Friday, 24 November 2017

Exploring our archive

This week our interns Claire and Judith give you an update on what they’ve been doing with their projects, and what they’ve managed to find in the Archive as part of the Explore Your Archive Campaign.

First up: Claire …

When I last wrote a blog post I had been out and about in Edinburgh, but since then I’ve gotten back to my desk and managed to complete one of the projects I’ve been working on over the last six weeks. You’ll maybe have seen a blog post by Judith, our conservation intern, about the collection of medical illustrations, demonstration boards, sketches and photographs generated through the practice of the Edinburgh neurosurgeon, Professor Norman Dott (1897-1973) that LHSA holds and while Judith has been working on rehousing these beautiful illustrations I’ve been working on cataloguing them.

Initially I made a listing of each individual illustration so that we knew what we had, and what they were all of. From there it was easy to identify the four different types of material we had: drawings and illustrations, demonstration boards used for teaching purposes, material relating to a speech on aneurysms given by Professor Dott at an international conference in 1953, and loose notes and photographs that appear to have been used to create the rest of the material.

I went through each item entering it into our cataloguing system with the relevant extra bits of information like whether it contained any sensitive patient information and the name of the artist where we knew it, and had some fun dragging and dropping all the entries until they were in the order I’d decided on. Then it was time to start the sizeable task of physically rearranging all 213 drawings! It took a whole day, and a whole lot of space but I got it done, and we ended up with a much neater looking trolley of material than when I started.

Now that I’ve finished my part of this mini project I’ve handed the material over to Judith to rehouse them and make them look even neater than they did when I gave them to her!

Trolley holding the Dott illustrations collection after cataloguing and rearranging.

Judith hasn’t just been sitting around waiting for Claire though…

This week I have been working with the Special Collections Conservator Emily on some of the bound volumes belonging to LHSA. We have been treating a series of registers belonging to midwives, which were used to record their cases. The collection is frequently used by LHSA staff and so needs to withstand repeated handling.

We began by surface cleaning the registers using smoke sponge before moving onto repairing any tears to the spines or pages using wheat starch paste and a thin Japanese kozo paper. A number of the volumes had structural problems, where the stitching along the spine had broken or slackened and pages were working loose. To try to solve several problems with one treatment (and save time!) we decided to strengthen the exposed spines with kozo paper linings and use a stippling brush to ensure good contact between the lining and the contours of the spine, thereby simultaneously securing the loose leaves.

A close-up shot of Judith applying a spine lining in sections

The volumes were then rehoused into custom made 'book shoes' to afford extra protection during storage and use. We lured Claire into the studio on Tuesday afternoon to help make these! It is hoped that these treatments will ensure safe use of these registers for many years to come.

A midwife’s register that has been placed in a book shoe made by Claire


Explore Your Archive is a campaign designed for archives of all kinds throughout the UK and Ireland, co-ordinated by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland), to increase public awareness of the essential role of archives in our society, to celebrate our network of collections and emphasise the skills and professionalism of the sector. Between 18 and 26 November 2017 LHSA, and archives across the country, have been contributing to the campaign through the use of hashtags, letting Twitter know what we’ve found by exploring our own archive. Some of the themes we’ve covered include food, fashion and love. A particular favourite of ours is part of #HairyArchives ( an advert for John Atkinsons’s Marvellous American Formula which should help with your weak eyelashes! Advertising seems to have fewer standards in those days as the ‘after use’ shot is a drawing of a bearded gentleman! 

You can see more of what we’ve been tweeting about on our Twitter feed at, and you can share your own discoveries with us using the hashtag #ExploreArchives.

Friday, 17 November 2017

TB through the Lens

Throughout our on-going TBv.RVH cataloguing project here at LHSA, we have been blogging about various aspects of the history of the disease particular in the context of our TB patient case notes. Find out more about diagnosing and treating TB, the Edinburgh Scheme, the Royal Victoria Dispensary and Hospital (RVD and RVH) the BCG vaccination, Mass Miniature Radiography, TB case notes and even more at our blog site. TB was a major public health threat but throughout the twentieth century there were lots of interesting developments in preventing the spread of the disease. This is conveyed in case notes that I am cataloguing from the late 1950s but we are also lucky to have a fantastic collection of slides and photographs relating to TB. They provide another insight into the history of the disease and can take us even further back in time ...

Image 1 c.1902

Image 2 c.1908
These first two images show the block plan for the extension of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh and a view of the building. The RVH was founded in 1894 and formed part of the foundation for Robert William Philip's 'Edinburgh Scheme' to combat TB through prevention, detection and treatment. The hospital started with 76 beds and patients were sent here for x-rays and treatment. This scheme was an early success in the fight against TB, reflected in a decline in mortality rates, and paved the way for a legislative drive to notify those with the infectious disease.

Image 3 c.1923

Image 4 c.1900
Images 3, 4 and 5 demonstrate TB patients in what was the only method of treatment prior to the antibiotic treatment of the 1940s and 50s. Fresh air and bed rest was recommended as we can see from these pictures, that come from Edinburgh hospitals and Southfield Santorum. Establishments were well set up to provide exposure to the open air for patients, with outdoor beds and shelters. As a patient's condition gradually improved, exercise and occupational therapy was introduced, or as we see in image 5 children received lessons on the roof garden. 

