in the garden this year.  When I was working from home through the summer months I often had two or three foxes curled up sleeping in the sun outside my window, if not even closer!

Josh & friend, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Inevitably there was some real low points and losses during the year too.

I had a horrible medical emergency while travelling to Brittany and had to get blue-lighted off the boat in an ambulance and carted off to hospital in Morlaix.  Never, ever, have I been so glad that my partner is a nurse and stubborn as hell.  Without him, I don’t know what would have happened.

Public Transpot

I don’t drive.  That’s a choice, not an accident.  But I travel continually so I spent a lot of my time on public transport. I take the bus and the train to work, which is a four hour commute twice a week.  When public transport isn’t available, I use a local taxi firm.  I never use Uber, because fuck that for a business model. I keep reading all this stuff about automated and driverless cars but tbh, I don’t want any more cars on the road, driverless or otherwise.  I want decent public transport, which is regular, reliable, clean, and safe for women travelling alone at any hour of the day or night. Oh, and I also want the people who work for these public transport systems to earn a decent living wage.  Is that too much to ask?

Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani was an Iranian mathematician, professor at Stamford University and the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics.  In March I was invited to speak at the International Open Science Conference in Berlin and I took the title of my talk, Crossing the Field Boundaries, from an interview with Maryam.

“I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it’s very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don’t know which one would work. It’s about being optimistic and trying to connect things.”

A Tenacious Explorer of Abstract SurfacesQuanta Magazine, August 2014

Four months later, I was deeply saddened to hear that Maryam had died of breast cancer at the age of 40.  The loss of such a gifted woman is unfathomable.

Bassel Khartabil

In August we heard the devastating news that the detained Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil had been executed by the Syrian government in 2015.  I never met Bassel, but I was deeply moved by his story and I contributed to a number of initiatives that tried to raise awareness of his plight. I will never forget that this man lost his liberty and his life for doing a similar job that I, and many of my colleagues, do every day.  This is my memorial to him.


from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’m feeling a bit ranty this morning. Crazy Scottish lady is rising a little close to the surface.

I’ve been reading articles (old and new) and watching videos (old and new) this week which are replaying familiar EdTech tropes and I’m sick of it. I’m not going to quote anything directly here because I have no interest in fighting with or offending anyone. Rather I’m going to rant and people can take offence broadly. Sorry in advance. I love you all.

A summary of what is annoying me goes a bit like this:

VLEs are bad because: vendors, surveillance, no access after courses finish, no access for academics to each other’s work. It’s a closed system. It’s a waste of student time. If only we could all just use WordPress instead (insert other variants on the theme of open technologies).

“IT” run our stuff and they don’t understand. Snake oil salesmen charm our senior management. If only they knew what we know.

Learning analytics are bad, evil. Algorithms, surveillance, surveillance capitalism.

Repeat the above for AI and automation, add in something about loss of teacher agency too.

Fundamentally I am getting cross because whilst I see genuine issues and *genuine* concern, I also think that I see a quite a lot of lack of agency and responsibility. Not across the board, but enough to piss* me off.

I completely get that some of what I’m reading is from people who have little agency or traction in their particular EdTech setting. Some of what I want to rant about requires an amount of privilege to action. That I can even have a wee rant on my blog is privilege, however: Some of the people I’ve been reading are quite senior in their organisations or have significant platforms; there is always *something* that can be done, no matter how small.

Don’t just complain that this is the nature of the IT / the approach of senior management / the power of big vendors (don’t not complain though!). Things are not perfect by a country mile, but a whole lot of this is about local institutional choices and culture, and until that changes, institutions are going to keep investing in and implementing technologies in the same low denominator, low trust, uncritical way.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m
not sure anyone does, but I can tell you what I believe. If you want to resist, you can do worse than to start occupying territory. Institutions are fundamentally collections of people, not abstract concepts. Culture is not immutable.

