Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Enjoy Your Sexuality - Safely

On World AIDS Day 2020, we're fortunate enough to be hosting a guest blog from Dr Hannah J Elizabeth. Hannah's a great champion of LHSA, having first worked with us in 2018 during their research on the impact of HIV on women, children and young people in Edinburgh.

Currently, Hannah is a Research Fellow for the Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award 'The Cultural History of the NHS' in the Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick, researching late twentieth century lesbian health activism in the Midlands. Alongside their research on lesbian health, they are writing a monograph based on their PhD research on representations of HIV to children and adolescents. In January, they will begin a Wellcome Research Fellowship based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Edinburgh titled: ‘What’s love got to do with it? Building and maintaining HIV-affected families through love, care, and activism in Edinburgh 1981-2016’.

‘Enjoy your sexuality - safely’ – learning caution and hope from 1990s lesbian HIV materials

This World AIDS Day there are reasons to be cautiously hopeful. Rates of new HIV infections are dropping across the UK, with testing, PreP and successful treatment regimens lowering transmission risks and improving clinical outcomes. This trend, as has been widely reported, has been accelerated by the social distancing measures required to combat Covid. If we dig down into the statistics though, we come across reasons for caution.

Access to PreP is by no means universal. While improving, many people who are vulnerable still find access to PreP difficult. Successful treatment for those already living with HIV remains dependant on testing and sticking with treatment, something which isn’t always easy. Indeed, the proportion of people diagnosed late remains stubbornly high at 42% according to latest figures. Globally Covid may cause serious disruption to treatment regimes. So evidently, more needs to be done to continue to combat HIV and to lessen health inequalities nationally and globally. We need more money for HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and education!

HIV education has taken many forms over the years. Here I’m focusing on information targeted at lesbians (a fairly rare primary source) because the hopeful-but-cautious tone adopted mirrors how I feel about HIV in the UK today. We shouldn’t be complacent, but we should be optimistic! 

LHB45/2/5/1: Lesbian Sex: Are you as safe as you think? leaflet from Lothian Lesbian Line

‘We want you to be aware of the facts, not the scare stories.’

This leaflet, created by Lesbian Line, part of Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, captures an interesting moment in HIV’s history. In its pages we can see a turn in messaging from describing people as ‘at risk’ towards describing activities – rather than identities – as risky. It addresses women who have sex with women, telling them: ‘Like anybody else, it’s what we do that determines how much we place ourselves at risk.’ Women who had sex with women played an important role in the history of AIDS activism: advocating for change, working to produce education materials, and supporting people who became sick. But they also produced material like this to address their own needs directly in the face of government silence and ongoing stigma.

Overall the leaflet is frank, admitting when the medical research was unclear and risks uncertain, while offering practical solutions on how to have sex as safely as possible. Indeed, on the final page of the leaflet it explains:

‘We want you to be aware of the facts, not the scare stories: our sexual activities are generally low risk, so enjoy your sexuality – safely!’

This message, about enjoying ourselves, still resonates today. Much of the sexual health messaging we are used to seeing still insists on a risk first, pleasure second (or not at all) narrative, but in the 1990s this kind of intervention was even more powerful. When we think about public health messaging around HIV it is usually the ‘tombstone campaign’ that we think of. We remember John Hurt’s sombre voice telling us that ‘if you ignore AIDS it could be the death of you: So don’t die of ignorance!’ A scary campaign is a memorable campaign, but as I’ve argued elsewhere, that doesn’t mean it worked brilliantly. As the leaflet above explains, not all sexual acts are as risky as one another, and there are many ways to make sex safer without forgetting about pleasure in the process!

Another important element of the leaflet is its emphasis on personal choice and communication around risk. While the methods available in the 1990s were fewer, and perhaps less technologically advanced than those available to us today, there were always more ways to have safer-sex than using condoms. While PreP is game changer, and condoms, lube, and sex toys have also increased in variety and type, safer-sex has always meant different things to different people.

People found ways to have fun safely in the 1990s. By leaving space for different activities while emphasising communication, the Lesbian Line leaflet strikes an inclusive tone. Indeed, part of this leaflet’s important intervention was debunking the myth that lesbians as a group were not at risk of HIV, while carefully leaving space for pleasure in the process of managing that risk. Which I suppose brings us back to World AIDS Day 2020. Today we still need to know the facts so we can, as far as possible, manage our risk. We also should work hard not to lose sight of pleasure. But we also need to acknowledge that the burden of risk is not distributed equally. And so we must fight on for better education, funding, and treatment for all. 

