Friday, 21 November 2014

‘Thought is the Seed of Action’… Neurosurgery on screen

This week's blog is from Liz, our Project Cataloguing Archivist on our Wellcome Trust -unded case note cataloguing project.
 
A letter I came across this week, while continuing with my cataloguing of Norman Dott’s neurosurgical case notes, led me to looking into a ground-breaking  (and somewhat controversial) BBC television series, ‘Your Life in Their Hands’. The letter was from a former patient of Dott’s who had been successfully treated by him and his team in the Department of Surgical Neurology at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in 1954. She opens her letter by referring to his appearance on the BBC series broadcast on 11 March 1958. Dott’s reply is also contained in the case note, ‘How kind it was for you to write on the occasion of our Departmental Broadcast. It was quite interesting to consider what would interest people and the split-second technical side of it was quite an experience’.

The series featured ten programmes each looking at a different medical condition and how it was treated. Each of the programmes came from different hospitals around Great Britain, and in Dott’s case the focus was the treatment of head injuries in the Department of Surgical Neurology at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Bangour Brain Injuries Unit. Other episodes featured the treatment of conditions including respiratory paralysis following poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever and mitral stenosis. The broadcasts were presented by Dr Charles Fletcher and aimed to provide clear information to the public about medical conditions and the modern techniques being used to treat them. What made the programmes so notable was the inclusion of footage of surgical operations taking place.


BBC filming of an operation at the Western General Hospital, GD28/8/2/10
The episode featuring Dott was entitled ‘Thought is the Seed of Action – a look at neurosurgery from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’.  Fortunately we have a copy of the transcript for the programme in our collections, as well as a VHS recording (which I look forward to watching at a later date). The broadcast opens with Dr Fletcher introducing the subject and then handing over to Professor Dott who describes the Royal Infirmary as a general hospital that ‘deals with all the ills that flesh is heir to’ and he makes sure to credit all the staff at the Hospital with the valuable work done there, ‘Nor would our work be at all possible without our nurses and our large background staff’. Several members of the Surgical Neurology team also feature in the broadcast including Dr F J Gillingham, Dr Kate Herman, and Mr Philip Harris, with Mr Harris describing the brain as a ‘complex organ’ which can be compared to ‘the BBC and a vast telephone exchange. Messages are constantly coming into it – and are being received, interpreted, recorded as memories and messages are constantly being sent out to other parts of the body’. The programme looked at how patients were assessed, treated and their rehabilitation, with a focus on the treatment of a young man who sustained a head injury while playing football. As a result of his injury he developed a blood clot which is shown being operated on by Dott and his team. The programme signs off with a warning to motorcyclists about the importance of wearing crash helmets. The inclusion of Dott’s Department in the series was testament to the important work they were carrying out. 

Transcript of 'Your Life in Their Hands'

‘Your Life in Their Hands’ was met with a mixed response, on the whole well received by the public and press, with the exception of the British Medical Journal, who were opposed to the series and who published several articles about it in 1958. They believed the series would heighten public fears of illness and increase hypochondriasis. The discussion even made it into the House of Commons with a question being raised on 26 February 1958 about the potential ill effect the programmes may have on the public. Despite the initial unease felt  at the candid and graphic depictions of medical treatment in 1958, ‘Your Life in Their Hands’ was a huge success with further series being made over the last 50 years and the presence of medical documentaries on television becoming commonplace now.

For more information see:
M. Essex-Lopresti; “The 50th anniversary of ‘Your Life in Their Hands”, J. Vis. Commun. Med., vol 31 no.1, March 2008:36-42

Friday, 14 November 2014

Explore our Archive


Today, we’re coming to the end of Explore Your Archive week, an initiative from the Archives and Records Association that aims to raise the profile of archives and their role in our everyday lives. Archives can risk being seen as dusty and irrelevant, telling us about the past but with little relevance to how we live our lives now. In Explore Your Archive week, we need to say very much the opposite – archives not only preserve our memories, but also act as vital evidence for the present and future to ensure that our society is run openly and fairly.

