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.

Friday, 15 May 2015

New website launched!

Today, LHSA launched a brand new website packed with educational resources, images, and audio visual material from our UNESCO-recognised HIV/AIDS collections: Click here to find out more about the background of the project.

The website mainly consists of educational resources that are linked to the Curriculum for Excellence and are for use with school children aged between 12 and 15 by teachers and youth group workers. Three subjects themes from the Curriculum for Excellence are covered on the website: Expressive Arts, Health and Wellbeing, and Social Studies. On the home page, you may recognise the pink bus from the ‘Take Care’ campaign. We chose this to go on the first page as we felt it matched the three main subject themes.
 Screen shot of the home page
Firstly, Expressive Arts, the bus was a part of a well designed, highly visual campaign which used a distinctive logo and the colours blue and pink on a wide range of media. Secondly, Health and Wellbeing, the bus was used to promote the message “Take care of the one you love” and raised awareness on how HIV was transmitted. Lastly, Social Studies, the statement on the bus “AIDS concerns us all” aimed to dispel the myths surrounding HIV and reduce the stigma associated with the disease and was used throughout the ‘Take Care’ Campaign.

This main page leads directly to the resources themselves. Each subject theme has five educational resources linked to it. You can download the resources as a pdf. The images and audio-visual files associated with the resources can also be downloaded here, either singly or together as a zip file.

Screen shot of the resource page

Each resource consists of four pages. The first page is a cover sheet that gives a short introduction to what the resource covers and which experiences and outcomes the resource matches. The next page gives some useful background information to the resource and images. An image sheet containing the relevant images is provided for quick reference followed by a section that suggests activities based on the items in the collection.
Activities in the resources are varied and include starter activities such as true and false quizzes, mind maps and discussion points. They also provide ideas for projects such as making interactive computer games using Powerpoint software, designing radio adverts and postcards, and launching a health promotion campaign.
Other pages on the website include a historical context page, which gives information on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Edinburgh from the early 1980s to present day. An image bank is also provided on the website. This way users can get an overview of the images and click on specific tags that will take them back to the related resource.
 Screen shot of the image bank
So far, we’ve had great feedback for the website. Everyone agrees that the educational potential for the HIVAIDS collections is huge and the highly visual material in the collections will greatly appeal to school children. We hope that this website will help to promote these fantastic collections to a wider and more diverse audience and inspire educational professionals to use archives in the class room.

Check out the website at and let us know what you think! off the press....
Emily giving her presentation at the website launch this afternoon!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Things that go bump in the night

It's all go with the Norman Dott project here at LHSA… Not only is Aline working hard to catalogue Second World War records from the Bangour Brain Injuries Unit, but we’ve had a change in personnel in the main project as Clair Millar takes over as Project Cataloguing Archivist.

The Dott theme also continues this month because Louise will be talking about the some surprising finds in the records of the Bangour Brain Injuries Unit at the Festival of Museums ( on Sunday 17 May. The Festival of Museums is a weekend packed with heritage events, showcasing the amazing and (in many cases) surprising secrets that Scotland’s museums and archives hold.

One theme this year is ‘dark Edinburgh’, and Louise will be talking about the medical impact of what happened when the city’s lights went out as a consequence of the blackout imposed during the Second World War. LHSA’s collection of case notes from the Bangour Brain Injuries Unit reflect these bumps and scrapes (of varying severity!) in the military and military auxiliary staff who were treated there for the head injuries that so often ensued, and Louise will be telling some of these stories – redacted for confidentiality, of course! Readers can only access these files with special permission, so Louise’s talk is a rare chance to learn about what sorts of cases these files hold.

