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.

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