You can find out more about Dr Hannah J Elizabeth's work here:

Love Carefully and Without ‘Over-bearing Fears’: The Persuasive Power of Authenticity in Late 1980s British AIDS Education Material for Adolescents 

‘Private Things Affect Other People’: Grange Hill’s Critique of British Sex Education Policy in the Age of AIDS 

The Slippery History of the Dental Dam 

Superman vs. Nick O’Teen: anti-smoking campaigns and children in 1980s Britain 

‘Injections-While-You-Dance’: Press Advertisement and Poster Promotion of the Polio Vaccine to British Publics, 1956–1962 

Getting around the rules of sex education 

Selected LHSA material relevant to lesbian health and well-being includes:

Acc09/021, Acc09/027: Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard. Includes information on the Lesbian Line service, and publications for and by lesbian communities, including Dykenosis, and newsletters from the International Lesbian Information Service. The collection features runs of the magazine Gay Scotland. Until January 2022, students and staff from the University of Edinburgh can access Gay Scotland (along with 24 other LGBT publications) online through the LGBT Magazine Archive through a link in this list.

LHB45/2/5/1: Lothian Health Board HIV/AIDS Team and Health Promotion Department. Information produced by lesbian, gay and transgender groups.

LHB45/1/2/2/5: Lothian Health Board HIV/AIDS Team and Health Promotion Department. Terrance Higgins Trust. THT leaflet on lesbian safe sex.

But please contact us for more information: and don't forget our LGBT source list!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Marlena signing off!

Although this year has undoubtedly been an extraordinary one (for all the wrong reasons), one of its highlights has definitely been the successful completion of our internship programme last month. Without these short, paid programmes, a lot of valuable work would go undone, and we wouldn't have the pleasure of meeting so many aspiring young archivists - a hope for the future that we all need at the moment! These are the reflections of Marlena, our Archive Cataloguing Intern, written in the middle of March 2020, as she finished her internship:

Hello everyone, and Goodbye! This week is my last as an intern with LHSA and I thought I would share my thoughts on the last eight weeks here.

As you will have read in my last two posts on the blog, I have been cataloguing a collection on bio-engineering research in Edinburgh donated by David Gow. The collection contains all kinds of fascinating material; there are journal articles, diaries, photograph albums, newspaper clippings, and correspondence, on anything you could think of in terms of bioengineering prosthetics, as well as many wonderful surprises. You might expect the collection to have meeting minutes and technical diagrams (and it does) but we also have records on Russian electric prosthetic hand development in the 1960s, material samples for inflatable mattresses, and some really cute baby pictures. My job has been to organise the material in a way that users can understand the context of its creation, and can easily find records within the collection.

'Russian hand' documents from 1965
The majority of my time here has been spent reviewing the material and drafting hierarchical structures by which to sort the records. In the archives world, this is called arrangement. You may already be familiar with the term from my first blog post. It’s important to remember that cataloguing isn’t just database input (although I did that as well!), it’s about expressing how things are connected, why the records were made and stored, and how they can be used. Arrangement therefore is possibly the most important part of creating a catalogue, and I spent over three weeks reviewing arrangement ideas before settling on my final structure.

Final structure

I had kept a list of the material I viewed during the scoping process, with titles, descriptions, and dates of items, so the actual ‘cataloguing’ (that is, the database input) was fairly straightforward, and, dare I say it, a good bit of fun. I had some previous experience with cataloguing with other collection management systems such as CALM, Vernon, and of course Excel, but this was my first time using ArchivesSpace, which I consider to be very user-friendly.

Due to the limited time frame of my internship, a key concern over the past eight weeks has been ‘scalability’. There is simply too much material to squeeze into the time available, so I had to prioritise what made it into ArchivesSpace. If you look at the structure above, you will see the subfonds (term used for different work areas or activities of the record creator) LHB71/1 (Administration), LHB71/2 (Research and Development), and LHB71/3 (Photographic Material). This is what I prioritised. All three of the first subfonds are now in ArchivesSpace, and searchable at item level. That means that if you are looking for a particular item within this group, you can find it by searching the database, which looks something like this:

Subfonds LHB71/4 (Internal Publications) and LHB71/5 l(Publicity Material) are searchable at series level. A series is a group of records that essentially have the same function. That means you’ll be able to find an entry on the content of the groups of these records, but you won’t be able to search for individual items.

My last two weeks have been rehousing the collection, putting everything into acid-free folders and melinex sleeves, numbering and labelling items so they’re easily identified and arranging the items in acid-free boxes with related items (for example, other items in the same series) so they are easy to find.

My greatest lesson learnt in this internship is that everyone, and every archive, is different. I know this sounds clichéd. I realise it’s glaringly self-evident, and it’s something I thought I already knew. There is a difference, however, in knowing something and really understanding it. One of the reasons it took so long to finalise the arrangement was because I had some expectations on what ‘should’ be in the collection, and how the arrangement ‘should’ look. From my studies and my previous cataloguing work, I had come to expect that the first two subfonds would be administrative and financial in nature, but there were few records relating to finance in the collection, and those that did, did not conform to my ideas of what financial records look like. Instead of ledgers, waste books, or accounts, there were grant proposals and a few material quotes as well as some budget estimates and fundraising correspondence—these were all records of what might have been spent or gained but not actually evident of a financial transaction. In hindsight, I was blindly naïve to expect these records to exist and to continue drafting structures that gave them great prominence. The centre didn’t keep those records, as many of the financial transactions would have happened via the NHS and the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital.

