Friday, 11 January 2019

New year, new horizons

2018 saw some real highlights for LHSA. In what was a busy and productive year, we were awarded Accredited Archive Service status for a further three years and took part in celebrations for the NHS’s 70th and the Western General Hospital’s 150th anniversaries, which brought the collections to wider audiences. Louise (our now not-so-new Access Officer) joined the team and helped us respond to an increased number of enquiries (up 10% on 2017). We made ourselves ready for the new data protection regulation which came into force in May and finished our Wellcome Trust-funded TB case note cataloguing project.

A selection of images from our exhibition created for the NHS 70th anniversary 

2019 will be equally full, in part with established work but also with new exciting and worthwhile activity. We’ll be answering your enquiries, supporting research use and promoting access to the collections through a range of engagement activities as usual, alongside some fresh challenges. We’ll be looking in more depth at the provision of long-term storage for born digital collections and engaging with Edinburgh’s City Deal to explore options for digitisation of our existing paper material – all to support improved and increased appropriate research. We’ll be hosting a brand new PhD scholarship which will catalogue, and open up access to, the Levin Collection (the focus for our conservation internship at the end of last year, which made the collection ready) and we’ll be building on the success of 2018’s outreach programme, expanding our work with community groups and student societies. There’s lots more in store, so watch this space as we continue to blog about the collections and how they are used over the next 12 months!

Friday, 21 December 2018

Archive Advent Calendar!

It’s finally here, the most anticipated event of the year… it’s the LHSA Christmas Blog!

This festive season we have been participating in the ARA Scotland #ArchiveAdventCalendar. Each day of December from the 1st to the 24th was assigned a topic and our task was to Tweet a picture and ask people to guess what was behind the #ArchiveAdventDoor.

Although medical archives are possibly not your first thought when you think of Christmas we were able to find images for the majority of the topics throughout the month from our photograph collections, hospital magazines and Christmas cards and in this blog we will show off some of our favourites.

Craigleith in the Snow, GD1/62/3

In this picture you can see a snow covered Craigleith. In 1917 Craigleith would have been home to the Second General Military Hospital after Craigleith Hospital was requisitioned by the army during the First World War.

The image comes from Alice Grant’s photo album:

Curling at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, GD16

Next is an image which comes from our Physician Superintendents of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital collection (GD16) and shows a game of curling on the grounds of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. Both patients and staff played curling together and references to the games can be found in editions of the hospital magazine the Morningside Mirror:

Bruntsfield ward with Christmas decorations, LHB8/17/3/4

From our Bruntsfield Hospital collection we found a photograph showing staff and patients in a ward full of Christmas decorations. In the foreground is a snowman that scared a few people on Twitter!

Group of nurses holding Christmas drinks and sweets, LHB4/4/7/11

Last of all is a photograph of nurses from Chalmers Hospital holding a selection of Christmas treats. If you can manage to move your eyes away from the chocolate and drinks you can see that there was still a chance to get one of your five a day from the bowl of fruit on offer.

We hope you enjoyed the selection of some of our favourite Christmas images from across our collections.

Make sure you follow #ArchiveAdventCalendar and #ArchiveAdventDoor for more from LHSA and archives across Scotland!

And most importantly of all the LHSA team would like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

Friday, 14 December 2018

Catching up with Nat and Vannis...

As we  near Christmas, we are coming to the end of our time with Natalia Vladinova, our Conservation Intern, and Vannis Jones, our Archives Intern. You can learn more about them here: and here:

We have loved having Vannis and Nat with us, and they have been a pleasure to have as part of the team. Furthermore, they have done invaluable work, both on our Ernst Levin collection (about which we'll be hosting a PhD in 2019 - more next year!) and in finally tidying up our photograph collection, meaning that we have only one way of referencing them (instead of - sometimes - three!).

First of all, it's over to Vannis:

Hi again! As you may remember from my previous blog post (see link above), I have spent the last eight weeks cataloguing and rehousing LHSA’s rich photographic collections. I am delighted to report that I have catalogued and rehoused a total of 2331 photographs and have completely eliminated the legacy numbering system, bringing that ongoing project to a close. Hooray! Whilst there still remain some uncatalogued photographs across the collections, this rationalisation of numbering systems allows our cataloguing focus to now be centred on these unlisted/uncatalogued materials as well as new accessions, thereby significantly reducing our photographic backlog.

