Friday, 20 January 2017

Smaller stories and the bigger picture

In her final blog post for LHSA, our project cataloguing archivist Rebecca looks back on her time with us and shares some stories from the case notes.

Well, I can’t believe it’s been eighteen months since I started work on the RVH v TB project, it’s just flown by! If you’ve been following the blog during that time you’ll see I’ve learnt a lot from cataloguing the case notes about the detection,  prevention, and treatment of pulmonary and non-pulmonary tuberculosis,  about Robert Philip and the Edinburgh Scheme, and about the city and people of Edinburgh.

It’s been a great privilege, though not one without challenges, to get such a detailed look at the case notes, as these sorts of records are not usually catalogued individually. It means that as well as seeing broader trends in TB care, including the development of BCG vaccine and antibiotic treatments, and getting a sense of how the hospitals functioned (in the case of Southfield Sanatorium, apparently not very well!), I’ve been able to see the stories of individual patients.

Correspondence from the Southfield Sanatorium series, bemoaning the poor state of the hospital prior to 1946.
(LHB41 CC/1 PR1.610)

Some of these stories have been very sad, such as the cat with TB, the child who was kept in school (despite the usual recommendation for bed rest) so as not to be “made a drudge at home”, or the husband who forced his sick wife out of the house she had been allocated to as a result of her illness. Others have been happier, including the many cases of patients making a recovery.
Correspondence relating to some of the sadder stories revealed by the case notes
(LBH41 CC/2 PR2.1042, 3322, 4179  - click to enlarge)
One thing that comes clear is the stigma surrounding tuberculosis, such as the patient from England who went to Southfield in order to avoid it being known in their locality that they had TB. I’ve even seen a patient threatening to sue the hospital for giving them such an outrageous diagnosis!
Correspondence revealing some of the stigma surrounding TB
(LHB41 CC/2 PR.2 17565, LBH41 CC/1 PR1.356)
Some records tell us about the eagerness of the patients and their families to get cured of the disease, and the anxiety faced by those who wished to avoid it, while others show signs of refusal to comply with treatment. Over the past eighteen months I’ve been able to see literally thousands of these stories, and they are still throwing up surprises!
Case notes and correspondence from cases where patients demonstrated anxiety regarding TB
(LHB41 CC/2 PR2.1863, 2631)
Extracts from case notes of patients who refused treatment or who wished to try other means of treatment
(LHB41 CC/2 PR2.1997, 2595, 6298)
As well as the catalogue, hopefully another great tool will come out of the work we’ve done on this project, which will reveal the larger stories which the case notes can tell. Last year, I made a successful bid for someone to work on creating a data visualisation tool using data which can be extracted from our case note catalogues. We’ve been tagging and indexing information such as the patient’s gender, age, occupation, medical conditions and treatments throughout the project, and the plan is that this will be put to use to create fancy interactive graphs and charts which can tell the story of the case notes in a visual form. Work on this project hasn’t started yet, but I’m really excited to see what will come out of it!

Some generic examples of data visualisations, from

While my work here has mostly been focused on the case notes, I’ve also been lucky enough to learn more about some of the other records and objects held by LHSA. It’s also been a  great privilege to take part in other LHSA activities, including assisting Louise at outreach events, attending conferences, delivering a presentation to students on my old course, and even getting crafty and making some ‘zines last month! I’ve really enjoyed working with such a wonderful team over the last 18 months, and I’ll definitely be reading the blog to keep up with what they are getting up to!

2017 here we come!

As is LHSA tradition, we start off the new year’s blogging with a quick look at the exciting things we have on the horizon…and then it’s back to normal service with contributions from the LHSA team talking about the collections and their work with them.

This month we’re starting off as we mean to go on by getting involved in a couple of activities that will help make us a better archive – first off by taking part in a workshop to revise the NHS Records Management Code of Practice and secondly, by coming up with a plan of attack to help inform NHS colleagues of the kinds of records we want to take. Both of which will mean that the quality, quantity and regularity of transfers of records to us is improved.

Our two Wellcome Trust-funded case note projects will finish this year and we’ll be in a position to launch online catalogues, redacted as appropriate of course! Aline finished cataloguing the Dott case notes a couple of days ago - so we’ve already hit a significant milestone for the project - and Becky and Clair are well on the way to finishing the TB case notes.

