• University of Edinburgh
  • National Museums Scotland

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.

8,388 enrolled on this course

Stereoscopy: An Introduction to Victorian Stereo Photography
  • Duration2 weeks
  • Weekly study3 hours
  • CertificatesAvailable

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

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • 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?

I am Community Engagement Manager, Learning & Programmes at National Museums Scotland and have been writing and managing our MOOCs since 2015.

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?

The University of Edinburgh

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

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.