A typical case file from Norman Dott’s time in the Brain Injuries Unit at Bangour (our reference LHB40 CC/2/PR3.706)

As you may know from previous blogs (, Norman Dott worked at Bangour from 1939, when he developed a specialist unit to treat brain injury and neurological disorders in military personnel. As Consultant in Neurosurgery to the Army in Scotland, Dott saw a range of military patients, from high-ranking officers to cadets and ATS auxiliaries. Although you’d expect injuries of this time to always be incurred on the field of battle, Dott’s practice demonstrated that this was far from the case, and that the war could be hazardous in small, everyday ways that are not at all obvious at first.
You can book free places for Louise’s talk from the Festival of Museum webpages: Our colleagues in the Centre for Research Collections, the University of Edinburgh Anatomy Museum and Surgeon’s Hall are also getting involved with some ghoulish events, activities and performances. You can plan your Dark Edinburgh weekend here:

Friday, 1 May 2015

From our new intern...

My name is Aline Brodin and I started my 10-week internship at Lothian Health Services Archive on Monday the 13th of April. I am working on the project “Cataloguing Norman Dott's neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960)” under the supervision of Louise Williams. My role is to create an item-level based catalogue of the 26,000 case notes of the pioneer neurosurgeon Norman Dott – or at least make a contribution to it. It is fascinating material with a great deal of information for social, medical and military history. But before expanding on the case notes themselves, I would like to present myself and my background, and how I came to work for LHSA. 
 Aline working on the Norman Dott case notes

I originally come from Caen, in Normandy, where testimonies of history are everywhere – from the imposing castle of William the Conqueror to the solemn D-Day beaches. Studying medieval history, I chose to follow my Norman ancestors and to come to Britain for my second year of my master’s degree, which I did at the University of Glasgow with the Erasmus programme. Little did I know I would still be in Scotland four years later. Indeed, after my Erasmus year, I did a master’s degree in Archives and Museum Sciences and I decided to do my work placement at Glasgow University Archive Services. My role there was to create an item-based catalogue of the Blackhouse charters, 500 documents dating from 1246 to 1717 pertaining to the history of the University of Glasgow. This was a fascinating project that enabled me to consider historical documents from another angle – not as a historian, but as an archivist. A few months later, I was hired for a three-month contract at the Royal College of Nursing in Edinburgh as an archive assistant. It was my first contact with contemporary medical archives, which were quite different from what I had worked with before but equally captivating. This led me to apply for the LHSA internship, which I thought was in perfect continuity with my previous experiences since I had already worked with both item-based catalogues and medical archives.
During these first two weeks, working with the Norman Dott collection has been very exciting and enriching. One could think that medical archives can be somewhat “dry” and hard to understand, with its obtuse, very specialised, vocabulary and its technical charts and reports incomprehensible for the layman. However, although they do include very sector specific jargon and were never supposed to be historical documents, Norman Dott’s case notes offer direct contact with the past, and tell life stories, tales of war and examples of medical prowess…especially since the case notes I am cataloguing are from his time in the Brain Injuries Unit in Bangour General Emergency Service Hospital in Broxburn, and date from 1943-1944, in the midst of the Second World War. In this Unit, Norman Dott treated servicemen and servicewomen from all over the world – so far I have come across people from the United Kingdom of course, but also many Polish soldiers (especially Polish pilots), Norwegian officers, North American soldiers, a soldier from the French Antilles and another one from British Honduras, and even an Italian prisoner of war. They could be sailors, pilots, basic soldiers, medics, but also female ATS and WAAF members; and they all had a story to tell.
Postcard of Norman Dott’s neurosurgical ward (Ward 32) in Bangour General Emergency Service Hospital during the Second World War
The case notes, especially the typed case summaries, often give a detailed account of the patients’ lives: their family, their personal history, what brought them to Bangour (accident or illness), their feelings about the treatment they received and about serving in the army. Treating brain injuries meant you had to be attentive to the slightest psychological symptoms such as changes of behaviour, mood swings and general state of mind, in addition to physical symptoms; therefore, the case notes sometimes give a very personal and intimate insight into someone’s life and mind during a very critical time. Norman Dott’s diagnosis was all the more important in that it determined if they could return to fighting for their country or had to be discharged. I find it fascinating to see destinies unfold before my eyes, some of them being very poignant.
The objective of the Norman Dott project is to create an online catalogue that will make the collection visible, accessible and intelligible to researchers, whatever their interest or background, whilst preserving patient confidentiality. It will bring this fascinating collection to life and help it reach its full potential; that’s why I am very honoured and excited to be part of this project.  