We’re also looking forward to making more of the records that we hold more accessible, with digital images going onto the University’s online image platform in the not too distant future ( and by continuing the work required to put our catalogues into ArchivesSpace – the University’s online catalogue for archive collections (

There are exciting opportunities coming up with the team as we continue to offer internships and volunteer placements, so others will be able to join our Skills for the Future trainee, Samar, in working with us to gain skills and experience in the archive sector. We’re particularly pleased to have secured an Employ.ed internship for the summer which will look at our Levin Collection (to find out more about this important material see Louise’s blog at

2017 is a big year for the Centre for Research Collections with a major new project to rationalise, preserve and make more accessible the collections in the University Collections Facility, which includes our material held there. So we’re looking forward to getting involved and seeing the benefit to our collections and the people that want to use them.

And as well as all that, we'll be providing our usual services - Alice and Louise will be answering your enquiries through’s going to be a busy year so watch this space!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Feminist Crafting with LHSA

Hi there! It's Samar, LHSA's Skills For the Future Trainee. To celebrate the holiday season the LHSA team got crafty this week! As a zinester, I was keen to introduce my colleagues to the joy of zine-making. After our zine making session, I also made a digital zine (shared below) about the LHSA team's favourite items from our archive. Before we share our fabulous creations, I thought I'd let you know a little bit about zines and their connection to archives.

What are zines?
Zines are mini music-themed magazines that were originally created by members of the punk rock scene in the late 1980s and 1990s. These zines typically included music reviews, press releases and information on gigs, venues and musicians. Once produced by hand, the zines were then Xeroxed and distributed within the community for a small fee, or if possible, for free. The punk ethos tied to zine production separates zines from other forms of self-publishing because, in contrast to their traditional self-publishing counterparts, zinesters (people who make zines) do not wish to participate in corporate or mainstream publishing and they do not want their product to come out looking like a book from a traditional publisher. In fact, in contrast to most writers, zinesters often choose to reject offers from corporate publishing houses. Therefore, people who create zines are not only people who have been relegated to the margins, but also people who have chosen to claim the margins. This insistence on claiming the margins is due to punk culture’s Do It Yourself (DIY) ethic, which is also reflected in the DIY aesthetic of zines.

The cover of a riot grrrl zine from 1991.

Who makes zines and why?
Zines were written by marginalised people who were often young and economically disadvantaged, and whose ideas fell outside the mainstream. People who were under- or unrepresented in the mainstream media worked to document the voices of those too politically radical to appeal to the corporate media through the production of zines. The most famous and influential zines which remain in circulation today are those from the riot grrrl movement. The riot grrrl movement comprised of a group of smart angry women who emerged from the punk scenes in Washington during the early 1990s. These women went to punk shows, took photographs, read feminist books, wrote essays on the “male gaze”, and developed fierce life-changing friendships with each other. As a movement, riot grrrl was established in direct response to sexism in the punk scene, calling for the liberation of young women by taking control of the means of subcultural production and, in pointed contrast to mainstream - and underground – culture, sought to unify women and to revivify feminism. The movement achieved this by encouraging women to play instruments, start bands, share experiences in the safe all-girl spaces of the riot grrrl meetings, and most significantly, to write and distribute zines.

A riot grrrl zine from the 1990s.

What do zines have to do with archives?
By producing zines during and about the riot grrrl movement, the riot grrrls created ephemeral feminist materials that documented their experiences in their own terms. In collecting and preserving these zines, which are now considered primary sources, feminist archivists are able to firmly place the riot grrrl movement into the historical record. The most well-known archive to hold feminist zines is The Fales Library & Special Collections in New York. Lisa Darms, who was a riot grrrl in Olympia during the 1990s, and is now an archivist, created this collection of zines, called the Fales Riot Grrrl Collection, in order to document the riot grrrl movement of the years 1989 to 1996. To see some zines locally, Glasgow Women’s Library and Glasgow School of Art Library hold a large collection of zines in their archives. If you'd like to make zines with me, you can do so at two feminist zine-making events that I'm running for LHSA on the 20th February and 22nd February 2017.

A selection of zines at Glasgow Women's Library.

So, what did we make?
We made two things! First: my colleagues at LHSA, who had never made a zine before, sat down together to make a zine each. The zines did not have to follow any specific theme, so everyone picked their own topic, and, armed with glue, old magazines clippings, pens and paper, everyone went forth and created a zine! I think the results are really stunning:

After our zine making session, I made a zine which can be read online, about our favourite items in LHSA's archive. Read it below, and make sure to open the zine on full-screen mode so that it's legible:

To read more of LHSA's digital publications click here.

Friday, 16 December 2016

The 'pointing finger'...

In this week’s blog, Archivist Louise has been…. cataloguing!

