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Scottish Life Archive

Scottish Life Archive

The Scottish Life Archive is open to everyone. It aims to collect, record and preserve documentary and illustrative evidence of Scotland's material culture and social history.

The Scottish Life Archive was established in 1959. It includes aspects of Scotland's rural, urban, maritime and industrial communities, such as housing, work, warfare, leisure, customs and religion, all arranged by subject.

A black and white photograph of 6 women standing outside with pitchforks.

The majority of the archive collection dates from the 1880s to the present day, but there is some material dating from 1700. Whether you want to discover old manuscripts and letters, or trace your family history, the archive offers a unique insight into all aspects of Scottish life.

Material collected

The Scottish Life Archive consists of a variety of material: an extensive photographic collection and other illustrative material such as drawings, prints, posters, postcards and video recordings.

It is also home to a unique collection of manuscripts, letters, diaries, books, leaflets, oral recordings, maps, plans, trade catalogues, paper ephemera and an extensive newspaper cuttings collection.

While some film footage is also held, the archive does not aim to collect film stock. The bulk of the film collections consist of films made by the East of Scotland College of Agriculture during the 1940s and 1950s.

A man in a suit pretending to feed a statue made of flowers

Local history and Scottish ethnology

The wide variety of information available within the archive can be used to research many topics, including local history and Scottish traditional events, such as the celebrations of Beltane, the Fire Ball Festival and the New Year's Day Ba' games. Written and pictorial material is available.

A black and white photo of a woman walking outside with a basket on her back.

Family history

The archive is also a valuable resource for those researching family history. For example, searches can be made in the areas of trading, craft families or estate workers, where some prior knowledge is known.

Reproduction of images

Photocopies, photographs and slides of material held in the archive are available. Photographs and documents can be reproduced on request, however, copyright law must be observed. Find out how to apply for a licence here.

How to access the archive

The Scottish Life Archive is open to everyone, from students and academics undertaking research to those with an interest to discover more about Scottish life in a historical context. You can access examples of our collections in our collections search and at, the award-winning website which gives you access to over 490,000 high quality images and multimedia files, all copyright cleared for educational use.

Black and white close-up photo of three men in hats and waterproofs.

If you are unable to find the material you are looking for online, you can visit the Research Library at the National Museum of Scotland, which houses the Scottish Life Archive’s finding facility.

National Museums Scotland Library Services
Chambers Street
Edinburgh EH1 1JF
Tel: 0131 247 4137

Research Library
Level 3
National Museum of Scotland
Chambers Street
Edinburgh EH1 1JF

Opening hours
Monday to Friday 10:00–17:00
Closed at weekends and public holidays

For specific enquiries relating to items held in the Scottish Life Archive please contact the following:

To view original documents and images
Department of Scottish History and Archaeology
Tel: 0131 247 4217

To order copies of original documents and images
Margaret Wilson, Publishing Administrator, National Museums Scotland Enterprises (NMSE)
Tel: 0131 247 4026

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