Climbing off my soapbox for a minute, we have been having some serious fun in Explore Your Archive week! We’ve been taking part on Twitter, joining together with archivists from across the United Kingdom and Ireland (and also worldwide!) who have been tweeting on a different theme every day.

Monday was an insight into a #DayInTheLife of archivists, peeking into what archivists get up to all day in the office and amongst the stacks in the stores. From work in the search-room to cataloguing to taking part in talks and lectures, a great variety of activity was on show. It had been an enquiries day for me, seeking out images like this one...


At work in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital hen house, April 1959 (P/PL7/P/038)
...as well as researching people’s ancestors though our asylum records. The case books of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital are not our largest collection, but they are certainly the most popular with researchers.

On Tuesday, First World War archives were the focus (#ww1archives). This year, we’re getting a  lot of enquiries about the period for obvious reasons. Although we can’t help people with soldiers’ medical records, we have a wealth of sources giving a glimpse into everyday life in Edinburgh’s hospitals during the war, including nurses’ scrapbooks like this one from Bangour Village Hospital (taken over by the War Office in 1915):



Scrapbook from a Bangour nurse, c. 1917 (Acc13/044)
 

Wednesday saw a chance for Twitter followers to #askarchivists. Although I didn’t take any questions myself, queries ranged from oldest archives to guides to academic and genealogical research. And don’t worry if you didn’t get your question in on the day, because as one participant said: “Archivists don't just answer questions one day a year! We do it all day, every day!”

We took an #archiveselfie on Thursday – here are our wonderful CRC conservators, posing with their favourite equipment:


Our CRC conservators, left to right: Emma, Ruth, Anna and Emily.
My own favourite 'selfie story' was that of Edith Halvarsson, who’s been with us from the Information Management and Preservation MSc at the University of Glasgow. In two weeks, she’s very much explored archives and taken the papers of the Medical Women’s Federation from this:



Medical Women's Federation papers before cataloguing



To this:




Edith with a beautifully ordered trolley!
As the ‘mad cat lady’ of the office, I’m ready to post pictures of our #archiveanimals today (cats and dogs, for example, can often be found in both informal and formal images of hospital staff). Here’s one with First World War soldiers recuperating with the help of some feline friends at Edenhall Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers:




First World War image from a photograph album from Edenhall Hospital, c. 1917 (Acc12/054)
The Explore Your Archive initiative doesn’t end today for LHSA. Worth a mention is our participation in the Previously… festival over the next couple of weeks. The Previously... festival celebrates Scotland’s history with events all over the country. On Saturday 15 November, we’ll be at the Family History Day in Edinburgh Central Library on George IV Bridge (and tweeting, with the hashtag #explorearchives). From 10:30am until 4pm, you can come along and ask Ruth and Louise everything you’ve ever wanted to know about finding family history in hospital records.

On Tuesday 18th November here at the Centre for Research Collections, Louise is going to be talking about how to use our records in genealogy, with a chance to get up close and personal with some of our nineteenth century patient records: http://www.historyfest.co.uk/2014-events/november-18

And on Saturday 22nd November, we’re running a children’s event on making your very own medieval manuscript! http://www.historyfest.co.uk/2014-events/november-22

We need to speak up for and use archives to keep them alive, so come and visit LHSA at these events – and Explore Our Archive!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Exploring LHSA's photographic collection


I am currently the LHSA intern and I am at the halfway point of my main task of cataloguing the vast and varied photographic collection.  As a (very) newly qualified archivist, this has been such a great opportunity for me to work full-time and engage with the skills that I have developed over the last year.  As I volunteered with LHSA throughout gaining my qualification, I have equally enjoyed becoming part of the team, including the glorious views of Edinburgh from my desk and copious amounts of home-baking at tea break. 

My main task has been to bring all of the LHSA photographic collection under the same system to ensure maximum access to over 6000 photographs, documenting many aspects of the development of medicine and hospitals from the mid-nineteenth century.  From the photographs that I have been working with thus far, I would like to share with you some of my favourites and others that I have found rather interesting. 