My mistake is especially unfortunate considering the subject matter of so much of the collection, which focuses on fitting prosthetics to individual patients. No one person has quite the same disability, and the patients seen at the centre each had a prosthetic fitted to them individually. Some patients had partial hands and needed fingers, others didn’t just need a hand but an arm as well. Some patients needed cosmetic prosthetics (called cosmesis) for important functions like weddings and funerals, others needed a more functional hand for work. And a hand that was made for a teenage boy wouldn’t fit a five-year-old girl. All kinds of things needed to be considered when fitting a patient with a prosthetic. Just like no person has the same fingerprint, no person has the same hand, or the same hand prosthetic! And no archive has the same arrangement, either.

After this week, I will be continuing my studies with the University of Dundee and volunteering with the archive at Glasgow Trades Hall. I have learned so much here that I hope to use in my future career. The past eight weeks have flown by and I have enjoyed every minute of it. Everyone at LHSA and the CRC here at the University of Edinburgh has been so encouraging, supportive, and helpful. I only have one more thing to say, and that is a big THANK YOU to Louise Williams,  Louise Neilson, and Ruth Honeybone, who have made this internship such a wonderful experience.

So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen and thank you!

Friday, 28 February 2020

Catching up with Alice

Hi this is Alice again, one of the LHSA archive interns. I’m halfway through the internship, and it is going super quickly!

It feels like there’s a lot still to get through, but my work is progressing well. I’ve now got lots and lots of lists and am working through creating the source list. This will be both as a source list in a conventional format and as a supplementary online resource. I’ll have to thank one of last year’s interns who had previously used the online platform prezi – it’s been an incredibly helpful format to display my findings and ensure they are presented in an accessible way.

For the content I’ve been focusing on different hospitals, different campaigns, and female staff. After consulting lots of records, activism within all of these focuses has been a recurring theme.

I’ve been struck by how current and relevant a lot of the women’s health records feel. A good example being some of the Head On mental health campaign records. Head On was set up as part of the Scottish Women’s Health Fair in May 1983, the poster below illustrates the concerns women at the time were facing. The pressures and concerns on these women in the 1980’s are indeed strikingly similar to concerns many face today.


As I’m studying for my Archives qualification alongside work I also enjoyed reading the probation nurses’ timetable. Nurses had to complete a preliminary training school and work as probationers before qualifying – I’m definitely grateful my archival training doesn’t include learning how to make gruel or a fish soufflé! There’s an insight into the cooking element of their training here, as you can see nurses were also learning how to make food for specific conditions such as diabetes. However, the timetable equally shows how the role of nurses has changed over time. There are dieticians who would assist patients with their diets now, and cooking isn’t a part of medical staff’s duties anymore.


I’ve also sat in on, and then conducted, some oral history interviews. These have been really interesting, particularly getting women’s first hand memories of working in hospitals in Edinburgh in the past. It really helps illuminate some of the records I have been consulting.

For International Women’s Day there will be an exhibit here at LHSA with some of the records relating to women in the collections. This will be an informal drop in exhibit so do pop along. To book your place visit here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/international-womens-day-women-within-lothian-health-services-archive-tickets-93065889581

Some of the records from the health campaigns have a definite modern feel/aesthetic, and made me think of placards from the recent women’s marches which we have seen around the world.  

Indeed, I’ve been looking at women in the HIV/AIDS collection which is really interesting, and is similarly visual.


Consulting with a variety of records also helps me understand how a variety of researchers use LHSA’s records. You can really see from the HIV/AIDS collection how it would be helpful for ECA students too – nice to be reminded of archives’ different uses! Hopefully the resource I am creating will similarly have multiple uses for different users.

Monday, 24 February 2020

This is getting out of hand!

In the blog today, we have an update from Marlena, our archive cataloguing intern working on our collection from the Astley Ainslie SMART Centre, which focuses on the development of artificial limbs in Edinburgh:

Hello again from Marlena! I am now halfway through my cataloguing internship, which has been a wonderful way to get some hands-on archive experience alongside my studies with the University of Dundee. I make no apologies for the ‘heavy-handed’ use of word play in the following post!

As you may have seen in my previous post, I am currently cataloguing a collection donated by David Gow, inventor of the first ‘bionic’ prosthetic hand. Over the past few weeks, I have reviewed the material, trying to figure out how records relate to one another and how I can group these items to make them easier to find for future users. Now that I have a better grasp on what we hold, and how I want to arrange things, I am putting the records into the University's collections management system, ArchivesSpace.