Cataloguing – describing the holdings that we have and ‘numbering’ items – is vital to users of archives and those caring for them. It sounds obvious, but without knowing what we have, users won’t learn about the fascinating records that we hold, and we won’t have the knowledge of LHSA material that is vital to our jobs.

Uncatalogued collections are particularly frustrating to readers, particularly when there’s a tantalising set of records which is not described in detail, as is the case for GD16: documents, artwork and photographs amassed by the heads of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (the ‘Physician Superintendents’)  from the 1850s to the 1980s.

Having a collection without a detailed description makes the archivist’s job more difficult as well. We love people contacting us and wanting to use our material, but the nature of what we hold means that we have to abide by certain access restrictions. With uncatalogued records that date well into the twentieth century (as many in GD16 do), we cannot give access to readers without detailed checking to make sure we’re not breaking the Data Protection Act (1998) or Scottish Government guidelines on protecting patient information. And that takes up the valuable time of both archive users and archivists. 

Uncatalogued collections are often housed to sit safely on store shelves until further intervention can take place rather than being ready and robust enough for regular handling in the reading room – and this is certainly the case for the hundreds of letters from patients in GD16 collected by the Physician Superintendents, which could risk getting damaged or disordered if consulted often.

From my first volunteer experience in archives (actually here at LHSA!), I’ve always loved cataloguing – you gain a privileged insight into what you’re working with, and usually come out with a new ‘specialist subject’ because you’ve delved into the life of a person or institution in so much detail. So I was delighted when the expansion of our team meant that I had a chance to get up close and personal with one of our collections – and GD16 seemed the most obvious place to start. 

Although the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (REH) institutional collection (LHB7) is our most in-demand group of records, we often recommend some of the material in GD16 to readers interested in the history of psychiatry. Whilst hospital records in LHB7 tell a clinician’s view of psychiatric care, many items in GD16 were created by psychiatric patients themselves, such as artwork:

Artwork by psychiatric patients John Willis Mason (top) and Andrew Kennedy (bottom) in GD16
We also have some images of patients in GD16 (sometimes from institutions outside Edinburgh), which are not represented anywhere else in LHSA:

Photograph of brothers and sisters in Hallcross Asylum, Musselburgh (1860s) from GD16 
GD16 begins with draft texts and lecture notes by the second Physician Superintendent of the REH, David Skae (1814 - 1873), who headed the hospital from 1846 to 1872:

David Skae (1814 - 1873), PH8/43
Skae was keen to turn the REH into a centre of excellence for the study of psychiatry (or ‘alienism’, as it was then known), and began a series of lectures around the study and treatment of mental illness. These were eventually published in the Edinburgh Medical Journal (which we have in our REH Physicians' Library collection), but the handwritten versions allow us to see the development of Skae’s thought as his lectures developed and were adapted year after year:

Skae's handwritten lecture notes (GD16/1)

The first page of Skae's introductory lecture text, showing revisions (GD16/1)
Skae was primarily remembered for his ideas on the classification of mental illness (in his definition, a ‘disease of the brain affecting the mind’), which divided ailments into main categories, often linking psychological factors to physical ones. This system was not widely adopted outside the REH, but a space to record ‘Skae’s classification’ still appeared in REH casebooks years after Skae had died.

Skae was remembered as an amiable and kind man, and the touches that I’ve seen in his manuscript bring his personality closer than reading his work in print in nineteenth century journals. On more than one occasion, for example, I’ve seen Skae’s illustration of a small hand, prompting him to show a visual aid:
Skae's 'pointing finger' symbol (GD16/1)
These small interventions bring his text off the page, making you imagine yourself as a nervous lecture presenter or keen observer. Written prompts to himself (such as to ‘bring [a] table’ of statistics) also bring him closer, in a way that I might set a computer reminder to put a back-up memory stick in my bag before a setting off to give a public talk!

As I delve further into the lives of the patients and physicians of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in 2017, I hope to bring some more personalities out from GD16’s boxes and into the world!

Friday, 9 December 2016


This week, Project Cataloguing Archivist Rebecca looks beyond the case notes of the Royal Victoria Hospital to see what else LHSA holds on tuberculosis.

Over the past year-and-a-bit we’ve written extensively about the tuberculosis case notes which form the RVH v TB cataloguing project. But, did you know, these aren’t the only records relating to tuberculosis we have at LHSA?

East Fortune Hospital (LHB39)

East Fortune Hospital, in East Lothian, was established as a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1922, serving patients in the south east of Scotland until the 1950s, when it changed in function to house the mentally handicapped (minus a brief interlude in WWII when it functioned as an RAF airfield, and patients were transferred to Bangour Hospital).

