Abertay University's archives span the history of the institution going back its beginnings in 1888.
These records show that in 1887 the educational community of Dundee started courses “in those branches of learning necessary or useful for working mechanics and other craftsmen" at a building on the University College campus in Smalls Wynd. The success of these courses led to the establishment of the Dundee Technical Institute just one year later in 1888. The Institute is now Abertay University, and in 2019 it celebrated its 25th anniversary of gaining university status, as well as its longer journey of equipping the future workforce of the world with life and career skills through teaching, collaborating with industry and conducting research.
In the Abertay 25 project our Archivist, volunteers, and Young Ambassadors discovered many items and stories in the collections relating to the history of the university. On this page you'll find a few of the items that got us excited, along with a bit more information about them.
Please use the arrows at the top of each section to scroll through the images.
If you see something that you want to ask anything about, or would like to arrange access, please just contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the prospectus of our first classes, which ran in the year before the institute started. When the Baxter Bequest money was made available there was debate about who would control it, and how its ideals of providing education for the “trades” would be realised. Despite distrust from some people about the involvement of University College Dundee (now the University of Dundee), it was decided to create a Technical Institute building on its campus in Smalls Wynd, and run a trial session of classes through that institution in 1887. The classes included Mathematics and Natural Philosophy; Chemistry and Biology; Engineering; Classics and Ancient History; English and Modern History; French and German and Applied Art.
Abertay University is famously associated with the training it provided in Jute and Textiles. The debate about technical education featured jute manufacture a lot, but surprisingly the first Textiles classes did not appear until 1889. This is the earliest syllabus we have relating to these, dating from 1892/3, and it notes the names of the two teachers providing them. The department stayed in existence until 1984.
We know from our first prize list of 1893/4 that women were enrolling in our classes - for example, Annie F. Butchart who won the local prize in Practical Chemistry in that year. Our official student records however start in 1903/04, and contain more detailed information about students and their courses of study. The Abertay 25 project has uncovered stories of some remarkable alumni, including Annie Keir Lamont, who went on to become a telegraphist, poet, and hugely respected Labour politician in Dundee before she died in 1926. You can read more about her here.
The Institute classes grew in popularity, and led to overcrowding. This later led to the construction of a new building in Bell Street between 1907 and 1909. Not only did it provide space for classes to be run in comfort, but the specifications also show details of the inspiring décor in the interior areas.
The establishment Jute and Textiles Department was an early success for the Institute. When the new premises at Old College were established, ample space was allowed for its training machinery there. This image from our photograph collections shows what the Spinning Shed looked like.
As the Institute grew it also started to offer other Prizes. A long association with the City and Guilds Institute of London began, with students winning prizes and medals through that body. More local prizes were established too, including the annual Sydney Kirby Memorial Prize and Medal for the best Mechanical Engineering student. This was created in memory of former student Sydney Kirby, who was killed at Gallipoli in 1915.
During the First World War some staff and former students joined the armed forces, and some wrote back to the College either for information or concerning top-up pay. They also provided some information about what they were doing. This letter from William Pitkeathly, who was involved in coastal defence duty, tells us about a possible spying incident on the Tay in 1914!
There were several certificates issued by the College in the 1920s and 30s. These included certificates for completing individual classes, and certificates of achievement for a course of study – Ordinary and Higher. John Nicolson Low’s certificate lists the courses he took and passed in order to qualify as a Mechanical Engineer. He went on to lecture in the subject at the Dundee Technical College, and later established one of the UK’s first degree courses in Industrial Engineering there.
We know from an advertising leaflet in the collections that we introduced computer courses for business and management in 1957, nine years before we bought our first computer in 1966.
This was an Elliot 4100, complete with punch card and tape inputs. The intention was for Dundee Technical College to use it in everything it did, and it quickly become an integral part of many research projects and courses.
The student body became active in the 1950s, organising activities like sports and “hops” (dances) outside of their academic time. At the end of the 1960s a Student Representative Council was formed and some magazines were published too. The image here is from “Target” one of the first, showing the SRC of 1968-69.
Our first “first” was not the computer games degree, but Scotland’s first science-based degree in Nursing which started in 1975. It was developed in collaboration with the local Health Board and the General Nursing Council for Scotland and promoted training that was research and evidence based. It also encouraged trainee nurses to develop reflective skills, allowing them to adapt to the changes that would happen throughout their career. The course included many new elements such as a module in computing. The 1973 course proposal shown here is part of a set of papers showing how it developed in its early stages.
Our archives have some rare evidence of a secretive demonstration of continuous casting of commemorative coins delivered to the Royal Mint at the College in c. 1983. This was a joint demonstration by Prof Bob Johnson and Sir Michael Nairn, the Director of Rautomead, who collaborated for many years on research and the development of continuous casting.
When Dundee Institute of Technology was pushing towards university status it developed an ambitious marketing campaign in order to recruit around 1500 more students to enrol. This included making small radio shows giving insight into life at the Institute, and a punchy 30 second TV commercial featuring students speaking about what they were doing at DIT. It was radical in that the relevance of the courses to future working life and the active student lifestyle were being used over academic excellence to attract new enrolments.
In order to call ourselves a university, we needed permission from the UK Privy Council to do that, but the Council would only give that permission if we had 4000 students enrolled at the Institute. This is the letter that confirmed we could change our name to the University of Abertay Dundee, and started our new journey.
Abertay University is famous for its world first degrees of Computer Games and Ethical Hacking. It all started from its Postgraduate Diploma in Computing Studies, which offered a module in computer games that proved so popular it was decided to develop it into a Postgraduate Diploma in its own right in 1997. A year later a course proposal was submitted for a four year undergraduate degree course. The postgraduate diploma continued to develop and soon proved popular overseas, with the advances in internet technology allowing distance online learning to take place.
Our last highlight is the wonderful Memories Re-Animated video interviews that have been collected with former students and staff over the past few months by the Young Ambassadors as part of the Abertay 25 project. This video is a series of clips that were highlighted in the Dundee Women's Festival earlier this year.
We are very interested in hearing from people about their experiences of Abertay University, whether as students, staff, or members of the wider community working with the university (like a business or a member of the public). If you'd like to share your memories with us please contact email@example.com