I think the most exciting revelation to me is the ways in which engineering and archives offer a similar way of looking at things. For both, you need to understand how the things you create will be used by others. When you are drafting a structure with which to arrange archives, it is important to think about who will be using your collection, as well as who created the records and for what purpose. A patient might be photographed in order to work out the kind of prosthetic needed, but that photograph might later be valuable to them for constructing a personal narrative or supporting past memories. Similarly, bio-engineering is not just about figuring out how to build something, but also about how that object is going to be used once it is built. In short, both archives and engineering are about problem solving, and about connecting seemingly unconnected things in order to make a useful whole. For example, when I was cataloguing, I had to ask myself: "What is the connection between airplanes, puppets, and motorcycle helmets?"

One of David Gow's diaries, Acc10/001

A real treasure within the collection are some diaries David Gow wrote while working at the Bioengineering Centre during the years of 1981 to 1984. The diaries contain some fascinating information about Gow's day to day work, patients he saw, and results of tests and experiments. It is interesting to see how projects progressed through time. In August of 1983, Gow was working on a hand using double acting hydraulic links when he decided to try using Bowden cables instead, ‘just so we can say we tried it’.  By mid-September, the results from the Bowden cable hand were so impressive that the model using hydraulic links was shelved.

As someone coming from a humanities background, I am embarrassed to admit that I had no idea what a Bowden cable was prior to this internship, and I didn’t want to catalogue something I didn’t understand. Was this something exotic and unusual? The short answer is no. A Bowden cable transmits mechanical force by the movement of an inner cable which is guided by an outer protective sleeve. For those without a technical background, this might sound vaguely esoteric, but it is actually quite simple. If you’ve ever ridden a bicycle, chances are you’re familiar with the concept. Bowden cables originate with late 19th century innovations to bicycle brakes and are still used as bicycle brake cables today. When force is exerted on the inner cable (for example by pulling the brake), the cable carries the force from one end to another, with the outer housing guiding the inner cable’s movement. You can take advantage of that principle for the movement of fingers.
Notes on 'the Airplane Hand', presented at a Dundee conference in 1967, Acc10/001
Once you wrap your head around how Bowden cables work on a bicycle, you can begin to understand how they work within prosthetic hands, and you can start to see how airplanes and motorcycle helmets relate to the rest of the collection: as ways of understanding how things work, and how you can use the solution for one problem to solve another. For example, in 1967, engineers of prosthetics had difficulties with creating a hand with six ‘necessary’ independent functions. They found inspiration in airplane controls, as pilots could ‘reach any given point, at any given altitude’, using only four movements. Forty years later, a major concern was making the prosthetic durable enough to handle the demands of everyday life without breaking. When looking at materials for the I-limb, Gow considered Honeywells Spectra Fiber, a polyethylene fiber that is 15 times stronger than steel. Spectra Fiber is used in many different kinds of products—including the Spectra R motorcyle helmet shown below. 
Example of Spectra Fiber, Acc10/001
When used in prosthetics, the fiber is woven into a fabric that is then laminated with resin, and left to harden on a mould of the patient’s residual limb. Ultimately, Spectra Fiber wasn’t used for the I-Limb, which instead was made of a tough nylon resin called Zytel. Zytel is used in many different industries including automotive parts, pistol frames, and roller skates. These records of what wasn’t used and what didn’t work are sometimes just as important as the records showing what succeeded, because they are evidence of a process over time. Most people don’t get things right on the first try— it takes trial and error to figure out what works.

In some ways, a letter from a puppet workshop is less of a stretch to connect than motorcycle helmets and airplanes. The envelope shown above is from Mark Hunter, a puppet maker with the Jim Henson workshop, which most people will know for its pioneering animatronics in classics such as the Dark Crystal and the Labyrinth in the 1980s. 

Letter to David Gow in Henson studio envelope, Acc10/001
In 2001, Mark Hunter had a friend in need of a prosthetic, and so decided to offer a helping hand (literally) to Gow and the team at the Bioengineering Centre. While the hand made by Hunter was never used, this letter was a wonderful surprise for me and it illustrates just how seemingly unrelated fields can connect with one another.

The way things are related is important for me because I want to create a resource that easily shows connections in order to find relevant and related material. I need to know how and why records were created, while still being aware of how people will use my catalogue entries to find things in the future. 

So far, this blog post has shown you the thought processes behind creating prosthetics, and I am sure that this will be of interest to researchers in the future. Then again, there might be better resources for researchers to learn about the hydraulic and mechanical linkage systems. A very common use of archives is as a way to support personal identity and memory, and especially in establishing a family history and narrative. The Bioengineering Centre didn’t just exist to make prosthetics. Those prosthetics were meant for people, and the archive has records of the patients the Centre supported. These records will in time be (and are already!) a valuable resource for patients to reflect on their experiences, or for family historians wanting to learn more about where they came from. The records also challenge some existing ideas about disabilities, showing patients and their prosthetics at a time when disability awareness was still in its early stages, and how prosthetics were used to successfully navigate daily challenges. 

