Friday, 3 July 2015

Summer of.. Well, research, really!

It’s been busy in the last few weeks in the Centre for Research Collections reading room. This week, Archivist Louise looks at what LHSA readers have been up to...

It (finally!) seems to be summer time again. You’d think that the sun would signal a quiet time in university archives – most of the students are on their summer breaks and genealogists’ thoughts are perhaps turning more to the lilo than lineage…. However, judging by the last few weeks at LHSA, that’s not at all the case!
Summer time means that academics are released from their teaching and finally have some time to do their research and postgraduates enjoy the relative quiet of the campus outside semester time. They’re certainly doing that in the Centre for Research Collections reading room, with this past week rarely seeing a spare table on the sixth floor. LHSA readers, for example, are researching control of infectious disease in the early twentieth century, late eighteenth and early nineteenth century fever medicine, child psychiatry, public health policy in Edinburgh and the relationship between physicians and patients at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.
To this end, we’ve been searching out items from the stores, including items from our fascinating City of Edinburgh public health collection:

LHB16/2/31 – extract from the 1930 Annual Report of the Public Health Department of the City of Edinburgh

We’ve been finding copies of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital magazine, the Morningside Mirror, for a postgraduate researcher looking at the relationship between doctors and patients at the institution:

Pages from the Morningside Mirror (LHB7/13/5)

And we’re going to search out our oldest Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh case notes for our visitor researching early fever medicine….

Page from a volume from physician John Gregory, documenting cases from 1771 - 1772 (GD1/66)
… as well as polishing our collection of brass plaques to help another researcher to investigate the history of modern infectious disease nursing:

Bed plaque from LHSA hospital plaque collection (Q86)

In addition to these wider topics, academic researchers have also been looking more closely at individual lives. One reader found a trace of a literary academic and intelligence corps. officer as a patient in Craigleith Military Hospital during the First World War, and another searched inside the papers of the Edinburgh Society for the Relief of the Destitute Sick for a mention of ballads donated by James Bertram to Walter Scott and William Laidlaw:

Letter from William Bertram to his brother James (1801) that helped to shed new light on one reader's research (GD10/13/7). William Bertram left a bequest in his will to the Edinburgh Society for the Relief of the Destitute Sick, which accounts for his papers' presence in our collections.
The breadth of the research taking place this summer is a reminder that the archives that we hold are relevant to academics from a wide spectrum of disciplines, not only in the history of medicine – showing how medicine and its institutions were an integral part of both individual life histories and larger social and cultural currents.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Looking back at my time at LHSA...

Yesterday, Stephen, our Archive Assistant, left us for pastures new to work with the CRC user services team. We wish Stephen all the best in his new role and although we'll miss him, we know that he'll only be upstairs on the sixth floor! In this week's blog, Stephen reflects on his last eight years working in the LHSA team...

As I bid farewell to LHSA after eight years as the archive assistant I present a snapshot of the wide variety of different tasks I have done in this role. When I first started in May 2007, my duties were focussed on re-ordering over 200,000 of LHSA’s case notes and producing handlists for each collection. Once this was completed, handlists were written for case note collections already in the correct order as well (another 800,000 case notes) and finally a case note database was created condensing the information from these tasks, considerably increasing the accessibility of these records. The image shows a page of an unusual case note from 1910 found in the Alexander Miles collection with a hand drawing of the operation in progress:

Alexander Miles case note, from Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh case note collection  (LHB1 CC)

As well as core duties of collecting items for readers at the library, helping with transit of material between the LHSA’s storage locations at the Main Library and the Library Annexe in South Gyle, and supporting the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections, I have had the privilege of working with a wide variety of the LHSA’s collections.

