Friday, 7 November 2014

Exploring LHSA's photographic collection

I am currently the LHSA intern and I am at the halfway point of my main task of cataloguing the vast and varied photographic collection.  As a (very) newly qualified archivist, this has been such a great opportunity for me to work full-time and engage with the skills that I have developed over the last year.  As I volunteered with LHSA throughout gaining my qualification, I have equally enjoyed becoming part of the team, including the glorious views of Edinburgh from my desk and copious amounts of home-baking at tea break. 

My main task has been to bring all of the LHSA photographic collection under the same system to ensure maximum access to over 6000 photographs, documenting many aspects of the development of medicine and hospitals from the mid-nineteenth century.  From the photographs that I have been working with thus far, I would like to share with you some of my favourites and others that I have found rather interesting. 

This photograph is from c. 1879-1910 and is a view of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Lauriston Place, from the Meadows, with sheep grazing in the foreground.  Whilst it is a lovely image of the grand hospital, I was rather surprised to see sheep.  As a student I often enjoyed spending hot and sunny days at the Meadows but I am not sure how students nowadays would feel sharing it with these woolly beasts.
Moving on, some of the photographs have been really interesting in their depiction of medical treatments.  I have been learning about ‘sunlight treatment’ from this picture taken c. 1930 - 1950 at Deaconess Hospital. This is a photo of a child lying on an operating table being exposed to bright light with two seated children and a nurse standing at the side, all wearing protective goggles.  What would certainly be a controversial treatment now was in fact a regular treatment for many children and adults between 1920 and 1950.  The artificial light lamp was invented by Niels Ryberg Finsen and was thought to be of most benefit to those suffering from tuberculosis of the skin.[1]  

This is a photograph from the very early days of using x-ray to diagnose patients, around 1900.  William Law is pictured here wearing protective clothing and radiography apparatus.  Law was one of the first radiographers at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, which opened a ‘Medical Electrical Department’ in 1889.  The protective clothing is particularly distinctive and highlights the dangers of this type of work in the early days of its use.

Finally, the LHSA photographic collection has an excellent selection of portrait photographs of Edinburgh medical greats working as physicians, surgeons, nurses and as other medical practitioners.  In keeping with the theme of pioneering radiology in Edinburgh here is a portrait of Robert Knox, d. 1928.  Knox was Consultant Radiologist at Chelsea Hospital for Women, but his work in treating cancer with x-rays played a major role in setting up the new Radiological Department of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in 1926.[2]  Whilst he is certainly not the most famous ‘Robert Knox’ associated with medicine in Edinburgh, it has been nice to highlight the positive advances this Knox brought, in comparison with the notorious Robert Knox associated with the Burke and Hare murders.   
I look forward to the rest of my time working with the photographs at LHSA and hope to find more unique images from this exciting collection.

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