Friday, 24 April 2015

A preview of our latest HIV/AIDS accession

As I am coming to the end of the Wellcome Trust funded project to catalogue LHSA’s UNESCO recognised HIV/AIDS collections, I thought I would provide a peek at one of our latest HIV/AIDS accession. In the last few days of the project, I have been pulling everything together and managed to spend some time on the Waverley Care accession (Acc14/028). This collection was donated to LHSA last year after connections were made between the charity, my predecessor Karyn and Project Conservator Emily. It’s great when working connections can be established between archives and potential donors because we can provide help and advice, with what materials are suitable for long-term preservation, storage and access, whilst enriching our own collections and research resources.

We have already been able to share with you some of the unique and important items from our HIV/AIDS collections, particularly from the vibrant Take Care Campaign. But through sharing some of the items from our other HIV/AIDS collections, we can reflect on the work of many charities, support networks and campaigns that were set up in Edinburgh (and beyond), during the outbreak. They would often work together to take on the epidemic and provided education and support for sufferers, as well as the wider general public. Services provided by charities, such as Waverley Care, provided (and are still providing) excellent support to people living with HIV and Hepatitis C and also work hard to raise awareness, in order to try and prevent new infections.

From the collection we can gain an insight into the foundations of Waverley Care, established in 1989. It was during this period that Edinburgh was labelled the ‘AIDS capital of Europe’, with the highest infection rate throughout the whole of the UK. The region was at the forefront of the battle against the spread of the virus so services like Waverley Care were set up in response. The charity went on to develop the UK’s first purpose build hospice for people living with HIV, Milestone House. This transformed into an intensive residential support unit and a community support service for people living with HIV or Hepatitis C.

The collection also has papers relating to another one of its earlier projects, Solas. This was a community-based support and information centre that like many other Edinburgh based campaigns, aimed to reduce public fears about HIV/AIDS. Instead of prevailing an atmosphere of doom and gloom, Solas wanted to be seen as a source of positivity, to help inspire and strengthen a support and education network.  

This positive approach can also be seen in the promotional activity of Waverley Care. Here are a selection of their postcards that were produced to promote their messages of strength, support, education and understanding.


Finally, the charity also takes part in World AIDS Day which still provides an opportunity for the world to unite in the fight against HIV, and commemorate those who have died from the disease. Below is a tartan ‘Red Ribbon’ which became Waverley Care’s symbolic image and highlights the unified stance against HIV/AIDS.

For more information on Waverley Care and the current work of the charity, please visit

Friday, 17 April 2015

Welcome to Iain

This week Iain Phillips introduces himself and talks about his work  on LHSA's HIV/AIDS collections in the first seven weeks of his part-time 24-week placement, funded by an award from the John Lewis Golden Jubilee Trust:

A fast first day
I started on Tuesday 3rd March 2015 with a brief introduction and then was set straight to work!
My supervisor, Louise, made sure I received my induction to the Centre for Research Collections (CRC). She then introduced me to Emily Hick, who has spent her time working both with LHSA (on HIV/AIDS collections) and CRC as a conservator. I was helping Emily on a Wellcome Trust Provision for Public Engagement Project to create educational resources for teachers based on LHSA's HIV/AIDS collections, on which she'd recently finished conservation work ( I was asked to help create four resources out of the 15 which will showcase the material available in LHSA's HIV/AIDS collections and suggest exercises based around the Curriculum for Excellence. Considering I had only seen what was in the collections by looking at the LHSA website ( I was excited to find out more about what we had to help me create these resources.

I’ve rushed ahead and not introduced myself yet. I’ll tell you how I got to be here every Tuesday and Wednesday.