I have scanned and produced a catalogue of 3600 of LHSA’s 35mm slides, re-housed over 6000 glass plate negatives, catalogued boxes of photographs and listed LHSA’s departmental files. The image shows a 35mm slide of the entrance to the Accident and Emergency Department at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in approximately 1900.
Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Accident and Emergency Department, c. 1900 (LHSA slide collection, Case 66.2)
Digitisation and photography have been a regular part of my duties and I have photographed many of the fascinating objects accessioned by the archive for the objects database, such as this beautiful nursing badge from Leith Hospital:

Leith Hospital nursing badge (LHSA object collection, O472)
Also more recently I have bookscanned the first seven volumes of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital newscuttings books.
Occasionally I have been asked to perform some more unusual tasks. I helped to set up shelves in the archive stores wearing a hard hat in 2008 and earlier this year, I helped bag and dispose of confidential anatomy department records after their appraisal in the basement of the McEwan Hall prior to its refurbishment. So, all in all it has been a very busy but enjoyable and worthwhile time here. I look forward to the new and different challenges in my next role.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Helping to bring out your inner archivist (or conservator)!

We say goodbye to our fantastic intern, Aline, today. She’s spent the last ten weeks with the LHSA team, and they’ve flown by! Although Aline’s time was focused on our case note cataloguing project, we made sure she got lots of other, more general, experience to help her future career in the archive sector. Here’s Aline giving a presentation yesterday, where she told Centre for Research Collections colleagues what she had learnt during her internship. If you follow us on Facebook, you might recognise this picture from yesterday’s post!

Whenever one of our internships comes to an end, we take stock and look at what worked and what didn’t, so that we can make the next internship we offer even better. I’m pleased to say Aline had lots of positive things to say about the programme we organised for her, and about the kind of teaching and guidance we provided for someone interested in learning more about the principles that govern archival and conservation activity.
In the last week Louise and I have had a couple of interesting opportunities to offer that kind of teaching and guidance in different settings. Louise stayed close to home, taking part in a workshop as part of the European Association for Health Information and Libraries conference held in Edinburgh. This was organised in collaboration with the International Conference for Animal Health Information Specialists and the International Clinical Librarian Conference. It’s an international event and around 250 delegates attended. The Centre for Research Collections offered a workshop to help librarians and information professionals get to grips with what it means to be an archivist, and how archive collections can be used for research in the health-related subject areas the delegates are interested in. I was in London, at the British Library, teaching part of the ‘Essential Preservation’ course offered in partnership with West Dean College. I gave an introduction to best practice handling and storage of special collections, some background to writing a preservation policy and then a bit of guidance on how to communicate conservation activity and where sources of information and help might be found. While the main aim of a session like this is to help those new to the preservation of rare/unique collections, it’s also a great chance for me to promote LHSA and our services and reflect on our own practices, often through some challenging questions posed by those attending!  

Ruth Honeybone, LHSA Manager 


Friday, 12 June 2015

Treating prisoners of war

The weeks have flown by, and we're coming up to the end of Aline's internship cataloguing the Second World War neurosurgical case notes of Norman Dott. In her final blog, she reflects on a group of fascinating and unique cases:
The Brain Injuries Unit (BIU) set up by Norman Dott at Bangour General Emergency Service Hospital during the Second World War accommodated service men and women from all around the world, including many soldiers, ATS members and pilots from Poland, the USA, Canada, Australia and even Norway. But Bangour BIU also received soldiers from ‘enemy countries’, that is to say prisoners of war from Germany, Italy and Austria. The case notes can give us a great deal of valuable information about them.

To begin with, a little information about prisoners of war in Britain during the Second World War might be needed to place the case notes into their historical context. After D-Day, when there was no longer a threat of a German invasion on British soil, many German and Austrian prisoners of war were sent to Britain. At the end of the war, there were more than 600 PoW camps in Great Britain, and as many as 400 000 prisoners from Germany. Strong Nazi supporters, including SS members, were sent to remote camps in the Scottish highlands to be put on agricultural work on farms. Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war had to be treated humanely: they were allocated the same food ration as British service men and given access to medical care, which is why some of them were sent to Bangour Hospital. Unfortunately, according to the National Archives, ‘few lists survive of prisoners of war in British hands and there is little documentation which provide biographical information’. This is why any records concerning them, including in the Norman Dott collection, are very valuable.