The collection contains many photo albums from Helen Scott, an occupational therapist at the Centre, who worked with patients so that they could develop motor skills and achieve independence in a myriad of forms, from dressing and feeding one’s self to more elaborate tasks like writing, knitting and baking. The pictures in these albums are wonderful not just for previous patients of the bioengineering centre or family historians, but also for academics and activists looking for resources to show life with disabilities from the 1960’s onwards:

Because of data legislation protecting patient information, we restrict access as appropriate to safeguard individual privacy. For that reason, parts of the collection won’t be publicly accessible unless you have a legitimate reason to work with items, and have special permission from NHS Lothian, who own all our records. However, other collection items are less sensitive and there won’t be any restrictions in place for access. That said, I can scarcely wait for this collection to be fully catalogued so that users can get their hands on these records!
Images above show occupational therapy activities with children at the Bio-engineering Centre at the Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital. Images have been edited to protect the identities of individuals pictures, Acc10/001

Friday, 24 January 2020

Welcome to Alice and Marlena!

In this week's blog, we welcome two new interns to the team! LHSA has been running a programme of paid internships for some years now, offering different levels of experience to aspiring archivists before, during and immediately after taking professional qualifications. This year, we're running two internships at the same time, one around engaging more people with our collections through online outreach (Alice Manning), and another designed to increase cataloguing skills - so, the way we describe and order records to make them accessible (Marlena Nuernberger-Walle). Here's Alice and Marlena to introduce themselves:

Alice (left) and Marlena (right) in the store

Hi there, I’m Alice and I’m one of the new archive interns working here at Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA). Full warning, there are lots of acronyms in this post!  

I am originally from Yorkshire, but moved up north to study. This was initially for my anthropology degree at the University of St Andrews, and it’s been hard to stay away from the Scottish sea ever since. Though it was getting involved with an archive back in West Yorkshire, as part of summer research for my undergrad, which gave me the archive bug. After finishing my degree I continued volunteering in archives as well as getting to know how current records are created / handled at the British Red Cross as a casework volunteer. Then, I worked as the graduate trainee archivist at the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in 2018, so have had good experience in a customer facing archival role. I always enjoyed answering enquiries, and through which doing research to get better acquainted with the different records held at NRS. There’s nothing like finding the right records to help piece together family history!

I have just started studying with the University of Dundee for a Masters in Archives and Records Management, so needed practical work experience to go along with this. As I had previously been to a crowdsourcing conservation day at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) last year, helping to rehouse the Thomas Nelson collection, I had some insight into the work that goes on at CRC (of which LHSA is a part). So when the internship at LSHA came up I saw it as an ideal opportunity to get more experience, and here I am!!

My internship here is focused on creating a source list which highlights women within the LHSA collections; an intimidating task given Edinburgh’s impressive history of women in medicine. Indeed, the recent media attention regarding the Edinburgh Seven’s posthumous degrees meant I had read about women in the collections here already. So far, I have been trying to look at a range of collections, scoping what is held so as to get a good overview for where I want to focus.

Whilst looking at records regarding Elsie Inglis, who was a doctor who opened the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (the pot-war funds from which helped to found the aptly named Elsie Inglis Memorial Hospital), I came across letters with reference to Inglis’ Serbian Red Cross medal. This just added to reasons Dr Inglis was an impressive woman. It was fascinating that she was awarded this Serbian medal for her work overseas, and that my previous work with the Red Cross has an overlap!

Whether it's been nurses' training records, oral histories, women’s health campaigns or records on individuals there’s so much material. One thing is definitely true, it’s quickly become clear that that it would be impossible to cover everything. Getting a focus has been key. With so many interesting records at LHSA I could spend the entire time reading rather than creating the source list! I have been focusing on trying to cover women in different medical professions; surgeons, nurses and doctors, as well as women who spearheaded important campaigns. I’m looking to create an interactive source list which can be used by a range of audiences.  

My internship ends a few days before International Women’s Day so I have also been thinking ahead of a good way to celebrate women in the collection for the worldwide event too. The theme this year is ‘I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women's Rights’, so hopefully there’ll be a blog post (squeezed in before I leave) linked to this multigenerational campaign later on!  


Hello! I’m Marlena and I’m one of the new archive interns working with LHSA. I am currently doing a distance-learning master’s degree with the University of Dundee and hope to become a ‘fully fledged’ qualified archivist next year. I have wanted to be an archivist since a school visit to my local archive (I’m from Hanover, Germany) back in 2010, so I am incredibly excited for this internship. I have a little bit of cataloguing experience from previous project; before moving here, I completed an archive traineeship last year at Windmill Hill Archive at Waddesdon Manor, in Buckinghamshire, where I answered enquiries, updated item descriptions, and catalogued a small accession to one of our collections.