Iain at his desk with items from LHSA's Take Care collection (GD22)

My time with LHSA

I first started working with LHSA over a year ago, volunteering on my days off work cataloguing the case notes of Professor Norman Dott. His pioneering leadership in the field of neurosurgery makes these notes an important record of the changes in diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders.
Whilst at the archive, I noticed the HIV/AIDS collections through the work Karyn Williamson was doing to catalogue some of the remaining collections and Emily’s blog on the work she did to conserve atypical materials for an archive ( This inspired me to find out more.

My day job at John Lewis and the Golden Jubilee Trust (GJT)

I have been a John Lewis Partner (our name for employee) for 10 years. I started there whilst studying biological sciences at Edinburgh University. I have worked in different departments in the store and now currently work in the Gift List department. Each day is different. Alongside Gift List customers we also gift wrap items purchased in store, process price match queries and many other roles that would take too long to list here.
However, I was looking to do something slightly different with some of my time and considered the GJT. The John Lewis Golden Jubilee Trust funds placements for Partners for a volunteering secondment with a UK registered charity for up to six months. After sending an application to the GJT Board for consideration I was one of the lucky 27 Partners to get a secondment (

Creating resources for schools and community groups

Karyn originally came up with the idea for these resources when she was cataloguing four of the HIV/AIDS collections. So after a meeting with her and Emily I was primed to dig deeper in the resources, based on items from the Take Care campaign such as the board game ‘Choices’ and pin badges.

A Take Care promotional pin badge (GD22)

I also was able to adapt a public engagement activity Louise had previously done with primary school children to provide a resource for teachers to discuss what archiving is and get their pupils to be archivists in a short activity. All 15 resources will be loaded onto the website which will launch in May.
200 copies of the ‘Choices’ board game were distributed to schools, youth clubs, community education centres and residential settings for young people (GD22).

I also have been learning new skills. I transcribed some radio advertisements used during the Take Care and Forth Action campaigns. These were short, humorous, clips encouraging the use of condoms and dissuading the sharing of needles. At some times it was hard not to break out into laugher in the office, and disrupt the normally quiet space! These will also be loaded onto the website so you’ll be able to listen to them. I challenge you to get through all of them without a hint of a chuckle.

I have been warmly welcomed into the team and I have already been able to achieve a lot in the short time I have been here. I look forward to the next few weeks where I’ll be continuing on the start I’ve already made on taking oral histories for the HIV/AIDS collections.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Caution: Patients at work!

This week’s blog focusses on the slightly unusual practice of patients doing work in hospital premises, sometimes to help with the running or funding of the establishment. In the majority of cases these were patients who had either mental illness or chronic physical illness, but still who had a good enough measure of health and strength to do work with adequate support and rest.

To prevent the spread of tuberculosis in Edinburgh and allow for the treatment and rehabilitation of sufferers, the ‘Edinburgh Scheme’ was put into action during the early 20th century. For the Scheme the majority of patients were treated in the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH), the most serious cases were sent to the City Hospital in Colinton Mains and patients who were recovering were sent to Polton Farm Colony which was linked with the RVH in 1910.  As the patients’ condition improved they became able to do limited amounts of exercise, although they remained infectious, and as part of their rehabilitation were put to work at a variety of tasks on and around the Colony grounds. Photographic evidence shows that the patients were involved in such activities as growing seed potatoes and flowers, tending to pigs, woodcutting, gardening and road building. The image shows patients at work around the main building and was published in the Report on the Evolution and Development of Public Health Administration in the City of Edinburgh 1865-1919 (LHB16/2/1).

Another establishment where patients were regularly encouraged to do gainful employment was the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. Being directed to do practical tasks has often been used as 'occupational therapy', even though the term may not have been used in earlier eras. There are examples of patients mentioned in the casebooks in the 19th century who were formerly tailors by trade and continued to make clothing during their stay in hospital. LHSA also holds a number of photographs from the 1960s and 1970s showing patients at work. Types of duties recorded include poultry farming, woodwork, pottery making and production line work on children’s toys. It is not always clear, however which tasks were used to earn income and which were purely therapeutic. The image shows a patient adding finishing touches to a wooden rocking horse during the 1960s.
A patient decorates a rocking horse in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital during the 1960s (P/PL7/P/043)