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University of Edinburgh

Stereoscopy: An Introduction to Victorian Stereo Photography

University of Edinburgh and National Museums Scotland via FutureLearn

This course may be unavailable.



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.

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

Taught by

Christine McLean


5.0 rating, based on 2 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Stereoscopy: An Introduction to Victorian Stereo Photography

  • Alistair Dredge
    I took this course because I've been interested in stereoscopy 'for ever', but didn't expect much: What do I know or care about Victorians? But I loved it. We viewed a large collection of stereogeaphs with informative and interesting course materials, and I find that FutureLearn's implementation of the discussion forum really works: People actually do contribute and discuss enthusiastically. Be aware that the course doesn't teach you how to become a stereographer yourself: You'll have to search the internet for that!
  • Profile image for Dawn Gibson
    Dawn Gibson
    This course was super fun, and loaded with interesting historical information. If you're considering enrolling in this class, go for it!

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