In between cataloguing photographs, I have had numerous other opportunities for professional development, from outreach, to reading room supervision, to answering reader enquiries. A real highlight was a commemorative World War I exhibition at Leith Library centred on the Leith Roll of Honour, held at LHSA. The Roll of Honour is a set of five volumes that list the names of all Leithers who fell during the First World War. It was originally held in the war memorial at Leith Hospital, but was transferred to LHSA on the hospital’s closure. I was tasked with creating a display revolving around the Roll of Honour and Leith Hospital. This involved selecting materials, arranging the materials, mitigating risk of damage in transport and display, and invigilating the display along with Louise Williams and Ruth Honeybone on the day of the exhibition. In addition to three volumes of the Roll of Honour, I chose to include Leith Hospital minute books, annual reports, a letter book, and photographs all relating to the impact World War I had on Leith Hospital. With the help of Natalia, I found suitable book cradles and supports for all materials, created melinex covers for the items, and packed them for transport.

Leith Library display
Visitor with the page of the Roll of Honour mentioning his father's military honours

On the day, the exhibition attracted a considerable amount of attention from the local community, particularly those whose relatives had fought in the First World War. One gentleman was so lucky as to find his father’s name in a list of those who had not fallen but had received special honours on the very page I chose to display in the fifth volume—what are the odds? From a professional development standpoint, this was an excellent opportunity for me to speak to members of the public about our archive and its holdings, give an informal presentation on the display to an English as a foreign language class, and to really be involved in the full scope of a public engagement event. It is so special to see people engaging and identifying with the materials, telling their own stories of Leith Hospital and the war, and their delight on finding a personal connection with our holdings. In all, this was an exceptionally rewarding day and one of the most valuable experiences I have had during my time at LHSA.
The Leith Roll of Honour is digitised and available to view online. Volume 1 is available at the following link:

Nat has also been more than busy, as you can read below:

The aim of myproject is for a collection that makes up the family papers of Ernst Levin, neurologist to be surveyed and rehoused in a safe way that makes it very accessible for an upcoming PhD. The collection consists of many loose letters and ones that are still in their original envelopes, lots of greeting cards and postcards, some art sketches, many photographs of the family, and even a sword with a harness. This personal collection is quite unusual for LHSA, and the varied media it consists of makes it a challenging one for rehousing.

A spreadsheet was created that gave me a pretty good idea on the amount of boxes, folders etc. I would need. My predictions on quantity of materials needed for rehousing turned out pretty accurate, but I was in for a surprise with the time I thought each box would take.

Survey table for the collection

The nature of the documents in the collections – letters and personal correspondence between spouses, close friends and family - suggests that people did not just send some information on paper, but small tokens of intimate nature as well, such as photographs, post cards and quite a lot of pressed flowers (even some small packets of sugar). All of these objects require careful handling, as they are fragile and you cannot really tell if an envelope will have any of these or not. That meant that some boxes took a couple of hours, while other could take up to three or four days.

The method for rehousing that was chosen was for each enveloped letter to have its own single crease folder, and larger manila folder would contain a couple of single folders. All of these are stacked and put into an archival box made of acid free cardboard.

Box 5 before rehousing....
And after...

Rehoused box 3 - note housing for notebooks

It did take the full eight weeks of internship for the rehousing project. It also took more than 60 archival boxes and more than 3200 folders to rehouse the 24 boxes of varied materials. That would mean that there are more than 3200 individual letters and documents that need to be catalogued – quite a task for an archivist!

Friday, 7 December 2018

Western General Hospital Oral Histories

In this month’s blog we will be hearing from two of our volunteers who have been cataloguing and part transcribing our
Western General Hospital oral histories as part of the hospitals 150th anniversary!

Western General Hospital, Main Entrance and Driveway, LHSA photographic collection

First let’s hear from Mila who discusses working with oral histories and what she enjoyed most about the experience…

My name is Mila Daskalova, and I am a former student of the University of Edinburgh. I graduated from my MSc in Book History and Material Culture in 2017, and currently I am doing a PhD at the University of Strathclyde, exploring the history of periodicals published by patients in nineteenth-century mental institutions. I’ve been volunteering at the LHSA since September this year.

As a student, I’ve worked with various historical sources. I’ve deciphered impossible handwriting and marginal notes in dusty books, frantically opened tab after tab of digitised documents in my Internet browser and sifted through thick volumes of archival records in search of a single familiar name. I’d dealt little with oral histories because most of the people whose stories I’ve been interested in had lived and died before the invention of sound recording devices. Helping with the archiving of the recordings held at the LHSA has been a fascinating experience.

The first oral history I worked with was an interview with Dr Wilma Jack whose experience at the NHS Cancer Services and the Edinburgh Breast Unit make her a particularly valuable source of information about the history of the Western General Hospital and the development of cancer treatment in Edinburgh and Scotland. Prior to the project, I had little knowledge of the institution and its role in the history of cancer services. In the process of cataloguing the interview, I learned a lot, but this first formal encounter with oral histories was much more than another lesson in history.

