Edwin Morgan Scrapbooks Project

I am the Project Officer for a new project exploring EU and UK copyright policy. This is a joint endeavour between Special Collections and CREATe (the RCUK Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Economy, based at the University of Glasgow). Copyright law and our understanding of it remains a significant barrier to digitisation of archive materials. Recent changes in the law (IPO Guidelines) will be tested with a rights clearance exercise focussing on the Scrapbooks created by the poet Edwin Morgan (1920-2010).


Portrait of Edwin Morgan in January 1956. From Scrapbook 12.

Amongst Morgan’s extensive archive in Special Collections, are sixteen scrapbooks which he sought to have published in 1953 and in the late 1980s but the high costs of printing and copyright clearance made it too difficult. He was meticulous in his organisation of the books, with each page numbered and the sources of many newspaper and magazine cuttings noted. However most of the vast number of images are uncredited, making the scrapbooks particularly appropriate to use in a project of this kind.

Dating from 1931 to 1966, the scrapbooks number around 3,600 pages across volumes ranging from modestly-sized ledgers to gargantuan tomes. Morgan began compiling the books as a schoolboy, later describing them as “partly documentary/historical, partly aesthetic, partly satirical and partly personal…a Whitmanian reflecting glass of ‘the world.’” (See a selection of images on Flickr with commentary by Morgan’s biographer James McGonigal). He placed a great value on them, and they were among the first items from his archive to enter the collection at the University of Glasgow, in December 1980.

scrapbook page

Surrealist-style collage from Scrapbook 12

Taking material from a wide range of sources, the scrapbooks show his interest in science, nature, art and literature. Their format reflects the part-work encyclopaedias he loved as a child, where a vast range of subjects were presented together in a weekly magazine. Although he did some travelling in Europe and Russia as well as serving in the Middle East in World War II, Morgan lived in Glasgow throughout his life. The scrapbooks were thus a way to explore the world, with an equal interest in stories from Glasgow as international news. Most of the material has been cut from newspapers, magazines and books; he confessed to being ruthless in cutting up source material.

For Morgan, the scrapbooks were significant on a number of levels. They record personal experiences, including tickets, photographs and paper ephemera from places visited and events attended. His own photography is included, with self-portraits, images of friends and family plus holiday snapshots, scenes of Glasgow and photos taken during his military service.

scrapbook page

Page from Scrapbook 12 with material collected during a trip to Russia. The poet is included in the group photograph, wearing a kilt at the back (click to enlarge)

Some instances of original content by Morgan can be found in the books. He includes handwritten notes recording experiences such as an overheard conversation on the bus, a description of a particularly vivid dream or a note of a striking coincidence. Throughout the volumes his interest in strange phenomena is evident. Some of the cuttings come from Doubt, the magazine of the Fortean Society, and local newspaper stories about sightings of UFOs or the Loch Ness monster appear in many volumes. Science fiction had been an interest of Morgan since childhood and also became a theme in his poetry. Scientific developments are well recorded, from the exciting stores of satellite launches to the terrifying consequences of nuclear bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.


Drawing made by Edwin Morgan in 1935 (aged 15). From Scrapbook 2.

The earlier scrapbooks contain some examples of Morgan’s artwork in the form of vividly painted designs and pencil sketches. He had considered applying to Glasgow School of Art before deciding to study English at The University of Glasgow. The scrapbooks remained a vitally important creative outlet during the time he was establishing himself as a writer, until his early forties. Many of the pages have been collaged in striking and humorous ways with words and images. While they do not contain drafts of his poetry, the scrapbooks are undoubtedly linked to his writing. He includes poetry he admires, but it is his delight in the word play of newspaper headlines and the creation of humorous text collages that anticipate his own concrete poetry. His series of Newspoems (contained within his Collected Poems), which engage with newspaper headlines, can also be related to the cuttings he collected.


Page collaged with images and text around the theme of hands. From Scrapbook 12.

On a personal level, the scrapbooks show the poet’s search for identity and exploration of the different sides of his personality. As a gay man, Morgan has spoken of “the sheer difficulty, particularly at the time when I grew up, of even thinking far less writing openly about these things.” (see Nothing Not Giving Messages). Although he did not talk openly about his sexuality until the 1980s, there were veiled references in his poetry, as in the scrapbooks too. The cuttings he selected include many images of men – anonymous kilted men, contemporary stars like Cliff Richard, and body builders from physique magazines.

Aspects of the scrapbooks will be explored in further blog posts throughout the course of the project. Previous posts about the Edwin Morgan Archive can be found here.

Categories: Special Collections


6 replies

  1. Wow! What a fascinating archive and a really interesting project. I was at the Copyright and Cultural Heritage event yesterday at The National Gallery and it’s such a thorny issue. The situation seems in a state of flux at the moment whilst awaiting further EU rulings. I would be interested to hear more about this project – the scrapbooks look amazing.

  2. Loved this posting about a poet I hadn’t heard of, but am glad that I do now. The scrapbooks sound fascinating. I can see how the digitisation copyright has changed [thanks too for the links to Gov.Uk], but am just wondering how you even start to obtain copyright on a plethora of items, all of which presumably have their own copyright issues.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Carricklass. The copyright issues that the scrapbook presents are most definitely complex and daunting. Many of the individual cuttings (particularly images) have no indication of their source. Such items could potentially be digitised using the new guidelines for Orphan Works, however the reality of carrying out the necessary due diligence checks involves a huge investment of time. A key aim of the project is to test the limits and costs of EU and UK copyright policy as it impacts the digitisation of collections like the Edwin Morgan Scrapbooks. I’m sure that many organisations have similar items that they would love to digitise, but the investment of time and resources is too daunting.


  1. Edwin Morgan & The Fortean Society | University of Glasgow Library
  2. Digitising the Edwin Morgan Scrapbooks: Free Training & Launch Event | CREATe
  3. How can the Archives reach the ordinary user? – Good IMPressions

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