This photograph is from c. 1879-1910 and is a view of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Lauriston Place, from the Meadows, with sheep grazing in the foreground.  Whilst it is a lovely image of the grand hospital, I was rather surprised to see sheep.  As a student I often enjoyed spending hot and sunny days at the Meadows but I am not sure how students nowadays would feel sharing it with these woolly beasts.
 
Moving on, some of the photographs have been really interesting in their depiction of medical treatments.  I have been learning about ‘sunlight treatment’ from this picture taken c. 1930 - 1950 at Deaconess Hospital. This is a photo of a child lying on an operating table being exposed to bright light with two seated children and a nurse standing at the side, all wearing protective goggles.  What would certainly be a controversial treatment now was in fact a regular treatment for many children and adults between 1920 and 1950.  The artificial light lamp was invented by Niels Ryberg Finsen and was thought to be of most benefit to those suffering from tuberculosis of the skin.[1]  
 


This is a photograph from the very early days of using x-ray to diagnose patients, around 1900.  William Law is pictured here wearing protective clothing and radiography apparatus.  Law was one of the first radiographers at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, which opened a ‘Medical Electrical Department’ in 1889.  The protective clothing is particularly distinctive and highlights the dangers of this type of work in the early days of its use.

 
Finally, the LHSA photographic collection has an excellent selection of portrait photographs of Edinburgh medical greats working as physicians, surgeons, nurses and as other medical practitioners.  In keeping with the theme of pioneering radiology in Edinburgh here is a portrait of Robert Knox, d. 1928.  Knox was Consultant Radiologist at Chelsea Hospital for Women, but his work in treating cancer with x-rays played a major role in setting up the new Radiological Department of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in 1926.[2]  Whilst he is certainly not the most famous ‘Robert Knox’ associated with medicine in Edinburgh, it has been nice to highlight the positive advances this Knox brought, in comparison with the notorious Robert Knox associated with the Burke and Hare murders.   
 
I look forward to the rest of my time working with the photographs at LHSA and hope to find more unique images from this exciting collection.
 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Looking forward to Tweeting you

LHSA has a very rich, diverse photograph collection, dating back to the early years of photography. To help celebrate this, and highlight some of the less well-known images and stories, we have decided to put up a series of themed images on Twitter in the following weeks. As a quick taster of what's to come, here are just a few:


 A delivery to the Blood Transfusion Service at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, 1940s.
 

Dr Margaret Martin, Paediatrician at the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital.
 

Bangour Village Hospital staff and Harry Lauder, 1942.
 

Occupational therapy in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital garden, c1960.


Ward 14 at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, 1937.


Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Residents 1854 (resident first year doctors) including pioneer of antiseptics, Joseph Lister, front row, third from the right.
 
To see more great images, look out for our tweets in the next few weeks. If you haven’t joined us on Twitter, our account can be found at https://twitter.com/lhsaeul.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Seeing our History: Edinburgh's Register of the Outdoor Blind


Over the last few months I have been helping as a LHSA volunteer on the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Scotland project ‘Seeing our History - Living with Sight Loss in Edwardian Edinburgh and the Lothians’.  With the backing of Heritage Lottery Funding, this project brings expertise and volunteers together from many different backgrounds to help to unlock the history of what life was like for blind and partially-sighted people in Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland during the Edwardian period.

According to RNIB, the experiences of blind and partially sighted people have been largely neglected in areas of social and cultural history, but by bringing to life a resource from the RNIB Scotland/Edinburgh and Lothians Archive, now held at LHSA, teams of experts and volunteers are about to take on this gap in history.  Therefore the project is based around an excellent source within the archive collection, the Register of the Outdoor Blind for Edinburgh and Lothians from around 1903 to 1910.  This Register was used to document the lives of 1170 blind or partially-sighted individuals. The period in which it covers was a time before major development and support for sight-related disability was available and so often these individuals had to depend on minimum support.  The Register enables us to trace details about these individuals including: name; address; place of birth; age when sight was lost; cause of blindness; marital status; how employed; weekly earnings before losing sight and weekly income after; and date of death.  This raw data, alongside records held within the National Records of Scotland (NRS) such as Census and Parish Registers, will be used in a research collaboration between partnerships of sighted and partially sighted volunteers.  Between them the aim is to collect life stories about those individuals recorded in the Register and hopefully contribute to a better understanding about the lives of blind and partially-sighted people years ago.  Once life stories have been compiled, a series will be broadcast on the RNIB Insight Radio and other resources made available about the projects findings.      