Many of the records we hold from East Fortune deal with the hospital after its change in purpose. However, there are admissions and discharge registers from the hospital’s time as a sanatorium. These aren’t as detailed as the RVH case notes, but contain brief details about the patient’s age, occupation, length of treatment, diagnosis, and the reason for their discharge.

East Fortune Sanatorium Admissions Registers, 1922-1958 (LHB39/1/1-2)

City Hospital (LHB23)

The City Hospital was not a dedicated tuberculosis hospital, but rather was a hospital set up to treat patients suffering from infectious diseases. It is apparent from the RVH case notes that there was some relationship between the two institutions, as patients with an advanced degree of tuberculosis were often sent here. While the hospital was primarily dedicated to the treatment of patients with infectious diseases such as meningitis, diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever, etc., there was a sanatorium for the treatment of TB patients.
Pavilion for advanced cases of tuberculosis, City Hospital, Edinburgh
Sanatorium registers (LBH23/3) contain details of the history and state of patients on admission and the results of their treatments. Again, they are not as detailed as the case notes, but they do provide information on the patient’s age and occupation, the duration and severity of their illness, tests and treatments given, and the result of their treatment.
Page from the  City Hospital Sanatorium Register 1941-1971 (LHB23/3/2)
Public Health Department of the City of Edinburgh (LHB16)

Edinburgh was the first Scottish local authority to appoint a Medical Officer of Health in 1862, and in 1872 a Public Health Committee was set up by the Town Council, responsible for sanitary matters and the control of infectious disease. In an earlier blog post I discussed the notification of TB patients as part of the Edinburgh Scheme; the Public Health Department is to whom the patients were notified.

We therefore hold a collection of notification registers for Edinburgh and the Lothians (LHB16/3/1), which run to as recently as 1993 (though not continually). The information collected on each register changes according to the local authority, but they include similar information to the other registers listed above.
Detail from a Tuberculosis Notification Register, 1954-1959 (LHB16/3/1/14a) 
This collection also contains a report on the state of tuberculosis in Edinburgh in 1952 (LHB16/2/82). This is only a small report, but it reflects a lot of the information contained within our case note collections.

Tuberculosis in Edinburgh report, with charts showing a decrease in TB death rates compared to a rise in notifications (LHB16/2/82)

Friday, 2 December 2016

World AIDS Day in Lothian

University of Glasgow student Megan Buchan spent two weeks with us at the start of November as part of her MSc in Information Management and Preservation. Students are asked to catalogue a small collection according to their host institution's cataloguing standards - this work is then used towards an assessed component of their degree. In this week’s blog, Megan shares some of her thoughts on the collection:

Over the course of my two-week placement, I was given the opportunity to catalogue and rehouse the records of the World AIDS Day Organising Committee [WADOC] (Lothian), an Edinburgh-based organisation set up in November 1999. The purpose of the organisation was to advance the education of the public, particularly in relation to World AIDS Day and HIV and AIDS issues, ultimately raising awareness of the disease in the city.

WADOC Lothian committed itself to ensuring World AIDS Day [WAD] was commemorated in Edinburgh on 1st December every year. As part of this, the organisation worked on WAD to: provide an indoor event for participants; to display and distribute information on HIV and AIDS services available in the area; to organise a candle-lit march to an outdoor location for the placing of candles and standing remembrance; and to provide post-vigil hospitality for participants. WADOC was responsible for launching a publicity campaign through the issue of press releases to Scottish media, and for publishing and distributing publicity information to various entertainment venues, schools, health centres, libraries, and community centres.
Placing candles in remembrance. 

The collection itself proved an interesting insight into the organisation’s work – as well as expected administrative documents, such as minutes of meetings and financial accounts, the records also included a wide range of correspondence showing the extent of their endeavours. Organising WAD events took much planning, with permissions, support and performers to arrange, and from cataloguing the collection and seeing the correspondence first hand, the magnitude of the group’s energies can be seen. The collection also included printed materials such as posters and leaflets promoting the organised events, and photographs from some of the processional candle-lit marches, bringing the collection together in a full-circle – from the organisation to the outcome!

WADOC were responsible for raising sufficient funds to meet the costs of organising and providing the annual WAD events in Edinburgh themselves, and the collection also includes correspondence, applications for grants, and examples of the money raised from fundraising in the city to continue providing their services.

