Thursday, 21 January 2016

Welcome to Alice!

In this week's blog, we welcome LHSA's new Access Officer, Alice Doyle...
My name is Alice Doyle and I’m just coming to the end of my first week here in the brand new role of Access Officer.

I’m originally from Suffolk on the south-east coast of England, and first came to Scotland in 2008 to study Classical Civilisation at the University of Glasgow. I suffered my first bout of ‘archive fever’ when I worked as a volunteer researcher for Ipswich Museum’s Ipswich at War exhibition, and I absolutely loved poring over registers of evacuees and tracing their subsequent movements across Suffolk. I was fascinated by how aspects of an individual’s life can find their way onto the pages of a dusty tome, and in how many ways this collected information can consequently illuminate our views of society past and present. During my undergraduate degree I secured a brief placement with the University of Glasgow Archive Services, which introduced me to the basic tenets of archival practice. I knew then that the bug had well and truly bitten me, and in November 2015 I completed an MSc in Information Management and Preservation.
Alice hard at work...

My first week has involved trying not to get lost in the maze of corridors, getting an insight into what everyone does and how the services fit together, and trying desperately to remember lots of names! I’ve also had an introduction to the stores and collections, and on Wednesday I had the chance to help Louise set up a session for some History undergraduates. This was to familiarise them with the basics of archival research and how primary sources can be used. After a bit of guidance on how to handle archival items, Louise introduced the students to four different types of material that can shine a light on perceptions of insanity in the Victorian age: letters written by patients at the Royal Edinburgh Asylum; the Morningside Mirror, which contains articles compiled and published by patients and staff; a book of press cuttings, often compiled by staff, of articles relating to the treatment and attitudes surrounding mental health; and patient certification papers, which give us an insight into how an individual could come to be admitted into the asylum.

This session also brought home how varied the items in the collections are, and how personal some of them can be. A particular favourite of mine was this letter written by a patient to a woman ‘on the outside’, in which he apologises for promising to marry her, and for dancing at a ball “as my dancing may have hurt you”. Cognizant of his illness, he acknowledges that his promise was a delusion but affirms his love for her as “no delusion, (it is truth I love you)”. This human aspect to archival work reminds us that - while they may seem like one among many - each name on the lists of admitted patients represents an important and very personal moment in these individuals’ lives.


Letter from Royal Edinburgh Hospital Casebook (LHB7/51/52 p. 169)
I’m incredibly grateful for all the support and guidance I’ve received from the staff here in LHSA and in the wider Centre for Research Collections teams, and I’m looking forward to learning more about how I can help to increase user access to and awareness of the fascinating collections held here, whether that’s through responding to enquiries, conducting archival research or helping out with organising engagement and outreach activities.

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