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Seeing Our History

What was it like to be blind or partially sighted a century ago? At a time when the only welfare support was charity and the only aid available was a white stick?

Image: The team of volunteer researchers who took part in the Seeing Our History project.

“Seeing Our History” was an RNIB Scotland project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It explored the lives of people with sight loss in Edinburgh, the Lothians, and the Borders of Scotland one hundred years ago.

Here you can discover the findings of our volunteer researchers. They explored the lives of visually impaired people who lived in the wider community. They were sometimes known as the 'outdoor blind' because they didn’t live in the blind institutions, or 'asylums' as they were known at the time.

Our research was based on The Register of the Outdoor Blind for the region from around 1903 to 1911. We matched entries against the census and birth, marriage, and death records to build up life stories, tracing the lives of individual blind people.

"If poor people were on the margins of society, those with sight loss were on the margins of the margins. How they survived in an era before the welfare state or technological aids is a story of great hardship, but also of resilience, isolation and sometimes tremendous family solidarity. It’s a story that deserves to be told." - Dr Iain Hutchison, project historian

Image: The Scottish Blind Register


Our main accompanying book, 'Feeling Our History', explores these stories and their historical context in more depth. 'Hearing Our History' is a companion volume. It is a compilation of transcripts of the audio-stories podcasts.

The Theme Tune

Find out about the music behind the Seeing Our History by clicking here.

The Team

The Seeing Our History team worked and learned together on the project. Find out more about the team here.

The project completed its work in 2015. Limited supplies remain in print and in accessible formats - please check availability with Catriona Burness at [email protected].