As well as raising their own funds, WADOC also encouraged other organisations to plan events around WAD, and was able to award funding in the form of their Small Grant Awards to appropriate agencies, groups and individuals for promotion, education, and the support and care of those people living with HIV and AIDS in the Lothians.
Order of Perpetual Indulgence packs. GD53/6/3/1
Within the collection, there were numerous applications for these Small Grant Awards, and for one smaller HIV and AIDS related agency, an example of the outcome of the funding they received was included in the collection. The Order of Perpetual Indulgence, a LGBT group dedicated to ending prejudice, used their grant from WADOC to produce safe sex packs, containing health information cards, male and female contraception, latex gloves and lubricant. These packs were then handed out for free to the public in celebration of WAD, and as well as battling stigma and encouraging safe sex, they allowed for people to find out more about the local health services available to them in their area.

While the organisation’s aim was to provide services around Lothian, from cataloguing the collection I found the group recognised its efforts did not represent fully its title as the World AIDS Day Organising Committee, and from this, there were steps made to recognise the needs of those further beyond Edinburgh. With HIV and AIDS being a major issue in third world countries, the group set about to change one of the terms in its constitution in order to donate 10% of its profits to those in need of assistance in the developing world too.

WADOC operated until June 2006, when the dissolution of the organisation became official after it was felt the charity had served its purpose in promoting and educating the public on the issues surrounding HIV and AIDS.

Sample Naming Tree postcard. People were invited to write a message to a loved one lost to HIV/AIVS, and the cards were then hung on a Naming Tree at the Ross Bandstand. GD53/6/3/2
Having had the chance to examine and order each one of records within this collection, I’ve been able to really appreciate the ethos of WADOC in working to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, provide and distribute health information, and donate to groups to help further those in need of support. This year’s campaign for World AIDS Day is ‘Not Retro, Just Wrong’, aimed at tackling the stigma of being diagnosed with HIV. Keep an eye out for fundraising tins and red ribbons to help continue the fundraising and awareness of HIV and AIDS – something WADOC worked so hard to contribute to.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Sharing ideas at the Scottish Records Association conference.

     As you may know if you follow LHSA blog, three weeks ago part of our team went up to Perth to attend the Scottish Records Association conference about healthcare in Scotland before the NHS. As Alice has outlined, it was a very enriching experience and today I would like to expand a bit on our contribution and what I got out of the conference.
     The projects I have been working on for almost a year, along with my co-worker Becky, were relevant to the subject of the conference: indeed, both the Norman Dott project and the RVH v TB project deal with medical case notes which partly predate the creation of the NHS. Moreover, the cataloguing methodologies we use could be of interest for anyone working with medical archives of a similar nature. We therefore took the opportunity of this conference to disseminate and explain our projects. For this purpose, we created two leaflets presenting the scopes, aims and methodologies of the projects for the delegate packs, and we put together a 10-minute long PowerPoint that was shown during the breaks. We were also available for any questions or enquiries about the projects and/or LHSA – I did receive an enquiry about Norman Dott from a lady whose relative had worked with him several decades ago, and it made me glad to know that this great surgeon was still remembered and talked about in Scotland more than 40 years after his death.

The LHSA PowerPoint at the conference.

     All talks were very interesting and covered different subjects that helped to understand the theme from different points of view. One in particular caught my attention: the talk of Sarah Bromage and Alison Scott about the archives of the Royal Scottish National Hospital, held by the University of Stirling. The Royal Scottish National Hospital was established in 1862 and provided education and medical care for mentally impaired children in Scotland in the 19th and 20th centuries. Their collection consists of case notes, correspondence, reports and registers as well as a little over 3000 applications for admission. The latter contain information on the family’s circumstances, the child’s health, behaviour and educational abilities. The format of these documents reminded me of the case summaries we find in the Dott and TB collections: a high number of short, standardised forms with biographical and medical information on each individual. I found it interesting to see how they were being catalogued, to spot any difference and/or similarity with our own method: for example, the use of index terms for medical information, and the closure period of 100 years for clinical records. It also made me wonder how our own cataloguing methodology could be adapted and applied to such a collection, which is slightly different but also deal with sensitive data, a high volume of personal information, and medical records. Indeed, one of the objectives of the Dott and TB projects was to develop a methodology that could be used for similar medical archive collections.

The programme of the conference.

     Overall, it was very interesting to hear about archives to which our methodology could potentially be applied. It is exciting to think about the sheer volume of information that could be made accessible to the public, and the opportunities for research and family history this represents. This is why going to conferences and learning about other projects, in addition to being really educational and enjoyable, is essential.

     To find out more about the Scottish Records Association, click here .