Over the next few weeks, I will be cataloguing a collection donated to LHSA by David Gow, the bioengineer behind i-Limb, which is considered the first ‘bionic hand’. While this isn’t my first time cataloguing records, it is the first time I will be processing records into a completely original arrangement. For any non-archivist readers, arrangement isn’t just physically grouping and storing items, it’s also about working out how things relate to one another, and how to fit the material into a structure that makes it easier to find in the future. I am really looking forward to this opportunity to create something new, and hopefully bring some semblance of order to the chaos! I love figuring out how things work, link and connect, and it’s exhilarating to think that my efforts might help make this exciting collection more accessible.

Once this collection has been processed into our collections management system, ArchivesSpace, I am hoping to label and repackage the material in acid-free housing, helping to ensure the preservation and access of the records for future users. It will be exciting to think of future users consulting the material I am currently cataloguing!

The collection is focused on research into prosthetics created at the Bio-Engineering Centre at the Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital. The centre, originally referred to as the Bioengineering Unit (sometimes abbreviated as BEU), opened in the 1963 and was focused on supporting children born with limb deficiencies. At the time, these congenital anomalies were a pressing concern after the thalidomide crisis became public knowledge in 1962. Thalidomide, which is still used today when treating numerous types of cancer and skin diseases, was promoted in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a safe drug for morning sickness, anxiety and ‘tension’. Unfortunately, use of thalidomide even once during pregnancy has been associated with a greatly increased risk of limb malformation and other birth defects. The BEU supplied arm and hand prostheses for roughly 60 children during this time, many of which had been affected by the thalidomide tragedy. While electric prostheses were already known in the 1960’s, they were often too bulky and heavy for children to use. Engineers at the BEU, led by David Simpson, were able to create pneumatic prostheses that were powered by gas and air, making them light enough to be worn by children. The centre later continued to adjust and fit these prostheses as the children grew, supporting them into early adulthood.

Aside from the centre’s advancement in children’s pneumatic prosthetics, it also invented aids for long-term care of people with disabilities, such as a tilted wheelchair, and the Simpson-Edinburgh Low Pressure Airbed, which prevented pressure sores in bed-bound patients. Other inventions were the epiphysiodesis tube saw, which prevented uneven leg growth in children with growth disorders, and the Arrow Walker, a triangular walker that provided upright support for children with cerebral palsy. The centre also began researching and later producing lifelike cosmetic gloves using silicone.

In the 1980s, research at the centre shifted towards electrically powered prostheses. Working together with Reach, a charity for children with upper limb differences, the centre began research and development of the first electrically powered hand. The centre achieved their first breakthrough in 1993 when they fitted Kerry Emsley with the ‘Reach’ hand, a battery-powered prosthetic hand operated by a switch at her wrist using her residual thumb, which opened and closed the hand. The ‘Reach’ hand was the first of its kind in that was suitable for amputees with a natural wrist joint, who were too long in the arm to wear previous functional prosthetics.

The advances made with the Reach Hand were crucial for the invention of the first completely electrically powered arm prosthesis, the Edinburgh Modular Arm System, or EMAS. Touted as the first bionic hand, the EMAS was first fitted to Robert Campbell Aird in 1993. Campbell Aird had lost his right arm after a battle with muscular cancer in 1982, but with EMAS went on to achieve international fame, with an entry in the Guinness book of world records and an impressive 14 trophies in clay pigeon shooting.

Article on Campbell Aird and EMAS in the Japanese Magazine Focus, 1998

Despite difficulties in securing funding, Gow and his team at the Bioengineering Centre continued their development of electronically powered prostheses, and succeeded in designing the first artificial hand with independently powered digits which became commercially available in 2008. The hand, known as i-Limb, and its sister product ProDigits, were launched by Gow’s company Touchbionics, which is often described as the ‘first NHS spinoff company'. The crucial obstacle in prosthetic research at the time was overcoming the power to weight ratio of many contemporary motors. Often, motors strong enough to power the whole hand were heavy—lighter motors often meant they were too weak to maintain sufficient grip. The key innovation was David Gow’s decision to power each finger individually, instead of using a motor for the hand as a whole. Unlike the ‘REACH’ hand, which had been operated by a switch, and the EMAS, which Campbell Aird has operated using a special cap, the i-Limb was a myoelectric prosthesis, meaning it operates using electric signals from existing muscle. At last, the world had a ‘real’ bionic hand!
Excerpt from promotional leaflet on the i-Limb from TouchBionics, 2006
I-Limb and ProDigits have since been acquired by Ossur, a prosthetics company in Iceland. My first glimpses at the collection have shown connections (visits, correspondence, conferences and more) with research from around the globe—from Russia, Germany, Sweden, China, Japan, Canada and the United States. It goes to show the critical role Edinburgh has had in the advancement of bioengineering and prosthetics worldwide.

Starting with a boxlist with which to gain an overview of the scope and content, my time here so far has been spent on a ‘recce’ mission, navigating the scale and variety of everything as a whole. The collection contains all kinds of different records-- letters, photographs, reports, journals, meeting minutes, scrapbooks, and more. There are all kinds of things! If you can’t tell already, I am incredibly interested in this collection—it has so many potential sources for future users, from disability history to engineering research. I can’t wait to explore the collection more in depth and share my discoveries!

