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Acceptable in the 80s

What was life like at the University during the 1980s? The Student digitisation project delved into the archives to find out.

The Student
Firemen prepare to fight the flames at the library. Photo by John Lindsay.

In September 2014 we featured a project to digitise The Student. Editions were released in ‘real time’ starting on the 3 October 1984 and ending 23 issues later on the 9 May 1985.

From Ian MacGregor, now editor of the Telegraph to Alistair Dalton, transport editor at the Scotsman, the 1980s incarnation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s small weekly magazine, contains a wealth of talent, as well as insights into life at the University 30 years ago.

We spoke to Gavin Willshaw, Digital Curator at the University Library about the impact of the work so far and whether there is an appetite for further digitisation.

Social life and social change

One impact of the project that Gavin is keen to highlight is the interest generated amongst the erstwhile editorial team. Former editors have created a Facebook community as a result of discussions that started on the host website and a reunion is planned for this summer.

Visit the Facebook page set up by former students

The project has also caught the imagination of the current newspaper with a number of articles inspired by content from their 1980s counterpart. One such feature highlighted the changes in the social landscape, especially regarding LGBT rights. While the original article from October 1984 entitled 'Homosexuality – the closet remains', talks about a wall of taboo and indifference, the current feature highlights gay marriage, Edinburgh’s ‘Pink Triangle’ and LGBT societies as examples of societal change, visibility and acceptance.

20p for the pleasure

The project has also prompted other comparisons from price and format to content and tone. Like many things in life, The Student has got smaller with the paper copy about half the size of the 1984/5 edition. As for the price, a student in the 1980s had to pay 20p for their weekly hit of university news, whereas current students get the publication for free and can check in daily using the newspaper’s website.

As for content, student concerns and preoccupations are reassuringly unchanged although Gavin notes more of a focus on the big political issues of the 1980s, such as the miners, grant demonstrations, the Falklands War and apartheid, and more local, rather than just university sports coverage including Hearts and Hibs match reports.

Telling stories

According to the statistics, the most popular story was the excitably headlined, 'Library Fire: Half an Hour of High Drama' closely followed by an interview with Murial Gray, 'Gray Matters' which was picked up by Muriel herself on Twitter.

Some articles are more poignant, such as one entitled 'Take it to the Top', in which mountaineer Mal Duff talks at length about the perils and dangers of an upcoming Everest expedition. Mal died on Everest in 1997.

The future

Gavin’s dream is to go back to the start and digitise in date order starting with the first edition in 1887.

It’s the world’s oldest student newspaper, edited initially by Robert Louis Stevenson, so there is real historical value and merit in digitising.

Gavin WillshawDigital Curator at the University Library

If you are interested in providing feedback or would like to undertake research into the papers, please contact Gavin directly on gavin.willshaw@ed.ac.uk.

Related links

The Student 1984/85

The Student (current newspaper)

Centre for Research Collections on Facebook

Special Collections, Archives and Museums on Twitter