There is something about oral history that is often missing in written historical narratives: oral histories are emphatically personal. Even when the speaker tries to speak generally, the listener is always aware that the information is rooted in personal experience. I believe that is what makes oral histories particularly powerful and interesting. When historians write history, they often try to detach themselves from the events they describe, even if they happened in their lifetime. Oral histories demand speakers to position themselves in the events, in history.

The most interesting moments of Wilma’s interview are those where she offers her personal reflections on issues such as when she talks about her ways of dealing with the frequent encounters with pain, fear and loss in the cancer services. Listening to her talk about her experience and views makes me curious about all the people who have passed through that place over the 150 years since its establishment in 1868. What would they have to say about witnessing or experiencing illness or the building where they worked or went with the hope of recovery? It’s amazing to think about the possibility of someone listening to Wilma’s voice 150 years from now.

Perhaps my favourite bit is her reflection on her patient notes. Throughout her career she developed a system of keeping track of patients’ medical histories by writing down any relevant information on small reference cards. She says that, despite the computerisation of medical practice in the past years, she still relies on her own handwritten notes. As someone who is also reluctant to let go of old-school note-taking, I could relate to her preference for paper over the screen.

Next is Ellen who was interested to discover the history that links the Western General and Poland…

llustration of the Paderewski Hospital, Edinburgh, 1940s (GD28/8/1/1)

Cataloguing and transcribing the oral histories of doctors and nurses who have worked at the Western General Hospital has been an exciting project. As an Edinburgh native, the Western has been my local hospital since I was a child and listening to the anecdotes of the staff who worked there has made me realise how little I knew about the hospital and the work conducted there. In particular, I was interested in hearing about the work of Polish doctors during WW2 in the Paderewski hospital. I had not realised there was such strong links between Poland and the Edinburgh University Medical School, or indeed the Western General. There was an entire Polish school of medicine established in 1941 at Edinburgh University, which taught over 336 students out of the Paderewski wing at the Western General. Although the school closed in 1949, its legacy will continue to be discussed and re-discovered (as I did) throughout the future.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Cataloguing women and health...

This week's blog comes from placement student, Emma Mitchell. Emma is a student on the MSc in Information Management and Preservation course at the University of Glasgow, one of seven recognized study programmes in the UK and Ireland that qualify people to become archivists. As part of their 'Discovery, Cataloguing and Navigation' module, students are placed in a real-world archive environment for two weeks to hone their cataloguing skills. We were delighted to have Emma as part of the LHSA team for the first two weeks of November, and she's certainly carried out some valuable work in making our collections more accessible, as you'll hear below:

Working with LHSA for my two week placement (a mandatory requirement for the MSc Information Management and Preservation programme at the University of Glasgow) has been such an amazing opportunity! Before starting, I had never considered working in a health archive, but these past two weeks have shown me how interesting it is! Being able to contextualise the theory I have been learning in my programme with practical experience has been incredibly rewarding, and I know the skills I learned through cataloguing my collections will be invaluable as I move forward in this profession.

Over the past two weeks, I catalogued two very different collections; the first one being a more career-related collection, while the second was more personal. The first collection belonged to Dr Jacqueline Mok, and I had such a great time learning about her work and her story. This collection is comprised of more professional documents such as research and research funding, however, getting to learn more about the work she did for the Lothian community was incredible! 

Dr Mok was responsible for the care and treatment of children with HIV and those affected by HIV through mother to child transmission, and she started this particular job in 1985, during the time of the HIV outbreak in Edinburgh. Learning about all of the adversities Dr Mok faced at the beginning of her position makes her accomplishments even more unbelievable; she dealt with funding cuts and the displacement of her family clinic, all while trying to treat children and educate the public on HIV. To this day, Dr Mok is a valued medical authority (even in retirement) and the impact she has had on the lives of young mothers and children affected by HIV has been remarkable.

Jacqueline Moq's papers catalogued and neatly  rehoused (GD59)
The second collection I worked on was more personal, and dealt with the notes, qualifications, and photographs of Maryann Urquhart; a magnificent woman who gained three different nursing qualifications, and worked as the state district nurse for the parish of Ceres in Fife for a number of years. I found this collection to be extremely fascinating, especially when I got to looking through some of her old lecture notes and discovered hospital recipes from the 1940s! That was a fun surprise! 

Maryann Urquhart's Dietetic lecture notes from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, with recipes and nutrition notes, 1941 - 1942 (GD1/149/1/2/1/4)
While this collection had its challenges in trying to date the photographs, it allowed me to do some detective work in order to figure it out:

Maryann Urquhart with her car as a district nurse, 1940s (P/PG1/149/004)

Overall, these past two weeks have been incredibly rewarding and gaining experience in cataloguing will definitely be useful in the future. I had never done any cataloguing up until this point, but I can guarantee the skills I learned here will stay with me throughout my career!