Get to know your IT colleagues. They are on the same below-industry-salary as you because mostly they give a damn about the same things as you. Talk about the “virtual team” who make our EdTech activities doable. Include them where you can in your work, ask to be included in theirs. Prove that together you can do more interesting things. Demonstrate the value of working closely to the institution by talking about the great things you achieve together. Give thanks privately and publicly.

Remember that at the point you advocate technological solutions (WordPress etc) you are “IT” too. This learning technologist / IT bullshit* is a false divide. If there are big divisions between your job functions this is organisational culture in your institution, or in your head.

Find out who your data protection or legal people are. Learn from them. Implement their best practices in whatever small way you can. Permission to use data, record keeping, contractual negotiations, bringing them into conversations with suppliers, consent forms. Arm yourself with whatever weapons you can find in this area. Give thanks privately and publicly.

Do the same for data architects. If roles like data stewards, data owners etc are defined in your organisation then try make sure someone with EdTech awareness is the owner for things like VLE activity data. It might even be something you need to do. Give thanks privately and publicly.

Get to know your procurement people. Learn about what they do. Understand better how to use procurement processes to your advantage. Once the ink is dry on a contract it’s all over. Give thanks privately and publicly.

There’s probably lots more to add here, the main point is start always by holding your own internal setup and choices to account, and being as active a participant in those processes as you can, because that’s something you can and should influence. If our field is as important, critical and vital as we think it is, then be prepared to get into the trenches.

This is dirty, dull work. There are no prizes, no conference presentations, no sexy innovation projects in this space. But it has integrity.

Also do this work with grace. Do it without aggression, do it respectfully even when you deeply disagree. If you are genuinely motivated by improvement then don’t do this work by being an asshole* to people. Even EdTech vendors.

This is a rant btw. So it doesn’t have coherence, you will be able to pick holes in it, I probably have contradicted myself. I don’t care. It’s not important. What is important is that we all do something that is doable in our context to move forwards. There is no magic bullet here. Just hard work. Get on with it. And be proud of it too.

* don’t be a potty mouth like me either.

Week beginning 27 November 2017⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 2 minutes


  • Submit proposal to OER18 based on Open to All blog post.
  • Talk to colleagues about a Festival of Creative Learning Week vox-pops session.
  • Discuss API access to our media servers for search indexing videos as part of a new University search engine project. Can we have a Creative Commons filter on the search please? Need data protocol forms filled out.
  • Review the beginnings of a video and graphic design style guide for new online content.
  • Review Web Governance vision and objectives with Colan ahead of workshop later in the week.
  • Discuss whether we should extent the coaching / feedback report we built for QMP into something that all users can have access to. Following up with potential users and guage interest.


  • Meet with project team for Notifications project – API access to Learn for Announcements data and permission to use data protocol to be taken forward.
  • Run to IAD and review PTAS applications as part of the adjudication panel. 2 lecture recording related projects approved.
  • Meet with colleagues on Service Excellent projects to share experiences of procurement processes, and some ideas around building buy-in for their direction of travel.
  • Catch up with the team on their impressions of the Wiseflow product demo on Tuesday PM.


  • Web Governance workshops with Colan et al. Really starting to pull things together. Can see where DOOO and blogging fit within the bigger digital strategy. This is good stuff and we are getting quite excited about it. We talked a lot in my group about content design and development; the extent to which content needs to be highly design in some areas of our web estate, and the extent to which a wide variety of user generated content might be curated in other areas.
  • Met with the Surgical Sciences teams to check progress and plans on their VLE migration projects. Everyone is really very positive about the opportunities they see in coming off their bespoke platforms.
  • Implementation Steering Group for Lecture Recording Programme. Signed off briefs and scope of this stage; update on comms plan; update on rooms for the next phase from Euan. Still a lot to do and aspects like timetabling integration will be technically challenging.
  • Marc was at Sheffield Echo360 User Group – learning all about their opt-in project and timetabling integration.


