Friday, 15 January 2016

In with the new…

As the old year passes and the new one comes in, we’ve a host of behind-the-scenes tasks to complete here at LHSA. It’s a bit of a frantic welcoming-in to each January, but it’s vital if we’re to be in good shape for the year ahead.

One of these tasks is to check up on the new items that we have taken in over the last twelve months. We call these new additions to the archive ‘accessions’ and we can take them in in two ways, which reflects how our material is organised. Since we’re the archive for NHS Lothian and all our holdings are owned by them, the first way we take things in is by direct transfer from the health service. This could be from individual hospitals or from NHS administration. For example, in April 2015 we received a wonderful accession from the Royal Hospital for Sick Children (REHSC), including late nineteenth-century nurse training records (and this less-than-glowing report!):

Entry in REHSC Probabtioners' Report Book, 1900 - 1902 (from Acc15/007)

Since LHSA collects more general material that can help us understand the history of health in Edinburgh and the Lothians, we also receive gifts from non-NHS organisations and private individuals. We take in gifts of nursing and midwifery badges from Edinburgh-trained nurses quite often, as we did this year:

Central Midwives Board for Scotland badge, c. 1950s (from Acc15/004)

Every new collection that reaches us has its own story: sometimes, a hospital building is closing and staff contact us with important records that reflect that institution’s history – as has happened with the imminent transfer of REHSC services from their current site in Sciennes Road to Little France. This year, we hope to work more closely with our NHS colleagues in order to identify material that, once transferred to us, can make the archive bigger and better for the future.

In other cases, we can be contacted by individuals or organisations from our area who may have papers relevant to the understanding of the history of medicine. For example, last year we added to our papers from neurologist Ernst Levin with some more personal material about the medic’s life. Levin was born in 1887 in Berlin, but left Germany in 1933 (he then practised in Munich) after the rise of the National Socialists. Levin then worked with Edinburgh neurosurgeon Norman Dott and in the Western General Hospital. Our new accession covers most phases of his life, amongst the most fascinating of which are his own photographs from German First World War trenches where he served as an assistant surgeon:

Photographs from the German lines, c. 1915 (from Acc15/001)

I’ll be saying more about these images in the Centre for Research Collections blog, Untold Stories, later this year.

However, it’s important that archives are not just passive recipients of donations, but also seek out new additions to collections lest unique histories are lost. Dr Mike Barfoot, one of LHSA’s previous archivists, saw this very clearly, especially in the chance to collect material about Edinburgh’s fight against HIV. The combined efforts of the NHS, council bodies, charities, police and voluntary groups in our region to combat the spread of the virus and care for those affected had no precedent before or since (a fact which has been brought home to me by speaking to those involved in early patient care and HIV prevention). In collecting materials from individuals and organisations before they were lost, Mike saw a chance to build an unrivalled set of resources for future researchers.

The determination to collect did not end when Mike retired, but was carried on by his successor, Laura Gould (who worked towards eleven of our HIV/AIDS collections being recognised by UNESCO in 2011) – and I hope that I can carry on this tradition of active collecting in my time here.

This year has been no exception, and some of my favourite collections record the history of Edinburgh’s services to combat HIV. Firstly, we’ve been creating archives ourselves in the form of oral histories – part of a programme of recordings which I hope to add to as 2016 goes on. This effort was admirably started by Iain Phillips who was with us through a secondment from John Lewis’ Golden Jubilee Trust programme – but since Iain’s secondment was completed, I’ve been having a go myself! I started by speaking to Lothian Regional Council HIV Team education workers, John Young and Kerstin Phillips who started a pioneering educational programme in secondary schools by training young workers to pass on their first-hand experiences of relationships and HIV. Kerstin was kind enough to donate some material used during her work in the 1990s, including books aimed towards children living in families affected by the virus:

Children's book explaining a parent's visits to the clinic, 1998 (from Acc15/028)

This year, we’ve also received ten panels made for the Edinburgh Names Project at HIV and Hepatitis C charity, Waverley Care – these are textile collages meant to be put together as part of a large quilt to act as a memorial to those lost through AIDS-related illnesses.

As we move into 2016, I’m already preparing to receive our first accession of the year. We never know what we are going to be contacted about next, but I’m sure that there will be more than a few surprises to bring to you. If you want to see what new material we've taken in over the last few years, you can find us on The National Archives' lists of accessions to repositories (where LHSA accessions from 2015 will soon be up to view).

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