In the case notes I have been cataloguing as part of the project “Cataloguing Norman Dott's neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960)” I have come across 34 prisoners of war - most of them were German, but a few were Italian or Austrian. The last prisoner examined at Bangour was seen at the end of 1947, well after the end of the war: it is not surprising since in Britain the first prisoners of war to be sent home left in 1946, and the last ones in 1949. Each case note gives details about these soldiers’ nationalities, their ages when first examined, their ranks and units in their respective armies, their PoW numbers, their civilian occupations, what they did during the war, and the reasons that brought them to Bangour BIU. Sometimes the PoW camp where they came from is indicated, which is precious information since the documentation about these camps is somewhat limited. Quite logically, the prisoners in Bangour Hospital seem to have come from Scottish camps: two German PoW came from Gosford Camp, Longniddry, in East Lothian, one came from the camp at 123 Dalmahoy, Kirknewton, in West Lothian, and an Italian soldier came from North Hill Camp in Laurencekirk, in Kincardineshire.

Example of case note of a German prisoner of war treated at Bangour in 1944. Sensitive personal data has been redacted (LHB40 CC/2/PR3.1511)

The records of these enemy soldiers look like any other case notes in the collection, except for the fact that sometimes there aren’t many details about their previous history and family situation. However, it is likely to be due to the language barrier, as shown by this comment about an Italian PoW: ‘this patient has no sufficient English at his disposal to give a satisfactory history’ (PR3.1579). These prisoners seem to have been treated like every other patient, despite the fact that they were ‘the enemy’. We could even go further and say that some of them seemed quite happy about their situation at Bangour, as we can read in several case summaries: ‘This man is most cooperative and apparently glad to be in a British Hospital’ (PR3.1465), ‘he [another PoW] is very pleased with himself and happy and says that he is extremely well off in hospital here’ (PR3.1478). An Italian PoW treated for a prolapsed intervertebral disc even sought to extend his stay: ‘this PoW gives the impression of deliberately not performing well in order most likely to enable him to remain in the hospital where he is quite happy’ (PR3.1310).

As we can learn in the typed case summaries, most of these soldiers were being treated for wounds that happened during battle in France after the Allied invasion, where many of them were captured by British or American soldiers. They were then sent to British hospitals or PoW camps. The case notes sometimes describe fascinating life stories, like the story of this 19 year-old Austrian prisoner of war, ‘an organised social democrat’, who was wounded in Russia and then sent in a military hospital in Austria. But later he was displaced to a hospital in France, where he was captured and sent to Britain (PR3.1510):

Story of a young Austrian prisoner of war before he arrived at Bangour in 1944. (LHB40 CC/2/PR3.1510)
Despite the fact that prisoners of war records represent a very small percentage of Bangour BIU case notes, the detailed information they contain represents an invaluable source for genealogists and WW2 specialists.  


The National Archives, Military Records Information 29, Prisoners of war in British hands, [visited on the 9th of June 2015]

German Prisoners of War in Britain, [visited on the 9th of June 2015]

Friday, 5 June 2015

Making Medical Connections

This week's blog is from our Project Cataloguing Archivist, Clair.

Since taking over the Wellcome Trust funded project to catalogue Norman Dott’s neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960) I have been getting straight down to ‘cataloguing’ business. However, I have also been inclined to brush up on my Dott facts and histories which help to contextualise the significance of the c.26 650 case notes - as a collection it has huge research potential. My predecessors, LHSA interns and volunteers have already provided me with some excellent research on pioneering neurosurgeon Norman Dott and the activities of his medical department in Ward 20, at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) (much of which you can find in our past blog posts!). This week I have decided to highlight a few of Dott’s medical connections with other pioneering and famous Edinburgh surgeons, many of whom I have had fun looking up in our photographic collections. It is interesting to see how Dott’s personal and professional life was influenced by other medical greats.