  • Met Chris Cheong from RMIT for an overview of his learning analytics work. Described the Task, Test, Monitor system and how it supports student self-reflection. Some really interesting observations from this project. In terms of how students use TTM – starts as a testing system, but flips into being a diagnostic system around mid-semester as assessments kick in.
  • Whole afternoon workshop with Shane and Aaron from Pebble Learning, looking at what we want from ATLAS assessment tools for the future.



Innovating with Open Knowledge⤴


Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Morna Simpson, of Girl Geek Scotland, on Innovating with Open Knowledge, an IS Innovation Fund project at the University of Edinburgh, that aims to provide creative individuals, independent scholars, entrepreneurs, and SMEs with the  information literacy skills to find and access free and open research outputs and content produced by Higher Education.

Since the Finch Report and RCUK’s Policy on Open Access,  universities increasingly make their research outputs available through a wide range of open channels including Open Access journals and repositories, data libraries, research explorer services, and research and innovation services.

Free and open access to publicly‐funded research enables the research process to operate more efficiently, disseminates research outputs more widely, fosters technology transfer and innovation, and provides social and economic benefits by increasing the use and understanding of research by businesses, governments, charities and the wider public. Open Access is also in line with the government’s commitment to transparency and open data, and it contributes to the global Open Knowledge movement more generally.

However it’s not always easy for those outwith academia to know how to access open research outputs, even though they are freely and openly available to all.  In order to improve technology transfer we need to do more to disseminate Open Access research, open knowledge and open content to the general public, creative individuals, entrepreneurs and SMEs.  This is the challenge that the Innovating with Open Knowledge project sought to address.

Innovating with Open Knowledge has produced a series of eleven open licensed case studies featuring a wide range of innovative individuals and companies that have used the University of Edinburgh’s open knowledge outputs to further their projects, products and initiatives.  The case studies are composed of video interviews, supplementary text transcripts, learning activities and search tasks, and they demonstrate how entrepreneurs and creative individuals can find, use and engage with Open Access scholarly works, open science, images and media, physical resources and maker spaces, open data and open-source software.

Case Studies

Innovating with Open Knowledge also features expert guidance on finding and accessing open knowledge from the University’s Centre for Research Collections and OER Service, and from the National Library of Scotland.

Please feel free to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute these open resources.

Innovating with Open Knowledge, CC BY-SA, University of Edinburgh

This project was funded by the University of Edinburgh IS Innovation Fund, with generous support from Gavin McLachlan, CIO,  and Hugh Edmiston, Director of Corporate Services. The project was steered by Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning, and managed by Lorna M. Campbell, Learning, Teaching and Web Services.  All video and text resources were created by Morna Simpson, Girl Geek Scotland and Enterprise Porridge Ltd. Graphic design by Interactive Content Service, University of Edinburgh.

After the Wiki rush⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last Friday I led a Lost Literary Edinburgh Wikipedia editathon as part of the Being Human Festival. It focused on forgotten women authors that have been surfaced again through the enormous text mining activity that underpins the LitLong project.

“…might there be other voices to hear in the chorus? Other, less familiar stories? By letting the algorithms do the reading, we’ve tried to set that familiar narrative of Edinburgh’s literary history in the less familiar context of hundreds of other works.” (About Litlong)

Over the course of the day we had 20 participants either physically in the room, or contributing remotely (thanks @WikiWomeninRed).

Quite a few of the participants left wanting to come back and do one of our “Train the Trainer” sessions so that they can learn to run their own events. Hopefully they got a good sense of what running a training session needs to cover having seen myself and Sara Thomas deliver sessions. Ewan McAndrew has also made some great open resources available online at the TES website to support running Wikipedia training sessions and of course there’s our Wiki Basics SPLOT (which incidentally seemed to work very well – largest number of users pre-registered for an editathon ever!).