If you want to learn more about the work of Jacqueline Mok, you can view Emma's catalogue to her collection (GD59) here. Look out for the catalogue to Maryann Urquhart's papers in the near future!

Friday, 16 November 2018

A crocodile in the collections!

This week's blog comes from Natalia Vladinova, this year's Conservation Intern and the newest addition to the LHSA team - and she's found a rather strange creature in the collections...

I’m Natalia Vladinova, and I’m a graduate of a five-year Master's Degree in restoration and conservation in Bulgaria at the National Academy of Arts. Guided by my interest in the conservation of objects on paper, I went on to specialize in San Gemini, Italy, gaining in-depth knowledge about the conservation and technology of paper and ink production used in various historical periods and in different social-cultural communities. This experience helped me gain a permanent position as a paper conservator in the largest specialized conservation laboratory for objects on paper and parchment in Bulgaria - the conservation department of the National Library "St. St. Cyril and Methodius".

My experience with the internship has been fantastic. I like the way that it is organized, and I think that so far the two most memorable experiences have been the visit to St Cecilia’s Hall and to the Surgeon’s Hall Museum conservation studios. So far, it has been a great learning and networking experience.

The personal collection of German emigre neurologist Ernst Levin is being rehoused! This is my main task during my internship. My aim is for the collection to be surveyed and rehoused in way that makes it easily accessible for use and cataloguing as part of an upcoming PhD, starting in January 2019.

The collection consists of many loose letters and ones that are still in their original envelopes, lots of greetings cards and postcards, some art sketches, many photographs of the Levin family, and even a sword with a harness! This personal collection is quite unusual for LHSA, and the varied media it consists of makes it a challenging one for rehousing.

If you are interested in the project keep an eye for upcoming peculiarities, such as this postcard:

It depicts a poem from one of the most popular Russian children's poets – Korney Chukovsky. An excerpt from the poem is depicted – a long crocodile putting out a fire in the blue sea with the help of pierogi (filled dumplings), blini and dried mushroom! If you are interested in finding more about the poet check out this research by Anna Vaninskaya.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Archive Internship, 2018

This week, we welcome a new Archive Intern to the LHSA team and, if you're a regular follower of the blog, you may recognise her!

Hi there! I am Vannis Jones, the latest LHSA archive intern, and like many before me, I too have just completed my MSc in Information Management and Preservation at the University of Glasgow. I have been a weekly volunteer in LHSA for a year and ten months (!), so I am delighted to make the jump to an official member of staff, albeit temporarily. My past projects at LHSA have been extremely varied and have included cataloguing small personal collections, oral histories, drawings of surgical instruments (for more about this, see my previous blog post), administrative haematology records, and more. I have also had the opportunity to use Encoded Archival Description, an XML-based standard for encoding archival finding aids, to catalogue tuberculosis case notes.

At my desk in the office
This internship, however, focuses on a medium with which I have little professional experience—photographs. I have catalogued and rehoused the odd photograph in various smaller general deposit collections at LHSA, but I have never had the opportunity to work with a large body of photographs. In this internship, I will be addressing the photograph cataloguing backlog, beginning first with photographs that have been assigned identifiers using a legacy numbering system. Once these photographs are fully catalogued in line with LHSA’s current practices, I will move on to the body of photographs that are entirely uncatalogued. The fun of photograph cataloguing is that photographs tend to be a bit more challenging to decipher than other documentary evidence. It is not at all uncommon for photographs to have no label, date, or any other contextual information to assist in determining its provenance or writing an archival description. This requires a great deal of resourcefulness and creative thinking in order to interpret any visual clues that are present in the photograph. An example from past projects would be photographs of Red Cross nurses—the designs of their uniforms have changed over time, and by comparing photographs of the nurses with online Red Cross resources, it is possible to date these photographs to a relatively high degree of accuracy. I believe this detective work will be one of the greatest (and most exciting) challenges of this project.

Nurses and male staff member from the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital, 1900s (P/PL3/S/061)
An example from this past week of visual clues – the photograph above portrays staff from the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital and Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, and was found by a member of the public during a house move. It is not labelled in any way, but the nurses’ clothing can provide indications as to their roles. The woman seated in black is a matron, and the other three are nurses. You may notice, however, that one of the nurses has a distinctive belt. Whilst we have not decoded the meaning of this belt, it may indicate that she holds a higher rank or different role from the other nurses. 

Throughout my internship I will also have some exciting professional development opportunities, including liaising with the conservation intern (who you'll hear from next week) on a smaller project or two, visiting other Edinburgh and Lothian repositories, and attending talks related to archives and conservation, to name a few. I am looking forward to further honing my skills I have developed over the past two years during this internship, and I can’t wait to see what fun, quirky, puzzling, and unique photographs await me!