November 2012

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Patrick Geddes Summer Meetings

Where’s Patrick? Patrick Geddes is not wearing a red stripy top or large round glasses, but he is a very imposing figure. He is seated in the centre of the second row of this picture, with his wife Anna beside him. This photograph (ref: GB 249 T-GED 22/3/27/2) taken in the courtyard of Ramsay Garden, Edinburgh, shows students and lecturers attending the Summer Meeting in 1896.  Geddes’s Summer Meetings, best described as a kind of international summer school, teaching a wide range of subjects, developed a strong reputation amongst intellectuals throughout Europe. 

Sir Patrick Geddes was a biologist, sociologist and town planner with a strong interest in education, the arts, history and many other subjects. He believed strongly in the inter-relationships between all branches of knowledge. Geddes was particularly concerned about the need for intellectual stimulation for adults and further education. He had already sought to resolve the problem of student accommodation in Edinburgh by providing shared student living quarters. Summer schools were not at all well known or common at the time but in 1887 Geddes organised the first Edinburgh Summer Meeting. The motto for the Meeting was Vivendo Discimus- ‘by living we learn’. The first meeting in August 1887 concentrated on only two subjects, practical botany and practical zoology. These classes were initially introduced to give teachers the skills and knowledge to teach natural sciences in schools. 

Held annually until 1899 and sporadically thereafter, the Edinburgh Summer Meetings grew in popularity, attracting hundreds of students. The number of subjects offered also increased, later including civics, geology and architecture. Field trips and tours around the city were organized by Geddes along with exhibitions and recitals by the Old Edinburgh School of Art.  

Classes and tuition were relatively informal and there was no fixed syllabus or formal examination. Geddes believed that by distributing an outline of his lectures beforehand, students could concentrate fully and critically analyze what he had to say. There were a large number of female students, as the photograph shows and classes were mixed.  An article from the Scotsman entitled ”Glimpse of Summer Scientists” reports, ‘Everybody is deeply immersed in his or her special and particular ology, and the ladies even more than the gentlemen, display an amazing amount of energy and zeal over their studies’. 

The Summer Meetings were not only confined to Scotland, travelling as far as Calcutta and Darjeeling. In 1900, Geddes took the Edinburgh Summer Meeting to Paris to take part in the Paris Centennial Exhibition. During 1915, he helped to organise and direct a Summer Meeting in London, looking at “The War: Its Social Tasks and Problems”. 

The University is lucky enough to hold the Papers of Patrick Geddes, a fantastic resource comprising 45 metres of manuscripts, typescripts, pamphlets and books and 4000 maps, plans, photographs, prints and drawings. There is a printed catalogue of the collection available in the Archives and Special Collections reading room on level 5 of the Andersonian Library. Part of this catalogue has been reproduced in our online searchable archives catalogue. The rest will be added over the coming months.

 Rachel Pike, Archives Assistant

Further information:

Patrick Geddes Papers (ref: GB 249 T-GED)

Marshall Stalley, Patrick Geddes: Spokesman for Man and the Environment, (Rutgers University Press 1972) D 711.0924 GED/P

Frances Fowle and Belinda Thomson editors, Patrick Geddes: The French Connection (White Cockade Publishing 2004) D 711.0924 GED/P