This project has created an exciting opportunity for many different people to get involved at its different stages.  As was one of the aims, certainly from my experience at the pre-research stage, the project has also provided an opportunity for those involved to develop skills useful within the heritage and information profession.  I have only very recently finished my degree in Information Management and Preservation from the University of Glasgow. Working on a project such as this has not only allowed me to gain new practical skills, but it has also allowed me to tackle issues surrounding the best ways to make archival resources accessible. 

The Register is a single bound volume in handwritten format, often difficult to read, and therefore had to be transcribed for the researchers to use for preservation needs as well as on account of the difficulties that interpreting handwriting can bring to those with limited experience.  As a volunteer with LHSA I was asked to create an Access database and produce a set of guidelines for another volunteer, alongside some very helpful LHSA staff, to use in order to input the data from the Register.  Transcribing the information into an Access database was the most effective way to ensure that the data from the original document identified each individual in a coherent and organised format, and could best assist the needs of the researchers. 
 
 
Clair hard at work with the Register

This has been a really interesting process because it has made me think about the role of the archivist and accessibility, dealing with issues such as avoiding personal interpretation of archival materials, whilst at the same time making a rich resource easier to use.  It was really important to get this balance right and to emphasise within the guidelines the importance of getting as accurate and as authentic transcription of the Register as possible.  Working with the original document flared up many issues that were important to address to ensure that those transcribing the Register were consistent throughout the whole transcription.  For example, as the Register was filled in between around 1903 and 1910, different people have used different abbreviations to describe details, such as the cause of blindness or people's marital status or religious denomination.  It was important that every variation of the abbreviation was transcribed and accounted for. To solve the issue of what they all denoted, a key was created in order to provide meaning to each and every abbreviation that was used.  The guidelines emphasised the ‘golden rule’ for transcribing – the importance of transcribing exactly what you see, rather than what you think it should say, so as to avoid personal interpretation.  This was often harder than it sounds especially when the handwriting was difficult to read.  I think the key to ensuring this level of accuracy was to remind ourselves that each entry within the Register captures certain aspects of a person’s life and, therefore, each person deserves the same amount of attention to detail and accuracy.    These issues were also important for the researchers to be aware of in order to increase usability of the resource.  Therefore a separate set of guidelines was produced for the researchers and I also had the pleasure of explaining these guidelines to the research group when I met them at the NRS.     

I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of this project and the exciting prospect of helping to make such a rich resource more accessible.  Hopefully once the research stage is complete many other different types of researchers as well as the general public will be able to learn about another interesting part in our society’s history.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Thinking about the Box: Storage of Plastics


My favourite part of my job is coming up with new creative ways of storing the modern objects found in the HIV/AIDS collections. It’s not just a case of sticking them into a box and hoping they will be alright; you have to think about what the item is made from, how it will deteriorate, in what way it will be used in the future and how frequently it will be consulted.

Conservation Scientist, Anita Quye, recently visited the LHSA studio to give advice on how to identify different plastics and how to store them. One top tip she described when identifying plastics, is to think about how the item was used originally. For example, balloons need to be flexible to be blown up; therefore they are likely to contain a lot of plasticisers. This means that as they degrade and lose their plasticisers, they are likely to become very brittle. Plastic banners made for use outdoors, on the other hand, need to be lightfast (not discolour in light) and as such, are suitable for exhibition, where they are subject to light for a long period of time.