Friday, 11 October 2019

Hospital Magazines

In this week's blog we here from volunteer Emma who has been exploring the world of hospital magazines...so sit back, and read all about it!

Following my time as an intern at Lothian Health Services Archive earlier this year (for more info see here: https://lhsa.blogspot.com/2019/01/welcome-to-our-new-intern-emma.html, https://lhsa.blogspot.com/2019/03/intern-emma-discusses-19th-century.html) I’ve been lucky enough to come back and volunteer for a short time before starting the MSc in Information Management and Preservation at the University of Glasgow later in September. I’ve been delving into the range of hospital magazines produced across different locations in Lothian and have been struck by both the diversity and high quality of the content in all those I’ve read, whether produced by staff or collaboratively with patients.

The Bruntsfield Hospital magazine was produced by and for staff and the archive holds copies dating from 1970 to 1985. Topics covered regularly included hospital news, updates on staff arrivals and departures, personal news and articles on areas of professional interest such as physiotherapy at the Commonwealth Games. There is also less work related and more light hearted material such as recipes, hobbies, jokes, poetry and sly (anonymous) comments on salaries and conditions in the nurses’ accommodation.

LHB8/16/3 – Bruntsfield Hospital Magazine - June 1971

The magazine also carries detailed historical pieces such as a lengthy article about Sophia Jex-Blake, whose former home became the site of the hospital in 1899 and has of course recently been the subject of renewed media interest and coverage following the posthumous awarding of honorary medical degrees to the Edinburgh Seven.

LHB8/16/3 – Bruntsfield Hospital Magazine – June 1971

Dingleton Hospital magazine

Other magazines were a collaborative effort between patients and staff. The Dingleton Hospital magazine ‘Outlook’ is an example of a collaborative effort between patients and staff. It was first published in September 1963 and the archive holds copies spanning the period from that very first issue until 1986. 

GD30/15 – ‘Outlook’ magazine from Dingleton Hospital
The first Editorial column set the hopes and objectives for the magazine in the context of a number of changes taking place in the hospital at the time, both physical and in the approach to patient care. 

The editor wrote: “It is with the idea of enlarging this brighter, and pleasanter community aspect of Dingleton that this magazine has been designed….We do not intend to fill this magazine with stuffy and high-brow technicalities, or to bore the readers with long unlimited surveys on medical history, but to fill its pages with good honest humour and humanity.”

From the outset the magazine was run by a committee comprised of patients and staff and early references suggest a lack of confidence that publication would continue for more than a few months, which turned out to be quite an underestimate! The content of the magazine was tailored to residents and staff, but there was early acknowledgement that there might also be an external audience and so it was made clear that some of the articles may be controversial or unsuitable for such a readership.

GD30/15 – ‘Outlook’ magazine Volume 2 Issue 4, April 1964

The breadth and diversity of content is notable – factual articles, historical pieces, travelogues, creative writing including poetry, jokes and humour, crosswords, ‘how to’ guides and views on current affairs. Notably, ideas on how to improve the publication in future are also regularly sought and aired, including pleas for a wider range of contributors, possible children’s contributions, sub editors for each topic and protected ‘quiet time’ in the reading room for people to prepare their articles. There are also frequent references to therapeutic approaches and ‘the group’. The note above makes clear that the magazine is run as a part of the hospital’s programme and the patient voice comes through loud and clear in every issue.

Whilst it is easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm that was obviously felt by contributors and the editorial committee, there are also pieces which act as a stark reminder of the traumatic events that some residents had endured and difficulties that they continued to deal with, illustrated in the poem below.

GD30/15 – ‘Outlook’ magazine

The predecessor to both of these publications was the Morningside Mirror produced at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, then known as the Royal Edinburgh Asylum. Copies from 1845 to 1974 are held at LHSA and from the outset, the Mirror was always intended to appeal to a readership beyond the hospital. It was produced on a printing press on site in Morningside and from issue 5 in January 1846, the price (threepence) and stockists were noted. From December 1847 orders and subscriptions were also encouraged and profits from the sale of the paper were put towards the   reading room that had been established. 

LHB7/13/1 - Morningside Mirror first issue – September 1845

The Mirror was published monthly and also displayed a very wide range of content including long detailed articles that sometimes ran over a number of issues, including on scientific and political topics.

As an early example of the patient voice being made widely available and the in the context of the wider ‘moral treatment’ approach that was developing in the nineteenth century, the Mirror has already been the subject of some degree of academic interest and study, for example in this essay available on the website of the Society for the Social History of Medicine https://sshm.org/from-manacles-to-management-moral-treatment-and-the-morningside-mirror-1845-1855/

Craigleith Hospital Chronicle – GD1/82/7 – August 1915

The Craigleith Hospital Chronicle was published during World War I, when the then Craigleith Hospital and Poorhouse was taken over as a military hospital. It was renamed as the Second Scottish General Hospital and used for the treatment of Forces casualties. The Chronicle was produced by patients and published monthly at a cost of sixpence.  Any profits generated were used to provide for the sick and wounded at the hospital.