Image 5 c.1930

Image 7 c.1952

Image 6 1952

Work began to develop a vaccination against TB in the early 1900s but it was not used on a wider scale in Scotland until the early 1950s, known as the BCG vaccination. It worked by injecting the body with a weakened form of the disease so the immune system could recognise and defend against it. BCG vaccinations were given to children and young adults in close contact to TB sufferers, providing they themselves had not been infected with the disease. Mass campaigns were brought to communities to educate people on protecting their families with the vaccination, an example of which, in image 7, shows a BCG exhibition. Amongst the TB patient case notes that I am cataloguing I have come across many pregnant women notified as having active or inactive TB. Many comments are made by the doctors on the birth of healthy babies but it was clear that vaccinating them against TB was a priority as early as possible, shown in image 6.

Image 7 c.1920

Most commonly we associate TB as an infectious disease that most often affects the lungs and respiratory system. However, amongst the case notes we have found many instances of TB infection in other parts of the body. Thankfully we use a very helpful resource called MeSH (Medical Subject Headings), a controlled vocabulary thesaurus for medical terminology. We not only use this for indexing but it is also useful to inform the 'non-medical archivist' about complex medical conditions and treatments. It has been particularly useful to differentiate unfamiliar types of TB. So far we have uncovered 18 differed types of TB throughout the case notes, such as: tuberculosis of the skin, called cutaneous TB; laryngeal TB, involving the larynx which can produce ulcers on the vocal cords; ocular TB, an infection of tuberculosis in the eye; and genital TB which can affect both the male and female reproductive tract. In image 7 we see a patient suffering form long term spinal TB. This usually occurred because of a complication of lung TB moving through in to the vertebrae.       

These are just a few snapshots that I have picked out form our collections that allow us to focus on different events and developments, specifically in Edinburgh’s fight against TB. Even more LHSA TB images can be accessed through online platform SCRAN. Here you can also search through various Scottish perspectives in the history of TB from many other contributors.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Interns out and about...

This week, LHSA interns Claire and Judith have had a couple of afternoons out, to visit Edinburgh University Anatomical Museum, housed within the Medical School Building on Teviot Place and the Royal College of Nursing Archive, on South Oswald Road.

On Tuesday afternoon, together with musical instrument interns Luca and Michela, we were fortunate to be given a behind the scenes tour of the Anatomical Museum, by curator Malcolm MacCallum. Home to an impressive collection of historical and anatomical specimens, the Museum was originally founded and developed by the Monro dynasty. The collection grew significantly in the late 19th and early 20th century, under Sir William Turner who was both Professor of Anatomy from 1867 to 1903 and Principal of the University from 1903 to 1917. Today, the Museum houses newer acquisitions alongside objects from the original Museum, with the whole collection comprising around 12,000 objects, illustrating the story of 300 years of Anatomy teaching at the University. More information on the history and collections of the museum can be found here, where you can also download an app for a virtual tour!

The entrance hall to the Anatomical Museum, image taken from the website above

This visit afforded a new perspective on the curatorial and conservation challenges of maintaining such a collection. In conversation with Malcolm, we were able to get an insight into some of the ethical challenges of caring for a collection which includes human remains. Human remains have a unique status within museum collections. They have the potential to make a contribution to the public good, through research, teaching and, when appropriate, display. However, because of their origin, there is a particular responsibility on the Museum to consider the way they are acquired, curated and displayed. Today, a number of interested parties may claim rights over some human remains. These include genealogical descendants, cultural communities and scientists. Institutions holding remains have to evaluate these potentially competing interests and acknowledge the complex legal and moral considerations. There is a need to deal sensitively with these issues and to draw a careful balance between the attitudes and beliefs of different groups. It was fascinating to be able to talk to Malcolm about these challenges.   

On Thursday afternoon we visited the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Archive, which is based in Edinburgh. The Archive holds collections for the entire UK organisation and includes corporate records dating back to 1916, as well as a wealth of personal papers, oral histories, photographs and objects.

It was a pleasure to meet Fiona Bourne and Neasa Roughan, the Archivists at the RCN, and get an insight into what they do and see some of the treasures they hold. The RCN is run by members and the decisions taken at a governance level reflect what members have asked for. The corporate archive ensures that these decisions, along with all the work undertaken to implement them, is recorded and is an immensely important collection. Our favourite part of the archive though is definitely the personal archive, including the personal papers of individual nurses from 1822 to the present day and over 700 oral history interviews with nurses.

Personal archives are a wealth of information on day-to-day life. Corporate archives might show high level institutional history but personal stories, whether on paper or audio-tape, allow historians, researchers and curious individuals to really know what life was like for a nurse. These archives give us an insight into what their work involved, how they lived, what they did in their spare time, and what life was like in different hospitals and different wards across the country. For an organisation such as RCN, their personal archives can help them show how the work they do has affected the working lives of nurses over the last 100 years.

The RCN archive is a great example of how diverse collections can be, and how important each type of collection is. Without the corporate archive the RCN would lack accountability, and would have no reference to when or why past decisions had been made or actions taken, and without the personal collections the RCN would have less information on how their decisions or actions had affected the lives of the nurses they aim to support. We really enjoyed our visit to the RCN and are looking forward to learning even more about the history of nursing through the coming weeks with LHSA.