Once the type of plastic has been identified and the potential conservation risks considered, it’s time to think about the storage of the object. Storage can depend on the conservation needs of the particular object. We have a large collection of balloons in the HIV/AIDS collections, that were used in health promotion campaigns. Since balloons are likely to become brittle over time, it is a good idea to create storage that will reduce flexing of the balloons as much as possible. Balloon samples were previously housed wrapped in tissue paper, inside the original envelope which recorded the type and colour the balloons it contained. This was not ideal as the balloons needed to be handled a lot to view them, and in some cases the balloons had become stuck to the tissue paper. To store these, I made shallow trays from box board and created a frame from mount board to hold the balloons and envelope in place. I also lined the boxed with an activated charcoal cloth to absorb any acidic gases released from the balloons and slow down deterioration.  
GD22 - Balloon samples, before treatment. Balloons are wrapped in tissue paper and stored inside a paper envelope.
GD22 - Balloon samples, after treatment. Balloons are inserted into a polyester sleeve and stored in a shallow clam shell box with frame.
There is also a plastic banner in the HIV/AIDS collection which has a strong ‘plastic’ smell, suggesting it is deteriorating rapidly and likely to become brittle as it ages. To avoid excessive handling of this object, I created a ‘concertina’ folder which could display three flags only and leave the rest untouched. Since the “Take Care” logo is repeated on each flag, it is not necessary to view the entire length of the bunting.  This way, the general design of the bunting can be viewed and the condition of the item can be monitored without touching it at all.
GD22- Plastic bunting, before treatment. Object is wrapped in tissue paper.
 
GD22 - Plastic Bunting, after treatment. Object is stored in a 'concertina' folder.
 
If an object is at high risk of deterioration and needs to be monitored regularly, it may be best to store it so that it can be viewed easily, without excessive handling. For example, a collection of vulnerable plastic watches were previously stored wrapped up in tissue paper, again making the items difficult to view and hard to wrap up neatly once the package had been opened. To aid monitoring of these items, I made a box using mount board with a clear polyester window on top. As plastics degrade, they release acidic vapours. If these are trapped inside a box, they can speed up the deterioration process of the object. Therefore, ventilation holes were made at the corners of the box to ensure these vapours can escape, whilst still protecting the object.

GD22 - Watches, before treatment. Watches are wrapped in tissue paper.
GD22 - Watches, after treatment. Watches are stored in box with clear polyester window.

Thoughtful storage can ensure the longevity of the object. I hope these items will survive for many years to come!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Thinking Outside the Box - Educational Outreach and the HIV/AIDS Project

In this week's blog, Project Cataloguing Archivist Karyn talks about dipping her toes into the world of archive education:

When I started working as the Project Cataloguing Archivist on the HIV/AIDS project in May, I had very little knowledge of HIV/AIDS as a disease and the effect it has on people’s lives. Working through the records to prepare them to be catalogued really opened my eyes to the impact that the HIV/AIDS epidemic had on Edinburgh as a city. The collections' inscription to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register highlights the ways in which the epidemic impacted upon world history and the role that Edinburgh has played in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

 
Official recognition of LHSA's HIV/AIDS collections by UNESCO, awarded in 2011.
As the project progressed, it became apparent that the records contained huge educational potential and that the subject of HIV/AIDS is not discussed in schools as much as it should be. Although the content of the material is in many ways sensitive, the importance of educating the public about the dangers of the disease and the importance of safe sex is no less important.
It is for this reason that the project has expanded over the last few months to include a targeted educational outreach aspect. Project staff have been working hard to use the records to produce a series of educational resources for use in classrooms across Scotland. These resources have been produced in line with the Curriculum for Excellence, and it is hoped that we can win further funding to build a dedicated website and to run a series of workshops to show teachers how to use the resources and where to find more information on HIV/AIDS.
The resources are based around the more visual aspects of the collection, including posters, postcards and other promotional material. We hope that this will provide an avenue for class discussion, debate and creative output.  External input from education profession is important to the success of the resources: advice and feedback from Education Scotland, education professionals and teachers themselves will help the material to be put to good use.

World AIDS Day resource pack (GD21/4/3), an example of some of the amazing graphic design in our HIV/AIDS collections.

Teachers and pupils will be able to access the website long after the project has ended and it is hoped that future LHSA projects will add to the resources already produced. The HIV/AIDS project has shown that there are many different ways for archivists to provide access to their collections - and sometimes thinking outside the box provides the best results.