What may be less visible is some of the other work that goes on around an editathon to make it successful. So here’s a handy list:

In advance:

  1. Research. You need a list of articles to create or improve in advance of the event. Muireann Crowley did a brilliant job of pulling this information together for this editathon. This is foundational stuff – an editathon will lack focus without this.
  2. Swag. Stickers, t-shirts, bags, pens, badges, Wikipedia handouts. The infamous “Citation Needed” keyrings. A little something to take away or use as prizes.
  3. Snacks. Editing is lots of research and thinking. Tea, coffee, sweet things, fruit all keep the energy levels up.
  4. Advertising: Set up a wiki events page, whatever booking system you plan to use, and knock yourself out on social media. Use some of the research info to highlight things people could focus on in the editathon to try catch the imagination.

On the day:

  1. Tagging: Get users to write on a board which articles they are working on. As articles are created, add a template to their Talk pages to identify them as being created as part of this event. Also make sure all new user accounts created have included a template on the User page identifying them as new accounts.

    Screenshot of Litlong editathon template. No rights reserved by me.
  2. Helping: Be familiar with the main sources of information in advance – you are probably going to have to help editors find information on the day, and also answer queries about the best way to reference or cite information. If you have a friendly Librarian, get them involved in editathons if you can, because this is their super-power. You will also need to help move pages from Draft or Sandbox into the main (Article) space for new users.

After the event:

  1. Impact: Use a tool like the Outreach Dashboard to track all the pages edited and improved and do your stats to quantify the impact of the event. You may have your own reporting requirements, but it’s always good to update the Wiki events page to note the outcomes of the event.
  2. Thanking: Make up a template thanking participants for taking part and add it to the Talk page for their User profile. Use it to highlight how many pages were edited/improved/new resources added etc. Include follow on actions, sources of more information, mailing lists, related projects. Whatever you think will help participants to continue outside the editathon activity. Thank them again. Pictures of virtual snacks can be a nice idea.
  3. Aftercare: Monitor the articles created for a week or so afterwards, particularly checking the Talk page and watching for any suggestions of deletion / significant improvement required. Be prepared to put up the Wikipedia Bat Signal if that happens (aka yell for help on Twitter).

Running editathons isn’t just about generating content, it’s about building open knowledge community and capacity. Follow up is important.

My follow up after the event is to take Ewan’s template slides and adapt them for myself. They worked pretty well for me, but I need to put a little of my own voice (and bad puns) into them. I may well create an online version rather than Powerpoint slides because I’m really enjoying the SPLOTPoint format for this kind of resource. I’m reliving my late 1990s technical authoring dreams all over again….

Open for all⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Another visit to my beloved Mansfield Traquair Centre this evening. 17 years on and it still takes my breath away. To have the responsibility and the stewardship of a place like this a privilege.

This evening was the Friends AGM. Formal business was blessedly succinct. A conversation between Susy Kirk and Elizabeth Cumming was delightful.

Chatting afterwards I confessed to a slight girl-crush at the moment for Dr Bendor Grosvenor.

What’s not to like about fighting for open access to the nation’s cultural heritage? The Chairman of our Board of Trustees (Dr Duncan Thomson) clearly agrees as he was one of the signatories to this letter in The Times.

This is a subject close to my own heart, and to friends in the room with me this evening. I’ve written about the Royal Hospital for Sick Children Mortuary Chapel murals before.* Many of us this evening remain concerned and worried for their future.

Fundamentally though, how do you raise awareness of the murals uncertain future when so few people know about them now?

One of the problems with public awareness is the location of the murals. They have remained largely inaccessible for over 100 years as they form an integral part of an incredibly intimate, private, and moving place. A mortuary chapel in a children’s hospital.

The most obvious way of making such a space more accessible, without being intrusive, is to make good quality images available online under open licenses. Until recently the only images that existed either belong to NHS Lothian (all rights reserved – mostly 35mm slides), or to Historic Environment Scotland (crown copyright – majority of images listed in Canmore date from 1982 and are not available online even to view).

I’m pleased to say that’s not the case any more. There are now 62 high quality images** of the murals, all available on Wikimedia Commons for immediate use under a CC-BY 4.0 license. Since initial upload they have already had their categorisation data enhanced and been linked up to Phoebe Traquair’s Wikidata profile by a keen editor (not me!).

