Medieval Royal Mile landmark to become Scotland’s ‘Literature House’

One of the oldest medieval buildings in Edinburgh is set to become one of its most futuristic attractions under plans to establish the heart of the Royal Mile as the nation’s official Literary Quarter.

Tuesday, 2nd July 2019, 1:24 pm
John Knox House will show Scotlands literary history in a similar way to the projections of Van Gogh works seen at Atelier des Lumieres in Paris. Credit: Photo by IAN LANGSDON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10114355d)
John Knox House will show Scotlands literary history in a similar way to the projections of Van Gogh works seen at Atelier des Lumieres in Paris. Credit: Photo by IAN LANGSDON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10114355d)

John Knox House, the 15th century building where the firebrand preacher is said to have spent part of his life, is set to become a test-bed for new technology which could revolutionise cultural venues, events and attractions across the city.

A transformation of the High Street building, which was almost demolished in the 19th century, has been selected for support as part of a £7.6 million research and development initiative, led by Edinburgh University, to bring the city’s creative industries and the tech sector together.

Under the vision for the new “Literature House of Scotland,” new digital experiences will allow visitors to the Royal Mile landmark to explore hundreds of years of Scotland’s literary and publishing history without any significant changes being made to the building.

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The project, which aims to recreate the “sensory” experiences of reading, would be the centrepiece of efforts to establish the Netherbow area of the Royal Mile and its surrounding closes and gardens, which date from the 16th century, as a Literary Quarter.

It is also currently home to the Scottish Storytelling Centre, adjacent to John Knox House, as well as Canongate Books, the Scottish Book Trust and the Saltire Society, the long-running cultural charity. The body which promotes Edinburgh as the world’s first Unesco-designated City of Literature is planning to “reshape” John Knox House, which tells the story of the 16th Scottish Reformation, and the abdication of Mary Queen of Scots. The Literature House, which is hoped to be completed by 2022, is envisaged as “a unique and comprehensive interpretation, education and information point, providing a gateway into Scotland’s rich and diverse literary story.”

The Creative Informatics project has launched a new £400,000 scheme aimed at helping cultural bodies and events set technology challenges to the tech sector over the next four years.

Up to £20,000 in funding is on offer to either individuals or companies to work with the Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature Trust to create proposals drawing on archive collections and modern-day data to create new visitors experiences, using technology to present literary content in “exploratory, creative and playful ways.”

Director Ali Bowden said: “We’re delighted to have been chosen as one of Creative Informatics’ project partners.

“Their support and funding will help us pioneer new and creative ways of connecting people to books and writers, and to bring spaces alive with characters and stories.”

Professor James Loxley, of the university’s school of literature and languages, said: “This is a very exciting project to be involved in.

“We’re only just beginning to understand the opportunities that data technologies can give us to create new modes of literary engagement for readers and visitors, and new collaborations between researchers and industry are vital to developing our knowledge of what we can do.

“We want the new Literary Quarter to become a place where people can experience these new modes of engagement for themselves, and this is a great first step towards making that a reality.”

Meanwhile the Creative Informatics project has also announced that the organisrs of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have been selected aimed at helping audiences better navigate its massive programme, which now includes more than 4000 shows, in future.

It is hoped that the initiative will “enable artists and audiences to find one another more easily.”

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “This is an excellent opportunity to understand how data and technology can assist our audiences in exploring

the huge diversity of work present in the Fringe programme.”

New Media Scotland is also seeking ideas for new pop-up “multi-sensory and immersive” cinematic experiences that could be staged in multiple venues and forms and leave audiences with a “digital souvenir” of each event.

The List Magazine, which is also based in the Literary Quarter, wants to use data science and artificial intelligence to help improve its handling of images of events across the UK.

Cris Speed, director of creative informatics at Edinburgh University, said: “Edinburgh has a vibrant design and advertising sector, the largest concentration of major

festivals in the world, and a thriving tech sector.

“It is the perfect place to explore the potential of technology to stimulate new methods of cultural production.

“Our challenge projects offer a unique opportunity for cultural and creative organisations to bring forward challenges they are facing that could be solved through the

development of new products or services that utilise data and new technologies.”

Full details of the challenges are available at