Sir James Learmonth (1895-1967) 

 First up is Sir James Learmonth (seen above smoking the pipe). I wanted to find out more about him because he often appears in Dott’s case notes as a physician that his patients would be referred to for extra consultation. As well as being called upon to treat Dott’s patients, Learmonth was appointed Regius Professor of Clinical Surgery in 1946, meaning that he could be called upon to treat the King, George VI, particularly on his visits to Scotland. In 1949 Learmonth did have to treat the King’s vascular disease, performing a lumbar sympathectomy on his right leg. Throughout his career Learmonth held many professorships in surgery at the University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh, his papers of which we hold at LHSA.

Harry Moss Traquair (1875-1954)
Born and educated in Edinburgh and after obtaining his medical doctorate in 1903, Traquair practiced as a GP in South Africa. On his return to Edinburgh he devoted himself to ophthalmology (diseases of the eye) and held the Ophthalmic Surgeon post at the RIE. Traquair’s contribution to neuro- ophthalmology was much valued by Dott, who was noted stating that Traquair was, “a man gifted with a powerful intellect…a man exemplifying scientific integrity and comradeship, he was recognised and respected as an acknowledged authority on…visual aspects of neurology throughout the world”[1]. 

Sir Henry Wade (1876-1955)

Possibly the man to thank for determining the future career of a young Norman Dott, Wade was innovative in the field of urological and prostatic surgery, as well as serving as a military surgeon during the First World War. In 1909 Wade was appointed Surgeon to Leith Hospital and it was through this work that he came into contact with 25 year old Norman Dott, after a motorcycle accident left Dott in Wade’s care. Although Dott had suffered multiple fractures in his left leg, Wade decided not to amputate. Had the decision gone the other way, it could have placed major restrictions on the development of Dott’s future career in neurosurgery.

Sir Walter Mercer (1891-1971)

Dott had his fair share of time in hospital as a patient. Through these experiences, it has been argued that they shaped Dott’s compassion for his own patients – a compassion that shines through in the case notes. Sir Walter Mercer, Surgeon at the RIE and contributor to the development of speciality care, performed a leg shortening procedure on Norman Dott.

Sir David Wilkie (1882-1938)

Finally, one of the great Edinburgh surgeons of the twentieth century, Sir David Wilkie, was instrumental in the formation of Dott’s famous Neurosurgical Department on Ward 20 at the RIE. Wilkie provided Dott with adult beds and facilities that had previously not existed for the practice of adult neurosurgery. Wilkie advocated the importance of experimental research in surgery and looked towards science-based surgical thinking. These foundations provided Dott with the facilities to embark on his pioneering career in surgical neurology.





[1] Macintyre and MacLaren (eds.), Surgeons’ Lives. Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh: Edinburgh (2005), pg. 174.

Friday, 29 May 2015

The Residents in 'A Trip to Moscow'

Archives Assistant Stephen has uncovered some rum goings-on in the LHSA pamphlet collection:
This week, we present a musical play written by and starring the Residents of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and originally performed on 17th December 1897, the script of which comes from LHSA’s pamphlet collection. The junior doctors of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in their first year of appointment at the hospital, known as the Residents, had a reputation for mischievous anti-authoritarian behaviour in their free time. Perhaps in the face of the suffering and death they encountered on a day-to-day basis, they instinctively responded with an irreverent sense of humour. The images show the Residents' class of winter 1897-1898 posing for their official photograph and the cover and an extract of the play they performed. The cover has the sub-heading ‘K.C. ‘97’ which presumably stands for ‘Kitchen Concert’ as this is mentioned in other documents in the archive relating to the Residents.
Cover of 'A Trip to Moscow', LHSA pamphlet collection
The script for the play contains a mixture of slender political comment on Russia, which was then under the rule of Tsar Nicholas II (or ‘Czar’ in the play), medical veering towards toilet humour and impersonations of their teaching doctors. A regular threat which runs through it is for characters to be sent to Siberia, the common destination for dissidents of the Russian regime. Out of the play’s performers, Edwin Matthews and J.W. Struthers went on to become respected surgeons in Edinburgh, who taught their own cliniques for medical students.


Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Residents, Winter 1897 - 98

Songs in ‘A Trip to Moscow’ were written to popular tunes of the day including those from operas by Gilbert and Sullivan, which has another connection to the Residents - as will be revealed in a future blog.
Pages from 'A Trip to Moscow'

Friday, 22 May 2015

Preparing for oral history

This week LHSA secondee Iain talks about the preparations he has been making to record oral histories:
The project

I am working with Archivist Louise to record personal stories to add context to existing HIV/AIDS paper and object collections held at LHSA. We hope to interview retired policy makers, retired healthcare personnel, staff working in charities to support those affected by HIV in Edinburgh and the Lothians and possibly service-users of those charities.

If you thought it was just a case of going into a room with a recorder and your interviewee and asking some questions, you’d be wrong! There are many more things to consider and Louise is supporting me in getting everything ready.


Louise kindly spent a couple of hours with me one afternoon to start my training on what is involved in taking oral histories. Louise has recorded some oral histories before and had some handy tips on what went well and what didn’t go so well. The most important things I took away were to choose a quiet room with no possibilities of interruptions, to limit the verbal acknowledgements I normally do during conversations (no ‘uh huhs’ just nods and eye contact) and make sure any documentation is in order.

What kind of documents do we need for these interviews?

The bare minimum is a consent form for the interviewee to sign and an information sheet to inform them why they are being interviewed and what the general process is like. It is my responsibility to create these and other documents in preparation for our interviews.

Louise has shared her previous consent and information sheets with me. Also, Sahir House (a charity based in Merseyside offering HIV support, information and training) were kind enough to share their documentation with LHSA which they use for their Now + Then oral history project. You can find out more on that project here :

These documents from Louise and Sahir House were really helpful in formulating documents in advance of my first recording at the beginning of June. I now have seven different documents. The additional five consist of a checklist to ensure I bring everything and note sheets to ensure I’m asking the right questions at both the preliminary meeting and the recorded interview.

What happens before the interview?

In advance of the first recording I am doing (with an LHSA volunteer whose nursing work had relevance to our HIV/AIDS collections), I met with the interviewee for a preliminary meeting.

This was an unrecorded meeting in which we went over what the interviewee did and did not want to discuss in the recorded interview. As a result of that preliminary meeting, I now have created a sheet that allows me to take fast and easy notes if I need to, with a timescale sheet and predefined areas to put topics to include and exclude. This should really help for my next preliminary meeting with my second interviewee at the end of June.

Dictaphone belonging to Helen Zealley (former NHS Lothian Director of Public Health), now in her personal collection donated to LHSA (GD25). We do have a more modern one for these interviews, though...
And now for the interview …

I am both excited and slightly nervous for my first oral history recording on this project. I’ve still to do some test recording with the recorder which I will do next week. I experimented on my mum using the StoryCorps app on my tablet when I was last visiting my parents. The app was easy to use and allows you to choose questions in advance. I practised non-verbal acknowledgements (which was a bit harder than I thought) and went to the extreme of removing the battery from a rather loud ticking clock to ensure the room was quiet!

Taking my skills back to John Lewis

After speaking with the John Lewis Archivist Judy Faraday and Archiving Assistant Owen Munday I am hoping to maybe start an oral history project in the shop. I am considering focussing on the Partners in the Edinburgh branch who have taken advantage of their 6 months paid leave after 25 years service in the Partnership. It would be great to hear what they did during their leave but also how both they and the shop has changed during their service. There’s still a few things to sort out but it’s looking positive so far.