I can already see the images appearing in Google image searches, and we know from other experiences that Wikimedia Commons is proving rich pickings for press articles.

My next steps are to complete the Wikipedia article I have been writing about the murals. Once that has been published the Google secret sauce will push it very swiftly to the top of the page rankings and the murals and their story will slowly start to become more open to all.

“What can be done, here and there, with moderate means and ordinary folk with such labour as they can spare […] open space amid the slums ” (Patrick Geddes)


* It’s worth briefly saying why these murals in particular are important and why they merit their Category A listing. They are the first mural scheme by Phoebe Anna Traquair. Traquair was a key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland. She worked as an embroiderer, enamellist, book binder, illustrator and painter. She was the first important professional female artist in Scotland, and in recognition of this was the first female honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy. The murals are also the product of a commission by the Edinburgh Social Union, founded by Patrick Geddes. They are the sole survivor of around 20 commissions instigated by the ESU. In 1899 in a published interview, Traquair herself considered them to be her finest work.

** Honourable mention for several ladies is required here. Dr Sally Ann Huxtable of the National Museums of Scotland who recommended the superb Diane Holdsworth’s photographic skills; Diane for doing the work pro-bono; and Sorrel Cossens of NHS Lothian for facilitating access. As with Phoebe herself, women of determination can achieve great things.

Poetical escapades⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I made 2 visits to Little Sparta this year.

The first was on the most glorious summers day, blue skies, bird song and the landscape in hyper-sharp technicolour. Little Sparta is best described as a garden in attack, not a rural retreat. It is the definitive work of poet and conceptual artist Ian Hamilton Finlay and over 200 works are seated within the landscape, most of which involve complex interplays of words, form and environment.


I found it quite overwhelming.

My second visit was in September, with some friends. The weather had turned, the day was more overcast and rain broke as we were leaving. I was mentally better prepared this time. We also had more time, more snacks, a better camera.


To try to write anything about the relationship between the sublime and terror, in a landscape garden filled with poem-objects based on the words and symbols of the French Revolution and the Second World War would be a level of pretension that’s beyond me.

I also can’t attempt anything about the collaborative nature of most of the pieces. Hamilton Finlay conceived, but did not create most of these works and he was scrupulous about crediting his collaborators publicly.

I can’t begin to describe my response to pieces like this as a native of the part of Scotland where our decommissioned nuclear submarine fleet lies berthed, it’s half-life slowly ticking away.

(Nuclear Sail)

I remain overwhelmed.

The best I can attempt to do is to reflect upon one piece that I spent time with on my second visit that appealed to me on a more manageable level.


“The horizontals representing the land, the verticals the sea” (Little Sparta: A Guide to the Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay)

The nature of time at sea.
The need for time at sea.
A sundial that works neither on sea or land.
A sundial hidden under trees in a woodland glade.
A pole, but unclear whether it’s north or south.

Even the the suggestion of a fixed point on earth offers no clear perspective.

I remain overwhelmed, and not a little lost at sea.


Japanese plate⤴

from @ ammienoot.com

Reading Time: 1 minute

A visit to an antiques fair yesterday prompted me to finish this thought…


Japanese plate, 18th century. Called Imari-ware after the export port, but most likely made in kilns in Arita. Probably exported to Europe by a Dutch trading company in the 1700s, maybe before Chinese kilns came back into serious export production at the start of the Qing dynasty. A pretty standard object of it’s time and likely one of hundreds of thousands similar. A thing of vague origin and provenance. Now prized for it’s longevity and handmade aesthetic.

I love these objects, but I’m also very aware that the handmade artistry I so admire obfuscates the likely realities of it’s production.


Another 18th century plate, this time Chinese. This sublime scholarly landscape (there are many tropes in this image) suggests a calm artistic hand, working in peace and with the luxury of time. The reality is likely very different. I am fetishising the labour inherent in these objects.

I need to remember that “making” is culturally specific and isn’t always cool.