Both the appearance and content of the publication have a definite ‘wartime’ feel. Articles and advertisements are very much geared towards medical and military audiences, with articles and poems entitled ‘Notes on the Army’, ‘Gallipoli – in Memoriam’ and ‘A Nurse’s Notes from Serbia'.

The advertisement below is for an ‘Invalid Suit’, specifically designed for the comfort of wounded servicemen but is marketed to nursing staff as something they might want to invest in, to address the specific needs of their patients.

GD1/82/1 – Volume One, Number Two – January 1915

In 1919 following the end of the conflict, the Poorhouse returned to its former function and in 1929 became the Western General Hospital.

LHB39/8/11 – ‘Fortune’ magazine - November 1955

East Fortune Hospital was founded in Drem, East Lothian 1922 as a tuberculosis sanatorium. In 1956 as tuberculosis patients began to decrease in number, patients with other types of illnesses began to be admitted. The archive holds two issues of ‘Fortune’ magazine from 1955 and 1957 and interestingly the Editorial column of the 1957 issue highlights (and welcomes) the considerable drop in patient numbers whilst noting that a sufficiency of material was still being produced for inclusion.

What is immediately striking about this magazine is the incredibly high quality of its production. Using glossy paper with clear photographs and advertisements for high end local businesses, the magazines were printed externally by the Hawick Express and have a very professional feel.

The content was produced by patients and staff and patients and there were also contributions from notable figures – the Countess of Haddington and Her Grace the Duchess of Portland wrote the Forewords in 1955 and 1957 respectively and there was also a Christmas letter to the patients from Leonard Cheshire.

LHB39/8/11 – Letter from Leonard Cheshire

LHB1/109A/32 – The Pelican magazine 1956

The Pelican is the staff magazine of what is now The Pelican Nurses’ League - an organisation of nurses who trained at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. The archive holds copies of the magazine from 1927 to 2008. There is a fascinating blog by LHSA Archivist Louise from 2017 on The Pelican (http://lhsa.blogspot.com/2017/05/a-most-peculiar-bird.html) so I won’t say too much about it here, however it illustrates the breadth in types and longevity of the publications that were produced across the various hospitals in Lothian.

It’s been so interesting looking through the different hospital magazines that are held here at LHSA. For me, the most immediately appealing have been those which are produced primarily by and for patients, as they offer some degree of insight into the patient experience although the reader cannot know the full degree of any editing or censorship that took place prior to publication. Regardless, there is no denying that, as the Editor of Dingleton hospital’s magazine hoped, they are each a good read and all contain their fair share of “good honest humour and humanity”.

We would like to say a huge thank you to Emma for the excellent work she has done here at LHSA in both her internship and her brief spell as a volunteer. We wish you all the very best in your studies and we hope to see you again soon!

Friday, 13 September 2019

Two Week Volunteer Placement

This week we hear from Bridget Cox, an undergraduate History student from the University of Durham, who has spent the past two weeks volunteering with us...

My name is Bridget Cox and I am currently doing an undergraduate degree in History but very keen to pursue a career in the world of archives! Over the last couple of years I have tried to gain as much experience as possible in lots of different archives and the last two weeks of volunteering at LHSA have definitely contributed to this.

Working mostly with collections relating to the patients and nurses of various Edinburgh hospitals, I have been fascinated by the extent of the personal information medical records are able to provide, from nurses’ exam results to notes on a patient’s physical appearance.

LHB1/95/17 – Nursing: Record of Training

Much of my time volunteering has been spent researching for enquiries. I have become aware that though it is wonderful to be able to provide researchers or family historians with such detailed information, the reasons for the existence of these records can make it a little bittersweet. One particular enquiry relating to a psychiatric hospital illustrated this for me. Although the search began for a single patient, the nature of psychiatric case books, (which recorded mental and physical history and symptoms as well as family history), allowed me to discover that he had three relatives who had all also spent time in the same hospital, suffering from a similar condition. While this is information is useful for expanding a family tree, it is also very difficult to consider the repeated tragedies experienced by this family.
GD30/58/7 - Roxburgh, Berwick and Selkirk District Asylum case book, May 1887 – December 1889

LHSA also holds and continues to collect more light-hearted personal records which have proved to be as entertaining as they are informative! I could have spent many more hours listening to nurses chatting away about their careers working at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh as they were recorded for the RIE Oral History project. They reflected on all aspects of working in ‘The Royal’, from the wards and their training to the drills in preparation for the turn of the millennium. I had a limited experience of oral histories before this, but have loved working with such characterful records. They area already an incredibly interesting and valuable resource and contain one or two stories which I am sure will be a source of great amusement for their future listeners!

- Thank you Bridget! You have been enormous help and we wish you the very best of luck with your final year!