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Online course

Stereoscopy: An Introduction to Victorian Stereo Photography

Discover why the stereoscope and stereo photography mesmerised Victorians when they first appeared at 1851’s Great Exhibition.


  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No certificate


  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Stereoscopy: An Introduction to Victorian Stereo Photography

Why join the course?

Following its presentation to the world at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, the stereoscope – a device that makes images appear 3D – mesmerised Victorians. Collecting and viewing stereo photographs became a craze.

Stereoscopes were produced in different price ranges, thousands of stereo images were printed and bought each year, and one company involved in this boom, The London Stereoscopic Company, proclaimed: ‘No home without a stereoscope.’

Explore the origins of the stereoscope and stereo photography

‘Stereoscopy’ derives from the Greek ‘stereos’ meaning ‘firm’ or ‘solid’ and ‘skopeō’ meaning ‘to look’ or ‘to see’. So together, they mean ‘seeing something firm or solid’.

On this free online course, we will examine the rise of stereo photography and the work of two pioneering photographers – the Scotsman, George Washington Wilson, and the Englishman, Thomas Richard Williams.

We will explore how the stereoscope, originally created by inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone to investigate human binocular vision, was improved by scientist Sir David Brewster, to become a vital, elaborate drawing room essential.

Enjoy stereo photography from National Museums Scotland collection

To enjoy stereo photography, you usually need a stereoscope or stereo viewer, but you can enjoy this course without one.

It has been developed following the major exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in 2015, Photography: A Victorian Sensation, and many of the images you will explore in this course are drawn from the National Museums Scotland collection.

What topics will you cover?

You have covered the key themes of the course:

  • Stereoscopy
  • The Great Exhibition, London, 1851
  • The rise of stereo photography
  • Armchair travel
  • Stereo sensations in Britain
  • Practitioners: GW Wilson, TR Williams
  • Playing with stereo

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

What will you achieve?

  • Explain the stereoscopic process
  • Assess the contribution of key practitioners of stereo photography in 19th century Britain
  • Demonstrate awareness of the social, cultural and economic context of photography in 19th century Britain
  • Describe 19th century photographic techniques
  • Identify places depicted in stereo images

Who is the course for?

This course is open to anyone with an interest in photography or Victorian history. No previous knowledge or experience is required.

Who will you learn with?

Christine McLean

I developed the first MOOC for National Museums Scotland (Photography, A Victorian Sensation: October to November 2015). I'm delighted we are running Stereo Photography as an extract from that MOOC.

Sheila Masson

I am a photographer, photo historian & picture editor, with a master's in history of photography from the University of St Andrews. I am currently writing a book on the history of British tintypes.

Who developed the course?

Founded in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of the world’s top universities and is globally recognised for research, innovation and high-quality teaching.

National Museums Scotland cares for collections of national and international importance, preserving them, interpreting them and making them accessible to as many people as possible.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate and transcript

You can buy a Certificate of Achievement for this course — a personalised certificate and transcript in both digital and printed formats, to prove what you’ve learnt. A Statement of Participation is also available for this course.

Certificate of Achievement + transcript £39.00

Statement of Participation £34.00

Estimate prices in preferred currency

Charges to your account will be made in GBP. Prices in local currency are provided as a convenience and are only an estimate based on current exchange rates.