Friday, 16 September 2016

Developing skills for the future...

We've a new member of the LHSA team to introduce on today's blog! Samar has joined us for a year on the Scottish Council on Archive's Skills for the Future Programme:

Hi there, I’m Samar, LHSA’s current trainee! Seeing as I’ll be writing on here quite regularly, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself and let you know a bit about my background. 

I have always had a keen interest in history and heritage, studying Art History and English Literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury, as well as completing an MSc in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Curating and Criticism and at the University of Edinburgh. My academic studies have fuelled my passion for visual and written culture, history, and story-telling, also broadening my understanding of the politics of collection display, development and accessibility.

(left to right) Louise Williams (LHSA Archivist), Me, and Ruth Honeybone (LHSA Manager)
Although my academic background in art history is not unrelated to the field of archiving, it wasn’t until I pursued an internship at Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) that I began to truly appreciate the impact that archives have on not only our understanding of the past and present, but on our ability to imagine possible futures. During the internship at GWL, I gained first-hand experience working with an accessible archive that is targeted at diverse communities. I quickly learnt that in collecting materials of women’s history, and running events and exhibitions that centred around these materials, I was not only actively redressing the neglect of women’s historical contributions to Scottish society, but I was also enabling women in the present, especially the most vulnerable and excluded women in society, to access the information that they need to develop their skills, knowledge, and self-confidence. Impassioned by what I had learnt at GWL, I attended a talk at the Feminist Library in London about the digitisation of their Spare Rib magazine collection. I was inspired by the website that was developed for the project, which was produced by the British Library, and features hundreds of issues of the magazine for all to view for free. This was an incredibly exciting prospect to me, because it meant that the Feminist Library’s archive materials could be discovered and accessed by large and diverse audiences that may not have had the opportunity otherwise.

Encouraged by these experiences, I not only wrote my postgraduate dissertation on feminist counter-archival practices, but I also founded an online magazine with my sister Yasmine. My sister and I, who are both dually British and Arab, launched an online magazine on International Women’s Day which exclusively publishes artwork and writing by Arab women ( We created this platform, because we feel that the voices and experiences of Arab women are going largely unarchived. We believe that this is, unfortunately, because we live in a time where traditional archives and the media (both Arab and Western) do not represent us. We chose the name ‘dardishi’ (which is the feminine verb for ‘chitchat’ in Arabic), because the magazine’s formation was largely inspired by all the incredible conversations that my sister and I have had with our female Arab friends and family. The name dardishi also says a lot about the tone of the work that dardishi publishes – informal, conversational work that spurs a wider dialogue on Arab women’s issues. Since its launch, my sister and I have been overwhelmed by the incredible support and enthusiasm that we have had for this project!
Dr. Elsie Inglis in Scottish Women's Hospital uniform (LHB8A/9)
Although my studies and experiences are relevant to the archive sector, they have not equipped me with practical archiving skills. I’m very keen to gain training and experience in the field, so this traineeship at LHSA is the perfect opportunity for me. My 12-month traineeship programme is one of seven Scotland-wide traineeships offered this year as part of the Opening up Scotland’s Archives project. People like me have been chosen to complete these traineeships in an effort to diversify the range of people working in the heritage sector, introduce new skills and perspectives to archival practice, and offer people without traditional archiving qualifications a route into the workforce. I hope that through my work at LHSA, I can put my current knowledge to use, and develop new and exciting skills and experiences in the world of archiving.

I’m keen to gain experience in both collection development and community outreach and engagement, and I can’t wait to work with the rich and varied materials available in LHSA’s holdings. With materials dating from 1594 to the present day, and a collection that includes clinical and non-clinical NHS records and personal papers, a photographic collection of around 40,000 items, as well as older printed books, medical instruments, artworks, silverware and other historically significant objects, I know I won’t be short of exciting collections to explore and catalogue. I actually found my favourite piece of LHSA archive material so far when researching for my interview on this very blog! In Becky’s post about the advice and recommendation of the doctors who worked at the Royal Victoria Dispensary (RVD), she explains that upon being diagnosed with tuberculosis, female patients were advised by doctors to stop going out dancing at night, to reduce excessive tea-drinking, to wear stockings, and to spend less time with their boyfriends!

Examples of recommendations given to female patients who attended the dispensary.

(Clockwise from top L: "To stop smoking and to keep earlier hours - crooning in a dancehall: attending every night except Sundays", "To keep earlier hours", "To stop smoking To be less in the company of the 'boy friend'", "To wear stockings", "To stop smoking + excessive tea-drinking", "To stop smoking To stop dancing at nights".)

I’ve had the chance to start cataloguing some records from this collection myself this week, which has been great! Other collections that I’ve got my eye on exploring is the ‘Bruntsfield Hospital and Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital’ collection, which contains records from hospices and hospitals founded by innovative Scottish women doctors and feminist campaigners, and the ‘Cervical Smear Campaign and Women's Health’ collection, which covers the feminist campaigns that women organised in order to encourage their local heath councils to take a wide-ranging look at factors affecting the mental and physical health of women in Scotland (that didn’t have to do with stockings, dancing or tea-drinking!). I’m thrilled to have been chosen for this opportunity, and I’ve been so excited to come in to the archive every day and work with such a lovely team of people and such an amazing collection of objects. Watch this space to hear about what I’m learning and what boxes I’m delving into!

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