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Research :: Historical Research

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Research on Communities

Interest in communities was a key part of what the School of Social Study & Training saw as its role right from the very beginning. Its first Director, Nora Milnes, was an economist who believed firmly that where people live affects how they live, and (significantly) how they are then able to raise their children. She wrote three books, her last one being a community profile of industrial Edinburgh published in 1936.

Nora Milnes (1920) Child Welfare from the Social Point of View, London: J.M. Dent & Sons. Available at: Main Library Ref. 3627(42) Mil

Nora Milnes (1926) The Economics of Wages and Labour, London: P.S. King & Son. Available at: Main Library Ref. .331 Mil

Nora Milnes (1936) A Study of Industrial Edinburgh and the Surrounding Area, 1923-1934, London: P.S. King & Son. Available at: Main Library Ref. .338(41445) Mil

In the archives at Edinburgh University library, we also uncovered archives of a community study conducted in the late 1950s/early 1960s in north Edinburgh - for more information, see Centenary Research Notes 1. This community study mirrored other community studies being carried out around the same time; as Nelson (2010) explains further:

'The focus on post-war reconstruction and social problems meant that in the years immediately following the war, social research was dominated by work relating to notions of neighbourhood, community and family as social researchers attempted to assist in the planning of post-war society. In addition to the extensive work carried out by the Institute of Community Studies from 1953 onwards, other social scientists also focused their empirical efforts on communities of different scales. In 1958, Madelaine Kerr completed The People of Ship Street and others, such as Isabel Emmet, focused their attention on specific towns or villages as communities. In 1960, social research at the University of Liverpool could be categorised into two main groups: community studies and industrial studies' (p137-8).

When John Spencer was appointed to head up the School in 1967, he brought with him experience of working on another community research project, this time in Bristol. Find out more here:

John C. Spencer, Joy Tuxford and Norman Dennis (1964) Stress and Release in an Urban Estate: a study in action research, London: Tavistock - this is an abbreviated version of the report on the Bristol Social Project presented to the Carnegie trustees in 1961.

A group of researchers is currently exploring funding possibilities for doing a revisit to this fascinating project.

Other Historical Research at Edinburgh

The community study is not the only jewel in the archives. We have also uncovered data relating to a mental health survey in Dumfriesshire, conducted after the Second World War, by our very own Marjorie Brown, before she came to Edinburgh. We are in the process of applying for funding to help us to catalogue the archives properly so that future generations of scholars can access this valuable resource.

The Department of Social Policy and Social Work began its own series: Research in Social Work Education, and published a useful summary of the state of research in social work education in 1990 as No2 in the series. It is:

Jenny Secker and Chris Clark (1990) A bibliography of relevant research in social work education and training, Edinburgh: Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Edinburgh. Available from Main Library Closed Stack Ref. .36107016 Sec.  

Historical Research beyond Edinburgh

Of course, we are not the first to be concerned with social work education history! We are gathering together a range of resources from across the social work academy that will be of interest to future researchers of social work education. Some papers are now out-of-print or otherwise unavailable, and we have sought permission to reproduce them. We now offer the following - more will come as we continue with the project:

  • Chris Jones' paper entitled 'The Foundations of Social Work Education' published in 1976 as Working Papers in Sociology No. 11 by the University of Durham Department of Sociology and Social Administration.

Other Community Studies

Madelaine Kerr (1958) The People of Ship Street, London: Routledge.

Isabel Emmet (1964) A North Wales Village: A Social Anthropological Study, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Margaret Lassell (1962) Wellington Road, London: Routledge.

Source: Gillian Louise Nelson, (2010) A Century of Covert Ethnography in Britain, c.1880 – c.1980, Unpublished PhD thesis, The University of Glasgow,